I had a delicious Christmas. The week prior, I was enjoying surprisingly delicious 3-course meals at an all-inclusive in Mexico, followed by rich liqueur coffees topped with thick whipped cream. On Christmas Eve I baked my favourite chocolate cake and ate liberally – because I so rarely do this. So after two weeks of indulgent eating, I didn’t feel like myself and my body cried out for anything green.
I imagine a lot of people have this feeling after the annual cornucopia that is Christmastime, which is why the idea of “detoxing” or “cleansing” sounds appealing to many, especially in the context of the new year’s promise of new beginnings.
To me, following a “detox diet” or “cleanse” sounds like unnecessary torture. I care about keeping my body healthy and staving off disease, but doing so doesn’t have to come to this. Why go through all the effort of following some rubbish diet when my body can detox itself?
Our bodies are exquisite machines. Many, many amazing things are going on inside you right now – including detoxing. In fact, at any given second of the day you’re detoxing, which makes following a cleanse pretty redundant. And I’m sure you have better things to do – like prepping healthy lunches to bring to work!!!
Your liver, kidney, gastrointestinal tract (ie. your guts) and lungs are skilled operators when it comes to neutralizing and removing harmful substances from your body.
For example, inhaling air carries oxygen into our body where it is used to help metabolize food. A byproduct of metabolism is carbon dioxide, a gas that would be highly toxic if we didn’t eliminate it through exhaling. Voila! The miracle of self-detoxing.
In these times of protein obsession, it’s important to give kudos to our livers and kidneys for processing and excreting a killer that is produced during protein metabolism: urea. If our kidneys didn’t filter urea out of our blood and excrete it in our urine, we die in about 10 days. One of the important roles kidney dialysis plays is removing that toxic urea from the blood of people whose kidneys no longer work.
And do you know what the leading causes of kidney failure requiring dialysis are? High blood pressure and diabetes! So, in order to help your kidneys detox your body, avoid developing these conditions by following a healthy lifestyle. If you need help implementing lifestyle changes to manage your high blood pressure or diabetes so you won’t need dialysis, contact your friendly neighbourhood dietitian. Diabetes and kidney failure / dialysis are required training areas during our year long internship after completing our university degree. I trained for 6 weeks in a hospital dialysis unit that was designed for people just starting dialysis for the first time. Not only did I have to counsel patients on a special kidney diet, but I often had to help them with their diabetes and blood pressure too.
“Cleansing”, either through fasting, a special diet or laxatives, is often advocated as a way to rid your bowel of toxins. But by now maybe you’re noticing trend… yet another organ that self-detoxes is our bowel! If you’re lucky, your bowel “cleanses” itself every morning, but unfortunately, I know that many people have issues in this area. I work with a lot of clients who have problems with their bowels – diverticulitis, colitis, IBS, constipation, diarrhea, encopresis – and we never turn to fasting as a means of improving their conditions. We have a saying in clinic nutrition: if the gut works, use it. The only times we turn to fasting (in medical jargon: ”NPO” or nil per os) is when the gut is in serious trouble, such as a bowel obstruction or acute pancreatitis or a severe Crohn’s flare (situations typically seen in urgent situations).
Cleanses that involve juice diets or extended stretches of fasting are counter-productive because the less you eat, the less you excrete. This is a problem because “excreting” is a primary means by which your body eliminates toxins! You’ll eliminate more toxins by doing the exact opposite of fasting – eating MORE (good stuff) in order to force your intestines to move things along and out.
So this year, take some friendly advice and forgo the detox or cleanse. Respect your organs’ ability to detox your body. Respect and love your body by feeding it whole foods, lots of disease-fighting plants (veg, fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains, healthy fats!) and plenty of water.
Happy new year, friends.
-Andrea Senchuk, RD