There are a lot of ways to detox. Clinically speaking, the term applies to weaning your body off toxic and addictive substances like alcohol, drugs, or dopamine driven activities like gambling. That kind of detoxing often requires professional assistance to get through safely and recover your health afterwords. It’s also easiest to do with the support from your local community.
[If that kind of detox search landed you on my page, this isn’t the right resource. However, I applaud your courage and send you my sincerest hopes for your recovery and the beautiful, healthy life you deserve.]
Detox as a Trial Run
We also use the word detox to describe the act of taking a total break from activities that we know aren’t contributing to our health or happiness. Staying with a friend to get some distance from a long-term relationship where you are chronically undervalued or taking time off smoking to clear up a cough are two examples.
That kind of detoxing is often a test we give ourselves to see if we are ready to make permanent changes.
Periodic detoxing is about taking an intentional break from things you love so you can enjoy them more through moderation. For example, Matt and I enjoy fine-crafted cocktails and spirits. But we know alcohol is only healthy in moderation. So, it’s a pleasure that must be managed.
Dry January is a standard reset period for us following all those holiday festivities. However, we also take intermittent breaks anytime drinking starts to feel like a habit rather than a luxurious pleasure.
Eating junk food, shopping for non-necessities, too much screen time (games, social media, TV, etc.), and lots of other pleasurable in moderation but detrimental in excess activities are good options for periodic detoxing.
Sometimes we need to detox larger areas of our lives too. Lifestyle detoxing is about editing out no longer beneficial accumulated habits or possessions. Detoxing a cluttered home, trimming down an overly stuffed schedule, or taking a mental health inventory to identify and address whatever is dragging you down are examples.
Ideally, this kind of detox helps create a mindframe of avoiding quick fixes or impulse buys, doing more periodic detoxing to maintain moderation, and placing premium importance on your long-term health and happiness.
So, what kind of detox is right for you?
Periodic detoxing is a great tool for regular use to maintain moderation whenever it becomes hard to find the line between pleasure and habituation.
Likewise, a lifestyle detox such as Marie Kondo style clean out of your hoarded stuff or cleaning up your home air quality (suggestions below) can have positive long-term effect on your health and happiness. However, if the frequency of your lifestyle detoxes start to seem more like periodic detoxes, deeper work to address the issues driving that excess accumulation might be needed.
Neither of these forms of detox will work to moderate addiction or address long-term toxic problems leading to chaos in your life.
If you know in your heart that minor changes won’t add up to your life being pleasurable over the long-term — don’t waste time reading the light-duty detoxes I’m about to cover. Instead, make yourself a promise to do the deeper work of healing the old wounds or habits holding you hostage.
If you just need a little nudge to keep on the path to good health and long-term pleasure, here are a few detoxes to try. These also have the happy side benefit of being better for our planet!
Air Quality Detox
One good place to try a lifestyle detox is with your air quality. Air is something we all need to live. Yet, we rarely give air the attention it deserves. Given that roughly 2000 gallons of it runs through your body daily, even small changes over time can add up to better health and happiness.
Here are two ideas to get you started.
1. Reduce Microplastics
Microplastics are bits of plastic small enough to be inhaled. If you have any plastic in your home, you can be sure that there are microplastics in your air. Even HVAC or HEPA filters used to clean your air can be a source of microplastics.
Plastics are nearly ubiquitous in our lifestyles at this point. So, it won’t be possible to eradicate them entirely. However, you can reduce your total exposure by addressing the most likely culprits.
Synthetic carpeting is one of the biggest microplastic polluters. Replace them if possible or vacuum more often to clear the air.
Vinyl flooring or materials covered with plastic products, like polyurethaned hardwoods, shed microplastics too. However, they tend to do so at a lower rate than synthetic carpet.
Natural tiles and naturally treated woods made with no plastics are ideal. Though they can be harder to clean and maintain.
Plastics All Around
Our homes are often full of other objects made with plastic, many of which aren’t making our lives better. Take a mental inventory of all your visible plastic materials. Then pare down what you can.
- Get rid of any plastic objects that you don’t use or don’t love having around.
- Replace plastic containers and plastic coated non-stick pots, etc. with alternatives like glass or cast iron.
- Reduce the release of microplastics in your clothing by choosing materials made with natural fibers. Alternatively, wash synthetic materials on cold and line dry to keep those plastic microfibers from shedding so much.
- Be mindful of the plastics you buy and eliminate what you can before it ever leaves the store or comes in the door.
2. Reduce Chemical Interactions
The second easy way to detox your home is to reduce the chance for toxic interactions between various chemicals in your environment.
Most cleaning products are mildly toxic. This is why they often come with safety warnings and specific instructions for use, storage, and disposal. But they can become even more toxic when they interact with other chemical products in your home environment.
