Hello friends, and welcome to this month’s Joyinmovement newsletter.
Last month I mentioned detox diets and cleanses, and asked if anyone was interested in me writing a more in-depth newsletter on this topic. Many people wrote back to me and asked questions and shared their experiences with detoxification programs, so I decided to share more information with you and offer up some suggestions if and when you ever do decide to use a detox or cleansing diet. Even if you’ve never done one before, or don’t think you ever will, I do think you’ll find this newsletter interesting from a health perspective. And make sure to read to the very end where I give you my top ten steps you can take to create a detoxification environment in your body each and every day.
I hear one of two reactions when people talk about cleansing and detoxification. Either people think it’s all hocus-pocus or they think it’s a great thing to do and everyone should do one. So let’s take a closer look so you can have a better understanding that’s likely to fall somewhere in between those two extremes.
When it comes to detox diets, there doesn’t seem to be a universal definition. Cleansing means different things to different people. My daily diet might seem detoxifying to you, while someone else would view it as toxic.
It is true, though, that detox diets typically include certain foods, juices, teas, or colonics, while eliminating other foods, and yet some detox regimes consist of nothing at all, as in fasts.
When it comes to food and nutrition, we can’t eliminate every toxin. That’s because, at some level, nearly everything we consume is toxic.
So maybe a better question to ask is if a potentially toxic substance is causing any harm. If it is, how damaging is it and what can you do about it?
Most everything is toxic at some level. We can’t avoid it.
Yet the body has an amazing ability to cleanse itself. Our major organs of detoxification include the digestive tract, kidneys, skin, lungs, liver, lymphatic system, and respiratory system.
These systems break down compounds into other forms that we can eliminate via the toilet, sweat, or breathing. And the body seems to do a pretty good job of this when placed in a balanced and healthy environment.
So if the body is capable of self-cleansing, why would anyone consider detoxing in the first place?
Unfortunately, we often get in the way of our bodies’ self-cleansing processes. We put a lot of things in and on our bodies each day and don’t always use our bodies correctly.
We overuse medications.
We don’t sleep enough.
We slather chemicals on our skin.
We don’t get enough physical activity.
We over-consume alcohol.
We breathe in smog and ingest other environmental pollutants like heavy metals.
We eat nutrient-poor foods that the body might not recognize as “food”.
We overuse supplements.
What would happen if we were to change some of these habits and simplify what we ingest?
Then we might decrease the burden on our body so it can devote more energy to recovery, digestion, and other processes that make us feel better.
One other popular reason people start a detox diet is to lose weight. Often it’s after they’ve seen or heard a celebrity’s endorsement. In general though, I personally think detoxing to lose body fat is a bad idea.
Any weight loss from a detox diet is probably water, carbohydrate stores, and intestinal bulk. But the weight loss comes back in a few hours after the detox ends.
Still, there is an important connection between body fat and toxins, because fat cells don’t merely contain fat. They’re also a storage site for certain fat-soluble toxins we ingest.
I’ve heard it put this way: the leaner you are, the less real estate you have available for toxins.
This may help explain why many people feel lousy when they’re going through a period of rapid fat loss. Since fat-soluble chemicals can be stored in fat, when fat is broken down, the chemicals can enter the bloodstream, contributing to fatigue, muscle soreness, even nausea.
Even though I’m suggesting that detox diets aren’t the best approach for fat loss, they do still have potential benefits.
1. They typically add more nutritious foods to your diet. Foods and drinks typically recommended as part of detox diets are often nutrient-rich “superfoods”, such as:
Colorful fruits and vegetables
All of these seem to help the body deal with incoming toxins. In particular, a plant version of glutathione, an important detoxification agent in the brain, can be found in asparagus, spinach, avocado, and squash.
2. They help in reducing food sensitivities. In addition, most cleansing diets include foods and drinks that rarely trigger intolerances or allergies. So, detoxing can be one way to start figuring out food intolerances. The only problem is that a detox diet is often so restrictive that people can’t do it for an extended period of time, so perhaps it’s not always long enough to identify the potential culprits.
3. A cleansing diet can give you a break from the world of food. If you want to focus on spiritual pursuits or need a short break from constant daily nutrition decisions, this might help.
There are some drawbacks to doing a detox diet, though.
1. Inconvenience. Any diet will take some effort to organize, and detox diets are no exception. People with limited time, money, and resources won’t enjoy juicing fifteen pounds of organic veggies and fruits each day. Especially if they’re feeling weak, listless, or dizzy, which are some of the most frequently reported side effects of juice cleanses.
