Does the Taco Cleanse Actually Work? One PEOPLE Staffer’s Brave Journey
What Is It: The Taco Cleanse, a tortilla-based wellness plan that involves eating tacos for every meal
Who Tried It: Maria Yagoda, Features Writer-Reporter
Level of Difficulty: 10. You have to be very strong and brave.
If I were on The Real Housewives of Post-Industrial Brooklyn, my opening line would be “If you put it in a taco, I’ll put it in my mouth.”
Tacos make up a very large, very emotional part of my life. I’ll eat a taco anywhere, from anyone, at any time. Scary, I know. But it’s important for me that you know how connected I was with tacos…so you can understand how that all changed, in just five traumatic days.
The Taco Cleanse, a new book that’s captured the national imagination with promises of tortilla-based wellness (Jennifer Aniston is “riveted” by it), outlines how eating tacos for every meal will transform your life.
I’ve always been fascinated/appalled by cleanses, which rely on the assumption that your urges, what you crave, is somehow wrong. If cleanses sits on one side of the diet spectrum, I sit — slouching and sucking a chicken wing bone — on the other side.
Let me explain: I live next to a McDonald’s. The fact that McDonald’s serves salads signals to me that it is a healthy eatery, so when I end up covered in the remnants of seven hash browns and a side Quarter Pounder, I truly feel as if I just ordered and eaten a salad.
My habits are no better at work. Whatever the next level down from putting your mouth under a snack nozzle is, I do that. Popcorn, trail mix, pretzels, M&Ms. All day, things go into my body that I eat too quickly to taste.
So when I heard that there was a diet plan, a cleanse, that involved tacos and zero juice, I was fascinated. When I started reading the book, I fell in love with the self-proclaimed taco scientists who invented the concept — they, too, thought that traditional cleanses were dumb.
“Cleanses are the f****** worst. They’re socially acceptable starvation disguised as health, and that is the f******* worst. Used largely as a tool to make women feel guilty about consuming real food and repent their eating ‘sins,’ they demand you choke down lemon juice swirled with cayenne pepper and your tears so that you can lose those last five pounds,” the book reads. “Screw those last five pounds; your body clearly wants the extra chub if the only way to get rid of it is drinking juice made of lawn clippings, hot sauce, and your own choked-down vomit.”
Last August, I cooked for myself regularly, trying to get my body ready for a season that was slipping away. When the leaves turned, I prepped for snowbesity (winter weight gain), resigning myself to Seamless nights, every night. Tacos were usually on the menu: Carnitas. Barbacoa. Shrimp. Fried Fish. Korean Bulgogi. Now, I had an opportunity to re-appropriate those very tacos for my own well-being. By doubling down on taco consumption, effectively cutting out all other food sources, I could connect with myself on a more spiritual level! This is the promise of The Taco Cleanse — not weight loss, but a) positivity b) good energy and c) fulfillment.
The rules of the cleanse were simple. Eat a taco for every meal. While the recipes in the book are vegan, they do not say that all of your tacos must be vegan; you must find a balance that works for you. The only rules that are strict are those surrounding the definition of a taco.
A taco is only a taco if it meets these five requirements, as outlined in the book.
1. A taco has only one fold.
2. Tortillas must be flat, not bread.
3. But waffles are the exception.
4. A taco must be handheld and portable.
5. A burrito is never, ever a taco.
The cleanse is meant to last 30 days, but I decided to try five, eating mostly tacos I’d cook from their vegan recipes, with some of my own personal interpretations. (I also had light snacks in between each taco meal). The book claims that the effects of a taco-based diet would be felt almost immediately. After day one: “Your mood will improve.” After three days: “You will notice more energy.” And after one week: “You will have a better outlook on life.”
New Year, New Me, right??? I found myself buying into the idea that people can change.
I expected the cleanse to be easy, because I love tacos and cooking and putting my body through things.
I also enjoy eating a mostly plant-based diet. My first day, a Saturday, I woke up early and went to the grocery store, where I bought $40 worth of ingredients to last me those five days: corn tortillas, chipotle in adobo sauce, cabbage, sweet potatoes, onion, cilantro and lots more vegetables, as well as meat substitutes like tofu and tempeh bacon. (Homegirl need protein.)
