Prolonged fasting can do more harm than good by slowing your metabolism, depleting your body of essential nutrients and, ironically, recirculating toxins into your system, says Gaetano Morello, ND, a detox specialist in West Vancouver, British Columbia. He is also the author of Whole Body Cleansing (Active Interest Media, 2009) plus many popular detox regimens, such as the Master Cleanse—a 10- to 20-day fast during which you subsist on a mix of lemon juice, maple syrup, and water . These are so extreme that weight loss is nearly impossible to maintain once you go back to eating solid food. So far, no science shows that fasting or subsisting on liquids for any amount of time will scrub a lifetime’s worth of toxins from your cells.
“There’s no such thing as a quick fix,” says Patricia Fitzgerald, DOM, a homeopath and nutritionist in Santa Monica, California, and author of The Detox Solution (Illumination Press, 2001). “The safest detox is lifestyle.” By committing to a healthy diet, supporting your body’s natural detoxifying systems with food and supplements, and reducing your exposure to harmful chemicals, you’ll trim fat, boost energy, and lessen your body’s toxic burden. The following plans can be revisited several times a year.
Toxins and fat go hand in hand. According to a 2002 article in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, synthetic chemicals, heavy metals, solvents, and the plastic additive bisphenol-A (BPA) disrupt the body’s natural weight-controlling hormones, interfere with metabolism, and change the appetite. Because most toxins are stored in the body’s fat cells, dropping unwanted pounds will help you start whittling away at metabolism-thwarting chemical reserves too.
Start by eliminating the top-caloried and chemical-packed diet pitfalls—sugar, processed foods, and red meat. Aim for 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day primarily from organic produce, grains, and some protein. Think of it as training your body to run more efficiently on cleaner foods.
“Once you start feeling better, you’ll tend to want to keep feeling better,” says Morello, who recommends doing a two-week detox three to four times a year, when seasons shift—a natural time to reevaluate your lifestyle and diet. “You’ve got to program yourself to change.” When the detox period is over, gradually increase your energy intake to about 2,200 calories per day from foods like lean protein and high-fiber fruits and vegetables, which will fill you up without piling on the pounds.
1. Kick sugar
When you wolf down a sugary dessert, your body has to scramble to produce the hormone insulin, which causes a drop in blood sugar and creates what Frank Lipman, MD, author of Revive: Stop Feeling Spent and Feel Great Again (Fireside, 2010), calls “a vicious cycle of craving, eating, and crashing.” Insulin may also increase fat storage in cells, according to a study published by the Public Library of Science. Cut out the obvious offenders—soda, candy, juice, and desserts—and start reading labels. You’ll be surprised at how much sugar and artificial sweeteners are in prepared salad dressings, yogurts, and condiments. Craving sweets? Eat a piece of fruit: Fructose enters the bloodstream slower than glucose and won’t spike blood sugar.
2. Get glutamine
Quitting sugar cold turkey can leave you headachy and irritable for up to two weeks. To curb cravings, supplement with 1 to 2 grams of powdered glutamine divided into three doses throughout the day. The amino acid stabilizes blood sugar.
3. Prioritize organics
All told, you should be eating nine to 13 servings of produce—of which two or three are fruits—and 50 grams of protein per day. Choose organic when purchasing the 12 most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables like peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots, and pears. If you eat meat, opt for organic poultry and organic, grass-fed beef, which is produced without hormones or antibiotics.
4. Eat often
Keeping your tank full by noshing on minimeals every four hours is essential for regulating blood sugar so you don’t bonk and grab a Snickers. Start the day with a low-sugar protein smoothie: Blend 1 cup unsweetened almond or soy milk with 1/2 cup frozen organic berries and 1 scoop plain whey protein. Then eat your biggest meal—about 500 calories. Midafternoon, when your body is at its hungriest and has ample time to digest before bed, try a 3-ounce organic grilled chicken breast with fiber-packed veggies, such as broccoli and spinach, which help you feel full. Eat your last light meal at least three hours before bedtime.
In addition to supporting proper digestion, drinking water aids kidney function, speeds waste elimination, curbs hunger pangs, and facilitates the body’s natural detox process by helping you sweat during exercise, says Elson M. Haas, MD, author of The New Detox Diet (Celestial Arts, 2004). Dehydration is also the main culprit behind daytime fatigue and headaches, and even mild dehydration can slow metabolism. Fitzgerald recommends drinking half your body weight, in ounces, every day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you’ll need 75 ounces—or 9 1/2 cups—of water daily. To make sure you’re not taking in heavy metals and pesticides with your H20, check your tap-water purity at epa.gov/safewater, and buy a reverse-osmosis filter if necessary.
6. Eliminate naturally
Bile created in your liver flushes toxins through your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. But without enough soluble fiber to bind to the bile and excrete it, toxins are reabsorbed into the bloodstream. Beans, legumes, and fruits are excellent sources of soluble fiber, or supplement with 5 grams equivalent in capsule or powder twice daily, Morello says.
7. Include a multi
Take a high-quality multivitamin to make sure you’re not lacking of nutrients.