You’ve probably heard the term “detox” a lot. This is an idea that gets thrown around in health circles — that you can take certain products to detoxify your body. You may have also heard that the notion of a detox in this sense is a myth. Your organs — such as your spleen, your pancreas, your liver and your kidneys — all detoxify your body on an ongoing basis. Indeed, this is their primary function. A healthy body should not need any products in order to detoxify itself. On the other hand, there
On the other hand, there are foods that you can eat that assist with organ function. Consuming these foods on a regular basis can help your organs to do their job at their peak. In addition to maintaining good overall organ health through a healthy diet, occasionally abstaining from certain common, but unhealthy foods and substances can help your body to flush out certain things that have a tendency to build up over time. To do that, you can do a cleanse or a fast.
CLEANSE VS. FAST
Before we delve into this, it should be clearly stated that before doing any kind of cleanse or fast you should consult with your healthcare practitioner to make sure that your plan is safe for you. You should also know that, especially at the beginning of any cleanse or fast, you may feel unwell. Withdrawing from addictive substances like sugar and caffeine can be very unpleasant and, depending on what sort of plan you choose, you may feel hungry or thirsty as well.
Plan your cleanse or fast for a week when you don’t have any major events scheduled and when you can get to bed at a reasonable hour every night. Also, be conscientious about driving and doing physical activity while on a cleanse or a fast. You may be feeling tired and less alert than usual. If your job involves operating heavy machinery, you may want to stick to days when you are not working.
So what’s the difference? A cleanse involves cutting out unhealthy and difficult to process foods, but still taking in nutrition through food and/or drink throughout the day. A fast, on the other hand, is about cutting food out altogether for a period of time. A cleanse can last upwards of a week or even two, whereas fasting is usually much shorter, ranging from 16 hours to a couple of days.
TYPES OF CLEANSES
All cleanses involve cutting out sugar, caffeine, wheat, dairy, meat and alcohol. Some involve solid foods, others are liquids only. Here are a few suggestions for different cleanses you can do. The juice cleanses listed below may sometimes be referred to as “juice fasts”, but for simplicity’s sake we are referring to any plans that involve food or drinks other than water as “cleanses”.
THE BASIC CLEANSE
This is really about cutting out sugar, caffeine, alcohol, wheat, dairy and meat. You should drink plenty of water throughout the week — aim for at least ten 8 oz. glasses per day. In the morning, drink a glass of water with the juice of half a lemon squeezed into it. This gets your digestive juices going. Try to wait half an hour before eating breakfast. For breakfast you can eat a cup of cooked grains and a small piece of fruit. Choose a grain that won’t cause inflammation, such as quinoa or amaranth.
Add some healthy fat to the grains, a great choice is flaxseed oil. Throughout the rest of the day you should eat only vegetables. You can steam your veggies and then drink the broth between meals. Try to eat your vegetables raw at least once each day. Be sure to select different kinds of vegetables — you want to be aiming for as much variety as possible. Don’t forget garlic and onions! They are nutritious and can make things a little more flavorful.
THE GREEN JUICE CLEANSE
The Green Juice Cleanse is probably one of the most popular out there. And it’s healthy if done right. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, eating a diet of mostly plant-based foods is your healthiest option in general. Many people add green juice to their regular diet and exercise plan as a way to get extra fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. But it’s a great way to cleanse too! Many people call juice cleanses fasts, because no solid food is eaten; all nutrition comes in the form of healthy juices.
When I say ‘it’s healthy if done right’, I mean that it can be easy to accidentally wind up with hidden sugars and additives in your juice. Your green juice can include any greens, veggies and fruit you can put through a juicer. You get all the benefits of kale, carrots and beets for example, with the occasional sweetness of fruit. Try to only use fruit in one juice per day — the others should be strictly vegetable juices.
Many people also add coconut water to their green juice. But packaged, processed or dehydrated juices can have different things added in, such as syrups and sweeteners you should stay away from. Stick to juices you make yourself to ensure quality and freshness. So if you go this route, remember that the fast can be as nutritious as you want it to be by doing your research and shopping ahead of time to get the right kinds of fruits and vegetables.
