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How To Create A Detox Cleanse That's ACTUALLY Healthy: A Doctor Explains

Eva Selhub, M.D.
Physician By Eva Selhub, M.D.
Dr. Eva Selhub is a resiliency expert, physician, author, speaker, scientist, and consultant. She studied medicine at Boston University and is board certified in Internal Medicine.

What's the point of doing a cleanse if you end up going back to the same unhealthy habits you've always had?

That’s why I don’t really advocate the harsh detox cleanses that many practitioners recommend. Not so much because they may not work but because they don’t usually lead to behavior change.

Plus, going on diets and detoxes only sends the message to your brain that you're denying yourself sustenance, leading you to binge once you're done with the program.

Your negative thoughts can be just as taxing on your body as processed foods and sugar.

And so in the seven-day cleanses I recommend for my clients, I try to take a different approach. My aim is to use the week to instill lasting lessons about the foods and spices that help with metabolism, detoxification, and energy levels; the foods that cause harm; and the stress management techniques they can use long after the seven days are over.

Ready to get started? Here's how to go on a cleanse that gets you in the habit of clean and happy living for life.

1. Practice mindfulness as you eat.

During this week, pay special attention to when you feel hungry and when you're satiated. Eat mindfully. This means admiring the colors, the aromas, and the individual tastes. Chew 30 to 40 times before swallowing, which allows your gut to do less work as it goes down. Appreciate that you're being nurtured and your body is being fueled. Appreciate that the Earth has provided this food for you.

When you eat mindfully, slowly, and with appreciation, you not only help your metabolism, but you also help temper your stress response because the practice of mindful eating becomes a meditation.

2. Incorporate healthy fats.

Your body efficiently breaks down healthy fats into fuel, and therefore helps your metabolism and energy levels.

Load up on healthy fats this week, including: avocado, coconut products (oil, butter, flakes, flour, and milk), sunflower oil, palm kernel oil, safflower oil, extra-virgin olive oil, sesame oil, and the omega-3 oils that you can get from cod liver, krill, or salmon.

3. Fill up on vegetables.

Veggies not only provide you with essential vitamins and minerals, but they also give you the fiber your body needs.

Aim to fill up your plate with vegetables as often as you can. The more colorful, the more likely you'll get your fill of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

During the middle three days of your cleanse, I recommend eating only cooked or steamed vegetables, which are more easily broken down by your body.

4. Eat fruits in small amounts.

Keep your fruit intake moderate, as you don't want to raise your insulin levels too often. Two servings a day should be adequate, and aim for low-fructose fruits like raspberries and blueberries.

5. Power up with protein.

Use nuts, eggs, seeds, poultry, meat, and fish as your protein sources. Try to buy local, organic, pasture-raised, or high omega-3 eggs, and wild-caught fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, or anchovies. Same goes for the meat or poultry: Look for pasture-raised, local, or USDA-certified organic.

On a cleanse, I usually recommend cutting your servings down to about 3 ounces per day, again to give the gut less work to do.

6. Be generous with herbs and spices.

Herbs and spices have high-antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties, so use plenty. My favorites include cumin, turmeric, cayenne pepper, paprika, coriander, curry, oregano, cilantro, and parsley.

7. Promote gut health with probiotics.

A healthy gut means having trillions of good bacteria living, digesting, and promoting a healthy immune system. Eating processed and fast foods, having high stress and little sleep, as well as multiple rounds of antibiotics can result in the loss of this microflora and an imbalance in the natural gut world.

On this cleanse, help restore your gut’s ecosystem with probiotics, and plan to continue with them for a couple of months. That means increasing your intake of food groups that contain live cultures of bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, as well as the foods that help feed them, including kefir, miso soup, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha tea.

8. Hydrate with cleansing lemon water.

Lemon water is a well-known “detox drink." The lemon is loaded with vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. As a general rule, drink about half your body weight in ounces of water every day.

If you choose, you can also add a dash of cayenne pepper, which can help improve your circulation and metabolism.

9. Avoid inflammatory food.

Sugar, syrups, processed foods, and grain products are inflammatory. These food groups drive insulin production, fat storage, and oxidative stress. Other items to avoid this week:

  • Cornmeal, starch, and syrup
  • Grains such as cereal, corn, pasta, rice, wheat, bread or flour products, barley, couscous, and rye
  • Processed junk food, chips, or energy bars
  • Fruit juices, energy drinks, flavored milks, soft drinks, sports drinks, or sweetened drinks
  • Fruit jellies, mayonnaise, ketchup, or anything that has added corn syrup or sugar
  • Ice cream, processed cheeses, sweetened yogurt, or any conventional milk
  • Deep-fried foods, especially if they are processed
  • Prepackaged meats or nitrate-treated meats (like bologna and hot dogs)
  • Trans- and partially hydrogenated oils (like canola), margarine, vegetable oils, or buttery spreads

After this cleanse, you may want to continue avoiding these foods for another two weeks. Then reintroduce them slowly to see how your body reacts.

10. Practice breathing and affirmation exercises.

Your negative thoughts, emotions, and beliefs can be just as taxing on your body as processed foods and sugar. The more the stress response is triggered, the more your coping behaviors will kick into gear, and these coping behaviors are usually the ones you're trying to stop, like comfort eating, drinking excessive alcohol, overworking and undersleeping.

Help release your stress by doing this cleansing breathing practice:

  1. Breathe in and count for three seconds. Breathe out and count for five seconds.
  2. Do this for several cycles while imagining releasing the tension with every out breath.
  3. Then imagine that as you breathe in, you're breathing in light and a sense of openness, while still letting go of negativity as you breathe out. Do this for several cycles.
  4. Finally, imagine your heart and mind slowly opening like flowers, and repeat these words to yourself: “I embody the feeling of being vibrant and healthy."
  5. Repeat this cycle of breath and affirmations at least 10 times.

11. Create a space dedicated to self-care.

Designate a sacred space in your home or office where you focus only on you. Here you'll read, meditate, or journal. Make this space as comfortable and as clutter-free as possible.

Get into the habit of nurturing yourself in this space. Write about your thoughts, your experiences, and, most importantly, what you're grateful for.

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