DETOX, CLEANSE, FAST

Detox: a process or period of time in which one abstains from or rids the body of toxic or unhealthy substances; detoxification.

Cleanse: a process or period of time during which a person attempts to rid the body of substances regarded as toxic or unhealthy, typically by consuming only water or other liquids.

Fast: abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink, especially as a religious observance.

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There are so many compelling arguments in the media that we need to detox. We are all loaded with toxins that need to get out of our bodies and by not cleansing we are setting ourselves up to get a disease.

There is some truth to this. We live in a polluted environment and are bombarded with all sorts of chemicals from the soap that we use to clean our bodies and clothes, air fresheners, candles and incense to make our homes smell better, the fumes from the vehicles that are on the roadways. The list goes on and on, without including media and other outside stimuli that our nervous system would benefit a detox from.

If you consciously prepare and cook a healthy diet that is appropriate for your constitution, don’t eat too much, pay attention to eating seasonally and have a daily bowel movement there isn’t a need to go through a detox or cleanse. 

Seasonal eating is our natural way of detoxing. For example after a winter of eating heavy and hearty foods to warm you on those cold days, the bitter greens of spring, such as dandelion greens, are a wonderful way to help lighten up the body and help detoxify our blood.

If you are someone whose diet consists of the drive thru fast foods and other quick processed meals, a detox or cleanse could be your first step to taking back your health and resetting your body.

By paying attention to what we put into our mouths and listen to the signals that our body gives us for what we consume, we can learn what does and doesn’t work for us.  If something makes us feel tired or bloaty after eating it, our body probably cannot properly digest it. Start keeping a food journal and note how you feel while you eating and how you feel afterward. You can begin to notice patterns of what makes you feel energized and ready to conquer the world.

If you have spent your summer holiday indulging in too many rich calorie dense foods and now you feel a bit bloated, you might need a little resetting.

There is no need to buy into any expensive diet plans if you can develop an understanding of basic nutrition.  Learn how to properly nourish your body and create a meal plan that will be easy for you to follow so that you can stop following fads of random dieting to reduce belly bloat and other digestive issues. If you don’t treat the root of your digestive distress, it won’t matter how many detoxes, cleanses, fasts or colonics you subject your body to you will never completely eliminate the toxins and your body will remain in a state of distress.   

Be gentle, kind and loving to your body. It is your home for this lifetime.

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Greens – Greens – Greens!

Dark leafy greens, cabbages, broccoli, kale, dandelion greens, chard, spinach, mustard greens, collards, watercress, arugula just to name a few of the most popular.

These beautiful vegetables are packed with vitamin A, C, E and K, contain lots of fiber to help promote healthy intestinal flora, contain folic acid, chlorophyll and phyto-nutrients. So many benefits including blood purification and boosting immune function!

But can eating too much hurt you?

Spinach, chard and beet greens all have high levels of oxalic acid which depletes calcium from the bones and teeth. Eating large quantities can lead to osteoporosis. Kale contains goitrogens and can interfere with thyroid function. Large quantities are contra indicated for anyone with iodine deficiency. Kale also contains oxalate which can cause kidney stones. Spinach as mentioned above contain oxalate which may cause kidney stones and also contains purines, which if you have gout, consume in moderation. Broccoli also contains goitrogens and are reduced through the cooking process. If you have thyroid condition, you might want to consider reducing your consumption of raw cabbage family vegetables. 

If your diet consists mainly of green juices or eating many cups a day of these green raw  vegetables, maybe it may be time to re-evaluate this diet as you may be giving yourself thallium poisoning. Symptoms include: fatigue, brain fog, digestive troubles, nausea, and skin and hair issues. You may just think that you are cleansing your body of toxins and that is why you are feeling crappy. Actually your body is telling you to STOP! You are poisoning me!

But by cooking these vegetables it would be very hard to cause yourself harm, especially if you are eating a diet that is diverse and colorful. How many colors of the rainbow can you get onto your plate every day? Anytime a mono diet is introduced for an extended period of time there can be consequences to one’s health.

As with everything that we do, moderation is key and a meal serving size should be no more than two cups of cooked or raw food.

The Breakfast Experiment

Recently I tried a little breakfast experiment to see how I would react to the same ingredients prepared two different ways.

Ingredients: 1 banana, handful of blueberries, 3 dates, about ¼ cup of walnuts, about a tablespoon of pumpkin seeds, about ½ tablespoon of chia seeds and a generous drizzle of honey.

