Thoughts on Detoxing

    *( Know before reading that I am not a nutritionist or health expert; and my thoughts on detoxing do not substitute for medical advice.  I’ve received a few questions about whether or not I detoxed after recovery, so I wanted to address that issue here.)  

    When I recovered nearly 8 years ago, detoxing wasn’t as big of a trend as it is today.  Everyone knew certain foods weren’t good for you, but there wasn’t so much of an obsession about sugar/processed foods being “toxic.” Therefore, after I recovered, I didn’t even consider detoxing.  Yes, during my years of binge eating, I overloaded my body with sugar, preservatives, food dyes, GMOs, nitrates, BHT…and the list goes on an on.  My non-binge eating also contained a lot of gimmicky “diet” foods filled with sugar substitutes like aspartame and splenda, and I sometimes even ate chips with Olestra! I cringe to think of what I put into my body during that time. Looking back and knowing more about health, it might have been beneficial for me to give some consideration to healing my digestive system after recovery.  I know that many bulimics and those with BED are very health conscious, and may wish to do the same after they stop binge eating; however, I see this as a “proceed with caution” issue for reasons I’ll address in this post.  
    First and foremost, I think it was very important for me not to put myself on a strict diet.  Calorie-restrictive dieting was what set my binge/purge cycle in motion; and I knew that more dieting was NOT the answer. My body desperately needed to get the message that I wasn’t going to starve it anymore, so I think doing some sort of juice fasting detox would have been a very bad idea. I believe that making sure I ate enough allowed my urges to simply fade away once I stopped acting on them.  If I would have starved myself (even for a couple day detox), the urges may have persisted longer and certainly would have become stronger and harder to detach from during the detox.  In my opinion, any detox plan that involves fasting/calorie restriction should be put on hold until long after the urges to binge are gone…or better yet – indefinitely.  

    The truth is that starvation isn’t necessary for a detox to be effective. Fasting can be detrimental (or just unnecessarily stressful) even to non-binge eaters; and to recently recovered binge eaters, I think it creates an unneccessary risk.  Even if you are confident you won’t act on any urges that might arise during a fasting detox, why would you want to possibly reignite your survival instincts? Just one Google search for ways to detoxify the body without fasting produces countless results.  I believe that eating a robust and healthy diet, drinking lots of water and natural juices, possibly taking some supplements, along with trying to eliminate stress for a short time is a much better approach to cleansing and healing the digestive tract.      
    But even this robust and healthy approach to detox could have the effect of making you feel like you are on a diet; creating unwanted stress, food rules, and obsessions that you’d be better off without.  I think for me, learning to eat problematic foods in moderation was extremely helpful, because now those foods have absolutely no power over me.  If I would have quit binge eating, and then immediately turned to trying to compensate for having eaten too many “toxins” by creating a lot of rigid food rules, my urges to binge may not have subsided as easily.  It might have kept me in a “dieting” mentality, and in turn, kept my lower brain seeking to protect me by storing up food and fat.  
    Maybe a year or so down the road after I recovered, it might have been a good idea to do a non-fasting cleanse; because at that point my urges to binge were long gone. But, again, the idea of detoxing and being “clean,” and the idea that sugar and processed foods cause such a myriad of health problems wasn’t quite as pervasive at the time, or maybe I didn’t pay attention well enough.  So, I simply moved on with my life, and it wasn’t until the past couple years that I’ve even  considered doing some sort of cleanse – simply to become healthier, not to compensate for my past binge eating.  I have yet to get around to it because I’ve been either pregnant or breastfeeding for most of that time. 

    I believe the body is very resilient, and my body did go back to normal after binge eating stopped. No, I don’t have a perfect body and I’m probably not as optimally healthy as I could be if I devoted more time to nutrition. I do enjoy eating healthy and I know the benefits, but honestly, I find it nearly impossible to feed a family of 6 an optimal diet (we eat our share of value menu items:-)).  I would not discourage anyone from trying to nourish their body well; I’m only saying that in reality it can be very difficult to maintain an extremely healthy diet, and if eating clean were a requirement for a full recovery, then only a select few could ever recover.   

    Additionally, I think that believing you need to be “clean” in order to recover is one of those things that might actually hinder recovery.  It might be intimidating to think you have a long detoxing process ahead of you after you quit binge eating; and your lower brain may use that to try to get “one last binge before you detox” or to tell you it would be “too difficult to detox so you might as well keep binge eating.”

    There are millions of people who eat junk food sometimes, don’t detox, yet aren’t eating disordered; and live normal, and even very healthy lives. Focusing on health and being “clean” can be a worthy goal (provided it doesn’t become a stressful obsession, or become all about weight loss), but it’s not a requirement for a full recovery.

    In summary, my thoughts on detox are that it makes the most sense to be confident the binge eating is over before even considering a cleanse; and a non-fasting detox would be the best choice.


7 thoughts on “Thoughts on Detoxing

  1. Wonderful post and I completely agree with you! While one might have done damage to their body during their binging period, I don’t think you can outdo it. Once you start feeding your body properly (enough food but not binging), I believe the body will settle down itself. Any kind of restriction or diet plan is dangerous when recovering from an ED.

    PS: Kathryn, you might want to let your readers know that they can subscribe via email now.

  2. Thank you. I really needed this. I tried another very strict paleo diet (4th attempt) after doing well but having slow weight loss eating “normally” and without binges for a few months. I lasted 3 1/2 days and I’ve been binge eating for the past 3 days. It wasn’t restrictive calorie wise and they ask you not to weigh yourself, but I did weigh myself and then I started to binge again. This post put things into perspective. I need to give myself more time — maybe a lot more time — before I attempt another strict elimination diet (no sugar, grains, gluten, etc). I’m just not mentally there right now. Here’s to tomorrow.

  3. Hi Kathryn,
    I like this post because it is very sensible and down-to-earth! I have been binge eating for decades and I can tell you that over many years I have managed to make: water – fasting, detoxing, juicing and other “healing activities” a huge part of my bingeing and restricting cycle. It all started nearly twenty years ago when I was around aged 29 (and had already been binge eating since I was 11) when I decided to do a water-fast for 4 days. It was the beginning of my yo-yoing weight issues (prior to this my weight had been more or less stable despite uncontrollable eating), when – post fast – my already confused body, struggled to compensate for a short period of starving myself, by bingeing even more. Of course subsequently, I went on to engage in much longer fasts. In fact I recently completed a 10-day water fast, which actually, due to my bizarre eating patterns resulted in a pesky peptic ulcer! So for me, I’ve managed to incorporate healthy concepts like: cleansing and detoxing into a very distressing, long-term, chaotic relationship with food – not good!

    Over the years, my secret preoccupation with food has been very draining and I’ve tried many approaches to dealing with it, so that I can find some peace in relation to food, without much long-term success (although I’ve acquired a wealth of information along the way). I’ve just received a copy of your book from Amazon and I’m very much looking forward to reading it – I’ve read some great reviews, some of which have been written by women – like me – who have been binge eating for decades. There’s a lovely example of this on Alen Standish’s website, and it fills me with optimism.

    Best Wishes,

    1. Hi Kathryn 🙂

      After a 15 days water fast where i feel very good during and after but after i started to have many binge eatings, even though i am happy and feel well. As it is a natural response of the brain after a stravation period i was wondering if anybody would have binge eating after a water fast ? I don’t know what to do to stop binge eating, i am desperated… Did i have to eat wayyyy more ? Maybe you have meat similar problem….

      Thanks a lot for all !

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