Why Should I Cleanse?

Cleansing removes toxins that have collected in different tissues inside your body.  Toxic buildup happens because of the constant environmental exposure to chemicals that have been released into the air and water.  We also have toxins inside our bodies, due to ingesting them (tobacco, alcohol, over-the-counter and/or recreational drugs) as well as the chemicals in and on our foods (such as pesticides, heavy metals, artificial colouring and flavours, microbes, allergens and inflammatory substances).  Our body's reaction to these substances, among other concerns, includes forming a barrier on the intestinal wall.  This protective barrier unfortunately also makes our digestion less efficient, which means we are unable to access all the important nutrients in healthy foods.

The cleaning process is meant to be a reset button for your digestive system, as well as the organs that filter and support that process.  Your whole system uses what you put into your body, which is why more and more we hear that 'health starts in the gut'.  Cleansing, in fact, will help your entire body.  During a nutrient-dense cleanse, after your body has suffered any withdrawal symptoms, you will likely feel more energetic, less irritable or stressed, and sleep more soundly. There is no doubt that we are what we eat.

Cleanse vs. Detox:  What's the Difference?

In the last several years, a lot of attention has gone into different varieties of cleanses, or detoxes, but some of these are downright harmful.  For instance, a detox that advertises a rapid weight-drop is often associated with a program that deprives your system of essential nutrients, so basically you are starving yourself.  If you are able to complete the regime, and lose the intended weight, once you are back to 'normal eating', your body will pack those pounds back on quickly in case you decide to starve it again.  

The underlying principal in either a cleanse or a detoxification are roughly the same idea, which is to get rid of the crap, literally, that has been building up inside since the last reset.  (Or since ever, if you are new to this idea.)  The safety factor is not necessarily in the name of the program, but in the foods that are eliminated from your diet, for what reason, and for how long.

What Type of Cleanse is Best?

The type of cleanse that is best suited for you depends on a number of factors, from your experience with cleanses to your specific goal for the cleanse, as well as the amount of effort and length you would like to put into food preparation, and other life factors such as the amount of stress at home or at work.  The time of year for cleansing is also important, with spring and fall being the best choices, and summer being the next.  Winter is not a good time to cleanse, as the shorter daylight hours trigger a hibernation-type reaction, so our bodies naturally want to store nutrients and slow down.  Spring cleansing is an excellent choice for allergy sufferers, as you can do a hypoallergenic cleanse and likely avoid allergy symptoms altogether.  If you often suffer from winter flus and colds, then fall would be a great cleansing time as it will help build your immune system for the coming months.  

Cleansing is not suppose to be a quick and easy pound-shedding experience.  I hesitate to use the word gentle, because after years of toxic buildup, the emptying of your digestive system might not be a calm and peaceful experience.  Especially if this is your first cleanse, or the first time you will do a particular type of cleanse, please do your own research and get advice from a trusted source before you start!

What Kinds of Cleanses Exist?

There are too many cleanses and detoxes to summarize them all.  The important thing to realize is that every cleanse could be used for good or bad, depending on how it's being used, and for whom.  Your best bet is to speak with your naturopath, nutritionist or trusted health provider before embarking on your healing journey.

Liver Cleanse:  the liver plays a huge role in the filtration of harmful substances and the digestion of proteins, fats and sugars.  It is often overworked with the chemicals (preservatives, fillers, stabilizers and pesticides) that we consume. Cleansing this vital organ will improve digestion, regulate metabolism, increase energy and help support the immune system.  A liver cleanse focuses on specific dietary changes such as cutting out caffeine, alcohol, refined and processed food, and heavy proteins and fats.  The remaining allowed foods are mostly plant-based, with a focus on bitter greens. Beginning your day with the juice of half a lemon in lukewarm water will kick-start your metabolism, and is a great way to help support the liver even without being on a cleanse.  If you are serious about trying a liver cleanse, herbal support for your liver while cleansing is something to consider. 

Candida (yeast) Cleanse, or Anti-Candida Diet:  this cleanse rids the digestive system of candida overgrowth.  Although candida is a naturally-occuring organism in our digestive system, an imbalance can allow it to flourish, get into the bloodstream and wreak havoc in many places in our bodies.  In order to eliminate a candida overgrowth, removing all sugar and fermented foods is necessary, including all refined food, sugar (maple syrup, honey and agave need to be avoided, but stevia is okay), most fruit (berries and green apples in moderation are okay), potatoes, mushroom, wheat, yeast, vinegars (except apple cider vinegar) and most dairy.  Do this online quiz to see if you should try it!

Hypoallergenic or Elimination Diet:  this diet is generally for those who would like to figure out their sensitivities to food.  However, if you get really bad allergies in the spring/summer or fall, following this regime during that time will greatly reduce or eliminate your histamine response and therefore reduce or eliminate allergy symptoms.  Chris Pickrell, a naturopathic doctor, has a great online guide here; basically you must remove any known sensitivities the general population reacts to in order to assess your body's response by reintroducing each food separately.

The 'Master Cleanse':  this cleanse entails drinking lemon water with maple syrup and cayenne pepper, and sometimes herbal tea depending on which source you get your information from.  Although lemon water and also cayenne pepper have definite benefits, this cleanse does not contain the necessary nutrients to reach or maintain optimal health.

Liquid (Juices, Smoothies, Soups) Cleanse:  giving your body a rest from having to break down solid foods is the theory behind this one.  Logically, this would make sense if your digestive system needs an overhaul, however caution is necessary because to much juice removes the whole fruit (fibre) from your diet, and unless you will puree your chicken for chicken soup, these types of cleanses do not contain much protein.  There are plant-based options for protein, but if you are regularly a meat-eater, this may be too taxing on your system.

Fruit & Veggie Cleanse:  just raw fruits and veggies are consumed.  If your digestion is strong, you will be able to do this without any hitches for a few days.  If, however, your digestion is not working efficiently, consuming only raw fruits and veggies will cause bloating, gas, cramping and pain.  Not cool.  This cleanse removes animal or legume proteins and fats, which can cause a host of other issues if maintained for more than a few days.

The Raw Food Diet:  this is more of a lifestyle change than a cleanse, and is labour intensive.  Eating a raw food diet entails much dehydrating, sprouting and soaking.  Sprouting and soaking helps make nutrients more available for digestion, but requires advance planning and dedicated counter & fridge space.  Raw foods are enzyme-rich, which helps release toxins and supports the liver in the process of digestion.

How Do I Know It's Working?

Signs that the cleanse you've picked is doing what it's suppose to do:  improved digestion, clearer skin, improved sleep, feeling less sluggish (especially in the morning), and being able to think more clearly.  After the initial rest your body will require at the beginning of the cleanse, you should have much more energy as well.  It's normal to experience headaches, body aches and fatigue for the first two or three days of any cleanse.  After that, those symptoms should subside.

Signs that it's not the right cleanse for you:  bloating, constipation, loss of appetite, waking during sleep, feeling lethargic, increased agitation or anxiety, feeling achy, feeling less alert or less able to focus.  If these symptoms appear and do not dissipate within a few days, you should definitely stop the cleanse and speak with your trusted health practitioner.