With the holiday season right around the corner, there is no better time than the present to fortify our diet and cement healthy eating.
Ironically, while healthy eating is our birthright, for many of us it seems like taking the plunge into eating a whole foods-based diet is the equivalent to traveling to some distant land. But it doesn't have to be such a scary or foreign experience.
In my work as a functional medicine doctor, my priority is to guide each patient through a safe, simple, realistic, and pleasurable transition into healthy eating.
Because whole foods-based diets remove all the sugary, fatty, chemical-laden, artificial stuff from the diet, they sometimes get called a detox or a cleanse.
Why is detoxification important?
When our bodies become toxic, it means that our natural method of ushering out metabolic waste from normal human metabolism, environmental pollution, and what has become known as the Standard American Diet (or SAD) has exceeded the threshold for what the body's innate detoxification system can tolerate. With this toxic load, every system in the human body can become affected. From our head to our toes and everything in between, toxicity makes us sick!
How do you know if you are toxic and need to properly cleanse?
Usually a constellation of complaints help to determine whether or not you are toxic and to what extent you need to cleanse. Some examples of what might indicate a toxic system are:
- persistent headaches, muscle aches, and muscle fatigue
- inclusion of large amounts of swordfish, tuna, shark, etc. into diet
- mercury fillings and dental amalgams
- food allergies
- stubborn weight loss
- hormonal imbalances and consistent use of hormone replacement such as "the pill" or progesterone cream
- consistent use of NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- skin abnormalities such as acne, rosacea, or eczema
- a lifetime of consuming the SAD diet
To find out if you are toxic, take a look at The UltraSimple Diet.
How long should you stay on a cleanse?
Typical cleanses that harness our body's natural processes for filtering and removing waste tend to be gentle and can therefore be tolerated for longer periods of time than more extreme protocols. A safe cleanse is one that doesn't make you starve yourself or take fancy pills, potions, or expensive drinks.
Safety means allowing the body to do what it wants to do naturally, with a little assistance from some guided healthy eating, appropriate supplements, and relevant lifestyle modifications. I usually have my patients do a cleanse for seven days to six weeks, or even longer, depending on their particular needs. Work with a trained medical provider to help determine what length of time is right for you.
How to prepare for a cleanse?
Like we would plan for any big trip to a new destination, we need to prepare, plan, and set out some main goals for our journey. And by the way, as in all travels, it's always a good idea to leave some room for the serendipitous excursions to occur. When handled properly, they can be the best part of a trip! So how can we plan for a safe and simple detoxification protocol?
- Take some basic measurements before you begin to track your progress as you go through your program. For example, if weight loss is your goal, measure your waist, hips, and record your weight. If, migraines are an issue, determine the duration, intensity and frequency. Keep a journal; this will help you in more ways than one!
- Constipation. Move those bowels! Drink plenty of purified water. Try warm water with lemon first thing in the morning. Often, taking 300 milligrams of magnesium citrate is helpful, or try an Epsom salt bath.
Common symptoms the first few days of withdrawal from a toxic lifestyle and the SAD (Standard American Diet)
The following symptoms are very common at the beginning of the program and should dissipate within the first few days. Don't worry, these symptoms are indicative that your body is eliminating toxins and are a good sign!
- bad breath
- achy, flu-like feeling
- itchy skin
- offensive body odor
- sleep difficulties (too much or too little)
These symptoms can occur for a number of reasons. First, eliminating food allergies and un-junking the diet causes reactions similar to withdrawal from other addictive substances like caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, or heroin.
Note: We are often most addicted to the foods we are allergic to! Getting off those allergens can cause a brief, flu-like achy syndrome that may last one to three days. Second, toxins in our digestive tract may make us feel ill if we don't eliminate them. The best way to get relief from these symptoms is to follow the recommendations below.
How to avoid withdrawal symptoms
- Drink at least six to eight glasses of filtered water daily. Stay away from plastic bottles; glass bottles are okay.
Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below -- but remember, we can't offer personal medical advice online, so be sure to limit your comments to those about taking back our health!
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, M.D.
Mark Hyman, M.D. is a practicing physician, founder of The UltraWellness Center, a four-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international leader in the field of functional medicine. You can follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, watch his videos on YouTube, become a fan on Facebook, and subscribe to his newsletter.
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