Wintertime is notorious for rich comfort foods, decreased energy levels, less physical activity, and more time bundled up on the couch. On average, we gain 3-7 pounds each year. Most of us never lose that weight, allowing it to add up over the years. Not only is weight gain a concern during the winter months, but also our energy and mood can suffer with the increased darkness during the day.
But alas, Spring is in the air! Flowers are starting to bloom, birds are singing, and the air is crisp and clean. For many, this time of year signifies a time to open the windows and deep clean the house. We want to remove the darkness and dampness of winter and allow spring freshness to permeate. The same can be done for our body. “Spring clean our body”…sounds like a great way to ditch the heavy winter meals, kick start our energy, and shed those winter blues. But where to start?
There are many “detox diets” in modern culture – the master cleanse, the clean diet, the clean green and lean diet, fat flush diet, Martha’s Vineyard diet, the super cleanse, or the you are what you eat diet. Many claim to help you lose 30 pounds in 30 days, or clean your liver to help you process body fat better. Most detox diets are ineffective and potentially dangerous. They are based on rapid weight loss in the first few days, which generally signifies a loss of water. They are not intended to be sustainable, safe, or healthy methods to support the body through a healthy cleansing cycle. Often with many detox diets and fasting programs, the toxins stored within fat tissue are suddenly released into the bloodstream. This can add undue stress to the body and the detoxification system, and ultimately lead to an inflammatory process. Many times, people can feel worse after a detox diet than they did before.
To support an ongoing, effective detoxification, consider making a vow for the month of March (and ideally more often throughout the year) to follow the guidelines within this article. This information is neither novel nor complicated; however it can make drastic improvements to your health.
Follow the Mediterranean diet.
A great eating guideline to follow is the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is a powerful anti-inflammatory diet proven to support heart health, prevent cancer, and manage weight. It is based mainly on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and seafood. Other meats, dairy, eggs, and sweets are eaten infrequently. The most important component of any healthy diet is to focus on whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) and limit meats, dairy, sweets and treats.
Drink plenty of water daily
Over 75% of our body is made of water; it is vital to maintain a continual supply. Water keeps your body hydrated, flushes unwanted waste material out of the body, and improves communication abilities between the cells of your body. Improved cellular communication equals improved bodily functions.
Avoid all processed, packaged, and fried food
Here is a rule of thumb: If you can’t pronounce most of the ingredients on a label, choose something else.
Buy whole foods as much as possible. Most packaged and processed foods contain additives and preservatives that are unnecessary and potentially harmful to the body. Additionally, most of these foods are full of sugar, salt, saturated fat, and trans fat.
Limit alcohol to one serving daily
Although various studies have shown that moderate amounts of alcohol can have health benefits, it is important to keep in mind the definition of moderate. For men, moderate is two servings daily, for women just one. The liver is responsible for the breakdown of alcohol; this is also the main organ that detoxifies the body.
Move your body daily
Exercise is a powerful tool to support the body. It protects the heart, manages weight, and powers the circulation of blood, nutrients, and lymphatic tissue throughout the body. Having a strong circulation enables the body to heal, have access to vital nutrients for growth, and removes toxins and waste products from around the body. Exercising also encourages the body to sweat, which is a vital method of eliminating toxins from the body.
Manage stress levels
Stress can wreck havoc in our body. Chronic stress can lead to heart disease, sleeping problems, digestive issues, depression, obesity, memory impairment, skin conditions, and reproductive issues. It creates an inflammatory environment within our body. Figure out ways to manage your stress levels. Ideas include exercise, relaxation techniques, yoga or Pilates, meditation, journaling, spending time with friends, laughing and having a sense of humor, or seeking professional counseling. Consider downloading some meditations onto your ipad or ipod or other MP3 player. You can listen before bed, or while resting on your lunch hour. Here is a link to Tara Brachs meditation which you can download for free.
Most of us have camped out inside our houses and our places of work for most of the winter. It is time to get outside, soak up what sunshine is available, and feel the fresh air on our face. If possible, play in the dirt, prepare the garden, tidy up the lawn, or go for a walk in the woods. Nature is a part of us, and we are a part of nature. Re-establish this relationship as the weather improves. Not only does it feel good to be outside in the fresh air, but also nature is a powerful antioxidant. There is a layer of electrons on the surface of the earth, trees, grass, plants, and dirt. When our skin comes in contact with them, we absorb them and they become antioxidants within our body. Mother Nature is important to our health.
Life is supposed to be enjoyable, mysterious, challenging, a wild ride. Have fun! Find something everyday that you enjoy doing, and do it. And be sure to laugh. Not only is laughing fun, and a sign of having a good time, it stimulates the immune system (specifically natural killer cells, which recognized stressed cells and can kill bacteria or viruses on contact).
Looking for a more personalized approach?
If you think you would benefit from a more personalized approach to detoxification or are interested in “spring cleanse,” please contact a naturopathic doctor. Not everyone will benefit from the same detoxification protocol. It is important to discuss your goals, your health history with a qualified professional who can guide you through the process. To find a naturopathic doctor please see NUNM’s provider locator tool.
Another reputable resource for a fully supported and personalized cleanse is Cleanse Organic. This program is the only cleanse available that has been created by a naturopathic physician and a chef. NUNM alum Dr. Aimée Shunney designed the program to not only help you cleanse and detoxify safely, but to teach you how to shop, cook, eat and enjoy an anti-inflammatory diet – skills that will promote optimal health long after your cleanse is over.
by Jamie Fields 4th year medical student edited by Elise Schroeder ND