(*Note- there are many links in this post to one of my favorite websites, nutritionfacts.org – I hope you will explore them!)
Despite the occasional fall of fluffy white snowflakes, spring has surely arrived in Vermont. I noticed crocuses popping up in our new yard this week. I am so excited to see these flowers pushing through the earth and I wonder what other spring bulbs are here on our new property!
With the arrival of spring, many yogi’s start to think about practicing a “detox”. What is meant by “detox” is eliminating certain foods types to “clear out the digestive system.” Ayurveda traditionally recommends a detox diet of Kitchadi in the spring and in the fall. To be clear, I always think it is wise action to reconsider healthy food choices and to eat mindfully, so I don’t want folks to think I am “poo-poo-ing” the idea of a detox with this post. Instead, I am hoping to explain how my own path of mindful eating has evolved over the years, and where I sit with it today. This post is simply commentary and reflection based on my own experience and should not be construed as eating advice. Eating choices are very personal and I recognize that there are many reasons to eat or not eat something for health, religious, or other reasons.
I have tried many types of “detox” diets in my adult life. As a kid growing up in the 1980’s (or as my girls like to say “way back in the nineteens”), I ate all the junk food you could imagine: Cheeseballs, Twinkies, hot dogs, burgers, Tang, and Little Debbie snacks. My favorite snacks were called snowballs- round chocolate cake balls with cream inside covered in marshmallow and coconut. By the time I arrived at young adulthood I was ready for some serious detoxing of my diet. For some reason I took to healthy eating with great interest. I remember sitting in our first apartment, pouring over nutrition and whole foods books, excited to try new recipes and cleanses. I have spent much time with these different diets: pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan, whole foods, raw food, soy free, gluten free, sugar free, and Ayurvedic diets. I never fully followed a macrobiotic diet, nor a paleo diet. Not generally considered a “diet”, but certainly a detox- I also stopped drinking alcohol 8 years ago. I have participated in juice cleanses for a few days at a time. I find it difficult to only drink fresh juices so it never lasts very long and I haven’t done one in a few years.
After spending time with all of these various experiments, I would notice how I felt physically, energetically, and emotionally. Then, I would return to some foods to see how I felt with them in my diet after some time away. Today, I follow a whole foods plant based diet- you could call it a “Vegan” diet- as I certainly am concerned with the welfare of animals and the atrocious conditions of factory farms, and even some so called ethical/humane and organic animal farms, and I do eliminate these foods based on these reasons. However, I do eat honey from time to time, and if there are dairy products in something someone shares with me I don’t always refuse it. So for some people that kicks me out of the club. Cookies and soda can be considered a vegan diet- so I think whole foods plant based is a better term for how I eat. I eat seasonally as much as possible and we enjoyed a local winter CSA this past season. On a weekly basis, I do consume, and very much enjoy, soy products, gluten and wheat, and natural sugars (mostly maple syrup or dates). I don’t enjoy eating too much wheat or gluten (meaning I don’t eat them every day), but I have found that I can include gluten on a weekly basis without any adverse feelings and including gluten can make it easier to eat at family gatherings and at restaurants. I do eat whole grains regularly. I have found that eating a whole foods plant based diet gives me energy, helps me to feel full, and I consistently have blood pressure readings of around 110/65, and have no cholesterol or other health problems. Eating this way has also, to the surprise of some folks, solved many years of anemia that I struggled with. The non-heme iron and plentiful vitamin C seemed to help me with my iron levels. Recently, I switched from oatmeal in the morning back to my beloved green smoothies, and I am experiencing a fabulous return of my energy and a lift in my emotional state. It is amazing what little kale or spinach does for me in the morning!
Oh- I should also mention caffeine. I gave up coffee as my morning and daily drink about 10 years ago. I have spent time caffeine free- well 2 months exactly. I found that I enjoy the smell of coffee more than ingesting it- it just doesn’t sit well in my stomach, and I think one can avoid caffeinated teas and be perfectly healthy, but I prefer tea in my life more than my life without tea. I confess to be a tea addict. Both green tea and black tea are my very favorite things, and I always have a little herbal something (chamomile, mint, skullcap, etc…) before bed. The many health benefits of tea far outweigh any risks of the caffeine, and I personally do not feel any adverse effects. I consume tea daily with great joy.
Why I no longer detox
But back to the title of this post: Why do I not detox? Well, the idea behind detox is to stop ingesting foods or substances that are causing harm to clean out the system and reset. My days are spent eating the very foods one might choose on a detox- mostly whole plant based foods, and I occasionally consume some processed foods. I don’t eat processed, fried, packaged foods most of the time, and then sometimes reboot and only eat whole foods. But I do eat cupcakes on birthdays, and fried foods once in a great while (mmm… samosas…), and occasionally I do enjoy the crunch of Cape Cod Chips (they did not pay me to state that). The body is an amazing detoxifier. If we consume processed, fried, or other foods generally deemed “unhealthy” only once in a great while (monthly or yearly), the body will detoxify what is not useful for the system all on its own. You don’t have to do anything about it! But if you regularly consume those items, weekly or daily, then your body can not catch up with itself to clean it out. It is like hiring a monthly cleaning service for your house, but trashing the house every single day. The cleaning service will never be able to catch up with the mess. *I do believe that when foods are addictive- such as the case of alcohol, it can be very difficult to ingest them on a very moderate level that would be considered safe.
So instead of thinking about detoxing once or twice a year with the seasons, how about we eat healthy most of the time, and perhaps allow ourselves to enjoy something less healthy, much less regularly. Our bodies just might be thankful for our choices.