It is spring clean time again. The return of the warm weather is the ideal time to give your body a break from your favourite ‘poisons’ and give you gut a rest. While the concept of “detoxing”* has become increasingly popular – the actuality is another thing. A bit like Lent for atheists – why would you choose give up so many delicious oral gratifications and feel grumpy?
Lighten the load on your organs of elimination
In it’s simplest form a “detox”, spring clean or fast is about taking a little pressure off our organs of elimination. While most of us are aware that the liver does the hard work of breaking down alcohol and recreational drugs – it also breaks down our naturally occurring hormones and other chemicals in our body, pharmaceutical drugs, chemical residues (such as pesticides), additives in refined foods and the poisons in cigarettes.
The kidneys do an amazing job filtering the blood but common substances like salt (especially high in processed foods and restaurant meals), alcohol and caffeine make them work even harder.
Our lymphatic system, which is a major part of our immune response as well its role in rubbish removal, will often become sluggish when we eat dairy products and flour.
Our lungs have to deal with dirty city air, let alone cigarette or other forms of recreational smoke – making them work harder in simple gas exchange needed for our survival.
As for our digestive system – the more food we shovel into it, the less efficient it appears to be. The more congested it becomes with partially digested bits of food, the more likely we are to feel bloated, uncomfortable and gassy.
Are you ready for a spring clean?
The kindest thing we can do to our body is to decrease the load on these organs every once in a while. This doesn’t mean spending a lot of money on a ‘natural’ product in a box promising to “detox”. In fact it is counter-intuitive to keep eating, drinking and smoking in such a way but taking the pills, powders, teas or potions instead.
A detox doesn’t have to be all or nothing but the more you do, the sooner you will feel the positive benefits. Abstaining from cigarettes, drugs, alcohol and caffeine is the cornerstone to detoxing. As these are probably the hardest things you could ask of yourself – some people may need to get some help dealing with these before you consider doing a “detox”.
Without these everyday drugs, it’s time to look at how we eat. Just like tea or coffee – some foods are equally as addictive. Sugar and its artificial sweetener alternatives are high on the chemical addiction list. Aspartame (such as in diet soft drinks) really seems to hook people – so perhaps, like cigarettes, you should consider weaning yourself of this substance first before tackling food.
Even if you are not a sugar addict and only have 1 cup of coffee a day – the first few days of a healthy diet can often trigger a headache. What’s more, we often have strong emotional connections with food. While some people can undertake a spring clean as an act of self-care, for others the predominant emotion is a sense of denying oneself. I strongly recommend anyone with a history of eating disorders to no put themselves on a restrictive diet, cleanse or “detox”.
So once you have your head around the idea, providing you shouldn’t exclude yourself on the basis of the health conditions listed below, the first step is to set a date. Find a clear spot in your work or social calendars for at least 10 days. Committing the time and space required will make the spring cleasnse easier. Another important consideration is to find a time that’s not mentally or emotionally taxing, so choose a time of low demand at work, home or study. Planning can really help make the “detox” a success.
A basic 10 day spring clean
Phase 1: For the first 3 days eat only fruit and vegetables. If the weather is warm enough – raw is best. Include fresh juices if you want, drink plenty of water and herb teas (not green tea, regular tea, mate or guarana – as these contain caffeine).
If you want to go hardcore – you can follow Lesley Kenton’s suggestion of starting on a Friday and eat only fruit and veg (can be cooked), finishing your last meal by 6pm. Saturday choose only one type of seasonal fruit (e.g. apples) to be eaten raw. Sunday choose another seasonal fruit (e.g. pears) and do likewise. There’s no limit on how much you eat but try to eat slowly and consciously. Drink water and/or herb tea.
Phase 2: For the next week introduce whole grains (eg: brown rice, quinoa, soaked oats), beans, nuts and seeds. Do not add salt to your food or fry. A little good quality oil on salads is fine. Eat a wide variety of cooked and raw fruits and vegetables. This is a vegan diet without the fries.
Ideally they food you eat on a detox is organically grown and the water is filtered.
Lesley Kenton suggests following the weekend with three days of only fruit and veg (raw, juiced, steamed), then add seeds and nuts, followed by legumes and whole grains.
If phase 1 is too demanding, skip to phase 2 as a ‘mini detox’ but to get the most out of it you should consider doing it for at least 2 weeks.
Extra special detox foods and herbs
Turmeric – especially if you can find some fresh turmeric and add it to a juice for a little bit extra for your liver.
Ginger – same family as turmeric, with similar anti-inflammatory and warming qualities.
Artichokes – steamed but skip the butter, another liver tonic.
Leafy greens and bitter vegetables – raw in salads with a dash of lemon juice, also great for the digestion.
Lemon juice – brightens the flavour of steamed veggies. Add the juice of half a lemon to a glass of warm water to drink on rising.
Garlic – a powerhouse of goodness best eaten raw, eat some parsley or fennel seeds with it to sweeten your breath
For your skin
Our skin is also an eliminative organ. While our lungs and skin would benefit from a couple of weeks away from city grime there are still a number of ways we can assist this organ working better.
Skip the antiperspirant – sweating is a natural way that our body sheds toxins. Sometimes at the beginning of our detox our sweat will smell stronger. Blocking up the pores works against this process – even if using a so-called ‘natural’ antiperspirants sold as crystal or rocks. An alternative is to wear natural fibre clothing, wash under your arms twice a day and use an essential oil based deodorant or spritz your pits with your own essential oil blend.
Dry skin brushing each day and a sauna or steamroom session towards the end of the detox also help unclog your pores.
Who shouldn’t detox?
If you are pregnant – though we hope your diet is additive free, full of fresh fruit and vegetables and wholegrains, do not do something as extreme as a fruit and vegetable ‘fast’.
Type 1 diabetics. Type 2 diabetics, if not medicated, would benefit from the 2nd phase of the diet only.
If you are on prescribed medication.
While many chronic health conditions can benefit from a spring clean, talk to an experienced naturopath first, as sometimes a cleanse will cause conditions to flare initially (but in some cases resolve it or provoke a remission).
If you have any mental health issues, especially eating disorders.
Be kind to yourself. If you haven’t gone on a spring clean before, start by a week or two of no alcohol or sugar – or whatever your greatest weakness is – and see what it brings up for you.
* “Detox” is a common but highly contentious term. There is little or no evidence that common detox diets or products actually remove toxins from the body. I prefer the term ‘spring clean’ but use “detox” purely as common use shorthand to discuss fasts and elimination diets from a historic naturopathic perspective, to manage expectations and give some guidance to embark safely on a limited “detox”. This is general information. To explore if a spring clean like this is suitable for your body and pyche, please consult Gill directly.