For example, bleach and vinegar are two common cleaners that should never mix. Both can be noxious when inhaled and harmful in contact with your skin. But when combined together they create chlorine gas that can seriously damage mucous lining in your eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. In severe cases this can lead to death.
That’s an easy example that most people are aware of because those products have been around forever. But with all the new products or new formulas of old products emerging, it’s impossible to keep up with all the potential dangerous interactions. And natural products aren’t always better. Some contain highly volatile organic compounds that can be extremely risky to people with asthma or allergies.
Here are some easy ways to reduce your risks.
- Use fewer products.
- Stick to products that have simple ingredients you know how to use safely.
- Find safer products on EWG’s Guide to Cleaning Products.
- Use one product at a time and wait until it airs out before using another.
- Store potentially toxic products as far from your living areas as possible.
- Skip products with fragrance.
I know the last recommendation might be hard for people who love perfumed products. Keep in mind that fragrances designed to mask odors don’t solve air quality issues and often make them more volatile. Products designed to neutralize odors usually come with environmental costs and cumulative effects that are more dangerous than the original odor. Even plant-based aromatic distillates (e.g. essential oils) can be toxic to mucus linings and to people with allergies or asthma.
When you detox your product line-up and remove fragrance from the equation, you get to enjoy the aromas emanating from your kitchen, the bouquets of cut herbs or flowers on the table, or the scent of a sun-filled morning sipping tea.
Personal Health Detox
Clearing the air is good for anyone who inhales in your home. But now, let’s get personal.
1. Personal Care Products
Like cleaning products, personal care products are another area where we frequently mix and match chemicals without considering consequences. All the cumulative interplay between skin care supplies, soaps, hair products, nail care items, perfumes, and more can add up to potential health risks.
For example, parabens, a commonly used cosmetic preservative, have been deemed safe by the FDA in small quantities and used in products for decades. But what is a small quantity? When you add up your exposure across multiple products, is your quantity still small? And if they are safe, why do many cancer awareness groups discourage use? Why do men’s health organizations warn about their risks for reducing sperm count? Why have they started regulating some parabens in Europe? Why are more and more manufacturers voluntarily removing them and adding “paraben-free” language to their labels?
Bureaucratic entities, like the FDA, can’t react in real-time to emerging health information unless the product poses immediate risk for severe injury or death. The concerns about parabens that emerged in 2005 didn’t meet that standard.
Still, shortly after that, tuned in consumers started opting for paraben-free products. Savvy niche manufacturers, with reputations built on environmental awareness or wellness, removed them years ago too. Recently, more large manufacturers have begun removing them as emerging evidence adds up and legal liability risks mount. But many consumers and manufacturers have been using them for years with unknown consequences.
Truthfully, in the big picture, parabens are probably a minor concern compared to triclosan, UV filters, and even natural substances like talc. And frankly, we all know that better eating, more exercise, and less stress will enhance your natural beauty more than any bottled product. So why not detox your beauty routine and reduce your exposure risks with these ideas?
- Go through your products, read the labels, and dispose of products that seems suspect for safety.
- Think about products that can do double duty. The fewer products you use, the fewer labels you have to read and research. There’s also less risk for unexpected chemical interactions.
- Reduce your quantities too. More is not usually better in beauty products. Following labels precisely or using less than the amount prescribed reduces risks for accidental overaccumulation.
- Finally, apply the “Would you eat it?” test. If it can be absorbed by your skin, then it ought to be as safe as the food you put in your body too.
2. Food Diversity Detox
In our beauty routines, we often get hooked on products and use them repeatedly creating cumulatively toxic risks. Likewise we do this in our diets too. We settle into the habit of eating certain types of food regularly. Even if the individual food is good for you, the cumulative effects of eating the same thing repeatedly can be toxic.
Wheat is the classic example. In moderation and especially when used whole (like rice) or fresh ground from hard winter or heirloom type wheats, it’s a wonderful wholesome, nutrient-rich ingredient. But if you overuse it and have or develop allergies to the proteins in wheat (albumin, globulin, gliadin or gluten) it can cause allergic symptoms that intensify with cumulative use.
Unlike in our cleaning and beauty products where fewer ingredients add up to less risk, our bodies require a wide variety of natural foods for ideal health. The more varied the colors, plant families, seasonal growing periods, and complex nutrient profiles the better!
– Craving Controversy
Sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking that craving something means its good for us. If you’ve got a burning desire for foods that are high in fat, salt, caffeine, sugar, simple carbohydrates, are cured, or are already a regular part of your diet, those aren’t usually healthy cravings. Sometimes they can also be indicators of underlying health problems.
