Detoxing – particularly juice-fasting – is all the rage. Endorsed by a roll call of svelte celebrities, and trotted out every January to coincide with our New Year Resolutions, it’s promoted as a way of undoing the damage caused by too much rich food, too many late nights, and too much exposure to the toxic load placed on your body by modern life. And of course, it’s a quick way to lose weight too.
Detoxing can feel like the right thing to do if you’ve been overdoing things, been ill, or want to mark the start or end of something – a job, a relationship, the college year, the changing seasons – or perhaps to kick start a new healthier lifestyle. And you can detox at home, or head off to a spa or a retreat – far away from all temptations.
Expert opinion is divided about exactly how valuable detoxing is in dealing with toxins – after all, your body is already equipped with a toxin processing unit that works 24/7. (It’s called your liver). But it certainly feels natural to want to clear out your system from time to time, whether by fasting or just by reducing and simplifying the food you eat.
We know that stress makes PMS worse, and detoxing is also a good opportunity to slow down the pace of life and take some time for yourself. You’re encouraged to flop about reading, sipping herb teas, drinking vegetable juice and taking aromatherapy baths. (You’ll feel too weak to do much more than that anyway!)
As a result of the purging, you might get a breakout of spots (explained as the toxins coming out of your skin) or a detox headache (usually a sign of withdrawal from stimulants like caffeine). But a few days later, you’ll come out the other side, lighter, brighter, and with sparkly eyes and more energy.
At least that’s the theory.
My PMS and Detox Adventures Around The World
chapter one: Thailand
I always say you should try everything once. And on that basis, a few years ago I tried a fasting holiday in a spa in Thailand.
I know. Going all that way to not eat anything. A little bizarre, right? But sometimes you have to cut off completely from your old habits. And I’d read about people coming home transformed, never wanting to eat another doughnut or a meat cutlet ever again.
Admittedly, while we were being pumped full of psyllium husk (to help you feel fulll and keep you ‘regular’, pineapple juice and coffee enemas (don’t ask), other holiday makers were feasting on luscious fruits and freshly prepared vegetarian cuisine. Oh well. We were feeling righteous. And suffering must be good for you, right?
What I can tell you is that hardcore fasting does give you a kind of high after a few days. And without food prep and consumption filling your thoughts, there’s more time and space to think and reflect. After several days of non eating, your first bites of real food are postively orgasmic too. Which is a plus!
But when I came off the holiday, however svelte and clear-eyed I looked, physically, emotionally, I was all over the place. Straight after the fast, I had the most epic episode of PMS. Ever.
chapter two: Poland
I should have seen it coming. Some time before, I’d spent a couple of weeks on a health farm in Poland. The countryside was beautiful, the weather was glorious, and there we were, voluntarily restricting ourselves to a very minimal food intake for two weeks.
The group was mainly made up of health-conscious women in our 30s, and I remember noticing how tetchy many of us got during the extended fast. When we talked about it afterwards (once we’d had a good wholesome meal and stopped PMS-ing), it came out that several of us had fasted during what was the second half of our menstrual cycles. Ah, so it hadn’t been purely hunger (and if I’m honest, boredom) that has made us scratchy and irritable. Looking back, it was clearly PMS.
In fact, even some women who said they didn’t normally suffer from PMS experienced the typical PMS symptoms as a result of an extended fast.
chapter three: WALES
My theory was finally confirmed when I spent a week juice-fasting in a cottage in Wales with a friend. By this time, I had already changed to a plant-based whole foods diet, and we weren’t doing a particularly extreme juice-fast. Nonetheless, I watched as my lovely, easy-going friend became short-tempered, emotional, and cranky. I recognised the PMS dip and we immediately upped our intake of carbohydrates and whole foods. There was an instant improvement in her mood.
Are You Detecting a Pattern?
The danger of detoxing (or juice-fasting) is that it can leave you short on essential nutrients and fuel, which is damaging to your hormone balance and can therefore aggravate PMS.
One factor is that juices just don’t have the fibre and nutrients we need to prevent PMS. They’re not whole foods, as this pithy little video (sorry!) shows:
So while it’s great that detoxing emphasises less junk food, less sugar and fewer stimulants, an effective anti-PMS diet is as much about what you DO eat as about what you DON’T. I like the fact that detoxing emphasises anti-oxidants and plant-based foods – after all, no spa in the world has a detox programme where you load up on dairy, meat and saturated fat. But there’s a right way – and a wrong way – for women with PMS who want to detox. To maintain blood sugar levels and serotonin levels in the brain for mood, women with PMS need a steady supply of complex carbohydrates, omega-3s fatty acids, B-vitamins and minerals.
Next time, I’ll give you ten top tips for how to do a cleanse WITHOUT making your PMS worse.
Till then, thanks for reading!