What is a Cleanse?

March 30th, 2010 § 4 comments

Spring is a supreme time to lighten from the heaviness that lingers from winter. Whether it is from our rich, comforting diet, the stagnant air of having the windows shut for months, or the weight of our upcoming plans we dreamed up during the long nights of winter, we often have the desire, or need, to gear up for the outward expression of summer. An excellent way to usher in a new phase is to do some form of intentional cleanse.

A cleanse is simply a way to support the body’s natural detoxification with a specified diet for a designated length of time. The specified diet is up to you and your goals, but here are few common cleansing diets:

  • Whole foods. A diet that emphasizes fruits, veggies (at least 5 servings), slow-cooked whole grains, legumes, small amounts of dairy and animal protein, if you partake, and lots of water and herbal teas. Fast food, fried foods, junk food, sweets, processed foods and drinks, stimulants and intoxicants are left out. Even if you are a pretty conscious eater, this can be a great cleansing diet to start with. I think this is what popular weight loss diets are striving for (real food!), but more than often miss the mark (by a long shot).
  • Restricted diet. This is taking the whole foods diet a step further, by either avoiding a particular food on purpose, like dairy, wheat or red meat, or including foods you want to eat as a mainstay of the cleanse, like soup, kichiree or congee.
  • Elimination diet. A process of systematically cutting out, and then adding back in, specific foods to see if there is physical evidence of a negative or allergic reaction. Marcell Pick has a good list to check out of foods to eliminate on different levels.
  • Fasting. Includes the popular “supreme cleanse” (1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/8 – 1/4 cups maple syrup, pinch of cayenne in a quart of water), water fast, colon cleanse (often with supplemented juice), with our without herbal support.

Nicholas Schnell highlighted something in a 2008 class about cleansing that has really stuck with me: you need to have a definite time frame. Anywhere from 3 days to 6 weeks is good. And don’t go crazy, there’s no need to start with a 40 day fast! Defining your boundaries is important, other wise you may get lost in the always-needing-to-cleanse zone. You plan a three week elimination diet, take a little excursion with a cookie or two (but they’re organic!), feel defeated and then start all over again. That is simply unsustainable and not really healthy, either.

Which brings me to another point I need to make about cleansing; be gentle with yourself! It is not about perfection. Who cares if you get it just right, or even about having a certain outcome. On this note, you may want to define your personal reasons for cleansing as well as your beliefs and expectations.

What is the purpose of a cleanse? Why are so many people intrigued by the idea? When I worked at a co-op in the health and body care section, it became apparent that some populations of people are obsessed about cleansing the body. I certainly agree that there are a plethora of man-made chemicals that are assaulting Earth and all her creatures, and I think that we must strive to find alternatives to environmental pollutants. However, I do not think that humans are innately “toxic” and need to be fasted and cleansed constantly to have a fighting chance at health (Susun Weed discusses this issue as she compares the scientific, heroic and wise way healing philosophies in Healing Wise). Our body is incredibly capable in detoxifying, and is constantly doing so. We can, however, take actions to not impede its efforts as well as help it along.

A cleanse should transform the whole body. Many people find that their thoughts, spirit, emotions, body, lifestyle and diet change during and after a cleanse. A cleanse usually includes a restricted diet so the digestive system can work on healing itself rather than digesting food. Adding medicinal herbs to a cleanse promotes both tissue repair and toxin secretion, which will be another topic…

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§ 4 Responses to What is a Cleanse?"

  • great post! i’m pretty much trying the whole foods along with the elimination diet. i have had GERD and stomach problems along with being in the ER six times for something no one can find. the best thing i can do for myself is give my body the good things it needs :)

  • celia says:

    I like your outlook on your stomach health; it’s great that you are listening to your body!

  • Sean Donahue says:

    Thank you for an excellent post and a wonderful blog.

    I would like to offer a few caveats though:

    Its worth noting, as Paul Bergner does, that the herbs we call “spring tonics” were historically used by rural people in northern climates who spent the winter sleeping for up to 12 hours most nights, greatly reducing their physical activity, and living off meat, root vegetables, and some limited canned foods. So “detoxification” meant releasing the metabolic wastes built up in their bodies over the winter while resetting their metabolism . . . The approach isn’t necessarily as relevant for people living in an era of electric lights, indoor gyms, and varied winter diets. And it also wasn’t intended to remove the kinds of chemicals we now think of as toxins. It may help to remove some of these chemicals. But it is very important to make sure someone has clear, open channels of elimination in undertaking this kind of approach, because releasing these chemicals from tissues where they are stored can be far more dangerous than releasing our own metablolic wastes.

  • celia says:

    Thanks Sean, you really helped me put the cleansing-then versus cleansing-now issue in perspective! It’s good to remember that it’s not a clear analogy, but more of a guide.

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