In the wintertime, our bodies are programmed to retain a little more to keep us warm through colder months. We need heartier foods. When the spring comes, we want to shed some of that heaviness, some weight, or some of the fogginess. Additionally, this heaviness and dampness exacerbates chronic pain and fatigue. I find that some of my pain patients get relapses in spring.
The Wellness Hype machine is in full “Detox” mode right now and I know we are all bombarded with a lot of information on this topic. If you’ve spent any time in my office, you know that I often repeat that everyone’s dietary needs are different. There is absolutely no ONE way to eat/exercise/supplement that works for everyone. However, I will say this one thing across the board: “Detox” is a bit of a buzz-word. One does not need a “master cleanse” to “detoxify” your body. Your body does this naturally. However, our typical western diet does often get in the way. On the other end of the spectrum, starvation techniques can trigger your body to hold on to fat as a means of protection. Juicing often results in getting too much fructose without the fiber to balance that out, raising glucose levels. So what is an average trying-to-be-healthy New Yorker to do?
The best way to gently and effectively heal your gut and recharge your metabolism is to spend 2-4 weeks eating a strict plant and protein based diet. It should be 2/3 plant and 1/3 protein (or less). The plants should include plenty of greens that are long or leafy: Asparagus, string beans, arugula, spinach, kale, watercress, escarole, etc. Mushrooms are also a great super food! There are a few variations depending on your particular constitution. Proteins should include plenty of chicken (organic if possible) and fish (not farmed), and some red meat is good if your system can handle it. Eggs are great too. If you are carrying some extra hard-to-shed pounds, go completely dairy-free during this time. If your digestion is off – bloating, gas, stomach discomfort – eliminate gluten during this time as well. Eliminate all heavy, fried foods.
Please note that your vegetables should be cooked. If you are feeling tired, cold and weak a lot, you should saute or roast your vegetables in a drizzle of olive oil or ghee. Use garlic, ginger, turmeric or scallion for flavor and heat. If you are feeling overheated, dry, anxious or generally like you are vibrating at a high level, consider steaming, poaching or boiling your veggies. Use lemon, mint, or cilantro for flavor and coolness. It is very important that you drink a lot of water during this time (please be mindful about what a lot means for YOU, don't drink to the point of bloating) Adding lemon to water (more than just a wedge) is very kidney friendly. Drinking green tea is another way to get fluids and antioxidants.
During your natural detox, you shouldn’t need to add any special supplements as a detox. (None of this applies to any medicines that you are prescribed by your doctor). Our bodies are like gardens. Your digestive system can be thought of as the soil, and supplements (including probiotics) as seeds. You can’t expect seeds to flourish in poor soil. Spending a few weeks on this plant and protein diet can nourish and heal your gut lining, and leave you feeling clean, light and energetic. Eating fermented foods during this time, such as good quality sauerkraut, kimchi or pickled vegetables is a great way to get pre- and pro- biotics naturally.
Of course, the more you can stick to this plan for the entire 2-4 weeks, the more effective it will be. I really do recommend only doing it this strictly for 2 to 4 weeks, not more. Strict diets do not have long term sustainability, and I believe in enjoying life, especially in a city with such great restaurants! But I think you will find that you are better able to weather this seasonal transition time if you take the time to till the soil of your digestive system.
I get perhaps that this feels like more work than simply buying a box of supplements and pre made drinks at Fairway, but believe me that your body will thank you, and the results more long lasting and sustainable.
Stay tuned over the next few months for guest posts and interviews with my colleague and author, Stacey Isaacs who is publishing a wonderful cookbook based on the principles of Chinese Medicine, helping you heal one recipe at a time!