Posted on October 05 2018
You're doing awesome shit. You’re eating more plants. You’re cutting (or significantly reducing) the refined sugar, saturated fats, processed foods, and empty calories in your diet. You’re getting up earlier, working out more, and forging new habits in the place of unhealthy ones. You feel good for the first 2 days, maybe the first week, maybe even the first month, and then it hits:
Weird flu-like symptoms.
Lack of focus.
This overwhelming sadness.
And you’re breaking out like crazy.
All of this (and more!) is completely normal: it’s called detox. Depending on a number of things, it can last days, weeks, or flare up for a few days every couple of months as your body continues to adapt and get rid of what it no longer needs.
The good news? It won’t last forever!
The other news? We must learn to deal with it while it’s here.
Rest assured that things WILL get better. Trust that you are doing the best thing for you and your health.
Stress, Mood Swings, and Bloating
The bottom line: When you are making a change to your diet, exercise regimen, or even just your schedule, your body is under stress.
Now, not the stress that we need to be afraid of. Stress, though commonly given a negative connotation, is a normal biological response to a demand or threat. When you are making a change, whether that be to your diet, workout regimen, habits, or schedule, you are demanding something different from your body. Obviously, your body cannot tell if this change is an actual life-threatening situation, or a demand that will ultimately benefit you in the long run, so it reacts the same way: #stressedaf.
When your body is used to a specific pattern of eating and living, drastic changes to that pattern will throw it off. Unfortunately, even positive, productive changes to your body and life require an adjustment period. This is what we call a “detox period.”
So no, just because you’re experiencing resistance, it doesn’t mean that the changes you’re trying to implement are not for you! Actually, it means the opposite. It just means that your body is doing just that: resisting, because change is difficult, and it doesn’t yet know how much happier and healthier it will be once you both get used to these changes.
Stress causes your body’s defenses to kick into high gear, triggering the “fight-or-flight” response, which does a number of things, including direct blood away from your digestive tract and towards your limbs (the better for you to run and fight with, my dear). Your body thinks you’re going up against grizzly bears; it doesn’t realize you’re just eating a salad everyday and trying to rid the toxicity out of your life. Like, chill, bro.
This fight-or-flight response causes a number of symptoms:
Bloating/Indigestion - Remember, lack of blood flow in your gut means things aren’t operating as usual.
Lack of focus - Your body’s triggered to be on the lookout for this impending doom, which is why you can’t focus on your normal tasks!
Irritability/Moodiness - You’re in a relatively heightened state, which has its purpose in the case of real threat, but for now, it’s just causing emotional sensitivity.
Breakouts, Exhaustion, Headaches, and More Bloating
Your body is also undergoing physical change. As you consume more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, the physical detox symptoms will vary in levels of intensity depending on what your diet looked like before. Your cells are a literal reflection of what you put into your body. If you have eaten a lot of processed food, refined sugar, saturated fats, red meat, pork, and other animal products (depending on your constitution), your beautiful and capable body may have more work to do as it replaces this data in your cells with that of the newly introduced influx of veggies, fruits, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
As your kidneys, liver, lymph system, and digestive system work overtime to clear out all of the build-up, you may notice some of these symptoms:
Tiredness/Low drive - Your body is dedicating a large amount of energy to detoxification.
Headaches - As your organs push out and release toxins, they don’t just dissipate (unfortunately). They have to circulate through the bloodstream before you can be rid of them. While they’re circulating, they can cause headaches.
Increase in bowel movements - Due to the influx of fiber, things are movin’!
Decrease in bowel movements/Constipation - Also due to the influx of fiber... This is an indication that you need more water!)
Breakouts - Your skin is a huge detoxification organ - what isn’t eliminated through the urine or bowel movement is unfortunately eliminated through your skin.
How to Combat Stress, Physical Detoxification, and the Associated Symptoms
These symptoms have the ability to stick around for as long as your body is in a stressed, detoxifying state. However there are things you can do to alleviate stress and ease back into an equilibrium state while still maintaining the changes you’re making.
Okay, it may sound hippie af, but it’s imperative. When you’re stressed, your breathing gets shallow which means your blood is not getting fully oxygenated and your brain is not working at full capacity. By making it a point every single day to take conscious, deep, slow breaths, you are actually able to change the state of your nervous system, bringing your heart rate down while releasing cortisol (a stress hormone) and improving cognitive function. It also has a remarkable effect on your energy levels. Don’t believe me?
Try it: Set an alarm on your phone for a morning hour, an afternoon hour, and a nighttime hour. Every time the timer goes off, stop what you’re doing, and take 10 deep, slow-as-you-can-go, conscious breaths. Focus on inhaling into your stomach, not just stopping in your mouth or chest.
Yoga is also a great element to work into your routine, as its main purpose is the practice of breath and how to move with it.
2. Don’t Suppress What Comes Up
There may be some powerful emotions that make their way to the surface when you begin to make changes to your diet, habit, and life: anger, sadness, frustration, doubt. Acknowledge them. Reflect on them. Talk about them. Journal them. FEEL THEM. They only hold power over us until we are able to release them. And we can’t release them until we look at them for what they are and begin to deal with them.
