I made some big mistakes when I first tried detoxing.
When I knew little about detoxing, before I trained as a naturopath, I experienced some pretty horrible detox reactions.
On my first attempt, I didn’t even last the first day!
By lunchtime, I had flu-like aches and pains with a throbbing headache and sore throat to boot.
I felt so awful I stayed in bed for 2 days!
Needless to say, I ditched my detox attempts and told myself I was too delicate and it was too risky for me detox…
Another time I did a detox retreat in Thailand.
For 12 days I lived on coconut water, pineapple juice, a clear broth and some supplements that included fibre and herbs.
Being in paradise didn’t make up for the fact that I felt pretty wiped out most of the time.
I remember exhausted people who looked grey and nauseated from ‘detox’ side effects – and we all thought that was a GOOD thing…
Of course, I no longer believe that to be the case.
When you detox right, you won’t suffer horrendous side effects (or at the very least, minimise them) – and most importantly, your detox will actually be effective (many aren’t!).
The reason people (like me!) make detoxing mistakes is that much of the information shared about detoxing are myths or misinformation.
This confusion either stops people from attempting to detox, gives them little if any results – or makes their health problems worse.
So allow me to dispel the myths and misinformation now and share what an effective detox protocol looks like.
First, what’s the real deal with detoxing?
You’ve no doubt read some negative opinions about detoxing.
It’s dangerous. It does nothing or isn’t necessary.
There’s truth in some of these points of view:
- If you jump into a detox without proper guidance and supervision by a healthcare practitioner, your efforts can backfire and cause severe detox symptoms including headache, lethargy, and skin issues
- It can be dangerous for those who have chronic diseases and/or are on medications if not supervised
- If a detox protocol doesn’t give your body the nutrients it needs to detox effectively, it may have little effect at all
- It isn’t necessary if you live on a utopian island while you eat organic food and breathe blissfully unpolluted air. Tell me where that is and I’ll meet you there!
What a proper detox program does for your health
A proper detox program helps you normalise your body’s natural ability to process and excrete toxicants stored in your fat, while you reduce the number of incoming toxic chemicals.
This helps your body deal with toxicants that have accumulated over time and makes your liver work better.
The benefits of your liver working better include:
- Improved detoxification ability (so you’ll eliminate toxicants better!)
- Improved metabolism and fat loss (as your liver can burn fat and carbs better)
- Balance or improve the function of hormones like oestrogen, thyroid hormone, cortisol and insulin (so improving energy, weight, brain function, PMS, fertility and resilience)
- Improved digestion
- Clearer skin
- Reducing or eliminating inflammation which can improve joint pain, depression, brain fog, headaches, ageing and more
Detoxing can also help reduce the expression of symptoms in many chronic diseases like diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune conditions and is key to helping prevent chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
When I did my first proper detox, I experienced far superior energy and a feeling of serenity and well-being I hadn’t felt for a very long time (without going through any horrible side effects!).
A common experience during detoxing is realising you’ve felt pretty crappy for a long time.
I often speak to people who say they’re not sure they’ve ever felt great.
It’s these very people who tend to benefit from detoxing the most.
The 4 major mistakes to avoid
If you’re ready to dive into detoxing (and I hope you are!), avoid these following mistakes and you’ll be on a path to detoxing properly while enjoying the detox process rather than feel like you’re dying!
1. Depriving rather than nourishing your body
Somewhere along the way, detoxing and fasting have been linked.
While fasting has benefits for health as well for spiritual or religious reasons – it shouldn’t be considered a detox.
Detoxing isn’t about deprivation.
It’s about giving your body nutrients it needs to detoxify effectively.
(I wrote about some of these nutrients in my previous article.)
Here are ‘detoxes’ that aren’t effective and can do more damage than good:
- Green juice cleanses or liquid fasts
- Ketogenic cleanses / Keto detox
- Hollywood style ‘cleanses’ / crash diets
Unfortunately many of the side effects people think of when they hear the word “detox” come from the type of deprivation you see on these programs.
Headaches, brain fog, fatigue, irritability, nausea, reduced immunity, muscle and joint aches and acute emotional distress are all side effects of depriving your body.
This is because fasting speeds up the body’s ability to release toxicants.
Yet when your body doesn’t have nutrients to neutralise and remove these toxicants from your body quickly, they can hang around and do more damage – and can end up in the brain and damage your nervous system.
Also, if you’re using detoxing to achieve weight loss, it’s essential you have enough nutrients to support your liver, and make sure you don’t lose water and muscle which is commonly what is lost in fasting or other weight loss programs.
Your goal should be fat loss and improved metabolism, which protein, in particular, is needed for.
In fact, studies have shown that if you get enough protein you can increase your metabolism by 15%!
There are certain nutrients we do want to limit that can hamper with the liver’s ability to detoxify and burn fat, like saturated fat.
A proper detox program will give you essential fats found in oily fish, nuts and seeds while limiting saturated fats found in foods like meat and dairy.
Essential fats keep your cell membranes fluid which keeps your cells functioning well.
Too much saturated fat can make cell membranes stiff, which can impair cell functions, especially their communication with each other (imagine the difference between moving through oil versus lard).
