After more than two decades working as a nutritionist specializing in weight loss and detoxification, I am still completely in awe of the liver. As far as I’m concerned, this amazing organ, nestled away in the right side of the abdomen, has more than earned its name, which derives from an Old English word for “life.”
Your liver is your largest internal organ, and it’s responsible for an astonishing variety of life-sustaining and health-promoting tasks — including those that make healthy weight loss and weight management possible. Integral to countless metabolic processes, the liver supports the digestive system, controls blood sugar and regulates fat storage. It stores and mobilizes energy, and produces more proteins than any other organ in the body.
One of your liver’s most important functions, though — and the one most crucial to your weight loss — is chemically breaking down everything that enters your body, from the healthiest bite of organic food to the poisonous pesticides that may linger on your salad; from the purest filtered water to a glass of wine; from your daily vitamin supplement to your blood pressure medication.
It’s your liver’s job to distinguish between the nutrients you need to absorb and the dangerous or unnecessary substances that must be filtered out of your bloodstream. But when the liver is clogged and overwhelmed with toxins, it can’t do a very effective job of processing nutrients and fats. The upshot: The more toxic your body becomes, the more difficulty you’ll have losing weight and keeping it off.
The Low-Carb Diet Problem
Ironically, many of the low-carb diets that people adopt only make matters worse. By encouraging us to eat a lot of meat (much of which is laden with toxins) and discouraging us from eating enough fiber-rich, water-dense fruits and vegetables, such diets can slow elimination. By loading us up with so many proteins that our stomachs can’t produce enough acid to digest them all, these diets also can inhibit proper digestion, overloading our livers and intestines with a stream of nasty, internally produced poisons such as indican, ammonia, cadaverine and histide.
Fortunately, the liver, in its infinite wisdom, produces bile, a crucial substance for detoxifying our bodies. Bile lubricates our intestines and works with fiber to prevent constipation. Bile is also where the liver dumps all the drugs, heavy metals, xenoestrogens, excess sex hormones from birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy, medications, pesticides, industrial chemicals, and other toxins, so they can eventually be eliminated from the body.
One of bile’s other main duties is to help our bodies break down the fats we need and to assimilate fat-soluble vitamins. Without bile, we couldn’t convert beta-carotene into vitamin A, nor could we use calcium. But when our bile becomes overly congested with the toxins it’s trying to filter out, it simply can’t function properly. It becomes thick, viscous and highly inefficient in breaking down fats. The result: You are more likely to gain weight and to have greater difficulty losing it.
Cleansing the liver helps it produce better, more efficient bile. That helps your body flush toxins and break down fat more effectively. It also makes more energy-giving nutrients available to your body and reduces strain on your digestive and immune systems. Your elimination improves, and your colon is relieved of unnecessary burdens. The net effect: You look and feel better, and it becomes far easier for you to achieve and maintain your ideal weight.
The Fast Track: A Three-Stage Process
Ready to give your liver a healthy boost — and give your entire system a thorough cleaning? My Fast Track Detox program is a proven, highly effective detox and weight-loss system that offers a simple, safe and effective way to drop excess pounds; to clear out toxic gunk; and to improve your health and vitality. Described in detail in my book, The Fast Track Detox Diet (Broadway, 2006), this program is, in reality, less a diet than a multipart program for healthy living. It has been carefully tested in a clinical setting.
Although the fasting part of the detox plan is just a single day (making it very safe), the complete process calls for both a seven-day preparation and a three-day follow-up phase designed to properly prepare your system for the one-day liver-cleansing juice fast and then help extend and compound your healthy results.
This three-part detox process can dramatically improve the state of your liver and colon and help cleanse tissue throughout your body — all while eliminating bloating, improving your energy and assisting you in dropping unwanted weight. Best of all, unlike water fasting and long-term juice fasting, this program is safe and gentle enough for you to employ anytime you are feeling loaded down and sluggish and in need of more vitality. I personally do Fast Track Detox fasts three or four times a year, usually around the fall and spring equinoxes, and whenever I feel myself to be on overload.
The Fast Track Detox program is simple to work into your normal life: You spend a full week on the Seven-Day Prequel, eating the liver-loving foods that your body’s major detox organ needs. You’ll also load up on colon-caring foods to help your colon purge the toxins and waste from your body.
