A Healthy Detox Plan
It often happens when we come arrive home from a big vacation or business trip, or after a holiday. We haven’t exercised regularly for a week or so, and we’ve been indulging more than usual in treats like the extra mojito or the unforgettable pasta.
Because of the lethargic and puffy feeling that a lack of exercise, irregular nutrition, and travel (especially flying) creates, we crave a detox plan once we’re home. Even though I often tell my clients that it’s not exactly a “detox” that we need at times like that, I know the feeling – it’s a visceral urge to feel better, cleaner, lighter, and freer.
However, I often discourage clients from taking drastic measures like a juice cleanse or any kind of fasting technique at a time like this. Making a dramatic change may not actually make you feel better. When you’re feeling a little gross after a trip, there are a few key things that you can do to accelerate feeling like “you” again, but they don’t necessarily involve lemon juice or cayenne pepper (or deprivation).
Here are a few considerations about using a healthy “detox” to jumpstart your normal routine:
Be accurate and realistic about the aftermath of a period of indulgence.
Here is where some may disagree with me, but I think that it’s psychologically important, if you are prone to worried about your weight, to weigh yourself when you get home. The first morning you are back, step on the scale, and note the number. When it comes to weight, I find that most of the demons live in our heads, not in the scale. If you actually know the number, it can empower you to take meaningful and balanced actions to get back on track.
Knowing your actual weight is extremely demystifying, because the change after a trip is usually very slight, despite the feelings of being so bloated. I got back from a fabulous, 9-day Italian vacation about five days ago, and I had that “yuck” feeling of being out of my routine. This sensation – being out of sorts – makes me feel like I had gained weight. But when I stepped on the scale, I was only about one pound heavier than when I left.
Besides, most of the weight you gain on short trips is probably water weight, not actual fat poundage. Longer trips may have more of an impact (ask me about the time I ate my way through Ireland in 2010), but for most people, a week or two will not shift the scale very much. You feel significantly heavier because of the puffiness of water retention (and possible slowed digestion), but this passes quickly as you get back into your normal routines, using the strategies below.
Our fitness and wellness culture tends to be somewhat anti-weighing right now. But many studies show that consistent weighing helps people to lose weight and maintain weight loss long-term. Do what works for you, though!
Get your sleep back on track.
Sleep is one of the most important regulators of wellness – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Aim to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night at – here’s the key – the same times every night. Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, try to set a schedule and follow it rigorously, until your sleep schedule evens itself out again.
Sleep regulates hormones, influences stress, and significantly impacts hunger and fullness cues. A lack of sleep can also cause you to store more calories as fat. Plus, when you’re tired, you make sub-par decisions about life in general, food and exercise included.
As I often say, sleep can be very frustrating, especially if you struggle with insomnia or your schedule doesn’t line up with your preferred circadian rhythm. Remember to be patient with yourself, but to be persistent in prioritizing this very important aspect of health and wellness.
Flying (and travel in general) tends to be dehydrating, and – counterintuitively – you feel the least puffy and bloated when are drinking enough water. Your body will release the excess fluids when it is in a proper state of hydration. If you don’t love drinking tons and tons of water (many of my clients don’t), try mixing it up by drinking seltzer or herbal teas, or by infusing water or seltzer with berry-flavored teas, mint leaves, citrus juices, or very tart fruit juices like cranberry (no added sugar).
Carry a bottle, and constantly refill your glass if you are at home. It will make a tremendous difference in how you feel!
Exercise every day.
It’s important when you arrive home from a trip that you get right back into your exercise groove. If you delay, it will become easier and easier to default into a new lifestyle – one in which you simply don’t exercise.
Life will inevitably throw curve balls that will prevent you from bringing your A-game to your workouts every single day forever indefinitely, but the key after a interruption is to jump right back in and to form the habit all over again.
