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Everywhere you turn, someone is touting the benefits of detoxing. And there are a myriad of reasons why a person might choose to undertake a detox or cleanse (actively trying to encourage the process of detoxification or otherwise cleaning out the body), such as feeling tired or sluggish, having indulged too much, to try to lose weight or just because it has become the “in” thing to do. While there is good reason to be conscious of our body’s detoxification capabilities (after all, we are constantly bombarded with toxins from the foods we eat, the air we breathe, the chemicals we are exposed to, etc.), there is also a lot of misinformation about detoxification that is being circulated out there. So, in the interest of actually supporting detoxification without doing more harm than good, let’s tackle a few of the common misconceptions that abound regarding detoxification and cleansing.
We must do a “cleanse” or “detox” to rid our bodies of the toxins we are exposed to.
Our bodies have a sophisticated system for processing toxins and getting them out. Through a combined effort of the liver, kidneys, lungs, bowels and skin, our bodies work every single day at this job. It goes on without any conscious effort on our parts and it is vital to keeping us alive. The idea behind doing a cleanse is to give the body a boost in its natural detoxification processes, and while a properly done cleanse can in fact do this, a more effective means is to support detoxification on a regular basis, rather than just a couple times a year. We can do this simply by first decreasing the toxins we are exposed to. Buying organic and unprocessed food, choosing natural body care and cleaning products and generally being aware of what we are putting in and on our bodies and bringing into our homes is an important way to decrease our exposure to toxins in the first place. From there we can be sure to eat a balanced diet that contains lots of brightly colored fruits and veggies, as well as healthy fats and protein from naturally raised animals. These foods help to supply the many nutrients that our bodies require to complete the detoxification process. Regular deep breathing, exercise and adequate sleep further support natural detoxification.
An effective “detox” or “cleanse” should include fasting or severely limiting your food intake and choices.
Although it is a common belief that food somehow inhibits “cleansing”, the truth is the process of detoxification is heavily dependent on a wide variety of nutrients. This is particularly true for the liver, which relies on a huge array of nutrients to neutralize toxins into compounds that can be safely removed from the body (via the kidneys or bowels). (To learn more about how the liver’s detoxification process works, check out this great post by Sarah Ballantyne of thepaleomom.com.) If adequate amounts of any of these nutrients are not available, then the process can be slowed and, in some cases, toxins can’t be fully processed, leaving them in a state more dangerous than they began. This process is also incredibly energy-dependent. When we undertake a fast with the intention of “cleansing” the body, we run the risk of actually doing more harm than good by depriving the body of our main source of nutrients and energy—food! Eating a simple diet loaded with natural foods, such as variety of vegetables and fruits, easy to digest proteins and healthy fats (like raw nuts and seeds, avocados and unrefined olive and coconut oil), is a great way to ensure those critical detoxification nutrients are present. Good things to limit (or avoid altogether) during a cleanse are processed foods, damaged fats, and foods to which you are allergic or intolerant. If fasting or a juice fast is still your preference, do it carefully and only for a short time, allowing yourself ample time to rest and be calm throughout.
You know a cleanse is working if you feel really miserable.
The headaches, body aches, moodiness, sleep disruptions, digestive upset, fatigue, brain fog and general discomfort that can sometimes accompany a ‘cleanse’ are often affectionately referred to as a “healing crisis” or a “detox crisis” and heralded as a great sign that the cleanse is working. While it may be normal to feel a little uncomfortable during a cleanse, especially if you’ve eliminated caffeine or some other foods you might have a dependency on, the miserable feelings of a ‘healing crisis’ are definitely not a sign of an effective detox. In fact, they may be a sign that your chosen cleanse is not supporting proper detoxification or that it is forcing detoxification to happen faster than your body can actually process the toxins safely. Either way, these are generally not good signs; instead of powering through, heed them as the warning that they are.
So what does a safe and effective cleanse look like, then? Well, it is focused on whole real foods, gentle exercise and lots of rest. It might include eliminating potential allergens or food sensitivities for a while and, for sure, eliminating all processed and refined foods. It is giving your body simple, real foods and then stepping back to let it do this most important process of which it is exquisitely capable.
For a simple and effective cleanse, consider following this detox menu plan (complete with recipes) for several days a few times a year. Do you have a simple and effective detox tip you’d like to share? Post it below in the comments section.