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Fast before the feast: why detox is best before Christmas

Detox is usually a word that we associate with the post-Christmas slump when we promise ourselves a ‘new you’ to go with the New Year. Here, Lifehouse Spa and Hotel’s naturopath, Sue Davis, explains why a fast before the feast is the real secret to a Happy Christmas!

Detox - woman with fruit
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What exactly is a healthy detox?

In essence a detox is all about removing the normal workload from the digestive system so that the detoxifying organs can dig a bit deeper and eliminate old stored toxins and waste. A detox or the more preferable term ‘dietary cleanse’ generally involves setting aside some quiet time to allow the body’s detoxifying and eliminatory processes a chance to restore themselves back to optimum function, rather like returning to ‘factory setting’. The process usually involves following a structured protocol incorporating lighter but nutrient dense fresh foods, fresh juices and additional elements such as the use of clay, dry skin brushing and supportive treatments to allow the body to cleanse, release and regenerate.

How do you know whether you are in need of a detox or not?

Typical symptoms highlighting the need to detox include dark circles under the eyes, bloating, spots that won’t go away, poor skin tone, bad breath, nausea at the thought of eating breakfast, the inability to lose weight, headaches and insomnia to name a few.

What are the key elements you recommend including for detox to be effective?

There are a number of basic elements that are vital for a proper detox …

  1. Rest

    The best time to detox is in a relaxed, rested state, both physically and mentally to allow the body time to efficiently handle the process of cleansing. A busy working schedule is not the best time to cleanse because energy levels will naturally drop during the process and decision making may become impaired.
  2. Pre-cleansing preparation

    At Lifehouse our detox guests are sent a set of guidelines to follow for at least three days before they arrive. This ensures they are well primed to engage in a cleansing diet regime and helps promote a more effective cleanse with fewer side-effects (see below).
  3. Transit in and out of the cleanse

    It is important to have a transitional day of lighter vegetarian fare prior to moving into a deeper cleansing day of soups, broths, and juices and also transit back out sensibly to normal eating patterns to help avoid any unpleasant side effects. It would not be a good idea to go on an alcohol binge or eat a heavy steak meal straight after cleansing.
  4. Eliminate wheat and dairy

    Since wheat and dairy are a common feature in the daily Western diet and often the culprits for bloating, weight gain and poor digestion we exclude these from the Lifehouse Cleansing programme. Everyone can benefit by pulling back on these from time to time. Our guests experience tasty alternatives such as courgette and carrot spaghetti, dairy free avocado chocolate mousse as well as delicious gluten free flaxseed and onion crispbread.
  5. Additional support

    Massage can help the lymphatic system become more effective and reflexology will stimulate certain points on the feet to aid with detoxification. Encouraging the body to sweat via the use of saunas, steam rooms and exercise will all serve to help the whole cleansing process. The body’s detoxification pathways require many nutrients to help with the cleansing process and whilst it is important to restrict calories it is essential to maximise nutrient intake. The best way to do this is by consuming nutrient dense foods such as fresh, raw, unprocessed, whole foods and vegetable juices. We include a jar of supergreens in our detox kit to provide an additional boost of nutrients and to initiate a deeper cleanse.

What are the common misconceptions about detox?

There is a school of thought with the view detox programmes are waste of time as the body can efficiently handle all toxins in the body without the need for special protocols. This would be a perfectly acceptable position to take if there was no pollution to breathe in, pesticides and additives in our food, chemicals in our water supply, alcohol, smoking or stress in our daily lives.

The liver is a very efficient detoxification organ but it does struggle with modern lifestyles and can be damaged when overloaded. The film ‘Supersize Me’ demonstrates that our bodies are not invincible when it comes to poor dietary and lifestyle choices. Equally, cleansing is nothing new and forms an important part of many religions as well as being central to spiritual practices and yoga.

