I'm currently working on an article for Darou Wellness right now and though its still in the draft stages, I hope to have it posted as the Weekly Feature for the period of March 20, 2019.
I was asked to present 5-10 health tips about something related to health, as told from the perspective of an Acupuncturist. I decided to do a very personal article about the process of going through an elimination diet during the springtime, which on the Traditional Chinese Medicine seasonal calendar, corresponds to the time that the Liver and Gallbladder organs are more active and hence, more able to respond more effectively to a detox.
I didn't want to just randomly list stuff. That would be boring and way less engaging. So I'm on a limb as I write this with the sole purpose of just bringing the lens to your eye level so you can get a feel for what I am still going through. It hasn't been published on Darou Wellness but I wanted to post it here because I am really - no actually, REALLY SURPRISED, at how well I seem to be doing on it!!
So, without fanfare and drumrolls, here.....it......is (I am a long winded saga-busting' storyteller and I am very graphically personal in my word usage so if this doesn't grab you, then you can always use to as a boring story to help you fall asleep on a restless night!):
Detoxing for Springtime:
I’m not your typical detox type personality. Yes, I am a Registered Acupuncturist. Yes, I practice a lineage of medicine that embraces a holistic approach to lifestyle and wellness (including the philosophy of “prevention is better than the cure” and healthy “eating in moderation” habits). And yes, I am a very human person and have the usual vices that most mortals struggle with. Most of mine are food related. I have a sweet-tooth (triple sweet fraps at Starbucks). I love chips. I’m addicted to coffee. Come to think of it, most of my food vices seem to fall under the category of “Foods that start with the letter ‘C’” (I’m sure Cookie Monster and I would get along if we both went to a Cookie Eaters Anonymous meetup).
In short, why the ‘HELLO’ would I embark on a detox on some random February day?
My skin has always been a problem. I have chronic eczema that flares up sometimes; and sometimes not. The one thing it doesn’t ever seem to do is go away. So I decided after complaining to a buddy of mine who happens to be an amazing Naturopath and colleague here at Darou Wellness (thanks Emily!), to take her suggestion up and do a food sensitivity test. What did I have to lose? Only years of constant, chronic scratching and irritating itching in my elbow and back of neck?
And why not? I was whining a lot and Christmas of 2018 was a complete dietary disaster filled with Brie cheese and sugar laden cookie hidden traps in every benign, jolly-making gathering of friends.
I did an IgG finger prick test (easy) and waited for the test results to come back after 3 weeks (not so easy). When they did come back that fateful mid February afternoon, I was blown away (HARD) by the list of food items or constituents of food that I had to stay away from (and that included many of my favourite foods that started with the letter ‘C’): egg whites, egg yolks, gluten, gliadin, wheat, casein, cow’s milk, and to a lesser degree goat’s milk. I was also sadly teetering on the fence for tolerance for my favourite nuts like almonds and peanuts. No wonder my eczema hotspots were glowing in the dark! These made up 100% of what I ate on a daily basis.
The Traditional Chinese Medicine / Acupuncture take on Detoxes:
And that’s when it dawned on me. THIS IS the best time to just bite the bullet, suck it up and just do this.
Why? Because it is springtime! On the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) seasonal timeline, this is the time associated with the organs, Liver and Gallbladder; the weather/climate, Wind; the colour, Green; the element of Wood; the direction, East; and the stage of life characterized by birth and germination. This is when trees sprout green leaves, flowers shoot out of the ground and when the white winter gives way to a verdant spring. Life flourishes again after a long cold deep freeze and long period of storing up energy reserves for the winter.
(This picture was taken out of my Pinterest account and depicts the 5 Elements which describe each season and its associated organs, emotions and part of the body. Liver and Gallbladder as you can see, are on the far left corner at the level of 10-11 o' clock. I don't have the info on who to credit this image upload to so please let me know if you know!! Thanks!! )
Most of us spend the whole entire winter stowing away winter fat and slowing down to facilitate this process of holding onto our energy reserves. We rug up in thicker clothes, sleep longer and eat heavier, rich foods to make sure we stay warm. Have you noticed that we tend to become bigger in general in the winter? By default, winter and the cold contracts and makes things go underground and our bodies tend to hold onto the rich fats and oils we consume as a response to the contracting temperatures. Our Gallbladder and Liver have to work extra hard during this dark time of year to break down the extra fats from the richer foods that are usually eaten during this season. However when springtime comes around again and our heavy food loads lighten up, most practitioners of TCM (or Acupuncturists) will suggest that you help your Liver and Gallbladder lighten up too.
