What is Cleansing and Should You Try It?

After a holiday season of sweet treats, festive cocktails and fatty foods, the idea of a cleanse or detoxification can sound very appealing. With promises of rapid weight loss and increased energy, cleansing sounds like a sure-fire solution for dropping the holiday weight gain and getting back on a healthy eating plan. But what exactly is cleansing and should we try it?

Cleanses are typically done two to four times a year, usually at the start of each season. Inflammatory foods such as sugar, alcohol, caffeine, wheat, dairy and processed foods are eliminated for anywhere from three to 21 days. It’s a chance to be a detective and investigate how specific foods affect each one of us. The cleanse acts as a reset for our bodies by giving the digestive system a break from hard-to-digest processed foods that make up the Standard American Diet and flushing out accumulated toxins.

Living in today’s modern world, we’re exposed to lots of toxins. They include excessive fat, salt, sugar, artificial sweeteners, preservatives and flavor enhancers in processed foods; herbicides and pesticides used to grow food; hormones and antibiotics used in the production of dairy and meat products; excessive amounts of caffeine and alcohol; and chemicals found in the water supply.

Toxins aren’t limited to just what we eat and drink. We take toxins in through our lungs when we breathe in air pollution created by cars and industry as well as fumes from household cleaning products. Toxins are also taken in through the skin via personal care product such as lotions, perfumes, soap and makeup. According to the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org), the average woman uses 12 personal care products daily, adding up to 168 different ingredients. That’s toxic overload!

How do we know if we could benefit from a cleanse? Some symptoms that indicate we might want to consider some dietary changes include digestive issues such as bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea. An inability to lose weight gain, especially in belly area, is an indication as are skin issues such as acne, excessive dryness or rashes. Other symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, a weakened immune system resulting in lots of colds or the flu, poor sleep and cravings. All of these are signals that there is an imbalance that needs attention.

Is cleansing really necessary? Doesn’t the body naturally detoxify itself daily via the lungs, skin, kidneys, liver and lymphatic system? Yes it does, but too often the body is overloaded and the detoxification systems slow down. By cleansing, we can reduce the number of toxins we have taken in and help the body’s detoxification and elimination systems get back to peak performance.

How do we cleanse in a safe and effective way? When most people hear the word cleanse or detox, they imagine fasting or existing on a liquid diet with lots of supplements and never being too far away from a bathroom; cleansing doesn’t have to be that way. We can reap the benefits of cleansing by eating real, whole foods.

There are lots of detox and cleansing plans available, but a safe and effective detox protocol should involve:

  • A gradual approach to reducing foods that wreak havoc on our systems (processed foods, sugar, gluten, dairy, caffeine and alcohol) while nourishing the body using real whole food
  • Enough nourishing foods to support the body’s detoxification and elimination process without feeling deprived
  • Reduction in sugar and caffeine cravings
  • Setting some time, usually two weeks, to do a cleanse is helpful. Although we don’t need to take time off from work, try to keep the social calendar light in order to concentrate on building new, healthy eating habits without temptation. Here are some simple detox steps:
  • Consult a doctor before making any dietary changes.
  • Remove processed foods, sugar, gluten, dairy, alcohol and caffeine from the diet. To avoid detox symptoms such as headache, fatigue, or digestive issues, begin weaning off of the inflammatory foods a few days to a few weeks before starting the detox.
  • Drink lots of water and caffeine-free herbal tea.
  • Eat low-sugar fruits such as berries daily.
  • Eat vegetables at every meal. Include all colors of the rainbow, but especially green and leafy vegetables.
  • Eat lean animal or plant based protein at every meal.
  • Switch to natural household cleansers and personal care products. Check ewg.org for suggestions.
  • Detox the mind; be mindful of the TV and movies watched, magazines and newspapers read, and websites, blogs and social media browsed.

After the cleansing phase is completed, some of the inflammatory foods can be re-introduced, one at a time, to see how they affect the body. Some people find that they have intolerances to wheat, dairy or caffeine and opt to reduce or eliminate these foods in their diet.

A cleanse needn’t be about deprivation or penance for dietary sins. While a seasonal cleanse is an excellent way to get back on a healthy eating plan after the holidays or a vacation—or curbing sugar and caffeine cravings—it’s also a way to slow down and eat more mindfully and seasonally. It’s a time to build new and healthy eating habits that we can easily incorporate into our daily lives. And it certainly doesn’t have to be perfect. Small, incremental changes to our diets and lifestyle can add up to huge health benefits.

Nancy Boudreau, CHC, RYT, is the founder of NancyBeWell.com. She is a yoga teacher and certified holistic health coach specializing in whole foods cleanses. For more information, email NancyBeWell@gmail.com, call 203-305-5248 or visit NancyBeWell.com.