2. Low calorie. Most juice detox diets are extremely low in calories. Many cleanses are so low in calories that they’ll slow your body’s metabolic processes.
3. Headaches and not feeling so good. Many people get headaches when they are on juice cleanses. The most obvious reason is caffeine withdrawal. But even people who are not addicted to caffeine can be subject to headaches. One theory is that it is due to nitrates. Why?
Many juices incorporate high quantities of celery and beets. Neither of these vegetables is typically eaten in such large quantities; both, meanwhile, are rich in nitrates. Nitrates promote vasodilation. And dilated blood vessels can lead to some pounding headaches. In addition, many cleanses are built around high levels of fruit juices, which can cause major swings in blood sugar levels, making them downright dangerous for people with diabetes, and potentially risky for many others.
Besides the added effort, excessively low calories, and possible nutrient imbalances inherent in detox diets, they can also contribute to feast-or-famine style eating patterns. And these, in turn, can cause trouble for your gallbladder and lead to kidney stones as a result of extreme variations in fat intake.
And from a psychological perspective, a cleansing diet, along with any restrictive form of eating, can result in anticipatory deprivation.
If the thought of a restrictive diet makes you want to overeat, be careful. The detox diet starts tomorrow, so I’ll eat a bunch of toxic foods tonight. Recognize that thought pattern? It’s the classic dieter mentality. But it’s always more harmful than helpful. Be careful not to let juice cleansing fuel a food obsession and keep you from making peace with real food and real meals.
So while I’m not trying to steer you IN or OUT of the direction of detox diets, if you detox, and your life is better for it, then keep it up. It’s not easy to do and do well. Detoxing isn’t NECESSARY to living a healthy lifestyle. I’ve seen far too many people detox for a few days and then go back to their “normal” toxic way of living.
The typical cleanse costs about $200. What if instead of a three-day, $180 juice cleanse, you ate and lived in a way that promoted a detoxifying environment for the body all the time?
We already know the main dietary toxins in North America, which include excess calories, processed sugars, fats, and salt. Simply cutting down on these toxins would improve our health and functioning.
We can do this by eating the best-quality, freshest food possible, paying attention to body cues, and not overeating. Living this way would promote optimal health, prevent chronic disease, and keep us lean.
Here are 10 steps you can take each day to promote a detoxifying environment in the body.
Eat reasonable amounts. If you’re eating too much, you’re probably accumulating more toxins than your body needs. Eating one cookie instead of six is a detox diet. Slow down and chew your food. We all have “anatomical juicers” known as our teeth and our stomachs. Use them.
Build your plate around plant foods and eat organic when possible. This minimizes exposure to potential toxins. Veggies and fruits play a major role in a healthy body because they contain compounds that can help the body deal with all of the incoming chemicals. Also, a diet with more plant foods and less animal foods can mean less additives that come to us secondary to the animal (e.g. pharmaceuticals, hormones, etc.).
Stay lean. Certain fat-soluble compounds can accumulate in body fat. Less body fat, less real estate for potentially problematic chemicals.
Drink enough fluids, including water and tea. And use a filter. The kidneys are major organs of elimination: Keep them clean.
Allow time between dinner and breakfast. If you finished eating dinner at 7 pm, maybe you could eat breakfast at 7 am. This gives the body a 12-hour break from food for every 24-hour cycle. This might also improve your sleep, which is another critical factor in allowing your body to appropriately recover.
Get outside in the sun and fresh air each day. Not only do we synthesize vitamin D from the sun, but we can breathe fresh air into our lungs and enjoy the sounds of nature.
Exercise and sweat regularly. Our skin is a major elimination organ.
Limit unnecessary dietary supplements. Supplements don’t automatically equal health. And some supplements might just be another burden for the body.
Eliminate your problematic foods. This relates mostly to Step 1. If you just can’t seem to master the habit of one cookie, and you always end up eating six, maybe it’s time to restructure your relationship with cookies. In addition, notice any food intolerances.
Check your body products. Our skin is our largest organ; each day we lather hundreds of chemicals into it. These then enter our blood and circulate throughout the body. If you want to burden your body with fewer chemicals, check your body products.
So there you have it: my best thinking on what detox diets and cleansing can do for you, or not do for you, given what your own personal goals are. I hope this newsletter has cleared up some of those questions I received and maybe even some questions you didn’t even know you had.
Until next month,