What exactly is a cleanse?
We hear all kinds of stories about cleanses, sometimes very extreme versions of them including fasting or restricting the diet to one or two food only. Basically a cleanse is about giving your organs a break from processing toxins and chemicals found in the diet and environment as much as possible and then adding in foods that are going to support your system and aid in the cleansing process as much as possible.
Specific and ‘stronger’ cleanses really should be done with the help of a professional so it can be customized to your specific condition and body type (and you should always check with a health professional if you have any health problems before doing a cleanse), but a mild “get your body back on track” type cleanse can be done at any time and is particularly useful after a time of increased stress or indulgence. You’d probably benefit from a cleanse if you’re noticing things like headaches, lethargy, bloating or sluggish bowels, poor sleep or just a general feeling of fatigue or mental dullness.
In a nutshell, remove foods that are making your body work harder and adding to the toxic load – refined flours and wheat, sugar, dairy products, coffee and alcohol. Shift your diet to a whole food, organic and clean unprocessed foods that help support all the different cleansing organs (liver, lungs and skin, digestive system and kidneys). You might want to take a few days ‘off’ when doing a cleanse, but overall, it should taste and feel good!
Why is it important to cleanse?
It’s important to cleanse to give our body a break from the influx of toxins that come our way every day from food, stress and the environment. Our bodies are amazing at processing things, filtering toxins and repairing cells, but after time they need a break. It’s kind of like that cupboard or drawer that you keep shoving things into and think you’ll “get around to it one day”, but eventually you can’t shut the door anymore and you need to clean it out. It’s like that with our organ’s, we need to clean house so that things can work even more efficiently (which leads to increased energy, less bloating and lethargy, clearer thinking and just a better sense of vitality.
It doesn’t take a lot to cleanse -Simply cutting out refined and processed foods (white flours, sugars), dairy products and excessive salt, alcohol and coffee and then adding in whole organic fruits and vegetables (try to stick to low sugared fruits only), legumes (beans) and proteins.
By taking as little as 5-7 days to simplify your diet and add in some particularly cleanse foods and then making some simple lifestyle modifications you can notice a significant difference in how you feel.
Benefits of Cleansing:
- Reset your metabolism
- Look and feel great
- More energy
- Less bloated tummy
- Clearer skin
- Better moods
- Strengthen your immune system
- Get rid of cravings
And although spring is the most ideal time to do a “big” cleanse, a modified cleanse can be done at anytime of the year. Cleansing is particularly helpful after a time of excessive indulgence (aka: the holidays) or a particularly stressful time.
(stress puts a lot of stress or extra work on our organs and they go into survival mode, just doing the basics for survival, but not having the energy to repair or restore the way our body normally would in less stressful times).
It is important to note that cleanses should be modified for the season you’re in. Winter cleanses are different than spring or summer cleanses because of the climate and foods available.
So the major organs involved in the detoxing process are the Liver, Kidneys, lungs and skin, as well as the digestive system and bowels.
1) Liver – Our liver system is a huge detox organ and important in getting rid of prescription drugs or bacteria, it processes sugars and alcohol as well. It also secrets the bile that helps us get rid of cholesterol and makes toxins available for the other detox organs to expel by binding them with fat or making them water soluble for the kidney to excrete.
According to Chinese medicine, when the liver goes off balance it will show up in a variety of ways. Signs of a congested liver may show up as irritability, PMS, tendon issues, IBS like symptoms, flank pain, pounding headaches, waking early in the morning and not being able to fall back asleep, nail or eye issues can all be a sign of liver system imbalance in TCM
One of the best things for the liver system is eat green foods (kale, chard, spinach, broccoli, seaweeds etc) – green food contain something called indole-3 carbinol which helps with liver detox and is key for preventing some cancers.
Green foods also help to build the blood and to stabilize blood sugars – all important things for during a cleanse.
Other things that are helpful for the liver are eating smaller more frequent meals, avoid eating late at night, moderate exercise and decreasing stress (so things like meditation are extremely helpful) and avoiding sugars and excessive fatty foods, sugars and alcohol or OTC drugs
The Digestive system and Bowels are also very important in cleansing.
