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Ahh, the holidays. The most joy-filled time of year. A time of holiday parties, busy days, indulgent food, and holiday ‘spirits’ (aka vodka, gin, rum, and the like).

It’s no secret that the majority of us end up consuming a bit more ‘empty calories’ than we would like over the holidays, and with the all hustle and bustle, are typically less active than we would like. Like the ‘freshman 15’, there should be a saying called the ‘holiday 10’, where many of us easily gain 10 pounds over the holidays (not saying that’s a good or a bad thing, it’s just something that can easily happen this time of year).

It’s life. We’re human. Most of us enjoy indulging when the time calls for it. Unfortunately, many people also feel guilty for said indulging (which is not recommended). Given this fact, the holidays are a perfect time for anyone promoting or selling ‘detox’ or ‘cleanse’ diets or products, and many people are ready to take the next quick fix to rid the body of the perceived ‘toxins’ that it is riddled with from the way we live and eat.

What are ‘Detoxes,’ ‘Cleanses,’ and ‘Toxins?’

For the most part, detoxing and cleansing are marketing terms as they relate to the health of our body. Most promoters of these diets or products claim that they can help quickly eliminate these ‘toxins’ that our body is ‘riddled’ with due to the way we live and eat.

The actual term detox (detoxification) means the process of removing toxic substances or qualities from the body. This term was mainly used as a reference to the medical treatment of an alcoholic or drug addict involving refraining from alcohol or drugs until the bloodstream is free of toxins (yes, drugs and alcohol are a toxin, especially in large amounts). Nevertheless, more and more people are using it to refer to the body clearing out ‘harmful’ toxins from food and the environment.

However, what many people don’t understand is the science behind what is or isn’t toxic to our body. The important question is – is what we’re doing causing us harm?

For example – water. Too much water in a short period of time is ‘toxic’; it is called ‘hyponatremia’ or ‘water intoxication’. ([i]) If we drink an extreme amount in a short period of time, especially if we’re sweating a lot , it can cause sodium levels in the blood to drop too low, and can lead to health complications, even death. Water is completely natural; essential for us to survive actually, yet in large amounts can cause death.

Another example – Vitamin B. Most of us can safely consume vitamin B to the recommended amount. But if we take fifteen times the recommended dose, our neurological and liver function will suffer. Vitamins, another essential nutrient for the body to survive, can become toxic.

Cookies? Having one won’t do too much harm to the body, having 15 – especially mixed with an overall ‘unhealthy’ diet – sure, this can do harm.

You can see where I’m going with this. Either way, the bottom line is – most everything is ‘toxic’ at some level. We can’t avoid it.

As with most things in life, it doesn’t matter if it is natural or not – it is the dose that makes the poison.

The Body “Cleanses” Itself

Our major organs of detoxification include the digestive tract, kidneys, skin, lungs, liver, lymphatic system, and respiratory system.

These systems break down compounds into other forms that we can eliminate via the toilet, sweat, or breathing. And the body seems to do a pretty good job of this when placed in a balanced (i.e. healthy) environment.

Yes, we tend to take in many toxins in our food and environment – alcohol, medications, cigarette smoke, pollution, supplements, etc. On top of lack of sleep (which our body needs to run properly), lack of physical activity, consuming a nutrient-poor diet – this can lead to more toxins than we may want our body to be eliminating.

But is a fancy supplement or restrictive diet going to get the job done? Will it be the key to eliminating toxins, and ultimate fat loss (that will be more than short-term water loss)? Nope.

So aside from being non-essential and not supported by scientific evidence, many of the detoxes and cleanses out there can do more harm than good. ([ii], [iii])

What is going to help get the detoxification job done?

The lame/unsexy answer no one wants to hear. Good ol’ fashioned healthy eating and exercise, as well as other healthy lifestyle practices.

Sure, if you’re trying to detox, include nutrient-rich foods such as lemons, green tea, and colourful fruits and veggies. Green juice even, if you fancy that! However, you don’t need to only consume those foods to detoxify, and they’re definitely not essential for detoxification either.

Follow a general healthy diet with mostly plant-based foods – fruits and veggies, legumes (beans, peas, lentils, etc.); dairy or dairy alternatives; limit red meat, processed foods, added sugars, and alcohol; drink lots of water; get adequate sleep; get in some physical activity – and you’re golden!

Unless you have a health condition that would cause your body’s organs to be not working properly, you can detoxify and cleanse your body just fine.

What To Do Over the Holidays

The simple answer is to create as much balance as possible.

Try not to overindulge too much. Try to eat reasonable amounts of your ‘empty calorie’ foods and drinks when possible. If you do overindulge – don’t fret. Just take a couple of days of (mostly) healthy eating every time you indulge. If you find there’s a certain situation or type of food that triggers over-indulging, perhaps set a particular goal around that situation or food.

Make sure you’re getting in enough protein, fibre, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats 80% of the time, so that you feel your best through this exciting and busy time. Also make sure you’re getting in enough fluids, which will help your organs to their job.

Going you a party where there might be quite a few temptations?

Don’t starve yourself all day to make up for the calories. Eat light but well balanced. Make sure you get some good protein, fibre and healthy fats, so that you’re full and satisfied, and your blood sugar is nice and stable, and you’re less likely to be at the ‘so-hangry-I-will-overeat-anything-in-sight’ stage.

The Most Important Thing…

Do not feel guilty! We don’t realize how important our brain and our thoughts are in all of this.

Feeling guilty over one meal or a day of indulgence typically sets off a spiral of thoughts, such as “oh, well I already indulged so this day is out the window.” Or, “well I screwed up and gave in again so clearly I cannot stick to this healthy eating thing”.

This tends to create a vicious cycle of feeling defeated, unmotivated, and giving up.

The best think to do when you indulge? Chalk it up to being human. We all do it. Be easy on yourself. One meal, or day, or even week is not going to define you and determine your overall health. Do your best to not excessively indulge, for your own health and feelings of wellbeing. Work on taking small steps each day to making healthier choices. Set small, achievable goals when you’re in a period of over-indulgence.

Enjoy the holidays! They are supposed to be a joyful time, not a time spent obsessing over how you look or what you do or don’t eat.

 


 

[i] Farrell DJ, Bower L (Oct 2003). “Fatal water intoxication”. Journal of Clinical Pathology. 56 (10): 803–804

[ii] Willie-Jorgensen P. et. al. Pre-operative mechanical bowel cleansing or not? An updated meta analysis. Colorectal Disease. 2005:7;304-310.

[iii] Mishori R, et al. The dangers of colon cleansing. Journal of Family Practice. 2010;60:454.

Felicia Newell
About the Author

Felicia Newell is a Registered Dietitian (RD), Nutritionist, and Health Coach. She is also the owner of Sustain Nutrition, and helps clients from all around the globe fight through the misinformation in the online world, and master their health goals in a way that also allows them to also enjoy life. After many years in practice and through extensive research, Felicia knows that the ‘restrictive dieting’ technique never works long-term, and she takes the realistic approach of the ‘80/20 rule’, as well as working with clients to find the specific strategies that work best for them. You can download her FREE Meal Planning Starter Kit to help get you on your way to crushing your health and wellness goals.

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