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 unnecessary 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.

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