When your mood is changing rapidly for no apparent reason, take a beat. This might be a perfect opportunity to take your 10 deep breaths. Remember that this is not you. This mood, feeling, or emotion WILL pass. If you have the opportunity to write down your thoughts, stressors, emotions, do so in a journal or even a note on your phone. Talk to a trusted friend or family member or go vent on the Tribe (sorry, girls only)! You are not alone in this.
3. Do What You Can to Slow Down and Self-Love
While your body is detoxifying and adapting, it’s imperative to remember that it’s OKAY to slow down and take what you need. We’re already self-love advocates, but in this time, it’s even more important. Simple acts of self-love like going for a nature walk, listening to soothing music, giving yourself a foot massage, and cozying up with a book and a cup of tea are all de-stressors. Just like the deep, conscious breaths, taking this time to slow down can actually re-calibrate your nervous system and ease your mind and spirit.
Slowing down and taking care of yourself also doesn’t have to be doing something - it can be NOT doing something. If you have an obligation with a friend that is likely to drain you even further, it’s OKAY to reschedule or cancel altogether. Take what you need to de-stress.
4. Stay Hydrated!
Water consumption is absolutely CRUCIAL to the game. Most headaches are already caused by dehydration, and you may now be eating more food than you were. With more bulk in your gut than your body is used to, it also needs more fluids to help pass the fiber through. It’s important to make water the first thing you eat or drink upon waking. Your body has been healing and detoxing while you have been sleeping (and fasting), so water helps flush out build up, toxins, and waste that it no longer needs.
5. Drink Herbal Teas
Dandelion is a liver-detoxifying plant that can aid in bloating, indigestion, and the removal of toxins and build up. Your liver is taking a huge role in any dietary changes, as it’s a major detox organ. For more benefits of dandelion tea, check out this blog post!
Ginger tea is also extremely helpful in digestive issues, as it improves digestion and increases the absorption of food.
6. Eat, and Prepare to Eat, the Right Way
The digestion process begins when you simply think about your food for the first time. It’s at this point that your mouth begins to produce saliva which contains enzymes that break down carbohydrates into simple sugars. As you prepare and look at your food, this process continues. In order to get the most out of your digestion process, mentally prepare yourself to eat. Take a couple minutes before eating to think about the food that you are fortunate enough to eat right now. Take time preparing your food, even if it’s just mindfully stirring your soup as you heat it up, while you think about how good it’s going to taste! When you do eat, chew your food thoroughly. The more of the breakdown process your mouth does, the less work your digestive organs have to do, therefore allowing your body to redirect that energy towards absorbing nutrients and digesting fully.
When undigested foods make it to your large intestine, it becomes food for bad gut bacteria, where it then putrefies and releases gases that lead to bloating and gas after meals. Chewing your food thoroughly is a crucial part of the digestion process - take your time!
7. Whole Foods Only
To minimize the length and intensity of the detox process, be sure to eat as little processed foods as possible. The less interference with your body’s detox process, the better and more quickly it will be able to do its job.
8. Focus on Vitamin-Rich Foods, High in C, A, and Omega-3
Eat foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, and omega-3 fats to speed up detoxification, promote clear skin and a healthy glow, and reduce inflammation in the organs and skin.
Vitamin C-rich foods:
Vitamin A-rich foods:
9. Supplement Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes
It’s entirely possible that you may be doing all of the above and are still experiencing uncomfortable symptoms. To combat bloating, indigestion, and heaviness, we recommend taking a probiotic to replenish good gut bacteria as well as a digestive enzyme to aid in the digestion of food.
Your gut holds both helpful and harmful strains of bacteria, and they must be kept at a healthy balance. As your diet changes, your flora (gut bacteria) are thrown for a loop. Taking a probiotic and digestive enzymes to aid in the process can make the world of a difference.
These are our favorite Probiotics:
Advanced Naturals: 50 Billion CFU ($67.99 for 60 pills - $1.13/each)
Renew Life Ultimate Flora: 90 Billion CFU ($38.95 for 30 pills - $1.30/each)
Organic Olivia’s Not Your Average Probiotic ($44.95 for 30 pills - $1.49/each) - This one’s my favorite because it contains prebiotics (what probiotics feed on) AND digestive enzymes as well.
These are our favorite Digestive Enzymes:
DigestMax ($25.99 for 90 pills - $0.29/each)
Pure Encapsulations: 13 Enzymes ($27.70 for 90 pills - $1.13/each)
This, Too Shall Pass
Above all...be patient and stick with it. It will not last forever. The moment you’re most likely to give up is the moment just before the dawn. If this change is something you believe will make you better, either physically, emotionally, or mentally, it’s worth zooming out, gaining some perspective, and pushing through.
If you need help making a transition to a plant-based diet, try our 5-week Plant-Based Power-Up in the Fit and Thick App. If you’re looking for something more community based, learn more about our 28-day JUMP lifestyle challenge here.