Detox: What It Is and Why to do It

Posted on May 30th, 2013 by in Nutrition

Cheryl Kain, guest blogger

When I set out to learn more about detox, the first thing I discovered was that I had some outdated ideas, based on college days of enduring water fasts and repeated vows (always broken) to give up sugar. I wanted to debunk the idea of detox as deprivation, or something to white-knuckle through. It turns out there are many different, even gentle, ways to approach detox and cleansing, from simply giving up sugar and processed foods to signing on for a guided program. Detox is as much about allowing health as it is about removing toxins. Best of all, you can still do your body good by starting with small actions, feeling lighter each step of the way.

We all know the feeling of overload, and the symptoms that often result. In our society, multitasking and stress are a given, and this can lead to poor nutritional choices, overeating, fatigue, and burnout. One way to address these imbalances in the body is through detoxification, which is an organic function of our digestion and elimination process—we simply keep what is beneficial and eliminate the rest.

Whether the answer is in your kitchen or at a retreat, there is value in lightening your load. I spoke with Kripalu’s nutritional experts about surprisingly simple ways to reap transformational benefits as we move into spring, the quintessential season of renewal.

“The body, if we treat it right, is working hard to detoxify on a daily basis,” says Kripalu Nutritionist Kathie Madonna Swift, MS, RD, whose motto is “Good Gut, Great Health.” “Our own pantry has just what we need to detox,” Swift says. “By increasing fiber through fruits and vegetables, like leafy greens, and whole food sources, we can restore the ecological balance to the gut and transform toxic substances into a form that can be eliminated.”

When you undergo a detox, it’s about avoiding foods that tend to create metabolic waste and choosing foods that facilitate the cleansing process, according to Alison Shore Gaines, who leads regular cleansing programs at Kripalu. Veterans of her program, in which participants detox using a combination of grains, juice, and broth, return frequently to reap the benefits, which include breaking addictions to cigarettes, sugar, and coffee, lowering blood pressure, and finding relief from headaches and constipation. “Detox does not have to be about deprivation, and the best detox will offer balanced nutrition, through foods that are cleansing in nature,” says Alison.

Hilary Garivaltis, Dean of Kripalu School of Ayurveda, suggests eating simply—mostly fresh vegetables—over the course of a few days. “We might introduce a simple diet, for a week or so, to get back into a good rhythm with foods of the season, and add spices, which help enliven digestive fire and aid regular elimination.” Drinking warm to hot water with lemon rids the body of bacteria and fungi, adds Garivaltis, citing its preventative power against colds and flu.

A cleanse gives the body a rest so it can adapt to the new season. One of the centerpieces of Ayurveda is the five-day Panchakarma experience offered at Kripalu, with Ayurvedic practitioner Rosy Mann. Panchakarma goes after the accumulations of excesses in the doshas. “We do this through a series of process-oriented treatments, herbs, foods, and health evaluations. It’s often done over a period of one to four weeks, starting with a low-key approach,” says Garivaltis.

Everyone agrees that the fiber and antioxidant benefits of vegetables are key to cleansing. Kripalu Nutritionist John Bagnulo, PhD recommends “a very Paleolithic diet, centered around fruits and vegetables. Add some sweating through walking and sauna, and you can feel dramatically different after a short period of time. The fog moves out and you experience life at a different level.”

A realistic, balanced detox program involves more than the body. A cleanse can lighten the mind, heart, and emotions, too. A regular practice of yoga and meditation as part of a program—at home or away—helps reinforce stress reduction. “Every time I see people do a cleanse, there’s an innate shift, whether it’s psychological or physical,” says Gaines.

From my own experience, limiting or eliminating animal protein and flour, per John Bagnulo’s suggestions, changed my skin tone immediately and dramatically. The eczema that plagued me for years has nearly vanished.

“Cleansing is like tuning up your car. We give the organs a rest from the factory production of meals, enhance the body’s own healing energies, and help our immune system kick in,” says Gaines, adding, “When you cleanse the mind, heart, and emotions, there is light and clarity that come with clearing your system’s congestion. We can hear our body’s wisdom and receive new insights.”

Here’s to a new spring in your step!

Cheryl Kain is a writer, teacher, and musician who has practiced Kripalu Yoga for 20 years. Her story of how yoga changed her health and her life was featured on Good Morning America.



13 Responses to “Detox: What It Is and Why to do It”

  1. Jennifer Palais May 30, 2013 2:34 pm #

    Thank you for these gentle reminders about why cleansing is so important. Great article!

  2. Bert Jackson May 30, 2013 3:12 pm #

    “…the fog moves out.” Yes. After being far more careful about gluten, sugar and dairy, as we;; as exercise, I have seen a dramatic increase in brain function. Focus is sharper, mornings are clearer. Oh, and the gut is happier, too!

  3. Elaine C. Torrance-Gingrich May 30, 2013 3:34 pm #

    Great article with clear information that shows detox – or cleansing – is NOT just diet alone nor is it deprivation. I love how it helps me to really tune into my body -pick up on the subtleties that I normally blow off.

  4. Valerie Twomey May 30, 2013 3:34 pm #

    Well said. Allowing health is such a kindness to ourselves. No need for deprivation. Your article is a sweet reminder of compassionate Kripalu practices off the mat.

  5. Jim Winter May 30, 2013 8:38 pm #

    Great Article! I didn’t realize all the benefits of detoxing and the benifits of increasing fruits and vegetables in the diet.

  6. Venessa Verdugo May 30, 2013 9:12 pm #

    Thankyou for the great article! Like the author, I thought I knew a lot about the topic of cleansing but after reading this I now see how outdated my knowledge was.Realizing it doesn’t have to be torturous, I have decided to put my new found knowledge into practice and give cleansing a try.

  7. Garth Brown May 30, 2013 10:44 pm #

    A well written article. Mental health comes from the mind, which is part of the brain, which is part of the body. Healthy body, healthy mind. As the author clearly points out, stay tuned into what you body is trying to tell you.

  8. Jamie Feldstein June 1, 2013 4:37 am #

    Well written piece ~ this coming from someone who has endured IV chelation, Scenar, dozens on infrared sauna excursions etc. to unburden her body of myriad heavy metals and to ameliorate symptoms of Leaky Gut syndrome. Fast forward 5 years and I am now embracing gentler methods akin to those mentioned in the article. Thanks Cheryl Kain for shedding much needed light on a vital topic.

  9. anni maliki June 2, 2013 8:00 am #

    Here’s a question I have. I want to get the most from my veggies and am dying to buy a Vitamix blender. Is this the one you recommend? And if so, do you have any suggestions on how I can get one at a discounted price?

  10. Miriam MInger June 2, 2013 11:31 am #

    I found your post enlightening and peaceful, Cheryl. Thank you so much. Liked especially the recommendation from John Bagnulo about fruits and vegetables.

  11. K Riley June 8, 2013 7:18 pm #

    WoW! I didn’t know much about cleansing, and all of it was wrong! Thanks Cheryl!

  12. detox rochester ny December 14, 2013 5:44 am #

    thanks for sharing information….keep it up………..

  13. chiropractor rochester ny January 10, 2014 4:45 am #

    What a great story! Thanks so much for sharing this!

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