And one of the best ways to do this is (apart from paying a visit to your friendly neighbourhood Acupunk to get those Liver, Spleen, Stomach and Gallbladder meridians worked on - hint hint) is to detox! So I figured why not give this elimination diet a really good try and eat wheat, gluten, gliadin, dairy and egg free (“and flavour & fun free” says my evil twin) for 6 whole weeks to try and clean up my insides during the time on the TCM calendar that is best suited for this type of activity?
And I responded.
Here I am now in the middl-ish of March, writing this after 4 weeks (out of 6 total) of clean eating and feeling that:
My sugar cravings are gone (nuked, deep sixed, sunk!)
I can run longer now without feeling like my legs and lungs are about to fall apart by my second mile (and as I write, I am happy to say I can actually make it to 5K/3.2 miles without stopping for a break now - which I never thought I could do a year ago!)
I no longer have existential crisis debates with myself on whether I should eat that bagel with the cream cheese at the expense of eating a normal lunch or dinner. i.e. If there is no option, then I feel less pressured and I just order the black coffee and move on; temptation doesn’t even come into the picture anymore.
My skin is actually healing and what used to look like an angry red, murderous bullseye, now looks like a slightly irritable, emo-“lite” teenage version of its previous self
I lost some weight since mid February. OK, OK its only 5 or 6 pounds but I was stuck on a weight plateau for a long time since end of 2018. This gave me the confidence to be able to do better with my (still somewhat minimal) fitness routine because I felt stronger. That’s a big deal for me.
And I’d like to think, my Liver and my Gallbladder are getting a jumpstart before the official start of springtime in Toronto on my detox quest to clean up my skin and help me follow a more TCM-Acupuncture aligned way of living and timing my activities with the seasons!
And now, the 5-10 Tips on approaching the detox:
Should I tiptoe around it, tackle it like a star player, placate it with food bribes or merchandise? In short, I needed to figure out the best way to just get this behemoth tamed. Though I strongly feel that everyone has their own best way of dealing with detoxes, this is how I started after dealing with the initial shock of finding out how many foods I was intolerant to before I was finally ready to fully embrace this.
Tip 1. Take an inventory of all the food you eat.
I kid you not. If you aren’t honest and accountable with yourself, the ship called detox best not sail. It’s a rough sea out there and unless you know what you eat everyday, there’s no way you can start to sort through the detritus of the out of a package breakfast hot chocolates, on the go snacks, eat out of frustration anger foods, lunches (or semi-lunches), run as you eat dinners and midnight snacks. Once you know the beast you’re dealing with, you can start naming it (or rather, all the names of the candy bars, Starbucks frappuccinos, diet cookies, GF friendly snacks, sneaked-in dairy/egg convenience foods) and start calling it out and eliminating it from your routine.
Tip 2. Find something you actually like doing and fit it into your weekly routine (I’m actually telling you to exercise here).
Exercise is an awesome way to support a detox. It helps the body to eliminate toxins more effectively and produces feel good endorphins that help you feel better as you work through the first few difficult days of an elimination diet. Even if you don’t want to “exercise”, you can still move - just move more vigorously and do it more often. A good way to start is to ask yourself what sort of thing you loved doing as a kid (or found out you actually did pretty good at as an adult late bloomer)?
Was it jump rope, obstacle course navigation, dancing, running with your best buddies or your four legged buddy, hoola-hooping, throwing stuff through hoops, swimming, stretching yourself into impossible pretzel shapes, jumping over or bouncing around stuff, or walking in the park? Just start with one thing you love and look forward to doing more of. And go from there. Start with it once a week, then add another day, and one more if you feel moved to do so. Start doing it for just 15 minutes of the fun activity for the first two weeks; then increase that to 20 minutes for the next two to three weeks; until you work that up to 30-40 minutes by the end of two months. For me, the thing that captured my heart was running. I (am still surprised that I still) like running - even though I move as fast as a herd of wild turtles. I wasn’t any good at it in school. And I didn’t officially take it up until very late in life. I bombed it brilliantly on my first 200m huffy-puffy attempt at running when I tried it almost two years ago. But, I oddly LIKED how my brain felt after conquering that mere 200m distance.
I had to schedule in my runs because of my 6 day work week. I do them mainly in the mornings before the work day starts because I have better energy in the mornings. I started off with an hour long walk for my first two (maybe three) weeks and eventually started sneaking in two minute, then five minute, then eight minute runs in between 15 minute periods of walking. Two years later, (minus one foot and two ankle injuries midway), I am up to going 30-35 minutes nonstop now and I am amazed at how my body and mind feels afterwards. The detox has contributed greatly to reaching this milestone and I am gleefully noting that right now, my recovery times are less lengthy and I have more energy and stamina for my twice a week run routine.
