Tag Archives: Healthy Diet

“Odd” Habits – Part 2: Detoxing

I sometimes get anxious about all of the potential things in our environment that can cause us harm.  It’s overwhelming to weigh all of the advice: don’t eat that kind of seafood unless you love mercury…sunscreen can do more harm than good…sure, that food is healthy but did you know that the container it comes in causes cancer?  Good grief!  Is there really anything I can do about all of the things I’m exposed to every day?

When I was thyroid sick, I decided to learn the ins and outs of detoxing, pun intended.  I had no clue what it was, much less whether or not I should be doing anything about it.  Here is a simple run-down of detoxing:

WHAT: Detoxification is a multi-phase process that our bodies go through automatically and continuously.  Some of the primary players in detoxing are the: skin, lungs, lymphatic system, liver, kidneys, and large intestine.  We take in all sorts of toxins from our environment; it is amazing how our bodies were designed to get rid of the bad stuff!  Unfortunately, today we are inundated with toxins, and our built-in mechanisms are overburdened. Consider that Americans of all ages are carrying over 219 toxic chemicals in their bodies, according to the CDC’s 2009 report.  Many don’t realize that they also have genetic predispositions that inhibit their body’s detoxing capabilities.

WHY: I was surprised to learn that many of my symptoms that I shrugged off as “just the way I am,” could be the result of my body’s increased toxic burden.  This burden is described as the point when the level of toxins coming into the body exceeds the body’s ability to remove them.  Toxins can cause a wide variety of symptoms: fatigue, inflammation/joint pain, bad breath/coated tongue, digestive complaints/constipation/hemorrhoids, general nausea/lack of appetite, weight gain, acne, excessive body odor/belching/gas, headaches, brain fog, hot flashes, allergic reactions, sinus problems, and infertility.  Taking steps to support detoxification can improve or eliminate these symptoms, and optimize the body’s metabolism.

SOURCES of TOXINS

Food – It might seem obvious that processed foods, food additives/preservatives, artificial sweeteners/colors, sugar, alcohol, and pesticides are toxins.  Would you believe that excessive amounts of certain foods are also toxic?  Brazil nuts, tuna, cruciferous vegetables (kale, Brussels sprouts, spinach, etc.), and certain spices (cinnamon, nutmeg).

{I personally overdosed on cruciferous vegetables several years ago.  I ate a lot of raw kale and spinach (approx. 7 cups/day) and gave myself a serious iodine deficiency, which was crippling my thyroid.  Our bodies need iodine and I was repeatedly depleting my body of it because those vegetables in raw form steal iodine!  I still eat those foods, but I cook them and balance them with other non-cruciferous vegetables. This was a valuable lesson in the realm of “more isn’t necessarily better.”}

The point is that if certain healthy, natural foods can be toxic in massive quantities, how much more-so are processed, fake foods.

Environment – heavy metals, medications, beauty and self-care products, plastics, air, water (even tap water), and cleaning products.  These toxins can disrupt hormones and cause disease, including cancer.  Good grief. Do you feel like you want to live in an organic, BPA-free-non-plastic, bubble yet?

The Body – Before you start googling alternative living arrangements, you must know that your body is also a toxin source.  Chronic stress alters the body’s metabolic processes, hormonal balance, and immune system functioning.  It can also increase inflammation and the overgrowth of bad bacteria, hampering the body’s natural detoxification processes.  This bad bacteria can produce endotoxins that accumulate in the body’s fat stores and bloodstream, making us sick.

HOW:  So what can we do?  First, detoxification in the liver (our primary detox organ) occurs in two phases, and then the toxins exit through the bladder via the kidneys, or the bowels via the bile/gallbladder.  You may have seen “cleanse” or “detox” products on the market – many of them are merely colon cleanses, and do nothing to help with the first 2 detox phases.

Before you turn to products on the market, here are some things you can do on your own:

DAILY Detoxing 

Decrease the burdens on your body: try natural personal care and cleaning products; drink the cleanest water you can; use glass instead of plastic; choose organic whole foods; eliminate processed foods, sugar, and reduce/eliminate alcohol consumption (which impacts the liver’s ability to detox).

