As I mentioned in my vegan cheesecake recipe post, I recently participated in a 14-day elimination diet cleanse challenge. I had to cut out dairy, coffee, sugar, tofu, gluten, starch vegetables and most fruits aside from berries and green apples (what do you mean no bananas? How am I supposed to make smoothies now?!).
While this list of restrictions sounds a bit intimidating, I was committed to completing the challenge as I felt my body needed a detox.
(soundtrack comes to a shrieking halt)
Okay, so I know that there are skeptics out there who are against detox and cleanse programs. I feel that the fast weight-loss programs that disguise themselves as detox programs has given the latter a bad rep. With that being said, I ask that you keep an open mind and let me explain to you why a detox can be beneficial for your health.
(The terms detox, cleanse and elimination diet will be used interchangeably in this article.)
What is a detox?
In the words of Dr. Elson M. Haas, “detoxification is the process of clearing toxins from the body, neutralizing or transforming them, as well as clearing excess mucus and congestion.” To the skeptics who argue that our body can detoxify itself, I do agree with you. Indeed, we have an incredible body that is equipped with hard-working organs that are fully capable of doing the above-mentioned task (and this is your cue to high five your under-appreciated liver, kidney, GI tract, skin and lymphatic system!).
However, we should be conscious that a) the body can only handle a certain level of toxins and b) to effectively cleanses itself, the body needs to be in top shape. The problems occur when the level of toxins become excessive and/or when we don’t treat our organs so well (hello binge eating Oreos!).
Take a moment to think about the number of chemicals and toxins we expose ourselves to each day. From food additives to pesticides to the cleaning products we use in our homes, toxins are everywhere. And just to keep those thinking wheels rolling, from an evolutionary standpoint, our genetic makeup isn’t adapted to handle many of the chemicals that have been introduced on the market in the last 100 years.
Considering that our DNA is the same as our ancestors that lived thousands years ago, we probably don’t even have the necessary enzymes to neutralize and eliminate many of these new toxins. While this theory is depressing enough to make us want to crawl under rock and stay there, there is no need for such despair. Instead, I believe we can focus on incorporating healthy practices of regular detoxes to naturally support our elimination process.
Who needs a detox program?
In his book Staying Healthy with Nutrition, Dr. Haas suggests that who needs to detoxify is based in part on individual lifestyle and needs. If you have symptoms of diseases of toxicity and congestion, you will likely benefit more from detoxification practices.
Common toxicity symptoms include headache, fatigue (or “brain fog”), constipation, mucus problems, aches and pains, digestive issues and allergy symptoms. If you have any chronic illnesses, you should speak with your treating physician first to decide together if a detox program is right for you.
Why start a detox program?
A detox can be useful to clear your symptoms and prevent future problems. I love the idea of thinking of a detox as offering your body a break to reset itself. While I plan to practice regular detox periods for the physical benefits, several people do it for spiritual and religious reasons.
When to start a detox program?
While there no official guidelines out there, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayuverdic principles state that a detox program should be taken on between changing of the seasons to help the body better adapt to the new environmental conditions.
Which detox program to choose?
There are several programs out there that are tailored to different needs. Shorter programs like juice cleanses are meant to reset your digestive system and pull out the toxins. Longer programs like elimination diets allow you to identify foods that your body doesn’t tolerate well and to decrease the workload for your digestive system.
By removing certain foods that may cause allergic reaction or digestive issues for a period of time, you are able to evaluate how your body feels without them. Then one by one, you reintroduce these items back into your diet to determine which foods are well tolerated and those that cause a decline in well-being.
I have already tried both the juice cleans and the elimination diet. As I believe the elimination diet is the most sustainable approach to detoxing, I’ll only write about my experience with this method and the observations that came out of it.
My experience with an elimination diet
1. I identified what was causing my fatigue
As I’ve mentioned in my introduction, I wasn’t allowed any bananas during the challenge as its sugar content (or more accurately the glycemic index) is considered too high. I was scandalized, annoyed, upset and was wondering with despair how the heck was I going to make a creamy smoothie without bananas. I was picturing myself drinking watery and bland concoctions and gagging each morning. The next 14 days seemed pretty bleak. Eventually I got over my drama, become proactive and searched for alternatives.
