This time of year, almost every major wellness site and advocate has their own how-to for spring cleaning the body.
You will see titles such as “Top 5 Ways to a Successful Detox!”, ”Cleanse Your Way to Gut Health” and “Detox Diets: Do they work?”.
It is not just that we have over-indulged during the festive season that makes us feel we need to cleanse and lighten the extra load. In today’s environment, the air, water, and food contain more harmful toxins than our bodies should bear and we need to be more thoughtful about this form of ‘spring cleaning’.
The body cannot break down synthetic and foreign substances. It stashes them away instead of ridding them through the normal elimination process. In order to save us from basically being poisoned, these substances are stored in … guess where? Think you know this one. Yes – fat. The toxins are sometimes expelled through our skin in the form of rashes (I have seen this with my own eyes!).
So, you may ask: Why cleanse? Is there really a need to do so? How do I do it right? Is it another fad? Isn’t it just another way for companies to sell more products?
Detoxification is a normal bodily process where toxins are either neutralized or expunged. The colon, liver, lungs, kidneys, lymphatic system, and skin are all involved. Many cultures also have traditions of cleansing and fasting as part of preventive healthcare.
What is a Detox?
Put simply, a detox diet or cleansing plan is a “focused, short-term diet to promote the elimination of unwanted chemicals and environmental and dietary toxins from the body” 1.
It is a form of fasting (note: NOT dieting) that gives the body, especially the digestive system, a well-earned rest.
Detoxes are not without controversy and attracts attention from both the proponents and naysayers.
Why Would Anyone Detox?
When I started researching more seriously into this some years back (well you know… sometimes we have that few extra pounds that just won’t shift, right?), the literature confounded me a little.
Apart from weight loss, other reasons people detox are:
– sluggish elimination process or straightforward constipation,
– bad or irritated skin,
– aches and pains, and
– toxic buildup
Some also see cleansing as a dramatic way to recharge, rejuvenate, and renew…both mind and body.
The detox process can be very transformational, and not just physically with feeling lighter and being thinner. Going through a cleanse can help someone realize that he can be free of addictions and cravings (especially of the caffeine and sugar kind!); and know that some hunger pangs are OK. For others, a period of fasting and cleansing clears the mind and spirit.
What is the Detox Process Like?
Usually, any self-respecting detox plan will require the participant to do a pre-fast to prep the body for the full detoxification process.
In itself, the pre-cleanse process, which may even take as long as 14 days, can already be dramatic. I must declare for purposes of self-disclosure that I have gone through this process a few times. The first time I did the pre-cleanse, I successfully rid myself of caffeine addiction (and today, proudly sip herbal teas).
Pre-cleansing involves cutting out alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, caffeine, meat, dairy, eggs (sometimes), and processed, packaged, and fried foods. Basically eating lots of fruit, nuts, vegetables, brown rice, and soups.
Drinking sufficient fluids (water and juices) is critical throughout this process to help the body purge successfully.
Exercising during pre-cleansing is also important. Sweating is good!
During the pre-cleansing stage, healing crises (aka Herxeimer Reaction4) may occur in the form of fever, headaches, diarrhea, skin eruptions, fatigue, and coughs/cold. Some physical or emotional reaction is likely, especially if that person has not ever cleansed before in this manner. So enter at your own risk#. One is not supposed to medicate if any of these symptoms do occur. Medication suppresses reactions, and that would defeat the purpose of cleansing, or releasing.
Detoxes can vary greatly, between restricting intake to only juices and water and allowing only for a diet consisting mainly of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. They also vary in terms of the time frame. Most detox programs are at least three days long at the minimum. Others are seven days, or even longer.
A detox program3 aims to support the body’s natural cleansing process by:
1. Resting the organs through fasting;
2. Stimulating the liver to drive toxins from the body;
3. Promoting elimination through the intestines, kidneys, and skin;
4. Improving blood circulation; and
5. Refueling the body with healthy nutrients (if you break the fast the right way!).
One thing that all cleansing diets advocate is juicing and an increase in fibre intake. Organic fruit and vegetables are best…you are after all, trying to get rid of toxins, not pile more on. Lots and lots of water and juices is a must, which helps push everything else out of the system. Vegetable juices are better as fruit juices are high in sugar.
Other more serious proponents advocate colonic irrigation during the detox period to support the process. Some also suggest dry brushing the skin – to support circulation and elimination of toxins from the lymph passages.
To maximize your cleansing efforts, try not to load your schedule to the brim. Taking time out to relax and enjoy the quiet does wonders to detox the mind. A digital detox is also fantastic.
What’s In It for Me After All the Starving?
People who have gone through the pre-fast and proper cleansing report weight loss, better sleep, brighter skin, and increased energy levels. Most feel lighter physically (and emotionally). Bonus: fitting into those skinny jeans again.
And as for the naysayers? They claim there is not much scientific proof behind it all, and that the weight loss benefits are due to dietary restrictions. They insist the weight will come back again.
Eat good clean food together with lots of vegetables, fresh fruit, high quality proteins, and whole grains and the body should function well and detoxify naturally5.
Still thinking of going through a detox?
Do your own research and remember, if you need to, please consult your physician first.
Sally May Tan is a certified health coach and the principle consultant at Catalyst Health. Her philosophy is to educate and empower others to take charge of their own health and wellness. The wisdom, Food is Medicine, is a way of life and practice for Sally.
1 Detox Foods to Exclude by Cathy Wong, ND
2 Detox Diets: Cleansing the Body (WebMD)
3 10 Ways to Detoxify Your Body (Gaiam Life)
4 Jarisch-Herxheimer Reaction (Wiki)
5 The Truth About Detox Diets (Everyday Health)