Last January I wrote a post outlining how I like to approach the topic of detoxing at this time of year. It is essentially about finding a middle way between the extremes of cleansing and indulgence and you can read it here. This year I’d like to expand on this a little and talk about how cleansing and nourishing, which are so often considered to lie at opposite ends of the scale, are essentially the same thing when approached with a healthy attitude.
All our organs of elimination, the bowel, the liver, the kidneys, the skin and the lungs need good nutrition to function properly. The liver requires nutrients such as magnesium, amino acids and antioxidants to be able to effectively break down the toxins in our bodies. So we can see that when we eat a simple but varied and wholesome diet, cleansing and nourishing both happen at the same time and are taken care of naturally by the body.
Unfortunately we live in a culture of extremes. I remember one of my first teachers saying to me, ‘the people who need to build are the ones busy cleansing and the people who need to cleanse are the ones busy building’. He meant it as a joke but there’s a lot of truth in it too. We humans are creatures of habit and we also get very invested in ideas which can stop us from achieving a more balanced approach to our health as we let our minds overrule what our bodies are telling us, often through attachment to one idea or style of eating.
Sometimes recognising what is going on can be problematic. We may see someone who is feeling tired, sluggish and congested and has signs of liver stagnation, constipation and poor skin. They seem to be crying out for a good detox but first we need to go deeper to find out if they have ended up here through excess or deficiency. Some people really do have an excessive lifestyle and some level of detoxification may well be appropriate for them but others are actually deficient in many of the key nutrients that are needed for the body to do its own cleansing.
Often the pattern may have elements of both, a poor diet which is deficient in key nutrients so the vital organs cannot function properly but is excessive in other things, sugar, refined carbs, grease, additives etc. It can be tempting to throw a bucketful of liver herbs at someone like this but, before we even think about cleansing, it’s vital to build up nutrient levels so the body can effectively deal with what is being moved out. This is where a wholesome diet comes into its own. Having said that, in people where there is a lot of stagnation, mucus and congestion, some cleansing will need to be undertaken before the body will be able to be properly assimilate nutrients from the food. So you see it is always something of a balancing act.
When I studied naturopathy, the approach of cleansing was emphasised and I have certainly seen wonderful results in clinic when people with certain chronic conditions undertake detoxification protocols. Often what was considered a ‘detox’ however was not taking strong herbs such as laxatives and diuretics which is what we see in many commercially available detox products, but an emphasis on the old European naturopathic principles such as fresh air, gentle exercise, a wholesome diet and adequate rest. Essentially it is a focus on the simple principles of life, detoxing from the excesses of our culture which are not just dietary but in our working lives, social lives and the sensory stimulation that many of us are surrounded by. When liver, bowel or other cleanses were recommended they were done so with the specific individual in mind not as a one size fits all solution.
Another thing which strikes me as very important in our approach to this topic is our attitude towards the food we are eating. A plate of vegetables like the one above, deliciously prepared with fresh herbs and a variety of colours looks like a treat to me but to someone whose favourite food is a big mac, it may appear like torture. This is where it can be better to approach dietary changes from the perspective of inclusion rather than exclusion. Encouraging people to add healthy choices into their current lifestyle can be much more helpful than just giving them a list of foods to avoid. Ultimately food should be enjoyed and if mealtimes become associated with misery then it will be much harder for people to heal. And feeling like you choose the changes to your diet rather than having them imposed upon you is much more empowering.
Still there’s always some people that do need to eliminate certain foods due to intolerances but this can be done at the same time as providing alternatives that will help them to transition to a new way of eating.
Whilst different diets may suit different people, a happy and relaxed approach to eating will suit everyone. So what I’m actually getting at here is this: Eat good, wholesome food, enjoy it, listen to your body and don’t worry about it too much!
Wishing you all a happy 2012 filled with delicious food, beauty and simplicity.