The Doable Detox

Photography by: David Roth
The Doable Detox

Many practitioners will tell you not to go cold turkey on sugar, caffeine and all of the other foods you’ll be forgoing during your cleanse. “If you jump right into a detox, you’re more likely to have unpleasant symptoms early on,” says integrated medicine physician Elson M. Haas, M.D., the founder and director of Preventive Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael, Calif., and the author of The New Detox Diet (Celestial Arts). Instead, take a week to gear up for your detox, slowly eliminating offlimits foods and drinks. This not only prepares you physically, but also emotionally and practically. “People have strong attachments to food and it’s less emotional if you slowly let those things go,” says Saunders. Here’s how to prepare for a successful detox:

Choose a D-day
During the first couple of detox days, it’s common to feel fatigued or experience an increase in the exact same symptoms that led you to want to detox in the first place. So, it can be helpful to start on the weekend, or another day when your schedule is a little lighter. Also, don’t start at a time when you have a lot of social commitments coming up, such as weddings and birthday parties.

Wean yourself from your vices
Spend the week transitioning off what Haas calls the Big Five: caffeine, alcohol, sugar, wheat and dairy. Caffeine tends to be the most difficult for people, as quitting outright can result in the notorious caffeine-withdrawal headache. “If you’re a coffee drinker, wean yourself off by drinking part caffeinated/part decaf one day, then decaf the next, then black tea, green tea, and finally herbal teas,” says Michelle Babb, M.S., R.D., a nutritionist at Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle.

Learn label lingo
You’ll want to start reading ingredients lists—not just the Nutrition Fact labels—if you don’t already. “Sugar is often a surprise,” says Babb. “It’s in bread, in soup and in salad dressing.” Also beware of sugar by another name. Aliases include high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, dextrose, maltose, as well as molasses, honey and maple syrup.

Eat more greens
Organic vegetables will be the mainstay of your diet during a detox, so get a head start by incorporating them into your meals now. No. 1 on the list? Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, Chinese cabbage and artichokes. “They have powerful sulphur compounds that enhance the detoxifying enzymes and boost the liver’s ability to detoxify,” says Beth Reardon, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., an integrative nutritionist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C. To make them even more powerful, cook them with garlic and onions, which help boost the body’s production of glutathione—a protein that serves as a powerful antioxidant. “Over 60 percent of the toxins that go to the liver are detoxified by glutathione,” says Cathy Wong, N.D., C.N.S., a Boston-based naturopath.

Fill up on fiber
“Your bowel is a major route of elimination, and if it isn’t working well, you will feel terrible when you detox,” says Egenberger. Ideally, before your detox you want to be having at least one well-formed bowel movement a day. If you need help getting things moving, add one to two tablespoons of ground flaxseed to your diet daily.

Drink more water
During a detox you’ll need to consume at least eight glasses of filtered water (tap water and even bottled water may contain chemicals and toxins) or herbal tea each day to keep your body hydrated and help speed elimination. “If you increase fiber and you aren’t drinking enough water, you’ll end up with constipation,” says Wong.

Put on your apron
Few, if any, convenience or processed-prepared foods are going to fit the bill of foods allowed on a detox diet, so break out the pots, pans and cookbooks. “Boredom can sabotage a detox effort, so find recipes now that call for foods you’ll be able to eat while you cleanse,” says Ann Carey Tobin, M.D., an integrative medicine physician in Delmar, N.Y.

Remember your multivitamin
Wong recommends taking a multi that offers at least 100 percent of the daily value of these liver-friendly nutrients: Vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (no more than 100 milligrams per day), B12, D, C, and E (no more than 200 IU per day), along with chromium, zinc and selenium. One we like: Rainbow Light’s Just Once Naturals Women’s One Multivitamin.

Add an omega fatty acid
“Not having enough omega-3s in your diet can lead to excess inflammation, which disrupts cell membranes and allows toxins to leak in,” says Wong. She recommends Nordic Naturals ProEFA because the fish oil is filtered to remove toxins. Vegetarian? Try Spectrum Organics Vegetarian DHA.

Dust off your yoga mat
Daily exercise stimulates the circulation of the blood and lymph, boosting your body’s ability to eliminate, says Peter Bennett, N.D., R.Ac., the director of the Meditrine Naturopathic Medical Clinic in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. Still, this is no time for boot camp. “You’re trying to rejuvenate,” he says. “When detoxing, nothing beats a gentle yoga program.” Walking is also a great option.

What to expect when you’re detoxing
Smooth moves You may find yourself spending more time in the bathroom. “It’s optimal to have a bowel movement two to three times a day, but one is fine,” says Egenberger.
Things may get worse before they get better “You may feel irritable, tired and headachy at the end of the first day,” says Haas. You also might find yourself getting a cold. “A lot of the things we call problems in Western medicine are the body’s attempt to make itself better by getting rid of the mucus—the congestion from accumulated acidity,” says Haas.