In general, I’m not a big fan of the detox craze. It promotes extremism in our food choices, and often hypes herbs or diets which are not healthy for the person or the season. That being said, after a month of Christmas cookies and chocolates, sometimes our bodies need a little nudge back towards healthy habits.
Sugar, with its dispersive energy, depresses our immune system, and heavier foods, while appropriate for winter, make us feel sluggish. In order to feel healthy and strong, focus on cooked vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
Salt, which has a downward and inward energy, may be used in moderation to acclimate with the cold and dark winter. Healthy fats like nuts, avocados, organic butter, and cold-pressed oils like extra-virgin olive oil, cod-liver oil, and walnut oil, are also good for this season.
One of the best ways to see where we need to change, is to start keeping a food journal. Writing down everything you eat and drink, even just for a week or two, is remarkably effective. In my Acupuncture practice in Falmouth, MA, I frequently ask my patients to keep a journal so that we may set small and manageable goals or dietary changes.
Questions to ask yourself:
- How many of servings of fruits and vegetables am I eating? Try to aim for 6-11 servings of fruits and veggies, with at least 2 servings coming from green leafy vegetables. The best choices for winter are dark greens like kale, swiss chard, and broccoli. Upping your fruit and vegetable intake is the single best thing you can do to change your diet. Besides providing vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants and fiber, eating more of these foods will help you to naturally eat less of the bad stuff.
- How about protein? Am I eating some form of protein ~ whether it’s from an animal, or from plants, at least two times per day? Am I able to feel full longer after a protein meal?
- Am I eating meals, or do I snack all day long? Everyone is different. Some people function better on 2-3 larger meals, while others need to eat 5-6 times per day to maintain proper energy. For optimal digestion, meals should be eaten at a table, in a relaxed manner (not while working, watching television or driving).
- How often am I eating processed carbohydrates like packaged cereal, bread, bagels, muffins, cookies, pizza, pasta, etc.
- Do I feel tired, sluggish, or hungry again very soon after eating processed carbohydrates? Often people are surprised to learn that cold cereal is really not a healthy choice at any time of the day, and that bread products can cause lack of concentration and fatigue.
- What do I drink throughout the day? Do I drink water? How about soda, sugared beverages or diet beverages. Include vitamin water as a sugared beverage. What is my coffee consumption? Some people can handle a bit of caffeine in the morning, up to a mug or 2. Those with sleep problems, palpitations, or trying to conceive, should greatly reduce or eliminate coffee. How about Alcohol? Is it within the healthy guidelines of 1 glass per day (7/week) for women, and 2 glasses per day (14/week) for men? Women concerned about their fertility or breast cancer, may want to consume less than this, as more than 2 drinks per week has been shown to greatly increase breast cancer risk.
- Treats: Do I allow myself occasional indulgences? It is important to have flexibility in our diets, and very often, socializing revolves around food. Follow the 90-10 rule: Let 90% of your diet be from whole foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, healthy fats, and proteins). 10% of the time, feel free to indulge in treats like good chocolate, a glass of wine, pizza with friends, etc.
- Other non-food questions to ask:
- Am I moving my body? Exercise boosts endorphins, immunity and our metabolism, keeping us happy, healthy and fit. If that’s not reason enough, studies show that an hour every day is necessary just to maintain body weight past the age of 30. If you’re currently not moving, consider starting by adding a 10 minute walk every day. Add 10 minutes per week until you are at 45 minutes to an hour. For those looking for something more strenuous, consider jogging, biking, rollerblading, or swimming. Also, do not forget weight-bearing exercises for healthy bones, and stretching and yoga for flexibility.
- How much sleep am I getting? A lack of sleep has been found to increase cortisol levels, and actually promote fat storage. Besides hormonal balance, sleep is necessary for rebuilding all of our bodies’ cells, and keeping immunity up. Aim for 7-9 hours per night.
For many people, just the simple act of keeping a journal and following the suggestions above, is enough of a change. For those looking for a jump-start, I’ve included some plans to quickly get you on track. Staying there is up to you, but a return to whole foods eating is best.
~Fruit and Vegetable Cleanse: For 1-3 days, eat as much as you want of raw and cooked fruits and vegetables.
~White-out: For 1-2 weeks, avoid all “white foods”. The main culprits are sugar, flour and dairy. Avoiding these foods, even their brown counterparts, will have you feeling better in no time.
~Carb-Cravers Cleanse: For 1-2 weeks, focus on eating lean proteins and green vegetables. For the first 3 days, carbohydrate cravings will be intense, but will soon after subside. After 1-2 weeks, start adding in low-glycemic fruits such as berries and apples, and then starchy vegetables, legumes and grains and dairy. Each person can tolerate a different amount of carbohydrates, so a bit of experimentation is necessary to find the amount best for you.
Foods to eat:
- Eggs ~ omlettes, frittata’s, poached, soft and hard-boiled
- Fish: Salmon, Tilapia, Red Snapper, Haddock, Cod, Tuna
- Poultry: Chicken, Turkey
- Nuts: Have up to 1/4 cup per day of Almonds, Walnuts, Macadamia, Pumpkin seeds.
- Vegetables: Leafy Greens ~lettuce, arugula, kale, swiss chard, beet greens, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, french cut green beans, zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, mushrooms.
- Beverages: Green and herbal teas, unsweetened coconut and almond milks, teecino, water, whey protein smoothies made with isolated whey protein powder. Add stevia powder for sweetness.
~Fit for Life: For 1-2 weeks, eat simple meals based on fruits and vegetables.
- Breakfast: unlimited fruit until noon
- Lunch: A large salad with either protein (fish, chicken, beans or nuts) or a grain.
- Dinner: Large plate of cooked vegetables with either a protein or starch dish.
~The Seneca Indian Cleansing Diet: This diet is believed to have a different cleansing effect during each of the four days. The first day, the colon is cleansed. The second day, toxins are released along with excess salts and calcium deposits. The third day, the digestive tract is supplied with mineral rich fiber. And, finally on the fourth day, the blood, lymphatic system, and other organs are nourished with minerals. (Courtesy of Juicing for Life – Cherie Calbom and Maureen Keane).
Day 1: Eat only fruits and their juices. You may choose from apples, pears, berries, melons, peaches and cherries.
Day 2: Drink all the herbal teas you want. You may choose from raspberry, peppermint, chamomile, and many other varieties.
Day 3: Eat all the vegetables you desire. They may be raw, steamed, or cooked in soups.
Day 4: Make a large soup pot of vegetable broth. Simmer cauliflower, cabbage, parsley, green pepper, onion, garlic, or any other vegetables. Season with sea salt and vegetable broth cubes. Drink only the broth all day. (If you become hungry, eat the vegetables as well).