The first preparation was a smoothie. So yummy and creamy that I unconsciously slurped that deliciousness up! Shortly thereafter, I noticed that my belly felt cold and heavy. Definitely had an affect on my digestive fire and I didn’t feel quite right for the rest of the day.

The second preparation was to take the same ingredients, cut them up and arrange into a bowl. First I admired the various colors of the ingredients and with each spoonful I felt every texture and tasted each ingredient on my tongue as I chewed and swallowed. Equally as tasty as the smoothie was, but the experience was much more satisfying and my digestive system was not stressed and I was full of energy for my morning activities.

From this experiment I learned that if I want to have a smoothie for breakfast, I need to add warm spices such as cinnamon or dried ginger to not put out the digestive fire (agni) in my stomach!

They say that we not only eat with our mouths, but with all of our senses. Take time to enjoy your food – look at it, smell it, taste it, feel the textures, listen to the crunches.  

Experiment to see what you enjoy and works best for your digestion. Do you feel cold and sluggish or energized and vibrant?

What to Eat?

We are living in the age of designer diets. There are diets for every ill and every belief. I have yet to meet one person on a designer diet who, before commencing that new diet, had eaten a high-quality, balanced diet of traditional foods. ~ Steve Gagné, Food Energetics.

We are bombarded with different diet recommendations that lead us to believe that it will be beneficial for everyone. We are all unique beings and with this each of us has a unique constitution and requires different nutrients to thrive.

Some people do well as vegans or vegetarians. Others must eat meat to feel grounded and nourished. You just need to listen to what your body tells you, there is no perfect diet for everyone and we should not judge a person on their food choices. Just make sure that your diet is made up of whole unprocessed foods.

I do not do well with dairy. It is something that has been an issue my whole life. I can tolerate a small amount in a cup of chai, but give me a bowl of cereal with milk or an ice-cream sundae and I will feel the effects very shortly, starting with the rumbling in my belly, increased phlegm in my mouth and congestion like I am coming down with a head cold. This feeling lasts for about a day or until my body has eliminated the dairy from my system.

Whatever dietary choice that you make, please make sure that it is balanced and you are eating real foods and not food like substances. Shop the perimeter of your grocery store focusing on good quality organic fruits, vegetables, free range grass fed beef, pasture raised chicken and eggs. Limit your shopping on the isles with boxed foodstuffs that are packed full of ingredients that you cannot pronounce. Experiment with different grains and dried beans from the bulk bins. Try new fresh herbs as well as spices to bring new flavors to your meals.

Maybe you were lucky enough to have grown up with parents or grandparents who had a garden and grew some if not all of their own food. Remember that connection and time spent in the kitchen preparing the food that was harvested fresh from the garden. This food was clean and organic before those terms were hip and current buzzwords.

If you find that you have indigestion after eating your meal. Check in with yourself. Were you distracted or rushed and not chew your food well? Was there a new food introduced during the meal? Are eating vegetables or other fibrous foods new to you? Become a food detective to see how your body reacts to what you eat.

I find my clients who see me for indigestion have a weakened digestive fire. Here are a few recommendations that help rebuild that digestive fire (Agni) in your stomach. Reduce your caffeine consumption and replace it with a ginger tea that is made from taking a few slices of fresh ginger and steeping in boiling water for several minutes. 

Ginger is one of my favorite herbs that I use as a tea as well as part of my cooking. It is a powerful helper for digestive issues such as nausea, diarrhea, dispelling gas from the gastrointestinal tract and don’t forget that ginger pickle to stimulate your appetite.

Eat simpler foods that are easier to digest such as a slow cooked soup that you can even puree so your body can more readily absorb the nutrients. Use spices that help build up your digestive fire.

If you have been on antibiotics for a long time, you need to re-establish the good bacteria in the gut. Try adding fermented foods to your diet such as sauerkraut, kimchee, miso, plain yogurt or kefir to help rebuild that gut bacteria. This should only be done once you have completed your antibiotics and your infection has cleared up.

Take time to see what your body likes. If eating whole foods is new, allow yourself time to adjust how whole vegetables and grains fill you up. Soon you will be able to see what type of foods energize you to help you return to vibrant health.

Rebuilding your digestive fire

Wouldn’t you love to have more energy, no more bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation? It all ties into the foods that you consume. Your body is trying to tell you that it does not like what you are feeding it. I hope to provide you with some tips so you can relearn the signals your body is sending to you.