I was in a rush to go to an alternative bridal convention in Red Hook, Brooklyn — my sister is getting married — so I crisped up some corn tortillas in a bit of olive oil and in another pan, sautéed the tempeh. I added the book’s Baja cabbage slaw and cilantro, and it tasted good, satisfying. I thought: Maybe this won’t be so bad or hard.
I was wrong. It was so bad and hard. Within minutes, I felt so bloated, lethargic and gassy as hell. And I continued to be uncomfortable for the remainder of the cleanse. Eating cabbage, beans, rice and fermented soy product for one meal is one thing. You deal with it, and then for dinner you eat an entirely different genre of food. But when I got back from the convention, I had to eat more of the very foods that had caused my discomfort. I found some leftover Thai calamari in the fridge and put them in warm tortillas, sprinkling on cilantro. I couldn’t stomach rice or beans. I took a three-hour nap. I woke up starving and covered in purple marker. I had slept on an uncapped purple marker, and I blamed tacos, though that probably wasn’t fair.
For dinner, I fixed myself chipotle beans and cumin rice, per the book’s recipes, and prepped two yummy tacos. That’s right: They still tasted good. I swallowed them just fine. But as I watched The Americans for the next seven hours (I have a disease), I had a sinking feeling that things would take a turn.
THINGS TAKE A TURN
The next morning, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I had eaten eight tacos the day before. I realized that was my threshold: eight tacos. (Before, if you were to ask me my taco limit, I would have insisted that the limit does not exist.) The idea of doing it all again was so daunting that I pulled the covers over my head and nibbled on my pillow to simulate the sensation of eating.
I woke up an hour later. It’s taco time, I whispered to myself. I prepped myself a tempeh taco and a glass of soy milk. Everything still tasted fine, but I wanted a pizza, or even a big salad. I craved the sensation of food that wasn’t folded, stuffed, entrapped. The taco was already becoming a symbol of my struggle.
That night, I worked the Golden Globes and bought myself Chipotle — sofritas tacos, which has all vegan ingredients. I wanted to stick to the vegan thing whenever I could. But I was bloated as hell. I was rude to all my coworkers, friends and family. I hated myself for putting myself in this situation.
“I hate tacos I have always hated tacos but this has always been my life tacos tacos tacos tacos tacos where I am I why am I done with tacos done with life I want a pizza now” was the only thing I thought about through the entire work day. My performance suffered.
I was still cooking, though — it was such a wonderful release to chop and stir. When I got home, I made myself barbacoa mushrooms, a recipe from the book, adding tofu for protein and extra garlic for flavor. It was warm and filling. (At this point, even the thought of red cabbage, or anything that reminded me of red cabbage such as all red-colored things like apples and certain cars, nauseated me.) I mixed in some leftover brown rice, and scooped it into tortillas. I was surviving.
I only started adjusting to the high-fiber diet — the constant intake of handheld bean-and-rice hell pockets — on my second-to-last day. It helped that people got super bored of me complaining about the cleanse, which helped me complain about it less. (Another question for another time: If you’re doing a cleanse and no one can hear you, did it even happen?)
It felt as though tacos had changed how thought about everything, like the beans had gone to my brain. A vague sense of dread loomed over me. I had become less cranky, yes, but I was not energized, positive or the best version of me.
My last day on the cleanse, my fifth day, was joyous. It was almost over! I tried to talk to people about it but no one cared.
SHOULD YOU TRY IT?
Should you try the taco cleanse? Maybe. If you’re bored and life “as is” is not enough for you, yeah, go for it. Maybe you need an arbitrary challenge, or just want a philosophical framework to justify your taco habit.
I want you to do this if you think that nothing could ever make you not love tacos, because I want you to learn how wrong you are. The biggest lesson I learned from this experience is that everyone has the capacity to hate tacos, even those who love them the most.
The cleanse also made me appreciate something fantastic about my life: Every day I am lucky enough to make choices about what I eat. I’m able to listen to my body, check in with what it wants. And I am certain my body wont want tacos for at least three more years (but let’s be real probably three days).
—Maria Yagoda, @mariayagoda