It’s January and everyone’s talking about “detoxing”. But what does this mean exactly and how to do it right? Between the misinformation and magic potions, it’s hard to know what plan to follow, what foods to eat, and what supplements to take.
Detox is short for detoxification – the continuous process your body uses to rid itself of harmful substances. All cells are capable of metabolising waste, but your liver bears the brunt. The digestive system also plays a major part. If your colon health isn’t up to par, waste accumulates and toxins are released into your bloodstream – and that’s where the trouble starts.
Yearlong exposure to pollution, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, artificial colours and flavourings, as well as additional substances such as caffeine, tobacco, medications and recreational drugs can leave you with little energy to start the New Year. What’s more, the festive season means you’ve probably been eating and drinking more of the things you normally wouldn’t. This can trigger additional symptoms like headaches, skin problems, irritability and lowered immunity (ever wondered why flu season peaks just after Christmas?)
Common detoxing mistakes
Detoxing the wrong way can make it difficult to shift weight, decrease your energy, rob your body of nutrients and even depress your immune system. The opposite of what you want. As a licensed nutritionist who specialises in supporting the body’s natural detoxification pathways I’m here to clear up the confusion:
Mistake #1 – Skipping the mental detox: The way you think about New Year’s health resolutions could be undermining your best intentions. Vowing to subsist on salads and protein, to steer clear of sugar and alcohol and to exercise like a maniac sets you up for failure. Next holiday season, you’ll be right back where you started, berating yourself for lacking self-control and then recommit to the same resolutions all over again.
You can’t change your habits until you change your mindset.
What’s missing is the real groundwork necessary to make a healthy eating part of your normal routine. This includes ridding your mind of toxic thoughts. Detoxing your mind can have powerful effects because stress releases toxic hormones and chemicals that can be just as harmful to your body as the foods and drinks you consume, products you use on your skin and environmental toxins. Simple techniques you can use for a daily “mental” detox and to nourish your spirit include meditation, yoga, visualization, spending time at the beach or just reconnecting with a long walk in nature. It’s also a good idea to go on a media detox for a while, since what you see has a major impact on your health, cravings and confidence.
Mistake # 2 – Detoxing too fast: We live in an environment steeped in harmful substances that our bodies weren’t designed to process. Many of these toxins are fat-soluble and incorporate themselves into fatty parts of the body where they can stay for years, if not a lifetime. Unfortunately, you can’t rid yourself of these toxins in a weekend. Short-term detoxing and cleansing programs are ineffective and even dangerous as they may release toxins into your bloodstream which can cause added stress on your body. Quick detox typically also causes negative side effects such as headaches, nausea, digestive problems and depressed mood.
Quick “fixes” don’t work
Most people are not aware that there are two phases of detoxification and that both need to be properly supported with the right nutrients. Many detox programs only take you through the FIRST PHASE of detoxification (which converts toxic chemicals into less harmful ones) and just leave you there. People who promote and sell detoxes and cleanses don’t tell you this because they usually don’t know themselves. They don’t prepare your body for the SECOND PHASE of detoxification (which makes toxins water-soluble, so it can then be excreted via the urine). This “incomplete” detox is harmful as these “partially” detoxed substances can then be reabsorbed back into your body instead of eliminated.
Quick detoxes don’t help you lose weight
Toxins and synthetic chemicals are stored in your body fat. This is because your body recognizes fat as a safe place to keep them until the conditions are right for properly processing them. Because of this (plus the fact that we’re biologically wired to store fat) your body tends to holds on to fat. Short-term detoxes do nothing to eliminate these toxins – the correct protocol is needed to convince your body to let go of that fat.
Mistake #3 – Deprivation instead of nourishment: Many people confuse detoxing with fasting which can be very detrimental. When you go to extremes by restricting calories and essential nutrients, your health pays the price. Most of the side effects that people think of when they hear the word “detox” come from this type of deprivation. There are also parts of your body that ONLY run on blood glucose – your brain, nervous system and eyes. If you restrict or cut out carbs completely your mental function gets foggy and your vision gets blurry. To heal your body, you need high-quality nutrients to support this process. Your cells and tissues need a feast, not a famine! As mentioned before, digestive health is an essential part of detoxing and needs to be running perfectly to move and eliminate toxins that have been released into your system. Getting enough fiber is crucial to “move things along”. Remember – depriving your body doesn’t work. You need to nourish it for optimal detoxifying effects.
The simpler, more pleasant, and less emotionally taxing it is to carry out your goals, the more likely you are to keep them. Instead of focusing on restrictive diets, focus on the habits and rituals that will make healthy eating part of your normal routine.
A simple, balanced detox recipe:
Raw Pad Thai Salad
For the salad base:
2 cups baby spinach
1 small sweet onion (thinly sliced)
1 courgette (julienned or spiralized)
1 green bell pepper
1 cup alfalfa sprouts
2 spring onions (thinly sliced)
Half a bunch of coriander (chopped)
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic (minced)
Juice and zest of 1 lime
1 teaspoon tamari soy sauce
2 pinches chili pepper
Himalayan salt and fresh ground pepper to taste Crushed nuts for garnish (cashews or almonds)
Wash and prepare all vegetables. Everything needs to be thinly sliced, grated, or cut julienne style. Place all veggies in a large bowl, set aside while you make the dressing. For the dressing, mix together in a small bowl the olive oil and the vinegar. Add the garlic, stirring to blend smoothly. Stir in the lime juice, zest, soy sauce, and chili pepper. Add a little salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients and toss well to coat the ingredients evenly. Chop the nuts coarsely and either scatter the on top of the salad or offer them separately.