I tell my clients that I have a love/hate relationship with the word, “detox.” On the one hand, I like the word because most people I talk to get what it means. However, I dislike it because it may be associated with the following beliefs/stigmas:
- Implication that there are required products to buy (e.g. detox powder drinks/blends).
- If you’re not super strict and if you make a mistake, you have failed the entire detox and need to start over.
- Your diet can become much more lax afterward and it’ll be okay – similar to “yo-yo dieting”.
- Detoxes are inherently difficult.
- Deprivation is required to be healthy (sounds backwards, I know – but many people endure feeling unwell/hungry beyond just initial sugar withdrawal – and no wonder they become discouraged and quit). To clarify, certainly there may be a “deprivation” in missing certain foods we like for a time, but we shouldn’t be deprived in feeding ourselves enough food to feel nourished and well.
To clarify, I see these are common beliefs people may have in regard to detoxes. I’m not saying that various detox plans communicate this. However, I understand why people can get stuck into thinking this way. For many of us, we can be perfectionistic and get stuck in thinking “all or nothing”. For example, “I either do the detox fully, or I have failed it.” When we think this way, it’s discouraging if not destructive to our mental health and relationship with food. However, despite all these negative views/experiences people may have with a detox, I still believe they are a valuable tool in furthering our health. We just need to have a different perspective about them.
The two camps people tend to fall under when it comes to a detox.
I notice that, broadly speaking, people fall into two categories when it comes to dietary lifestyle changes. Either they thrive on doing small step-by-step changes consistently (which I believe everyone should practice!) or they thrive on doing an intentional ‘reset’ with a detox to jumpstart their diet changes. For the former, sometimes a detox feels like too much all at once and they can get discouraged. For the latter, some folks need to know and believe their body can, in fact, feel healthier (and/or lose weight, etc) by changing their diet. Then, by knowing this can be true, they can feel encouraged and motivated to continue with step-by-step changes. I think that whatever camp you identify with more, a detox (be it one week, three weeks, etc) can be a valuable tool.
‘Tool’ is a key word. It implies that a detox is there to serve your needs rather than you serving it. Many of us can get sucked into that trap of trying to achieve – in this case, achieve doing a flawless detox – rather than practicing and learning from it. That is an important distinction of perspective that can make all the difference in how well we utilize detoxes.
So how can a detox be a valuable tool for you, regardless of what approach to lifestyle change serves you better?
For those who prefer small gradual changes:
I’ll share my own experience here. I happen to be blessed with good health at this point in my life. While that’s something I am grateful for it also means I improve my health habits at a slower pace than others might – others who are more profoundly impacted by eating less healthful foods and need to be more vigilant. This means I have gravitated towards taking things at a slower pace and going step-by-step. For example, before my first three-week detox, I (among other foods) still ate plenty of wheat (and avoiding grains was one of the goals in this detox). I missed my sandwiches! When I finished the detox, I soon re-incorporated sandwiches again. However, not too long later, I decided I wanted to stop buying store-bought bread and prioritize only eating home-made sourdough bread. That is a small step – with having fewer additives/preservatives in my food. Next, I cut my bread slices thinner. Thin enough that almost everyone we have hosted has commented, “that’s a small slice you’re cutting…”. So, even though I “reverted” back to some old ways, I still improved compared to where I started before the detox began. I’d call that a win!
For those who gravitate more to doing “resets” and, therefore, doing detoxes:
I encourage you to go into these as a learning opportunity. There is something cool and powerful when you do regular detoxes because you can build upon your past experiences and see how you want to try something different or up your game. For example, now that I’m about to start my third detox, I learned that I really needed something to “fill me” that wasn’t peanut butter with bread/crackers. So, in preparation for the upcoming detox, I tried for the first time ever to bake grain-free rolls, and to make home-made almond butter. I’ll be honest, I don’t think I would have ever gotten around to taking those steps if I hadn’t had something bigger like a detox to keep me intentional about it. I think if you keep/retain something you learned from the detox, then you have gained something for yourself with overall growth in dietary lifestyle, even if you “revert” back to a less strict diet.
For either scenario – here’s the perspective that has helped me view detoxes in a healthier way. Let’s say I rate my diet as 50% optimal. Then, for 21 days, I do a detox and shoot up to 95% optimal. After that 21 days, instead of trying to unrealistically maintain that 95% long-term, I may settle back down to, say, 70%. For so many people, they view that slight reversion as failure. Dwelling in that failure then further drives them down to start back to that 50% (or worse). Instead, why not celebrate the fact that I settled down to 70% which is a 20% gain compared to where I first began?
In applying that perspective, we can all utilize routine scheduled detoxes (quarterly or bi-annually can work well) to make new long-term gains in our average with optimal dietary lifestyle.
It’s like reading a book. The first time we read through a book, we soak in a ton of information. For a short period of time, it’s all in our mind. Soon after, however, most of it fades away – but – we retain one or two key takeaways that serve our personal growth in the long-term. That’s a win! Then, we might re-read that book (like doing another detox) and we learn something new the second time around.
I want you to think about this. How do you tend to view the concept of a detox? What would help you to have a mentally healthier outlook on it? How do you see approaching one to serve your needs rather than the other way around?
To you health and wellbeing,
Lead Health Coach, Dan Tribley
EPIC Functional Medicine