Essentially, a liquid cleanse is one in which you get all of your calories through liquids alone. You can incorporate green juice, smoothies, protein shakes, etc., but each meal is replaced by liquid for however long you’re on the cleanse, up to four times each day. Some liquid cleanses just replace one or two meals (breakfast and lunch) and you have a healthy dinner at the end of the day.
The big difference between this kind of cleanse and a juice cleanse is the fiber that you get by consuming whole fruits and veggies in the form of smoothies, rather than juices, which contain no fiber. Protein shakes may be a desirable addition if you have a very physically demanding lifestyle or on days when you want to go to the gym. Rather than a processed or additive-laden mix, prepare a fruit and vegetable smoothie and add nut or seed butter to it for protein. Liquid diets are often used as a means to kick-start a diet program.
You may lose a lot of weight quickly in the beginning, but your metabolism will slow down. Unless you change your regular dietary habits after the cleanse, you will most likely end up gaining the weight back.
Fasting isn’t typically on a person’s radar when it comes to eating healthy. In fact, most of us have had it pounded into our brains since we were kids that we need three square meals a day to be completely healthy. But why? What makes three meals a day the standard for healthy eating? Mark Mattson, professor of Neuroscience at John Hopkins University and Chief Laboratory of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging, had a lot to say about fasting and its effects on the human body.
In a recent Ted Talk he brought up the idea that three meals a day, every day is a manufactured norm. “Why is it that the normal diet is three meals a day plus snacks? It isn’t that it’s the healthiest eating pattern, now that’s my opinion, but I think there is a lot of evidence to support that. There are a lot of pressures to have that eating pattern, there’s a lot of money involved. The food industry — are they going to make money from skipping breakfast like I did today? No, they’re going to lose money. If people fast, the food industry loses money. What about the pharmaceutical industry? What if people do some intermittent fasting, exercise periodically and are very healthy, is the pharmaceutical industry going to make any money on healthy people?” According to Mattson, caloric restriction — either by going for periods of time without food or by eating less at each sitting — has proven to be beneficial in the long run and can even help treat and cure a variety of chronic conditions.
In lab studies, it has even been found to extend the lifespan of rats, mice, fish, flies, worms and yeast. According to Mattson, “There’s evidence not just from animals but also from humans that fasting is good for the body. It will reduce inflammation, it will reduce oxidative stress in organ systems throughout the body and one thing that happens when you fast that does not happen when you eat three meals a day is that your energy metabolism shifts so that you start burning fats...it takes about 10-12 hours before you deplete the glycogen stores in your liver, so if you eat three meals a day you never deplete the glycogen stores in your liver, although if you exercise you can.”
EVOLUTION AND FASTING
In this modern world of ours, food is available to us whenever we want it. Just head down to the nearest store and it’s right there. In abundance. While that might be good in terms of keeping us from starving to death, does the food industry play a big part in creating dietary guidelines as Mattson suggests? Are we, in fact, being encouraged to eat much more than we need to?
According to how our bodies are wired, we are actually supposed to go for short periods of time without eating. In our brief time on Earth, man has never before had access to three meals per day, plus all the additional goodies we have now, including snacks, supplements, etc. So, why does it seem like we’re getting sicker and more malnourished despite the quantity of food at our disposal? When we eat, the nutritional value of our food is used in one of two ways. It’s used up as energy or stored as muscle and fat. Because large quantities of food were historically only available at certain times, our bodies adapted to having lean times when there wasn’t much of anything.
As you can imagine, taking in carbohydrates and protein as often as possible was ideal. The nutrition gained in times of plenty was enough to last until the next big meal. Carbohydrates were burned off in between larger meals. But as food became more abundant, the time between meals got shorter and shorter. Fasting is no longer a common part of most diets, but many of us still eat large amounts of carbohydrates as though we’re storing up. Add a more sedentary lifestyle to the equation and you’ll begin to see what is causing the obesity epidemic.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU FAST?
