The New Year usually sends us off on a diet and detox frenzy. It’s entirely natural after the Christmas excess to want to give our bodies a break, yet at the same time, starving ourselves in the depths of winter doesn’t seem to make sense. After all, the first months of the year can be the toughest to get through. However, my recent experience of an authentic spa cure in the Italian Alps gave me a whole new understanding of what it means to detox and that actually, the classic no-fad approach to this really works. After a week of clean eating, fresh air, deep breathing, massage, thermal mud baths and early to bed, my body, digestion and energy levels are transformed.
My first light bulb moment was thinking about it in terms of the chemistry of the body, because that helps to give meaning to the concept of ‘toxins’. In order to function normally, the body needs energy which it gets by breaking down everything we eat and drink. That process involves a cascade of chemical reactions in order to assimilate essential nutrients from everything we ingest and the Doctors showed me diagrams of pathways way more complicated than my ‘o’ level biology/chemistry allowed me to understand, but suffice to say our digestion is a complex, delicately balanced engine. The bi-products produced by these chemical processes are dealt with via our excretory organs (liver, kidneys etc). The more we take in things the body doesn’t ‘need’ or ‘recognise’ in terms of nutrients – such as excess sugar, medication, unnecessary chemicals – bi-products (aka toxins) are produced which if not released are stored in our bodies (in fat cells, for example).
Revelation number two is that our lungs are one of our excretory organs – because exhalation is also a way our bodies get rid of toxins. Back to ‘o’ level biology and the idea of inhaling oxygen, exhaling carbon dioxide. We also exhale other chemical molecules (again, generically ‘toxins’), especially when detoxing which is why we often notice our breath smelling when we have a change of diet. Likewise, skin is also a route the body uses to excrete bodily waste via sweat. And remember the skin is the body’s largest organ.
So why is detoxing important and not just a ‘lose weight’ fad? Long story short – continually eating a poor diet alongside exposure to environmental pollutants (in household cleaners, city pollution, certain beauty products) causes the body to ‘dump’ toxins in order to cope with overload. This leads to a myriad of symptoms from inflammation of the joints to IBS and allergies, and in the longer term can contribute to the development of more serious disease. My week long detox cured my increasingly aching right hip – which I had put down to desk posture – but that the expert massage ‘technician’ at the spa thought was inflammation.
The overall lesson from this is that we need to respect how we treat our bodies. That’s not to say we can’t enjoy ourselves – this is not about counting calories or being the perfect size 10, but protecting our long term health. And, thankfully, we can all adopt some very simple spa cure tricks into our New Year routines which will go towards healthy detoxing without having to punish ourselves.
Begin with the skin:
- Body brush for a couple of minutes on dry skin before you shower. Temple Spa Giving It The Brush Off, £16 is a handy size which is easy to use. Use smooth sweeping movements towards the heart. This gets rid of dead skin cells and boosts circulation.
- If you’ve a good power shower use it as a spa-style water jet to massage up your legs, around the hips belly and stomach. You could even give yourself a cold burst at the end to really rev things up.
- Take a mineral rich bath by adding some salts. The crystals in Kneipp Muscle Soother Juniper Bath Salts, £8.95 are made from thermal spring salt water with typical Alpine herbs of juniper which helps to remove uric acid from the body and wintergreen which is a natural analgesic to help relieve muscle aches and pains.
- Follow up with self-massage using oil and concentrating on joints and stiffer areas. Make it a nurturing ritual by splashing out on De Mamiel Salvation Body Oil, £75. It is hand-blended using the highest quality plant oils such as Baobab, Argan, Camellia, Rosehip and Coconut all rich in essential fatty acids to nourish skin, plus perfume grade essential oils of frankincense, bergamot, myrrh and jasmine which give it its heavenly, skin and soul-affirming aroma.
- When you have time, consider a mud wrap or mask to really give yourself the spa treatment – generally masks help to relax the muscles and skin to encourage transpiration. Hungarymud, £20 is an authentic thermal mud full of minerals which help to increase circulation to the muscles, as well as having and anti-inflammatory effect on nerves, joints and muscles.
Other spa cure tricks:
- Eat only freshly prepared food – no pre-packaged anything. It takes effort at first, but you’ll be surprised how easy this is, and how it makes a massive difference to the amount of sugar and salt you consume. Gradually you’ll appreciate the flavours of natural foods and less likely to crave sweets, cakes, crisps and overly salty foods.
- Drink lots of hot herbal teas. There are lots of therapuetic ones around – so try lots and choose ones you love to drink. Pukka Detox Organic Herbal Tea, £4.58 contains aniseed and fennel great for digestion. Dr Stuart’s Detox Tea, £4.40 has dandelion, artichoke and milk thistle which are good for detoxing the liver.
- Get out into green space and deep breathe in fresh air. Try this cleansing breath exercise: place both hands at your lower belly. Breathe in through the nose allowing your belly to expand like a Buddha, exhale through the mouth. Repeat six times.