“Dr. Hyman, every time I start a detox I feel awful and then give up,” writes this week’s house call. “All of these foods that supposedly make me feel better actually make me feel worse. What gives?”
You might not want to hear this, but initially feeling bad is a good thing. When you eliminate inflammatory, processed foods and stop feeding your body garbage and chemicals, your body goes through withdrawal just like with drugs or alcohol. It is good because it means you are on your way to getting clean!
I call this a healing crisis or a detox crisis. Trust me: This process is well worth it because it ultimately leads to healing and feeling better than ever. The good news is that it only lasts a few days and it can be minimized with a few simple strategies.
Unfortunately, companies chemically engineer Frankenfood to keep you biologically hooked on their sugary, salty, processed food-like substances. (This isn’t real food.) From these fake foods, people become trapped in real biological food addictions.
When you eliminate these addictive, toxic foods and drinks, you may initially have uncomfortable reactions like feeling achy, flu-like feelings, irritability, nausea, headaches, brain fog, constipation, hunger, itchy skin, fatigue and sleep difficulties.
While it might not feel like it at the time, these symptoms are short-lived and will pass. Many patients become frustrated, but please don’t think from that initial discomfort a healthy lifestyle isn’t for you.
This momentary discomfort becomes a necessary, perfectly normal process when you switch from toxic, inflammatory food-like substances to anti-inflammatory, life-giving foods.
These symptoms occur for several reasons. Unreleased toxins in your digestive system can make you feel ill.
So can food allergies. Your immune system goes through a reaction that actually intensifies inflammation for a few days which then passes. When you “un-junk” your diet, you might experience withdrawal similar to other addictive substances like caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, cocaine or heroin. Oftentimes foods we are allergic to become addictive. Coming off these allergens can cause a brief, flu-like achy situation that may last one to three days.
My patients often get frustrated during the first few days of a detox, but when I warn them ahead of time, they are prepared and typically feel better after a few days. I encourage them (and you!) to stay the course and things will get better!
I had an entire clinical staff and a CEO do my 10-Day Detox. During the two or three days they experienced some discomfort, they were definitely not happy. But I explained what was going on to them and how to handle it and they weathered it.
And after these symptoms passed around day five or so, they felt ecstatic. They suddenly had tons of energy, weight loss occurred, their brain fog cleared up and they felt amazing overall.
Before that renewal, though, comes discomfort. The average time to get over a detox crisis is about 48 hours. Be patient and allow your body the time it needs to adjust to new, healthy lifestyle choices.
Make this as easy as possible. If you can, start your detox protocol on a weekend or when you have some time off. Rather than caloric-restrictive programs like a juice cleanse that only make this process worse, I recommend food-based programs like my 10-Day Detox or the Eat Fat, Get Thin plan to avoid detoxing too quickly.
These eight strategies can further help ease the discomfort of a healing crisis:
1. Utilize prep days or transition weeks. I discuss this in my book The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet. This transition period helps your body adjust to the types of foods you’ll be eating in my 10-Day Detox.
2. Eat plenty of healthy fats to cut cravings. When you eliminate sugar and other unhealthy carbs, you may experience strong cravings. Eating plenty of healthy fats like nuts and seeds, avocados and wild fatty fish will reduce those cravings and keep your energy levels up.
3. Support your body as it releases toxins. Drink plenty of water to help release those toxins. Support your body by taking a sauna or getting a massage. Try gentle stretching or yoga to flush out your circulation and lymphatic systems.
4. Eliminate smoothly. If you are backed up, toxins you are trying to flush out will get backed up too. If you experience constipation, ensure you’re drinking enough water to clear your bowels. Try adding freshly ground flaxseeds to salads and smoothies. These are high in fiber and absorb water to help eliminate efficiently.
5. Take a magnesium citrate. This supplement helps with elimination, sleep, aches, pains and stress. Take about 400 mg a day. More if you are constipated.
6. Get moving. Regular exercise becomes a great way to kick-start detox and elimination.
7. Get sufficient sleep. Plenty of rest is mandatory to properly detox the body. In fact, your body detoxes while you sleep. Not getting enough sleep or getting poor sleep disrupts that process. Taking naps or 10 minutes of lying down can also help.
8. Balance your blood sugar with protein. Don’t wait until you are starving to eat! Balance your blood sugar with protein-based meals and snacks every three to four hours. Good sources include baked or broiled fish, lean poultry and legumes like edamame or black beans.
If all these strategies fail, consider an herbal laxative such as cascara, senna or rhubarb. These work wonderfully at bedtime for short-term help.
Most importantly, remember when you clean up your diet and eliminate toxic substances that are holding you back from getting to your optimal weight and health, you may also experience withdrawal symptoms.
And remember that these symptoms are actually a good thing. It means your body is detoxifying and inflammation is cooling down.
So again, please do not give up. A one-to-three day adjustment period when you start detoxifying becomes very common. These symptoms will pass. Rest assured you are on the right path to achieving optimal weight and good health.
If your symptoms persist for a longer period of time, something deeper may be occurring. If that’s the case, I recommend seeking out a Functional Medicine Practitioner.
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