This is the time of year that the idea of detoxing, resetting, and dieting are slowly creeping in. It actually makes sense because this seems to be a very dense time of year and there is an inherent wisdom that recognizes this and attempts to balance itself by changing the diet.
Naturally, in olden times, food was generally more scarce and basic foods and vegetation were relied upon. Incidentally, this supported the inherent design for detoxing the body and begin its journey to lightening up through digestion. In Ayurveda, this particular time of year is known as the Kapha phase/season. The qualities of Kapha are primarily Heavy, then cold and moist. This creates a heaviness and sluggishness in the digestion. Even the little deer know that and try to support its own lymphatic system by chewing on bark and and possible baby sprout/green formation. Nature is wise!
These next few months involves the very process of rebirthing and awakening, as the sun continues to increase its light upon us with each day that passes, delivering us to summer time.
In Ayurveda, when we think of Detox, we ask "what are we trying to do?" and "what will it take to get the body ready for it and to optimize its overall performance?" (giving us the desired outcome of feeling less toxic). There is something very important to consider here. It is great to support this internal wisdom to detox but we tend to have many justifications and definitions of what that looks like. There are also so many types of diets. Ayurveda teaches us to detox as part of the season and takes into account the reality of what our constitutional design is (Vata, Pitta, Kapha.) The adjustment of detoxification happens specifically and accordingly.
First, in Ayurveda, we know that Vata predominant types or those with "Vata Vitiation" have a variable digestive system/metabolism. Pitta predominant types or those with Pitta Vitiation have a very strong and steady digestive/metabolic system. Kapha predominant types or Kapha Vitiated types have a slow and sluggish digestive/metabolic system.
The detoxification happens based on this principle of Agni (digestion/metabolism) and determination of Ama (toxicity), along with what the state of Ojas (immunity/strength) of the individual. It is contraindicated, unless properly supervised, for an individual to detox if they are weakened in energy and immunity and vitality. Palliative procedures are put in place in order to strengthen the individual before detoxification is actually considered. These palliative protocols are called Shamana Chikitsa in Ayurveda.
Next, when the individual is deemed ready to undergo detoxification, this can range from light to intense. Light is usually recommended when someone isn't able to really fully take off from the daily typical responsibilities. Intense is when someone can take off from usual responsibilities and dedicate the time and discipline to detox. A little bit over time can go a long way, just take longer. An intense detoxification can happen within a months time and produce a more immediate result, that unravels with time.
The common error that happens with detoxing/dieting is that individuals say they are detoxing and remove certain aspects of food/beverages from the diet and optimize with what supports the detox but then after they are all "cleaned out" the return to eating what they were before hand. This can have a damaging effect on the body. The ideal situation is to detox and then slowly ease in foods that match the state of digestion, minimizing the foods that may not be ideal, but not to fully return to eating the same stuff that cause the toxins to develop in the first place.
In today's day and age, it can be challenging to do so especially with the western patterns of duties and stressors. I remember one of my first teachers giving an example of detoxing. He said "imagine having a glass full of muddy water and you take a grain of sand and pour it in, but you don't notice it. Slowly, you begin to pour in clean water and watch the mud slowly turn clear, and then add the grain of sand. Now you can see the grain of sand. The glass of water is more sensitive now." Similarly, detoxing the body removes the toxins and when we re-expose the same toxins right back in the body is more sensitive to this.
Additionally, as mentioned previously, the diet/detox can range from light to intense depending on the individual's capacity to do so, time availability, level of discipline, and practicality overall, along with the ultimate intention and goal of doing so. What is essential to note here is that the digestive system requires a specific quality and type of attention to really feel supported. It requires focus and simplicity. There is an innate intelligence of the digestive system to do its job if we all the space for it. If someone is working an intense job schedule, for instance, and they are doing an intense detox, the fruits will be short-lived and/or not fully achieved because the body has to produce energy to support the outer experiences and engagements versus focus on its duty to detox. In other words, stress will inhibit the metabolism and prevent it from being fully effective. In these instances, it is best to simply do a palliative/light diet by removing basic offenders instead of doing intense protocols like "liver flushes", "enemas," or "kidney flushes." The flushes would be more harmful to the body if the body isn't properly supported. There's no quick fix! There's no magic diet or pill to take the toxins all away. Slow and steady wins the race, and produces better outcomes.
This is all meant for consideration as the idea of wanting to move forward with any sense of detoxing/dieting proceeds. It is great to consider wanting to do a detox/diet because the body and mind has somehow communicated this need. Listen to it and give it what it deserves. Giving the body the attention it needs will not only help you feel better in your body but will also add a sense of stability and happiness in your mind because the toxins aren't clouding your perspective as these free radicals float around clogging the mind.
