You've probably heard that Americans are "addicted" to food. That may seem like hyperbole, but is it?
"If these [processed and unhealthy] foods weren't addictive, you wouldn't have a hard time not eating them," says David Jack, a weight loss coach and director of Teamworks Fitness in Acton, MA. "By sheer design, [the addiction] is real. Once you get caught in that loop, it's hard to break it."
The solution? "Spring cleaning," he says. "We do it for our cars, for our bedrooms. How much more important are our bodies?" (See how to organize your home for weight loss!)
You can get your body back in order, feel better, and enjoy food more with a cleanse—but not the type that's built around pills and shakes.
The real goal of cleaning up your diet should be "to get back in touch with how your body actually works, and how it should work," says Jennifer Ventrelle, RD, lifestyle program director at Rush University Prevention Center in Chicago.
Use these tips and guidelines from Ventrelle and Jack to get your body (and your diet) back to a natural state with a safe, sane, and healthy cleanse. Then use our 1-week clean-out guide to feel better, regain an appreciation for nutritious food, and get (and stay) healthier.
More: Try these 1-day diet solutions.
Clean Up Your Nutrition
"If you expect to lose weight and feel better, start with things you're going to do forever," she says. Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet, and swap in leaner proteins before going for all-out drastic cuts. "Once you have those things in line, then you can cut X, Y or Z for 3 days or 3 weeks."
What Foods to Clean Out (and How to Replace 'Em)
So what are those X's and Z's to clean out for days or weeks?
Start with caffeine and sugar substitutes. "They give you a synthetic surge of energy, and it's not sustainable," Ventrelle says. It doesn't fit with your natural body function. Cut these stimulants out.
Next, cut back on (or eliminate) dairy, says Jack. Even if you don’t think you are lactose intolerant, you may experience some of its symptoms and not realize it. "You can use this time as a screen to see if certain foods make you feel gassy, jittery, or lethargic," he says. "You may find that certain foods aren't really the best foods for you." (Search: Find hidden allergens in foods.)
The dairy group, of course, is a great source of calcium, vitamin D, and protein. During this cleanse time, Ventrelle says, consider swapping milk for almond milk that's been fortified with calcium, or eat plain yogurt. The live cultures "have already digested the lactose," she says.
Protein is missing from many cleanses, leaving users nutrient-deficient and, worse, hungry. "That's one reason some people can't stick to them," Ventrelle says. If you're planning to cut animal protein—which is harder for your body to process and digest—be sure to include other sources of this key nutrient. Ventrelle suggests edamame, nuts, and seeds. Jack suggests fish, which provides lean protein along with disease-fighting fatty acids that can keep you full.
The final cut: processed foods, especially refined (read, white) carbs. Your liver has to work harder to separate the processed from the unprocessed, says Ventrelle, so cutting back on refined foods gives your system a break. As with dairy, cutting carbs may help you find mild intolerances, Ventrelle says. Even if you don't have a full-blown allergy, cutting wheat, rye, oat, and barley products may help you find out that gluten doesn't leave you feeling your best. During your cleanse, substitute whole grains and starches that don't include gluten: Quinoa, brown rice, millet, and sweet potatoes all qualify.
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