by Laura Erlich
As January rolls on, more and more people ask me what I think about “going on a cleanse.” When I ask why they feel they need it, I get answers along the lines of: “I’m struggling to kick the junk food habit I acquired over the holidays,” or “I feel like a need a reset and drinking juice for 3 days will get me on the right track,” or “my body feels ‘toxic’ and I need to shed my holiday weight gain!”
So what’s a toxic, junk-food-junkie to do? The mega monolith known as the “detox industry” has a million and one solutions for you! Whole Thirty, Master Cleanse, Juice Fasting, Just-Drink-WaterFasting, Intermittent Fasting, soup cleanses, bone broth cleanses, liver detoxes, and kitchari cleanses are what come to mind, just off the cuff!
If you feel like your head is spinning with options and you’re more confused than ever, you’re not alone. Let’s start by breaking down some basic facts about “detoxing,” dispel some common myths, and consider what all of these ‘cleanses’ have in common as you work towards feeling your best!
Is detoxing really necessary?
In short, no. The reality is that our systems have built-in mechanisms that allow for constant, ongoing detoxification. Your liver is a mighty, 24/7/365 detox machine, spending virtually all of its time dedicated to separating substances we need from those we don’t, and sending the junk on its way out (primarily via the kidneys). Speaking of kidneys, those two do a brilliant job of filtering out impurities through our urine, while the lungs send toxins out via respiration; the skin shunts toxins as perspiration, and the trusty large intestine sends out impurities through the... well, you know.
If detoxing isn’t necessary, why do I always feel so much better afterwards?
There are a couple of reasons why you [almost] always feel better after a ‘cleanse.’ To understand why, we need look no further than what all of these programs, plans, and systems have in common. For starters, virtually every cleanse out there insists on some common principles: drink more water, avoid inflammatory foods like sugar, alcohol, caffeine, refined carbohydrates, and dairy. Moreover: resume or increase your exercise, sleep, and self-care routines. In all honesty, it’s this “common core” of changes that will make anyone feel lighter, healthier, more rested, and less stressed-- not the maple syrup, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper you might be drinking.
Is there any harm in embarking on a cleanse?
Yes and no. It’s certainly never a bad idea to clean up one's diet from all the junk, and it definitely doesn't hurt to reduce or eliminate caffeine and alcohol! In addition, becoming more mindful of one's water intake, sleep regiment, and exercise routines will only prove to be beneficial. Of course, it’s always a good idea to devote more time and energy to self-care, including: at-home rituals like dry brushing, epsom salt baths, and meditation, in conjunction with treatments like acupuncture, massage, and other types of bodywork and natural healthcare. That said, many of the programs out there impose extreme calorie restrictions (which can harm your metabolism), dramatically limit nutrient variety and can lead to feeling sluggish, hungry, drained, and depleted-- the opposite of what you set out to do! Never fear, there’s a happy medium that we can all benefit from!
How to clean up your act, feel better, lighter, and healthier in no time flat!
First of all, let's all take a moment to repeat the following mantra: THERE IS NO MAGIC BULLET WHEN IT COMES TO MY HEALTH. Feeling your best takes a certain amount of effort and commitment, period. Cleanses, diets, supplements, and programs that promise weight loss, optimal health, and a flawless complexion in 7, 10, 21 or 30 days might offer some short term benefits, but the long-term gains are certain to be disappointing. That said, employing some basic principles to your routine and making those principles the rule rather than the exception will help you to feel your best, look your best, and help you enjoy clarity, focus, good health, and energy for the long haul.
Make a commitment, right now, to spend the next 30 days drinking at least half your body weight in ounces of water.
Get yourself a pretty glass water bottle and figure out how many times you need to fill it up to meet your goal. Feel free to throw in a slice of lemon, an orange, a strawberry, or any other fruit to infuse your water, or add an herbal tea of your choice. When 30 days is up, rinse and repeat. After awhile, staying hydrated will be second nature, and you will start to notice that positive glow in your complexion.
While you're at it, decide this minute, that you aren’t going to eat refined sugar or carbohydrates for a minimum of 2 weeks!
That means no cookies, no candy, no ice cream, or any other sugary treats! That means pastas, breads, and refined grains, too! You can do anything for two weeks, I promise. When two weeks is up, see if you have the motivation to keep it up. If not, commit to the 80/20 rule and limit those foods to an occasional treat, rather than making them daily staples.
Meal Prep: In place of all that junk, eat more fresh veggies, fruits, organic meats, eggs, properly sprouted grains, and fermented foods.
Take some time this weekend to visit your local farmers market or health food grocery store. Stock up on all the veggies you like, go home, and actually PREP THEM! That’s right... do something radical this weekend-- cut, peel, and chop enough fresh vegetables to get you through the week. Each night, grab a few handfuls of vegetables of different colors and simply steam them, or go nuts and sauté them in a little avocado or coconut oil. Drizzle some organic olive oil on top and add a pinch of sea salt or any other spices you like. Feel free to include things like sweet potatoes and other root veggies. For added protein, serve them alongside a few ounces of organic chicken, turkey, fish, or bison. If you're a vegetarian, have some organic quinoa, aduki/mung beans, or lentils available. Boom! You just ‘cleansed’.
The Whole Truth: the key to good health, is abiding by a well-sourced diet of balanced whole foods.
For most of us, it’s tough to keep it up 52 weeks out of the year. Holidays, vacations, times of extreme stress and big transitions can often throw us off track. Rather than forcing your system into a harsh detox regiment, bring it back to the basics of healthy eating, good hydration, adequate sleep, and self-care. If you have specific health concerns, consult with your acupuncturist or other holistic healthcare practitioner to find the right herbs, supplements, and/or nutritional regiments that makes sense for your individual needs.
Finally, my #1 trick for maintaining a healthy diet (at least 80% of the time) boils down to one thing: meal planning. Take the time each weekend to plan dinners (and leftovers for lunch) to ensure that you’re never left staring at a full fridge at 7 PM with no plan other than the persuasion of your Postmates app. My personal favorite meal planning app is brought to you by Emily Bartlett, LAc, my beloved writing partner from Feed Your Fertility. Emily has developed an extraordinary meal planning program called Real Plans. Check it out here, and make 2018 the year of eating and caring for yourself ‘beyond the detox.’