Hello and happy New Year from all at The Wild Unicorns Club!
Given the season I will focus this post on one of the greatest nutrition myths of the west – the January detox. I myself fell victim to this phenomenon multiple times before completing my training. As New Year rolls around the juice diet books are dusted off and good intentions made. Chronic headaches, breakouts, hunger and fatigue are endured for a week or two before failure inevitably occurs, often with a good dose of self-blame and dejection added in.
But this 2017 I am here to tell you to STOP the January Detox madness. Why? Simply because it is doing you more harm than good.
Seasons Affect the Body
It is easy to forget in the world of modern conveniences that we are living beings, born to planet earth as members of the animal kingdom. While we may be able to artificially control light and temperature within our homes, the planetary motions of the moon, sun and earth influence factors that strongly affect our well-being, such as daylight hours, UV ray exposure, gravitational influence, produce availability and weather.
Human beings are strongly influenced by nature, seasons and changes to our environment (whether we acknowledge it or not) 1st January, the traditional time for detox, falls just one month into winter when we can observe the rest of nature dormant. In this time of limited sunlight, water and warmth, sap has cooled and hardened, leaves have fallen and the trees appear as if dead. In reality, they have simply prepared themselves to survive the harsh impact of cold, dark winter months – it is this approach that allows them to burst into a new cycle of life when Spring returns with sun and heat.
The naturopathic tradition grounds its healing approach in nature, honouring the impact of the seasons and tailoring treatment to leverage natural cycles of healing. The remarkable human body has developed powerful cleansing cycles in alignment with the seasons to best utilise the resources each change brings. Unsurprisingly and much like the trees, the cold weather and reduced sunlight of winter strongly deplete our own internal resources for vitality in the following ways:
- Vitamin D – this essential vitamin is produced in the skin upon contact with UVB rays from the sun. It acts like a hormone in the body, assisting a complex array of endocrine and immune functions. During winter, Earth’s tilt combined with long distance from the sun means most countries in the northern hemisphere do not have any UVB contact for months, creating perfect conditions for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and chronic depression
- Lymphatic Congestion – the lymphatic drainage system is responsible for clearing toxins and circulating immunity-boosting white blood cells. Like tree sap, our internal lymph thickens in the colder temperatures of autumn. By winter, lymph has congested and gets stuck in weaker tissues and muscles, causing the resurgence of old aches and pains and an increased propensity for colds and illnesses
- Winter Solstice – I will cover the cleansing influence of the moon in a later post but for now it is worth noting that winter solstice usually falls within a week of Christmas. This is the annual point at which the earth is furthest away from the sun, our life source, and the shortest day occurs. This planetary event creates the strongest natural detox experienced by body over the course of the entire year. Quickly added to the newly released toxic load of the solstice are the indulgences of Christmas, meaning that the arrival of the new year usually sees our bodies already pressured by high volumes of toxins
Your Body is Most Vulnerable in Winter
All of the above factors mean that your body arrives into New Year’s Day in chronic need of support NOT further toxic burdening. Winter solstice combined with Christmas festivities mean that a large volume of toxins are already present in cells and tissues, placing additional stress on a lymphatic system that is slow and unable to clear them away with normal efficiency. 3 months without UVB means Vitamin D levels are almost entirely depleted, causing corresponding negative effects in mood such as SAD or ‘winter blues’ In essence, January is the time when your mind, body and spirit are least equipped to manage further release of toxins into an already-struggling system.
Typically guilt-ridden by festivities and ruled by the calendar, most people proceed with their detox plan regardless, often with vicious results – pounding headaches, severe fatigue, disrupted bowel movements, achey joints and muscles. All of these are clear indications that the body is unable to cope with volume of toxins being released into the system.
A founding principle of naturopathy is ‘do no harm’, which lies in stark opposition to ‘no pain no gain’ A practitioner worth their salt would not further compromising an already-weakened system or ignore the influence of the current season when considering therapeutic approach. There is no need for you to suffer unnecessarily on your path to wellness if you honour your body and the influences of its environment. It’s time to say NO to the January detox!
How to Have a Healthy January
While a detox is strongly inadvisable, there are definitely things you can do in January to support your body in combatting the effects of the season. These tactics focus on reducing intake of toxic substances to allow your body the space, time and resources it needs to deal with the winter backlog. Think of it like an overflowing dustbin – rather than adding piles more rubbish on top we are going to slam the lid on until the contents has been emptied (Springtime) Here are some safe and supportive New Year’s resolutions I would encourage you to try instead of a traditional detox:
- Drink Water – every cell in your body needs it for good health. Make water your drink of preference. Slowly reduce and eliminate sodas, caffeinated beverages and alcohol and replace with fresh filtered water until you are drinking 2 litres/68oz daily. Note that headaches mean you are reducing too fast, don’t ignore them!
- Reduce/Eliminate Toxic Foods – by stemming the intake of foods that are intensive to process it allows the body time and resources to attend to the backlog. Slowly reduce or eliminate wheat, dairy and sugar – these foods are highly acidic and cost the body a lot in energy and resources to process and neutralise
- Supplement Vitamin D – the UK government has recommended Vitamin D supplementation nationwide as we do not receive UVB ray contact from October-March. There is some controversy over correct Vitamin D dosage but I would recommend 5000iu daily throughout the winter period. Note that not all supplements are created equal (another future post) so do your brand research and select carefully
- Boost Your Lymphatic System – help get sluggish lymph moving to clear out winter muck by doing daily dry skin brushing, alternating hot/cold in the shower, rebounding on a trampoline for 15mins or treating yourself to a manual lymphatic drainage massage. All of these techniques will support the lymphatic system to clear out toxins without the usual unpleasant detox consequences
- Go Slow – while it is mentally tempting to go full force with the promise of a new year, remember your body is still in a winter space. Listen to and honour it as you trial the above techniques. Do not try to do everything at once, start with one small action and build slowly from there. This will give you a much better understanding of what works for you individually and increases your chance of success. There is no gain with pain!
I hope you have found this information useful as you start 2017 in the spirit of wellness.