How To: Mindful Eating On A 9 Day Liver Detox, A Memoir.
I had a really interesting experience this past few months.
Well, for a start I went to Cornwall for the first time. For those of you who haven't been, it is so beautiful I'd really recommend it.
I stayed in St Mawes with friends and it was a very lovely break. You can't beat a nice break can you.
Well, anyway, after my break I was convinced by the powers that be in my household to join in on a well known 9 day liver detox. It was quite a good one, so I'm told. I often avoid detoxes as I don't find them much fun. But I do like a good experiment so I did it. Mindful eating on a 9 day liver detox.
My findings were fascinating and I wanted to share them with you here on the blog.
Here are the basics of the detox I did.
no diary: this was no problem. I've been eating mainly plant based food for years now and other than missing the odd bit of chocolate this part was no big deal. I found it quite interesting to abstain from all dairy again. It's easy to forget just how many unexpected food items have dairy in. (I.E: Some crackers, wines, tinned soups and sauces)
no wheat: again, not too much of a big deal. I don't eat much bread or pasta anyway as I find they make my brain sluggish.
no alcohol: no problem. I'm not fussed about alcohol and often prefer not to drink it.
no sugar: not too much of bother, although as with the dairy it is surprising how many unexpected food items contain refined sugar. This particular diet didn't ask you to abstain from natural sugars like fruit. (Thank god)
no caffeine: ok, big problem. *Insert alarm bell emoji.* Within about 4 hours of not having my usual morning coffee I started having severe headaches which lasted for about 4 days. I didn't crave caffeine at all it, which is interesting to note. As well as the headaches I experienced other caffeine withdrawal symptoms such as aching muscles. The aches spread gradually from my feet up through my different body parts day by day. As well as the physical symptoms I experienced a complete cognitive lethargy for about 5 days which ranged from mild sleepiness and lack of concentration to a full blown failure to remember my own name.
The diet lasted 9 days and contained plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and herbal teas. I was never left hungry. There were meal plans for each part of the day (breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, smoothie) and a few heathy puddings on the menu too.
The Side Effects
Practical: I found the diet to be quite a lot of effort to be honest, and I couldn't imagine doing something like that more than once a year. It might be quite nice if I were, say, on a wellness holiday or a retreat and I was eating this way and someone else was cooking 🙂
It might also be nice if someone else was cooking and they didn't tell me I was following a plan. Rather, I was simply served healthy food throughout the day. I wonder if this would eliminate any detox placebo effects or side effects?
As well as there being quite a bit of food prep there were also a lot of formal meals. A whole big meal at lunch and at dinner and snacks in-between. I travel a lot for work and I am out and about a lot of the time. I'm quite prepared, taking my own lunch and healthy food to work but on the plan I found I needed to prepare lots of dinners and lunches the night before in order to take things with.
I also had to eat when I wasn’t hungry and vice versa. Something I’m not used to. If you are a working person or busy with family getting prepped for a detox may take a little more organising that normal but if you are keen I’m sure it will be no bother, especially if it’s only for 9 days.
The meals themselves weren't intricate, rather they were nice and simple with locally sourced easy to find fresh veg and fruit. Up until about 2 years ago I had been following a vegan way of eating for about 6 years because I love all the fruit and veg and also love the animals. And so the plant based style of eating on the detox felt very easy and natural to me.
Emotional: The caffeine withdrawal was quite severe. Headaches, body aches, cognitive impairment, memory loss, lack of concentration, sleepiness. On the plus side I found that once my body had gotten used to the caffeine withdrawal my sleep pattern improved. I woke up very early each morning and was wide awake, as opposed to dozy or sleepy. I was tired at 9pm. I was intrigued to watch the effects of caffeine and pleased also to have a break from it. When the detox was finished I slowly re-introduced caffeine and it was quite incredible the effect it had on my nervous system, even after just one coffee. At the time of writing I have been back on normal coffee consumption for about 4 weeks and my relationship with coffee seems to be returning to the pre-detox state.
I think, on reflection, I would quite enjoy giving up caffeine gradually over a period of time but not all in one go. (The detox I took does recommend a gradual reduction.)
Quitting sugar didn't seem to bring too many emotional changes although I found I had far less energy swings throughout the day. I didn’t feel the zing you feel with caffeine, but I didn’t feel tired or at a low ebb either. Just very normal.
physical: I didn't measure weight but I did notice that my bike riding and running became a lot easier. I had more endurance. My friends said a few times that I was glowing. I think it must have ben all the lemon water I was drinking. Or maybe the St Tropez tan.
Psychological: I felt a lot less sharp and quite cloudy. I think this might have been down to caffeine withdrawal.
What happened after the detox?
Well, now it gets interesting.
On reaching the 9 day mark I felt cleaner somehow, fitter also (running, mountain biking, yoga, a greater ease in traversing the usual landscape of my life) but I still felt at a slight loss cognitively. I wondered when the perks of the detox would arrive. I reintroduced various food items such as wheat or sugar, caffeine or dairy (-milk) to see what happened. Hosting my very own science experiment, in my own body.
Being able to reintroduce these things one by one helped me to see what my bodies response was to them. For example, on reintroducing dairy I found I woke up with a blocked nose each morning. On reintroducing wheat I felt quite tired.
Over the weeks that followed I decided to carry on with the menu from this particular detox as the recipes were quite nice. Slowly it fizzled out until I returned to my normal eating routine.
But I still hadn't returned to normal. I felt completely off kilter. Everyone is different and what I'm about to share is just my experience. On the majority of occasions, where I have tried to give something up on purpose ( cake, sugar, alcohol or chocolate for example) -- it hasn't worked. On occasion it works for a very short period and then it returns...with a vengeance. It is as though you swing back in the opposite direction in direct proportion to the front swing. This is why I stopped giving things up, it just doesn’t work for me.
