"You're not going to drink for three weeks?" That was the first thing my sister said when
I told her I was doing the 21-day "New You" detoxification program, offered monthly at Sea Change Healing Center (31 W 26th St; 212-889-7300; www.seachangehealing.com), a holistic health care venue in Chelsea. Although I could hardly believe it myself, that was the plan. Even more disturbing: no coffee for three weeks. Nor was I going to eat wheat, dairy, citrus, sugar, soy, meat.....The list went on. You name it; I wouldn't be eating it unless it was a Sea-Change approved food.
The point of such brutal deprivation, according to Maria Ciuferri, the naturopathic physician monitoring the cleanse, is to purge your body of harmful toxins-which can
come from the chemicals in food additives or natural bacteria. When your body is running smoothly, it neutralizes toxins in the liver and then shuttles them out through the intestines, kidneys, lungs and skin. But sometimes the liver gets overloaded and needs a rest-hence, the detox. Ciuferri claims that once we clean out our system (which, she says, takes three weeks), we'll feel rejuvenated: more energetic, more on the ball, have clearer skin and fewer PMS symptoms.
Hoping to achieve a greater sense of wellbeing, I showed up for my predetox appointment, a 30-minute one-on-one session during which Ciuferri checked my heart rate and blood pressure, and asked a series of health and lifestyle related questions. She told me I'm a perfect candidate: a 31-year-old woman of average weight with pretty good eating habits, who has daily aches and pains, raging PMS and an overall dragging feeling.
A week later, a group of six assembled in Sea Change's front room. There were scented candles, soothing music, and plants aplenty. Group discussion revealed that everyone had signed up for the program for reasons similar to mine.
Ciuferri gave us a list of things we could eat- we could have as much as we wanted of toxin-free foods like organic fruits and vegetables, spelt bread and 100 percent buckwheat soba noodles, legumes, brown rice, quinoa, raw nuts and seeds, rice milk and herb teas. We were also handed a three- week supply of Vitamin C and dietary supplements, including HMF Forte with acidophilus, as well as three two-pound containers of Bio-Cleanse Functional Food, a meal-in-a-glass powder, with the proper balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates. She recommended that we amp up the detoxification process by adding exercise, deep breathing, visualizations, salt rubs and massage as part of the program. I panicked briefly when I spotted a handout titled "Coffee Enema," which Ciuferri later explained is a euphoric experience, but not required.
The first 72 hours of detox are supposedly the most difficult. Ciuferri told us that we might have a hard time sleeping. And then, she promised, the euphoria will kick in. For me, the first 72 hours were easy. I had no trouble sleeping, but I did have a mild but ever-present headache, most likely from the lack of caffeine.
During the first week, I learned that dining out was a luxury I'd have to forgo: Even at a vegan restaurant, there was nothing on the menu I could eat. Once I gave in to preparing all my own food, I was surprised at how easy it was to stick to the diet, but disappointed that I never experienced the promised euphoria. (Not disappointed enough, however, to give in to the coffee enema.)
Toward the end of the second week, I began to feel more energetic. I wasn't bleary-eyed with fatigue after work anymore. Was it because of the cleanse or because I had forsaken my social life?
There's some controversy, as it turns out, over whether detoxes are effective -or even healthy, for that matter. Nutritionist Heather Greenbaum, who founded Nu-Train, a program that trains people how to eat properly, says that while there can be some benefits to a liver cleanse, she worries that a strict 21-day program can do more harm than good. "The aftermath of it [when you reintroduce impure foods to your diet] is toxic to your body," she says. Dr. Raphael Kellman, MD, who runs the Kellman Center, which pairs conventional medicine with a holistic approach, approves of detoxes. But, he says, "We're always accumulating toxins. I think a detox should go on continuously." In addition, a detox program can do damage if you're not ingesting enough nutrients, Kellman says. (By plying us with protein shakes and the supplements, the Sea Change program made sure we were properly nourished.)
At the final meeting, Ciuferri asked how we felt now that we'd made it to day 21. "Better, stronger, faster," answered Joyce Isabelle, 36, a development officer at a children's theater company. After reintroducing foods like bread and sugar and witnessing the negative effects-feeling bloated and overfull from bread and being on a sugar "roller coaster"- Isabelle has now decided to overhaul her eating habits for good.
Not everyone was converted, however. "I'm never doing that again" said one member in her late thirties, who asked not to be identified. "I felt no euphoria. I felt mostly deprivation and isolation. But I'm not sorry I did it," she added, "and I'm proud of myself for sticking to it for three whole weeks."
I felt somewhere in between. I didn't experience the euphoria, and I did feel isolated, but I was also more productive and clearheaded. During the retox period, when we slowly added various foods back to our diet to determine how each affects us, I discovered that I have a slight wheat intolerance, which causes me to feel spacey in the evenings. Had I continued to apply what I'd learned, I think the course would have been worth the effort and money ($495, including supplements), but a month later, I've returned to my old eating habits. I have the same symptoms that I had predetox, only now with the addition of new food-guilt over formerly mild seeming items such as whole wheat pita bread.
Time Out New York March 6-13, 2003 Issue number 388
Return to Dr. Maria's Home Page