This article was originally posted October 2015. Graphics and text have been updated.
It's the day after Christmas. As I’m typing this, I have a belly full of breakfast biscuit. The day before, it was full of burgers, crab dip, breakfast casseroles, monkey bread, cheese, wine, and egg nog. The past month or so, my fun food to energy food ratio has been a bit higher than normal between the holidays and travel and not having as much time for cooking with longer than normal work hours. Sleep has been...not great. And I really haven't had much time for movement.
With my self care habits a bit off, I feel pretty ick. I'm tired. I'm sore. I'm moody. My digestion is...not great. I'm ready to feel like to myself again. ASAP.
So, I'll be embarking on an intense 5-day juice cleanse. It consists of specially formulated green juices made with produce scientifically proven to eliminate toxins at the cellular level. At night, I'll treat myself to a cup of homemade almond milk mixed with colon cleansing tea to reset my digestive system. After the 5 days, I'll be slowly reintroducing whole foods. First whole fruit, raw and lightly cooked vegetables, then gluten free whole grains and finally, lean organic proteins. It will be at least 3 months before my body can tolerate dairy.
When you're feeling physically (and/or mentally) crappy, especially after perceived "bad" behavior, I completely understand the impulse to reset with extreme 'good' behavior. You want to get back to not feeling crappy as quickly as possible, but also want to do something to relieve the guilt you're feeling. On a surface level, going on a detox makes sense.
But friends, there is nothing healthy about starving yourself. No matter how much pizza or hamburgers or Christmas cookies you've eaten, your body still needs the nutrients, satiety, and energy provided by food. If you want green juice, drink green juice (that actually sounds pretty refreshing right now), but don't subside on it.
The juice systems and 'liberal' whole food cleanses you see don't actually cleanse or detoxify. Your body does that for you. It's kind of amazing like that. This body we inhabit has built in systems that detoxify as we breath, pee, poop, sweat and do all our human things. And yes, there is some research showing compounds in foods and herbs can support the body's natural detoxification processes, but there's no benefit to only eating those foods.
Assuming health is a green juice or colon cleansing tea away makes it hard to sustain health promoting habits in the long term. Why wouldn't you go on a chicken tender bender if you can easily right your "wrongs" with a quick cleanse? There's also this mental switch that flips when we know we have a strict diet coming that triggers "last supper" type eating.
That said, if you're feeling kinda bleh after the holidays or a busy season in life where self care has been deprioritized, you may be ready to get to feeling like yourself again. Here's my three step method to "detox" (emphasis on the ""'s). It might not deep clean your organs, but it will help you mentally get back to a place of treating your body kindly.
- Get over the guilt. It's normal to go through seasons of life where for one reason or another, healthy eating and exercise take a back seat. It's okay. Your body is resilient. For some reason, we accept going through periods of time with less sleep (after having a baby or during travel) or less movement (while healing from an injury) and don't feel guilty about it. So why is it different about eating less nutritious foods during the holidays?
- Pay attention to how you feel. Take a step back and pay attention to how your body feels. What's your energy level? How is your digestion? How is your concentration? People often think that weight loss goals are going to be the thing that motivates healthy eating, but it's not. Noticing how you feel strong and energized when taking care of your body is a much more powerful motivator.
- Get back to your usual habits. What's your usual self care routine? For me, it's going grocery shopping on the weekend, planning a few recipes for the week, and stocking my fridge, going running and doing yoga a few times a week, and aiming for at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Get back to those habits that are part of your routine, rather than trying to add on new things as a way of compensating.