Cleanse programs have become very popular. It seems as though everyone is promoting their own regimen. Some are helpful and some are harmful. It’s important to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into, so let’s examine some of whats, whens, and whys of cleansing.
What is a Cleanse?
In popular media, this term has adapted a broad definition. The general idea of a cleanse is to undertake a different dietary pattern often accompanied by supplements to help purge your body of excess toxins. There are many different cleanses on the market. The range of regimens includes fasting, eliminating specific food groups, and only allowing a specific food or drink.
Some cleanses are marketed as a weight loss tool. Weight loss can be achieved through cleansing but this is only a side effect and shouldn’t be the overall goal of a cleanse program. The goal of a cleanse should be to gently assist the body in eliminating excess toxin buildup while supporting your body’s primary detoxifying systems.
Do I Need to Cleanse?
It can be argues that our bodies are very good at ridding themselves of toxins. But we’re suffering from overexposure to toxins, and our bodies are overwhelmed. Many people work and live in environments that increase their exposure to chemicals and toxins. Our livers and GI tracts can become overwhelmed with the extra demand and excess toxins that build up in our bodies. This buildup can lead to metabolic and hormonal problems and even increase our risks for certain cancers, GI distress, autoimmune disorders and neurological disease.
Sadly, our exposure to toxins has increased while at the same time, many of us have lifestyle habits that don’t support our body’s natural cleansing process. We eat fewer nutrient-dense whole foods while at the same time are pretty sedentary. In short, effective cleansing can be very beneficial and improve health and vitality.
How can I Cleanse Safely?
Remember that our bodies already have an intrinsic ability to cleanse. Choosing a regimen that gently supports this process is the best way to go.
Keep in mind that cleansing is an energetic process. Fasting has many health benefits but fasting while cleansing is not a good idea. Our bodies need energy and protective nutrients while we’re cleansing. Instead of fasting or doing calorie restrictive cleanses, opt for regimens that encourage whole food clean eating while cleansing.
Eliminate Allergenic Foods
Some whole foods may be eliminated during the cleanse process. Foods like soy, dairy, gluten and peanuts are often eliminated for at least a couple weeks.
Supplement but Don’t Use Laxatives
Many cleanses include beneficial supplements like milk thistle, dandelion root, magnesium, fiber, glutamine, slippery elm, digestive enzymes, probiotics, glutamine, and turmeric, just to name a few. Supplements can help support and encourage the cleansing process but be wary of cleanses that use stimulating laxatives, even natural ones. Remember the goal is to support the natural cleansing processes in your body, not to put it into hyper-drive. Laxatives can encourage waste to move too quickly through your body. This can disrupt the balance of micro flora in your small bowel and colon, decrease absorption of fluids and electrolytes, and cause unneeded physical and social discomfort. For some, there’s also a potential for developing a dependency on the stimulating laxatives.
Take It Easy
Cleanse protocols are often different from our daily routine, which can make them feel like a challenge. However, cleansing shouldn’t be the dietary equivalent to running a marathon. If your cleanse is interfering with your ability to function normally, this is a red flag that it’s too aggressive and potentially harmful.
When Should I Cleanse?
It’s important to choose your timing wisely. Cleansing mobilizes toxins causing physiologic stress on your body, so it can expel them while simultaneously protecting itself from the effects of the toxins. For this reason, cleansing in the middle of the winter when your body and immune system are already stressed isn’t a great option.
Don’t cleanse while you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, or while you’re actively training for an athletic event. For my female clients considering starting a family, I recommend they complete a cleanse about two months before they start trying to conceive. For my athletic clients, I recommend cleansing before they hit a building phase in their training regimen or after competition season is over. For the general population, I recommend a full cleanse in spring and a GI-specific cleanse in the fall to strengthen their immune systems for the coming winter months.