Manage your stress effectively by building in regular activities (daily/weekly) that relax and recharge you: walking (not speed walking), restorative yoga, tai chi, meditation, quiet time, unplugging from media, naps (can I get an amen?), face to face social connections, Epsom salt baths, sauna and spa time.

Nutritionally support body’s detox mechanisms: drink plenty of water; eat plenty of vegetables –especially leafy greens (deeper color is best), beets, carrots, and celery; fruits –especially berries and granny smith apples; and use spices such as turmeric, rosemary, cayenne, cumin, and curry. Fiber and probiotics are crucial. If your liver is good at detoxing, but everything gets backed up in the colon, you’ll make matters worse.  Toxins need an effective exit strategy!

SEMI-ANNUAL Detoxing

Every 6 months, especially in the spring, you can do a focused detox for 1-3 weeks:

  1. EAT more veggies (7-10 cups/day) and little or no animal protein or dairy (which increases the burden on the liver). Whole grains should be high quality: quinoa, aramanth, millet, or buckwheat. If you like protein shakes, opt for plant proteins powders (my favorite “affordable” powder is Naturade Vegan Smart). Focus on soups, salads, fruits, and healthy fats in food form (i.e., avocados, coconuts, olives, flaxseeds).
  2. DRINK tons of water, no alcohol or caffeine. Herbal teas (especially milk thistle and dandelion root teas). Some experts say green tea is ok, even though it does contain caffeine. I know, coffee lovers, this one kills me too.  It’s just a week or two, right?
  3. ADD fermented foods – cultured vegetables, kombucha (GT’s Organic multi-green flavor has a double benefit due to green ingredients and probiotics), and apple cider vinegar in water. Here is a drink that I make every day. I must give credit to Dr. Axe for the main recipe, and I’ve tweaked it a bit:
  • 12-16 ounces of hot or cold water
  • 1 T – Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 T – lemon juice or one drop of lemon or grapefruit oil
  • 1 tsp – wild raw honey
  • 1/8 tsp each: cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  1. REDUCE stress – deliberately address your stress daily during your detox week(s) using tips from the list in the previous section.
  2. SWEAT, but don’t overdo the exercise – this isn’t the time to engage in intense exercise, but sweating is an excellent natural detoxifier. Spend some time outside in the warmer months, walk, do yoga, go kayaking, go to a sauna. If you are an avid exerciser, this is a great time to do a recovery week or two.
  3. THINK progress, not perfection. These brief detox periods can be a great way to gradually integrate healthy eating habits into your lifestyle. You may not hit all 5 of the strategies at first and that’s ok!  Strive for improvement each time you do it.  As a special note to women, it’s best not to attempt a detox week during the time of the month when you are ravenous and could eat anything not nailed down.  Believe me, it sets you up for failure!

There are more advanced steps that one can take to support the detox process (i.e., genetic testing for mutations that predispose one to impaired detoxification, supplementation, etc.)  Since I am not a doctor, it is beyond my scope to discuss these things.  I have tackled these issues in my own life with the guidance of an integrative/functional medicine doctor, and highly recommend this avenue for those who have tried all of the above and are still struggling.

Moderation is a Myth

moderationI used to have one day per week when I allowed myself to have a sweet treat.  One month went something like this:

Week 1:  I dutifully scoop out ½ cup of all natural vanilla ice cream into a small dish.  I eat it slowly and savor every delicious bite, patting myself on the back for my impeccable self-control.  I finish the ice cream and am successfully satisfied.

Week 2:  I try the same strategy, but this time my ice cream needs a buddy…a small homemade gluten free brownie.  I thoroughly enjoy my treat.

Week 3:  I’ve been dying for this day to come.  I serve up some ice cream that might have been a little more than a serving.  I reason that the brownie really added something to the ice cream last week, so I try it again.  I finish my dessert and then find myself returning to my kitchen for a little more…in the dish goes another small brownie with a little ice cream because I can’t eat one without the other.  I finish the dessert feeling uncomfortably full.

