There is a tendency in our culture to glorify the concept of a “detox”. We have detox smoothies, face serums, and teas. Many of us have uttered the words “I need to detox” after a night at the bars, a lengthy vacation, or while we’re eating our second bagel.
Not that long ago, doing a juice cleanse, lemon and cayenne detox, or any sort of liquid diet that we were told would force our cells to detox was all the rage. I too went on a 10 day juice cleanse once upon a time only to find out that my liver was having a hard time processing the insane amount of sugar I wasputting into my body and causing flu-like symptoms.
Products or protocols that sling a promise of detox are flying off the shelves for no reason other than outstanding marketing. Some of the claims on popular items like teas, pills, and diet protocols include weight loss, clearer skin, more energy, and better sleep.
Sure, it’s a good thing to take care of our bodies, but diving into a “detox” may have no effect on the body at all, or worse, negative effects.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I do like to be the messenger of truth. Unfortunately, we don’t get to tell our bodies, our cells, our skin or our brains when it’s time to detox. Sure, we can nourish ourselves with healthy foods, make time for self care, and drink plenty of water, but we don’t actually get to send the signal that says “hey I really dropped the ball last weekend so if I could do a quick detox that would be great” to our bodies.
I try not to be too scientific in my blog, but science is what makes topics, such as detoxification, more black and white and less of a shot in the dark.
After poking around on the internet and asking some dietary professionals, I have learned that there is no well-conducted research out there that supports the claim that our bodies need a reminder to detox at any point. Our bodies are incredibly complex and extremely efficient. We are constantly processing toxins and other compounds without our own prompting. That is literally the reason we have internal organs and bodily fluids. Additionally, detox diets or cleanses have
proven to be effective for only short-term weight loss. You know, the crash diet you maybe went on to fit into that bridesmaid dress or for your high school reunion? Research suggests that short-term detox diets commonly lead to weight GAIN over a longer period of time. So, why the heck do we keep doing them?!
Another aspect to consider is the effect detox diets or cleanses have on our metabolism. Our bodies are smart little suckers and if we think we’re savvy enough to trick our system into a quick detox without repercussions, we’re sadly mistaken. A significant change in calorie consumption or macronutrient intake can wreak havoc on our adrenals and metabolism. The second we withhold a nutrient from our bodies, like say fat, our bodies ramp up their ability to hold onto fat since we are telling it we won’t be providing that source of fuel anymore. As we put our bodies into something resembling starvation, our systems kick into conservation mode and slow down metabolism. This is literally the opposite of what many products on the shelves are promising.
Putting it into Practice
Last week I was winding down our trip in Iceland and feeling like a blimp (aka inflammation from consuming things that cause me to bloat). I enjoyed many pastries, a few glasses of wine, and became dedicated to finding the most delicious licorice in the country (which I am happy to report I did conquer). I was considering doing a round of Whole30 to give myself a kick in the pants I so desperately needed. In fact, after vacation it is the norm to feel immense amounts of guilt and to avoid mirrors upon returning home. If you don’t feel like a giant parade balloon after a trip, did you even go?
Somehow in that very moment, the stars aligned and I saw a post from a fellow blogger, Stephanie, at Stupid Easy Paleo. Her post explained why the “on the wagon” or “off the wagon” myth is harmful. She explained that the frequent internal need to detox or get “back on plan” is what perpetuates the “off plan” occurence in the first place. Simply stated, there is no wagon. There is no detox. There is no cleanse. There’s just food and there’s just movement.
In this moment, a lightbulb went off. I cannot tell you how liberating it felt to let go of the idea that I had to kick off a strict diet or Whole30 reset upon walking in the door from our trip. In addition, there was no reason to wait until Monday to have a vegetable or do some yoga. Each day and each moment of each day brings choice. We can let go of the all-in type scenario and learn to nourish our bodies well and to also eat the pastries without a need for a feeling of rock bottom.
Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to do a Whole30 or an elimination diet to give your body a break from processing inflammatory foods, but when we constantly are in a cycle of shoveling treats into our face followed by a guilt-ridden Whole30, we’re missing the point entirely.
Between nodding off and watching 356 episodes of FRIENDS on the flight home, I came up with a few rules to hold myself to as I navigate my post-vacation life.
Ditch the Detox Mindset
This somewhat obvious step is quite possibly the hardest. We are immersed in a culture that glorifies the detox to retox cycle. We are told by the media over and over again that we cannot be trusted with our own decisions around food and we must invest in products and gimmicks to gain health. The truth is, if we do the groundwork to know our own bodies well enough to make food choices everyday without guilt, we’re so much healthier than if we buy a ticket on the detox train.
I hear so many people on social media, including health professionals talk about being on plan or off plan. All the time I hear of people deciding to have an “off plan” weekend or that they were “off the wagon” longer than they planned to be.
Simply by stating that there is a plan and we did not follow it, causes guilt and shame to be a place we set up camp.
When I think back (fondly) on the food I had in Iceland, I was most certainly not off plan. That vanilla bean and cream croissant I had at Braud Bakery was most certainly a part of my plan.
If we can train our brain to stop thinking of food choices as black and white or good and bad, we find that we become more empowered to make decisions in the moment when faced with 39 pounds of chocolate covered licorice or that third glass of red wine.
Stop Clumping Days, Weeks, and Months Together
Another tendency we have around health is to clump periods of time together in order to label them as good or bad. We think to ourselves or say out loud, “oh I was so bad this weekend” or “on vacation I totally went crazy.”This is where the whole “bathing suit season” threats make me cringe. If we look closely at every food choice we made in that period of time it’s not likely all unhealthy. In fact, if we consider each meal as a separate decision it becomes less necessary to choose a side- good or bad, wagon or no wagon.
If we’re driving down the road and we blow a tire, we don’t hop out of our cars and go ahead and pop the other three tires because we might as well, right? No way!
Each meal is the same. And each component of each meal is a tire. Thinking of our trip specifically, the vanilla croissant was also accompanied by about 20oz of lemon water, a banana, and a three mile walk. So, be careful not the throw out the baby with the bath water. Each decision is unique and unrelated to decisions previous or in the future. And if we find ourselves in a place where we don’t feel our best and we have made some decisions around food that aren’t serving us, change it. There is no need to wait until Monday or until your plane lands. We have the power to make positive change at any second.
Find Where Opportunity Lies
Because we are all humans with cravings, and vacations, and occasionally find ourselves at a gas station somewhere in Iceland where the only food choices resemble a drive-thru, things happen. Sometimes the way that we want to nourish our bodies just isn’t the reality. Let it go, and move on. Luckily, you’ll get another shot at it in 4-6 hours.
When we do feel like less than our best selves, it’s important to find opportunity for healthy change without catapulting into a restrictive place.
For me, that means drinking a ton of water. I’m also incorporating dark greens a couple of times a day and skipping the dessert menu after dinner. I’m notdoing these things in an effort to reverse any previous decision I’ve made. Instead, I have spent years and years practicing listening to my body and what makes me feel my best and leaning into that without feeling like I screwed up. For others, it may mean cutting out a food group entirely or maybe it means getting more exercise. Whatever the case may be, learn to take care of yourself minus the need for punishment.
So the next time you feel yourself moving further away from your health goals or your routine just head back in the right direction. No need for a label or a public admittance of criminal activity. At your next meal maybe eat a vegetable, or drink a glass or water, or go ahead and have the donut if it’s what serves you best. Regardless of your choice, do not buy into the idea that you have done a bad thing and must be reprimanded.
There is no wagon, there is only a plate; fill it as you see fit in that moment.