My friends, be gentle! You're an ecosystem, not a machine. A very common understanding of a detox is going in there with a crowbar and a pressure washer, and cleaning out your insides down to the studs. The difficulty is that the warehouses you're cleaning out, primarily your liver, also function as the gutters and sewage treatment plant for the waste products they once stored. When the floodgates open and the storage facility suddenly has to process what it so carefully packed away out of sight, the overflow of toxins and other wastes pour into your bloodstream and make your head foggy, your breath bad, your skin erupt, your kidneys stressed, and your digestion sluggish.
How does it feel to air out your house, or your car? The windows open, the sun shining in, the dust blowing out. It's fresh, clean and very satisfying.
When you think of detoxing, think of strengthening the avenues of elimination your body has for dealing with the waste products. Think also of eliminating them in manageable amounts. If your body is too busy de-storing, it can't properly get rid of everything and it may just get stored somewhere else.
Another, more critical issue, is that the liver stores away things the body can't deal with, like chemicals and heavy metals. Aggressively emptying the liver exposes the rest of your organs and brain to these more serious wastes.
How do you safely and easily detox, then? Think of it this way: Easy In, Easy Out.
The act of digesting food makes the intestines, liver, kidneys, and other organs work. That's their job. Often, though, digestion is not their only job. For example, the liver produces bile to digest fats, it breaks down various chemicals in the blood like stress hormones into waste products, and it stores away both wastes it can't or doesn't have time to eliminate, and a reserve of glucose for energy between meals. Going easy on food gives these organs a break without shorting your brain on its fuel needs. Juice fasts are nice because fresh juices can contain antioxidants, helpful enzymes, some easy-access sugar and other great resources. Monodiets of foods like Indian kichari are very easy on the digestive system, use warming and supportive spices, and help rebuild depleted energy reserves. Fruit, teas, water, and well cooked vegetables are also easy on your system. Meat, dairy, fats, caffeine, sweets, sometimes even raw vegetables are harder to digest properly.
Water is a HUGE part of the detox plan. Your blood is mostly water, which bathes every tiny bit of your body and picks up all sorts of waste products that your kidneys then filter out and mix with more water to create urine. Drinking plenty of water ensures that the filter process is quick and easy, and that the blood is always ready to clean the next place that needs it. Think of rinsing out the rag when wiping the counters- a dirty one won't pick up much more dirt.
Water on the outside is very important as well. Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and is an elimination pathway. Bathing gets rid of dead skin cells that can block pores, especially through exfoliation with a stiff brush or loofah or even a good scrub with a wash cloth, and soaking can draw wastes out through the skin. Warm water also increases circulation, which increases the kidney action.
A detox fast is a conscious action. When you go about your normal life, your body responds to that life. It digests what you give it, it provides energy to muscles and organs with the highest demand, it cleans up what it can in between. Fasting reduces the resources available for all these functions. This means you can't have the same expectations for your body during a fast that you would normally.
Traditionally, fasts are often seen in religious practices that require simultaneous times of rest. Resting or taking it easy during a fast reduces the demands on your body so that it can rebuild. Imagine the items you could check off the to-do list if your office shut down for a few days, or a week. You could patch the roof, paint the porch, plant a garden or fix that broken thing in the garage, and doing these things wouldn't drain you like doing them during your normal work schedule would- which is why you haven't done them yet!
Similarly, allowing your body to rest gives it a chance to repair damage, replenish reserves, and restore balance. Your body does need to work, though, to keep you alive. There is a fine line between providing time for recuperation and fasting for so long that you end up using all the reserves you built in the first place.
So how long to fast, then? Start with a day. Say, the first of the month. Or maybe the first Saturday, if that's a day off for you. Plan it out, decide what you'll eat and drink and when, what activities you'll do and what you'll avoid. Then pay attention. Are you more hungry than you thought, or snacky maybe because you're bored? More sluggish, or downright sleepy? Energized or alert?
Next time, maybe next month, go for two or three days. You'll probably feel dramatic swings in yourself over that time. You can go from being on top of the world to having flu-like symptoms in a matter of hours. Remember, let your body tell you what you need. A great hot shower or long soak in the tub might be all it takes to get whatever made you feel crappy out of your system. Hot tea or cooling water and lemon might help too.
Your mood might also swing widely as your energy levels dip during a fast. Be aware of this, and let others around you know what you're doing! I personally have found that Calcium-Magnesium supplements help balance my moods, so you may want to try that.
A week is probably the longest you should fast at a time, if you can comfortably build up to it. If your body doesn't respond well or healthily, stop there. Maybe it's only going to work for four days this time, or maybe only one.
You can fast yearly, seasonally, quarterly, monthly, or on whatever schedule resonates with you. Monthly is probably the most frequent interval that is safe and productive if you are fasting for more than a day at a time. I am remembering, though, a story in a Little House book about boys who went sledding on a Sunday, and the trouble they got in. Theirs was a community who took the weekly day of rest very seriously, and hardly even spoke for the whole day!
There are two main points I want to repeat, because missing them is at the core of why many people I speak with are stressed, depleted and unhealthy:
1.) You are an ecosystem, not a machine
2.) Easy In, Easy Out