Fat burning is an essential component to any good detox. It is typically in the fat that toxins are stored in. For instance, when eating store bought milk or using milk from dispensaries such as Starbucks or other coffee shops that aren't using organic, it is understood in modern science that the hormones and pesticides gather in the fat of the milk. Similarly, toxins are stored by the body in the fat of the body. With any good detox, we want to ensure that the body is returned to its former glory which involves it being a "fat burning machine." How do we do this? In day to day living, we honor the times of day that are designed to burn fat. When are these times? In between meals is the answer. What does that look like? The answer is between breakfast and lunch, between lunch and dinner and between dinner and breakfast. This means no snacking. This means that the last meal of the day is the last meal and should be before 7pm (ideally.)
The liver becomes active after 10pm and if we are still awake into the late night hours we are actually borrowing energy from the liver to stay away and inhibiting its capacity to actually detox the body and brings things to order as it organizes what happened during the day, preparing us for the next day. This delivers us to breakfast and when we break down the word break fast this is "break(ing)" a "fast." The morning is when we remove the toxins from yesterday by urinating it out (which is why the urine is usually darkest in the morning) and we poop (ideally before breakfast and within the first half hour of waking.) We rinse our mouths, noses, shower/bathe, and we are cleaned up from the inside out from yesterday to begin anew. When this process of the natural fasting is disrupted we prevent the toxins from being adequately being discarded from the body. This is just the reality and how nature created it. There's not tricking it. The body knows best and what to do when get out of its way.
When we stop the snacking in between meals we allow the body to use its own resources to metabolize accordingly. When we have that craving for something to eat we are simply dis-empowering the body in doing what it was meant to and we pacify it by catering to our mental needs. Sure, there is sometimes a genuine need the body expresses through cravings but we have to look at the root of the cravings to determine what are they really saying. Typically, cravings come from an emotional/mental/stress need, a need of the body itself from inadequate meals, and poor sleep patterns. Additionally, if we are craving something, we have to ask if we are properly hydrated. The same mechanism in the brain that determines hunger also determines thirst so making sure that hydration is substantial is a key component. If you're not sure, have a cup of hot water when you have that craving. If the desire for food is there, then you're body wants a food substance. If not, then the craving goes away.
Instead of giving in to the craving, try not to create them by disrupting sleep, and missing or having inappropriate meals. Let the body have that craving, then wait 20 minutes (with or without having the hot water or a cup of tea) and the craving will most likely go away which means the internal process of metabolism has been turned on and now the body is going into fat burning mode. When we cater to the craving we are simply being lazy and somehow fear that discomfort feeling associated with craving and eat something instead which prevents the body from fat burning and ensure that it is fat storing.
A general good practice with or without the intention of dieting/detoxing, is sipping (not guzzling) hot water throughout the day. Why is this good? Imagine trying to wash a dirty dish that has grease on it. Does the grease come off with hot water or cold water? Right, you guessed it. Hot water helps it to dissolve. Similarly, hot water in the body ensures that we are fat burning and helping to breakdown foods. Tea and hot water have a similar effect as long as the water is hot, but drinkable.
Next what should a general detox look like? It is safe to say that certain things should be removed, or eliminated and this is a basic guideline, whether it is for the intention of a light detox/diet or intense one. Here are some guidelines: (note that the first four have been outlined by Dr. Suhas from his book the Hot Belly Diet.)
1. Cut refined flours, processed carbohydrates, and some starches. These can tax the system. We want to minimize stress on the body and support its intention to digest.
2. Cut out foods that are manufactured and called "fat-free", "sugar free", or "light." These are so processed that even though they seem healthier, they are more stressful on the body to metabolize on a microcellular level. Filler foods, are just processed in a way to appeal to the tongue but not really add joy to the later parts of digestion and overall well-being.
3. Avoid red meat, and other heavier meats, along with full-fat dairy. All this is heavy and harder for digestion.
4. Remove white sugar and artificial sweeteners, including those such as Truvia and Splenda. You can use pure raw honey and Stevia instead. The fake sugars are exactly that because they are so processed and designed to trick the body, but there's really no tricking the body.
5. Remove alcohol and marijuna. Both are stressors on the body and both prevent the full process of metabolism. Know that marijuana is a great herb for those of you that engage, but it affects the nervous system and metabolism. Both digestion and the mind will find it offensive, contrary to common belief.
6. Make sure the food is pure, wholesome. Minimally processed. Not from a box or can. Not from take out. As much as possible. Home cooked! Not microwaved (as much as possible and ideally.)
7. Eat only until you can sense that you feel slightly full. Anything more than that will suppress digestion and start fat storage versus fat burning. Check out this article on Guidelines for Healthy Eating HERE. By simply even checking out these guidelines you will benefit in the long run.
8. Avoid heavy foods and processed sugars. This includes breads, pastas, noodles, baked goods, chips, cookies, muffins, pizza dough, cakes, donuts, cheese, sodas (even "diet/zero calorie"), fried foods, ice creams (any kind,) energy bars, power bars, fruit bars, snack bars.
9. Avoid cold, ice, and frozen anything. This will shut down the digestive fire and eliminate the power of metabolism. It is contraindicated in general but especially during the revamping process of optimizing metabolic performance. It seems silly to add something so cold to a system that is designed to be hot. Check out this article HERE for more information on ice and cold.