The food that you consume can be nourishing and healing or a toxin that will slowly poison you.

Time is needed to digest our thoughts and emotions. We should refrain from eating when angry, upset, preoccupied or rushed.

The typical western lifestyle does not really allow for people to be able to take a proper lunch break. We grab something quick, eat it mindlessly or while trying to respond to emails, catch up on work, run errands or participate in conference calls. No time to pause, to eat something nourishing or even get a breath of fresh air. We have been trained to live in a world of being on a schedule that does not necessarily connect to what our bodies need. We eat because it is time to eat, not because we have hunger. We find making decisions about our food is all about what hits those pleasure sensors within our mouth – sweet, salty, greasy, processed foods with little to no nutritional value.

Simple carbohydrates give you a quick boost of energy and then you crash and need an afternoon sugar / caffeine fix to get you through the rest of your work day. You leave work exhausted with no energy to go home and make a balanced dinner – again grabbing take out that hits those pleasure zones. By bedtime, you may be taking some OTC (over the counter) or prescription remedy to deal with the indigestion, heartburn, bloaty feeling that you have and maybe taking something to knock you out from being overly stimulated and caffeinated during your day.

Importance of Agni, the body’s digestive fire

Agni = Digestive Fire. According to Ayurveda, our digestive fire is the strongest between 10am – 2pm. Just as the sun is strongest during this time, so is the body’s capacity to digest and absorb nutrients. Hence, the largest meal of the day should be consumed during this time. Digestive fire diminishes as the sun goes down and it is harder for the body to break down and digest foods.

Ideally, we should eat at the same time every day. This helps the body to reset its hunger signals. Dinner should be light and something easy for the body to break down – for example a simple clear vegetable soup without any dairy, grains or pasta. I enjoy making miso soup with vegetables for dinner. For me, it is satisfying without taxing my body’s digestive energy.

The size of our meal is also important to help us build and maintain digestive fire. Look at the size of your fist, which is the size of your stomach. What you eat for a meal should be no larger than two handfuls of food.

Not hungry for breakfast? You probably ate too much for dinner or ate too late and your food has not completely digested. Try making your evening meal lighter so that you feel hungry in the morning.

The best thing is start the day with a cup of hot water after brushing your teeth and scraping your tongue. This will re-hydrate your cells and help flush out the remaining toxins from your system. Do remember to eat before you have your morning tea or coffee. Having tea or coffee first thing on an empty stomach is setting yourself up for adrenal fatigue.

The weather and seasons play an important role when making choices for meals. On a cold snowy day, eating a cold salad is not as satisfying as a nice stew or hearty soup. Same thing on a hot summer day you would not want to eat a bowl of chili. A cool crisp salad would be more welcomed.

There should be mindfulness when eating. Start a ritual of lighting a candle, setting the table, giving thanks, turn off the TV and put away your phone. This sets the space for you to begin to reconnect to your food. Chew slowly, savor the flavors and textures on your tongue. Notice how you feel.

If you really do not have any hunger at mealtime there could be several causes. Your last meal has not been digested by your body. Your last meal was too large or you have low digestive fire within your body.

Signs and Symptoms of Indigestion: constipation, diarrhea, tiredness, blocked vata, abdominal distention, heaviness, dizziness. These are signals from your body that it does not want the food that you eaten or you have not provided yourself with a calm space to eat your meal.

Remedies to rebuild your digestive fire and aid with digestion:

As you start to pay attention to what you eat and how you feel you will instinctively be able to make changes to your diet. It really is not all that complicated. Stiff and achy – maybe too much processed foods and sodium; congested – maybe you cannot process sugar, flour or dairy; hot and sweaty – maybe too spicy for your constitution or your body is struggling to breakdown what you have eaten and your digestion is not strong enough to do a proper job.

I hope that these suggestions help you feel more comfortable in your body. Until next time, I wish you peace and much love.

Daily Routine: Grounding yourself for your busy day

Ok, so maybe you now have become accustomed to waking at the same time every day. Today we will go over what you can do to ground yourself for all of the day’s activities.

I like to start my day with a prayer of gratitude before I get out of bed. Something as simple as: Thank you for a restful night’s sleep and please continue to guide and be with me so that I may shine love and light out into the world. Find whatever works for you or if this does not feel authentic to you, no worries, you can skip this.