This is why I stopped giving things up, it just doesn’t work for me.
There are things I keep an eye on, if you know what I mean. It happens very naturally and spontaneously. You know, I don't eat too much of this or drink too many caffeinated drinks as I know it won't do me good, but I don't go mad about it or make rules or abstain.
If I become unwell I consult a medical doctor or nutritional therapist for advice. For example at one point I noticed (though watchfulness) that I felt tired at certain times. A consultation with my GP showed a low B12 level which i hear is common with vegetarian diets. I had supplements and dietary fixes for this. No big rules, just pragmatic responses.
Over the last ten years I stopped drinking alcohol and that happened very spontaneously too. I also began eating mainly plant based food. Both happened easily and spontaneously. It just felt right, and continued to feel right in the moment and that’s why I continued doing it.
At some point it stopped feeling right to eat a vegan diet and so I experimented with other things. This laid back, 'see how you go, and moderate it as you go along' method, seems to work well for me.
Yet from the moment I came off the detox I watched my own natural, effortless, approach to eating go AWOL.
I was wanting to eat cake and chocolate and sweets. I was wanting a lot of coffee. I was hungry a lot. It was as though I was making up for the 9 days deficit in caffeine, sugar, wheat and dairy.
I considered perhaps I wasn't making up a deficit of substances because that would imply that those things were needed in the prior weeks and that need wasn't fulfilled. I don’t normally (prior to trying the detox) consume those substances so the idea that I would now need to make them up doesn’t make sense. So why was I wanting them? Perhaps it was biochemical, or maybe psychological.
Whereas before I picked intuitively, as I describe in Relish, post detox I found that my mind interrupted the intuitive eating process. I found myself bound up with all these ideas of gluten this and sugar that, and not knowing what to pick at restaurants or what breakfast to have. I came away with all these concepts and rules of what’s good and what’s not good.
Coming Back To Myself
I published a digital mindful eating course in December 2015, it’s called Relish. What usually happens when I design a course or write a book on a particular topic is that the outside circumstances of my life begin to offer renewed opportunities for me to test, experience or familiarise myself with what I am writing about or researching in my academic, consulting or written work. That is because the world comes from the inside out. Consciousness in it’s infinite intelligence simply reflects back to me, both the predominant contents of my consciousness and plenty of real life opportunities for an ever expanding awareness of the truth of things as it relates to my current topic of interest.
I began using the lessons in Relish to strip away the recently acquired detox mentality and realign myself with the ability to eat well, naturally. Without rules or complications. Without meal plans or restriction. Asking simple questions like, ‘What am I hungry for?’ And ‘what would I really like?' Rather than ‘what should I have?’ Or thinking of certain foods as bad.
Ultimately, just coming back to my own rhythm. Going shopping and picking the things that my body opens up to-- says yes to.
If those things so happen to be sugar laden, I have them. I have them in broad day light. Guilt free while remaining entirely aware of the whole process. That means watching how I feel during and after. Whether that item felt good for me or not. Simple experimental watching.
As I came back to my own rhythm, I once again experienced eating as a celebration. As a means of creative expression. For example, making amazing concoctions with whatever so happens to be in the fridge. Expressing aliveness and joy as I appreciate and revel in each bite. Making meals with love rather than out of obligations fulfilled as part of another meal plan.
There are no conclusions. For there to be a conclusion it would have to be the end, and its not over till the fat lady sings. But I do have observations. Things I found while taking part in this debacle.
It can be fruitful to make observations. To do experiments in life and look into things for yourself. This way you get to see what works and what doesn't.
Sometimes these experiments need revisiting. For example research suggests that mindfulness training brings a great deal of positive change to the structure of the brain. However some of those changes do not persist in the absence of regular mindfulness meditation. We would not know this had the experimenters not revisited the subjects. This same approach applies to mindful eating and it's something I am keen to highlight with this article.
You were born with that body and mind, your particular avatar if you like. Just how many things about it have you yet to uncover? You might like to go on all kinds of expeditions or holidays, discovering new territories, learning lessons, reading blogs and meeting exciting people but you have infinite worlds within you to explore. Where's your Taj Mahal? Your personal Paris?
Have you been on a detox? What did you find?
All good wishes
Round Up & Recap Of Things I Learned While Practicing Mindful Eating On A Well Known 9 Day Liver Detox
1. Caffeine has a massive effect on my brain and nervous system affecting me cognitively, emotionally and physically with exercise. Caffeine withdrawal is not to be taken lightly.
2. I really enjoy a plant based diet. I know this from watching myself prior to this experiment, but it is good to see just how much I love it. I loved introducing a greater variety of fruits. Someone I love once told me that you know when you are doing well in life when you can have a mango every day for breakfast. I didn't have any mangos but I had lots blueberries and that was ace.
3. Abstaining from caffeine and sugar seems to give me a good nights sleep, going to bed at a reasonable time and waking up bright eyed at 5am.
4. At the end of the detox I didn’t feel too sparkly but I expect I looked sparkly on the inside.
5. I found going on a fixed diet plan affected my ability to self regulate when I came of the detox interrupting my usually normal and healthy rhythm with ideas, rules and restrictions. I am still getting back into my own swing and it has been over a month.
6. Having a mentality of wilful abstinence seemed to cause a back swing in the opposite direction once the forced abstinence was lifted.
7. It gave me a great chance to retrace food sources to see their effect. This was great for my continued research into mindful eating.
8. Reconnaissance data. I now know all this stuff about myself. Which is helpful as I didn't come with a manual.
9. I drank a lot more water and I loved it.