Next, you’ll spend one day following a special juice fast designed to flush impurities and stored wastes from your system.
Then, you’ll seal in the results with a Three-Day Sequel that includes additional liver and colon support along with special natural-food sources of probiotics — fermented foods that support the friendly bacteria your system needs to synthesize vitamins and promote immune function.
Many people experience significant and immediate weight loss on this program, but the net benefits for energy and long-term health are every bit as dramatic. So, whether you are looking to slim down or just lighten your toxic load, give the Fast Track Detox a try. You’ll be amazed at what your liver can accomplish with just a little help.
Before you begin the detoxifying One-Day Juice Fast, it’s essential that you prepare your body by strengthening your liver and colon for the work ahead. If you don’t do this, you might end up more bloated, constipated and “toxic” than you were before. You may also inadvertently put the brakes on desired weight loss.
Fasting can be dangerous if it’s not done properly. Why? Fasting releases toxins that were previously lodged in your fat cells and shuttles them into your bloodstream for filtration and transport through your body’s elimination channels. But without prior liver and colon support to help these toxins clear from your system, the poisons may simply get relocated within the body, settling into any number of sensitive organs and making you feel tired, anxious, headachy and more fatigued than when you started.
So if you want to avoid feeling unnecessarily lousy and if you want to maximize weight loss, follow the six steps described below — in addition to your regular diet — for seven days before you embark on the liver-flushing One-Day Juice Fast:
1. Each day, for seven days, choose at least one serving from each group of the following liver-loving foods:
- Crucifers, such as cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, broccoli sprouts
- Green, leafy vegetables and herbs, like parsley, kale, watercress, chard, cilantro, beet greens, collards, escarole, dandelion greens and mustard greens
- Citrus, like oranges, lemons and limes (avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice, which contain a compound called naringen that can interfere with the liver-cleansing process)
- Sulfur-rich foods, like garlic, onions, eggs and daikon radish
- Liver healers, such as artichoke, asparagus, beets, celery, dandelion-root tea, whey and nutritional yeast flakes
2. Each day, choose at least two of the following colon-caring foods: powdered psyllium husks, milled or ground flaxseeds, carrots, apples, pears, or berries.
3. Each day, drink half your body weight in ounces of filtered or purified water.
4. Each day, make sure you have at least two servings (the size of the palm of your hand) of protein in the form of lean beef, lamb, skinless chicken, turkey or fish, or, if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, at least 2 tablespoons a day of a high-quality blue-green algae or a spirulina source (available in natural foods and health stores).
5. Each day, make sure you have 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil in the form of olive oil or flaxseed oil.
(For specific serving sizes on all of the above, along with more detailed guidance, see The Fast Track Detox Diet.)
6. Avoid the following “detox detractors”:
- Excess dietary fats, especially trans fats and fried foods
- Any form of sugar, including honey and maple syrup
- Artificial sweeteners Refined carbohydrates, including white rice and products made from white flour Gluten, found in wheat, rye, barley and all their related products, such as packaged cereals, macaroni and cheese, pizza dough, pasta, tortillas, pancake or waffle mixes, and cookies.
- Gluten also appears in many “low-carb” products, vegetable proteins, some soy sauces and distilled vinegars
- Soy protein isolates, found in many protein energy bars and processed soy foods
- Alcohol, over-the-counter drugs and caffeine (coffee, energy drinks, etc.)
One-Day Juice Fast
The One-Day Juice Fast portion of the Fast Track Detox is designed to flush impurities from your liver and other cellular tissues while supporting your general health and energy.
While I do not advocate water fasts, or even long-term juice fasts, decades of professional clinical experience and research have convinced me that healthy, short-term juice fasting — the kind supported by adequate nutritional preparation for the liver and sufficient fiber for the colon — is probably the best-kept secret around for good health, long-term weight loss and an overall feeling of well-being.
By reducing the amount of work your digestive system has to do, you free up a great deal of energy for healing and regeneration. And while you will be limiting your caloric intake for one day, it is not an extended enough period to suppress your metabolism or set off a starvation response. In fact, every ingredient of the One-Day Juice Detox has been specially chosen to stave off hunger, balance your blood sugar, rev up your metabolism, and keep you feeling fit, energized and trim throughout your fasting day.
