The two ‘d’ words which seem to be on our lips these days are diet and detox. The juice detox currently being the modish form of diet. We seem to be even more obsessed with d&d in the first couple of months of the year – no surprise when we’re rebounding from the excesses of the festivities. Still, why would we do this to ourselves in the coldest, wettest months when, even if life is rosy, things can feel a little bleak. My body screams out for steaming plates of nourishing hot food and drinks. It certainly doesn’t make sense to me to go on a spartan juice fast in the middle of winter, unless I were lucky enough to be at a wonderful spa in sunnier climes.
I get the reasons for fasting/detoxing and, having done it a few times, have felt the benefits. My first experience being the most revelatory, staying at a converted mill with monastic accommodation in the Kent countryside, it was the real deal. Every morning began with a spoonful of olive oil and the only solids ingested were psyllium seed husks, a good thing when you’re having daily colonics. After four days I was cleansed from inside out and felt sparkling, light, energised and renewed. The biggest shift for me from that retreat was giving up meat.
Although I’ve not missed eating meat in the last 12 or so years since that detox (honestly, not even the smell of bacon tempts me), I wouldn’t ever say I’d never eat it again. I don’t particularly agree with cutting out food groups on a whim. This was driven home when I met up with one of my first yoga teachers having not seen her in a long time. She looked well and glowing (as you’d expect from a yogi), but she put this down to having recently started eating meat again. Apparently, she had been feeling under par for years, suffering from virus after virus, being tired for no medical reason, not looking her best. The minute she started eating red meat again, she regained her vitality pretty instantly. (If you’re a veggie about to go carnivore, her advice is to introduce meat slowly, slowly. She began with really good quality pate on toast until her digestion could cope again).
This suggests we need to let go of rigid thinking about diets in general – the pressure to be thin or look a certain way does give us a warped view of what we ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ eat. Some of us need dairy, others can’t tolerate it – and this may change over time. Often our bodies will tell us what we need (as in my yoga teacher) if only we’d listen. The trouble is we are often caught in a sugar/caffeine/carb trap – essentially cravings for quick fix energy hits which override our bodies natural needs. Which is where detoxing does come in – it certainly put me back in touch with what food was doing to my body, energy levels and mood.
But we need to do it wisely. I, for one, don’t have the iron will for DIY juice fasts, and hearing an in-depth talk on detoxing recently by nutritional therapist, Katie Sheen I can see why we need expert help. Katie explained that our bodies are set up to detox via the fine intricacies of our digestive systems which, if supported by the right nutrients, should never lead to a crashing headache (a sign that it’s happening too fast). That’s why I’m glad all my detoxing has taken place on retreats where the right supplements can be given, although there are some great juice delivery companies which do create good, balanced programmes.
However, the detox is neither a short cut nor a long term solution to weight loss. Our relationship to food is complicated and to really get to the bottom of why we eat what we eat, it means understanding our emotions as well as social and cultural drivers behind them. So much of it is habitual too, which is why keeping an honest food diary helps. But why not take it one step further and take photographs on your phone of all your meals. (We don’t mean to Instagram/Tweet them unless that is your passion). For your own eyes, this gives you a visual meal record showing the reality of how much you’re eating and when. It’s so easy to forget and cheat in a written diary. Katie’s website, Soul Nutrition soulnutrition.org has a brilliant, easy to use online tool allowing you to quickly type in what you were feeling at the time of eating with the photo, which helps you pin point why you eat what you eat – the crucial link in the chain.
In the end, none of us has the will power to be on a permanent diet, and frankly, who would want to be? Eating is one of the great pleasures in life and it’s something we can all enjoy. Like most things, it comes down to achieving a balance.