Do You Really Need A Cleanse?

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Image Credit: Thinkstock

I tend to adopt controversial practices into my life on the regular.

In 1987, I thought it would be a great idea to wear an oversized sweatshirt without pants (kind of like a t-shirt dress but warmer, shorter, and slightly avant-garde). 

In the 1990s, I really believed eating margarine-covered pasta with a side of baby carrots and box of SnackWells cookies was a well-balanced meal. I cringe. Truly. I’m sure my Rachel haircut did me no favors, either.

But there have been some practices that changed my life for the better- like tossing out my high heels, saying kind things to this body of mine, eating food that makes sense to my particular constitution, and choosing an active gratitude practice. It works like this:

“My back hurts. It’s probably these dumb shoes. Oh, hey! I was right.”

“Wow, Body! You pooped twice today AND you kept all of my vital organs functioning beautifully and perfectly intact! Well done."

“Yum. These veggies and soft boiled eggs make my life better. Oh, is that dark chocolate? I’ll take two.”

“Thank you for my life, for my home, for my family. Thank you for my flat shoes and warm blankets and full belly. And for sex. Thanks for sex.”

Seasonal cleanses are another popular current practice that I’ve adopted.

I KNOW. IT’S FAKE SCIENCE. But I do it anyway because my body feels better when I do, and science doesn't understand that my body responds well to giving it a little extra love.

Twice a year, I embark on a one to two week cleanse. I feel invigorated, I sleep better, my libido rises, and I'm able to use it as a reset to return to eating foods that make my body feel good. Because as much as I love Moscow Mules and nachos, a steady diet of them makes my body feel like it's made of sludge.

But you need to know some things about cleansing and detoxing with food:

It does not cleanse your organs or detoxify your body. In fact, YOU ARE 100% OKAY WITHOUT IT.

Products, shakes, greens, fancy juice and juicers, supplements, thermal wraps, mud masks, and Gweneth Paltrow are mostly ploys to get your money. Most indigenous cultures have some sort of “cleanse” and none of them involve expensive MLM products or fancy poop blaster kits from Whole Foods.

Milder, whole foods give your digestive system a slight reprieve from processing all the crap food you (we) feed it. Your liver is a badass. It does its job, and unless you’re drinking hard and eating a steady diet of high-fructose corn syrup and Tylenol, it’s probably doing a stand-up job. Same thing goes for your kidneys. But sometimes it needs a vacation from the sugar and alcohol. It needs a recuperation day. It never stops doing its job, you’re just making that job easier for a short period of time. You aren’t washing your liver or blood or kidneys or intestines because that's just silly. You're just granting it a slight reprieve from the everyday stressors. 

Here’s when to do a cleanse:

  • When you want to and it doesn’t feel hard or scary.
  • Once or twice a year for a week or two.
  • When you have time to rest and keep things low-key.
  • When you need to help your body gently switch gears and begin incorporating more healthy, whole foods into your diet.
  • Because you know it will make you feel better.

Here’s when NOT to do a cleanse:

  • During times of intense stress.
  • If you have any sort of disordered eating patterns that are easy to slip back into.
  • If food deprivation has ever been an issue for you.
  • During holidays or major life events.
  • When you don’t want to. (Don’t be pressured into it.)
  • When you already classify your daily food as “clean." (Food can’t be clean any more than our livers can, but whatev.)
  • When you have multiple other health issues.
  • When you do a cleanse in place of seeking medical attention.

If you do decide to embark on a cleanse, here are some guidelines to follow.

1. Choose wisely. 

If you’ve never done one before, find some support. Find a naturopathic doctor or someone with experience and training.

2. Eat warm foods.

Heat everything, even if it’s just a little bit. Raw foods are hard on the digestive system and can cause cramping. “Cleansing” is meant to be an act of kindness toward your body, not war.

3. Don’t get caught up in programs that push herbal supplements or shakes or essential oils or an expensive package to get results.

These are usually filled with junk and will not make you any healthier. You also run the risk of not knowing what is actually in supplements or oils because there are ZERO REGULATIONS on the supplement industry. Seek the guidance of a licensed professional, if that is the path you want to take, so you don’t throw your money away and possibly cause more harm to you body.

4. Stick with whole foods. 

The Indian dish called kitchari is tasty, simple, cheap, and has been used for centuries to do gentle Ayurvedic cleanses.

5. Skip juice.

I know. It’s a popular thing. But juice without the pulp is sugar. Your body NEEDS the fiber in the fruit and veggies for multiple reasons, but the big one is that fiber helps stabilize your blood sugar. Drink a smoothie instead. Or just stick to soup. Yummy, green soup.

6. EAT.

Eat when you’re hungry. Eat until you’re satisfied.

7. If it feels too hard, QUIT.

Give yourself permission to stop when your body feels done. It might be a day, it might be a week, it might be a weekend. Do what FEELS RIGHT. And only you can determine that.

8. Have fun with it.

Use this time as an opportunity to take care of yourself. Unplug from the world at night. Take a bath, do a mud mask, nap in the grass, and breathe deep. Enjoy slowing down.

9. Start on a weekend so you’re not a jerk to your co-workers.

Sometimes giving up sugar makes you kind of cranky.

10. Don’t do it if you don’t want to.

Just like scotch and kombucha, it’s not for everyone.

Our bodies and minds are designed to grow, adapt, and heal. Whatever path you choose, be assured of your body’s innate intelligence and ability to function, with or without a cleanse. You are the only person who is an expert on how you feel in your body.

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