January's got me thinking detox. I'm not alone; sales in products related to cleanses and wellness skyrocket this time of year while advertisements for smoothie and juicing systems abound. We don't care that it's 15 degrees outside and our cars are frosted over. We've resolved to drink light, frosty beverages and we are DOING THIS THING.
Great. But what exactly is it and why are we doing it again?
What's up with the detox diet thing?
Unleash the natural healing power of your body by ridding built up toxins! Flush your body, get rid of cravings, and heal! Lose weight without hunger!
Type “detox diet” into your search bar and you’ll see an abundance of statements like these. They’re often linked with an expensive juice delivery system and follow health trends by featuring foods like kale, watercress, or acai. Consumers don’t dare doubt their effectiveness; current food politics have placed a halo on all-things green and liquid.
But what many of these quick-fix detox diets fail to take into account is the full complexity and processes of the detoxification system. Not only does each individual have different nutrient needs, but the severe restriction of some cleanses can actually strain the body instead of support it; while certain nutrients come flooding in with an intake of largely raw fruit and vegetable juice, others are severely restricted. This imbalance strains the liver, the very organ we’re most trying to support, and can actually slow down the detoxification process! Talk to a handful of detox-ers and it’s apparent that this one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the answer- for everyone raves about their energy and glowing skin, the next is complaining about congestion and raging headaches.
Cool. So we've got our red flag raised about cleanses. But before we write them off altogether...
Should we detox anyway?
Detoxification and detox diets can sound like fuzzy concepts, equal parts mental and physical. For me, it brings to mind a college friend who spent two weeks in a Master Cleanse trance, drinking only water with lemon, cayenne, and syrup. She claimed to feel great and indeed lost a number of pounds, but these results were short lived. What neither of us knew then is that detoxification isn’t something to starve yourself into once or twice a year, but both a lifestyle and a science.
Our bodies are detoxing all. the. time. While the word TOXIN sounds dangerous and edgy, it’s really more of a catch-all term for any substance in the body that must be processed and removed. While some of these substances will indeed cause harm if not quickly detoxed -think heavy metals or carcinogenic compounds- others are less terrifying, like used hormones.
As a result of the constant demand for processing, our bodies have developed an impressive system to clear these toxins out with our waste all day, every day (and especially at night; three cheers for good sleeping habits). Much the way we shuttle our recycling to appropriate bins in the garage before running the whole lot to the curb or the dump, our bodies have a systematic and organized process for dealing with toxins. And it’s a good thing too, because today’s world cuts us no slack.
As human evolution and innovation has marched on, we’ve added layer upon layer of toxin exposure to our everyday life. They arrive in our food, in the form of pesticides, food dyes, or antibiotic residue. We absorb them from our environment, in second-hand smoke or the off-gassing from mattresses and construction materials. We apply them when we use certain moisturizers, hair sprays, deodorants, and body wash. No matter how efficient our body’s natural detoxification system is, it’s become necessary to consciously support this process if we wish to attain our best health.
What's a gal (or guy) to do?
This one's yuuuge. And a topic we're going to dive deeper into over the next few posts. It's equally simple and crazy complex, when you stare down the metabolic processes. Science aside though, start here:
1. Detox Your Home
What do you use to clean your house? What kind of body care items are in your kit? Are they packed with strange sounding ingredients? Prob. You don't want these. Embrace your inner hippie and make or buy natural replacements. This book is an adorable and easy reference on how to replace all of your evil cleaning products with natural alternatives that work.
2. Detox Your Bathroom
This one is the biggest challenge for some people. Look at your shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hair spray, deodorant, toothpaste, etc., ...or wait, maybe don't look at all. Just toss 'em. The whole lot. Unless you're making a massive effort to buy clean, they're probably full of the sorts of toxins that we absorb through our skin or inhale with our breath. These are toxins that can disrupt hormone feedback loops and cause cell mutations. Not to scare you or anything. The Think Dirty app for Apple and Android can help you in your new purchases, or you can DIY it. Think you're ready for the big league? Dive right in with Ugly Betty's homemade deodorant. Honestly, it's the best I've ever used.
3. Detox Your Kitchen
You've tossed your cleaning products and that's great, but now it's time to take a good hard look at the stuff you're directly ingesting. This one is pretty crucial. It's also simple: lose the processed foods and buy organic. Now those are two pretty serious (and potentially expensive) requirements, but luckily in today's food world there are some half-steps you can take that will go a loooong way. There are amazing companies out there making all of our snackable favorites like crackers, chips, cookies, and granola with exceptionally clean, whole ingredients. Support those guys if you need your crunchies. And when it comes to produce, organic is of course the best, but before you break the bank, check out these produce lists to know where your priorities should lie. Another way to shop the produce more affordably is to invest in a local CSA. You pay a chunk up front, but you're rewarded with local, organic produce throughout the growing season.
We'll leave it there for now. Happy new year!