Is a Detox Program Right for You?
Detox is a hot buzzword lately, but what does it really involve and is it safe? The answers to those questions aren’t simple, so let’s start by describing what it involves. Detox, short for detoxification, is a program to help your body process and eliminate toxins which have been stored in your body. Detox programs typically involve a short-term change to your eating habits and may involve supplements or lifestyle changes. Some programs also include “mental detox” which involves processing and eliminating the mental stored toxins, typically through meditation or relaxation techniques.
Why should we consider a detox program?
The typical western lifestyle exposes our bodies and minds to a wide variety of toxins, including chemicals, pollution, and impurities in our food, water, and air. In addition, if our digestion is weak or overworked due to improper eating habits, illness or stress, improperly digested food becomes a toxin known in ayurveda as ama. This ama clogs up our systems and prohibits our bodies from functioning optimally. If you have a feeling of heaviness in the body, your tongue is covered with a thick, white film when you wake, you have unpleasant body odor, you lack energy or focus or you have joint pain, you may have a buildup of ama in your system and may benefit from a detox. Also, if you have digestive trouble, a low immune system, food allergies, or frequent colds and flu, you may find positive benefits from a detox.
What is involved with a safe, effective detox?
There are many detox programs available, some of which are highly questionable or even dangerous. Some of the detox programs severely restrict calorie intake or require the use of expensive supplements which may contain very strong herbal remedies. Be suspicious of any program that claims very fast or unreasonable sounding results. The best approach for detox is to simply support the natural, effective, efficient detox methods that our bodies already have! Small changes in diet and lifestyle can support the body’s ability to process and eliminate toxins. The program I recommend includes the following:
- Decrease your intake of toxins so the body has less to process. This includes foods that ayurveda states are “hard to digest.”*
- Support your body’s digestive processes with spices and easy to digest foods*. Done correctly, this also encourages your body to release and eliminate “old” stored toxins from the body.
- Get sufficient rest to allow the body to process and eliminate toxins.
- Include a “mental detox” component by noticing and decreasing the amount of mental toxins you take in each day.
1. Decreasing your toxin intake
- Avoid processed foods which contain additives, preservatives, and artificial ingredients. Eliminate artificial sweeteners, coffee, and alcohol. Eat fresh, whole foods. Drink filtered water, 100% juice diluted with water, or teas. This step can be a great detox program all on its own!
- COMPLETELY avoid any food to which you know or suspect you have an allergy or food-sensitivity.
- Choose organic produce when possible. A cost-effective alternative can be visiting a local farm or farmer’s market where the produce may be organically farmed but not certified for organic sale.
2. Improving your digestion
- Add the following spices to your diet through foods or teas: Ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, licorice, cardamom, basil, fennel, rosemary, turmeric and oregano.
- Drink a tea of lemon, ginger and honey first thing in the morning.
- Dairy, wheat, eggs and soy can all be difficult to digest and are common food allergens. In addition, meat is very hard to digest. Avoiding or decreasing these foods for a period of time gives the digestive system a break. Cooked foods with lots of veggies are easy to digest and should be the staple of a detox diet. Kichari is an ayurvedic dish of beans and rice with lots of digestive spices that can be a wonderful “detox” food.
- Increase your fiber intake by adding ground flax meal or psyllium to your diet. These can be mixed with juice to drink, or added to cereals, salads, smoothies and other foods. When increasing your fiber intake, ensure you are getting enough fluids or constipation can occur (which increases the amount of ama in the body instead of decreasing it!).
3. Getting sufficient rest
- Most of us are sleep-deprived. To optimally process and eliminate toxins, the body must get sufficient rest and sleep. Going to bed by 10PM is very important. Ayurveda teaches us that the body uses a cycle from 10PM-2AM to process toxins – if you are awake, that energy is going elsewhere and your body will not be as effective in processing and elminating the toxins.
- Gentle exercise will support your detox, but too much or too vigorous of exercise will be counterproductive, as the body will need to “repair” the cellular damage done from a strong workout. Walking or a gentle yoga practice are great exercise options when detoxing.
4. Mental Detox
- Take some time to notice the mental toxins you are exposed to each day. Mental toxins may be negative stories on the news, radio, or TV. It may be in the form of explicit lyrics in music or graphic violence on TV or in books. They can also be in the form of conversations you have with those around you. Notice where your mental toxins come from and work to minimize or eliminate them. Choose music, entertainment, and books with a positive message.
- Try meditation, yoga, or tai chi. These practices help slow the mind and induce a relaxation response in body and mind.
Detoxification is a natural part of the body’s function and it doesn’t take extreme measures to increase its effectiveness. By making a few small changes, you can support the natural detox program of the body. By minimizing the impurities in your system you will notice improved digestion and energy. A detox program like this can be done for a day, a week, a month or can be part of a healthy lifestyle. I recommend doing 1-4 weeks of this program 2-4 times per year at the season changes.
Heather L. Anastos, CAP
*Western medical science opinions on digestibility of foods and the need/effectiveness of detox may not agree with ayurvedic philosophy. The detox system described here is based on ayurvedic principles, which may or may not be supported by medical studies.