The Psychology of Cleansing

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We’ve all seen the magazine covers proclaiming the miraculous benefits of various fasts and cleanses. Many people who want to make big changes in their diet begin with a period of fasting, and nutrition coaches will frequently recommend detoxifying cleanses. But what are we really doing to our bodies, minds, and spirits when we undertake a fast or a cleanse?

As Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, explains in this illuminating new video from #IPEtv, when we suddenly and dramatically cut our intake of specific foods or other substances, we’re clearing more than just chemicals out of our tissues.

Tune in to find out how looking at the bigger psychological picture can help you make the most of your cleanse!

Here is a transcript of this week’s video:

Hi, I’m Emily Rosen, Chief Operating Officer for the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.

Today’s Topic: The Psychology of Cleansing

More specifically – an inside look at cleansing and fasting strategies from a personal and metabolic perspective.

We’re going to look at:

• The mindset that helps the cleansing process
• The mindset that hinders the cleansing process
• Why cleanse or fast in the first place?
• And how to get the most out of a cleansing experience

Cultures around the globe have understood the cleansing process for eons of time. Fasting has been practiced by all the major religions, and has been part and parcel of native cultures around the world.

On the most practical level these days – we live in a very toxic world. The human body is subject to tens of thousands of manmade chemicals that have never before existed on earth. We’re bombarded via air, water, and food. It’s reasonable to assert that if one was looking for nutrition practices that truly help to optimize the body and all of its functions – then well timed cleansing programs or fasts are a powerful strategy.

Think of a cleanse or fast as intelligent nutritional defense based on the conditions we face at this point in our evolution.

But here’s the challenge: the process of cleansing not only helps to eliminate poisons that are stored in our body – mostly in fat tissue by the way – but the cleansing process has a fascinating tendency to emotionally detox us as well.

There’s compelling research coming out that quite literally points to how the molecules of emotion are anchored in our fat tissue – so it’s no surprise that when people cleanse or fast, they often become anxious, or angry, or depressed, or happy, or high, or any state you can imagine. We can even go through a range of these emotions as our fat tissue breaks down and releases stored molecules of emotion.

Oftentimes, people who cleanse suddenly have old memories come to the surface – such as past hurts, abuses or betrayals. And like the toxins in our bodies, these mental toxins are arising so that they can be fully metabolized – meaning emotionally digested and eliminated.

So if you want to have the most successful cleanse or fast, get with the program that you’re not just cleaning house in terms of your body – you’re cleaning emotional house as well. Body and mind exist on a continuum. They cannot possibly be pulled apart. That’s the good news.

This helps us understand why the prophets of old and the native shamans of so many different traditions would go into the wilderness and fast. They weren’t doing it to remove accumulated heavy metals in their system or to lose weight and look good in a bikini. They fasted for a vision. For insight. For an opening. For a more cosmic connection.

And this is why cleanses or fasts that are undertaken when we’re under a lot of stress, when we have an intense work schedule, or when life has us super busy – is generally NOT the best idea.

So if you’re going to do a fast or a cleanse – the ideal time is when you have time to breathe, relax, create some space, and support the natural process of letting go. Think of it as your own personal vision quest – but the kind where you don’t need to go into the wilderness.

When we cleanse under stress, a number of factors occur that shortcut the benefits.

First, we impede the natural process of tuning in to something higher or deeper. The point of a cleanse is to let go of food to a great degree so the digestive system can go offline and the body can re-route metabolic energy into detoxification. But we also need to let go of other non-food stimuli – like television, computer, annoying co-workers and all the details that clutter our minds in our usual work-a-day life.

Cleanses work best when they happen in both body and being, plain and simple.

What’s more, if you just wanted to cleanse on a metabolic level only, stress and anxiety will shift the body into a stress response – and in stress chemistry, the body does not go into the physiologic mode of healing, repair, or maintenance of body tissue. The body is bracing to fight or flee – just the opposite state that we want.

Healing happens in the physiologic relaxation response.

So if you’re going to cleanse or fast, prepare to let go, calm your life down, slow your motor, check in with yourself, and remove any unnecessary stimulation.

From there, as you go on whatever kind of cleanse or fast you choose – stay aware of what you’re letting go of in your life. What needs to detox? Do you need to let go of people, a job, certain ways of thinking, certain habits, or any self-abusive thought that holds you back?

Chances are, if you ay attention to this, your cleansing experience will be significantly more powerful.

There’s so much for us to detox in our lives – that’s the good news.

And as we all know, letting go – which is another way of saying “detox or cleanse” – isn’t always easy.

But the benefits can’t be matched. We can create a whole new beginning.

In the comments below, please let us know your thoughts. We love hearing from you and we read and respond to every comment!

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