When you've decided to go through a detox, cleanse, purge, or other sort of holistic bodily reset, you're gearing up for what will probably be an unpleasant time. You may be feeling uncomfortable, ill, or restless in your daily life leading up to the cleanse, operating under the assumption that the detox will make you feel better when all is said and done.
That's true, probably, though it depends on the specific cleanse program you use, how well you stick with it, and whether or not you make lifestyle changes to avoid ending up right back where you started.
The trouble is the detox itself. Much like detoxing from alcohol or a drug, detoxing from environmental toxins, sugar, or caffeine can be harsh on your system. You may experience some symptoms of withdrawal, and the general unpleasantness of purging toxins from your system is not to be underestimated.
Of course, a harsh cleanse is difficult to pull off. The more abrupt, total, or difficult the detox, the worse the side-effects are likely to be.
That said, you can always take steps to prepare, address the side effects before and as you experience them, and ease the whole process. Here are our top tips for making a detox that much easier to handle, and thus that much more effective.
1. Remember: Discomfort is a Good Thing
The first thing you need to do when you're embarking on a detox is remember the simple fact that the discomfort you experience is natural and is, in this context, a good thing. You're abruptly changing what's in your diet, and you're encouraging your body to actively purge the toxins that build up over time. This can temporarily increase bodily inflammation, mess with your digestive system, and can even throw your hormones out of whack such that you end up an emotional mess. Indeed, emotional symptoms are another source of potential discomfort.
Keep an eye on yourself and how you're feeling. If your discomfort is somewhere on the order of suffering from the flu, you're probably fine. If you're experiencing extreme symptoms, like vomiting, migraines, blacking out, or anything else potentially dangerous, cease your cleanse and see a doctor. Some discomfort is normal, but extreme symptoms can be an indication of something else going wrong, which needs more treatment.
2. Don't Cheat the Detox
Depending on the kind of detox you're trying to do, you may know enough about what's going on to attempt to cheat it. For example, a simple caffeine detox would mean cutting out things that include a meaningful amount of caffeine, like coffee, black tea, sodas, and some chocolates. Caffeine withdrawal is miserable, though, and it can be tempting to drink that cup of coffee just to make the headache go away.
The trouble is, if you cheat the detox, you're going to set back your progress and prevent any actual solution to the problem you're trying to treat. The same goes for sugar and processed food detoxes; if you sneak a "cheat" snack in, you're just setting back your progress.
This is similar to how some people attempt to go to the gym to lose weight, but follow up their gym sessions with a tall glass of chocolate milk or a couple of granola bars, which account for pretty much the same number of calories they burned. They undo all the work they did in one fell swoop. Don't cheat yourself when you're trying to detox. Stay strong!
3. Get Plenty of Rest
A few different tips on this list are going to come back to this one. Getting plenty of rest is important for any time you're putting your body under strain. If you're sick, getting rest helps you heal. If you're detoxing, getting rest helps you purge and restore yourself after that purge.
We're not saying you need to spend all day in bed. In fact, a couple of other tips push you to some kind of physical activity. The point of rest is simply to make sure that you're not pushing yourself constantly. If you're trying to detox while you're also having a stressful time at work and working long hours, or trying to manage unruly children, or going on a vacation, you're going to have a worse time of it. Rest helps you manage your symptoms.
4. Take Time Off to Detox
Part of making sure you get enough rest to stay healthy is making sure you do your detox at the right time. Depending on the kind of detox you're doing, you may need a couple of days off, or you might need as much as a week.
You don't need to spend the entire duration of your detox away from work, though. Most of the time, the negative symptoms of a detox will last around 48-72 hours. Typically, if you begin your detox on a Friday evening or Saturday morning, you'll be able to weather the worst of the side effects before you have to go back to work on Monday. If you can take a three-day weekend, you're a lot more likely to be able over them completely by the time you have to go back.
That's not to say that you'll be back to full strength for some of the harsher detox plans out there. You may have some lingering side effects until you've finished the cleanse and are back to a more robust diet, though that depends on the exact kind of cleanse you're doing.
5. Use a Prep Week
Some kinds of detox plans can be very difficult to start abruptly. In particular, a sugar or processed ingredient detox – something that gets rid of preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, and other such ingredients – means an abrupt change in your diet. Often, they even involve a period of fasting to purge and get past your cravings.
In these cases, it can be a lot more beneficial to "start slow" with a prep day or even a prep week. A prep week means you start off by cutting out a few of the main sources of your target ingredient. This may induce some initial suffering through cravings you have to ignore, but otherwise will primarily just gear you up for cutting the ingredient entirely. Weaning off, rather than cold turkey.