If you want to use cravings as indicators of healthy dietary needs, you need to train yourself to use them effectively. These four things tasks have helped me fine tune my healthy craving radar.
- Eat a diverse diet full of lots of plant-based foods and natural, non-processed ingredients.
- Pay close attention to your health.
- Listen for healthy cravings based on flavor profiles such as bitter, astringent, sour, oily that tend to indicate the need for certain vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, or proteins.
- Pay attention to which food colors appeal most such as orange for beta carotene, blue for anthocyanins, rich hued green for vitamins A, C, E and K, yellows for lutein, and reds for vitamin C.
– The Fast Fast
An easy way to figure out which foods you might be overconsuming and get a break from them is to start with a fast for a day or two. During your fast, listen to what your body wants first and what you crave most strongly. Those are usually the things you need to reduce, take periodic detoxes from, or eliminate from your diet.
After your fast helps you figure out what foods to reduce or avoid, start eating healthy foods while keeping those four points detailed above in mind. Perhaps eat a salad made with a diverse assortment of greens, other chopped vegetables of assorted colors, and a squeeze of lemon or orange juice.
Stick to vegetables and fruits for as long as you can to recalibrate your tastes to healthy plant-based foods. Then, slowly add in higher calorie foods that you have no known allergies to like nuts, fresh fish, eggs, unaged cheese, yogurt, or tofu.
Eat small portions, full of simple but diverse and mostly fresh, plant ingredients, as needed so you don’t feel hungry. But stop before you feel full. Also drink as much water or unsweetened, non-artificial herbal teas as you can.
Throughout this process, keep listening to your body so you can learn to distinguish the difference between healthy cravings and the not-so healthy cravings. Also, plan some distracting activities like taking a walk or starting a new batch of microgreens when your not so healthy cravings feel strongest.
3. Time Warp Detox
One final detox to consider is what I call the time warp detox. To do this one, think back on all the times you feel like you wasted part of your day without intending to. Then start to ask yourself questions about that time.
What were you doing? Why did it take so long? What did you gain from the process? What would you have rather been doing if you could get back that lost time? What made you get on that track?
We all get sucked in to some time warp type activities sometimes. While you are doing them, time flies by. But when you stop doing them, you realize you spent longer than you thought, gained less than you expected from the process, and missed out on doing other stuff you planned to do as a result.
Frankly, it’s not your fault. Really enticing distractions are an ordinary part of our world now. Whether you get sucked in on social media, internet searches, gaming, online shopping, binge watching a TV series, etc. – these mediums have been designed to keep you engaged for longer than you intended.
For me, I get carried away researching stuff. I read a new study out on some bacteria in soil. Then I read all the underlying studies they cited and click out to other links from there. Suddenly three hours later, I feel like the foremost expert on a subject…
Except I’m not. I haven’t done anything meaningful to contribute to the field. All I’ve really done is read someone else’s work, appropriated their knowledge so I can feel smart, and given nothing back in return. I’ve also given marketers lots of opportunities to send mushy messaging into my brain that might end with me buying a garden tool I don’t need.
A little distraction is normal. But getting trapped in too many time warps that serve no meaningful purpose makes you dull and more receptive to being influenced in ways you never intended.
Once you figure out your worst time warp offenders, take time off from doing them for a while. Or if you do them, set a reasonable timer and stop when it goes off. That way you’ll still have time for the things that make your life better in real time.
Detox our Planet
Home and personal detoxing can be extremely transformative. I wrote this post because after writing two books in three years, while keeping up my normal activities and being the full-time caretaker of an elderly parent, I needed to do a little detoxing myself. So, I thought I’d write about it as my distraction from strong cravings. But, I want to temper this with a reality check.
Just this week, an international team of researchers, tasked to assess the impact of synthetic chemicals, plastics, and other “novel entities”, reported that humanity has exceeded a planetary boundary related to environmental pollutants. That means it’s official. Our lives and our planet are plagued with potential toxins and unexpected chemical interaction everywhere — in our oceans, fresh waterways, soil, air, and in all the things that come from them.
The truth is, there’s no way to detox from all of that. There’s only so much we have personal control over given that we live on a shared planet and are subject to the outcomes of the choices other people and entities make. We are all participating in our collective and cumulative choices.
That’s why personal detoxing is a fantastic place to start. But it’s not the finish line.
We also need to collectively detox our planet. The ways to do that are outside the scope of this post. However here are some ideas as inspiration: making natural wildlife habitats at home, organic and permaculture farming, targeted environmental activism, wildlife and land conservation, banning toxic chemicals, mandating plastic recycling and outlawing new plastic creation, and cradle to grave corporate responsibility.
There are so many good ideas out there. I hope that after you’ve enjoyed the benefits of some home and personal detoxing, then you’ll consider ways to help detox our planet too!