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Column Feeling bloated? Here's your guide to the best, safest way to detox...

Our reliance on processed and convenience food has created eating habits that are having an increasingly negative effect on our bodies. Detoxing in a gentle, sustainable way can be a great way to redress the balance, writes Dorcas Barry.

NOW THAT JANUARY is here again, the obsession with change, detox, and new year resolutions will have started. Human nature being what it is, we will no doubt have ‘overdone it’ at Christmas, promising ourselves to then be ‘good’ from the 1st of January or for what has become known as the ‘detox’ season. This quote I read recently makes the important point,“it’s not what we do between Christmas and New Year that matters, it’s what we do between New Year and Christmas that’s the most important”.

Despite the fact that detox plays a large part in my work, I have a problem with the word and what it has come to symbolise. It conjours up images of drastic doing without, eating little or nothing, and denial, denial, denial. I am constantly searching for a different word that encompasses all the benefits of this process without the food austerity.

To me a successful ‘detox’ shows you that the complete opposite is actually the truth. We need the food we eat to satisfy in order for us to be happy and effective. Our bodies need the right nutrients to be able to operate at optimum capacity, we benefit from enjoying the taste of our food and having a supportive social setting while eating creates a positive emotional link to food. Detox should be nourishing, gentle, sustaining, pampering and should ultimately start a journey of permanent change. At its best, a detox programme will create a sense of giving the body a rest and create excitement for the potential positive change that this can provide. It’s really important to realise however, that this will be mean different things to different people. Everyone has varying capacities when it comes to making changes, but all that really matters is just getting started and not how much you do or don’t do.

Why should we detox?

Why the need to detox? Our reliance on processed and convenience food has created eating habits that are having an increasingly negative effect on our bodies. The effect of this is two-fold, as we are not only eating foods that are damaging to our bodies such as trans-fats, but we are also losing out on the valuable nutrients our bodies need because we can only consume so many calories in one day. Making the switch to including high-nutrient food and at the same time reducing the foods that are damaging, starts the detoxifying process and allows the body to not only start to heal, but to begin also to function at its best. Removing any foods from the diet that are damaging to the body will always result in positive change, however small.

It’s all about habit! When you think about it we tend to eat the same things over and over on a fairly regular basis. Most of us have a repetoire of six or seven meals that we cook in rotation, with some variations from time to time. We often eat the same breakfasts every day, and probably two to three lunches in rotation also. We like predictability and so eating the same foods on a regular basis creates an expectation in the body and we start to crave the foods we regularly eat. This is great news for anyone who wants to create change in their eating habits because however embedded habits are, it is always possible to change them. Any detox programme should have this principal at its core otherwise we end up, as a friend of mine puts it, ‘re-toxing’ as soon as we finish the detox. Far better to make a permanent small change, than do an extreme diet that you can’t wait to finish and revert to original unhealthy eating habits.

Categorising some foods as ‘good’ and some as ‘bad’ always results in the feeling that we are denying ourselves and missing out on something. So for me, the first and most important part of detox is the mindset before starting. Focusing attention on what you are putting in instead of taking out is essential for success, making sure that any changes and new foods you are including taste delicious and are really satisfying. Trying to make any changes in diet and at the same time feeling that you are missing out is a complete waste of time as it won’t result in sustainable change. If you are including lots of nutrient rich foods for all your meals and snacks throughout the day, it hopefully won’t leave much room for anything else!

What are your options?

Detox (or changing your diet habits) can be adapted to suit your way of life and there are lots of options available. Three to seven day juice fasts are a great way to give your body a boost, create more energy and give the digestive system a holiday. You can make it even easier for yourself by buying your juices daily from a reliable supplier (see resources), just make sure that the juices that are being provided have a higher proportion of vegetables to fruit to keep the sugar content low. If you find self discipline difficult, you could consider an ‘away’ experience of juicing, which can often be easier when you are out of your normal routine and everyone is doing the same thing.

If that option is not for you, here are some suggestions that will help to detoxify your body and support changing eating habits. Choosing one to start with is advisable, until that becomes part of your daily routine, before moving on to another.

  • Eat lots of food to populate your gut with healthy bacteria and I DON’T include any of the growing number of yoghurt drinks in this category. The vast population of 100 billion bacteria inhabiting a healthy gut and recently named as the “forgotten digestive organ” in a study by the National University of Ireland, is the key to boosting immunity, creating super efficient digestion and instigating gentle detoxification in the body. Naturally fermented foods are easy and cheap to make and have the potential to make a big difference to our health if included daily (see resources).
  • Eat LOTS of greens. Eat something green with every meal, have salad with everything, sprinkle fresh herbs on top of all your food. Of all the high quality healthy foods we have available to us in Ireland, greens (and particularly dark leafy greens) are the ones that are the easiest to become addicted to! It won’t take long for you to start to crave greens, if you start including them every day as part of your diet. They will give you lots of energy, stifle sweet cravings, boost your mood and help to detox the body.
  • Eat more vegetable based meals. The digestive system has to work harder to digest meat, so give it a holiday a couple of times a week by eating main meals based on vegetables.

Resources: for classes and events for 3 and 7 day juice programmes for juice delivery for juicing retreats in Ireland for juicing retreats in Turkey and Portugal classes in Ireland on home fermented foods Irish supplier of fermented foods ebooks, recipes, and videos on fermented foods

Dorcas Barry is a nutritional consultant and chef who works in both the private and corporate sectors. Dorcas runs programmes and cookery demonstrations that help people make permanent changes, and illustrate how delicious healthy food can be. Follow her on Twitter @dorcasbarry or visit her website

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