Detox has definitely become a trendy word. And quite arguably Cleanse as well. But what’s the difference between a Cleanse or a Detox and do they really work? Is this something you should be incorporating into your routine on a regular basis?
I’m going to take you on a journey uncovering all things Detox and by the end of this article you will have a clear understanding of if, why, and how you should be adding a Detox into your life.
First, some background. Detoxification is an important metabolic process that naturally occurs in your body on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Every time you are exposed to something “toxic” it immediately is processed through detoxification pathways.
The toxic substance we inhale or ingest goes into the bloodstream and then on to the liver to be filtered. In the liver the “toxin” is broken down into smaller chemicals using enzymes and then excreted through urine, feces, or sweat.
The body uses 6 different organ systems to help with detoxification; the liver, the intestines, the kidneys, the lungs, the lymph, and the skin.
So at this point you might be asking, well if my body is already programmed so well to detoxify, do I really need to do something on top of that?
Our Toxic World
The reality is that we live in a very toxic world and the sheer volume of toxic substances coming into your body is quite high. Look at this list of all the possible ways you are exposed to “toxins” every day.
- Pesticides, GMOs, and food additives in food
- Heavy metals in seafood
- Heavy metals and other pollutants in air and water
- Chemicals in cosmetics, cleaning products, or even sunscreen
- By-products of plastics
- Medications (prescription or over-the-counter)
- Cigarette Smoke
Your body does a pretty good job of managing all this but the toxic load can build-up and if you’re not supporting your body with the nutrients and lifestyle factors that are going to support detoxification, these pathways will get sluggish and not work as efficiently.
Here is a list of just a few signs and symptoms that could indicate a toxic burden in your body.
- Chronic fatigue
- Joint pain
- Overweight (with difficulty losing weight)
- Skin problems
Detox or Cleanse
The good news is that there is A LOT you can do to support these pathways, clear out the build-up, and get things humming again. This is where those two little words Detox and Cleanse come into the picture. First, what’s the difference between the two?
The purpose of a Detox is to eliminate toxins from the body by turning them into waste and then moving the waste through the pathways discussed above.
The purpose of a Cleanse is to clean out the digestive tract of things like fecal matter, parasites, or yeast to help improve elimination of toxins.
Although a Detox and a Cleanse are technically two different things, they definitely compliment each other and it makes sense to support an optimally functioning digestive tract so you can properly eliminate the toxins.
One of the biggest concerns of people attempting a Detox without first cleaning out their digestive tract and supporting elimination is that as the toxins are released they won’t be properly eliminated and will get re-absorbed into the body. This is also the danger when people lose weight very quickly without supporting elimination. Toxins are often stored in our fat cells and as we lose fat those toxins are released.
So how do we support this process? Well, ideally we would support it every day with an ongoing healthy diet and lifestyle, which would then remove the need for a scheduled Cleanse or Detox. But I’m a realist and I know how life can get. We do the best we can but it’s generally far from perfect.
Thus enters the planned Detox/Cleanse, which allows you the space and time to really focus on cleaning out your diet and life, which supports your healthy habits again. The momentum you gain from the Detox fuels you for awhile as you continue to support your health. But eventually life takes over again, your resolve starts to waiver, and thus the need for another Detox.
I personally like the idea of a Seasonal Detox/Cleanse. Every three to four months is usually about the time a reset of your healthy habits is in order. Every season I guide my Rustic Tribe through a 7-Day Reset, which ends with the option to take it further with a 7-Day Detox. In this way I know I can help my Tribe easily get back on track when healthy habits start to falter.
What to Avoid
So now that you understand that it is important to support your body in doing what it does best, let’s look at how to do this.
During a Detox/Cleanse, you want to first give it your best effort to remove (or at least greatly limit) sources of toxic substances. Here is a list of items to try to avoid.
- Added Sugars
- Processed Foods (fake foods)
- Cigarettes or Other Recreational Drugs
- Common food allergens or irritants — dairy, gluten, corn, soy, etc.
- Chemically laden cosmetics and cleaning products
- Don’t forget about mental and emotional sources of “toxins” — negative news, social media, toxic relationships, etc.
What to Include
Once you’ve done your best to rid your body of toxic substances, then you have to fill it with nourishing and detoxification supporting foods and activities.
- Whole Foods Organic Diet (with pasture-raised animal foods and safe sources of seafood)
- Lots of Fluids (filtered water, herbal teas, fresh veggie juices, mineral-rich broths)
- Natural Cleaning Products & Cosmetics
- Glass, ceramic, or stainless steel containers instead of plastic
- Regular Exercise plus other ways to encourage sweating (sauna, hot bath, or shower)
- Rest and Sleep
- Meditation / Journaling
- Intermittent Fasting
Let’s dive deeper into what a detox diet actually looks like. Remember, the goal is to incorporate as many of these recommendations as possible on a daily basis to reduce the need for a scheduled Detox. However, once a season it’s not a bad idea to take at least one week and fully follow the diet, allowing your body a chance to cleanse, detox, and re-balance.
- Organic whole foods (nothing processed or refined)
- Lots of colorful fruits and veggies
- Non-gluten grains and legumes (quinoa, millet, amaranth, wild rice, beans, lentils)
- Healthy fats (avocado, nuts, seeds, olives, coconut)
- Clean proteins (legumes, nuts, fish, pasture-raised eggs, meats, or poultry)
- Liver Supporting Foods (cruciferous veggies, sulfur-rich veggies, milk thistle, ginger, grapefruit, beets, lemon/lime, apple, turmeric, dandelion)
- Lots of water, herbal tea, veggie juices, & broths
- Fasting (12-16 hours most days plus an extended 3-5 day fast seasonally)
Depending on the time of year you might want to focus more on warming or cooling foods. Although theoretically a raw plant-based diet with lots of fresh veggie juices seems the most intuitive diet to follow when you’re detoxing, it will likely be too intense on your body during the cold months.
I very much believe in matching your diet and lifestyle to the seasonal rhythm. So during the warmer months incorporate more raw, fresh foods and juice and in the colder months stick with more cooked foods, broths, and warming teas.
Role of Supplements
I have to speak to this simply because of the sheer volume of fancy detox kits and supplements on the market. I do not believe that you have to add any supplements to get the full benefit of a Detox/Cleanse. Simply following a clean, whole foods diet with lots of plants will do the job.
The need for supplements is always completely individual. For some people I might suggest adding in a probiotic or extra fiber to support digestion. For others I might suggest adding in B-vitamins or milk thistle to further support the liver. And for others I might suggest added omega-3 or turmeric.
It’s difficult to make a blanket recommendation here, except to say that you don’t need to invest in an expensive fancy kit to get the benefit of the Detox/Cleanse I’ve outlined for you here.
Take Home Message
Although your body is perfectly designed to detoxify on its own, you are living in a more toxic world than at any time in history. Because of this I do believe that your body can use all the support it can get.
You can easily accomplish this by decreasing your exposure to toxic substances while bringing in as much of the good stuff as possible. On top of your daily efforts, I suggest taking one week per season where you can hit the reset button, clean up your diet, and allow your body a chance to get back on track.
I love to use the Environmental Working Group as my go-to for all things related to getting toxic substances out of my life.