Do I Need To Detox?

Overheard around town:

“Yea, I’m doing a juice cleanse this week, cause, ya know, bikini season is coming up, and I want my bod to be smokin’ for the beach this summer!”

“It’s called the Master Cleanse. Ever heard of it? You just drink lemon juice and cayenne for 10 days and it just gets rid of all the crap in your body (literally). It sounds amazing!”

“I’ve been feeling so yucky lately, maybe I should do a detox. There’s this box of herbs and supplements at Whole Foods that seems like it will help.”

Maybe you’ve heard, or even said, something similar. I’ve recently noticed this desire for cleansing, or detoxing, with this idea that “toxins” are at the root of all our health problems. It seems that people will use this as an excuse to control their diet, hoping to lose a lot of weight quickly. What I hope this article will do is convince you that extreme diets, even for the sake of “cleansing” are not good for your long-term health. Also, I will lay out some easy, safe and effective alternatives that will help you feel good in your body.

Why a Spring Detox?

According to Chinese Medicine, Spring belongs to the Wood element (for a review of the 5 elements, click here). The Wood element is in charge of the Liver and Gallbladder organs and meridians (remember meridians?), as well as having a host of other relationships with the color green, flexibility, moving upwards, etc. (just think of a tree or a plant).

We just finished the Winter season, which is all about stillness, storage, and hibernation. We may be feeling a bit sluggish, maybe put on a few pounds because we haven’t been as active. Now that Spring has sprung, nature is exploding in potential. The flowers and trees are starting to bud, spring fruits and veggies will soon be in the markets. The weather is warmer and we have this desire to be more active and get rid of that stagnant energy we’ve been holding on to all Winter.

How Do I Know If A Detox Is Right For Me?

Wood is all about flexibility, so if you’re feeling rigid, that’s a good sign you need a little detox in your life. This could be physically – as in stiff and sore, or emotionally – feeling frustrated, irritated, angry or depressed. Another indication is having health problems that get worse with increased stress.

In addition, the energy of Spring is a strong, rising one, and we all know that heat rises. So any feelings of heat in the face or chest, headaches, nausea or heartburn means that rising has gotten out of control.

Finally, if you’re just feeling stagnant or sluggish, you might benefit from a gentle cleanse. This may show up as digestive issues (bloating, irregular bowel movements), or fatigue and heavy limbs/head.

What Should I Do?

If you want to be all official about it, choose a length of time (from one to eight weeks) that seems doable to you, and just jump in with both feet. Keep in mind the longer you go, the more significant the effects, but it comes with challenges. Don’t make yourself more stressed by demanding to stick to it for eight weeks, 2 to 4 is average, and usually sufficient for a most healthy human.

The other way to do it is to slowly implement these changes into your life more long term. You won’t notice the drastic effects (both negative and positive) that you would if you do it all at once, but the effects will be more profound and longer lasting if you do it this way.

Either way you choose, there are 3 basic steps: Take away substances that are unhealthy, Add more of the healthy stuff, and integrate a few small daily detox practices.

1. Cut Out The Yuck

The worst offenders are sugar in any non-natural form, alcohol, and processed foods. Many seemingly healthy foods, like yogurt, granola and protein bars, have hidden sugars, so check labels well and make sure to avoid products with corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, or any other incarnation of sugar. Approved sweet things are a piece of fruit, and small amounts of natural sweeteners: honey, maple syrup, dates or coconut sugar.

I think avoiding alcohol is pretty self explanatory, but processed foods are a little less so. We all know that crackers, chips, fast food, etc. fit into this category, but there are many other foods that are borderline, depending on the ingredients in the package. For example, bread could be ok if the only ingredients in it are things you would use to make it at home (flour, water, yeast, salt). All the other stuff is not supposed to be in there. Same goes with yogurt. Whole milk and live cultures are the only things you need to make it. Cereal and granola – hard to digest and almost always involves sugar. Again, label reading is your best friend here.

2. Add In More Good Stuff

The easiest, and most budget friendly way to adhere to both steps 1 and 2 is to cook at home from scratch. Lots of fresh veggies, well cooked whole grains, hormone free meats, fish and eggs. Toasted nuts and seeds. Because the color for the Wood element is green, green veggies are your best friend. Thankfully, these are the same foods that are in season this time of year. Baby leafy greens, peas, asparagus and lettuces are great for getting rid of stagnation.

3. Daily Detox Rituals

There are a few small practices you can add to your routine to support your body’s natural detox pathways.

1. Oil Pulling.

First thing in the morning, before eating or drinking anything, spoon a little coconut or sesame oil into your mouth and swish, pulling it between the teeth, for 10-20 minutes, then spit it out. It might seem like a long time, but you can do it while you’re in the shower, or doing other parts of your morning routine.

2. Warm Lemon Water.

After your oil pulling, before eating anything, squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a mug of warm water and sip. This feels so good on my belly, and helps get digestive juices ready to break down breakfast. It has replaced my first thing in the morning coffee.

3. Dry brushing.

Get ahold of a soft body brush and use it right before your shower. Starting at your feet, and working towards the heart, make long strokes on your limbs and torso, and circular motions on joints and around the heart. Not only does this make your skin feel amazing, it also stimulates lymph fluids to drain.

While you’re on you’re your “cleanse”, make sure to use your natural detox pathways. Go to the bathroom regularly, sweat and exercise to move toxins out of your body. And be sure to get plenty of rest to support healing.

If you need more support, and are looking for more individualized recommendations, find an acupuncturist in your area to help. If you are in Greenville, SC, I would be happy to help!


Elizabeth Williams is an acupuncturist in Greenville, South Carolina, specializing in pain management, women’s health, and psycho-emotional issues. She’s passionate about helping people feel their best and sharing her wealth of knowledge with the community. Elizabeth is the owner of Dragonfly Acupuncture & Massage, on Wade Hampton Boulevard. Appointments can be made by calling 864-451-4313, or scheduled online here.