Earlier this summer, my AOL editor asked me to try out a Yin Yoga class. I definitely got hooked, thanks in great part to our instructor, Danielle Lee. Afterward, I found out she has a degree from the Natural Gourmet Institute (the nation’s most prestigious health-oriented cooking school) and does a lot of nutrition and personal chef work. Today, we’ve got her on a guest post about summer cleansing. She’s got a great, easy, real-world approach. It’s one that fits well with what we’ve started talking about with gluten–namely, what happens when you cut back on things that may be taxing your body. I’m excited to share her insight! And with that, I’m turning the reins over to Danielle herself…
Why cleanse? We generally think of food as our source of energy, which it is, but every time we eat, we expend a great amount of energy in chewing, digesting, absorbing, assimilating and eliminating. Much of what we eat, in the form of processed foods loaded with sugar, unhealthy fats, salt and artificial additives, and even fruits and vegetables laden with pesticides, put a strain on our body’s work of digestion and assimilation. Some of these substances cannot be processed by the cells and therefore accumulate in the body as toxins. Although the human body has great wisdom and ability to adapt, our ability to handle the toxic load of modern life hasn’t accelerated at the same rapid pace as the chemicals in our foods and environment.
What happens when we cleanse? We relieve our cells and major organs of a great amount of work, and the resulting freed up energy can be used to enhance our body’s own detoxification processes. The reduction of toxic load then allows our cells to focus on repair and regeneration. If you think about it, most illnesses reduce our appetite, and in nature, animals stop eating when they get sick–both a strong indication of a natural way the body heals.
Some tangible physical benefits of a cleanse may be: clearer skin, weight loss, and alleviation of chronic symptoms such as sinusitis, fatigue, brain fog, digestive discomfort, and energy or mood swings. Although we tend to think of a cleanse in January after the excesses of the holiday season or in the spirit of spring cleaning, late summer for me is an ideal time to cleanse. The heat of the summer gives me an intuitive urge to eat lightly, making it much easier to cut down on my food intake.
So what’s a good, sane summer cleanse? My suggestion is to eliminate various food groups from your diet in steps. First start by going on a simple whole foods cleanse which involves eliminating what I call ‘white foods’–sugar, dairy, and refined flour products (i.e., pasta and breads), in addition to coffee and alcohol. This seemingly simple first phase significantly limits your food choices by weeding out all processed foods as well as many inflammatory and allergenic foods. This restriction however opens you up to the abundance of fresh foods we often neglect in our day-to-day choices. The idea of this phase is about feeding the body with nutrients and eliminating foods that tend to promote toxicity or allergic reactions rather than starving and shocking the body.
Just following the whole foods cleanse described above for a week or two will leave you feeling lighter in body, mind and spirit. But if you want to take it up a notch, you can go on to eliminate in additional steps: animal protein; dairy products; beans; grains; nuts and seeds, all the while nourishing yourself with fruits and vegetables. Then you begin re-introducing one food group at a time back into your diet, noting their effects on your body. If you notice that certain food groups cause you moderate to major discomfort, you’ve discovered your toxic triggers that most likely should be eliminated from your diet. Items that cause mild reaction can be reintegrated into your diet as foods you eat occasionally. This is especially helpful if you suspect food allergies or have frequent colds, digestive discomfort, or energy or mood swings.
Any other important components? Because your body releases a lot of toxins during a cleanse, it is very important to keep your bowels moving. If toxins cannot be eliminated out of the body, they get reabsorbed into your blood stream and eventually get stored as fat in your body. Gaining weight or inability to lose weight may be that you are storing many toxins in the form of free radicals in your fat. Hydrating yourself with clean filtered water and herbal teas, and having plenty of fiber in your diet will help to stimulate bowel movements. If you are not eliminating, ground flax seeds, acidophilus, and magnesium citrate capsules may be helpful.
Also remember that your skin is the largest organ of elimination. So it is helpful to sweat during a cleanse. Detoxification is also a heavily energy and nutrient dependent process. So while light exercise and stretching is highly recommended for your blood and lymphatic circulation, vigorous exercises are not ideal as you want to conserve energy to maximize your body’s detoxification capacity. Eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, particularly the cruciferous family (brussel sprouts, broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage) and the allium family (garlic and onions), which help increase sulfur in the body and help in the liver’s detoxification pathways.
Happy cleansing! You will be on your way to shedding past month’s accumulated buildup and pounds, and enjoying the lightness of being and vibrant energy in harmony with this season.