Starlets dish about grapefruit juice fasts, but experts say such practices are unnecessary -- and even damaging. “If you get no calories, no protein and nearly no vitamins, you put your body in a stressful situation, and your metabolism is altered,” says Dr. Nicole Kafka, a New York-based colon and rectal surgeon. “Instead of weight loss and detox, you get a reversal -- your body slows down and holds onto fat and everything else.”
What you really want, experts say, is to give your body a vacation from stress pileup. “Most of us don’t treat our bodies very well. We’re just go-go-go,” says Dr. Erika Schwartz, a New York-based specialist in menopause and hormones. The new detox “light” is about giving our body a deep dose of the nutritional and physical relief it craves. Discovering what it feels like to follow a healthier regime just might inspire you to make some long-term changes.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to a better detox.
Cleanse the Liver
Our bodies carry a load of petrochemical and industrial toxins that we absorb from the environment, such as allergens from food, plants and mold, and internal toxins like bacteria, fungus and yeast, says Dr. Mark Hyman, a medical consultant and author of Ultrametabolism. “Our livers have a very effective system for removing garbage from the body, so what you want to do is help the liver along,” he says. The simplest way to do this: a diet of wholesome, unprocessed foods.
Dr. David Simon, a neurologist and the co-founder of the Carlsbad, Calif., Chopra Center, which advocates an Ayurvedic style of detoxification that originated in India, suggests temporarily bidding goodbye to sugar, wheat gluten, milk products and meat. Eat lots of green leafy vegetables and fresh fruits, which provide the antioxidants and other nutrients the liver needs to clear toxins from the body. “Simplify your diet to cooked vegetables and rice as much as possible and eat only the healthiest, most easily digested foods.”
Cut out Stimulants
If skipping your morning cup of java is going to give you a blinding headache, then taper off gradually. But it’s a good idea to cut down on caffeine, alcohol and nicotine as much as possible, says Dr. Jay Sloop, a Yakima, Wash.-based physician who practices detox himself. “Too much caffeine or alcohol can actually cause harm to memory and sleep patterns,” says Sloop. “Eliminating them from the system goes a long way in helping your body function effectively and resume a normal sleep-wake cycle without artificial highs and lows.” A temporary break is a great way to give your body a breather.
Eight to 10 glasses of water or other fluids a day during your detox is key to the “flushing” effects of this process, says Sloop. Focus on drinking water at the beginning of the day and between meals rather than with them. “When it comes to flushing out toxins, the least effective time to drink water is when the stomach is already full,” says Sloop. If too much water bores you to tears, you can add lemon or ginger -- which is an Ayurvedic cleansing technique -- or dilute fruit juice with water to avoid the high-sugar content of juice alone. Vegetable juice (as long as it’s low-sodium) is always beneficial, and green tea is useful for weaning yourself off coffee while adding antioxidants.
Feed Your Body “Alkaline” Foods
Waste products from exposure to toxins “acidifiy” our bodies, according to nutritional experts like Dr. Cheryle Hart, an obstetrician and gynecologist, and a co-author of The Feel Good Diet. “This acidity ultimately causes disease and premature aging,” she says. For the most effective detox, Hart recommends following the 80/20 rule -- making your diet 80 percent alkalinizing foods and beverages, such as fruits, veggies and nuts, and 20 percent acid-forming foods, such as meat and white sugar. An easy start is to substitute acid-forming black tea and soft drinks with alkalinizing ginseng, mint and raspberry teas.
“If following a detoxification regimen stops you from eating junk and cleanses your system, it's good even if you only do it for 24 hours,” says Schwartz. The optimal period for a detox, experts say, is three to seven days.
“When our minds and bodies are stressed, there’s a direct physiological impact on our bodies that causes us to experience symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, pain, insomnia and bloating,” says Dr. Julie Taw, an internist and the director of The Center for Integrative Healing at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in New Jersey. Taw suggests complementing physical detoxification with relaxation exercises like deep breathing, yoga and meditation so your mind feels as clear and clean as your body.