Spring Cleaning

It’s time to move from your winter cocoon to something lighter. Is a cleanse a good step?

As I write this, there are HUGE, wet snowflakes falling suggesting that Spring Cleaning is way off in the distance. However, this is just the last throes of winter before we shift into the lightness of Spring. As such, it’s the perfect time to transition your body from the warm, heavy cocoon of hibernation to the free range movement of sprouting. For some, it means moving from the more starchy, readily available root veggies to spring greens and sprouts. For others, it means moving from indoor exercises to outdoor exercises. Sometimes it means both. And for some, that transition includes a cleanse or detox.

‘Cleanse’ is an all encompassing term that includes diets, supplements, fasts, and exercises that are designed to clear ‘toxins’ from your body. In most cases, this is done to lose weight, promote a healthy body, or reduce inflammation. Many major religions have incorporated fasting as a cleanse for the body, mind, and spirit.

My first step into the world of cleanses was in my late-20s. I walked into my local food Co-op and picked up the first box that I found. I thought it worked as I felt better, but I started to get curious about cleanses and what they actually did.

If you check out a few boxes or bottles of cleansing supplements, you’ll find some pretty common initial ingredients: fiber, senna, aloe vera, ginger, and sometimes bentonite clay. Fiber increases the roughage in your intestines - think of it as a loofah for your insides. Senna is a stool softener and helps your intestinal muscles contract. Aloe vera is great at soothing your gut lining and improving mucus membranes. Ginger degrades biofilms and reduces fungal overgrowth. Bentonite clay is known to bind oils and toxins so that they can be moved out of the body. If you eat the Standard American Diet, even one of these will make you poop more. With a cleaner set of intestines, you will feel healthier and weigh less too.

Unfortunately, these types of cleanses also include 20-30 additional ingredients. Each of these additional ingredients has some evidence for cleansing or detoxing the body, but what many people don’t understand is that sometimes more does not mean better. Think of it as trying to make the ultimate window cleaner by mixing every cleaning solution in your house together; peroxide and vinegar are great ways to clean your windows, but mixing them together is highly dangerous. Now consider your gut and add your one trillion plus microbiome. It’s possible that any one of those additional ingredients is going to send a species of bacteria into overdrive slowing you down, giving you flu-like symptoms, or worse.

My next few cleanses were done with a little more research; this time taking things away to see if there was a benefit. I did a couple of juice fasts - only drinking fresh or organic juices to give my digestive system a break. I did a couple anti-candida diets where I pulled out refined sugars and naturally occurring starches for a month. I also did a few cleanses that included an FDA certified medical food and a ‘clean’ diet for a week or 21-days. Interestingly, many of these worked well the first time, but didn’t work at all the second time. For many people, the body learns that it will be undergoing a time of reduced calories or nutrients and will actually slow your metabolism down so that you hold onto the very things that you’re trying to get rid of.

So how do I ‘Spring Clean’ these days? I like to use foods and ingredients that make me think of Spring - essentially, I lean into yellows and greens. Ginger and aloe juice fit that bill quite nicely. Not only are they good for the gut, they can be found in just about any grocery store. Baby spinach, kale, or arugula are great light greens to add fiber and antioxidants. Lemons, limes, and pineapple can brighten up a meal and help the body digest fats. Lemon grass, amchur (dried green mango), ground mustard, and galangal (Thai ginger) are yellow and green spices that are a little sour and bitter which promote better digestion and balance the microbiome. And you can also explore some of nature’s green and yellow soaps (saponins) for a real Spring clean: cilantro, fenugreek seeds or tea, asparagus, chickpeas, or quinoa.

To start your Spring Cleaning, figure out the easiest way to add some of these into your daily schedule. You can add spices to existing dishes. You can make tea or add some of these to your smoothies in the morning. Some of them you can grab a handful of as you head out the door. While some people make their Spring Cleaning a special event, lots of us just want to add a few things to what we already do. I find this approach gives you the most consistency. Once you’ve decided how to best incorporate Spring Cleaning into your life, pick a couple options from above that you already know and a couple that you’ve never tried before. Use them to brighten up your day and shift you into Spring.

In the end, the easiest way to cleanse your body of the winter blahs is to start seeing green and yellow in your everyday foods.

Dr. Julie

Breathe   Adjust   Nourish

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