By Gabriella Boston
Special to The Washington Post
— It's a new year, and the new you might be looking to de-clutter not just your desk and closet but also your mind and body.
If so, you might be a good candidate for a detox — a cleansing of the mind and body that starts with healthy, plant-based eating, Elson Haas, author of the "Detox Diet," says.
"Detoxing is a treat. It's a vacation for the body, and especially for the digestive tract," says Haas, who has been promoting detox diets in his medical practice for 35 years. He is the founder and director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael, Calif.
"It will leave you feeling lighter and younger," says Haas, who is also known as Dr. Detox. "It will cause you to think about food differently, and to look at your emotional connection to food. Ultimately, it's about reprogramming the mind about food and emotional well-being."
So what exactly does a detox diet entail?
Haas offers a few different detox programs, which differ in length (three days to a lifetime) and intensity (three-meals-a-day plan to fasting). But the basic detox diet is plant-based, deriving proteins and other nutrients from grains, vegetables, fruit, seeds and nuts.
So is the plan offered by Ebeth Johnson, a chef and healthful eating specialist at the P Street Whole Foods in Washington.
"Your body is detoxing on its own all the time, every day," she says at a cleansing-foods event that drew at least 20 people.
Anytime the body processes or removes waste from the body it's "detoxing." Not surprisingly, the liver and the intestines are big players.
"So the food that we pick should support the body's natural detox process. That means incorporating the G-Bombs, for example."
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G-Bombs, she explains, stands for greens (packed with antioxidants), beans (high in fiber and protein), onions (anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants), mushrooms (help regulate blood sugar and promote healthy weight management), berries and pomegranates (antioxidants) and seeds and nuts (packed with healthful fats and protein).
But all this bulk (fiber) can be a bit of a shock for the body. To counteract gas, Haas suggests chewing more, especially when it comes to cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli.
An added benefit to chewing more is you get more fullness with less, he says. "You reach your satiation point with less food."
And drink plenty of water — up to 64 ounces a day — to go with the bulk, he says.
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While the detox diet is heavy on fiber, it's light on protein. But it's intentionally so, Haas says, because most Americans consume more protein than necessary — especially the animal kind — and a break is usually welcome, he says. Meat can be hard for the body to process.
Johnson recommends that participants in her 14- to 28-day healthful-eating and detox challenges eat no more than three ounces of fish or meat twice a week.
But if you are concerned about protein intake and detox safety in general, contact your doctor before setting out on a detox program, she suggests.
Which lead us to the question: Who needs a detox?
If you feel and look great, you probably don't need a detox. And if you're underweight or nursing, it could actually cut out the fat and protein your body needs, Haas says. But if you have headaches, sinus congestion, fatigue, allergies, acne, joint pain or depression, you might benefit, he says.
"This is all very individual," he says. "I recommend to patients that they see what works for them. The detox diet is experimental and experiential."
If you, for example, start out by eliminating refined sugar, alcohol, caffeine, wheat and dairy for a few weeks and you feel better — but you really, really miss the morning cup of joe, then reintroduce the coffee and see how you feel. If the symptoms — for example digestive issues — come back, then re-evaluate, he says.
"You have to ask: Is the experience worth the symptoms?" he adds.
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Both Johnson and Haas hope that people will see detox as more than just a two- or three-week-long effort and incorporate the body-cleansing ideas into daily habits.
Suzanne Scruggs, who participated in Johnson's 14-day detox and healthful eating challenge at Whole Foods in January, says that's what she wants to do.
"It's made me look at food differently," Scruggs says, adding that she knows now how to use dates as a sweetener, make cashew milk from scratch and cook without using oil.
"I definitely have more energy," she says.
So, although detoxing for many is triggered by a wish to lose weight, it can be much more than that.
Haas says that detoxing can pave the way for changes that go well beyond food, because when you look closely at your relationship to food, other habits tend to surface. Do you eat when you're stressed? Do you eat when you're sad? Do you drink to feel socially accepted? The list goes on.
"It's about eliminating destructive habits," Haas says. "And that means dealing openly with emotions."
Vanessa King, a nutritionist and guest speaker at the cleansing-foods talk, connected the dots:
"If we're able to let go of people who don't love us back, maybe we can do the same with food. Love the foods that love you back."
Boston is a fitness trainer and freelance writer.