If you’re like most people, the word “detox” conjures up images of chugging foul-tasting green concoctions, starving yourself, sweating like crazy in a sauna, or spending hours on the toilet. Or it might make you think of those pricey spa retreats where all of your meals are prepared by a gourmet chef and you spend your days getting massages and facials in between yoga sessions on the beach. Whatever your preconceptions are about detoxification (also referred to as cleansing), I’m here to explain to you what it means to detox, why you should do it, and how to get started.
First off, what are toxins and how do they end up in your body? A toxin is a poisonous substance that has the ability to cause damage or disease in the body. And the truth is: they’re everywhere! Toxins are in the foods you eat (in the form of pesticides, artificial colors and flavors, MSG, preservatives and many other additives), the air you breathe, the water you drink and bathe in, the medicines you take, the cleaners you use in your home, and the products you put on your skin. They’re completely unavoidable. The CDC even releases an ongoing report on human exposure to environmental chemicals, and it’s over 700 pages long! So, if you’re being bombarded with toxins all day every day, how are you still alive? Well, your body has the amazing ability to process toxins and remove them from your body before they’re able to do you harm. Your liver, kidneys, colon, skin, lungs, and lymphatic system all work together to sort through, process, break down, and eliminate toxins so they don’t hurt you. Your body is detoxing 24/7/365. Brilliant, right? So, what’s the problem, you ask? Where you can run into trouble is when your body is not able to process the toxic load due to either impaired function of your detoxification organs, or simply taking in more toxins than your body can handle. When toxins aren’t being eliminated efficiently, your body will start to show signs. Fatigue, acneic or dull skin, weight gain, headaches, insomnia, irritability and mood swings, and intense cravings are just some of the indications that you need to detoxify your body.
When “doing a detox,” your goal is to give your body a boost in two ways:
1. Reduce the amount of toxins you put in it. As I mentioned earlier, unless you live in a bubble and only eat organic food and drink mountain spring water, you can’t completely avoid exposure to toxins. The goal during your detox is to eliminate as many toxins as you can, which will give your body a break and allow it to metabolize and eliminate the toxins already in your body. Some things to avoid during a detox would be:
- Tap water (drink filtered water only)
- Processed food
- Gluten and dairy (which are hard on the digestive system)
2. Support your detoxification organs. While you are detoxing, it’s important to love on your detox organs as much as you can. Nutritionally speaking, you’ll want to eat lots of organic vegetables (especially leafy greens and cruciferous veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage), antioxidant-rich fruits, and homemade broths. Drinking plenty of filtered water and practicing stress-reducing techniques like mediation or yoga will also assist your body. There are also many herbs and supplements that can be used to support your liver, kidneys, and colon:
- Dandelion root and milk thistle. They are both available as teas and help to stimulate and protect the liver during detoxification.
- Activated charcoal. This amazing substance binds to toxins to help carry them safely out of your body.
- Chlorella and spirulina. These green superfoods help detoxify heavy metals like mercury and arsenic.
- Psyllium. This is a fiber that helps stimulate normal bowel function. It provides bulk to scrub out your colon.
While you’re detoxing, it’s important to be aware that you may start to experience symptoms similar to those experienced when you’re overly toxic, such as headaches, irritability, or cravings. These symptoms will subside. Just be gentle on your body and rest as much as possible. Now is not the time to go on vacation (where it can be difficult to eat healthy), give a big presentation at work, or run a marathon. You can further stimulate the detoxification process by dry skin brushing, doing some light exercise, and getting lots of sleep. To get the most benefit from your detox, try it for 7-14 days. Many people feel so great they just keep on going! Try detoxing once or twice a year, maybe in the spring or fall when you’re cleaning and decluttering other parts of your life. You should start to gain mental clarity, see a brighter complexion in the mirror, and maybe even lose a few pounds. Some people report feeling “lighter,” like a fog has been lifted. Others are able to overcome intense sugar cravings or even eliminate digestive troubles they were having.
As part of my schooling, I did my first detox about two months ago. I’ll admit I was quite nervous about it, as I had visions of getting “hangry” and feeling awful. The first day while I was at work, all I could think about was food, particularly all of the things I wasn’t supposed to eat, like cheese. Boy, did I want a big hunk of cheese. But after a trip to the grocery store where I stocked up on detox-friendly foods, I felt awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I kept on with the detox even longer than I originally planned. My goal is to incorporate a detox into my healthy living routine once or twice a year, or if I’m starting to not feel so great.
Reader feedback: Have you done a detox before? How did you feel? I want to hear about it!