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Cleansing my body, losing my mind

The thought of straight-jacketing, including dietary, gives me panic attacks. Don't get me wrong. I'm not a gourmand or a glutton. I'm fairly indifferent to food and eat most things that come my way.

columns Updated: Apr 13, 2014 13:13 IST
Sanchita Sharma

The thought of straight-jacketing, including dietary, gives me panic attacks. Don't get me wrong. I'm not a gourmand or a glutton. I'm fairly indifferent to food and eat most things that come my way. If they don't, I don't miss them. I've never had food cravings, not even when I was expecting my one and only child.

I've never fasted, dieted just once for a very short time a decade ago to try out a few fad diet. I cheated on the prescription menu a bit - it's unrealistic to expect people to give up ice cream in summer - and abandoned it in seven and a half days after I lost more than 2 kg in a week and started resembling a sunken-cheeked patient from a pre-Independence tuberculosis ward.

Now I've gone and done it again, but this time for four whole weeks. Beginning this week, I've committed myself to a month-long detox plan that promises to flush out toxins from my body and make me healthier and more energetic. It involves not having junk foods, meats, dairy, sugar and alcohol and having lots of organic greens and fruits, along with customised natural supplements. A big factor in favour is that after the initial webinar briefing, it does not involve follow-up visits to clinicians and nutritionists.

Saying yes to the four-week plan was easily one of the hardest decisions of my life. It took me more than four weeks to decide. When I first heard about it, I shrugged it off by telling myself I absolutely could not commit to anything that lasted longer than coffee or lunch. But fearing it made me sound like a wuss, I mulled it over but ended up coming up with more excuses - I didn't need a detox, it wouldn't work for me, I couldn't do it.

Just the thought of prescription eating made me think of food all the time. It got so bad that reading about Modi's wife made me wonder what Modi had for lunch while she ate her boiled rice staple and prayed that he'd become prime minister. Since giving it thought was clearly stressing me out, going ahead seemed an easier option.

Scientifically, what is attractive about this detox is that it's based on published research, not new-age theories. It's almost comforting to get my cholesterol, blood sugar levels, haemoglobin and liver function tests done before I start and then again after the cleanse ends to mark changes, hopefully all for the better.

What works best for me is that I'm still a bit unconvinced about the effectiveness of detoxes in situations where lowering long-term exposure to toxins like pesticides from food and groundwater, dioxins from burning fossil-fuels and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls from coolant fluids) is not possible, as in India, where implementation of environmental laws and food safety standards is questionable.

For example, though organic food has fewer surface pesticides, it often has the same amount of heavy metals and hormone-disrupting PCBs found in soil and water. And if you give thought to the antibiotics used to fatten animals for meat, the hormone oxytocin injected in cows to make them produce more milk, and carcinogenic dioxins from fossil burning stored in animal fat, you may just stop eating.

Extreme detox programmes, such as ones that encourage people to have no solid food for days at a stretch, do not work as they trigger the release of fat-soluble toxins from fatty tissue into the blood. And chemicals that the body does eliminate quickly - like phthalates found in plastics - quickly build back when they went off the cleanse.

Even with limited benefits, opting for pesticide-free food is a good idea, especially if you keep at it. So is cutting back on alcohol and smoking, including secondhand smoke. Dryathlons - short breaks from alcohol - lower liver fat, cholesterol and blood glucose within a month, found a small study by the University College London Medical School, reported in New Scientist in January this year. If it works for me, you'll hear more about it.