By Dr. Victoria Nguyen, ND
As I have written in the past, the start of spring often elicits a new beginning for me. It is a time where I will pack away winter items and do a deep clean of my home. Not only does spring cleaning involve clearing my physical surroundings, but it is also a time for me to reflect on my physical and mental being.
This year, like many in the past, I decided to do a cleanse and reset my system by addressing my diet. I, like so many of us, eat when I am stressed and will admit that there are moments that I stray from the healthy practices I know are important in supporting my body – physically, mentally and emotionally – especially in times of stress. I wanted to write about my experience this year as there were a lot of things I learned and remembered through this experience.
Myself, as well as Dr. Dan and Dr. Shegeft decided to do a 2-week detox program followed by a 2 week weight loss program that was created by one of the supplement companies we carry at the clinic.
Essentially both protocols involved replacing 2 meals of the day with a protein shake, taking some additional supplements and most importantly cleaning up the diet – no gluten, dairy, added sugar, processed foods, caffeine or alcohol – essentially a whole foods centric diet. I personally also chose to incorporate an elimination diet from my most recent food sensitivity test results, so eggs were also out of the pantry for me. Importantly, these protocols were not about restriction but to get back to eating the foods that nourish our bodies.
One of the first things that I experienced was severe fatigue and headaches within the first 2 days of starting the protocol. I decided not to ease myself into this detoxification experience as I have done in the past and instead went from what I thought was a fairly clean diet (with the occasional processed snack or meal here and there) to a reduced caloric intake and withdrawal of certain foods that resulted in discomfort the following 2-3 days.
I believe that the reduction in calories and elimination of caffeine (which was something that I was consuming on a near daily basis) were the main contributing factors to my fatigue and headaches. So I decided to increase my water intake, rest when I could, up my calorie intake with some healthy snack options and hop in the infrared sauna when I had the chance. By the end of the first week, I felt better and more balanced. Admittedly, I didn’t think that I had concerns about beginning this process but after experiencing the headaches and fatigue, I recognized that I wanted to address and evaluate my reasoning for having caffeine so frequently.
These detoxes and diets that I do annually, always remind me of the importance of food, and recognizing my body’s hunger, thirst and satiety cues. We live in a society where for most of us, we are fortunate to have an abundance of food readily and easily available to us. With that being said, we often overindulge because of its abundance and accessibility. Through this process, I learned to reconnect with my ability to recognize the different reasonings for why I was eating.
Was I bored, stressed, hungry, thirsty or full? It was a reminder to me of why I ask my patients to slow down, sit down to have a meal and avoid eating on the go. When we sit to thoroughly enjoy our food and recognize its purpose for nourishing our bodies, we can appreciate it more and avoid overindulgence.
Let’s face it: we all live busy, stressful lives – it’s the nature of our society to be constantly on the go, looking for the next thing to do. With that comes the convenience of having ready to go meals or prepared/packaged foods. I had become reliant on these quick options if I hadn’t properly meal-prepped for my week or dependent on my husband to prepare meals for us. But given that he was not embarking on this detox journey with me this time (he’s done many of these with me in the past), I was going to have to be more consistent with my meal prep or cooking throughout the week. I wanted options on hand to snack on during the work day, should I feel that I needed it.
Doing these detoxes and diets every year allow me to be a conscious consumer; to be aware of what additives and preparation goes into various snacks, ready to go and premade foods that are often marketed as healthy. Given that most of us have had to readjust our lives during this pandemic, I was grateful to take this opportunity to reconnect with my love of my food, the kitchen and passion for cooking and feeding others. I still got to feed my various cravings with different whole food alternative substitutions. For example, one night I was craving pasta but given that I wasn’t allowed to eat flour or eggs, I improvised with zucchini noodles while still making handmade egg pasta for my husband.
Accountability is important when making major changes. The three of us started a group chat to send each other our dinner photos. As we were choosing our dinners to be our one meal of the day and given that we were not in the office together every day, we created a way to keep each other accountable since the three of us were making a significant change in our life. It is easy to slip and sneak a treat here or there given that we weren’t around each other 24/7 but knowing that there were others who were also on this journey with me helped me to avoid slipping.
Overall, at the end of this process, I felt better – skin is clearer and less fatigued. I was able to reconnect with the purpose that food serves for me whether it’s hunger or to indulge/treat myself because I had a bad day and be okay with that.
This experience taught me a lot about discipline and reinforcing the principles I strive to teach my patients. I have been happy to hear that a handful of patients that I have seen through telemedicine have also reported that they are using this time while they are at home during the pandemic to work on their health and eat healthier and have also heard from patients that they are doing the opposite.
I want to acknowledge that this is a very strange time and that while you may not recognize it, this experience is traumatic – our lives that we knew have been upended and many of us are having to learn new ways to work, parent and teach. I write this piece only to inform you of my journey this last month and not as a reprimand for your experiences during these odd times.
Remember to be gentle with yourself and if you have the opportunity to use this time to focus on optimizing your health, I encourage you to do so and to reach out to me for a telemedicine visit for support.
Our clinic, Alpine Integrated Medicine, is still open for our community’s need during this time, and you can contact us to book a consultation with me on how you can use this trying time to reconnect with cooking, food, nourishment and great health and fitness. Call us at (425) 949-5961 to set up a visit or online at aim4healthnw.com.