Whether you overdid it or not, the New Year seems to spark the desire in everyone to clean up their act. But what of the cleanses we read about -- are they healthy, do they work, what if I don't have the $500 a week or more to go to one or have one delivered to my home? I hear you, so I've put together some tips for a do-it-yourself New Year Cleanse.
Cleansing is a rebalancing tool, and you can do it at anytime as a way to shift your physical and mental energy back to a healthier you. [For those of you who are more visual, watch my video on the components of healthy and effective cleanses at and if you are wondering more about products shown there you can visit my product recommendations, the Ashley Koff, R.D. Approved (AKA) lists. Remember, the AKA seal of approval, can't be bought, it's earned so these are the products that I've independently evaluated and approve.]
Before you begin your cleanse a few things to keep in mind:
1) This isn't about weight loss (yes you will likely lose weight and inches) but rather setting your body up for a healthier year. (And if your goal is weight loss that falls under the 'healthier' umbrella.)
2) You HAVE to move your bowels daily -- regularity is just that, meaning that you need to make sure you are not just stirring toxins up out of their resting spots but that you are actually eliminating them too -- and that doesn't mean rely on laxatives or even colonics ... it means including fiber, the right kinds, and magnesium to aid motility.
3) Enter and Exit GRACEFULLY: I have blogged about this before but it deserves additional attention. The body needs to feel supported and nourished both as you enter into a cleanse and leave one -- so the idea of cleansing from Christmas until New Year's Eve then blowing it out with alcohol and food on New Year's -- very very bad idea -- same goes with pre-wedding, pre-event cleanses. Give yourself at least a week between the conclusion of your cleanse and any planned event.
4) Sweating it Out: Yes you should! Whether it's an infrared sauna, jogging with a hoodie, boxing, yoga etc you can incorporate it all into your cleanse but pay attention to your body. Make sure to hydrate and consume sufficient fuel prior to working out, during, and after. While cleansing can trigger headaches (especially if coming off caffeine), headaches are a usual sign of hydration and/or slowed motility (i.e. constipation) so follow the tips to address both and plan ahead. In terms of how much activity, that's going to depend on your body and your normal routine as well as things like your menstrual cycle and how different the cleanse is from your norm.
5) The NO's: It isn't my goal to tell you what you can't have but rather what you should have during the cleanse. The idea is that these foods and supplements will encourage detoxification and encourage renewal optimally. So you don't see comments about caffeine, energy drinks, alcohol and sugar. My best advice is to use this as a time to "Come off" anything on which you depend or that makes you feel imbalanced.
The New Year, Healthier You Cleanse
1. Organic: This tops the list because you can't be effective or efficient at removing toxins from the body when you are putting them right back in. Simply put, certified organic food, teas, supplements are your best bet for the least amount of residues and no additional toxins.
2. Greens/Greens Powders: whether you have them juiced, raw, sautéed, steamed make sure that greens top your list during a cleanse. Daily and several times daily, greens will help to remove toxins, provide energy, and alkalinize your lower digestive system -- all ideal for optimal cleansing and health.
3. Lemons: These deserve their own bullet point because they play such a key role in cleansing. Whether it's the juice, the skin, or both lemons will help alkalinize, transition flavor away from sweet cravings, and purify the system.
4. Hydration: True hydration is more than water. That said, you need adequate water [equation: half your body weight in pounds gives you the minimum ounces of water (160 pound person would be 80 ounces or 10 8 ounce glasses of water)] remember that water used for your protein drink or a soup or a tea counts and water-based veggies are an added bonus. But back to true hydration, you need potassium too to get the water into the cells -- so choose plain coconut water as an ideal source.
5. Fiber: The right fibers like chia and flaxseeds, psyllium, rice and oat bran among others will help to pick up the toxins from your digestive tract and remove them from the body.
6. Sweet sans sugar: Ideally you don't want to have any sweets during a cleanse. This is a great way to rebalance your palate which often sways so far in the direction of sweet. That said, we don't want to miss out on valuable antioxidants and fiber so I recommend using organic fruits (see tip #1) especially those like organic blackberries and plain acai which have little to no sugar in them.
7. Vegetarian proteins: Cleanses DO require protein. While some popular cleanses promise better results without protein they miss the boat nutritionally. Proteins are used in our hormones, for our lean body mass, and to stabilize blood sugar -- a cleanse that eliminates protein threatens an imbalance of these during the cleanse and potentially thereafter. But what type of protein and how much? I recommend organic vegan sources for all (unless allergies, intolerances or other personal nutritional issues warrant otherwise). Hemp and quinoa top my list as well as other protein sources like seeds, grains, and isolated rice or pea proteins.
8. Spices: Are you aware of that spices are one of your best detoxifying and supporting components of a diet. Spices help fight off bad bacteria and their other benefits range from stimulating metabolism, helping you sweat out toxins, calming the digestive tract, and oh yeah, adding flavor naturally.
9. Regularity Aids: As mentioned above, it's imperative that you "go" regularly. Many cleanses use tools that the body can become dependent on and thus don't encourage the body to regulate itself. Hydration, fiber and motility are the keys to regularity and thus far I've addressed the first two. In terms of motility, we need the mineral magnesium. Magnesium relaxes the body and helps to encourage normal and optimal motility. We get magnesium from whole grains and many vegetables but you may also benefit from a supplement during the cleanse. The body may need a gentle boost (Here I recommend Smooth Move tea but not for more than 3-4 days in a row) if these other remedies don't work.
10. Immunity: Keep in mind that if you are sick or if you are immune-compromised a cleanse is not for you. Why? The body needs to harness all its energy to heal itself and that is not what a cleanse does. A cleanse stirs up toxins that are tucked in fat cells and other parts of the body to eliminate them. That's a lot of work for the body and it can leave a healthy person feeling fatigued and even slightly flu-ish. To support your immune system during a cleanse I recommend all of the above as well as a good quality probiotic and to consume mushrooms like maitake, shitake and others or to take a good quality supplement.
Putting Your Cleanse Into Action:
1. Aim to get as much sleep as possible -- that includes naps but ideally means going to be a little bit earlier than you normally do.
2. Consume eating (or if doing liquids: drinking) occasions about every three hours. The goal of a cleanse is not to starve. It is okay to feel hungry but starving means the body will go into a shocked/storage/hibernation mode which defeats the cleanse.
3. Consume nutrient balanced eating occasions -- see the AKA menu worksheet for more on this -- but the idea is to have a carb + protein + healthy fat and unlimited vegetables at each eating occasion; here are some samples:
a. The ProHydrator: Coconut water + greens powder + hemp protein + healthy fat (flax, chia oils)
b. Quintessential BreakFAST bowl: quinoa + greens + seeds + few berries or lemon juice and avocado
c. Organic applesauce with cinnamon + hemp seeds and oat bran
4. Regularity aids: Everyone is different but I often find it best to take the magnesium supplement at night, to consume fiber during the day, and to hydrate with teas like detox and ginger during the day as well as the coconut water.
5. Immune support: Take a probiotic on waking or consume coconut water kefir or cultured vegetables during the day and add mushrooms to your meals as well as taking a supplement either morning or night.
6. Liquid versus solid: There are different schools of thoughts on this but my advice is to do what's best for you. The benefits of a few days of liquids include digestive system getting some time off, as well as mentally separating from a reliance on food (what am I going to have, where am I going to go get it) as well as not going out to dinners which can mean you are home earlier and to bed earlier.
7. Medications and supplements: Before beginning any cleanse, if you are taking medications or supplements prescribed by a health care practitioner, check in with them so they can advise you how to adjust.