What you eat every day matters. Habits add up—and the bad ones take their toll. So if you want a quick way to ramp up your energy, clear your mind, and lighten the toxic load on your body, trying a gentle, food-based detox can make a big difference in how you look and feel. We’re not talking extreme dieting here, either. Consider it another powerful tool in your arsenal for reducing stress on your body.
“Think of implementing a detoxing diet as one of the most critical ways to de-stress your body and mind,” says Adam Perlman, M.D., integrative medicine expert and Chief Medical Officer of meQuilibrium. “I not only recommend this approach to my patients—I do it myself, regularly. It’s amazing how different you can feel when you change a few key habits.”
The basic premise of a detox diet is this: By removing irritants, allergens, preservatives, added sugars, and other problem foods, you can help restore balance to and de-stress the digestive tract.
For naturopathic physican and nutrition expert Dr. Brooke Kalanick, detoxing your diet isn’t just healthier—it can change everything. “Food is one of the biggest influences on your life,” she says. “It drives your hormones, your brain chemicals, your metabolism, and affects your energy and your mood.”
What do you get?
“Digestion almost always dramatically improves, bloating goes down, and many people experience better energy, and some report clearer skin and better sleep, too,” says Kalanick. “What’s most empowering is learning that you don’t need the foods you previously thought you couldn’t live without.”
How Do You Know You Need It?
Doing a gentle detox every few months is a great way to clean up and clear out. Ask yourself the following:
- How do I feel when I wake up in the morning? Groggy? Logey? Exhausted?
- How do I feel at the end of the day? Depleted? Burned out?
- What kinds of foods have I been eating, and how do I feel after I eat them?
- What physical complaints keep surfacing (i.e., aching back, stiff neck, stomach trouble)?
Your Plan for a Gentle, Food-Based Detox Diet
This whole-foods approach to detoxing is designed to de-stress your body, support digestion, and keep you feeling lighter and sharper. Try it for at least a week. You may never go back.
Foods to avoid. Gluten, dairy, soy, caffeine, alcohol, added sugars, and factory farmed meat. It’s not that any one of these foods in moderation is inherently “bad” (though it depends on who you ask). Suffice it to say that for the purposes of detox, removing these common digestive irritants can be an eye-opening experience. “Taking out the junk, even for a week, can have remarkable effects,” says Kalanick. “For some, it’ll take six weeks or so for their systems to calm down.”
Focus on what you can eat. It’s easy to think, “there’s nothing I can eat!” but it’s more likely that you’ve been eating the same things for so long you forgot there were other options. Remember this isn’t meant to be a punishing deprivation diet. “I could list 30 different kinds of veggies and 10 different proteins—fish, bison, grass fed beef, free range chicken or turkey,” says Kalanick. “There’s a lot of food to eat! Put your attention on what you can eat, not what you can’t.”
Labels to look for. Organic, grass-fed, free-range, antibiotic-free, pasture-raised, hormone-free, gluten-, soy- and dairy-free. “Cleaner foods are worth the money,” says Kalanick. Tip: Swap in almond or coconut milk in place of dairy for a delicious, smooth, soy-free substitute.
Think plants, not packages. Skip pre-packaged snack foods and opt for veggies, which do a lot of the heavy lifting in a detox diet. “They fill you up and aid in digestion, so all the gunk gets cleansed out,” says Kalanick. “Opt for liver-supporting foods like bitter greens, lemon, artichoke, beets, which support the detoxification process.”
Add a daily probiotic. Perlman suggests adding a probiotic to your daily regimen—specifically during detox. By repopulating your gut with healthy bacteria, you help your body more easily digest (read: extract nutrients from) the foods you eat. “Look for a dairy-free probiotic. As far as dosage, around 10-15 billion units is a good starting point,” says Perlman. “It sounds like a lot but remember there’s over 100 trillion bacteria in your gut.”
Don’t think of this as a “diet.” What’s most dangerously misleading about the detox idea is that it seems as if, in a few days, you can undo years of poor eating—enough to go back to those habits without consequence. Which is not the case. “A detox is not magic,” says Kalanick. If you go right back to pizza and french fries, she says, you will not have gained much. “When you eat crap, you feel like crap.”
Add old foods back in slowly. After a week or two of this detox diet, rather than revert to your old habits right away, add one food in every day or so to see how it makes you feel. When you do this one at a time, you’re apt to more quickly identify a negative reaction and its cause. Maybe one day you have milk in your cereal, and then some in your tea, and see how that feels. A few days later, you try some bread or pasta. Being hyperaware of how those foods affect you is part of the learning process.
Kickstart new habits. What did you discover during the detox, and what did you learn about how not eating certain foods affects you? Maybe you found that going off dairy helps your digestion, or that a gluten-free diet makes you feel more alert. Use that information to jumpstart better habits and begin a more copacetic relationship with food.
Learn more about how meQuillibrium can help you reduce stress in just a few minutes a day.
Terri Trespicio is editor at meQuilibrium, the first-ever online stress management program.