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To Detox or Not: 5 Tips to Cleanse In The New Year

January 2, 2013

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As the New Year rings in and the champagne runs dry, thoughts of greater health creep closer in and many people wonder—what’s the quickest way to get back on track?

Before you jump into the latest diet craze or vow to clock thousands of hours at the gym, consider a simple, easy cleanse to reset your system and get ready for a year of healthier eating and living. You can choose to juice for a set period of time or find a cleanse that allows you to eat vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Consider cutting out caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and processed foods for a time and you will most likely feel energized and lose some extra holiday pounds.

Here’s an excerpt from my latest e-book, Coming Clean, which offers guidance on how to get the best results during a detox:

When I ask people, “What’s one thing you know you could be doing for your health right now?” they always have a brilliant answer. So I say start there even before you cleanse. If you know you should get more sleep, start getting to bed at a reasonable hour. If you think you should drink more water, start carrying a water bottle with you. These actions are not cleanses, but these little adjustments will give you more confidence in a detox. You could go from bad habits to cold-turkey cleansing, but I don’t recommend it.

First-time cleansers want to start super simple. The point of the cleanse is to eliminate toxic substances, and you could start by giving up just one culprit, like sugar, caffeine or alcohol. Try it for a week or a month. Another simple, easy cleanse is to cut off meals every night by 8 p.m. and have breakfast at 8 a.m. the next day. This break gives your body 12 hours of resting and digesting time each day, which can be a major boost to your health.

You could try a 30-day challenge by adding something to each day, too. While this goes against the grain of elimination, I include it because adding something like exercise could produce more sweat, which is one way the body gets rid of toxins. You could do something you already know and love—and just up the frequency—or try something new. I have friends who have tried this approach with yoga, running or green juices. What do you think could be possible by adding one healthy habit to your day?

Regardless of the protocol you choose, here are some general tips to consider before embarking on any cleansing program.

1.  Set Your Priorities. A good cleanse must begin with getting clear about why you are doing it. Identify your goals so you can set yourself up for success. This clarity will help you decide what type of detox program to try as well. Once you are clear about your goal, create a little mission statement for the cleanse and post it in a prominent location so you can remember it throughout your time. You can always return to your goals to motivate you to continue.

2.  Set Your Timeline. A cleanse can last anywhere from one to 40 days and sometimes even longer. If it’s your first time, start small. Most experts believe that your body needs two to three days to really start to detox. But if you are a first-time cleanser, be realistic. Maybe a day or two is all you can handle at first. You can think of it as a training run for longer cleanses in the future. I recommend having a number in mind before you begin. It’s easy to get distracted by cravings. You will feel a better sense of accomplishment when you set out on a three-day cleanse and complete it or even extend it instead of trying for a three-week cleanse and giving up half way through it.

3.  Do a Pre-Cleanse. You don’t want to treat cleansing like another to-do item on the list. You might be thinking, “Oh, I’ve got that cleanse coming up, so I better spend the week eating pizza and chocolate cake before I can’t have it anymore.” This style recalls the realm of dieting and deprivation, not a place of true health. Instead, you want to set your body up for the cleanse. If you’re a coffee drinker, start to reduce your intake. You can switch to half regular and half decaf or to green tea. If you have sweets after dinner, swap for fruit. Give yourself a few days to ease into the detox. Remember, the less you prepare, the more likely you are to experience cleansing pains.

4.  Make an Exit Plan. Just as you want to ease into of a cleanse, you also want to have a solid exit strategy. I remember feeling so proud after completing a five-day cleanse during the workweek a few years back. On Friday night I went out to celebrate with a girlfriend at a nice restaurant in New York City. While the food was definitely high quality, it was way too complicated for my system. I felt awful after the dinner because my system was not ready for so much food. Ideally, once the cleanse is over, spend another few days eating simple, easy meals that focus on whole foods. Don’t go out for a big meal (as I did!) or eat overly complex, rich meals. You don’t want to miss this opportunity to get more valuable information from your body.

5.  Get Support. Let the people in your life know you are cleansing, including family, roommates, co-workers and friends. You are much more likely to stick with your detox program when you have let your people know about it. Sometimes I enlist a buddy to join me or at the very least offer me encouragement when I’m feeling cranky or low. You may not have the support you need in your life. In that case, find a program or group that will support you. I’ve lead group detoxes before and it’s amazing to support a band of cleansers and hear all the challenges and results everyone experiences.

Suzanne Boothby is an NYC-based writer and speaker focused on health and happiness. From Random House to Mother Jones Magazine, Suzanne has worked her way through the publishing world covering everything from Woody Guthrie's legacy to kale cocktails. She is the author of The After Cancer Diet: How to Live Healthier Than Ever Before, the new e-book, Coming Clean: How to Detox, Cleanse & Recharge will be available January 2013.