I ended up trying avocadoes (love), cauliflower (a bit strange), soaked cashews (decadent) and zucchini (that was just weird). Because of their lower glycemic index, I felt fuller longer and didn’t get run over by the hangry (hungry + angry) monsters as quickly as I do when I make my smoothies with bananas. In addition, my energy level was much more stable.
Had I not taken this challenge, I would have stubborn stuck with my banana based smoothies and continue to experience peaks and crashes of my blood sugar and energy level. Now, when I do add a banana to my smoothie, I only put half.
“Taking breaks from things is a good way to assess our true relationship to them and often a way to improve our health.” – Dr. Elson M. Haas
Another food item to give up that caused some mental resistance was coffee. I had actually quit two months prior to my challenge for practical reasons. I was traveling one month in Asia and because coffee makes me pee like crazy, I didn’t want to spend my time searching for a squatting hole. Therefore I made the decision to cut it out cold turkey.
While I only took one small black coffee in the morning, it was still a habit that was hard to quit. My overactive imagination pictured me with bleary eyes, bumping into walls and unable to form a proper sentence without that cup of joe.
To my relief, after 2-3 days of caffeine-free living, I continued to remain alert and no longer experienced my afternoon fatigue (due to a caffeine and sugar crash) nor required a nap after work. In fact, I had more energy during my cleanse than I had in the last few months! I was amazed at how small changes in my diet could make me feel so much more alert.
It goes to show you that when dealing with change, ¾ of the battle is mental (or when you’re dramatic like me, it’s more like 9/10th).
2. It would have been easier with some guidance
Eliminating all these food items from my diet at once was no easy feat. From wondering what the heck to cook, asking myself if I could eat a food item that wasn’t mentioned on the list of things to avoid, to just simply staying on track, it was so easy to feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, I was doing the challenge with my sister and a friend. They kept me accountable and on track. (Cheating on the diet also meant having to do 100 burpees: something I would rather avoid.)
Therefore, if ever you’re thinking about doing an elimination diet that involves more than 1 food group at the time (the one I did involved eliminating 7 food groups), I strongly suggest joining a group cleanse lead by a nutritionist or a health coach. Not only will you get guidance on what to cook each day (Lord knows I would have loved to have this), but you’ll also have a health professional that can truly support you by answering your questions and concerns. In addition, you’ll be doing the cleanse with other people who are working towards the same goal as you, which is super motivating.
If you want to do it on your own, I highly recommend eliminating one food group at the time. Take at least 4 to 7 days to see how you feel without it before eliminating another food group from your diet. By doing this, you’ll increase your chances of sticking to your plans and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
I often suggest people to start with sugar. If you’re interested in trying this out, check out my free 5 Days to Ditch Sugar Challenge. Click here to learn more!
3. Use the detox to start long-term changes
While some people feel so rejuvenated after an elimination diet that they decide to make it their daily diet, I needed my bananas (again with the bananas), maple syrup, tofu, and an abundance of fruits in my life. However, my experience has taught me to become more mindful of the portions I eat. I’ve also become more attentive of how these foods make my body feel.
I am grateful to have gone through a cleanse as it has allowed me to identify the foods that contribute to my afternoon energy crash. With this information, I’ll be able to change the way I eat in order to better support my body.
However, I’ve also come to realize that a healthy diet isn’t about restrictions (focusing on what I’m not allowed to eat makes me a bit depressed). It’s instead about including a variety of fresh foods, eating them in moderation, listening to how your body responds to them and adjusting yourself along the way.
Therefore, if you’re thinking about doing a detox, I would sincerely recommend it. Afterwards, gather the information you learned about your body during this process and use it as a stepping stone to creating long-term changes to your health.
Would I do it again?
I think that once you do a full elimination diet and have identified which items you should avoid or limit, you don’t have to go through the whole process again. However, I would still recommend doing a mini 2-3 week cleanse each season and eliminate the foods you already know your body tolerates less well. It gives the body a little break and prepares it for the upcoming months.
Wanna try it out?
Do you want to experience a cleanse for yourself?
Inspired by the increase in energy and well-being I felt after completing my elimination diet, I created the Soulful Eating Cleanse program to help others experience the same benefits! Click here to learn more.
I hope this article was helpful to you and answered some questions you had about detoxes. If you know a friend who could benefit from this blog post, please share it with them!
With much love and hugs,
Picture in text by https://unsplash.com/@dorner