We all fast for about 8 to 10 hours each day (however long it is between your evening meal and your first meal the next morning). This is why the first meal is called ‘break-fast’. But a real fast in the context of this article lasts at least 10-12 hours so that you can completely burn off the glycogen in your liver. The type of fasting that Mark Mattson refers to is “intermittent fasting”. This means integrating a day or two of fasting into your weekly routine, not abstaining from food for days on end.
Most experts recommend intermittent fasting for 16 to 18 hours in order to get the most benefit. This is most easily accomplished if you stop eating by 7 p.m. one day and then wait to eat again (only drinking water) until 11 a.m. or so the next day. That way, you’re sleeping for (hopefully) a good eight hours of the fast and the rest is split up between the night before and the morning. For the rest of the day, eat light, focusing on healthy, low-calorie whole foods. Once you’ve integrated intermittent fasting into your weekly routine, you may be interested in trying a longer fast. There are a couple of ways to go about this.
No doubt, water fasting is difficult to endure, especially at the beginning, but it can offer fast and powerful effects when it comes to detoxing your system. It’s strongly recommended that before starting, you prepare ahead of time and do it under the supervision of a medical professional, especially if you plan on only drinking water for more than one day at a time.
Essentially, the water fast means you are taking in zero calories, ridding your body of toxic substances. By not giving your organs anything new to process, they are given an opportunity to clear out build ups of sugar, toxins, etc. very quickly. The more unhealthy your diet, the more uncomfortable the fast will be as your system goes through withdrawal. No matter what, it will take time to get used to going hungry.
THE DRY FAST
Dry fasting is an intense fast where you go without both food AND water. It should not be attempted if you have never fasted before. As with any form of fast, you should start with just 16 hours (including the time while you are asleep) and then gradually increase the length of your fasting if you desire. The toughest fast of them all, the dry fast is used as an incredibly quick detox for the body. It’s thought that when the digestive system is not operating at full strength, it allows the immune system to kick in at a higher capacity. I asked Victor Sagalovsky, founder of Longevity Living what he learned from his recent 5-day dry fast, and here’s what he had to say:
From personal experience, as someone who has tried every kind of fast over the last twenty years I can unequivocally say that the 120 hour dry fast is the most powerful fast one can do. The benefits are profound. Old cells are broken down and recycled rapidly as they compete with healthy cells for water. Nothing else can create this rapid of a detox in your cells than a dry fast. And there is more than just physical benefit, this fast allows one to get to the core of their being as hunger and thirst triggers are ignored and cannot be turned to for emotional satisfaction. Meditation, stillness and “going within” is the only refuge.
The key to a successful dry fast is to be well-hydrated going in and always observing the quality of the saliva. At 120 hours into it, even though I had thirst, my saliva was thin and wet. If your mouth gets very dry, and your saliva is thick, then it is time to end the fast. One should really start with a 16 hour dry fast and work up from there to 24 hours, then 48 and then try to go for the full 5 days. It is a known physiological fact that when insulin is secreted by the pancreas, no human growth hormone can be released. In my personal experience, the benefits of the 5 day dry fast manifest in the weeks after the fast is over. It was very easy to gain 10 pounds of muscle in the month after my dry fast with moderate exercise because of the boost in growth factors circulating in my bloodstream.
In the long-term, there are risks associated with fasting, whether or not you drink water. Dehydration due to lack of water and/or electrolytes is possible and, of course, ultimately your body requires protein, fat and carbohydrates, as well as many vitamins and minerals to survive. If you find that you are dizzy, excessively fatigued, nauseated or are experiencing any other adverse symptoms, you should end the fast. Cleanses and fasts can be useful tools for overall long-term health, but they need to be done safely.
Starting slowly is wise. It is important to always listen to your body and to consult with your healthcare practitioner before starting any of the plans mentioned above. The benefits can be great though and you may find that making big changes to your diet now and then will make it easier to make smaller changes on a more regular basis.
If you can go a week with no sugar at all, who knows what you can accomplish day to day!
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