Detox the Ayurveda Way
*The following is not meant to be medical advice. I am not an Ayurvedic doctor. Please consult with your doctor before embarking on a diet of any kind, and be mindful of any allergies you may have before trying the program below.
The holidays from November to December often become a time of over-eating, or eating foods we might not normally indulge in. Even if you aren’t religious and don’t celebrate any holidays this time of year, chances are you get invited to parties, or people bring food to work, and you may find yourself giving in to temptation. Then January 1 rolls around, and we decide to make resolutions to lose weight or get in shape or simply to eat healthier. There are safe ways to do this without feeling deprived or like you are paying a penalty for past indulgence. I am personally not a big fan of fasting, unless you are doing it for religious purposes. Completely fasting from food signals the body that you are in starvation mode, and our bodies tend to want to hold onto fat (unfortunately, this affects women more than men), plus it simply isn’t healthy for most of us to completely fast. Our bodies need nutrients to heal, repair and perform their normal functions. However, we can fast from certain foods. We can get rid of the sugar, refined/packaged foods, caffeine and alcohol, and nourish our bodes with wholesome foods and foods that help our bodies return to a state of “homeostasis”. Ayurveda is about balance. In order to bring your body into a state of balance, it is helpful to know what your prakruti (your constitution) and vikruti (your current state of imbalance) is. You can find this out from a doctor of Ayurvedic medicine. They can guide you as to what foods help to balance your “Dosha” or help correct your current state of imbalance. However, if you don’t have access to this information, you can still participate in a healthy “detox” to reset your body and give your internal digestive organs a break.
One of the best foods for balancing and nourishing the body is “kitchari” – this is a porridge like meal, typically made from Basmati rice and yellow mung beans. Mung beans are highly digestible for most people, even folks who have trouble digesting most beans and lentils. The beans and rice are cooked with a mixture of Indian spices and herbs called Kitchari. You can make your own mix, or you can purchase it from a company like Banyan Botanicals (I am not paid to plug any company – but I do order my mung beans and spice mixture from Banyan Botanicals simply for convenience, and I have been happy with the quality of their products). Kitchari includes mustard seed, turmeric, mineral salt, cumin seed, ginger, fenugreek, and asafetida. The directions for cooking the rice and mung beans are right on the label. You can substitute brown rice or other whole grain like quinoa if you like. You can also add vegetables. I like a lot of color, so I typically make mine with broccoli and carrots or kale and carrots. Typically, kitchari is made with ghee (clarified butter), as it is the easiest oil for the liver to digest; however, you can use coconut oil if you are vegan. The liver is extremely important in the detoxification process, as it is involved in processing all of our foods, alcohol, and medications. It acts like a filter for the body, so when it is not functioning optimally, it can affect our immune system.
A strict Ayurvedic cleanse might have you eat kitchari 3 times a day and also support your system with things like lemon water in the morning, and CCF tea (cumin, coriander and fennel tea) throughout the day – which helps aid digestion. You might also supplement with herbs to support your specific dosha, or whatever is out of balance. I like to do a mild version of this cleanse. For breakfast, I eat gluten-free oatmeal (made w/ Bob’s Red Mill Oats) with a little honey and fruit – preferably berries. For lunch and dinner, I will eat kitchari. Sometimes I’ll substitute a fresh salad (If you do this, know that raw veggies are actually hard to digest – so depending on the reason for your “detox” you may want to just eat cooked food for 3-4 days). It is advised NOT to snack between meals, but if you get hungry (like me), a good snack is a green apple with some almond butter. Remember you can drink as many cups of the CCF tea as you want, or any other herbal tea that you like.
I have a hard time cutting out coffee cold turkey, so I will usually switch to green tea, which has less caffeine, but has enough to prevent my getting caffeine withdrawal headaches. Which brings up another point…Giving up something you may be addicted to is never easy on the body – so you may want to add a couple days to your “detox” during which you slowly give up things like sugar, caffeine and alcohol by having less of them – or by eliminating one at a time.
I cook a batch of Kitchari and do this cleanse several times a year when I feel like my body needs a break, my digestion is upset or sometimes, just b/c it tastes good!
If you are interested in a deeper detox, there is a much more involved detox in Ayurveda called “panchakarma”, which is best done under the supervision of an Ayurvedic practitioner, and often in a spa-like environment. The detox is accompanied by abhyanga (massage), sweating, and other practices to help the body eliminate toxins and restore balance. For more information on this kind of detox practice, check out: https://www.ayurveda.com/panchakarma/overview
Wishing you a healthy, happy holiday season and a prosperous New Year! Take care of your Self! Namaste.