Brushing teeth and scraping the tongue are every important to rid the body of all the gunk that accumulated while we were sleeping. This should be done before consuming anything, even a glass of water. Otherwise, according to Ayurveda, you are reintroducing the toxins that your body has worked hard all night to move so that they could be eliminated through the mouth.

Next gently wash your face and by now, you should be ready to have a bowel movement. If not, don’t worry. Over time, you will be able to regulate this through diet.

Now it is time for some gentle stretching ~ perhaps some sun salutations ~ nothing too strenuous, just enough to feel your muscles feel elongated and limber, maybe 10-15 minutes. (If you work sitting all day long, it would be beneficial to take a break during the day and stretch some more. Your back and hip flexors will thank you!)

Once you have stretched and still before you have eaten anything, it is now time for some grounding through meditation and pranayama. Pranayama is breathing exercises that can energize or calm the body. One of the first exercises that I give my clients is alternate nostril breathing, known as Anuloma Viloma Pranayama and here is how you do it:

  1. Find a comfortable seat either sitting straight in a chair or cross-legged on the floor with an erect spine.
  2. Completely exhale all the air from your lungs
  3. Raise your right hand to your face. Your thumb should be by your right nostril and your ring and pinky fingers should be by your left nostril. Your index and middle fingers can either touch your third eye or curl into the palm of your hand.
  4. Close your right nostril with your thumb of your right hand. Take a deep inhalation through your left nostril, deep into your lungs
  5. Close your left nostril with your ring and pinky fingers of your right hand. Exhale completely through your right nostril
  6. Inhale deeply through your right nostril. Close your right nostril with your thumb, release your ring and pinky from your left nostril and exhale completely
  7. Repeat steps 4-6 several times and just focus on your breath

This pranayama recharges and rebalances the body by calming the mind and bringing fresh air to the cells of the body. Doing this is an act of meditation in itself as you are not focusing on anything besides the inhalation and exhalation of your breath.  This can also be repeated during the day if you need calming and uplifting energy to get you through your day.

Photo credit: samyeinstitute.org

Give yourself at least 10 minutes each day of being able to sit in absolute silence and just feel your breath without laundry listing all the things that you need to accomplish during the day.

Food should only be taken once we have bathed in the morning. According to Ayurveda, eating and then showering will cause the body to create toxins. You can think of it as the warning we use to receive from our grandmothers not to go swimming for at least an hour after we have eaten! The body needs its full energy to work on digesting our food.

Instead of starting the day with coffee, tea, or other caffeinated beverage, try starting your morning with plain hot water with some fresh ginger slices steeped in it or a fresh squeeze of lemon or lime. It will help rehydrate your tissues as well as help move the last of the toxins from your body.

Hey, are you now telling me that I need to give up coffee?? 

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Never! I enjoy that dark steaming delicious elixir of life. I joyfully relish a cup later in the morning after I have had breakfast.  It is no longer the first thing that I consume by the bucketful as I used to do when I was busily rushing to get myself ready and out the door for my corporate job. (That caffeine and sugar habit is a whole other story of how I gave myself adrenal fatigue!)

Daily Routine – Sleep; a well-rested and recharged body

The body is a complex yet simple machine. It requires fuel (nutritious foods), time to regenerate (sleep), keeping it clean, movement, mindfulness and being in nature to unplug and recharge.

Daily routine, or as it is known in Ayurveda, Dinacharya, is a series of actions that we should do each day to nourish and detoxify our bodies. By creating an adhering to a daily routine, you can rebalance your circadian rhythm, digestive fire plus other health benefits.

This is the first in a series that I will be delving into the various practices for you to try to incorporate into your schedule. Who knows?  You might even find yourself with more energy, less brain fog and maybe even help with your digestive issues.   

Photo: Pixels.com

Let’s talk about sleep.                                        

It is important to get yourself into a regular sleep routine. My personal schedule is I stop looking at electronics about 9:30pm and generally I’m in bed by 10pm. I may read for a little while, but generally lights are out no later than 10:30pm and I will sleep through the night until about 6am. I do this every day, not just Monday through Friday.  Occasionally there will be events, parties or travel that will disrupt this schedule as we need to live in the world and enjoy all the experiences of this beautiful life.

If our bodies get used to going to sleep and waking at the same time every day (ensuring that you have had enough sleep according to what your body needs) you should wake feeling rested and not in need of caffeine to jump start your day.

Giving yourself a set schedule of rest also allows the body to perform its nightly repairs and cleaning that it needs to do. According to Ayurveda there is an internal schedule of time that your body goes through to clean each organ and system. For example, the time of 4am to 6am is associated with the descending colon and bladder. How often do you wake early in the morning before your alarm goes off to go to the bathroom?

