It’s no surprise that January is the high income time for gyms, spas and nutritionists. Many of us spend the holidays expanding our waistlines and focusing on friends and family. Once that clock strikes midnight on January first (or, umm, after you sleep off your hangover), we turn that focus back to ourselves and flood to find the fastest way to “fit”.
While I’m no stranger to this cycle, I feel like the idea of making a 10, 30 or 90 day commitment is a mindset that we culturally need to move away from. I’m not saying quit your 90-day challenge, but I would ask what challenge comes next? One can’t do a 10 day juice cleanse and expect to keep off the 10-15lbs lost when they get back on solid foods. Nor can one expect that the results from doing a 90 day Burpee challenge will last if after those 90 days they take a month (or more) off. Staying fit means getting past the mentality that there is a finish line. A consistent healthy diet and regular exercise is the only way to maintain fitness. Go back and read that again; I know you don’t want to but it’s the truth. A consistent healthy diet and regular exercise is the only way to maintain fitness.
A few things to note:
- That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a pizza or cupcake or go on a relaxing vacation and lie on the beach for a few days soaking up rays. If you are keeping up with your healthy diet and exercise your body will actually process those breaks much better. Moderation is the key, right?
- One of the hardest ideas to understand is that the diet and exercise plan that works for me may not work for you. More on this later.
- While I’m not a believer in crash diets, there is a lot to be said for jump-starting your fitness goals with a cleanse.
Let’s look at that last point, cleansing, in more detail.
What the heck is a cleanse?
The simplest explanation is a cleanse is a way to press the reset button on your digestion. An effective cleanse helps rid the body of toxins by supporting the systems that process waste (e.g. the lymphatic system, liver, gallbladder, kidneys, etc.). Cleanses come in many forms, from the extreme (fasting/juice cleanse), to the basic (elimination diets/basic whole foods) to the mild (cutting out alcohol/caffeine/sugar/your own food addictions). I’ve learned to find success in a cleanse you need to start with one that meets you where you’re at. Go too extreme and you’re more likely to give up, go too mild and you won’t see results.
How do I choose the right cleanse?
This is the trickiest thing, and honestly I don’t have the answer for you. What I can do is give you my two cents (with the caveat that I’m not a nutritionist). My two cents really comes down to common sense:
- If the person recommending a cleanse will profit from it be cautious.
- Many cleanse-in-a-box companies participate in multi-level marketing, meaning that they resell their product to one person who resells it to a team who resells it to perhaps another team and then resells it to the public. This causes price inflation on the product and it makes my spidey senses tingle wondering if the product is actually effective or if it’s just hyped up as a get-rich-quick scheme. I’m not saying flat out don’t-do-it, but I’m saying do your due diligence and research the product on your own before shelling over your $$$.
- Know what you’re putting in your body.
- This should be a rule for life. My biggest beef with many of the cleanse-in-a-box products is that they don’t give you a full ingredient list (or at least they make it very difficult to find). They’ll often make big sweeping claims like “This one shake contains the same nutrients as 50 fruits, 100 vegetables and a million grams of protein!!” Ok, so what chemicals are you grinding into powder to add up to that and what are the short and long term side-effects?
- The other claim I’ve been seeing lately that irks me is “it’s all whole foods!!”. Guess what? If you’re dissolving a tablet in water or adding powder to juice you’re not eating whole foods. Sorry to burst that bubble, but even if the original product was made from whole foods (which would be the accurate way of marketing it) once you PROCESS it by turning it into a powder or pill it’s no longer a whole food. That doesn’t mean there’s no nutritional value (e.g. I use protein powders and other supplements when desired), but it’s a false claim that begs the question, “What else is this company lying to me about?”.
- Don’t just look at the “No’s” AND “Free’s”. “GLUTEN FREE!” “NO ANIMAL PRODUCTS!” “NO CHEMICALS!”. Look between those and ask, “What about GMO’s? Animal testing? Grain?” etc.etc. The front of the bottle doesn’t give you all the information. Heck, usually nothing on the bottle gives you all the information. I only recently discovered one of the vegan protein powders I was using had GMOs, and a popular brand of diet supplements uses GMOs, artificial colors and flavors, and all sorts of crap fillers. Again, do your research and don’t just believe what the rep, company website or product packaging is trying to feed you…literally.
- Personally, when I cleanse I choose to make my own meals. I do often take individual nutritional supplements so I’m not trying to do a “holier than though” routine about never buying powders or pills, but for the actual cleanse purpose I want simple easy-to-digest foods that come from my own kitchen.
- To Juice or Not to Juice?
- For the sake of this post I’m defining a “juice cleanse” as any liquid cleanse; so not necessarily “juice”. That could be the Master Cleanse, a pre-packaged cleanse, making your own juices/smoothies, etc.
- It’s a fact that if you switch your diet to just drinking liquids for a week you will lose weight. If you’re only goal is to fit into that wedding dress or that teeny-weeny-bikini then sticking to only liquids for 10 days may get you there. Just remember, that this weight-loss isn’t permanent. It’s up to you to then choose a healthy diet and exercise routine after the cleanse to keep the weight off (and even with that, once you return to solid foods you’ll probably put some weight back on).
- Juice cleanses are not appropriate for all body types and I can’t encourage you enough to check with a nutritionist and try an elimination diet before you jump into a juice cleanse. While juice cleanses are done by millions of people each year, that doesn’t mean it’s automatically safe for you.
