I recently spent a week at Kripalu for my first Healthy Living Program, a five-day Detox for Health and Healing. Months of not eating right, staying up late, and the overall stress of city living had left me exhausted, unmotivated, and overweight.
Detoxification, the body’s natural cleansing system, is not just a function of the liver, but rather a process that we can all participate in via our nutrition and lifestyle choices, according to Kripalu Healthy Living faculty member Annie B. Kay, an integrative dietitian who copresented the workshop with nutritionist Mel Sotos.
Our weeklong program was designed as an opportunity to observe how our body and mind felt after eliminating foods that can cause reactions, including grains, dairy, soy, meat, eggs, caffeine, and all sugars (even natural ones like honey, agave, and maple syrup). When we’re overloaded with toxins, and feel icky or fatigued, it’s often impossible to pinpoint the real culprits. An elimination diet clears the path to inquiry.
While some diets suggest eating a number of small meals each day, we ate three full meals, complemented by lectures on nutrition, yoga classes, and time to reflect mindfully on how and what we were eating. Annie encouraged us to select our meals from the vegan Buddha Bar in the Dining Hall, add nuts and seeds to our food, and source additional protein in beans, not meat. (Mel suggests thinking of meat as a condiment, not a main course, in your daily diet.) Other pointers for healthy eating: eat slowly, schedule meals at the same time each day, eat alone or with minimal distractions (no cell phones), and let the digestive system recuperate between meals by limiting snacking.
The most surprising things about the week? After a few days, I wasn’t hungry, and, by midweek, I had stopped craving sweets. Annie explained I was getting full on less food due to eating slowly (in general, we feel full after eating for about 20 minutes) and the nuts, seeds, and beans were providing me with all the protein I needed. She’d also encouraged us to savor the look and smell of our meal, not just the taste—and that fuller experience of eating was leaving me more satiated.
Back home, my craving for dessert returned once I reintroduced sugars, even in the seemingly milder forms of honey and sweetened almond milk. When I reintroduced grains to my diet, I immediately felt bloated and got a stomachache, confirming my suspicion that I’m sensitive to them. Annie says we each experience symptoms differently—some people see reactions right after a meal, while for others it can take three to six days to feel it in the body.
Seeing detox as a playful way to experiment with eating, instead of a weeklong sacrifice, has helped me see cleansing in a whole new light—and given me helpful information for incorporating long-term change into my diet.