As with most things in life—and especially around food and health—I advocate balance. I do not believe in taking extreme measures. When it comes to cleansing the body from the inside out, I am not in favor of “fasting,” be it a water fast, a juice fast or a vegetable broth fast.
I believe a safer way to cleanse is simply to maintain a plant-based diet for a period of time. This approach will gently nudge your body into purging toxins and metabolic waste. The beauty of cleansing with natural whole foods is that the process is kind to your body—there is nothing extreme about it. No starvation, no deprivation.
Cleansing or detoxifying the body twice a year is a sensible practice. You tune up your car regularly, so why not tune up your body as well from time to time? It may not be as simple as changing an oil filter, but we can support our body’s filtering organs—including the liver, the kidneys and the intestinal tract—by following a simple diet of plant foods and detoxifying beverages for a week or so.
Our natural detoxification system gets compromised when it is overworked. This can happen when our lifestyle fails to honor a time of rest and we stay up late on a regular basis, hindering the liver as it tries to detoxify the body during the night. It can also happen when we consume more toxins or produce more metabolic waste than the liver can handle on a daily basis. Excess toxins that the liver cannot fully process are stored in the liver itself and in fatty tissues throughout the body.
By eating very simple, light and clean plant food for a period of five to eight days, you give your digestive system a well-deserved break. Your body can utilize its freed-up energy to repair, rebuild and rejuvenate your cells, tissues and organs.
You also give your liver a chance to catch up on processing stored toxins. Part of the liver’s job is to transform fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble toxins for easy discharge by the kidneys through the urinary tract. As your body relaxes into cleanse mode, fat cells, too, are gently nudged into purging stored toxins. A high-fiber diet helps you to eliminate toxins and metabolic waste deposited in your colon.
A cleanse is a loving gift to your body. You provide your body with the perfect inner ecology for healing on a deep cellular level when you eat delicious whole foods that are naturally mineral rich and therefore alkalizing. An alkaline reading in your blood reduces inflammation, the root cause of many diseases.
Sleep is another important component of a cleanse. If you shift your rest period to an earlier schedule—starting at 10 p.m.—you will give your body a chance to rejuvenate, repair and restore itself fully.
I offer two seasonal cleanses, one for the spring and one for the fall, because these two times of the year are naturally best for a detox. Major shifts in the seasons can be stressful and taxing on the body, and a cleanse can greatly support you in making a smooth transition from cold to warm or warm to cold.
During the cleanses, you stay away from foods commonly known to trigger allergies and produce mucus—wheat, and other gluten-containing grains, dairy, soy, eggs and nuts. When you avoid these foods, you can eliminate many reactions like feeling heavy, bloated, congested or inflamed. You can experience what it feels like to be free of digestive upset and allergic reactions to food. This wonderful feeling in your body will inspire you to keep going and stick to the protocol.
The size of your portions is not prescribed, so there is no reason for you to go hungry. The food may be simple, but you can have delicious, satisfying meals, so you will not feel deprived of gratifying taste experiences. These cleanses will be effective even if you eat enough to feel satiated—it is different from other detox programs that allow very little or no food at all. My plan allows you to have a fully satisfactory eating experience.
During a cleanse, make a point of really savoring your meals and paying attention to the signals your body sends you. Your taste buds will become more sensitive to the subtle flavors of your food, and you will be more attuned to the feeling of satiety—and know when you have eaten enough.
I have found that when you consciously give yourself permission to take good care of yourself and make the time to do so, you greatly increase your awareness of your body, its needs and its messages. A cleanse is the perfect time for a shift in that direction, inspiring you to honor your body’s communication and heed it.
The beauty of a whole-foods cleanse is that you are introduced to a number of healthful eating and lifestyle practices. When you experience how great it feels to be eating and living according to these practices, you just might want to continue the trend even after the cleanse is over.
Other pluses that come with a cleanse: You need to spend half as much time in the kitchen, and for around a week, you are free from wondering what to cook.
Some of my core beliefs regarding food have been validated by my own experience with cleanses and by feedback from participants in my guided group cleanses.
· When you eat a balanced diet of natural whole foods, it is easy to keep your blood sugar level balanced. That leads to more energy, stable moods and zero cravings.
· When you bring awareness and mindfulness to life and to food, you have loving control over your actions.
· The more natural whole foods you eat, the more your taste buds evolve and the more receptive you become to the subtle flavors found in natural foods. Your appreciation for those natural flavors grows, and you find yourself no longer drawn to overly sweet, overly salty processed and empty foods. You are naturally drawn to more healthful choices, so it is very easy to stay on track. You go from “I should eat healthier” to “I choose to eat healthy.”
The foods you eat during the cleanses are nutrient-dense, with no empty calories. While feeling satisfaction and pleasure from your food, you can lose a few pounds in the process without having to cut down on portion sizes. Losing weight is not necessarily the goal of a cleanse—it is a pleasant side effect. On the other hand, a cleanse can turn out to be a motivating jumpstart to your weight-loss efforts.
Benefits you can expect include a boost in energy level, a surge of mental clarity, an end to sugar cravings, glowing skin, less congestion, less inflammation, a sensation of lightness and internal cleanliness, a new pattern of healthful eating and a loss of some body fat.
During a physical cleanse, emotional issues can surface as well. You might feel irritated, overly sensitive, even angry. In traditional Chinese medicine, the liver is associated with the emotion of anger, and your liver might be telling you to let go of negative emotions just as you are in the process of letting go of physical toxins.
While simplifying your life, cleansing the body and clearing emotions, your mind and heart will allow you to hear your inner voice more clearly and enable you to receive new insights. Many religious and spiritual traditions include sacred times during the year when food is restricted and the focus shifts from physical sustenance to spiritual sustenance. Lent in Catholicism coincides with the timing of a spring cleanse, and Yom Kippur in Judaism coincides with a fall cleanse.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, the organs that need attention in the spring are the liver and gall bladder, while the large intestine and lungs are the organ pair that needs attention in the fall. In keeping with this tradition, my spring cleanse focuses on the liver and its accessory organ, the gall bladder. The autumn detox focuses on the gut and the lungs.
Food choices for the spring cleanse are limited to vegetables and fruits, but the autumn detox menu includes grains and legumes as well because we do better with foods that are a little more substantial and warming as we move into the colder time of year.
For the same reason, we enhance our water with lemon in the spring and with raw apple cider vinegar in the fall. Both lemon and raw apple cider vinegar are cleansing and alkalizing, but the lemon has a cooling effect on the body while the vinegar is warming.
Coming up: Easy Breezy Spring Cleanse starting April 7