It's a messy world. Farmers wear hazmat suits in pesticide-drenched potato fields. The fish we eat is laden with mercury. Weed killer seeps into our drinking water. Invisible pollutants, like sinister fairies, lace the air we breathe. Even the breast milk we drink as babies, if we are lucky enough to get it, turns out to be afloat with trace toxins; some tests have revealed flame retardants and jet fuel ingredients. "Basically, we've been on a journey of accumulation since conception," says Hillary Thing, owner of Accord Acupuncture & Herb Shoppe, who recently added cleansing and detox programs to her holistic healing offerings. "We each have more than 700 chemical contaminants on average inside our bodies. So it's not such a surprise that as a species we're experiencing declining fertility and declining immunity, that we're overweight yet undernourished, and that cancer rates are soaring." What's a 21st-century Earth dweller to do? We can't go live in a bubble. Nor can we accept our fate as the New Normal—its consequences are too lethal. One thing we can do, say some alternative experts, is cleanse.
The words "cleanse" and "detox" might raise eyebrows as New Age healer marketing speak—bright and hopeful but potentially short on delivering their outsize promises, like sudden weight loss and vibrant, unassailable well-being. Regimes like these are also seasonally faddish, and when the daffodils raise their sweet heads in April we start to hear more about spring cleaning that extends beyond our hearths and into our very health. But when you take the average coffee-guzzling and processed-food-eating American and put him on a nutrient-rich detox diet, the potential for amazing things can happen. And there might be something to it beyond hype when a cleanse has thoughtful expertise and research behind it. Two programs debuting this spring—Thing's "Radical Radiance" course begins May 15, and Tom Francescott, ND's "Natural Detox & Weight Loss Cleanse" starts at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck on May 31—offer just that kind of reassurance and guidance. While a background in traditional Chinese medicine informs Thing's work, Francescott, who owns Dr. Tom's Tonics in Rhinebeck, brings a naturopathic approach. "We give our cars an oil change every few months," says Francescott, or Dr. Tom, as he's known to patients. "We should do the same thing for our bodies."
Gentle Yet Powerful
When most people think of a cleanse, it's a juice fast or some other liquid menu accompanied by a strong laxative—but that's not the recommended approach, especially for first-timers. "I definitely don't suggest a water fast," says Francescott. "People are too toxic. If it's too much for your system, you're going to get sick." Instead of a spartan regime, Francescott prescribes a diet of thick shakes and green smoothies, fresh juices and whole fruits, soups, lean proteins, and bushels of vegetables both raw and cooked. Frequent grazing on fruits and veggies is encouraged, and good-fat accompaniments like coconut and flax oils, guacamole, and tahini get a thumb's up. What's missing from a cleanse diet, among other things, are common allergens and pro-inflammatory foods like dairy, corn, eggs, soy, and gluten (bread and pasta are verboten), as well as sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and soda; the elimination of the last three gives our overworked detox organ—the liver—a break. "People are surprised that they can be totally content with a diet of mostly vegetables and fruits," says Francescott, "but a nutrient-dense diet will fill you up."
On a weeklong cleanse, the first three days are often the toughest, and the body and mind call out for their common crutches and comfort foods. "Just coming off caffeine can be hard," says Veronica Domingo of Catskill, who took Francescott's cleanse retreat at Omega, where she works as the curriculum developer, in 2010. But after those first few days, things shifted. "I realized that I didn't need the caffeine after being so dependent on it. I thought, wow, I have energy now." And by the end of day three, Domingo recalls a wave of epiphanies and aha moments passing through the retreat group. Someone's blood sugar had never been so low, and another person's blood pressure had dropped. Moderate exercise like walks and yoga, along with steam sessions in the sauna, were encouraged to egg on the detox process. By the end of the cleanse week, some retreaters noted improvements in things like mood, sleep, digestion, and mental clarity. An arthritis sufferer noticed that his pain and swelling had vanished and a range of motion had returned. "Even by just removing common allergens from the group's diet, chances are you're going to impact someone's health," says Francescott. "People learn what their body doesn't need, and they let go of what no longer serves them."