Why “detoxes” or “cleanses” May Not be a Good Idea This Time of Year
It may sound very enticing to jump on the healthy bandwagon post-holiday season, but is a cleanse or detox the right thing to start 2020 with? Here are some reasons why you may want to reconsider and opt for a more health-focused, sustainable solution.
While many detox programs market fast results for clearer skin, greater weight loss, improved gut health, and so on, is this the right time to be doing the extreme?
Research has shown our genetic expression actually changes with the seasons. Average temperatures and daylight exposure have the ability to up or down-regulate many genes linked to vitamin D receptivity, immune system function, inflammation, thyroid hormone, adipose (fat) tissue responses, melatonin production and more.
All of these genetic functions heavily dictate how much we sleep, our food cravings and hunger levels, and even how we behave or feel. With lower temperatures and less sunlight in the winter, our bodies respond and adapt appropriately by naturally slowing down.
These concepts are not new to traditional Chinese medicine. They have known for centuries that there is seasonal variability in health. In TCM, wintertime is considered “Yin”, which is associated with more inward, soft energy as opposed to “Yang” which is considered more outward, active, and reflects the summer months.
So you may see how starting an aggressive diet or cleanse in the middle of winter way be like stuffing a round ball into a square peg. You may be fighting against yourself and your natural circannual rhythms (aka your seasonal rhythms).
I know most of you are eager to start making headway on your resolutions, so here’s what you can do to start yourself off on the right foot this year. Be forewarned, some of these suggestions directly contrast our modern way of thinking.
But as Paul Pitchford says “Unfortunately, most of us have blunted our instinctual awareness; only through practices that bring us close to the cycle of nature do we begin to hear the voice of our own nature clearly”
So I urge you to keep an open mind, receptive to these “new”-ancient principles.
Get more sleep and rest. Allow your body to rebuild and repair by using this time for rest, meditation, introspection, and regenerating physical energy. If you’re finding yourself more tired this time of year, that is okay and normal. Try to give your mind and body the rest it needs.
Nourish your body with warm foods. Focus on warm, cooked foods that are slightly salty and bitter. Warm hearty soups, cooked whole grains, roasted nuts, small dark beans, and steamed winter greens are a staple to a wholesome winter diet. Vegetables such as celery, carrots, oats, quinoa, and turnips are wonderful additions to meals this time of year.
Reduce stressors as much as possible, and consider your workload. Most of us crave productivity 365, but try taking a step back and eliminating unnecessary work or distractions. Can you delegate a certain task? Can you automate it? Or can you eliminate it entirely (I.e., it's not crucial, and is not getting you closer to where you want to go)? Check-in on your priorities and values, this will help you decide where you want to be spending your time and resources - while leaving some leftover for yourself.
While it may be easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, I encourage you to give some of these tips an honest try. You may just find that you are happier, and more resilient year-round.
Want to know more about making sustainable health goals? Check out my other blog post on Setting and Attaining your Goals in 2020.
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Dopico, X., Evangelou, M., Ferreira, R. et al. Widespread seasonal gene expression reveals annual differences in human immunity and physiology. Nat Commun 6, 7000 (2015) doi:10.1038/ncomms8000
Aries, MBC, et al. “Daylight and Health: A Review of the Evidence and Consequences for the Built Environment.” Lighting Research & Technology, vol. 47, no. 1, Feb. 2015, pp. 6–27, doi:10.1177/1477153513509258.
Healing with Whole Foods. Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. Third Edition. Paul Pitchford.