Here’s the basic protocol you should follow for your One-Day Juice Fast, and some idea of what you might experience during the detox process. (Keep in mind that the effects and results will vary from person to person.)
Before you conduct your One-Day Juice Fast, make sure you have completed the Seven-Day Prequel. Then, follow this four-step program:
1. Prepare the Miracle Juice (for complete recipe and preparation instructions, see my book The Fast Track Detox Diet):
- Cranberry water: unsweetened cranberry juice or unsweetened cranberry juice concentrate diluted with filtered water (be sure to use 100 percent pure, unsweetened cranberry juice that has no sugar, corn syrup or other juices added)
- Ground cinnamon
- Ground ginger
- Ground nutmeg
- Freshly squeezed orange juice
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Stevia (a sweet-tasting herb that is widely available at natural foods stores) to taste
- Bring cranberry water to a light boil; reduce heat to low.
- Place cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg into a tea ball; add to the cranberry water. (For a tangier juice, add the spices directly to the liquid.)
- Simmer 15 to 20 minutes; cool to room temperature.
- Stir in the orange and lemon juices. Add stevia at this time, if desired.
2. Alternate drinking 1 cup (8 ounces) of filtered water and 1 cup (8 ounces) of Miracle Juice during the day. Drink at least 72 ounces of filtered water throughout the day, in addition to the Miracle Juice. Make sure you drink at least a cup of liquid — either the Miracle Juice or water — every hour. Begin the protocol when you wake up in the morning. You don’t have to begin at a specific time, but be sure to have eight glasses of Miracle Juice in addition to the 72 ounces of water by day’s end.
3. Upon rising and at the end of the day, take one serving of a colon-caring supplement, chosen from among the following:
- Powdered psyllium husks (1 to 2 teaspoons mixed in 8 ounces of water or Miracle Juice)
- Ground or milled flaxseeds (2 to 3 tablespoons mixed in 10 to 12 ounces of water or 8 ounces Miracle Juice)
4. Engage in only light exercise — such as a 20-minute walk, mellow yoga or 10 minutes on an elliptical machine.
The Three-Day Sequel
Following your One-Day Juice Fast, it’s essential that you follow this sequel program for three days straight. Otherwise, your reentry into normal eating may leave you feeling bloated, constipated and more toxic than before.
Fasting without follow-up support means that toxins released into your bloodstream during the fast may remain in your system, making you feel tired, anxious, headachy and fatigued. Skipping the Three-Day Sequel also sets you up to regain lost weight. So support your body’s natural detox process and seal in the results of your One-Day Juice Fast by following these simple steps:
1. Each day, choose at least one of the following probiotic food sources to restore “friendly bacteria”:
- Sauerkraut (1/2 cup). You can either make your own or buy an organic, raw variety. Most store-bought sauerkraut is processed with heat, which kills the naturally occurring enzymes and microflora, so check the label carefully.
- Yogurt (1 cup). Whole-milk yogurt is fine (you can choose low-fat if you prefer), but look for plain, unsweetened yogurt with a label that reads “live, active cultures.”
2. Before each meal, take one or more tablets of hydrochloric acid in a formula that contains at least 500 to 540 milligrams of betaine hydrochloride with at least 100 to 150 milligrams of pepsin, and at least 50 milligrams of ox bile extract (such formulas are widely available at most health and nutrition stores and at many natural groceries).
3. In addition to the above, observe the steps of the Seven-Day Prequel.
Where to Go From Here
Once you’ve completed the Fast Track Detox as outlined here, I suggest that you ease back into normal eating by choosing nutritious, cooked foods that are easy to digest. Pay attention to the positive, dramatic impact that supporting your body’s natural detoxification systems can have on your overall health and well-being. Follow these basic detox suggestions, and I trust that you will feel lighter, happier and more excited about your body’s healthy potential than you have in years.
Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, is the award-winning author of more than 30 books, including The New York Times bestsellers Before the Change: Taking Charge of Your Perimenopause (Harper San Francisco, 1999) and The Fat Flush Plan (McGraw-Hill, 2002). This article was adapted with permission from The Fast Track Detox Diet (Broadway, 2006). More at www.annlouise.com.