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Detox: One Size Does Not Fit All

Diet and cleansing strategies are a dime a dozen; it might take some digging to find the one that’s right for you

by Erin Pihlaja on January 16, 2014 · 3 comments

Photo by Erin Pihlaja

It was sometime after the holiday season this year that I started feeling a little, um, jiggly? And slow. And tired. And kind of, how does one say this politely? Backed up.

I’m not a health expert, and although I eat pretty well, I tend to be unbalanced. Seriously, one summer I ate nothing but pico de gallo. Every day, all day long.

So, I started looking into fasts and detoxes. I asked friends if they had any experiences they would share. My ex-boyfriend told me that he was super into trying a clay detox. Not like, go to a spa and get covered in some sort of magical, mysterious earth mixture dug up from sacred lands by glittery elves, but eat clay and wait for it to plunge you from the inside out. I listened, but the entire time I was thinking back to kindergarten. I remember sitting at a short-legged round table with five or six other kids. The little girl directly across from me was crying. Tears streamed down her face and her mouth hung open in mid sob. Little white rivers of half-masticated paste ran from her wailing lips and past her dimpled chin before they plopped onto the cheap veneer of the table. Don’t eat school supplies, youth-Erin reminded me. That ruled out any clay detox, so I turned to the Internet to guide me.

Big mistake. I saw a 21-day sugar detox, which, as a naturally hyper person, I couldn’t even begin to fathom, and lots of different diet programs named for celebrities that I don’t idolize or care about. One site encouraged me to try the Israeli Army Diet (I’m a pacifist), another tried to sell me the Fast Food Diet. Feel better after eating nothing but chicken thighs wrapped in bacon, sandwiched by pancakes? Right.

It turns out I’m not the only one who is detox-challenged. “People are often looking for a magic bullet,” says Kevin Johnston, the wellness manager at the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany. “Blast belly fat with one pill that does everything—get in shape, boost your immune system, or increase libido.”

“Most of our customer base is very knowledgeable,” says David Downer, the assistant manager at the same wellness department. “But some people come in who are looking for something immediate. Detox or a cleanse should be an ally to the whole health-care process.”

Detoxing or cleansing can be good for you, but if done incorrectly it can also be damaging. “We live in a polluted world,” says Johnston. “Even if you take good care of yourself, you are exposed to a variety of toxins—like in the air or your food. One size does not fit all; it needs some thought.” He recommends getting a consultation to find the right system.

So does Peter Fallon, who is the owner of Fallon’s Wellness Pharmacy (located in Latham and Saratoga), a registered pharmacist and a certified functional medicine practitioner. “Do it with someone who knows what they’re doing,” he says. “You can do more harm than good.” Fallon does an environmental history on each of his patients to see what toxins they have been exposed to. He says there are specific remedies for different things like heavy metals or household chemicals.

So why do some cleanses work while others just make people feel worse? Fallon says that the detoxification process has three phases. The first, he says, is when the liver changes toxins, which are fat soluble, into “intermediate” reactive compounds able to bind more easily to water-soluble molecules. Fat-soluble compounds get stored in our bodies, only water-soluble compounds can get flushed out. This is why, he says, if a system doesn’t completely transform the original toxins, they can clog us up, causing constipation. This stage, between phase one and phase two (where the compounds finally bind to water-soluble molecules), is the most toxic stage of all, which is why people can feel very sick while undergoing a cleanse. Adding the right nutrients at this point helps the reactive, highly toxic intermediate compounds bind so that they can move on to phase three: elimination.

The benefits of a good detox can be subtle, says Downer. “Some people expect something extreme,” he says. “They think if it’s not doing that it’s not working. It could just be an improvement to your skin or your sleep.”

Whatever cleanse you choose, Johnston says to stick to the basics: Listen to your body, eat well, and drink lots of water.

That certainly sounds a lot better and more doable than resorting to covering your body with leeches, or the Venezuelan Tongue-Patch Diet. Yeah, that one requires sewing a patch to your tongue so that it hurts too badly to eat. In which case you have to adopt the Baby Food Diet, which is exactly what it sounds like. And we’ve all matured past that point, right?


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