So you wanna try a detox or cleanse?
Alright folks, here’s the deal:
Every few weeks I see one of my friends posting about the exciting detox or cleanse they’re doing, and every time I see one of these posts I have to cringe.
I’m not making an ugly face because I hate fruits and veggies. And it’s not because I’m jealous. (In fact, before I knew any better I did my fair share of “detoxes” and “cleansing” diets right along with the rest of my friends.)
The reason I have such a strong negative reaction now is because I have learned that doing a detox or cleanse is a quick way to mess up blood sugar at it’s best, and a crash diet in disguise at it’s worst.
You don’t need to do a detox or cleanse to be healthy. You don’t need to do a detox or cleanse because your body has a natural detox system built right into it. It’s called your liver, and in most people it’s extremely effective at doing it’s job. True, your filtration system can get overloaded if you regularly eat lots of not-so-good-for-you foods, are exposed to pesticides or other chemicals in your food, air, cosmetics, or household goods and cleaners, or take pharmaceutical medications. But all of these exposures can easily be reduced or eliminated without going to the extreme measure of doing a detox or cleanse.
Healing takes time and is a result of cumulative factors.
While there are some cases of miraculous recoveries, in most cases it takes more than a brief detox to bring a body back into a more balanced state.
Moreover, almost every detox or cleanse I’ve seen people do advocates for habits that are ultimately unhealthy.
First off, colder months are not a good time to eat a lot of raw foods. You know how you always crave soups, stews, and roasts when the leaves start to turn? Your natural cravings are telling you something: colder months are the time to eat deeply warming foods. When you do, your body’s energy gets refurbished from the inside and can naturally balance out the effects of the weather outside. From a Chinese medicine standpoint, filling up on warm foods during the colder months is like giving a seed in the ground an extra boost of potential energy, which it will then use to grow vigorously when the weather starts to warm up. Your vitality will benefit in the same way if you avoid cold and raw foods until it’s hotter out.
In most cases, the only time you should eat more raw or cold foods is when the weather is hot! hot! hot! But even then your digestive tract appreciates the addition of warmer foods to keep it moving along the way it should.
The next issue with doing a detox or cleanse is that most are designed in ways that can wreak holy havoc on your blood sugar. And blood sugar stability? That’s something you really don’t want to mess with if you want to stay healthy in the long run.
While intermittent fasting can be beneficial to your blood sugar levels and long-term health (when done with the guidance and supervision of a trained healthcare professional), that’s usually not what we’re talking about when it comes to doing a cleanse or detox.
A cleanse or detox usually involves juices or smoothies, which break up the natural fibers in fruits and vegetables so sugars are more quickly absorbed. This makes your blood sugar quickly spike and then crash, sending your hormones straight into unstable territory. To make matters worse, breaking up all those natural fibers means that the food passes through your digestive tract so quickly that your gut bacteria don’t get a chance to eat, so your gut flora get thrown for a loop right along with your blood sugar. (If you want more information on this, check out Robert Lustig’s January 2016 interview on the Good Food podcast by clicking here.)
The combination of unstable blood sugar and deprived gut flora can have far reaching consequences throughout your body.
It’s not uncommon for people to end up with insomnia, irregular or painful menstrual cycles, acne, weight gain, depression, and more as a result. I will concede that having a freshly pressed juice made purely of green vegetables isn’t going to have the same negative impact as a sweeter juice will, but you should still limit your consumption to one per day to avoid putting too much cold food into your body.
And then there’s the very real possibility that doing a detox or cleanse can lead to disordered eating patterns.
Of course not everyone who does a detox or cleanse will end up with an eating disorder, but it is far too common for people in Western cultures to laud diets that are actually just a cover-up for underlying body dysmorphia and mental illness. While increasing your vegetable and fruit consumption is almost always beneficial in the long run, pushing it to the extreme with a detox or cleanse is going to be more of a shocking jolt to your system than a boost to your health.
If you really want to boost your health, focus your diet around vegetables and small amounts of whole grain, whole fruit, and organic/pasture-raised/wild meats, fish, and eggs.
Avoid foods that are known to add stress to your liver like those treated with pesticides, processed ingredients, alcohol and sugar, as well as potential allergens like gluten and dairy. Make sure you add in a good dose of healthy fats like avocado oil, ghee, olive oil, coconut oil, rendered animal fats (only from happy animals, of course), nuts & seeds, as well as probiotic foods like fermented sauerkraut to help your body absorb nutrients and optimize your digestive tract. Finally, eat plenty of homemade broth and vegetable soups to help your body absorb nutrients, and include bitter foods like dandelion greens and burdock to add in extra liver support. You can even go one step further by detoxing your home of any unhealthy chemicals like parabens, environmentally un-friendly cleaning solutions, flame retardants, and other unnatural materials to limit your exposure to potential toxins.
But please, whatever you do, don’t do a quick-fix cleanse or detox.
You don’t have to force yourself to conform to an idealistic extreme diet in order to be healthy. You don’t even have to eat healthy food all the time.
You just need to learn to live a balanced life, connect with your body as deeply as you can, and listen to what its telling you.
With practice and intention the messages will become loud and clear. Now I’d love to hear from you. Have you done a detox or cleanse recently? How did it make you feel? Leave a message in the comments section below and let me know. I read every message personally and I’d love to hear about your experiences! Until next time, Love, hugs, and carrot soup, xoKaterina