Photo by Phoebe Grigor
Aromatherapist and superb health coach Kate Harahan, who is also the owner of Neal’s Yard Remedies Edinburgh, shares her informed thoughts on Detoxing.
As winter draws to a close, the Northern Hemisphere tilts towards the sun. After the spring equinox, standard time ends and daylight saving time begins. We associate spring with making a fresh start and waking up after hibernating over winter, the same way that we commonly spring clean our homes during this season as the days become lighter.
Our bodies are constantly working away to remove toxins, however Spring is a traditional time for us to think about helping our bodies with this process.
Here are some pointers that I try to incorporate into my life regularly, which seem relevant for those considering detoxing at this time of year. We are all individual, so take what is useful to you from my suggestions, and discard the rest!
Over the past few decades, millions of new synthetic chemicals have been manufactured for the cosmetics and food industries. These are pretty much unavoidable in our environment, and enter our bodies through the air we breathe, food, water, cosmetics and cleaning products. Our kidneys and liver filter and process these chemicals, some of which can remain in the fat cells in our bodies. The human body is so resilient that we can eat food that is low in nutrients and full of chemical additives and preservatives and our body will continue to function. Long term, our body cannot sustain the additional pressure on our organs and body systems of a constant supply of chemicals and poor food choices. When we are being under nourished, our general health suffers and disease can appear.
We are told from a young age ‘you are what you eat’ but it’s difficult to visualise what that actually means for our bodies. The nutrients or chemicals that we eat become our blood cells, our regenerated organs, skin, hair, nails, lymph and other bodily fluids. It should be simple – we all know we should eat more vegetables and less sugary snacks, alcohol and processed food. With the majority of food choices available to us in supermarkets and restaurants manufactured with tastiness and profit in mind rather than the effect it has on our bodies, it’s difficult in reality to eat that way - especially when we are busy.
Many people are aware of how non nutrient food can make us look on the outside. It’s difficult to see the connection of how it actually makes us feel, or how it affects every function of our body, and the ailments, emotional effects and illnesses that appear as a result of poor nutrition.
There are simple ways to increase the amount of nutrients we eat (and reduce the amount of chemicals and non nutrient food we consume) without going on a diet. The most effective way I have found is through a concept called crowding out. This concept is based on the principle that if you add more good stuff in, you will naturally not have the room or need to eat as much of the foods and drinks that do not serve your body well. One way to put this into practice is by adding in an extra vegetable side dish to your meal, or eating a salad as a starter. Including a smoothie with your breakfast will give your body a boost of useful nutrients and you will notice that you naturally want to eat less of the unhealthy stuff if you’re fuller with healthy stuff. Trying to eat whole foods (an apple is a whole food!) rather than food from a packet or processed foods – try to aim for meals with the fewest amount of items in the ingredients list and no additives to prolong their shelf life. If it’s not possible to cook all your meals freshly (and for many of us including me, it is not) the highest quality prepared meals I have come across are from major high street food retailers, where you can find some easy to cook prepared dishes full of vegetables amongst the more unhealthy ready meal offerings.
Another useful tool that I find helpful is that when I have a craving for a sweetened coffee or sugary snacks, is to drink a glass of water first. I wait and see how I feel after a few minutes, and then make the decision about if I still need to eat or drink the sweet stuff. A lot of the time our bodies are just craving water. As we are mainly made up of water we need to keep our bodies hydrated to keep our joints lubricated and supple and our blood flowing. You can try this with cravings for cigarettes as well and see if it helps with the frequency you need to smoke - have a glass of water first and wait and see.
One important lesson I try to remember is to only ever do what you can, set yourself realistic targets (even if that is something as small as to take a multivitamin every other day) and absolutely do not beat yourself up about what you should or shouldn’t be doing, or tell yourself you are failing if you cannot stick to a restrictive diet. Most diets are set up in a way where it is not practical or possible for a person to stick to them for long, unless you are extremely dedicated and have the strongest will in the world. I believe that a little of anything unhealthy that makes you happy in moderation is not a bad thing.
Our bodies need time to digest food properly, so when you eat, try to make time to sit and just eat, away from your desk and don’t use your phone or computer or tablet while doing so. Being kind to your digestive system and loving and respecting your body by sitting and actually chewing your food instead of rushing to eat it as quickly as possible will help you to digest your food more effectively, have healthy blood and cells and let your body do what it was designed by nature to do.
I believe that another way to assist our bodies is through supplementing with micro-nutrients and oils which are difficult to obtain from our food. Lots of the food options available to us I feel are produced to make money rather than nourish and sustain the population. Vegetables are grown in soil which itself is depleted of nutrients because of intensive modern farming and then sprayed with chemicals to kill insects or coated to make them shiny and attractive. Many factory farmed animals are injected with growth hormones and given doses of antibiotics to counteract the risk of disease from the unsanitary conditions they live in, all of which ultimately ends up in our bodies.
Many supplements are synthetically created and are not derived from food, so the body does not recognise them as nourishment and removes them. Less expensive supplements tend to contain chemical binders and fillers, which makes them cheaper to produce and able to sell for a low price. This is why I choose to stock Viridian supplements in my shop, as they are whole food supplements and are void of any chemical fillers or binders. Switching to a whole food supplement or introducing a whole food multi vitamin and omega oil are easy ways to add micro-nutrients and healthy oils to your diet. I believe that even taking a whole food supplement occasionally, or staggering your supplements so you take some one day and some another day is better than taking none at all. Unless you are taking a therapeutic dose of a supplement to treat a specific ailment, you don’t need to worry if you forget or if you can’t afford to take supplements every day. You are giving your body a little boost when you do take them.
Detoxing doesn’t have to be all about food. Choosing skin care and body products that contain no synthetic ingredients, like the beautiful products we sell in Neal’s Yard Remedies, removes the daily barrage of dozens and dozens of synthetic chemicals entering our bodies via our cosmetic choices. We make our products with the maximum organic, natural and wild ingredients.
To help with mind chatter and to help me relax and give my mind a break, I need to take frequent time away from my computer and phone and remember to not check my emails constantly. I sometimes miss the days when I didn’t have a mobile phone and people were not able to be contactable 24/7 but because of the nature of my job that is not possible. At the end of each day, I find it helpful to not have electrical items switched on in my room at night time. I turn off the wifi and anything on standby in the room. When we are busy and stressed, it’s important to create a peaceful dark environment so our body can relax, restore and process thoughts, food, and hormones while sleeping. I struggle to relax and can’t meditate, so for me the best meditation is to sleep for a long time.
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