Elephant Journal, July 13th, 2011
Detox … Just Sayin’.
You’re busy. Too busy to cook. Too busy to read labels even. The stuff on the shelves that seems quick and easy, is. I don’t blame you. But I do suggest a downshift once in a while, out of habitually consuming processed toward a radically thoughtful zone of all-natural. Most people would call this a cleanse.
Lots of buzz around the concept of cleansing. There are so many ways to tinker with food—including not tinkering with it at all for a number of days—in order to achieve that light, clear-headed feeling that hallmarks a good detox.
But what I’ve come to discover through engaging in some hard-core cleanse programs (and sticking to them for days on end religiously) is that:
a) certain cleanses are best suited to specific body types (Ayurvedic doshas help define these) b) if you do a cleanse that’s against your type, you can alienate your body and even create an aversion to certain foods that the body associates with, well, torture and c) a bi-annual cleanse that involves close attention to preparation, portions, whole foods, doshas and common allergens elimination (as well as refined sugar) is more likely to help lay the foundations for lasting healthy-eating trends than a bi-annual trip into extremeville.
Who am I to be talking about all of this? I’m not famous and I don’t have lots of letters after my name. Rather, became compelled to learn about food through years of misdiagnosed celiac—a bit obsessed I guess. My cleanse resume includes four 10-day master cleanses (the infamous lemon/cayenne/maple syrup/salt water ‘festival’) and one-time participant in an intense seven-day detox program—run through a Yoga center in Thailand—involving tissue therapies and colonics as well as a highly-regimented, dosha-neutral diet.
So that was what I did so far minus the one I ‘finished’ last week, which inspired me to write this article. It was fruit and vegetable based with kitcheri or quinoa cooked with ginger and ghee for main, mid-day meal. Most importantly, it was limited to about a cup of whatever I was eating at a time and then at least a few hours in between those times—I designed it to be simple, flexible.
I guess people could call it a diet. But a diet is not what I’ve ever wanted so much as something that rocks my relationship with food to the core and helps me to enjoy food in its most natural form. Something that makes food and my body super tight, super symbiotic. This ends up spelling a shift in routine, content and quantity and some serious time reflecting on these components of food.
I’d love to tell you how to eat. Well, actually, no, I wouldn’t … the disservice is in the details for this article, folks. Instead I’m writing to suggest you get to know yourself, on your own, and then leap off this basic set of ideas for a biannual cleanse as a ritual you can incorporate into your life and that might gradually make whole foods the rule more than the exception:
First, though, check out your dosha constitution. Ayurveda is a health perspective that’s been cultivated for thousands of years. Its premise is the observation of one’s individual self and experiences with health and illness as related to doshas, environmental factors, food and habits. Out of this thousands of years of reflection have emerged guidelines to help one navigate best diet and lifestyle approaches as well as therapeutics for major illnesses. Fun fact: I used to think it was b.s., but now I feel and think the opposite.
To check your dosha(s), find a survey online and some good reading material on how foods relate to them. An amazing cookbook that offers everything in one shot is Eat, Taste, Heal. If you really want to understand doshas completely, read the short book Prakriti by Robert Svaboda—the guy is switched on and is a wicked writer. Chances are high you’re a mix of doshas but usually have one dominant, one sub and then one that’s not really at play as much.
With your constitution in mind, take ten days, twice a year, to cut out all the stuff that weighs you down—common allergens like wheat, dairy and nuts as well as sugar and dried fruits. Oh, and caffeine beyond green tea—I know, good things don’t come easy.
Instead of these things, eat basic, hypoallergenic foods. I, like many people, am still subject to yet way tired of the cutesy marketing and inflated price tags at natural food stores that compels one to spend their ‘Whole Paycheck.’ I want some basic, earthy, bulk organic solutions … one Ayurvedic recipe, for kitcheri, based on rice and mung beans and some herbs you can buy from a coop in bulk, is super cheap and easy to make. With a garnish of ghee/oil, salt and pepper is pretty delish. The other thing about kitcheri is that it’s dosha neutral so you don’t really have to know about Ayurveda to treat yourself right with this one.
View this ten days as a chance to start a deeper conversation with your body: wait for hunger and respond to it while being vigilant about volume—try not to eat more than a cup full of whatever at each sitting. This way, you really give your body the signal that ‘hey, I am totally on your side, it’s your time, I’m here for you, I know the stomach is only supposed to handle a cup at a time for a reason*, etc.’ *What’s that reason? More than that amount of food may not get digested fully and ends up lining your digestive track, putrifying and becoming toxic debris that travels to other parts of the body, sits and erodes them—joints and fat mainly.
During that ten days, look in to some colonic approaches that you’re comfortable with—with a more baseline (as opposed to the standard excessive) intake of food, you won’t have much manufacturing of waste going on. So just take some time to research how to cleanse the colon (nightly senna tea and a.m. basti, ect.) and make sure to balance this with probiotics—drinks or pills or warm, chlorine-free-warm-water probiotic basti following the first flush. You can also look up places that do colon hydrotherapy. I don’t like to lean on this approach at any other time than a cleanse, personally. It begs for addiction, frankly.
Change your perspective: this isn’t a diet, this is a biannual ritual and a strong statement to your body and yourself that you really care and are interested in setting up the foundations/best practices for a good, sober and enjoyable relationship with food.
Most important once you get off the cleanse and get back on the freeway of life is the 80/20 approach discussed by Ayurvedic practitioners: devote yourself to the healthiest, dosha-appropriate diet 80 percent of the time and the other 20 is a buffer—life happens, we are in a totally dynamic day and age and we are social creatures, so don’t let the idea of nutrition be a weight on your world when it could be the opposite.
If you’re a lady, for instance, and you run to ice cream before your period: eat it! But on one condition: be present with it and your level of enjoyment at every bite. You may find that after ten bites, you don’t taste it as much anymore, you’re just eating mechanically. Yet, if you find yourself, even after all that presence of mind, scraping the bottom of the pint with your spoon, scrape with confidence, toss the container out and move on. Stay awake to your actions; embrace them. Guilt is something I rarely eat anymore—it’s just too fattening.