Maintaining exercise habits is not a guarantee in life, no matter how fit you are. Many of my clients who are in their 40’s or 50’s can pinpoint one life event that de-railed their exercise and nutrition habits for good. Trust me: you don’t want to wake up 10, 20, or 30 years from now and wish that you had exercised more. Now is the time!
However, one important note: exercise is not a punishment for eating. Because you feel gross from travel bloating (and probably atypically indulgent eating), there may be a tendency to push yourself to exercise in difficult and intense ways that “make up” for how you ate (or didn’t exercise) on the trip.
Fitness doesn’t work that way. Trust the process – you will get back on track, as long as you keep showing up every day with a self-caring, consistent, and patient attitude. And it will happen faster than you think, as long as you stick with it.
Fiber and protein. Fiber and protein. Fiber and protein…
Ready for some nutrition tips?
To jumpstart feeling better and ditching the bloated, puffy feeling, focus on filling up with fiber and protein at every meal. Why these two nutrients? Both fiber and protein make you feel full and satisfied after eating, and take longer for your body to digest, and fiber in particular will help to regulate any post-trip slow digestion issues (assuming you are also hydrated).
I would add to this: make sure that your fiber and protein are coming from lean whole-foods sources like beans, lentils, poultry, fish, and lots and lots of colorful vegetables. Unless you have a medical need for it, avoid packaged “high-fiber” foods, and focus on fiber source that occur naturally.
Looking for ideas for easy meals? Check out my nutrition coaching group!
Want to cut something out?
Many people want to cut regular foods out in order to feel better more quickly. Again, I get it, but I’m not a fan of restrictive diets or eliminating food groups.
…There are a few things that you can cut out for a week or two that will make you feel better, without depriving your body of needed nutrients. Here’s what I would suggest:
Sugar – We don’t really need the amount of sugar that is available in the western diet. That is why I am an advocate of cutting sugar if you cut anything. That includes, but is not limited to: sugary yogurts, honey, fruity beverages (even “healthy” smoothies or juices), desserts, and designer coffees and teas. Not only will this help to stabilize your blood sugar, but you will also have the added benefit of re-gaining your sensitivity to sweet tastes, which can get dulled by repeated and consistent consumption of sugar.
Refined Flour – Please note, I’m not saying “cut all carbs.” I literally just mean refined flour products, regardless of the type of flour (yes, this includes refined gluten-free products). For a week or two, try eliminating pasta, extra bread, pastries, pita, corn chips, and anything else that is made of a baked or pressed refined flour. Replace this with beans, lentils, sweet potatoes, potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal.
Alcohol – Taking a temporary break from drinking can give the natural detoxification systems in your body a needed break, especially if you enjoyed more adult beverages than usual on your trip. Also, alcohol is extremely dehydrating, and you don’t want to work at cross-purposes with your de-bloating plan.
Two Important Considerations
How wild, exactly, are you going on vacation, and why?
If you are coming back from short trips needing a new clothing size and you know it’s because of the way you ate on the trip, the bigger question is: “What do you need to do differently when you travel?” Many of my clients find great success with bringing snacks for travel so that they maintain some of their regular fitness and health cues while on the road.
This can also be a mindset issue, and it can sometimes be traced back to a lack of balance in your regular life. If you ordinarily feel deprived, going on a vacation may be your bid for freedom. If this is your tendency, I recommend balancing out “regular life” so that vacations aren’t a utopia of forbidden excess. Enjoying indulgences is a normal part of a healthy lifestyle – it is not fun, however, to use food to act out.
Even more importantly…
Are your detox efforts coming from a place of self care?
Long-term positive changes rarely proceed from a place of self-judgment, self-recrimination, or fear. When you feel that “blah” or “gross” feeling after a vacation, focus on restoring your body’s sense of freedom, power, and wellness. While fitting into your jeans is also a consideration, it needs to be balanced with your efforts to be fit, healthy, vibrant, and confident.
Need help figuring out nutrition or exercise solutions? Contact me to get more information! I can help.