Detox diets are a relatively trendy concept. Although they’ve long been used by naturopathic, holistic, and integrative-medicine doctors, detox diets have been distorted by many (my friend continually confuses detoxing with fasting). Within the past few years, celebrities have claimed that detoxing — usually they mean the Master Cleanse, which is more like fasting while drinking a lemon, cayenne pepper and maple syrup beverage during the course of 10 to 14 days; or they mean colonics or, gulp, coffee enemas — has made all the difference in their bodies and appearance. Sadly, if this is all you think of when I say the word detox, then of course you’ll assume I’m a little extreme.
When I speak of detox (and when it’s discussed in the magazine — see Ann Gittleman’s piece in October 2009 and Courtney Helgoe’s discussion on detoxing in April 2010), I’m talking about elimination/reintroduction diets, where your daily menus consistent of whole, organic foods that are generally non-allergenic and non-inflammatory. Various supplements can (and should) be taken to make up any missing nutrients, and, over the course of several weeks after the “detox” period, foods are reintroduced. This is the basic formula — some naturopathic or integrative-medicine doctors also suggest hot baths, steams or saunas, skin brushing, or contrast showers to aid in the elimination of toxins from the body.
Before I started working at Experience Life, I had learned about Gittleman’s Fast Track Detox Diet from a former equally health-minded colleague. So I gave it a go in early 2008. I hadn’t taken the time to prepare myself, though, so I was still drinking wine a few days a week and three to four cups of coffee a day. Days 1 to 4 were hell: I had horrendous headaches and extremely low energy. But by day 5, I started to feel better. When day 8 came around, which required me to not eat for the entire 16-hour day but instead drink a cranberry-cinnamon tea (which was actually pretty tasty, especially when hot), I wasn’t phased by the lack of food. Really, during the other 13 days, I ate pretty well — and frequently. So when I heard about Hyman’s UltraSimple plan, I thought it would be easy. Seven days?! No problem.
Or so I thought.
I tried the UltraSimple detox in March and only made it to day 4. But again, even though I was drinking far less wine and coffee, and had cut back on sweets, takeout and fried foods a little since starting at Experience Life in January, this detox was a shock to my system. And after my failure, I went back to eating the same — from what I recall, I may have even had a jucy lucy that weekend. I ended up feeling much worse.
I knew I had to try it again. After the Gittleman detox, I felt so great; with Hyman’s plan, I knew I could achieve similar results — or better. And I wanted a clean slate for my digestive tract (clean up my life, why not my GI tract, too?). But I knew I needed to be better prepared. Any success (however short-lived) I’ve had on diets, preparation has always been key.
So I began cutting out all the foods I depend on too frequently: lovely dairy (how tragic to take cheese from a Midwestern girl!), sweet treats and dark-and-rich black gold, er, coffee. Coffee was the hardest to kick, mostly because I count on my morning pick-me-up. A coworker mentioned overcoming a severe coffee addiction with the homeopathic remedy coffea cruda (chamomilla may also be suggested by your homeopath for habitual coffee drinkers), and although my symptoms aren’t as severe this time as the Great Winter Detox of 2008, I may have to find out more if I find myself hooked again.
Now, if you find yourself too attached to these treats, like me, you may have to use a full two weeks to eliminate them from your diet. (Especially if you, like me, have trouble getting away from the mindset of “the last meal” and use yours to include Chinese takeout, polishing off that bottle of wine, or a cupcake splurge with your pregnant friend in her kitchen before the husbands discover us…does specificity always equal truth?) I’ve been careful to retrain my thinking — this is for my health, I’ll feel better by improving my diet, I can eat those foods again in moderation, etc. — so that, while the UltraSimple detox is temporary, the change in diet that it’s creating is not. I’m seeing it as the beginning of better eating.