A few years ago I embarked upon my first ever detoxification programme. I don’t recall precisely what it was that motivated me to remove all toxic substances from my diet, but perhaps it was just that – an intuitive sense that there was ‘toxic overload’ in my body and I needed a fresh start.
It never ceases to amaze me how strongly the seasons influence my mood and appetite and Spring is a season I always associate with new beginnings. I was born in April and have vivid memories of Easter-themed birthday parties, pastel-coloured paper plates and hunting for chocolate eggs amidst the yellow forsythia bushes in our garden. The approach of April always instilled excitement in me for my birthday celebration, but now I look forward to it as a time to refresh and renew with a juice cleanse.
When you compare indulging in foil-wrapped chocolate eggs to depriving yourself of solid food for several days, you probably think it would be mad to prefer the latter. But having now experimented with several different kinds of cleanses, I can honestly say that ‘spring-cleaning’ my body has played an essential role in my overall health and well-being, and worked wonders to help kick bad eating and lifestyle habits.
First of all, there are many types of cleanses and detox programmes out there, and let’s not be mistaken, some are conducted poorly, using the wrong method for one’s health needs, at the wrong time of year, with misguided objectives. The purpose of this blog is not to give you specific instructions for cleansing, but rather to highlight why one might want to motivate themselves to embark upon a cleanse in the first place.
As I mentioned earlier, cleansing is an opportunity to refresh and renew your system. It is also TEMPORARY. In one of my favourite resources on how to lead a healthier, cleaner lifestyle, Clean, by Alejandro Junger, he defines a cleanse as a ‘distinct programme, done for a concentrated period of time, that puts the body in a more intense detox mode. It has a start and an end date and a specific purpose.’
When I tell people I’ve just come off a cleanse (usually this is preceded by them asking me why I am glowing), they often respond: Oh God – how can you do that!? Food is the source of life and happiness – I couldn’t survive without it! Well, duh, neither could I! Cooking is one of my greatest pleasures! But while cleaning up our diet and our lifestyles in order to support our health should be something we strive to do on a daily basis, taking more extreme measures to actually rid our bodies of toxins is a very interesting, short-term experiment to get you thinking about what it is in your life, diet and environment that is literally polluting your body and mind. In other words, defining, what is toxic to you?
In another great resource on cleansing, The 3-Day Cleanse by Zoe Sakoutis and Erica Huss, they define a toxin as ‘a poisonous substance that is harmful to your body. There are man-made toxins such as pesticides and gasoline, and natural toxins such as those that result from the activities of daily living. There are also toxins in the food you eat and the water you drink…If you don’t get rid of toxins in your body, they build up and damage cells and tissue, leading to diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease.’
Junger defines a toxin as ‘something that interferes with normal physiology and negatively impacts bodily function. Toxins are of many different kinds, with totally different qualities, from an infinite number of different sources; just as varied are the complex mechanisms by which they cause irritation and damage.’ Later he adds, ‘Toxicity irritates tissues, damages our own cells, and kills other cells that we host in harmony and need for our health.’
While it’s absolutely true that the body has a natural detoxification system involving our very intelligent organs, unfortunately these systems can become impaired by the overwhelming amount of toxins we are exposed to today compared to our predecessors. In Barbara Wren’s incredible book Cellular Awakening, she talks about this natural process and its many stages, including: toxicity being released into the lymphatic system, then toxic lymph draining into the blood, then blood passing through the liver (which filters out the toxins), then the liver excreting toxic bile into the bowel, and then the toxins being excreted from the body through the bowel. When a body isn’t well (and these days, most are struggling), she says ‘toxicity can get blocked at any of the above stages,’ which is why sometimes we need to take more drastic measures to restore and re-balance our body’s natural detoxification functions.
On my most recent detoxification experience at a health and healing holiday retreat centre in the Philippines, I followed a 6-day juice cleanse where I drank 5 vegetable-based juices per day, supported by natural supplements including Probiotics, Digestive Enzymes, Blue Green Algae, Cold Pressed Virgin Coconut Oil, a Natural herb formula for brain function and an Electrocolloids Drink (to restore electrolytes), as well as drinking plenty of water. Unlike self-proctored cleanses I had done previously in my home in London based upon research online and the resources mentioned in this post, the experience at The Farm was very different. This is primarily because I was completely removed from everyday stresses, in a secluded, hot, and beautiful environment as opposed to cold, damp London. Instead of having to prepare my own juices (which you can read more about in my blog post on My Kitchen Family) and think about appropriate timing, they were made for me. I never experienced hunger or fatigue and I believe this was because I never experienced stress. My days were filled with lounging by the pool, soaking up sunshine, reading good fiction, socializing with my best friend, practicing yoga, taking walks in nature, getting plentiful rest and enjoying some of the most incredible and indulgent detoxification treatments. I was also under medical supervision the whole time and near to support should I experience a ‘healing crisis.’ My cell phone and computer were far from sight.
Cleanses don’t necessarily have to be juice-based. In Ayurveda (ancient Indian science of life), doctors and therapists will prescribe regular periods of detoxification known as panchakarma, where you follow a very simple food-based cleanse, consuming mostly warm, cooked kitchadi (mung daal with many healing spices such as tumeric) that is also aimed at giving our organs a break and eliminating waste materials from the body. My Autumn cleanse (I strive to cleanse twice per year) is inspired by this method as it involves warmer, more therapeutic foods and guidelines that are easier to follow in the London climate.
