It’s that time of year again. People are stepping outside after a long Florida winter of sales and stuffing. The day has finally arrived. It’s D Day! “D” for detox, of course. Time for the newest detox that promises limitless happiness surely attained from losing those extra pounds and cleansing the body of all foods modern culture deems evil.
You may think that this sarcasm is reflecting an anti-detox mentality, but my tension comes more from how detox is used rather than the detox itself. Let’s break this down.
You party a little too hardy for the holidays or eat poorly because you are “too tired and busy.”
Step 1: Go on a detox. Do Whole30, a juicing and bone broth fast, intermittent fasting, whole food vegan, or other popular cleanse.
Step 2: In 2-7 days your energy improves, you lose weight, you feel lighter, and the world is a better place. You carry out the cleanse for the remaining days and experience continued benefits.
Step 3: The cleanse ends and you quickly slide back into exactly what you were doing before the detox.
Step 4: One to three months go by and you gain back all the weight plus some (which has been scientifically proven to happen with yo-yo dieting). You have sudden onset OCD (obsessive coffee drinking), and start feening for your next detoxgasm.
Step 5: Repeat steps 1-4.
Sound familiar? When detox is used like this, which is almost always, it goes from being something therapeutic to being nothing more than a yo-yo crash diet with a side of milk thistle wrapped up in a booshie holistic spa package.
1. Your exit strategy is far more important than which detox you choose to do!
2. Your detox should focus on quality, not quantity. Restricting calories, carbs, or any other macro has been scientifically proven to cause the body to compensate, ultimately leading to regaining the weight and, in many cases, weighing even more than your initial weight!
Detox Done Right
A detox can do a lot more than just support liver detoxification and help you lose a few pounds. When used strategically, it can jump-start long-lasting lifestyle changes. Why not just go straight to lifestyle changes? Indeed, that is a viable option as well. Certainly better than the previous scenario listed above.
However, I actually really like doing a cleanse first for multiple reasons. Spoiler alert: these reasons are not always easy for people to carry out on their own. Working with a healthcare provider knowledgeable in these areas may be necessary to get you to that next level.
1. Treat the detox like an elimination diet.
An elimination diet involves eliminating certain foods (e.g., nuts, dairy, gluten, shellfish) for a specific period of time, then strategically reintroducing each food one at a time to see how the body responds. When your diet is full of processed foods, your body does not always give you clear signals for what it wants and what it doesn’t want. Have you ever done a cleanse and then tried eating pizza or burger and fries? Does your body feel different than when you were eating these foods before the cleanse? Do you have more noticeable digestive issues, pain, fatigue, brain fog, or skin issues? Essentially, after the detox your body can be very happy and in order to stay happy, it raises the volume when you eat something that it doesn’t like.
Reintroduce one new food every 4-5 days. Eat that food a few times over the course of two days, and then wait another 2-3 days to see how your body responds. Most people think that if they don’t feel something right away that the food is fine. If you feel good with that food, bring it back into the diet and reintroduce something else. If you do not feel good with that food, you have to decide if you want to eliminate it, remove it for 3-6 months then reintroduce it, eat less of it, or continue eating it. It is totally up to you. This process is to learn more about how your body responds to certain foods. Once you know, you can do whatever you want with that information. However, if you do decide to bring back a food that your body did not respond well to, wait until after you have finished the reintroduction phase to continue eating it.
2. Start integrating mindful and intuitive (MI) eating practices during the cleanse and instead of stopping when the cleanse ends, go even deeper into MI.
Traditionally MI is the opposite of doing a detox. The mindful and intuitive eating philosophy specifically tries to steer people away from dieting and detox dogma. I believe that you can have the best of both worlds. To me, an elimination diet (without caloric or macro restriction) with strategic reintroduction IS a way to hone in on more mindful and intuitive eating by allowing you to pay closer attention to how certain foods make your body feel.
Most of us eat on autopilot. We eat when we think we are supposed to eat or when we are told, OR we ignore our bodies and don’t eat until we are so hungry we are ready and willing to eat anything and everything in sight. MI is an approach that helps you become more in tune with your body. This approach helps you eat based on your individual needs and doesn’t dismiss your desires either. This approach takes you off the roller coaster of dieting and binging and helps you to improve your relationship with food. For many, this is key for making “healthy” a lifestyle. There are books, podcasts, Facebook groups, and YouTube videos all on mindful and intuitive eating. I would suggest taking some time when you are doing your cleanse to start learning about and incorporating these practices.
