Clients who come to see me for help and advice at this time of year often want to know how cleanse and detoxify after the indulgent festive period. No one really needs a reminder of how our bodies let us know we’ve over indulged and what we need to give up or cut down on so I’ll skip the details and go straight to the detox.
The word detox and cleanse in relation to diet usually conjures up images of raw food diets, salads and green juices, and they are absolutely some of the best ways to detox and cleanse your body, but not in the middle of Winter. For lots of animals, Winter is a time for hibernation, keeping warm and storing ‘reserves’ to get them through the long winter months. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) aims to balance and restore your body’s health and energy levels in as natural a way as possible and that means working with the seasons. This means ensuring adequate rest periods and sleep, eating foods that warm and nourish the body just like the hibernating animals. So, before you start thinking you can continue the holiday excess and put off the cleanse until Spring read on… You can most definitely detox and cleanse in Winter but to get the best of your detox your strategy needs to change with the seasons (we still have at least a couple of Winter months ahead of us). But hey, Spring’s not too far away and what better way of preparing for sunnier days than to start preparing now.
According to TCM all foods have a distinct energy and characteristic properties that either help to balance our bodies and make us healthy, or create imbalances which ultimately result in sickness. Some foods are warming, spices like cinnamon and ginger for example. Other foods are cooling, think green leafy vegetables, cucumber, lettuce, mint, and other foods help to moisten such as milk, cheese and sugar. So to cut a long story short if you only eat raw foods, salads and raw juices in the Winter you’re going to feel cold, tired, headachey and have very little energy – the opposite of what you’re aiming for. Therefore, including seasonal foods that warm, nourish and ‘ground’ us, as well as some salads, juices etc, are best at this time of year.
One of the hardest aspects of balancing weight and managing diet is sweet cravings so, I’ll digress for a bit and give you a little information about managing cravings from the TCM perspective and how this approach can help when changing your diet. Bear in mind that TCM views our body systems and organ functions quite differently from Western medicine so when I talk about your Spleen I’m describing it from a TCM perspective.
The first thing perhaps to say is that according to TCM a craving for something sweet is usually driven by a need to feel nurtured and to nourish our ‘Spleen’. Think about how you feel when you crave something sweet… sad, perhaps fearful, unloved, feeling the need to nurture and comfort yourself. The Spleen’s function in TCM is to transform water and food into ‘qi’ or energy. The Spleen meridian is associated with the sweet flavour hence the reason that so many of us crave sweet things if we are feeling weak or tired. In TCM the Spleen also reflects how grounded and safe we feel. When the Spleen is functioning well we have a good appetite, strong digestion, and vibrant energy. When this function is weak you will see issues such as bloating, acid reflux, fatigue, diarrhea, poor appetite and/or malnutrition. When the Spleen is out of balance it often manifests as someone being overweight or underweight. We can also feel:
- drained, depleted,
- lacking a sense of comfort and well-being,
- difficulty setting boundaries within ourselves and with others,
- fuzzy headed, unable to think clearly,
- worry, ruminating thoughts and a tendency to obsess.
So, our craving of sweet foods is our body’s way of trying to help bring us back into balance – it’s asking (craving) ‘sweet’ food to help restore energy levels . The aim of TCM is to work with our cravings – welcoming them and satisfying them in a healthy way to restore balance. Instead of nurturing our Spleens with refined sugar and processed foods (they are full of sugar, even savoury foods, but confuse and actively deplete our Spleens), there are some healthy ‘sweet’ alternatives I’ll list below that you can add to your diet that will help nurture your Spleen and manage those cravings.
There’s no doubt about the many benefits to our health when we choose to eat a healthier diet and the basics of detoxing remain the same at any time of year we just need to tweak our diet a little to get maximum benefit. So, ensure your food is fresh and seasonal, drink plenty water, limit alcohol, tobacco and refined sugar. Fundamentally, what we teach in TCM is not what we need to avoid but in fact what we need to include that balances us and often just little changes here and there can make all the difference. So here are some lovely, mostly seasonal, foods that you can add to your diet at this time of year.
Warm and cooked – thick hearty stews and soups, squash, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, ginger, cauliflower, sprouts, cabbage, peppers, onions, oats, rice, quinoa, pearl barley, beans and pulses, olive oil, chicken, turkey, white fish, salmon, eggs, mangoes, apples and berries.
Add ginger (preferably fresh), cinnamon and other spices to your juices, salads and cereals to counter balance the cooling effect of the cooling vegetables and fruits. Apple and fresh root ginger are lovely juiced together. Why not have a regular morning apple and ginger shot to warm you up and get you going.
Experiment with different ingredients…. you can be as imaginative as you like. At this time of year there can be nothing better than sitting down to a delicious bowl of warm soup or hearty stew, or delicious warm dessert, with a few extra added ingredients (ginger, chilli, berries, sweet potatoes, squash…) that you know your body needs and will use effectively to warm, nurture and nourish your body. You’ll soon find that you feel better, have more energy, sleep better and have no interest in grabbing a quick, sugar laden snack that will ultimately only increase that drained, fatigued, lethargic, bloated feeling you’re aiming to banish.
So, get cracking with your detox and cleanse! Fill up with foods that not only balance, nurture and energise you but cleanse and detox at the same time. Spring is just around the corner!