Week 4:  Finally it’s dessert day!!  (…despite the fact that I snuck in some treats throughout the week.)  I serve up over a cup of ice cream, add my two small brownies, and decide that melted Nutella with some peanuts on top would be the perfect accent.  I sit down on the couch to enjoy my concoction when I feel my husband staring at me:  You ok hun?  Is it that time of the month?  This isn’t like you at all.

I finish the dessert because I’m not a quitter.  Then, I admit to myself that I’ve clearly taken my “small weekly indulgence” too far.  I’m off in the ditch…again.

Everything in moderation.  This advice has been a part of the diet/nutrition conversation forever.  I’ve even clung to these words in an attempt to achieve balance with food, while recovering from an eating disorder.  The brownie sundae story, one of many in my life, is evidence that this strategy has been ineffective.  The longer I’ve studied how the body works, the more I’m convinced that this approach sets people up for failure.  What makes me say this?

First, research shows that this advice can lead to unhealthy outcomes.  In a 2015 study, researchers found that more varied diets (the presence of both healthy and unhealthy foods) were associated with larger waist circumference and type 2 diabetes.  When people adopt the moderation approach, they tend to apply it to both healthy and unhealthy foods.  As a result, people are sacrificing veggies and fruit for junk food.

Second, the concept of moderation is subjective and difficult to define.  People are notoriously bad at estimating portions and serving sizes, and prescribing “moderate” amounts for themselves is no different.  It is a vague concept with a lot of individual variation.  A moderate amount for me may be way too much for you.  Taking this further, we would never use this standard when recommending how much sugar a diabetic should eat, or how much gluten someone with celiac disease should consume.  It would be ludicrous to suggest that people with food allergies or sensitivities merely enjoy the offending foods in moderation.  Regardless of the context, it isn’t a helpful term.

Finally, moderation is a poor strategy when faced with “avalanche foods.”  Most of us have them.  You know, the foods that you simply cannot eat in small amounts –before you know it, the entire bag, box, or pan is gone?  The problem is that we tend to allow for larger “moderation” quantities when we are dealing with foods we enjoy.  That gets us into trouble every time.

The “everything in moderation” approach assumes that calories are all that matter –as long as you keep your calories in the right range, you’ll be fine.  Not so!  Introducing poor quality calories into our daily diets will ultimately throw our crucial weight management hormones out of whack, causing weight gain and difficulty losing.  You can read a former post on this topic here.

Since moderation doesn’t really work, let’s look at some more effective strategies:

Know Your Own Needs and Tendencies – What foods cause you to go off into the ditch?  Are there certain situations that make this more likely?  Do you have food allergies or intolerances?  Do you have a chronic disease, such as diabetes?  In these situations, I would strongly urge you to consider a zero tolerance approach to the food in question.  Having “just a little” will do more harm than good, or will cause your train to derail every time.  I have these foods in my own life –it is what it is.  I’d rather feel amazing than dance with misery.

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful.  “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.  1 Corinthians 10:23

Become Savvy About What Makes You Tick – What are situations where you tend to have a strong resolve?  When are you most vulnerable?  Hint: many times when we are sleep-deprived, running on empty, and stressed out, our resolve to eat healthy and to resist temptation takes a nosedive.  What are some intentional ways that you can guarantee more success?  Are there some delicious healthier alternatives that you actually enjoy?

Break it Down – Don’t be afraid to be a data head about this.  I suggest following at least an 80/20 plan, eating whole, unprocessed foods 80% of the time.  This gives you 20% to play with.  Keep in mind, this isn’t a license to go nuts (refer to strategy #1).  There might be things that are best to stay away from, even within this 20% margin.  Only you will know that.  Literally do the math:  multiply the number of meals you eat/week by .2 to give you your number of meals that can be less rigid.

Keep in mind that it takes time to be a good detective, so don’t give up.  You may be wondering how willpower factors into this discussion.  Research has been turned upside down in this area and I plan to unpack it in a future post.  Stay tuned!