3. Great jump-start to motivate you to problem solve for long-term change
More often then not, the cleanse you choose is not sustainable as a lifestyle. You are energized and your liver is grateful for the recent surge in nutrient support! Use this energy to figure out what is needed for you to incorporate “healthy” and “balanced” as a lifestyle. What is YOUR reason for not being able to consistently get a plate of food in front of you that is nourishing your body AND that you enjoy? Maybe it is time, maybe your energy is low, maybe it is motivation, maybe you are an emotional eater, maybe you are a picky eater, or maybe you don’t know what to eat. There are solutions to all of these! If you don’t know what to do, work with someone who can lead you to the answers.
Remember the difference between lifestyle and diet. A diet is strict, rigid, and suggested for a specific period of time. A lifestyle is long-term thus has to be something flexible and that you enjoy, or else you will not stick with it. The goal of a healthy lifestyle is not to eat 100% “clean” or “healthy.” The goal is to consistently eat in a way that nourishes your body and energizes you, AND to allow yourself (without guilt) to also enjoy foods that do not fall into this category. For example, you discover from the detox/elimination diet that wheat is significantly contributing to your chronic digestive issues, so you have a smoothie for breakfast and leftovers from the night before for a balanced lunch. You see gluten-free chocolate chip cookies that look amazing, so you decide to have one or two because you enjoy cookies. You don’t feel the urge to eat more because you know you can have them whenever you want. Then you go home and eat a dinner that nourishes your body and feel good about your day.
Staci’s Favorite Detox Options
As I mentioned before, there is not one detox that is THE detox for everyone. Find which one resonates with you and, most importantly, focus on what you will be doing after the detox. You should have the basics of your exit strategy figured out before you start. Below are some of my favorite detox options:
1. A detox can be as simple as eating only unprocessed foods and eliminating common food sensitivities such as gluten, dairy, soy, and corn, then focusing on eating fruits and vegetables, organic and wild caught forms of animal protein, beans, nuts, seeds, gluten-free whole grains (no flours), and healthy fats such as extra virgin cold pressed olive, coconut, and avocado oil. Some may also try Whole30, Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), or a vegan whole food plan. Remember to focus on quality, not quantity. The quantity of food should be similar to your exit strategy (lifestyle).
2. Designs for Health Pure Paleo Cleanse: This combines the prized collagen protein powder and targeted nutrients with real whole foods. The program supports gut health, liver detoxification pathways, and inflammation. The diet includes smoothies, vegetables, healthy unprocessed gluten-free carbs (fruits, starchy vegetables, and gluten-free grains), clean protein, and healthy fats. Some people modify the allowable foods to be more consistent with the Paleo or AIP. There are different options for how to utilize the two shakes a day. I prefer to use one shake as a breakfast smoothie and the other as a snack between lunch and dinner.
3. Juicery Rx Cleanse: Most organic juice cleanses are just cold pressed juices, but the brilliant “green pharmacist” Kimmi Stultz takes it to another level by adding in-house made organic bone broths, high-quality plant protein powders, specially formulated herbals (supporting liver, adrenal, kidneys, and lymphatics), along with cold-pressed juices to give optimal support for 1, 3, or 5 days. This cleanse is great for those who don’t want to cook, prep, or even to have to think about their food. This cleanse will be lower in calories than your exit strategy, so you may gain back some of the weight you lost during the cleanse. However, it is a short cleanse with lots of other benefits, so I feel comfortable suggesting it for those who resonate with this approach.
Detox is not just food…
Remember to adopt sleep hygiene practices and meditation/deep belly breathing; get quality sleep, exercise, and sunlight; switch out toxic cleaning and body care products; and try to get in some infrared sauna time and lymphatic dry brushing. Also, don’t forget that your attitude (positive thinking) is more powerful than anything you can put in your mouth!
By Staci Shacter
Reference Paul S. MacLean, Audrey Bergouignan, Marc-Andre Cornier, and Matthew R. Jackman. Biology's response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 301: R581–R600, 2011.