- If you go with juicing pay close attention to the ingredients. One of the big reasons I recommend trying an elimination diet before a juice cleanse is so you get a better sense of how your body reacts to certain foods which will help you choose your own “healthy diet”. For example, my system does not do well with sugars. I’m prone to overproducing candida and there’s also a history of diabetes in my family. That means a cleanse like the Master Cleanse (which consists of drinking a mixture of water, lemon juice, cayenne and either honey or maple syrup) is a terrible choice for me. Believe me, I made the mistake of trying it. Keeping my body alive on just sugar made the candida spring through my system like a flame in a house filled with gas. Your body and how it digests food is unique and what works for some may not work for you (and vice versa).
- What’s an elimination diet?
- An elimination diet or cleanse is when you either suddenly or slowly eliminate different types of food from your diet, spend a little time without them and then slowly reintroduce foods one at a time and see how your body reacts. This is personally my favorite type of cleanse because it’s customizable and is a great way to learn about YOUR body.
- Typically, an elimination diet starts by eliminating caffeine, alcohol, refined sugars and processed foods. For some, that is the whole diet since that may be challenging enough. To take it further one eliminates gluten, dairy, soy, goitrogens, nightshades and animal proteins. If you’re suspicious of a particular food allergy that food/food group would also be eliminated. When I do this type of cleanse, I take two weeks to ween myself off things, stick with the simplified diet for at least two weeks and then slowly introduce foods leaving at least a few days between to see how my body reacts. The entire cleanse usually takes me a month, though I’ve had friends doing more serious elimination diets that take 2-3 months.
- Elimination diets often also include taking individual supplements that help support digestion. For example, I often take Milk Thistle to support the liver, Chlorella and probiotics for the digestive tract, and an antioxidant like acai berry or cacao. Your nutritionist may make additional suggestions.
- For me, this is how I found out I had food allergies. I then went for food allergy testing blood-work that checked my IgG, IgA and IgE reactions against laundry-list of the most common food allergy culprits. This left me with a guide of the types of food I should limit or avoid all-together. The first time I started eating right for my own body, I dropped almost 30lbs and have kept it off (cough, except when I cheated over the holidays) thanks to sticking with the healthy diet AND exercising regularly.
- If you do an elimination diet I encourage you to pair up with a nutritionist or at least get some support online. The biggest question I always hear when I talk about an elimination diet is, “Then what do I eat?!”. The truth is, A LOT!! There are thousands of recipes you can find online that work for any elimination diet and as you get used to it you’ll learn what you can substitute to make your old favorites. I also encourage you to pick recipes that are seasonally appropriate. E.g. make sure you’re supporting your body with warm foods in the winter, and in the summer you might want more raw veggies and fruits.
- That sounds like a lot of work, what can I do that’s easy?
- There’s a wide rainbow of cleansing options between a juice cleanse and an all-out elimination diet. One of the simplest cleanses in the winter time is to just eat cooked veggie-rich dishes and really limit the animal proteins and grains you’re taking in (or at least switch to small portions of lean meats). For example, a large bowl of cooked kale with some cider vinegar, flax seeds and walnuts is a favorite of mine. Keep it simple and cook for yourself. If a month is too long try a week, or two weeks. Just do yourself a big favor and plan out your cleanse BEFORE you start. Concerned you won’t have time to cook your meals? Make large portions and freeze them so you have things to grab for lunch or dinners when you don’t have time. If you live off your calendar, schedule this in. Take it seriously and you may be amazed by the results.
- Take everything you hear with a grain of salt, even if you’re on a low-sodium diet.
- Many of us fall prey to fad diets and gimmicks. The main rules here are do your own research, listen to your body and remember that what works for some does not work for all. If your diet guru is telling you they have the be-all-end-all diet solution for EVERYONE…walk the other way. It’s also worth noting that the cleanse you did last year might not do it for you this year. How has your body changed since then? What does it need now? I’m sorry to give you the bad news that there’s no holy grail definition to a “healthy diet”, but we’re not one of the most adaptable species on the planet because we’re stuck on repeat. Our bodies are different and they change over time so we have to adapt.
Ok, I cleansed, now what?
Once again, there is no finish line. One cannot do a cleanse and then head to Wendy’s for the rest of the week and expect to continue feeling great. For starters, it’s just as important to have a plan for coming off the cleanse as it was before you got into it. Most cleanses will give you tips for how to come off them; LISTEN TO THAT. One can really shock their body by filling it with foods it’s not ready for. Hold off a few days for that pizza until your body is ready for it or you could seriously regret it (I’m talking severe digestive distress!).
And then what? And then you figure out what you learned. If you did an elimination diet what foods worked and what didn’t? How can you adjust your diet to give yourself more of what made you feel good and less of the crap that made you feel slow, bloated, fatigued, etc.? If you’re coming off a juice cleanse you may need to experiment with foods to find what works for your body. Try to really pay attention and feel how meals effect you instead of just remembering what you liked. For example, you might remember your favorite candy bar or bag of chips but not be craving them anymore. Perhaps those foods didn’t really fuel your body; don’t eat them for the memories.
If you gain weight after cleansing or return to eating foods you know don’t make you feel good, you didn’t fail. You’re still alive, right? So what did you learn and what are you going to do today to make you feel healthier? You’re not starting all over, you’re continuing your journey…and believe me, it can take time. One of the hardest things is not beating yourself up in the process. Stick with it, explore new recipes, find what feels best for you and remember throughout this process that your body needs exercise as well.
Oh right, exercise.
Yup, exercise. A body in motion stays in motion, so get up and move! Just like with diet, finding the right exercise routine is an individual exploration. I’ll have a lot more to say on this in a future entry, but for now let me encourage you to move that booty daily to keep your joints fluid, your muscles strong, your heart pumping, your brain sharp and…well, I could go on and on. Nearing the end of that 90 day challenge? I challenge you to remove the limits and challenge yourself physically on a regular basis for as long as you’re on this Earth!