A recent post on Facebook about my recent weeklong detox drew some attention and quite a few questions from friends, colleagues and students. So, I thought it might be a good idea to answer those questions in a blog and maybe give out a little information on my experience (strictly unscientific!)
The main reason I started detoxing about 15 years ago was due to an illness. I would literally get sick from eating. Over some months, I read a lot of natural heath books on illness and started to experiment with cutting out different kinds of foods. Nothing worked, and I continued to be sick. After a year or so, I entertained the idea that it might be a parasite that caused me to feel so bad, and so I turned my attention to detoxing, or rather, juice fasting.
The first fast was really difficult, as the “cold turkey” symptoms were new to me and the detoxifying effects were extremely strong. It took a lot of discipline, especially because I didn’t have the luxury of taking a detox holiday at a tropical resort, and prepared food for my family throughout the fasting period. When I smelled food, it took all the discipline I had to maintain my fast! Feeling pretty crappy and tired, I was actually on my first juice fast when I started to teach my first yoga class ever! Luckily, I didn’t pass out….
But, I stuck with it, and after a few days it felt great, and continued to feel great right until the end. It did not however, cure my illness or expel any nasty critters, but through this experience I learned the value of detox/fasting. It took some years before I overcame my food related illness, but that is a different story.
Once I started, I kept up juice fasting twice each year for a long time. It wasn’t until I moved back to The Netherlands, that it started to “slip” a little and I found I had less and less motivation to juice fast. I even “detoxed” a few times while continuing my daily coffee consumption! Anyway, over the years here, I adjusted my detoxes so I could stick with them a bit easier. It’s not about being a purist, it is about helping your body!
Here are my main tips, warnings and methods:
Before – Only start a detox when you are healthy. A small cold will not impact your detox but a flu or other illnesses can be too much for your system. Also, think about why you want to detox. Detoxing only to lose weight might not be a good enough reason to help you to stick with it. Yes, you will lose weight, but only lasting changes in your diet will keep this weight off. Detoxing can be a way of uncovering your unconscious food addictions and surface underlying emotional issues. And it can help you reset your eating habits.
Be informed and plan ahead – Detoxes are often done twice a year, in the early spring and in the fall. If you can go on a detox retreat that is great. If you stay at home, be prepared that your discipline level will need to be extremely high. The most effective detoxes are at least 7 days long, which means you have at least one weekend where you will not be out partying, eating and drinking with friends or family. Plan your detox well, so that you reduce the temptations. For example, if you have a family to cook for, see if you can cook some meals ahead of time (make big pans of soup for freezing, plan easy healthy meals, and/or have a partner or family member help you). One way to help you stay disciplined might be to do it together with a buddy. I never did this, but doing this together makes you more likely to stick with it. Plan your detox week also at a time where you can take some rest when you need to. Your energy and mood will be affected by detoxing, especially during those difficult first days.
Prepare for your detox – especially the first time you are detoxing, take several (at least two) days where you start preparing yourself, mentally and diet wise. Stop drinking coffee, eating sugar, and preferably diary and carbs, such as wheat. I used to eat two days of only raw vegetables to “ease” my system into it. Drink plenty of water, take rest as well as gentle exercise and go to bed early. Some detox methods will allow you to eat fruits, yogurt and nuts. This is entirely up to you, do what you can to not shell shock your body into the detox. As I said, I did hard-core juice fasting for about 10 years, but the last few years I have gotten a bit more easy on myself. Also I have been reading reports in the media that juice fasting may be too much for your organs (especially your liver) to handle. I have been eating special detox foods, free of processed ingredients and so on, and that has helped me cope much better with sticking with it. An absolutely fantastic resource for me has been the website com and Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook “It’s all Good.” Loads of useful information, and the cookbook has many detox recipes that are non-detox favorites of mine.
Know the effects – When I started my first fast, the effects were really strong; dark pee, fuzzy tongue, headaches and dizziness were some of the main symptoms of my body detoxifying. When your body is deprived of the normal dietary routine, you will get cold, so make sure you keep your woolens at close range. Furthermore, not eating regular foods may bring up some unconscious emotional issues. Much like quitting smoking or other addictions, drastic changes in your eating pattern may bring up quite a few of those same symptoms for you. I have found myself more than once during a fast thinking about how not being about to eat and drink like normal impacts the quality of my life. Not wanting to see friends, feeling empty and down because I could not join in dinners, and so on. Even knowing it was only for a week did not help ‘fix’ these feelings at all. But, after the first time, it was never that bad again.
Flush out your system – On every fast or detox, I drink lots of water and tea to help clear my body of the build-up. I take a tablespoon of flaxseed oil every night and a glass of warm lemon water in the morning, to help flush out my system. With experience, you will get used to feeling tired and having headaches, and you will know that they go away after a few days. After two or three days, I start to feel more energy in my body, more clarity in my mind, and much less hunger cravings for food. Having said this, I would advise you to really listen to your body, and if it is too much, check in with a doctor or dietician before continuing.
Ease back in – Don’t collapse when your detox is done! Maybe this is the hardest part of all; when you are done, and you can FINALLY eat and drink normal again, you will still need your discipline to curb you. Possibly the worst thing you can do for your system, is to overeat! In the best case, you will annihilate the effects of your detox faster than you can say “McDonalds.” Ease yourself into it and ease yourself out of it too. Slowly reintroducing foods in your diet will keep the effects of your detox lasting longer. And hopefully, you will feel as I did and do when I finish detoxing: very healthy and happy to be in my body. And maybe that will inspire you to make lasting changes in your diet (the “no coffee” has not yet survived but maybe someday it will…).