I’m not a dieter. I cook and eat for a living, which means I’m constantly surrounded by food that I might not always choose for myself, and I also spend a lot of time writing about food, creating more sedentary hours than I’d like.
On the plus side, I’m a vegetarian, so most of my diet is entirely plant-based and fairly lean, and I don’t own a car, so I walk a lot. And on the days when there’s more chocolate than chard on my plate, there are stretchy pants in the closet — a food writer’s best friend.
So, when I was asked to try Soupergirl’s five-day soup cleanse, I was alternately intrigued and intimidated. Like I said, I don’t do diets, but, on the other hand, I do like soup. In a few days a box arrived with 20 portions of soup and, if you’ve never had 20 16-ounce portions of soup show up at your front door, let me assure you: it’s a lot of soup.
If you’re not familiar with Soupergirl, it’s the brainchild of Sara Polon, a self-described “former stand-up comedienne turned soup-maker,” who teamed up with her mom Marilyn to create dozens of different soup recipes — all vegan — from Creamy Carrot, made with coconut milk, to a cumin-spiked West African Peanut Stew. With two locations in D.C. (314 Carroll St. N.W. and 1829 M St. N.W.) and available via delivery and in other retail outlets like Whole Foods and Glen’s Garden Market, Soupergirl soups have become a fixture in the D.C. quick meal landscape. But there’s a big difference between grabbing soup for lunch and eating it four times a day for a week.
You are expected to eat soup for breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner. Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili is not something I generally choose to eat for breakfast and I rarely eat breakfast anyway, so I knew right away that this diet was going to be more of a challenge than I had expected.
Soupergirl’s soup cleanse is not, however, really a diet. In fact, Sara Polon is correct in referring to it as more of a “reset.” The concept is based on eating the heaviest, most protein-rich soup early in the day, with each successive soup becoming lighter in fiber until you end with a silky smooth soup in the evening. I even found myself feeling slightly peckish the first night, to which Polon says, “Going to sleep a bit hungry allows your body to rest and ensures you’ll be hungry for your morning soup.”
Scheduling my cleanse for January seemed like a good idea, after a holiday season filled with overindulgence, and it’s perfect soup-eating weather anyway. I didn’t have a specific weight loss goal in mind because I must confess that the only scale I own is a kitchen scale so that I can do things like measure the perfect amount of flour to make fresh scones to go with, well, soup.
However, I eschewed the scones during this cleanse. Day 1 began with the aforementioned Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili, followed by Greek Red Lentil for lunch, Thai Butternut Squash for an afternoon snack, and Ginger Roasted Pumpkin Apple for dinner. Not only was it a lot of soup, it was a lot of food in general, because the cleanse allows for snacks, such as hummus and crudité, nuts, fruit and avocado toast. Wine, coffee and tea are even allowed in moderation and because, Polon says, “life is short.” There are also two “off” days during the week, when the advice is to stick to minimally processed, plant-based foods, such as beans, quinoa, fresh vegetables and oatmeal. So, not only is it a lot of soup, it’s also, frankly, a lot of food. You will not go hungry.
Confession number two: By the second day, I didn’t eat all four soups, skipping breakfast entirely and eating the breakfast soup — Barley Chickpea Kale, my favorite — for lunch. By day three, I was down to two soups a day, because, after a hearty soup at noon and a snack mid-afternoon, followed by a light soup in the early evening, I was actually full.
Here in the United States, we have become ingrained with the idea of eating big meals, often both in the morning and evening, while many other countries around the world are much more focused on a substantial midday meal followed by a lighter evening meal. And this is where the Soupergirl cleanse really worked for me. While I really missed making my own meals, it was a useful reminder to reorganize my eating habits — an excellent way to reset and refresh for springtime.
Soupergirl’s Soup Cleanse ranges from $135 for one week up to $980 for eight weeks; more information at soupergirlcleanse.com.
Kristen Hartke is a food and beverage writer based in D.C.; follow her kitchen adventures on Instagram, @kristenhartke.