Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How clean is clean?

Fall is when the green world cleanses. I love that squirrel nest, now visible as the leaves drop. It looks very cozy.

The digestive system plays a huge role in good health and immunity, oh my goodness. You are what you eat, people, believe me. This post is about the benefits of taking a break from your usual diet. I have some rules around what I think you should eat that are far less severe than you might guess, probably not even worth mentioning.

Here's what I think: less is more when it comes to cleanses and detox diets. Yes I agree, every now and then a minor fast is a good thing. I'm talking about a one day juice or broth fast, or skipping a meal here or there, giving your poor digestive tract a break.

As for the big ole seven and eight day fasts, the serious detox cleanse diets that go on and on and are very harsh - I'm against all that for the most part. Suddenly starving yourself is very hard on your liver, kidneys and heart. The body scrambles to make sense of the change, and until it catches up, everything is out of balance. The severe headaches and fatigue that often accompany these diets are as much about the distress of your internal organs as what the people who create the diets usually tell you, that you are releasing toxins.

The truth is, your body is always releasing toxins; it is part of the ongoing process of being alive. Does your body give up more toxins in the midst of a harsh cleanse? I'm unconvinced. Digestion takes a lot of energy, yes. People who eat too much put the same kind of stress on the liver, heart and kidneys, and suffer from the same kinds of symptoms, that people on extreme cleanse diets experience. Too much or too little - neither approach is helpful.

If you are very healthy, a big ole detox is fine - after a day or two, you'll be high as a kite. Don't take it too far though because you need healthy bacteria in your gut. If you wash all of it out, your stomach will hurt.

Harsh cleansing diets are also sometimes a good idea for people who are terribly sick. Sometimes a crisis like that can help disrupt whatever is making them so ill. I have a friend who says fasting is a cure for everything except hunger. But for the rest of us who eat well but perhaps too much or too little, and never perfectly, who partake of the pollutants of mind, body and spirit that are part of life in Washington DC, a harsh detox can be debilitating. I know people who go on these detox diets, but continue their usual insane work schedule. And they wonder why they feel so horrible in the midst of it! Whoa.

If you're feeling sluggish and think a break would help, drink clear broths and clear juices for one day, just one day. The next day, east simply and gently, eat foods that are easy to digest like soups and stews. Don't eat too much. After 2 or 3 days, you'll feel like a million bucks and so will your liver, heart and kidneys.


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