6. Cut Cravings with Healthy Fats
This isn't applicable to some kinds of cleanses, like a detox from caffeine. It is, however, very applicable to a cleanse where you're cutting out carbs and sugar. Sugar is very addictive, in particular because you crave more sugar when you haven't had any in a while. These cravings can be very strong, and it requires quite a bit of willpower to fight them off.
One way you can help suppress these cravings is to suppress your desire to eat anything at all. Healthy fats – like nuts, avocado, and salmon – suppress your appetite, fill you up, and give your body energy without carbs.
7. Drink Plenty of Water
There is pretty much never a reason not to be drinking more water. There's such a thing as acute water toxicity, but you only hit that by drinking several gallons of water in under half an hour – that is, not something you're likely to be doing in a normal circumstance.
Water fuels your body. When you detox, it helps ferry those toxins through and out of your system, via excretion, sweating, and other means. Water helps you absorb fresh nutrients while purging the old. Water also helps you avoid the dehydration that comes with many cleanses, which can in turn help minimize physical pain and headaches.
8. Eat More Fiber
Digestive issues are extremely common with many detox programs, cleanses, and purges. After all, the natural endpoint of the digestive system is the release of toxins and undesirable ingredients, in liquid and solid form.
Fiber can help regulate your digestive system. It also gives the purged toxins something to bind to on its way out. In a way, it even acts like a scrubber as it passes through your intestines, helping to clean you out from the inside out. It fights constipation in particular, which is a common side effect of the detox and a common point of misery for many trying to complete a program.
9. Use Magnesium Citrate if Necessary
Magnesium Citrate is commonly found over the counter at many pharmacies and grocery stores. It's a laxative, and a relatively powerful one at that. Taking it will help you get over the constipation that might crop up due to the aforementioned digestive issues inherent in a robust detox.
Be careful not to take too much of this medication when you're detoxing. You can easily end up spending far more time in the bathroom than you want to, and you can end up dehydrated because of it. Take the magnesium according to the instructions on the package, and try to give it time to work before getting impatient and taking more.
10. Force Yourself to Exercise
When you're suffering and miserable, achey and tired, with a headache, chills, and mood problems, it's extremely difficult to want to do much of anything, let alone work out. Trust us, however, when we tell you to get up and get moving. Whether it's a brisk walk through the neighborhood, a session of weights at the gym, or an aerobic session at home, do something to get the blood pumping and the body moving.
Exercise helps get your blood pumping and helps carry those toxins through your blood and to your liver, where they can be processed and removed. Exercise gets some beneficial hormones cascading through your system, which can help with pain and with mood. Exercise is also a good excuse to drink even more water.
11. Get Plenty of Sleep, Too
Yes, we already wrote that you should get plenty of rest, but you should also be getting plenty of sleep. Make sure you're going to bed early and sleeping as long as you can, in a restful environment. Sleep is one of the body's primary means of healing, and when you're asleep, you're not suffering from pain.
The fact is, when you're up and moving, your detox is trying to work, but it works best when you're asleep. Your body can dedicate more energy on bodily processes while it's not busy focusing on things like driving your cognitive functions, keeping your balance, and so on.
12. Eat Smaller Meals More Frequently
As long as you're performing a detox that doesn't involve fasting, you should try to eat smaller meals or snacks throughout the day, every 3-4 hours, rather than a couple of large meals every 6-8 hours like most people normally do.
Eating more frequently helps keep your blood sugar levels more balanced, while continuing to fuel your bodily processes. Remember to keep these meals focused on protein and not carbs!
13. Take a Vitamin and Mineral Supplement
Detoxing is harsh on the body in part because, when you're cutting out various sources of consumption without replacing them, you're likely to start missing out on some vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your body is expecting to receive based on your standard diet. Taking a good multivitamin or a regimen of supplements while detoxing can help restore those nutrients before they reach deficiency level and start causing problems. Incidentally, this is similar to the reason a multivitamin can help with a hangover.
14. Keep a Journal
This tip isn't going to directly relieve your suffering, but what it can do is give you perspective. Start keeping a journal at least a week before you start your detox – or a week before your pre-detox prep. Note things like aches and pains, mood, and general feelings.
Then, keep this record while you detox, and for weeks afterwards. This way you will be able to see how you've progressed. After all, it can be difficult to compare a before and after detox situation when you have the perspective-wiping discomfort in the middle.
15. Make Healthy Changes Long-Term
A detox only works as long as you use it as a catalyst to improve your daily habits. Much like how a weight loss diet is meant to be a life-long change, a detox is meant to be the shock to your system that allows you to cut out those ingredients more or less permanently. After all, it does you no good to purge toxins from your system if you immediately start putting them right back in, right?