Perhaps you’ve heard the term “detox” used to describe the first step in overcoming a substance use disorder. When you struggle with food and eating, your mind is awash in toxic thoughts—ways of thinking that keep you obsessed, hopeless, and feeling bad about yourself. There are so many media influences that promote detox products, when in fact, your body is already designed to rid itself of toxins without any help from you.
When you see products in health food stores or advertised on the internet that promote themselves as “detoxifying," that's really code for weight-loss. These include detox teas, smoothies, and juice cleanses. I do not recommend that you use detox diets to lose weight. Often individuals with eating disorders can get roped into to trying one of these products which can trigger them to relapse or to develop an eating disorder.
But what I do recommend is a reset for your body and mind:
Christie is the single mother of one son and works in a legal office. What bothers her most is her inability to stop bingeing on foods that people bring into the office or snacks that she buys and keeps at home for her son. After out-of-control binges, she feels sluggish, with her stomach is bloated and full of gas. She has had joint pain and recurrent headaches for the past year. She needed to work on resetting not just her body but also her mind.
Diet culture has rebranded itself as “healthy” vs. promoting the thin ideal. There has also been a trend among social media influencers to market detox products to earn more money, but in doing so, they may be contributing to the development of eating disorders in their fans, who are often young teens and others who may be especially vulnerable to these messages.
Your body already has its own detoxification system:
- Liver. The body’s primary filtration system converts toxic substances into harmless substances or makes sure they are released from the body.
- Kidneys. These remove toxins from our bodies daily, allowing us to safely eliminate them. Additionally, they keep your blood pressure regulated and help bones stay strong.
- Colon. The colon holds microbes (or "good bacteria") that help us digest food, absorb nutrients, and ward off gastrointestinal diseases.
Push the Reset Button
Rather than just depriving yourself of foods you love, try these simple steps to reset your body and hormones to help decrease cravings:
- To support your body’s natural ability to get rid of toxins, include some of these foods in your meals: cabbage, broccoli, collards, kale, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, arugula, mustard greens, and turnips.
- Use the spices turmeric and curcumin in your cooking. They are known to help the liver rid the body of toxins.
- Drink green tea, which increases glutathione, a strong antioxidant that helps the body repair itself and get rid of toxins.
- Eat foods that contain sulfur like eggs, garlic, and onions. Sulfur is also important in the detoxification process.
- Regular exercise is another way to support a resetting body. Working up a sweat is one of the ways your body detoxifies itself naturally
- Try supplements (but only after consulting with your health care provider for advice) such as N-acetyl cysteine and/or milk thistle, which increase glutathione, and/or buffered vitamin C, which helps keep the body’s glutathione from being used up.
One issue to be aware of is “clean eating” that can mask orthorexia and other eating disorders. Orthorexia is a life-threatening restrictive eating disorder characterized by an obsession over food quality. Orthorexia can also lead to malnutrition and the development of anorexia nervosa.
How to Reset Your Mind
Eating is so automatic that you may not realize how much your thoughts and emotions play into what you eat, how much, and why you crave your particular food fixes. Because your responses are automatic, you may feel as if you will never be able to break the hold that food has on you.
A reset for your mind means learning to be more present and mindful about eating behaviors, and your thoughts and judgments about those behaviors. It means identifying patterns and reducing shame and guilt.
An example of a pattern: One of my clients talked about realizing that whenever she gets overwhelmed – too much to do, too many projects, too many feelings — she turns to food. Another reported that when she has an emotional upheavals — a break up or a move or even a positive event like a new job — it can make her want to binge.
Being mindful is like being a fly on the wall and having the emotional distance from your actions that allows you to see what’s really going on. A fly doesn’t judge what it sees. When you interrupt the judgment, you can see more clearly why you do what you do, and this clarity will enable you to interrupt and change what is no longer working for you.
These steps may seem monumental, perhaps even too overwhelming or frightening to contemplate. If you give up or let go of your food obsessions, how will you comfort yourself when you’re upset? How will you get a break from life without using food? Don’t try to figure it all out now; just ask yourself if you are willing to move in that direction. Write in your journal or put on a vision board what your intention is – not about losing weight but about how you’d like to feel about food and your body. This is a good step toward lasting recovery.
Bóna E, Forgács A, Túry F. A léböjtkúrák és az atípusos evészavarok lehetséges kapcsolata. Kvalitatív előtanulmány [Potential relationship between juice cleanse diets and eating disorders. A qualitative pilot study]. Orv Hetil. 2018 Jul;159(28):1153-1157. Hungarian. doi: 10.1556/650.2018.31090. PMID: 29983105.