Hooray, it's 2017! I'm personally super excited to see this year on the calendar because during this time I will finally become a dietitian, and finally marry my high school sweetheart! There's so, so much to look forward to about a new year and I'll admit, I love the freshness of January 1. I also like to set a few goals for the year so that I can look back in December and see them neatly bookended by a calendar (although I don't believe in waiting until January to start most goals, I do like the idea of using the new year to reflect on the past and move forward).
Because of the time of year it is, I've been seeing a lot of posts about detoxes - either to "clean out" your system from the parties of holidays past, or to jumpstart a new diet for the new year so today we're talking about detoxes, why you don't need one, and productive things to do instead. Let's jump in!
what is a detox?
There isn't really one definition I can find of what people consider a detox to be, which is something that worries me in and of itself. Some people take supplements that claim to clean out your body, some people change their eating style to incorporate more/less of certain foods, some people drink juice for a few days with no solid food (seems unpleasant). There's no real "how to" out there, but any eating/drinking/supplement plan claiming to clean out your system, detoxify your body, etc. is considered part of this group. Detoxes are synonymous with cleanses, and I'll use both words throughout this post.
why you don't need one
At first glance, a detox seems like a great idea. Who wouldn't want their body and organs to feel so fresh and so clean, clean? The idea behind most detoxes is that our bodies are inherently "dirty" or that we're taking in a bunch of less-than-ideal things that need to then be flushed out or removed, which can only be done through pills, powders, or an elaborate plan. But the truth is, your body is a powerhouse that keeps itself in tip-top shape. Assuming you're a healthy individual (i.e., barring the diagnosis of medical conditions that would keep normal function from proceeding), you have tons of systems in place to help you filter through what you need and don't need. Primarily, this happens in the liver and kidneys although there's a lot of fine-tuning happening everywhere. To delve more into why you don't need to follow a detox or cleanse, I'll break them down into three simpler categories: pills/powders, juicing, and diet changes.
I'm starting with the big guns here. In a nutshell, products that make big promises like "cleaning out" your entire body (or magically making you lose weight in a day) are being sold for the sake of a sale. Supplements actually aren't regulated by the FDA, so there's not even a guarantee that what's written on the bottle is what's going into your mouth. To an extent, I do think that supplements provide at least a little bit of a placebo effect and create a domino of (mostly positive) health changes. For example, preworkout drinks may give you both energy and the mindset of having more energy, so you're more likely to go to the gym - because you have a deeper belief that you'll succeed there. It might be part pills, but it's at least part you - and you had you all along.
Since supplements aren't regulated, some can have some nasty side effects as well. I've seen claims going around for certain "cleanse" regimens that are "white pants approved." WHITE PANTS APPROVED. Do you know what that means?! It means that the product is promising to not ruin your control of your bowls. Which means that its competitor products do not do that. Surely, I can't be the only one worried about that (and other side effects). Everything you eat should be white pants approved from that viewpoint! (I'm a messy eater so technically nothing I eat is white pants approved, but with strategic napkin placement and food ordering, I finally minimized my spills). Anyway, save yourself time time and money and possibly your white pants by avoiding supplement cleanses.
So, this one is a little more complex because I'm actually a huge lover of juices and smoothies. I do prefer smoothies over juices since they retain the fiber from the original plants, but I've never turned down a Green Machine that was offered to me and I never plan to. The reason you don't need a juice cleanse is it's never a great plan to eat or drink the exact same thing for every meal of every day. Juices generally don't have fiber, fat, or protein and if they do have those things added in, it's certainly not enough to sustain you. Consuming only "quick" carbohydrates for all your meals for days and days in a row will not only confuse your blood sugar, but can cause GI problems, hanger, and other symptoms (yes, I am counting hanger as a symptom). If you want to see what a juice cleanse is like, this article from Buzzfeed made me laugh a ton. Warning: it does have a good amount of crude language and it's fairly graphic about digestive habits, but funny nonetheless. In summary, juice sometimes but not all the time and also eat some food.
This is definitely the simplest-ish option, but they vary so much. Usually there's just a heavy emphasis on produce and a reduction in sugar/caffeine/other things deemed "unacceptable" by the cleanse creator. Once again, this doesn't seem like a bad idea. I'm never going to argue against incorporating more plants into your diet, or making some conscious efforts to pick lower-sugar options when it comes to an everyday eating style. The problem is, these food cleanses are usually A) extreme and B) only for a set period of time. This can lead to a vicious diet/binge cycle. While you're in the "diet" (or cleanse) phase, you only eat the approved foods, or the "good" foods. You restrict so hard that cheating on the plan is a consuming idea. You either "cheat" and feel immense guilt or failure, or you make it through the plan then transition to eating more "bad foods" but because you labeled them as bad, you start thinking bad things of yourself. I could say a billion more things about the battle of foods when you drop labels like good/bad, and I likely will write more on this in the future. But for now I'll say, it's not a mindset that serves you, your mind, or your body well, and cleanses enforce this way of thinking. It's a hard habit to break.
things to do instead of detoxing
So, it's all fine and well to discuss why you don't need to detox or cleanse your body, but that may not address any cravings for change you might be having. This is certainly the time of year with lots of "change talk" flying around, and after the holidays and allllll the cookies, even I find myself craving greens and a little mental reset. There are certainly ways to satisfy that need in a positive way, so read on for ideas!
- Work on water intake. Water is great for you, but I'll be the first to admit that other things usually sound better and I probably tend to reach for those first. If you're looking for a great change to make, this is one that has tons of tricks to make it happen. Try cutting up fruit into your water (I love lemons or strawberries) for an infusion, switching to a cup with a straw (I swear, this makes me drink much more), or alternating other drinks with water (have a glass of water before your morning coffee, and one with any other drinks throughout the day).
- Create a food journal. Not one with calorie counting or macro counting, but one with three simple columns: time, food/drinks, and feelings. That's right, feelings. Use this to jot down what drove your food choices, rate your hunger before and after you ate, and even how your stomach felt after meals. This can help you see trends in your food patterns, reveal why you make the decisions you do, and even ID any foods that might upset your belly.
- Try a new recipe. Breaking out of a rut can be as simple as one tiny new thing, so hop over to Pinterest to find some inspiration to mix up your dinners. I'm currently eyeballing this butternut squash soup!
- Find a way to move that you love. Exercise is a very individual topic, and one I've faced some challenges with in the past after thinking my workouts needed to look like everyone else's. If you haven't found a workout you love, consider setting aside some time to take a class or try a new option - it's always worth it to invest time in discovering what feels right in your body.
So, in short, do you need a detox? No. Your body does that for you. Should you eat foods that are good fuel for your body, foods that taste good, and foods you love? Absolutely, because you deserve good care all around. And finally, is it okay to make some changes you're craving? Yes! Examine why you want to make changes, how you'd feel once they were made, and find a productive idea that feels right for you.
How do you handle cravings for change? Let me know in the comments below!
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