Can You Support the Body from Toxins without Obsessing on Weight Control and Food Restriction?
Therapeutic cleansing has been used for physical and spiritual healing since ancient times and many cultures still use their traditional applications. The modern-based practices of detox diets and cleanses also have some evidence of improving health. Preliminary trials, surveys, and case reports have demonstrated clinical efficacy using protocols that were designed by health care practitioners.
On the flip side, these practices are also deemed very controversial and can be viewed as “trendy” in the conventional medical model. Those in the anti-diet world also resist these concepts and believe that they are “wellness diets” in disguise which are marketed for weight control and/or body manipulation. No doubt, there is validity to these latter claims. These deceptive “lifestyle medicine hacks” do have a dangerous connotation when used as marketing ploys to sell supplements, restrict and eliminate foods deemed “unclean,” and/or food and body shame people based on their nutritional choices and the products they use.
As with most things in medicine which focus on nutrition and lifestyle, diet culture can slip in and take over the best intentions. This is why I find the most effective approach, especially concerning cleansing and detoxification, is a personalized and integrative one that honors all body shapes.
I have found in my practice that it is possible to nurture the body with healing foods that provide extra support for being under excessive toxic insults AND not fall prey to weight preoccupation and harmful diet culture messages. Just as with intuitive eating, when one is in alignment with their body and wants to feel good, they can make empowering choices with food selections and tune-in to what best serves their mind-body-spirit at the moment.
That being said, not everyone may want or need to cleanse, but many can be supported by adding in foods and taking lifestyle measures to mitigate their risks. Various nutrients and interventions can be used to enhance the body’s natural abilities to remove unwanted metabolites and harmful chemicals. (source, source, source, source, source, source, source) For example, some of my clients have variations in their genetic capacity to handle toxins. They may need to be more careful of which foods and products they use while incorporating in more of others they find pleasurable. This isn’t based on body size, restriction, or stigma, it is a health suggestion of what may be impacting their wellness.
Although this information that follows regarding the toxicity of our world and food supply wouldn’t be something that I would give to someone who has been damaged by diet culture and/or has disordered eating patterns upfront, it is something I do weave into my practice with my clients when the time is correct. In my viewpoint, being aware of the dangerous and overwhelming insults our bodies and brains are up against every day is empowering because then we can make choices that favor our wellness rather than make us victims.
Note: This means if you are struggling with orthorexia or recovering from eating disordered patterns, you may want to just skim over the following section or wait until you are recovered to read it.
The Reasons to Be Aware of What Hidden Dangers are in the Food and Products Out There
According to the National Association of Environmental Medicine:
Environmental medicine (EM) is a relatively new branch of medicine that explores how the environment interacts with the human body – especially the physical, mental, and emotional responses to environmental factors. Environmental medicine dovetails with other branches of medicine including toxicology, industrial medicine, and public health. EM uses a holistic, systems-wide based model to evaluate how various toxins, pollutants, chemicals, and microbes may be compromising the body.
Those working in environmental medicine leverage the concept of cumulative toxic load – low-level exposure and interaction with various substances in food, water, air, homes, and communities – over time that may compromise fundamental systems which maintain overall wellness and support healthy aging. This field explores the link between the environment and the documented rise in chronic illnesses like cancer, metabolic, neurological, and endocrine disorders.
As a naturopathic doctor, I uphold the naturopathic philosophy of food as medicine and that nature has healing power. When our body is bombarded with toxins and chemicals, it makes it more challenging to optimally function and increases the risk for chronic disease patterns. (source, source, source, source, source, source, source, source, source, source, source, source)
Here are some not so cheery facts about our environment and food system:
- climate change, soil erosion, and monocropping is negatively impacting our food quality and availability
- there is an increasing amount of nutrient depletions in crops and this is reflected in people
- the consumption of ultra-processed foods has been associated with many physical and emotional disorders (source, source, source)
- our world is more polluted than ever: there has been an abundance of toxins and chemicals that have been and continue to be introduced and expanded as the population and technological dependency increases. These have been linked to health issues (source, source, source, source, source, source)
All of these factors create additional stress on the body and brain which is compounded. This is because the very nutrients needed for our body to process these chemicals and handle these burdens, including optimizing biotransformation, continue to be depleted by the current manufacturing practices of our food system. (source, source, source, source, source, source)
Here are some more specific facts that bring this point home:
- According to a review from the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM): Research has suggested that the nutrient content of crops has declined over the years, possibly in part due to a number of factors such as the cultivated plant varieties, land and soil management practices, and climate change.2,8,16,17 A 2014 meta-analysis of 7,761 observations, including 2,264 observations at free air CO2 enrichment (FACE) centers and including 130 species, suggested that elevated CO2 levels reduced the overall concentration of 25 minerals in plants, including calcium, potassium, zinc, and iron, by 8% on average.8 In addition, this increased CO2 exposure increased the ratio of carbohydrates to minerals in the studied plants.8 A 2017 review found that elevated CO2 concentrations potentially resulted in a 3-11% decrease in zinc and iron in cereal grains and legumes, specifically.5 In addition to minerals, elevated eCO2 potentially impacts the protein concentration of various grains, which may significantly affect countries that rely on grain crops as sources of dietary protein.2,18,19
- The National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) estimated that 31% of Americans are at risk of developing a vitamin deficiency or anemia. (source, source)
- The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that nearly 30% of the global population suffers from a form of malnutrition, more than 2 billion globally have micronutrient deficiencies, and 740 million people are iodine deficient.