Lightening the dietary load holds a long history as mankind’s most ancient healing system with Hippocrates, the father of early medicine, prescribing fasting and dietary cleansing as an important part of his patient’s treatment protocols. Another common misconception about detox is the word itself as it has connotations of drug rehabilitation. Therefore we prefer the use of the term ‘dietary cleansing’, but most people will generally relate to detox as something they need to do in the New Year after over indulging.

What can you hope to achieve?

  1. Better eating habits

    If someone’s diet has previously been full of packaged, processed and refined foods it is certain their palette will be accustomed to high sugar, salt and artificial flavours. After cleansing they may notice that their taste buds become more sensitive to the subtle taste and nuances of foods. Old food choices may taste too salty or strong. Equally, cravings for bread, cakes and chocolate can diminish
  2. Weight loss

    The Lifehouse programme is aimed primarily at detoxification but weight loss does occur as the body restores itself back to its natural rhythm and balance.
  3. Health and Vitality

    Most people enjoy increased energy levels, fresher breath, enhanced thought processes, speedier reaction times, smoother, clearer, glowing skin and sparkling eyes. Daily challenges become easier to handle armed with a renewed sense of health and vitality.

Is there any sense in going on a detox before a period of indulgence, and if so what are the benefits?

A detox prior to the festive period will give the liver and digestive organs a chance to regenerate and cope much better with the onslaught of rich food, alcohol and less sleep. We are much less able to tolerate alcohol when the liver is not working so well so it will come back fighting and working much more efficiently if a cleanse is done prior to this period. Since the benefits far outweigh the negatives it may encourage people to do things a little differently and look after themselves better rather than heading into another year with a thumping head.

Are there long-term benefits of detox?

Doing regular cleanses (change of season is best) will help keep damaging free radicals to a minimum which will encourage healthy ageing. Equally, an enhanced sense of wellbeing can become addictive naturally leading to a long term healthier lifestyle.

Is there anything you can do over an indulgent period (for example Christmas) to limit any negative impacts?

One damage limitation option would be to adopt the 80/20 rule. Eat well and avoid junk food and alcohol for the few days leading up to Christmas and then allow Christmas Day and Boxing Day to be the 20% when you eat and drink whatever you fancy. In fact this is quite a good way to lead a normal week, 80% equals Mon-Fri and 20% equals the weekend. You also tend to appreciate ‘treats’ more when you limit them to the weekend, rather like when we were only allowed sweets as a child on a Friday! Try to eat liver friendly foods on a daily basis; beetroot and carrots help the liver to stay healthy while ample portions of greens including kale, broccoli and spinach are all excellent blood cleansers. The herb Milk Thistle is the best remedy to help with alcohol consumption. Take prior to going out and on return to lessen the effects of a hangover.

The Lifehouse detox guide:

  • On rising in the morning drink one large mug warm water with ½ squeezed lemon or whole fresh lime to flush system and alkalise. Optionally, add grated fresh ginger to improve digestion and one teaspoon of Manuka honey to enhance the immune system.
  • Eliminate all stimulants including black tea, coffee, chocolate, alcohol and soft drinks (you may experience a caffeine withdrawal headache if you regularly consume lots of coffee or tea).
  • Wean yourself off diet drinks containing aspartame, a highly addictive substance and toxic to the nervous system.
  • Start increasing your pure water intake if not already doing so. Aim for one and a half to two litres a day.
  • Eliminate all foodstuffs containing white sugar and white flour (this will help with carbohydrate cravings).
  • Avoid heavy meat dishes and replace with fish, eggs and vegetarian sources of protein such as tofu, quorn, quinoa, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds.
  • Reduce dairy products originating from cows and replace with goat products, coconut, soya or nut milks.
  • Enjoy daily salads and steamed vegetables with simple light dressings made with cold pressed organic oils.
  • Avoid pre-prepared foodstuffs, especially wheat and dairy based products, bread, cakes, biscuits, desserts, pizza and pasta.
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