Detox programs make big promises: lose weight, clear up skin, boost energy, soothe digestion. But cleansing can do even more—that is, if you approach the process as an opportunity for holistic transformation.

Detoxification means both minimizing exposure to toxins and improving your body’s ability to get rid of them, says Gaetano Morello, ND, the British Columbia–based author of Whole Body Cleansing (Active Interest, 2009). Although once uncommon in Western cultures, reducing body toxic load is gaining credence; many health practitioners now consider it a must-do because of the glut of synthetic chemicals we encounter in food, water, soil, and air. With more than 80,000 chemicals on the market, researchers have found some 300 chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of newborns, rendering even babies “prepolluted,” the President’s Cancer Panel reported last year.

The liver—the body’s primary detox organ—simply can’t remove mounting toxins fast enough, and, thus, your body stores the toxins in fat cells, explains Morello. The buildup may lead to chronic inflammation, which is linked to conditions including heart disease, cancer, arthritis, allergies, asthma, and even obesity.

Beyond detoxification’s physical advantages, a regular cleansing time offers a chance to make positive mental and emotional changes. “A cleansing process has a primary theme, which is to let go of what needs to pass away, to release what no longer serves you,” says Boulder, Colorado-based Michael Gaeta, LAc, who offers guided detox programs to his patients.

To reap the benefits of a holistic approach, try this targeted detox plan in spring and fall. Pick a time when your schedule is clear of big social events and travel, recommends Gaeta. Then, you can easily work these detox tips into your regular routine—small investments that offer a big, positive health payoff.

Body

Instead of piecing together single herbs and supplements, choose a gentle detox kit to ease the process. (See “5 Whole-Body Detox Kits,”) Then, follow the tips below to support your body during the cleansing period.

  • Eat organic, unprocessed foods.
    Choosing USDA Organic foods greatly reduces your exposure to toxic pesticides, says Morello. Check the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Dirty Dozen list (ewg.org/foodnews) of the most contaminated produce to avoid. Beyond organic, opt for unprocessed, unrefined foods (think: no packaging) to relieve your system from having to digest complicated cuisine, suggests Gaeta. Your body can then put more energy toward breaking apart and excreting toxins. Also, use a filter for drinking water.
     
  • Boost lean protein.
    Amino acids in protein fuel toxin elimination. To aid the process, up your protein intake by  20 grams each day during detox, recommends Morello. Drink a protein powder drink—organic whey and pea-rice-hemp blends are high-quality, nutritionally complete sources—with your morning bowl of oatmeal. Or eat eggs for breakfast.
     
  • Get moving.
    For 30 to 45 minutes at least every other day, exercise at a moderate intensity that makes you sweat and gets your heart pumping. The effort engages your lungs and skin, which are also exit routes for toxins, says Gaeta. And do seated spinal twists, yoga poses that aid digestion and stimulate the liver, according to Frank Lipman, MD, coauthor of Revive (Fireside, 2009).
     
  • Upgrade your body care.
    Skin is permeable, allowing toxins in personal care products to easily enter the body, says Lipman. Before you buy lotions, shampoos, soap, and makeup, check the EWG’s Skin Deep database (ewg.org/skindeep) for clean options.
     
  • Sweat it out.
    Each week of the detox period, take a 30-minute sauna. Sweating stimulates adipose tissue so that toxins stored in fat loosen up for release and elimination, says Morello.

Environment

Dodging environmental toxins during a cleansing program comes down to three words: no purchased chemicals. Don’t fret about pollutants you can’t avoid, like outdoor air, says Gaeta. Instead, focus on what you can control.

  • Avoid toxic foodware.
    Opt for glass, stainless steel, or plastic containers that are free of the estrogenic chemical bisphenol-A (BPA); steer clear of polycarbonate (recycling code #7), the major source of BPA. Also, shun Teflon nonstick pans, which contain perfluorinated compounds linked to cancer and reproductive problems.
     
  • Breathe better.
    According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor pollutants can be two to five times higher than what you find outside. To ventilate, open doors and windows when the weather’s pleasant, advises Lipman. Keep a leafy green plant in every room of your house to help remove toxins from the air. In place of chemical air fresheners, bring in fresh flowers or herbs like sage and rosemary.
     
  • Clean naturally.
    Cleaning-product manufacturers aren’t required to provide complete ingredient lists, so toxins may lurk in your household cleaners. Select brands that reveal every ingredient on labels or websites (some to avoid: glycol ethers, alkylphenol ethoxylates, dyes, and fragrances). Or make your own, suggests Lipman: Scrub your tiles with nontoxic, affordable baking soda; remove stains with hydrogen peroxide; and use white vinegar in place of bleach.
     
  • Go barefoot.
    Because most dirt, pesticides, and lead come inside on your shoes, says Lipman, go barefoot or wear slippers in your home. Also, keep a floor mat by your entryway to collect residue.
     
  • Install a shower filter.
    A hot shower may feel cleansing, but when chlorine heats up, it can create chloroform, a known carcinogen. Look for a shower filter that complies with NSF/ANSI Standard 46, which means it has been third-party tested to remove chlorine.

Mind and spirit

If you want to deepen your detox, go beyond banishing baddies from your body and surroundings. Take the opportunity to make positive changes in your mental, emotional, and spiritual state.

  • Write it down.
    Before you begin a cleanse, set intentions. What in your life doesn’t serve you anymore? Is it a relationship? A habit? “These are things that need to be exhaled so that you make room for the good air you inhale,” Gaeta says.
     
  • Gather support.
    Recruit friends or family members to cleanse with you. Cook healthy meals together or swap antioxidant- and fiber-rich recipes. Compare how your bodies and minds are responding to the changes.
     
  • Be thankful.
    Western culture trains people to focus on what’s wrong and try to fix it, says Gaeta. Instead, acknowledge what’s right. “We increase what we pay attention to,” he says. Equally important is forgiveness. Be willing to move on and let go of any wrongdoing—even your own—so it doesn’t affect you in the present.
     
  • Take a media fast.
    Except for what you need to do at work, avoid all mainstream media—television, radio, newspapers, and magazines—and cut down to only essential social media that you use for communication. Fill the gaps with positive thoughts and inspirational reading. Even better: Make meaningful connections through in-person meetings and phone conversations.