10. Greens. Greens. Greens! Increase your veggies. An average of 1-2 cup per serving. This time of year the veggies should be more on the cooked side. This is good for vitamin/mineral intake, as well as fiber. Beets, Daikon Radish, Celery, Carrots, Parsley, and Cilantro are especially good veggies to introduce as they support lymph drainage, kidney function, and some of them support chelating your liver so that heavy metals can clear from the body better.
11. Spice it up! In Ayurveda, everything should have some sort of spice as this is like adding kindling to a fire. Cumin, Mustard seeds, Coriander, Turmeric, Oregano, Salt (moderate), Cinnamon, Ajwan seeds, Fenugreek, Ginger, and Black Pepper are some examples of spices that should be included regularly into foods to support digestion, not to mention that the are also considered herbs and have medicinal properties.
12. Food for Thought! The digestive system does better with a simpler diet. This is one of the reasons why a mono-diet is supportive of detoxification and resetting digestion. Think of it this way. When the body knows what is coming, when the digestive system has an idea of what meal is in store at the next meal time, the body is preparing the enzymes for metabolism of this meal. For instance, in the morning you say to yourself "I'd like to have rice, beans, veggies, and some other protein for lunch, and you have an idea of how you're making it or where you're buying it from. As soon as you have this thought, your body is slowly gearing up the juices for it. BUT, say you had this in mind and then a co-worker says at lunch time "let's go eat something else," the body was already prepared for the other meal but in changing it now the body has to play catch up which increases the likelihood of malabsorption. This last minute change in mind has now causing a stress. Simpler diets are more effective because the body is better prepared to digest.
Since we now have a general understanding and format for the "diet", this will automatically support detoxification without even having to think about purging and flushes. But, this isn't enough! Exercise is a key component to supporting lymphatic movement. Exercise where we can raise the heart rate for good cardiovascular practices gets the metabolism going and juices flowing in the body. It will maximize your efforts with diet because diet alone can not undo diabetes and being overweight, not to mention how it affects the mind positively when the oxygen increases in the system and moves the fluids in the brain for brain health. Similarly, exercising alone without the proper diet wouldn't fully benefit the body and mind.
To go deeper, a yoga class and meditative practices can optimize performance overall and create a whole holistic feel. The mind and heart are intimately connected. A happy mind is a happy heart. A happy heart is a calmer mind. When this is experienced, the body can feel supported and aligned. Balanced and integrated.
Lastly, Ayurveda has an understanding of how important it is to following a regimented overall routine. This creates a foundation for health because the health of the body/mind is dependent upon consistency. The body is a historical system and thrives on consistency. There are some key elements that are the touchstones of the day designed already by nature that if we follow them then we are ensured that health will be better supported, before and after conditions have developed. Life can happen in between these key times of day and when there is enough of a consistent pattern that the body can trust then when life actually happens and things come up the body will be least encumbered and rebound quicker when the regimen is resumed. Check this article HERE on what they daily ritual can look like.
Following even these suggestions will create a simple reset for you and your menu. Considering these mentioned tidbits will help set the stage for your intention of dieting/detoxing without going to far or deep or even having to enroll in any major program. Just applying the above concepts, walking the talk, you will start to notice weight loss and increased energy. Yet, if you want to go deeper it is encouraged that you seek out a professional versed in dieting/detoxing that can guide and support you.
Other diets tend to leave you hanging, stressed, or even returning full force to what you were doing before the diet which means the body wasn't really met in a way that completely supported it so much so that the body now compensates extremely. This is the point that people say "the diet didn't work for me" or "I put more weight on." Individuals feel disappointed, sad, even depressed with themselves which wasn't the point of the diet to begin with. With Ayurveda there is more of a natural alchemy and individuals end up happier in the long run. For instance, if you wanted to go deeper, Ayurveda has a whole protocol for dieting and detoxification where there are mainly three phases that promote the most optimal results based on your intentions and constitutional design. Phase one generally involves what's mentioned above which includes removing offenders to metabolism. Phase two involves the actual detoxification protocol around using the body's natural systems/organs to remove toxins through the digestive system. Herbs, spices, and other therapies such as oil and steam therapies are included here. Phase three is the slow integration of regular foods that honors the inherent power of metabolism so that it can perform in a way that you can enjoy with the least amount of digestive disturbance. This latter process is profound because it really encourages mindfulness around food that can help you to feel happy while you're doing it because you've gone through the first couple phases and become very intimate with knowing yourself.
Ayurveda is not a diet but a way of consciously living as it is aligned with nature and its natural rhythms. You can't go wrong but you can feel right simply by making the right adjustments. It's an amazing journey.
DISCLAIMER: This information is meant for educational purposes only and not considered medical advice. Any changes in lifestyle should be reviewed with a qualified practitioner and/or primary care physician if you are currently under their care for specific conditions.