Why are bowels so important to cleanse?
Having a strong and healthy digestive system is key to good health. We need to make sure that we’re able to digest the food that we’re eating to nourish our body, but also make sure we’re able to excrete impurities, fat-soluble toxins and waste products effectively.
When this system is off balance you would see things like bloating after you eat, lethargy, heavy headed or heavy limbed feeling, you might bruise easily, have looser bowels or have chronic phlegm or congestion
What can we eat to help our bowels functioning well?
Some of the simplest things to help our digestive system and bowels is eating warm cooked foods, eating adequate fiber and drinking ample water.
Warm cooked foods are probably the simplest and most important thing to do, particularly in the winter months. Our digestive system is basically like a big warm pot – everything we put in needs to be heated up to just above body temperature for the digestive enzymes to kick in and then we have to break everything down into a soupy medium in order to digest is. When we eat raw or cold/frozen foods, it’s like trying to cook a soup and you keep adding a block of ice into it – it never breaks down. Our body can’t absorb it.
For fiber I love chia seeds and adding legumes to dishes as well as lots of fresh veggies and a few low sugared fruits. All of these will help push waste products out through the bowels.
Adequate fluids are essential as well and can be taken in the form of herbal teas as well which helps with the warmth factor in the winter and still keeps you hydrated.
3) Skin and lungs
Why should we cleanse our skin?
The skin and the lungs are big detox organs. What we breathe in, but also what we put on our skin is absorbed into our body (think of estrogen patches or nicotine patches – we absorb that though our skin).
When this system is out of balance in TCM, someone may be prone to frequent colds or they tend to get sick easily, skin irritations or rashes, shortness of breath etc.
What can we do to help our skin?
Basically sweat it out! Exercise, infrared saunas, meditation and deep belly breathing (using the fully capacity of the lungs). Dry brushing (gets rid of old dead skin cells, help improve your circulation and helps detoxify) are some easy ways.
And another big thing you can do is use natural oils on your skin instead of commercial moisturizers. Basically try not to put anything on your skin you wouldn’t eat. I know that might not be entirely realistic for people, but if you can switch over your daily moisturizer to a natural food grade oil, you’re doing yourself a huge favour. They are easy to use, and feel great – examples: coconut oil, avocado oil , almond oil or even olive oil on the outside for your hair and body all help prevent toxic buildup inside (a natural body butter recipe will follow)
Why should we cleanse our kidneys?
Our Kidneys are another of the big detox organs and help rid the body or water soluble toxins.
In TCM, when the kidney system is off balance we might see things like frequent UTI’s, lower back pain, knee pain, increased cavities or bone issues, premature greying of the hair or ringing in the ears.
What can we do to help our kidneys?
Making sure we have adequate rest is important for the kidneys. Most people have heard of the adrenal glands. They are kind of like our bank account of energy – it’s there for when we need energy in a pinch. But when we overwork, use too many stimulants like coffee or sugar, it’s like we’re dipping into this bank of energy $100 at a time and before we know it we’re in overdraft. By making sure you get adequate rest, you’re allowing your body to recover after a stressful time. Another thing that is important to kidney function is making sure you drink adequate fluids like water or herbal, non-caffeinated teas.
Urine should always be light yellow – clear. If it’s dark, you’re not getting enough fluids.
Sip on herbal teas throughout the day to make sure you’re getting adequate fluids but they’re still warming. Parsley, dandelion, nettles, lemon ginger all good options for the kidneys
Unsweetened cranberry juice, Lemon and warm water are great to start off your day.
A simple cleanse like the one mentioned above is something that you can do several times throughout the year to recharge your system. Much like when we take a vacation after a period of working for a long time. We could keep working but it doesn’t feel as good. By taking time off, giving ourselves a break physically and mentally from our daily duties and tasks helps us come back more recharged, rested and invigorated. The same is true for our bodies. By cleansing, we’re giving ourselves the gift of better health and vitality…and who doesn’t want that!