Here's How to "Detox" Your Body — In a Healthy Way
Maybe you're recovering from a bachelorette party weekend, your first post-vax night out, or are getting back into an office routine and want to revamp your eating habits. As soon as you scroll through Instagram though, you'll be bombarded with ten different ads from influencers about how to detox your body with protein powders, smoothies, or juice cleanses.
This is your PSA not to click that purchase button and drink juices and nothing else for a week (as someone who passes out easily, I stand by this). Even if you feel bloated and are looking to change the types of food you're eating, jump-start your energy levels, or are working toward maintaining a healthy weight, fast weight loss programs are not the way to go.
"By definition, a detox is something you start and stop," says Marisa Moore, RDN, a dietitian based in Atlanta, Georgia. "The general idea is to cleanse the body of some substance or offer a reset. Some 'detoxes' can be mild, lasting a day or two with some food involved. Others are extreme, lasting for weeks with restricted food or drink."
First of all, remember that the body has its own natural processes of detoxification. Your strongest detox organ is the liver, explains Nisha Chellam, M.D., a physician at Parsley Health. (That's one of the reasons why when you have more than a few cocktails, your body feels like it needs a cleanse the next day). Everything that you eat goes through the GI tract and then gets filtered through the liver to extract the nutrition from what you eat. And unfortunately, the more processed food you eat (like bagels and muffins — I know, I'm sorry), the harder the liver will work to extract nutrients and detoxify the body, she explains.
So, if you're wondering whether those cucumber ginger and pineapple "flat belly" waters or liquid lettuce smoothie de-bloating "detoxes" you might find on TikTok actually work, well, let's just say they definitely won't change your body's health in the long run. "It may work temporarily, but is not a permanent fix," Dr. Chellam says. A more long-term reset is going to be more beneficial to your health and to kick those feelings of bloating and sluggishness, rather than any quick so-called cleanse. "What you do on a routine basis is more impactful than a detox which is unsustainable for the long term," Moore adds.
Here's how to help your body through the healthy version of a detoxifying restart.
1. Cut back on inflammatory foods.
When you need to readjust your digestive system (especially if you're experiencing bloating and GI discomfort), rebooting your system starts with removing the foods that cause the most inflammation. Parsley Health has a 7-Day reset program to encourage more permanent healthy lifestyle changes, and it starts with this step: temporarily removing foods that cause inflammation in the gut or trigger an immune system reaction. Some foods that might cause inflammation or sensitivity include gluten, dairy, corn, peanuts, nightshades (which include foods like tomatoes, and peppers), and shellfish, says Dr. Chellam. "It may help to remove caffeine and alcohol for a short period," she says, especially if you've been diagnosed with certain liver conditions, such as fatty liver disease.
2. Try probiotics.
If your gut health restart needs a bit of a boost, adding probiotics into your daily routine might help to "reinoculate," your system says Dr. Chellam. That way, you can make sure there's a healthy balance of good gut bacteria to make digestion smoother. Plus, 70% of your immune system is located in the gut, so probiotics can help your immune health, too. You might want to try a probiotic supplement, or implement more foods containing probiotics, including yogurt (or a plant-based yogurt, if you're cutting back on dairy), kimchi, kombucha, and other fermented foods into your meals.
3. Up your water intake.
You probably know this already, but a "detox" is going to involve flushing out your system with plenty of water. The amount you should commit to chugging per day will depend on your level of activity, your environment and the climate, and whether or not you're pregnant or breastfeeding, explains Moore. One sign you are not as hydrated as you should be is feeling tired or like your energy is low.
If you're feeling low-energy, it's time to up your water intake. You can also get some of that extra water from whole food, too. "I take an additive approach to nutrition. Can you add high-water foods such as melons, berries, and greens to your plate for a boost of nutrition and hydration to help counter those feelings of sluggishness?" Moore says.