The most effective cleanses will also involve complementary treatments like colonics, enemas or colemas, which help to rid the body of the toxins that get released when we slow down our digestive systems and let toxins release. They will also encourage techniques like skin brushing, hot and cold showering, Epsom salt baths, castor oil packing and tongue scraping. In the Philippines we had 2 colonics and 2 coffee colemas on alternate days, as well as daily spa treatments including coconut oil scrubs, charcoal treatment on the skin, skin Kayud treatment (scraping of the body with a seashell to improve movement of the lymph), Thai massage, Salt baths and coconut milk baths. Cleanses don’t need to be done in such luxury, but my finding is that, if you can (I was lucky to find a generous discount for this one), it’s definitely preferable and more effective to cleanse in a peaceful and supportive environment, completely removed from your normal daily routine and surroundings. Cleansing can be quite a challenging, emotional and intense experience and should not be taken lightly. Chances are, the money you spend on doing it right will pay off in the end in terms of not creating more stress for your body and easing up payments on medical bills in the future…
So how do you know when you’re run down or need a clean canvas? Start by asking yourself questions like, how do I feel when I get out of bed? Energized or groggy? What are your thought patterns like – negative or light? How does your skin look – glowing or dull? How does your body feel – heavy or vibrant? How many times have you gotten ill in the past year? Chances are, after a long winter of comfort eating, staying indoors, and possibly working too hard, most of us are in need of a re-boot. Common signs of toxicity in the body are: Fatigue, Headaches, Bowel Irregularities, Allergies, Weight Problems, Depression, Anxiety, Skin problems, Sinus issues, Bloating after eating, Constipation, Muscle and Joint Pain, etc. Sound familiar?
Is a cleanse going to solve all these problems instantly and eternally? Probably not, but some people do experience this. Everyone will have a different experience depending on their individual conditions and the degree to which they are leading a toxic life. Will a cleanse build my awareness of what I can be doing to be feeling better? Absolutely. Whether you are embarking on a short cleanse or simply trying to clean up your act in small ways every day, keep in mind that changing habits and healing illness and toxicity in the body can take time and should be a lifelong objective. So if you’re in it for instant weight loss for example, you might experience this as an immediate result, but you are depriving yourself of noticing and possibly experiencing the more profound outcomes. Maintaining healthy weight, good skin, high energy, etc. is down to you carrying all of your observations and good habits with you to feel good all year round.
Here are just a few wonderful outcomes I have experienced from cleansing:
- A massive awakening and renewal of my sense of smell, taste, sight, hearing and touch (you become more sensitive to both the bad and good stuff – and thus more aware of sounds (like traffic) that are stressful to the system and textures (like cotton as opposed to polyester) that are more loving to your skin
- A new awareness of toxic chemicals that sneak into our food and beauty products. You might taste the pesticides on your produce or be disgusted by the chemical scent of your body lotion for example. I spring-cleaned my bathroom cabinets of all unnatural, non-organic products after my first cleanse and it made a huge difference to how I felt. You might even start to make your own (check out my friend Amanda’s blog for a great recipe for home-made deodorant) as you increase your awareness of how the skin itself is a detoxing organ
- A greater affinity for the fresh, alkaline, naturally cleansing foods that become abundant in the Spring and less cravings for the foods that you know slow you down (processed and refined carbohydrates, sugar, alcohol, coffee, etc.)
- Better portion control – when you remove solid foods from your diet for a period of time, you realize how little we savour and chew our foods and also how little we require to survive. Transitioning from warm weather and the country back into colder, city environments, will naturally have you wanting more food and possibly warm foods, but you are unlikely to binge after a cleanse if administered correctly
- You realize how much of your day (and energy) can be spent thinking about, preparing and digesting food – suddenly your days become longer and less complicated when you remove this from your routine for a short while! You might simplify your cooking moving forward
- Your ability to listen and be compassionate might increase – my eyes and ears actually feel bigger after a cleanse and my mind less cluttered with toxic thoughts about myself
- You feel more centered calm because you are forced to slow down and hit the pause button; you realizing taking things slow feels good
- You start to really comprehend how the digestive system and our bowels work (miracle system!), which can result in you treating your body with more kindness by feeding it foods that digest easily and make you feel good – once you’ve finished a cleanse, you’ll be more likely to make better choices so as not to un-do all the good you’ve done
- You realize how much we turn to food for comfort and how we use it to sustain ourselves through stressful situations and might start to explore other methods of de-stressing like yoga and meditation, exercising or partaking in more cultural activities
- A higher appreciation and more focus on getting good rest and sleep, watching less television and exposing yourself to less toxic media!
And here are my key pieces of advice when considering a cleanse:
- Do your research! Don’t just jump on the cleansing bandwagon because someone told you they lost a lot of weight from a cleanse and you want to lose a few extra pounds fast. Define your motivation and objectives and make them meaningful and lasting ones.
- If you are doing a juice cleanse, ideally do it in the Spring months and somewhere warm – it will be less shocking on your system and you’ll be less inclined to dream about comfort foods! Although keep in mind that a long-haul flight somewhere can be toxic and dehydrating to your body, so work in extra days on either end to ease back home and into the detox environment
- Think about the right cleanse for your body and your needs – there are many different approaches out there and you need to choose the one that resonates with you the most. Trust your own instincts in terms of level of severity, timing and length
- Do your first cleanse under supervision of someone experienced and knowledgeable on the topic