Spring is definitely in the air as I write this email – we’re breaking out our brighter colours, wearing bare feet in shoes and starting to crave salads again! As we roll out the winter fog, it’s a fantastic time for a spring cleanse, especially one with a liver focus, as spring is the season in Chinese Medicine associated with the liver and gallbladder meridians.
I wrote this article for a few reasons: 1) there are many misconceptions about detoxes and I want to clarify some of them; 2) I would like to present a spring cleanse as an opportunity to be good to your body and nurturing, rather than punishment for bad habits through the winter; and 3) I see phenomenal results with my patients when they cleanse well, and I want you to be able to experience this too.
So when you’re ready for a spring cleanse, here are some tips to optimize your efforts.
1. Eat while you cleanse. I always prefer cleanses where there is food included, rather than fasting or only juicing. The most important reason is that this will create some new eating habits for you, which will last much longer than the 5-12 days that you are actually doing a detox. The other reasons are biological – simply stated, our bodies require nutrients like protein, vitamins and minerals in order to support detoxification pathways. Fasting on the other hand, will give your body a break, but actually slows the whole process down. Use your detox time as an excellent opportunity to learn how to cook and prepare new foods that are nourishing to your liver, and nutrient packed. Include plenty of dark leafy greens, onion, garlic, turmeric, lemon, carrots and artichokes for liver support, and don’t forget the protein!
2. Don’t forget the gut. It is essential to support your digestive function when you detoxify, as many toxins and hormones can be recycled through the body if the bowels are not working well. This means, at the very least including sufficient fibre to help maintain regular bowel movements, and absorb gastrointestinal toxins. My favourite fibres include ground flax and chia seeds, and of course including plenty of vegetables and fruits. Taking this one step further, is to include supplements that help to restore balance in your intestinal flora. Most of us have an imbalance in the organisms in the intestinal tract – from eating too many carbs and sweets, from taking oral contraceptives, from pregnancy, from antibiotic use (even if it is in the distant past). Imbalanced intestinal flora can cause bloating, gas, irregular bowel movements, digestive pain, and increased food cravings. During your cleanse, include supplements to first kill of bacteria / yeast that don’t belong, and also probiotics to replenish healthy bacterial flora. In my practice, one of the most health changing steps for many patients is a gastrointestinal or yeast cleanse. This is why I have included this component as well as liver support in my “Clear One Detox Program”.
3. Is there anything else in your life that you need to let go of? In the springtime, we are very much drawn to spring cleaning, decluttering, and cleansing our bodies. While you are cleansing, and free of the distractions of comfort foods and junk foods, alcohol, caffeine and sugar, ask yourself if there is anything else you need to let go of? In Chinese medicine, the liver meridian is also associated with irritability and anger, which often come up when there are circumstances or events in life that are not right. For example, I notice that for many people, irritability comes up most, when you are doing things that you really don’t want to, especially when you haven’t spoken up against them. On the positive side, the liver is associated with feelings of kindness and generosity. During your cleanse, as you are letting go of what is not working in your life, remember the flip-side which is kindness – both to yourself and others.
4. Treat your detox as a time to take good care of yourself, rather than punishment. Far too often, we take on a a cleanse or a detox out of a place of self-criticism, self-hatred, or looking for a quick fix to a problem. I would like to propose a different perspective, that a detox can be a great effort of self care, and I encourage you to hold this perspective, even as you are restricting certain foods, substances or activities. Your body will appreciate the kindness, and a cleanse can then turn into an experience of learning how great your body, mind and spirit feel when you treat yourself well with plenty of nourishing foods, enough water, supportive nutrients to help your liver function well, and a break from foods and substances that cause harm.
5. Move your body. My last advice is to move your body during your cleanse. Get outside especially, and soak up some vitamin D from the sun. Most of us are more sedentary and vitamin D deprived through the winter months creating weight gain, low mood and sluggishness. Simply getting outside in the spring is extremely rejuvenating – aim for at least 20 minutes outside every day, especially in the sun.
I hope that this article has encouraged you to consider a spring cleanse sometime in April or May. And, if you can take home one message from this article, please remember that the most important aspect of a cleanse or detox is that it is an effort of self-care and kindness. With this perspective, you will get the most phenomenal results!