Did our summer issue’s Whole Health, “The Skinny on Cleanses” get you thinking about a detox plan that’s right for you? Author Liz Yokubison reveals a little of what you have to look forward to (or look out for) should you go through with it.
Detoxification isn’t new to your body: Your skin, lungs, intestines, liver, and kidneys are all devoted to the task. In fact, if you’re getting a full eight hours of sleep, your body does a mini-cleanse of its own each night. “It’s not that the body can’t cleanse itself,” says Adam Kelinson, nutritional consultant and author of The Athlete’s Plate (Velopress, 2009), “But [doing a dietary cleanse] creates an environment that allows your body to cleanse in a deeper way.” Lowering your caloric and carbohydrate intakes and changing the type of food you eat opens a window to focus on detoxification instead of digestion, he says.
What’s the difference? Bloating, headaches, breakouts, and more regular trips to the toilet are a few of the side effects you may experience, but how do these symptoms hint at what’s really going on inside? Here’s a look into some of the processes.
- Bloating, the most common side effect, is the result of gas buildup in the system due to increased fiber intake, says Becca Brenner, PhD and nutritionist. “It is also a die-off symptom from bad bacteria and yeast leaving your body,” she explains, calling the process of discomfort a “healing crisis.”
- Withdrawal from acid-forming foods, most notably caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and refined carbohydrates, often manifests in hard-core headaches. The good news is that the throbbing doesn’t settle in right away and it’s usually short lived, lasting only a few days. Drink plenty of water to help speed things up.
- Skin is your body’s largest organ, and it doesn’t just protect you from dirt and grime—it also holds them in. Brenner explains that, during a cleanse, your body releases toxins faster than normal, and the skin’s porous surface is a prime place to push the excess. The result? Not good. “For some people it is a rash or an acne-like breakout,” she says, but the symptoms usually clear up within a week.
- Filtering and neutralizing toxins is your liver’s day-to-day job, and this organ bears the brunt of your toxic encounters from the environment and from food. “Liver enzymes [proteins that speed up the chemical reactions] are stimulated by fasting,” Kelinson says. Skipping solid foods, he adds, boosts your liver’s ability to do its job.
- “Toxins, yeast, and bad bacteria can bind to fiber,” says Brenner, and during a whole-foods cleanse, your roughage intake increases dramatically and cleanses your colon. Some people go one (or two) steps further, adding psyllium fiber supplements or a water-irrigation process known as colonics, which physically flushes both the upper and lower lengths of the organ.