- Compared to our grandparents’ generation, it takes eight oranges of our time to derive the same amount of vitamin A from one of their orange.
- A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition using U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different vegetables and fruits found a “reliable decline” in several key micronutrients including calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin C, protein, and enzymes.
- A study using nutrient data in 20 vegetables from1930 to 1980 found that the calcium content declined 19 percent; iron 22 percent; and potassium 14 percent.
The Sticking Points Between HAES, Anti-Diet, and Integrative Docs- Toxins, Chemicals, and Organic Foods
A few of the biggest sticking points, I feel, between HAES, anti-diet work, and functional and naturopathic medicine regarding cleansing and detoxing is the use and importance of organic foods and the avoidance of pesticides and toxins. I do understand the socioeconomic factors that make it difficult for people to access or buy organic or regeneratively farmed food and natural products; however, this does not make the fact this type of food has less pesticides, herbicides, and more phytonutrients that promote health less true or that greener products have less harmful ingredients. (source, source, source, source, source) It does; however, make the socioeconomic injustices for all of us not having more access to safe foods and products and the corporate capture of nutrition even more infuriating.
HAES and anti-diet concepts have deep roots in ending social injustice, stigma, and promoting equality. These approaches are not “anti-health,” but rather anti-diet culture and pro-peace with food. (source, source, source) Therefore, I do not understand the resistance to organic and non-processed foods as being more health-promoting. Isn’t access to foods and products that aren’t filled with dangerous substances important for everyone, not just those who can afford it?
Conclusion- Living in a Toxic World and the Diet-Cultured Traps
We are living in a toxic world. The chemicals in our foods and environment are stressing out our bodies and impacting people’s and planetary health. There is a social justice issue in the ability to access food and products that are natural and safe and nourish our bodies.
The more people who can afford to buy organic and low pesticide food purchase it, the more supply and demand will drive the prices of them to be more accessible for all. We can also encourage those people to buy more non-chemicalized personal care and cleaning products. Promoting wellness and health, for all body sizes, does not include slathering on and consuming chemicals that have endocrine and hormone disruptors in them that impact future fertility and neurological health.
Still, in this diet culture healthcare space, we must all gently and consciously be aware that “clean” and “safer foods” could trigger eating disorders, disordered eating, and unnecessary eliminations. If naturopathic and functional medicine doctors can approach cleansing and detoxifying from a perspective of nurturing and ensuring that everyone will have the fuel for their bodies and brains to handle all its up against, cleansing and detoxifying can fit into a Health at Every Size (HAES) paradigm.
In the next few articles, I will be diving into this topic more, including “dishing out” what we are up against and how these toxins are so prevalent. I will also be offering some solutions, both personal and political, on how to handle this information and nourish our body without scaring and shaming ourselves, and while working within our own budget.
Mental Health Resources
*If you are experiencing a mental health crisis and/or are suicidal, please seek professional mental health support:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) — Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor
- Lifeline Crisis Chat — Chat online with a specialist who can provide emotional support, crisis intervention and suicide prevention services at www.crisischat.org
Other Helpful Resources
Below are some of the highlights of the many free resources on this website:
- Four Essential Oils Blends for Supporting the Mind-Body and Easing Tension
- VIDEO: How Your Brain and Body Suffer with Too Much Stress & Naturopathic Medicine Tips for Calming the Mind and Relieving Overwhelm
- Video Recap: Essential Oils to Ease the Stress & Anxiety of Back to School
- The Importance of Fun, Music, & Play for Mental Health
- Video Recap: Essential Oils for Brain and Mental Health & Soothing Stress
- 10 Natural Ways to Relieve Stress and Calm the Mind-Body During Trying Times
- Video: A Naturopathic Doctor’s Approach to Thyroid Health Using Essential Oils: Video Recap & Additional Resources
Additional Supportive Techniques & Tools
- The Tapping Solution, A Technique to Lower Cortisol and Reduce Stress- Podcast interview by Dr. Kara Fitzgerald with Nick Ortner.
- Stress management tips and resources
Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
According to experts and the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no approved standard of care treatment, cure, or preventative for COVID-19. Supportive measures and containment are in full force as a result. Please see the CDC website and your state’s website for more information and updates. They also state when to contact your physician related to symptoms and travel history, exposures. Please read my more detailed article on this subject here.
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.