Essential fats also keep the fatty membrane in your mitochondria, the energy batteries in your cells, nice and fluid too, which is key to having energy.
(Oh and if you’re wondering about those weekend tea detoxes or foot detox pads? A waste of your hard earned cash!)
2. Detoxing too fast
A 7-day detox or 2-week cleanse is a good start, though often much longer is needed.
The reality is that all of us have been exposed to toxicants from birth – even in the womb.
Babies are born with toxicants in their bodies (sad, but true!).
So if you’ve spent a lifetime being exposed to toxic chemicals, unfortunately, you can’t rid yourself of the accumulated chemicals in your body within such a short space of time.
Short term detoxing programs can be ineffective for many reasons.
First, it can release a large number of toxicants into your bloodstream that can increase stress on your body, skin problems or negative side effects, just like with fasting.
And if you don’t have the nutrients to eliminate them, they’ll end up right back where they were in your fat cells (this is why a detox should be the first step in weight loss programs).
Second, detoxing needs to be a lifestyle over a short term program.
If you go on a detox diet then return to an unhealthy lifestyle (like I used to), you undo all the good you did and don’t move the needle on your health at all.
(I used to joke that I was simply retoxing so I had something to detox. Old Melissa was so clever.)
One of the best things you can do for your health is employing some daily detoxing strategies, plus remove toxic chemicals from your pantry, home and environment.
Your lifestyle has everything to do with how successful your detox and cleanse program will be.
Without creating a change in your lifestyle and establishing lasting new habits, you’ll bounce back to where you are now, stuck with the same health challenges that will likely worsen over time.
3. Not addressing cravings
What’s your poison?
Chocolate, bread, biscuits, cakes, gummy bears, chips, ice cream, coffee, alcohol…. all of the above?
If you’re struggling with fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, hormonal imbalances and the like, it’s likely you’re regularly consuming foods and beverages like these that are contributing to your health issues.
And if you’ve ever tried a detox program (or any health kick), you may have taken this approach:
Consumed your favourite foods/drinks like crazy right before the program (this can make you gain weight in the first few days of a program!).
Abstained throughout the program (or did your best to and/or drive yourself nuts thinking about the food/drink and feeling low and deprived).
Rebounded and ended up eating/drinking more than you normally would after the program (hello guilt, regret, and self-loathing).
Obviously, this does more harm than good, not just to your body, but will make you feel really crappy about yourself and your inability to stick to any health kick you try.
You’ll also likely experience negative side effects during a program if you’ve gorged yourself the weekend before (Been there, done that!).
Cravings are either physical or psychological.
A successful detox program deals with cravings head-on by giving you the tools to conquer cravings.
In my detox program, I help reduce physical cravings, get to the root of cravings while helping you manage your cravings in a healthy way.
In doing so, you’ll feel free from your cravings, and as you increase your health, those old cravings will start to fall away.
And finally, for lasting results from your detox program, what’s most important is to avoid this final mistake….
4. Not removing one main cause of toxicity
I wish I could tell you that if you just ate healthily, you’ll be in good health.
Yet good health comes down to optimising nutrition, detoxification and reducing stress.
So we can’t ignore the big toxic elephant in the room: stress.
Stress shuts off your body’s ability to detoxify.
Stress can release toxic hormones and chemicals that can be just as toxic to your body as environmental toxicants.
How you think, feel and live will determine how much toxic stress you experience.
It’s important to set some time aside to analyse your life and examine from where and when stress comes.
Stress can come from just about anything in life – but how you deal with it is what counts.
Focusing on experiencing more joy and getting rid of toxic thoughts is essential.
Basically, I want you to KonMari your mind and life!
This also includes prioritising self-care and sleep.
If you don’t get enough sleep, your metabolism can be affected.
Basically, your liver won’t be able to rebuild its glucose stores overnight, which means it won’t be able to burn stored fat (triglycerides) because your liver needs a little glucose to burn fat.
Lack of sleep can also mess with insulin and cortisol, increase food cravings and lower your mood.
When you reduce stress and create better ways of managing it, while getting enough rest, not only will you be supporting your body’s ability to detoxify, you’ll improve your health, happiness and life in every way!
Hopefully, after reading this, you’ll avoid the four major detoxing mistakes and be on your way to a cleaner, healthier you!
So in summary, when looking for a safe and effective detox program, pay special attention to:
- A gradual approach that can minimise withdrawal, sudden toxicant release, and increase your success rate
- Enough nutrition to support the body’s detoxification and elimination process while also reducing environmental toxicant exposure in your pantry, home and environment
- Addressing issues of cravings from an emotional and nutritional perspective
- A holistic approach that addresses stress
- Having the guidance and supervision of a detox expert
Detoxing this way will not only be a reset for your body (especially for your energy and weight).
It can be a gateway to resetting your life, finding so much more peace and joy, and living from a space where you thrive.
If there’s one belief I stand by wholeheartedly – it’s that you deserve the best of health so you can show up as your best, most vibrant self in your work, family and relationships.
And detoxing is one of the most important strategies to get you there.