Until about three years ago the idea of embarking on a detox had never occurred to me. I thought it was something reserved for seriously addled drug addicts who had the money to go somewhere exclusive and out of sight like the Betty Ford Clinic. And then, I happened upon yoga.
It was a slow start. I found the notion of bending myself into pretzel-like contortions and trying to do handstands as I fast approached 40, to be ridiculous, not to say dangerous and daunting. But, I was dating someone who swore by it, and in my attempt to fold and bend into the type of gal he might like to keep around, I started to do quick yoga practices via OnDemand TV to get the hang of things before daring to enter a studio. (Turns out yoga – not the boyfriend – was the keeper.)
I soon graduated to following “real” teachers in heated studios, practicing alongside living, breathing yogis – and I was saved! Well pretty much. It became a spiritual practice more than a physical one, and my spirit fell in love with a wonderful teacher in San Francisco.
Then one day I spotted a flyer on the pinboard in the yoga studio: “Do 40 days of Yoga!” it proclaimed, promising that by the end of it we would feel better, stronger, and cleansed both inside and out. I took a leap of faith and signed up. I wasn’t too worried about practicing yoga everyday, but we were to follow Baron Baptiste’s “40 Days to a Personal Revolution” which included giving up any processed or packaged food, anything fried, sugar, refined white flour, dairy, caffeine and alcohol. Instead, we’d be focusing on fresh whole foods. This was the first time that I had done anything like this and while most of the “banned” foods featured infrequently in my diet, I initially resisted being told to eliminate them completely.
Ultimately, I succumbed to the plan and embraced it fully. And guess what? I discovered that if I gave my body what it needed on a consistent basis, namely lots of fresh vegetables, small amounts of high quality animal proteins and whole grains, and skipped the pasta, the pastries and the post-yoga frozen Amy’s dinners, my digestion worked as it was supposed to.
It seems trite and frankly a little embarrassing to say this was a revelation to me, but it was. It was my first glimpse of what I might feel like to eat a clean, mindful diet on a regular basis vs. just grabbing soup for lunch and eating whatever I could find at home after a long day at work and solo parenting. Laxatives, natural or otherwise, had become regular feature in my life; feeling bloating was something that happened at least three or four times a week; I’d panic if I didn’t have Tums in my purse, and a desire for sugar arrived like clockwork at precisely 3pm every afternoon. I bet some or all of this sounds familiar to many of you.
Since then, I have embarked on various detoxes, some more strict than others. The Clean cleanse is designed to eliminate pretty much anything that a human has ever had an allergic reaction to, and while it’s pretty strict, I have to say I felt svelte and tip-top during it. My one complaint is that it’s too restrictive to transition into day-to-day eating afterwards.
Most detox approaches will typically eliminate the following: gluten, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, soy, corn, sugar and possibly eggs. These are foods that commonly cause problems so many people quickly feel better once they start their detox. The real trick is figuring out which food sources do cause you an issue and which don’t so you can get on with your life.
As a result of my adventures, I gave up caffeine in June 2011 and haven’t looked back – I start my day with warm water and lemon juice spiked with either cinnamon or cayenne pepper – and have been living 98% gluten-free since April of last year. I spent about six months off dairy last year because it wasn’t agreeing with me (you don’t want to know) but the body is a wonderful thing. Give it a chance to heal itself and it will. I can now eat dairy without adverse effects.
I have learned how to love and nourish my liver by eating foods that support it: cauliflower, celery, pears, cilantro, and cranberries, to name but a few food sources. I have figured out that what so many of us think of as fiber i.e.: wheat bran, simply bloats, but vegetable fiber like squashes and brussel sprouts are a wonderful way to carry toxins out of our system. I no longer reach for laxatives, but instead load my breakfast smoothies with ground flax and chia seeds, which offer protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids. I’ve discovered that cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar levels, and to appease my sweet tooth I stick to organic dark chocolate 70% or higher which is also full of anti-oxidants – Dagoba is a current favorite.
Best of all, understanding what makes my body tick has presented me with new fun challenges in the kitchen. Whether it’s experimenting with my favorite brownie recipe to make it gluten-free (recipe to follow), creating a dairy-free, liver-loving version of pesto or roasting brussel sprouts in coconut oil, it’s all become part of my slow food journey.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that eating well, and eating for ongoing health vs. trying to minimize symptoms as they arise, is a daily practice, just like yoga.
If you’re interesting in trying a detox for yourself, why not check out my wonderful nutritionist’s web site – she runs regular programs – and here’s a great article she wrote about everyday detox foods.