Is cleansing and detoxing overrated and/or unnecessary?
I’ll be leading my 7th annual Spring Cleanse April 17- May 7, 2016. I still call it a cleanse, even though the word shift would be much better.
I wrote this post last spring to address the reason why the term cleanse is misleading.
The whole idea of cleansing and detoxing is off-putting to many people. Not just because anyone with a science background can tell you that the human body is well-equipped with natural and effective detoxification pathways and that these pathways work whether you will them to or not and that purposely speeding up or otherwise enhancing these pathways is neither necessary nor helpful to your health. But also because the yoga world of cleansing and detoxing has become enmeshed with the less than healthy world of fasting, rapid weight-loss and body-perfection (read this funny and sadly accurate post about “Thinspiration” on yoga-beast.com)
So about the first point, yes, it is true, your liver works 24-7, performing 500+/- complex biological functions, including moment to moment detoxification. Your kidneys are amazing detoxification/elimination organs too, as is your colon, and to a much lesser degree, your sweat glands and lungs. Daily detoxification is like doing the dishes, sweeping the floor and putting away your clothes. It is a necessary daily task that keeps the system running smoothly.
About the second point. Fasting, cleansing and detoxing are indeed marketed as a body-positive way to loose weight while also getting that slim, fresh-eyed, yoga-glo look. But having tried so many of these (juice fasting, raw foods, sawdust and moss . . .) I can tell you that no rapid-weight loss plan is body-positive or healthy. Juice fasting and/or nutrient and calorie restricting “cleanses” can seriously mess with your metabolism (which takes weeks if not months to recover from). In addition, these fasting detox diets don’t help you develop real-life eating and relaxation skills and they can seriously undermine your own body-wisdom and self-esteem.
Over the last decade I have come to understand that the “cleanse” that most of us need most of the time is a simple, nutrient dense rest and renewal. What we need are a few weeks to remember how good good food tastes and we need a little structure and support to get us back on the vegetable wagon. New, simple recipes, new spices to inspire us and a menu plan to help us prepare more meals at home. A few guidelines to help cut out the junk calories and stimulants so our organs and glands can get a break. That’s it. You might loose weight, you might not. You will very likely feel better either way.
House cleaning versus house resting
It’s not that you need to do more housecleaning. Most of us can get away with several months (even years) of cursory daily house cleaning before the ring around the toilet bowl or the dust bunnies under the bed seriously impacts our quality of living. But if a cursory pick up is all we have the energy for at the end of the day then when do we repair the broken chair leg or the clogged toilet?
A healthy body follows a similar strategy. Regular daily detoxification cleans up most of the mess. If all goes well we get sick once or twice a year and feel pretty good in between. We sleep soundly and feel rested in the morning, our skin is clear, our elimination is regular and our mood and energy patterns are stable.
But if we don’t take regular breaks from the common stressors in our life (diet and lifestyle) we leave little time for restoration and repair. Over time we start to feel the effects. Our digestion gets cranky, we get sick more frequently, our joints ache, our breath smells . . .
A good cleanse is a good break
And that’s when a seasonal cleanse can help. Ideally a Spring Cleanse and Sugar Detox is a way of taking the load off your system so that not only can your body perform it’s normal, natural everyday detoxification, but it can also start to repair and heal your otherwise neglected gut, skin, hair and joints.
The less stressful a cleanse is, the more repair can happen. That’s why my cleanses provide an easy to follow, satisfying, anti-inflammatory diet complimented by stress-reducing daily practices. That’s also why I don’t use a one-size-fits all approach. For some simply eating three regular meals a day is a huge relief for their system, while for others that schedule feels too restricting and causes a good deal of hunger-fear – which totally defeats the purpose. Some love the comfort and simplicity of a Kitchari monodiet while others gag at any mention of the K word.
Probably the biggest obstacle I face when leading my group cleanses is convincing people that it’s ok to make and follow their own rules. We have been trained to rely on experts and we’ve lost trust in our bodies and our own wisdom. It’s tricky because external boundaries and rules are helpful for getting us back on track until we can start to feel our own way again. So yes, my cleanses include rules – they are the rules that I have found help most people feel better most of the time. They are rules to help get you oriented, to provide structure and support, to free you up. They are not meant to be permanent, punitive or self-limiting.
Clear the way for self-empowerment
There you have it, my cleanses aren’t about cleansing or detoxing. I mean, those things are going to happen – if you’ve been eating a lot of sugar or drinking a lot of coffee and then you suddenly stop doing those things, you will trigger a natural detoxification response.
But really, my cleanses are about taking the load off. They are about reducing the “noise” of inflammation and reactive mucous so you can start to clearly feel and hear your own body’s wisdom. They are about exploring how you respond to different stressors in your life and giving yourself the time and perspective to shift those things as needed. I believe that you know exactly what you need to do, and my job is to help you hear it.
If this sounds good you can read more about my upcoming Spring Cleanse here.