When the first lockdown hit us in the Spring of 2020, lots of us tackled the sudden cabin fever by taking up daily exercise. Whether we chose walks, runs, Joe Wicks classes, or Zoom yoga, we found a way to stay active. When it came to exercising, we really hit the ground running, didn’t we? It was such a positive side to an otherwise very tough time.
This time around, our second lockdown finds us slap bang in the middle of winter – and what a freezing one at that! This year more than any other, we may have overindulged in festive foods, chocolates, crisps, fizzy drinks, mulled wine and other boozy drinks. After the year we’ve all had we certainly deserved to let loose at little! So as we pack up the tinsel and fairy lights and emerge from the haze of the holidays, we might be thinking about reinstating those exercise habits that kept us sane through the first lockdown. As you set out for a brisk walk in the winter sunshine, why not consider having a post-festive clean-up of your diet? The new year is a perfect time to set your intentions for the months ahead and treat your body to a gentle cleanse. In this post, I’ll explain exactly how and why to mindfully detoxify in 4 simple steps.
Toxins are waste products: chemicals either produced in the body as normal byproducts of metabolic processes, or accumulated from our external environment. Our bodies are well-adapted to detoxify and move out toxins, but sometimes our exposure to toxins exceeds our ability to comfortably eliminate them. Often, clients come to me with symptoms suggesting toxicity: brain fog, poor memory, fatigue, chemical sensitivities, skin breakouts & rashes, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, PMS and mood swings. That’s when I suggest, and help them to create, a detox programme, that focuses on eating more nutrient dense foods. This is especially important for clients with food sensitivities, or special dietary requirements that make adjusting their diet a challenge.
So what causes a toxic load? Toxins include excess hormones, histamine, cholesterol, plastic-derived toxins, pesticides, car exhaust, cigarette smoke, alcohol, PAHs from chargrilled meat and fish, agricultural chemicals, medications and mycotoxins. . . in other words; many things we’re exposed to, or ingest on a daily basis. But don’t be discouraged: A New Year’s detox needn’t be gruelling, and its well worth putting in the effort. A detox can really help to boost mood and energy levels – just what we all need right now!
So now that we’ve talked about the why, let’s talk about the how. Here’s how you can design a detox for a post-festive reboot to get you on track for more energy, clearer skin and smoother digestion. The increased nutrients you will consume have the added benefit of supporting an optimised immune system too.
Step One: PLAN
As a ‘lists’ person, this is my favourite stage! Decide which foods and drinks you want to remove from your diet and either consume (if this won’t be too excessive!), store (if expiry dates allow), or gift (any birthdays or food banks, perhaps?). The goal is to eliminate these foods and drinks for the duration of the detox.
When I work with a client on a bespoke nutritional and detox programme, I craft a plan that’s specific to them, their lifestyle, body, environment and health goals. Generally speaking though, the kinds of foods and drinks you are aiming to stop consuming are refined sugars and alcohol, unhealthy fats, excess carbs, and caffeine.
After you decide what you’d like to eliminate, choose what you’re going to introduce. Browse recipe books and choose some simple favourites including healthy ingredients; perhaps a lentil dahl, borscht, vegetable curry, winter stew, favourite soup or homemade pasta sauce. Below is a list of ‘Rainbow Foods’ to print out and stick on your fridge. Following the Rainbow Foods guide will ensure you nourish yourself with foods rich in a broad range of phytonutrients, vitamins and antioxidants essential for a healthy mind and body. I know it sounds like a lot, but ideally you’ll be aiming for 8-10 servings of veg a day and 2 fruit from the list, looking to keep variety by eating something from each colour column daily. Try adding veg to your smoothies, double up veg in soups, use spinach as a base for curry, and spiralised courgette or squash with your homemade pasta sauce. It can be tricky to remember which vitamins and minerals come from which food, but this approach improves the chances of ticking all the boxes.
Step Two: MAKE CHANGES.
Now you’ve planned your changes and prepared mentally for a detox, it’s time to start taking action. It might be helpful to remove just one or two items a day. Every time you eliminate something from your diet, be sure to replace it with something your body will thank you for; this helps with the mindset that you aren’t depriving yourself of anything.
Here are some replacements you can make:
Refined sugar and alcohol tax your whole body, impair sleep, lead to energy crashes, and create cravings for more and more refined sugars and alcohol, leaving you locked in an unhealthy cycle. As a replacement for your usual sugary treats, try healthier alternatives that still satisfy the dessert craving – my family loves homemade almond butter cups and courgette brownies. Both can be prepared, then frozen in portions and defrosted when needed. Alcohol can be replaced with non-alcoholic gins or alcohol-free beers. Seedlip Non-alcoholic Spirit is a favourite of mine, and their new Aecorn aperitif is great too. Another option is kombucha, a fermented tea that promotes a healthy gut microflora. (See Step 3: RESTORE for more about gut health).
