Detox January? Why bother to detox and what does it mean?
After the Christmas festivities many of us end up feeling tired, lethargic, heavy, bloated and generally under the weather. Our skin and hair may also look dull and lifeless. Too much over indulgence in sugar (chocolates, sweets, etc), bad fats (pastries, puddings, etc) and alcohol, along with the ever present toxins in the environment will take a particular toll on your body at this time of the year. This may be a time therefore when its worth considering a detox.
Detoxing is the way that our bodies get rid of potentially harmful chemicals (toxins). It is a process that goes on all the time throughout the year and our bodies are designed to cope with toxins. However, the problem arises when you take in more toxins than your body can handle or your detoxification system is not working as well as it might do. Basically, your system can become overloaded and you may develop all sorts of symptoms including bloating, lack of energy, and poor skin.
A detox is a short term dietary and lifestyle intervention designed to improve detoxification of toxins from the body. There are many different types of detox programmes and these will often include eliminating certain foods that may be aggravating the digestive track (gluten or dairy) or putting additional strain on the liver as well as increasing food and drink that may improve the detox pathways of the liver.
A detox is therefore not about counting calories or fat units. Instead, its about being aware of the kinds of foods we are putting into our bodies. It’s not about eating less, it’s about eating more ‘good nutrient dense’ food and feeding our bodies the nutrients it needs to function optimally. A good detox programme should therefore include all the nutrients the body needs to achieve optimal function.
Therefore the purpose of a ‘detox diet’ is to give your body a break from the usual toxic load by reducing the amount of toxins that you take in and encouraging your body to eliminate old toxins. More specifically it usually involves the following:
- Eating the right food to encourage the body’s natural detoxification processes
- Cutting out addictive substances such as nicotine, caffeine and alcohol
- Going organic wherever possible
- Cutting down on foods and drinks that may add to your toxic load – processed sugars, processed foods, saturated fats, salty foods and additives
- Reducing emotional and physical stress in your life.
- Getting enough sleep
- Adopting healthy habits such as exercise and relaxation therapies. Exercise is an important part of any detox programme. Physical activity improves digestive function and boosts the metabolic rate, helping to stimulate elimination channels through breath, sweat, and circulation.
- Drinking water or herbal teas – drinking plenty of fluid is essential while detoxing as it helps to eliminate water-soluble toxins from your body. It also helps to prevent constipation, reduce bloating and encourages a clear skin.
- Eat foods as close to their natural state as possible.
Some detox programmes also involve eliminating for a short period certain other food types such as:
- Wheat products : some people may find wheat hard to digest and that it may cause bloating and other symptoms.
- Dairy products (cheese, milk, cream, butter, yoghurt) again some people find it difficult to digest dairy because of the lactose it contains which may produce symptoms such as bloating, and congestion in some people
- Finally, avoiding meat and fish on the detox diet may be beneficial since they both create added work/strain on your digestive system. So some detox programmes advocate going vegan during this time.
Incidentally, if you do decide to eliminate wheat or dairy then its best to re-introduce these foods one at a time rather than re-introducing them all at once. That way, you will be able to work out those which cause you unpleasant symptoms.
So what do you eat on a detox diet? Many detox diets include lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, pulses, sprouted beans, nuts, seeds, non-dairy milk (almond, coconut, etc), fresh herbs and spices as well as some of the lifestyle changes described above. However, everyone is different and some people may feel that they only need to incorporate some parts of the detox diet/programme to suit their needs and lifestyle.
The detox diet is normally for a fixed period of say 14 – 28 days. However, trying to maintain some of the healthier eating and lifestyle patterns into the long term may be beneficial such as reducing your sugar and alcohol intake.