Not All Detoxes Are Created Equal

Most people associate the idea of a detox with a restrictive juice or water fast. My first detox, a monthlong fast, was just that—all I ingested was a concoction of water, grapefruit juice, molasses, and cayenne pepper. By the time it was over, I vowed never to go on an extreme diet like that again.

Kripalu’s weeklong Detox for Health and Healing is a food-based elimination diet, in which you eliminate sugar, eggs, grains, dairy, meat, and caffeine for five days, and observe what happens. It’s a safe, healthy way to detox.

This is detox in the broad sense of the word—not only giving your body a break from foods that can be hard to digest, but also from other “indigestible” substances that can compromise our health, such as stress, technology, pollution, and heavy metals.

Over the course of a week, we studied nutrition (how to eat a plant-based diet and detox naturally), cooked together, practiced gentle yoga, and learned about Ayurveda from Larissa Hall Carlson, Kripalu Schools faculty member and former Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda.

We experimented with eating mindfully from the Buddha Bar in the Dining Hall, and learned to observe how our digestion was affected by heated conversations and eating quickly.

Kripalu Lead Nutritionist Annie B. Kay encouraged us to experiment in ways that felt right for us, and we all made different choices: Some people did yoga three times a day, while others napped frequently. My friend chose to sweat in the sauna most afternoons, while I swam laps in the lake.

When it came to our food choices, most of the class quit caffeine cold turkey on the first day. I chose to wean myself off coffee slowly throughout the week. I gave up eggs and cereal for breakfast and ate a bowl of fruit, nuts, and seeds instead.

Over the five days, my body got used to eating three big, healthy meals a day (I usually skip breakfast). All that nutrient-dense food satisfied and filled me up, and, eventually, I no longer craved my usual nighttime snack.

Taking a break from sugar was probably the most difficult challenge. The first night, I gave into my late-night cravings and had a gluten-free chocolate chip cookie at the Kripalu Cafe. On the second and third nights, when my craving kicked in, I experimented by going to bed a little earlier and a little hungry. Annie explained that it often takes days or weeks to wean the body off its chemical addiction to sugar.

Happily, the routines that started to feel so good in my body during the program have stuck since I returned home. And, thanks to Annie, I understand that healthy eating isn’t about deprivation or being hard on myself. Learning to nourish ourselves better can be a gentle and even enjoyable process when you undertake it with lots of patience and self-compassion.

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Jennifer Mattson is a writer, speaker, and journalist. She leads writing workshops throughout the country and reports on mindfulness, yoga, wellness, healthy living, books, arts, and culture.

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