Detoxification program – Preparing Your Mind: Easing into the Program
Anytime you take on a project to improve an aspect of your life, you spend a little time planning and preparing for it. Although it is a simple program to follow once you are started, it will require you to change some habits for a few weeks, and that can sometimes be challenging. If you take some time to prepare your mind, your schedule, and home—and, most important, your body—before you start, you will maximize your chances of success.
Gabriella came to my office after a number of different gastroenterologists had failed to help her improve her condition. She was diagnosed as having “ulcerative colitis,” an autoimmune problem. She had two young kids and no help. Her greatest problem was that she had an urgent need to stop wherever she found a restroom. Her breaking point had come the previous week, when she found herself at a Seven-Eleven, unable to leave the bathroom, with two toddlers inside the bathroom with her. I instructed her to start Clean.
A week later she came for a follow-up visit and told me she wanted to stop. Her problem was that even though she was feeling better, it was time-consuming to prepare blended foods for herself. Her “urgency” feelings had almost completely gone away, but she seemed to have forgotten how much time she had spent the previous week in public restrooms. I reminded her of our previous conversation in detail, when she had come to me and described her problem and frustration with her doctors. As she herself started vividly remembering, I saw in her face the unmistakable expression of an “Aha!” moment. We never talked again about the time needed for preparing healthy food.
She completed three weeks without a complaint. She still follows the Elimination Diet and continues to fine-tune her lifestyle to support vibrant health.
Thinking of the big picture puts everything into perspective, giving you strength to sustain a change in behavior. This is also true on the flip side—if you fail to follow through with a plan you decided to complete. Judging or punishing yourself will not help. Guilt is as toxic as emotions come. If you find yourself failing, you can look at it as an opportunity to learn how to detoxify guilt itself. I have seen many people transformed by the initial shock of guilt, once they acquire the ability to put that force to work for them. It’s an emotional judo of sorts: the defender redirects the attacker’s charge to the defender’s own advantage. Transformation is happening all the time. Failing is just proof that you are trying. Practice makes perfect. One day at a time. The right mental attitude is integral to completing this program and transforming your health.
One of the first patients I guided through the Clean program was my friend Moshe. He listened very carefully to my instructions and then, with a serious face, said, “Alex, I have a big problem. I won’t be able to do this.”
“Why not?” I asked him.
“I really, really like bread,” he responded.
I told him what I have since told hundreds of patients. Do not think of Clean as something you will be doing for the rest of your life, as changing your diet and lifestyle for good. That’s an overwhelming and, frankly, undesirable prospect for most people. Rather, think of it as an experiment. If you’re like 90 percent of the population, you have probably eaten, drunk, and lived guided by your free will for most of your life, and knowing that you can return to free will after this experiment will reduce the stress of a long-term commitment. Yet I can almost guarantee there will be a natural shift as a result of doing Clean. You may just find that after you complete the program, you will look at food differently. You may simply not want to go back to what you were doing and eating before. You may want to make new choices. This is different from not being allowed to.
Like everything in life worth working for, this program will take commitment and discipline. The first three days may be hard, but most people soon adjust to the restriction in food choices and quantity. Within a week, they say they can’t understand how they ate so much before. Often they realize with surprise how much their life revolves around food. A detox program can offer a new perspective on what the body actually needs to function well—and how much our tendency to excess is more suffocating than supportive.
In my experience, people who complete the program are changed by the end of it. They have a new attitude toward food and a different experience of it. A resetting of their taste buds has occurred, which makes them desire healthier and more natural foods. This is very different from knowing that healthier foods are good for you, but having to force yourself to consume them. It is the “You eat what you are” phenomenon in action.
For Moshe and many others, before they did Clean, certain foods that contributed to the toxic, tired state, such as bread and sugar, were almost magnetically appealing, keeping them stuck in a cycle. But after losing the chemicals and additives and getting a break from sugars, simple carbs, and stimulants, they had so changed their inner environment that they lost the cravings for their old favorites. Their senses, cleared of chemicals and sugars, found more to enjoy in fresh foods; they could “hear” the way their bodies responded to real food over junk food. Suddenly, bright green broccoli gave the delight that only used to come from Rocky Road ice cream. Improving the environment inside the body is much more effective for “cleaning up” poor eating habits than using sheer willpower or the power of positive thinking alone. It’s a universal truth: when you are fit and healthy, you crave the good-quality foods that maintain that state.
If your instinct is pushing you toward a detoxification program but you need motivation, just look around at people on the street, or in the mall, or in the airport. How healthy and happy does the average person look? Read some of the health Web sites that are talking honestly about the real state of health in America today. Too many people are sick. Too many people are taking medications, going to the doctor, or suffering with some kind of symptom. Half of Americans will have heart disease or cancer in their lives. The other half will likely develop other kinds of conditions and diseases that will continue to make the pharmaceutical industry one of the most profitable industries of all time. So as you consider whether you can successfully do the Clean program, it can be helpful to ask yourself, do you want to be a number in the American bad-health statistics? If you do what most Americans do and you eat what most Americans eat, how can you expect a different outcome?
I met Frank, a forty-year-old New Yorker, six months after he’d undergone emergency abdominal surgery to remove his gallbladder. Though he was a little heavy and his skin looked dull and puffy, his surgeon and his specialist had declared him fixed. But he didn’t feel it. He had been suffering from mysterious abdominal pains since the surgery and he lived in a constant state of anxiety that the pain was a message telling him a tumor was waiting to get him. Since nobody had advised him otherwise, he continued to eat his lifelong diet consisting of large amounts of meat, fatty treats, dairy foods, and alcohol. These things filled up his anxious stomach, comforted his mind, and relaxed his emotions temporarily.
After doing a full physical evaluation, I was confident that Frank had a strong constitution and had generally recovered well from his surgery, but the symptoms he reported were signs that his intestinal flora was severely altered. His starchy, sweet diet, in combination with the antibiotics, anesthetics, and painkillers from the surgery had devastated his good bacteria. All these toxins had created dysbiosis and now the yeast that had overgrown in the intestines were releasing toxins causing abdominal bloating and pain. Worse, they were making him crave more sugary, starchy foods.
Frank was amazed at how, after completing the Clean program, his energy returned, his mood was elevated, and the pains began to disappear. When he reintroduced the old foods back into his diet—caffeine, red meats, fatty foods, dairy products, and more than one or two alcoholic drinks a week—he discovered that they irritated his digestive system and caused abdominal pains. The less he consumed these things, the less pain he felt. He had misinterpreted the earlier “message” from his body: the pain was not an omen of a tumor; it was a distress signal from an intestinal tract that was irritated and inflamed. The great benefit of his cleanse was the end of these cravings—and a new confidence in the strength of his health. As he cleaned out this debris, Frank began to hear something new: his body was hungry for different kinds of things. Instead of comforting, heavy foods, he wanted fresh vegetables and other foods that made him feel clear and sharp. He made smoothies with protein powder and went to the gym instead of having a cup of coffee. He told me, “I finally feel like I am listening to my body and I get it: I am what I eat—and I eat what I am!”
NATURE VERSUS NURTURE
Eating three meals a day every day is a fairly recent cultural invention in the span of human history. For millennia, our genes evolved in a world where feast or famine was the norm, so our bodies adapted over generations to be able to store excess food whenever it was found, to fuel us through periods when food was scarce. The industrialization of food in the last hundred and fifty years has made “excess” the new norm, yet our genes can’t adapt that quickly. They still eagerly store whenever they get the chance—which in modern life is all the time. This disconnect between genetic design inside and rapid change outside is the root of much of the conflicts we feel about eating.