4. Slowly incorporate more whole foods.
Especially if you're trying to remove more processed foods from your diet and cut down on bloating, adding more antioxidant-rich whole foods will be key. Dr. Chellam recommends adding lots of colorful purple and green cruciferous vegetables to your diet, even if you're blending them into a smoothie. Some people incorporate whole grains, nuts, or legumes for additional fiber to keep them full, Dr. Chellam says. These high-fiber, nutritious foods make it easier for the body to remove toxins.
However, if you're not used to eating so many cruciferous veggies and fiber-filled foods, you might want to take it easy. "The tricky part about eating to prevent bloating is that some very healthy foods can cause bloating if you eat too much too fast," Moore says. "So if cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, or beans are new to you, incorporate them into your diet gradually: a little each day."
5. Consider supplements.
Your metabolism and digestion depend on more than just food. "Along with a healthy diet, vitamins and minerals play critical roles in metabolism, but a recent study showed that women aren't getting enough of at least 14 essential nutrients in their diet," says Moore. Some of those essentials you might need to supplement with vitamins include vitamin B12 or iron, which are key for forming healthy red blood cells. If you're low on those two vitamins in particular, you might feel extra sluggish, she explains.
6. Eat mindfully to help your digestion.
It's also not just what you eat but how you eat that can make a major difference in your digestion. During this full-body "detox," pay extra attention to your hunger cues. The goal is to feel satisfied, instead of stuffed after a meal, Moore says. And slooow down when you're eating. "When you eat too quickly, you might take in extra air or not chew your food thoroughly, which makes the stomach work harder. This can lead to bloating and discomfort," explains Moore. Pacing yourself and practicing present, mindful eating can prevent you from overeating and feeling sluggish afterward.
7. Start to reintroduce foods.
The last nutritional step of the reset is reintroducing foods that you may have temporarily eliminated, like nightshades, dairy, or gluten. It's best to work with a nutritionist or health coach during this step, to better understand the right length of time for your body to eliminate and reintroduce foods. This reintroduction phase can give you a better sense of where the inflammation or gut irritation is coming from, says Dr. Chellam. Your nutrition provider can discuss certain foods that may be best to not reintroduce, if you seem to have a gluten or dairy sensitivity, for example.
8. Take good care of your skin.
Yes, your skin absolutely has to do with the body's detoxification process *adds $50 moisturizer to cart*. "The skin is the body's largest detox organ," says Dr. Chellam. One way to enhance detoxing through the skin is through sweating. Infrared saunas can be a solid option if you want to get really sweaty, or simply sweating for at least 10 minutes, three to four times a week, during a workout can help, she suggests.
Dry brushing is another form of skincare you can try once in a while, to exfoliate and remove the very top layer of the skin and open up the pores to allow more detoxing to take place (another way to open up the pores: Go makeup free once in a while). Dr. Chellam also recommends massage when you're going through a detox to improve circulation and the body's natural detoxification processes. So basically, treat yourself!
9. Add more movement to your routine.
Another reason you might be feeling super sluggish is if you're not moving enough. If you're feeling heavy or experiencing dips in energy, it might help to reevaluate your exercise routine, Moore suggests. That could mean adding a regular walk to your midday break, or dancing around your apartment (do you). Of course, adequate sleep, drinking enough water, and eating enough whole foods will make a difference in your energy levels too, she adds.
10. Manage your stress and sleep.
One step you can't forget in a full-body reset is a mental reset. Since sleep is intrinsically connected to stress and how you manage it, now's the time to get into a better sleep routine. Now is also a good time to recalibrate your stress management practices, whether that's meditation, exercise, or another mindfulness practice —focus on anything that will take your mind away from stress, besides drinking alcohol, Dr. Chellam says. If you're having trouble winding down and getting to sleep or sleeping deeply, you can consult a clinician on healthy sleep-enhancing supplements to take. Or, try a hot shower or bath before bed (yesss self-care) to complete your "detox".