Each individual is unique and you will have to experiment as to what feels right for you for the proper amount of sleep that your body needs to feel well rested and ready to conquer the day! If you sometimes suffer from insomnia, please refer to this post  for some solutions.

Next, we will look into what you can do in the morning to help ground and nourish you for your busy day.

                                                                                                         

What is Health?

According to Sushruta, who was an ancient Ayurvedic Indian physician, health is defined as:  

The one who is established in self, who has balanced doshas, balanced agni, properly formed dhatus, proper elimination of malas, properly functioning bodily processes, and whose mind, soul and senses are quiet and content is called a healthy person.

Ayurveda literally means the science of life. It is an ancient healing science that originated in India over 5000 years ago.  To be extremely basic, Ayurveda teaches us how to correct disturbances in the body through eating a seasonal diet, performing cleansing and rejuvenation treatments, getting exercise and practicing mindfulness all appropriate for your individual constitution.

The body and mind are controlled by the Doshas aka Vata, Pitta and Kapha. The Doshas are made up of the elements of Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth.  Vata is the combination of Ether and Air which is the energy of movement. Pitta is the combination of Fire and Water which are important for digestion and metabolism. Kapha is Water and Earth, which give the body stability and strength.

Agni is our digestive fire to transform both food and information into energy. If we are lacking in appetite or feel that we are mentally cloudy, we need to work on our Agni through the use of herbs, the type of food that we eat and breathing exercises.

Dhatus are the tissues of the body and relate to plasma / lymph, red blood cells, muscle tissue, adipose tissue, bones, bone marrow, nervous tissue, connective tissue, reproductive tissue. The tissues of the body are created from the foods we eat. We have the ability to create healthy or weak tissue depending on the foods we eat and our mental state while eating. Poor quality food will create deficient tissue which is more likely to create a defective space within the body for disease to move in.

Malas are the waste products of the body – feces, urine and sweat

To maintain or correct health, daily routines known as Dinacharya (deena-char-e-ah) and seasonal routines known as Ritucharya (rit-u-char-e-ah) should be performed to both the body and the mind. Daily routines include proper rest, eating seasonally, performing exercise, and practicing mindfulness.

From a western perspective, if we are not presenting symptoms of illness, we are healthy. There is no consideration of the state of the mind – is it calm? Or emotional state – is the person truly happy and content?

Eating healthy foods and not exercising, or living in a destructive environment can also lead to disease.

Take time to reconnect to your body ~ mind ~ spirit to ensure that you are both physically and mentally healthy.

Baby Steps to Better Nutrition

If I can give you one piece of advice on how to take back your health, I would recommend that you reduce eating “food like substances” that are manufactured and have an almost indefinite shelf life.  The extended shelf life of these products shorten your life.

Make a fist. Take a look at it. That is the size of your stomach. Your entire meal, including liquids should not be more than that size. Pay attention while filling your plate. If eating out, you can always bring home leftovers for another meal. We as a society have a problem with consuming too many calories, both at home and when dining out.                               

When grocery shopping, experiment with fresh seasonal produce and try something new each time you shop. This will keep you from getting bored from eating the same thing each week. Shop at your local farmer’s market. Ask the farmer what their favorite way is to prepare the vegetables that they are selling to give you some fresh ideas.

Experiment with different grains. Rice, quinoa, barley, millet, faro, bulgur, wheat berries, are just few of the favorites that are staples in my pantry to have on hand to create a base for many of the dishes that I make. When cooking grains, always cook more than you need for today’s meal. Leftover grains can be used to create a quick stir fry or added to a soup to give it more heartiness. In the summer, grains make a great base for salads. Add some finely chopped vegetables, fresh herbs and finish with a vinaigrette dressing – a simple yet satisfying meal on a hot summer’s day!

Explore the YouTube or Instagram channels of cooks who post interesting pictures and videos of the foods that they make. Watch cooking shows on PBS. Check out cookbooks from your local library. These are all free resources that only require your time to expand your creativity.

To build your confidence, take a cooking class. Check out your local college continuing education programs. Hire someone (like myself) to provide you with individual instruction so you can become a culinary alchemist. Through learning techniques and practicing, soon you will be able to create all sorts of yummy creations that will impress your friends and family!

Simple Satisfying Dal. Photo and recipe by Brenda.