Unhealthy fats such as trans fats, can be replaced with healthy fats. Trans fats are found in many convenience foods, ready meals, crisps and snacks. They are fats which have been altered or damaged in the manufacturing process to artificially prolong shelf life. Fats can also become damaged when exposed to very high temperatures, oxygen and light. Healthier fats include coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil. These should be kept sealed and in a dark place, then refrigerated when open. If you have a weakness for savoury snacks, try oatcakes, root vegetable crisps (thin slices, roasted at a low temperature), or mixed seed crackers.
Food sources of healthy fats include nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocado and coconut. Providing your body with good fats can help to support your brain chemistry and – since fat is what gives us satiety – reduce cravings. Nuts and seeds are a great source of essential fatty acids which are supportive to brain health and helpful for mood. They are also a great source of plant protein. Brazil nuts are especially high in selenium, which is important for serotonin and dopamine levels, and is an essential nutrient for the thyroid.
Make sure to add plenty of antioxidant-rich foods to your diet, such as the fruit and veg listed in the ‘Rainbow Foods’ guide above. Antioxidants give the body some protection against free radical damage, which can accelerate ageing and impair the immune system. Some vegetables such as cruciferous veg (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, rocket and radish) and cysteine-rich veg (onions and garlic), help directly with detoxification pathways and should be included daily. Other foods of particular interest for supporting mood are value are apples (bioflavonoid quercetin), beetroot (betaine, which assists in dopamine production), and hemp and chia seeds (rich in omega 3 and 6).
Adding more fibre to your diet will help to tone the bowel and assist with stool formation, support a healthy gut microflora, as well as help to eliminate toxins and excess hormones, medications and histamine from the gut. Increasing your range of vegetables and including fibre in your food can start to positively impact your gut microflora within just 24 hours! Some fibre-rich foods that make great additions to a detox are: wholegrains such as oats, quinoa, barley and rye; fruit, especially pears, apples, oranges, bananas and berries; vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and artichokes; nuts and seeds; avocado, beans and pulses, particularly lentils and chickpeas.
While you’re detoxing, make a point of staying hydrated! The British Nutrition Foundation advises 6-8 glasses of water a day (1.5 – 2 litres). Herbal teas can be included in this volume, but unfortunately caffeinated drinks don’t count, and actually dehydrate the body. In place of your morning caffeine, try a glass of warm water with fresh lemon, to support hydration, digestion and metabolism. We lose approximately 1 pint of water daily due to normal bodily functions, so keeping hydrated is a cheap, simple and effective daily practice to support health.
You are making way for foods that will cleanse, restore and nourish. Detoxing also requires gentle EXERCISE to aid the lymphatic system, elimination and oxygenation of the body. REST is also crucial for the detoxification and repair, so remember to take time out for relaxation: read a book, go outside for sunshine and fresh air, take relaxing baths, meditate or journal.
Step Three: RESTORE
Having eliminated sugars and alcohol, and introduced a wider variety of fruit and vegetables, you’ve already taken the first step to restoring healthy microflora populations in your body. Well done, you! Beneficial bacteria will feed off short chain fatty acids provided by digesting plant foods.
The broad range of fruit and vegetables can also provide some natural antimicrobials to improve your natural defences against pathogenic bacteria, fungi and viruses. As the beneficial strains repopulate, they crowd out the less desirable species, supporting the mucus membranes in the process. Natural supplements can help to promote this new balance, as can fermented foods such as:
Live yoghurt (avoid ones sweetened with sugar) and kefir
Traditionally prepared sourdough
Sauerkraut and kimchi.
Tempeh (fermented soybeans)
Step Four: NORMALISE
We’ve covered a lot in the first 3 steps! Step Four is about slowing down and reflecting on the changes you’ve made and how you feel now. Can you incorporate some of your new detox solutions into your regular daily practice? Spend some time considering which new foods you have tried and enjoyed, and how your body and mind feel now you have removed some less desirables. I’m not one to believe that we should be 100% perfect in the choices we make. But we can respect and support our bodies by reducing the toxic burden and eating nutrient-dense, restorative foods. How about aiming for 80% healthy choices and allow 20% for less-than-perfect options?
I hope I have motivated you to think about starting a gentle cleanse. If you need further advice and support, a good Nutritional Therapist will help you to make effective changes that are enjoyable and realistic enough to become long-term habits. They may even tailor an achievable detox programme for your based on your desired outcomes, lifestyle, budget and food preferences. This is what I offer in my Silver, Gold, and Platinum packages.
I’m currently available online during total lockdown, and both online and face-to-face once restrictions are eased. I offer a free discovery call to anyone who’d like to know how my approach to nutritional wellbeing could benefit them. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you’d like my help to detoxify your year ahead!