Fasting and cleansing can be quite beneficial to your health, but if done at the wrong time of the year, it can actually undermine your efforts. Every December, I start hearing patients planning for their January cleanse or fast. January seems like an excellent time to do a fast or cleanse to tie into New Year’s resolutions of a healthier you, but the 2000 year old wisdom of Chinese medicine would caution against it.
Winter is the season to build up the foundation of your health and your core energy. We do this by eating nutrient dense foods, sleeping a little bit more, allowing time to slow down, and by allowing time for reflexion. If you’d like to learn more about how to build yourself up this winter, please check out my previous post: Winter: The Season of the Kidneys
The goal of a fast or cleanse requires effort and energy from your body. A cleanse or fast helps your body process any excess toxins accumulated from food we’ve eaten, metabolic process, and from the environmental exposure. Cleanses employ supplements, herbs, tinctures, and/or eating large quantities of certain vegetables to help your liver process these extra toxins, and to help them be eliminated through your bowel movements. Fasts help your body do a similar process by giving the digestive system a break on processing new foods, and it allows toxins to be removed via a similar process from this break in eating food. Both of these processes put a small amount of strain on the body, and require significant work. Utilizing a process that requires work runs directly counter to the energetic quality of winter — of hibernation, storing, and consolidating. If done in the winter, you run the risk of further depleting the organs that hold the foundation of your health.
The proper time to do an official cleanse or fast is during the seasons of spring and early autumn when the energy of the seasons aligns with our goals of cleansing. Spring is the season of the liver and gallbladder, and autumn is the season of the lung and more specifically related to cleansing, the colon. In both seasons, the energy aligns with these organs of cleansing and elimination which gives your body more strength to perform a fast or cleanse at these times of year.
Spring is the number one best time to start any type of cleanse or fast. The energy is with your liver, you’ve built yourself up over the winter, fresh greens are sprouting and growing, the daylight hours are longer than the night, our energy is naturally a little more exuberant, and the weather is a more supportive of the effort it takes our body to do a cleanse or fast. A big thing to realize about cleansing is that it takes effort from your body to do it, and it take a lot of effort for your body to do a fast. This extra workload undermines the natural tendency for our bodies to try to strengthen and build up its foundation in the winter. Hence, cleanses or fasts are contraindicated and heavily discouraged in the winter due to the effort they require from our bodies.
Now eating cleanly is different than a cleanse. You can eliminate sugar, alcohol, wheat, corn, and/or dairy for two to three weeks in January to help yourself counteract the overindulgences of the previous holiday season. Cleaning up your diet in January by reducing the above foods and increasing vegetable consumption can be a fantastic way to reboot after the holidays without taxing your system. You may also find yourself having better digestion, more energy, and less pain when you remove the above inflammatory foods.
Increasing your vegetable consumption will also provide dense nutrition to your body and help strengthen your overall constitution. Eating whole foods in the winter falls perfectly in line with the season of hibernation, building, strengthening, and preparing a healthy foundation for the coming year.
One last tidbit to consider when thinking about a fast or cleanse in the spring or autum: some individuals are also too weak to do a proper cleanse or fast. It is important to seek guidance as to whether a cleanse or fast is right for you.Fasts and cleanses are best done with guidance from a health care provider, such as an acupuncturist, naturopath, a certified health coach, or certified nutritionist. You may need to spend time focusing on strengthening your body before doing a cleanse/fast, otherwise you risk further depleting your body. A healthcare provider will be able to direct you towards knowing whether or not your body is ready or strong enough to cleanse.
Here’s to a your best self in 2017!