When nutritionist and author Elissa Goodman started out in the detox, health, and wellness world, it was a small community. No Whole Foods, Erewhon or self-proclaimed wellness influencers, just a small group of people sharing their growing knowledge base.
In those days—around 30 years ago—Goodman was facing significant health challenges, which included a cancer diagnosis at age 32 and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis after she had her first daughter. These conditions, in part, inspired her to try cleanses and other modalities to treat herself and provided first person data about their effectiveness. Detoxes, natural health and yoga were considered alternative medicine, a far cry from the global detox market’s estimated worth of $50 billion as of 2019.
“When I got diagnosed [with cancer], I realized that there was a lot not working right,” she said. “Emotionally, physically, spiritually—the whole gamut. I had just moved to LA from New York, it was a perfect place to land and you know, have a juice place that was down the street. So I started to investigate all these things.”
But Goodman’s journey into natural health and wellness was only just beginning. As her own health complications worsened, her husband was diagnosed with cancer, too, at age 43 and died of fungal pneumonia less than two years later.
Goodman’s deep loss was the final push into what has since become her complete lifestyle and career path in which she became a pioneer in nutrition and detoxes.
“I thought, holy shit,” she said. “I’ve got to get my shit together because I’m now a single parent. The kids are 10 and seven and they’ve had two parents who have had cancer.”
Seeking answers, empowerment and, just maybe, more protection against disease, Goodman went back to school and earned certificates in Eastern and Western nutrition. She also studied trauma and other healing modalities like Chinese medicine and the Ayurvedic system. To her surprise, she fell in love with her studies, not only devouring everything she could about the field, but also practically implementing it into her own life.
Soon, she was feeling better than ever before. And people were beginning to take note. Her first job after finishing her program was creating a cleanse program for California vegan restaurant Café Gratitude. She created cleanses that drew on a range of eating styles, from macrobiotic to vegan and raw. Six and a half years later, Erewhon came calling, then Earthbar. Finally, seven years ago, her clients asked her to create her own cleanses, delivered right to their doors.
“I decided to do something that’s like how I like to eat,” she said. “If I’m cleansing or really trying to be healthy, this is the protocol that I would do. We’re now in our eighth year.”
So what, exactly, is a detox or a cleanse? And who needs such a thing? At their heart, the idea of a short-term program is to eat and drink in ways that clear out the intestines and let the body and mind reset with healthy foods. For those who recall the Master Cleanse—one of the first editions to go mainstream—the word “cleanse” may be synonymous with “juice diet” or even “suffering.”
For Goodman, extreme deprivation is antithetical to the goal: feeling good, having more energy and getting inspired to eat and live more healthily and happily. Those are values, she acknowledges, that cleanses rarely connote.
Detoxes and cleanses still have a reputation, she said, as being all about starvation or deprivation. And while there is science behind the benefits of a brief starvation state, Goodman isn’t a proponent of extreme measures. In her own life, she’s experienced Othorexia—defined as a focus on healthy eating to dan unhealthy degree—and says life is a lot more fun now that she’s more focused on emotional health and overall wellness, rather than a restrictive diet.
Goodman calls her program a reset cleanse, which is free of sugar, dairy, gluten, processed food and animal protein. She believes animal protein is important but a brief break, she said, can “help the digestive system. It takes a lot of energy to digest animal protein because it’s saturated fat. It takes 14 hours [to digest] animal protein and 90 minutes for plant-based. So my cleanse’s real focus is on cleaning out [clients’] intestines; get their digestive system back on track; and to calm down inflammation and feed their cells with nutrients.
“This is not rocket science. This is [stuff we know]: eating real food and fruits and vegetables and complex carbs and some animal protein is the way to go. I’m trying to help people get there in an easier way so that they don’t have to think about it.”
For those who might prefer to make their own cleanse-friendly foods (on a smaller budget), Goodman also has a downloadable, seven-day reset guide on her website. Cost, in particular, is one of the changes she’s seen in her industry since she began working in it.
“There are [now] so many more healers, so many more modalities and when you walk into [a place like] Erewhon, your head spins, right?,” she said. “Like what do I buy and do in here? I know that there’s some great stuff but it’s gotten overwhelming. Everybody’s on the bandwagon and the supplement market is out of control. It’s a little scary because I think that can do more harm than good.”
Still, Goodman is a big proponent of the good that her industry and good people in it can do. Not only for clients, but for herself.
“In the last 10 years I’ve met the most incredible people in the health and wellness world and I feel like I was lucky I got in early,” she said. “I made such beautiful connections and helped each other [learn] about our modalities.
“I always say, I’m going to be 62 and I feel better today than I did when I was in my 20s.”