As winter nears the end and the first signs of spring start to pop up all around, it’s natural that our thoughts start to turn towards warmer days. Only a matter of weeks has passed since the indulgence of the festive season and for many people fending off the winter bugs continues to take its toll. Meanwhile, messages come from all directions that we need to shed weight for that beach body, drop a dress size or try that detox diet or product. But it’s worth understanding a few things before you put your body under any regimes designed to lose weight or “detox” quickly.
Detoxification is a natural process that our body goes through every second of our every day. Our liver is the best known detoxification organ, with our skin, kidneys, lungs and bowels the best known secondary routes for excretion of waste. But all the time, removal of waste products is occurring within and from every cell of our bodies so it is a never ending job! Some toxins that we either consume, breathe in, or the body creates as breakdown products are not so easy for our liver and kidneys to make safe to excrete. Our fat cells have an important role in storing these toxins, sealed away so that they cannot wreak havoc elsewhere.
When large quantities of fat are released quickly due to rapid weight loss, so also can be some of the toxins, now free to cause reactions which can be experienced as symptoms like flu, headaches, muscle aches, skin breakouts and diarrhoea. And after all the effort put in to lose the weight, sustaining this weight loss is much more challenging than if the weight had been lost at a more gentler rate. It turns out that our bodies are very clever at restoring the set point of our weight by slowing our metabolism down. Another factor to consider is that loss of water makes a significant contribution to the initial weight loss on the scales.
With all this in mind, there are nevertheless products designed to support the liver and detoxification channels. When our body has undergone intense stress in the form of inflammatory foods, environmental toxins or even pathogenic stressors such as viruses, fungal, bacterial or parasitic infections, our use of vital nutrients and materials for repair is increased. In these times we have a higher requirement for the building blocks for repair such as the amino acids found in proteins, and also essential fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other micronutrients. Products that truly satisfy these needs (with a few exceptions such as milk thistle) often are not the ones that gain attention as a tool for weight loss and “detox”. It is recommended to use these products under supervision of your GP and potentially a nutritional therapist.
So what can you do instead? Firstly, don’t panic and think that you need to overhaul your entire diet and your kitchen overnight. Little gradual changes may reap big rewards in the longer term and you’re more likely to keep up good habits as you start to feel better as a result. Also for those who start now, there are plenty of weeks to go before that summer holiday! Below are some ideas to consider:
- Hydrate. With nearly all of my clients, this tends to be top of my list. By aiming for at least two litres of water a day including herbal teas, you are helping support the natural detox process, especially for your kidneys, skin and bowels. As an additional plus, your body uses water to metabolise carbohydrates and fats too!
- Nourish. See how many different colours of fruit and vegetable you can get into your diet. Aim for at least 7 a day and if you can manage 10 or more, even better! All fruits and vegetables offer fibre, water, and a whole host of vitamins and minerals. But each different colour also contains a range of different characteristic plant chemical compounds which have different benefits for the body such as antioxidant activity, supporting a healthy cardiovascular function and you guessed it – detoxification! By including daily some leafy greens and vegetables from the brassica family too such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts you are also supplying nutrients which are known to be protective and support healthy removal of waste.
- Sustain. By providing your body with a good supply of the macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats and proteins – you will be giving your body the best chance to run itself efficiently. Favour slow release carbohydrates such as whole grains (whole grain bread and pasta, oats, spelt, millet etc), brown rice, sweet potatoes and quinoa. These will support energy without sudden peaks and dips during the day. For fats, use oily fish, avocados, nuts, seeds and good quality oils such as flax, olive, coconut and avocado oil. These help you feel full for longer and also are needed for countless functions in the body including immunity, cognitive and nerve function and also displace the more harmful trans and refined fats that make cell membranes rigid and unable to perform their functions so easily. Proteins also help you to feel full, support blood sugar balance and are needed for repair and immunity. Try good quality unprocessed meats, fish, eggs, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds.
- Sleep. Who would guess that doing “nothing” by taking to your bed would do so much for your waist line? Getting 7-9 hours of good quality sleep each night helps to regulate your appetite, blood sugar control and even contributes to better food choices as being overtired often makes us reach for the sugary or caffeinated foods that are likely to give us the quick fix we need in the moment. Adequate sleep also boosts immunity, your moods, memory and concentration. Try keeping caffeine for earlier in the day and adopt a gentle wind down routine, avoiding screens, alcohol and sugar too close to bed time. You could even treat yourself by adding some new accessories to make your bedroom a calm and inviting space or perhaps some comfy pjs, slippers, an eye mask or an evening foot bath or face mask!
- Move. You don’t need to commit to a punishing routine of high intensity workouts and hours of cardio a week (unless you want to!). You are most like to stick to the activities that you enjoy. Getting out into the fresh air early in the day also helps to regulate your sleep cycle and so will also improve your sleep. Any activity is a great start, enlist a friend to join you or seek out local classes where you might meet people. Go for variety and see what works for you. Even a few minutes of gentle stretching before bed will make you feel good.
- Experiment. Try mixing up your routine with some new teas, recipes or trying new types of fruits and vegetables. Dandelion and nettle teas are great for cleansing, green tea and chamomile help you stay focussed and calm while verbena, passionflower, oat flower and lime flower are great for sleep. There are so many delicious teas out there to try and if you add two or three in a day, it may help you to lower your caffeine intake.
- Supplement. But only if you feel the need. You may wish to consider an all round multivitamin if you know that you have plenty to work on with your diet. If you feel like you need some support for your liver, skin and digestion, you could try milk thistle in a tincture or tablet form, or even a tea. Chlorella and spirulina are also great additions to help support detoxification and can be added in food form to smoothies and soups or taken in tablet form if you don’t enjoy the taste.
- Be mindful. Now is a great time to try new things and if you haven’t tried mindfulness or meditation yet, it’s never too late to give it a go! And there are numerous other ways to explore how your mind works and if there are mental blockages getting in the way of a more balanced lifestyle. As well as yoga, tai chi and qi gong, there are talking therapies to consider such as counselling, CBT, psychotherapy and NLP. Any little steps you can take towards clearer thinking and calmness will do wonders for your health.
These are just a few of so many different measures that you could try to look after yourself. If you were to try one or two of these approaches each week, you will be well on the way to better habits and a healthier way of life. See what works for you and enjoy the opportunity to try new things!
To find out more go to http://www.victoriabellnutrition.co.uk/ or contact Victoria Bell at [email protected] to discuss personalised nutritional therapy sessions.
by Victoria Bell, Nutritional Therapist