Tip 3. Moderate the way you eat, sleep and do things in the day.
I knew I was going to be in totally new territory here as I “grow” some new eating habits during this springtime diet cleanse. Taking foods that I loved out of my daily grind did cause a few hiccups with my focus and energy levels. And since this elimination diet was happening at this particular season of spring, the time of year associated with Liver and Gallbladder (which interestingly are two organs associated with the emotion of anger), I anticipated some moodiness and irritability. So I moderated my daily activities by trying to wake and sleep around the same times each day, eating smaller but more frequent meals (that I did research on to find the best nutritional profile to help me feel full and get the nutrition I needed) and minimizing too many distracting things that I didn’t need to attend to during my week. I basically took more time to focus on my priorities in the week such as work, making sure I was doing ok with my new diet, making sure I still kept my twice weekly exercise routine (even though I kept my running fairly minimal at this transitional stage), and making sure that I didn’t overcommit to too many out of work activities (because in my world, social events always centred around food).
The first week was crazy. I wanted to break into vending machines to eat all the Snickers bars and soothe the “hangry” beast inside while dealing with the very liver-centric emotions of frustration/anger (of having to forgo these treats).
In my second week, I was less rage-y because I was using running as a form of food withdrawal relief (I added an extra morning of running for safe measure). The third week was surprising because I suddenly discovered that I had grown superhuman willpower to resist donuts, chocolate bars, sweet fraps and ice cream sandwiches. I just passed week four and I no longer have cravings for sweet snacks and don’t suffer energy dips around 3:30pm in the afternoon. I can’t wait to see what weeks five and six bring!
Tip 4. And while you are there, detox here, here and here too.
Not only did I detox in my diet; I decided to do a digital detox as well I in order to tighten up and prioritize the activities in my daily routine. I had started a social media break in the new year and since taking up this elimination diet, I felt compelled to extend it a bit longer. I have minimized screen time on my phone and do only work related activities on my laptop at certain times of the day. Socializing on and checking social media has been relegated to a few times during the week so as to allow me to minimize the addictive dependancy of using phone apps or social networking sites for mild digital entertainment purposes. Its been easier than I thought (this superhuman willpower side effect is amazing!) and I have no trouble now in switching my phone off before I go to bed and not looking at it until the very next morning. Interestingly, according to TCM theory, “the Liver opens into the eyes” which is very convenient for my digital (as well as physical) detox, as I realize that cutting down digital distractions also has the added benefit of giving my eyes (and by association, my Liver) a bit of a break!
Tip 5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
I realized that my task to heal my skin and clean my insides out was not going to be as clear cut as I thought. In the first 24 hours of the first day of receiving the food sensitivities test I felt that I was very much in over my head. I enlisted the help of my friend, fellow colleague and N.D, (who suggested that I do this test), to help me work out how I could approach this with a plan, using the list of “safe foods” that I could eat on the final food sensitivities report (for anyone who wants to seek her sage advice, give Dr. Emily Fitzgerald, N.D a shout at Darou Wellness). I didn’t know a whole lot about foods but I knew that she did and she turned out to be a great walking library of useful nutrition resources.
I sought the advice of vegan friends too because a large part of my pre-elimination diet consisted of eggs (cakes and cookies have eggs in them - ‘sad face’ here) and, to a lesser extent, dairy. Being a hardcore, refined carb/starch-head with an obsessive love of fluffy bread, cakes and pasta, I realized how much wheat, gliadin and gluten based products made up my daily meals and snacks. I didn’t have a clue on how to meal prep without eggs and cheese! But vegans do and they certainly helped me plan my pantry staples!
I checked out internet resources for help too and realized that the internet is like a virtual library of information. Yes there is a lot of information to sift through but you do stumble upon a few good rock solid gems (Nerd Fitness is a good one for both fitness and diet information for newbies like myself - yes ‘nerd’ is mentioned here and you’ll see why when you hit the site! Even better if you are a Star Wars geek)
Weeks 5-6 and after?
I am actually feeling a little sad that I may have to start re-introducing the ‘bad’ foods after week 6 but its the only way I guess I can see if they really are the main culprits in the never-ending eczema sagas on both my elbow and neck. If nothing flares up, I have a feeling that only eggs will make their way back into my daily routine. I seem to be enjoying the new and more healthy version of me (minus wheat, gluten and dairy) and don’t think I will miss them too much after this.
Feeling ready for a new start? There’s no better time than the spring to usher in new life when it comes to choosing to be a healthier version of you. And though I still don’t feel I am the healthy ‘detox-y’ type, I admit (begrudgingly) that my alter ego just may be a hidden health nut guru, waiting to be discovered!!