To Cleanse or Not To Cleanse?

small_4474262474Spring has sprung and if you’re a NYC resident, I’m sure you’re as happy as I am the weather is finally beginning to follow suit. The start of Spring often gets us thinking about new beginnings; Mother Nature has used Winter to, sometimes violently, sweep away the things that no longer serve us in order to bring forth new beauty and inspiration that will help us renew and rejuvenate ourselves. We begin a ritual cleansing process, usually involving donating those clothes you swore you’d wear last year, sifting through those stacks of old magazines for the keepers, and deep-cleaning your house right down to the baseboards. So it’s understandable that we feel the need to cleanse our bodies and rid ourselves of the gunk that must be still sticking to our organs after eating all those cookies a few months ago. With all the hype surrounding cleanses, like celebrity endorsements and that girl in your spin class who magically lost 25 pounds, it’s understandable if you feel the push to try it for yourself. But, at least for me, the idea of trying a cleanse brings up lots of questions: Which one is the best? How long do I have to do it for? How will it make me feel? How much does it cost? And will it give me the results I want without jeopardizing my health?

A quick internet search brings up many resources and articles imploring us to keep ourselves healthy through cleansing. These methods promise to rid your body of toxins, some focusing on more specific targets like your liver, colon or gall bladder. Once completed, you’re supposed to feel lighter, have more energy, brighter, clearer skin, more efficient digestion, less stress, improved sleep, weight loss and a whole laundry list of other desirable benefits. Sounds pretty good so far, but what does cleansing entail? The methods vary depending on what results you desire and how high your commitment level to following it is. It can range from simply eliminating one particular food or food group, to sticking to a sparse, strict eating plan for a specified amount of time. Some cleansing companies even require you to buy a their specially designed pre-made juices and elixirs. Others incorporate the use of herbs, saunas, Yoga and even enemas (yuck!) to help purge the body of certain substances.

Trying to navigate between all the options that exist can become a little confusing but if you are clear about your motivation for cleansing it will be easier to decide what method may work for you. If you’re feeling sluggish and run down, eliminating sugar might do the trick. If you’re looking to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet, maybe incorporating fresh, unprocessed juices is an option. If your digestion is a little backed up, perhaps eliminating wheat will get things moving again. The type of cleanses that I would advise you to stay away from are the ones that essentially require you to starve yourself. If your goal is to lose weight, I don’t think a cleanse is the right way to go. Although you may lose weight during a cleanse, the majority of it comes from water weight and is usually re-gained once you resume normal eating again. Programs such as the Master Cleanse, which claim to remove excess fat from the body as well as detoxify, require you to substitute food with tea and lemonade made with maple syrup and cayenne pepper. First of all, that just sounds gross. Secondly, this program lacks essential nutrients creating a deficiency in protein, vitamins and minerals. As a result of these deficiencies, including taking in far fewer calories than needed for necessary health and functioning, you may experience symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and dehydration in the short term. Long-term use of the diet will cause the body to turn its muscle supply for energy, leading to severe muscle loss. So even though Gwenyth Paltrow swears by it, it’s best to do your own research and experimenting to see what will suit your needs in the healthiest possible way.

But is cleansing really necessary? Our body seems like a pretty efficient machine, does it really need our help to get rid of things it doesn’t need? According to Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. of the Mayo Clinic, there is no scientific evidence that cleanses remove toxins from the body; the kidneys and liver effectively filter and eliminate most digestive toxins. Great, now I’ve starved myself on this cleanse and it didn’t even sweep out any toxins? What’s the point? Although our bodies don’t need our help in order to clean house, I do think there are some steps we can take to help our detoxifiers function at their best. Let’s look at some examples of toxins that exist in our immediate environment:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Medications
  • Pesticides
  • Smog or other substances in the air
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Sugar
  • Impure water

How many of these things are you ingesting on a daily basis? If you’re feeling run down, stopped up or clouded, an overuse of the substances on this list could be to blame. One thing these cleanses do is force you to focus on what you’re currently taking in and how it may be negatively affecting you. Most cleanses mandate that you eat only fresh, occasionally only raw, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and drink a good amount of water. They also advise you eliminate caffeine and alcohol, processed and refined foods, and less fat and animal proteins. Perhaps the success stories we hear from detox diets are simply due to eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer refined, fatty foods.

If you’re interested in trying a cleanse, I suggest you take a look at which of the items on this list you could stand to have less of in your diet. For example, if you are a frequent patron of the after work happy hour, but you’re constantly feeling lethargic or you just can’t seem to shake that head cold, try sipping seltzer with lime for a few weeks instead and see how you feel. Experiment with reducing sugar, caffeine, or even wheat to see what helps you feel your best; you may be surprised by what’s causing your chronic ailments.

I myself have experimented with cleansing. I wanted to know why I was feeling so tired and why my digestion seemed to constantly fluctuate from one extreme to the next. Through some trial and error, I learned I was eating too many acidic foods, like nuts and whole grains, and needed to balance my body’s pH levels by upping my intake of alkaline foods, like non-starchy veggies and fruits. Now I know what my body needs to feel good and help me accomplish all the things I need to do every day.

Want a quick “detox” tip you can try today? Try sipping warm water with lemon first thing in the morning, an Ayurvedic practice that serves to kick start your metabolism. After a few days of this routine, I found I was more alert and awake than when I started my day with caffeine, and I noticed an improvement in my mood food choices throughout the day. The reason this is so effective is three-fold:

  1. Pectin fiber, found in lemons, help fight hunger cravings which can aid in weight loss.
  2. Warm water specifically activates the GI tract and the addition of vitamin and mineral-laden lemons help moves things through your digestive system quicker.
  3. In order to carry out all metabolic processes, our bodies need to maintain a certain pH level (around 7.35-7.45). Lemons are acidic but upon entering the body they become alkaline, helping you start your day with a more balanced pH level.

Just remember to eat breakfast too, this is not a replacement, it’s an addition!

If you’re looking for more information or assistance on how to help your body function at its best, contact me for a health consultation today. Through my Holistic Health program, you’ll develop a deeper understanding of the food and lifestyle choices that work best for you and implement lasting changes that will improve your health.

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About agcorehealth

Holistic Health Coach, Pilates Instructor, Dancer
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