We all look forward to spring and summer, but when the warmer season finally does arrive, we often greet it with a sense of trepidation-a certain fear that the day is near when we reach in the closet for last year's favourite summer outfit, only to discover that it has shrunk! Or, more to the point, before we've had a chance to shed those unsightly pounds we've accumulated during the winter. If only we could slip out of them as easily as we take off our bulky coats and sweaters!
Losing weight and getting into shape for summer takes a bit more effort, but, as with all things worth pursuing, the time to take action is now.
An important point to recognize is that excess weight is always a sign of nutritional and metabolic imbalance. Contrary to popular assumption, it is not strictly a question of caloric input or amounts of foods consumed. Rather, it is a question of what types of foods are eaten, how they are combined, and above all, how they are digested, assimilated, and metabolized. If any of these components of good nutrition are compromised, then the body will not be adequately nourished at the cellular level, metabolic function will be impaired, and toxins will accumulate.
Folk medicine and traditional health care methods around the world have long maintained that spring is a good time for internal cleansing, for sloughing off the sludge of winter through fasting or eating light for several days. A three-step program to get rid of toxins, kickstart the digestive fire, and turn up the metabolism is sure to get results when followed consistently.
Step 1: Detoxify
Water is a powerful purifying agent. It plays an important role in digestion and the elimination of toxins. We depend on water to deliver nutrients to the cells, and for the circulation of blood, lymph, and interstitial fluids. Water is our strongest ally in the effort to detoxify. Most health experts agree that the optimal water intake per person per day is between six and ten 8-ounce glasses, but remember, that is a maintenance dose. While on a spring cleanse, we should consider doubling our water input. Drink a large glass of water several times a day, ideally between meals.
Water can also help to curb appetite. In fact, a hungry feeling may be the body's first call for water, often misinterpreted for food hunger. Whenever hungry, try drinking a large glass of water first, and you may find that you no longer desire food. Even if the hunger returns, you will be inclined to eat less at the meal that follows.
Spring water or filtered water are preferable to city water, which contains harmful substances such as chlorine, chemical residues, toxic metals, and other impurities. A few drops of fresh lemon juice sprinkled in the water boosts its cleansing potential.
Another excellent way to make use of water's detoxifying power is through colonic irrigation, in which water is gently flushed through the colon to remove toxins and impacted fecal matter. Numerous symptoms of toxicity, including headaches, skin conditions, allergies, arthritic symptoms, and digestive complaints, are often alleviated with a series of professionally administered colonics.
Fasting on water or juice is one of the oldest and most effective detoxification methods. Most people in generally good health can benefit from going without solid food for one or more days. Juice fasts, especially those undertaken with freshly squeezed fruit or vegetable juices, are easier on the body than strict water fasts. Fresh juices provide valuable vitamins, minerals, and enzymes which nourish the body while giving the digestive system a break from processing solids. The nutrients in the juice further assist in the cleansing process.
The water supplied by fruit and fruit juice, especially juice extracted from fruit that has been sun-ripened, may have additional advantages. Dr. Gabriel Cousins, author of Spiritual Nutrition and the Rainbow Diet , suggests that the water in fruit has been "structured" by sunlight, resulting in a beneficial change of molecular configuration. Structured water has a higher solubility for minerals and other nutrients, promoting their optimal assimilation in the body. In general, fruit juices have a stronger cleansing effect than vegetable juices, but the latter are preferred for those with a tendency for blood sugar abnormalities. Fasts longer than three days should only be undertaken in consultation with a knowledgeable health professional.
The Apple Cleansing Diet
For those who prefer a gentler approach, fruit diets, during which no food other than fruit is eaten, are an effective alternative. Two of the best fruits for mono-dieting are apples and grapes, which both have superior cleansing ability. Edgar Cayce often recommended apple or grape diets of two or three days duration as an effective detoxifying regimen. Cayce's famous Apple Diet consists of eating nothing but raw apples-as many as desired-for three days, along with plenty of water. Before retiring on the last day, one is to drink half a cup of olive oil (extra virgin is preferred). Cayce suggested that this would " cleanse all toxic forces from any system. " Choose organic apples whenever possible; nonorganic apples must be peeled before eating.
Grapes and Grape Juice
The grape diet calls for a similar routine-eating only grapes-but no olive oil is taken. Internationally acclaimed naturopathic physician and author Jan de Vries calls the grape diet "an effective method to quickly remove toxins from the body" ( Skin Diseases by Jan de Vries). Unfortunately, organic grapes are only on the market in June or July. Commercial grapes at other times of year are imported mostly from South America , where questionable agricultural practices prevail. To benefit from the cleansing action of grapes during the off-season, try organic bottled grape juice instead. Edgar Cayce suggested that the regular intake of diluted grape juice (two parts juice to one part water), when followed consistently over a period of several weeks, would promote weight loss. According to Cayce, the grape sugar gradually works to correct an abnormal glandular imbalance which contributes to weight gain; in other words, the grape juice promotes a type of metabolic reconditioning. In recent years, grapes and grape juice, especially the purple varieties such as Concord , have also been identified as a source of powerful antioxidant compounds which prevent heart disease and cancer.
Step 2: Increase Digestive Power
According to the millennia-old Indian medical system of Ayurveda, agni , the digestive fire, determines one's appetite and feelings of hunger. The relative strength of agni is also a prime indicator of a person's state of health. Anyone who is overweight or suffers from toxicity or digestive problems needs to correct their agni to achieve balance, and ultimately better health. Depending on body type, Ayurveda prescribes short periods of fasting to rekindle agni .
The digestive tract is, in fact, where health begins or is lost. After any cleansing program, it is imperative to pay special attention to keeping the digestive fire burning strongly so that what we eat is properly broken down and metabolized.
Eat only when hungry and only until full.
By doing this, you honor and strengthen your agni.
Chew all foods thoroughly. Digestion begins in the mouth, where the process of chewing allows the starch-splitting enzyme, ptyalin , to initiate the digestive process. Through proper chewing, the surface area of food particles is increased, making more of the food accessible to action by the digestive juices. By chewing foods well in the mouth, we give the digestive system a head start in the subsequent breakdown and absorption of foods.
Combine foods properly. Digestive discomforts are often the result of poor food combining at meals. For instance, the combination of excessive amounts of both protein and starch at the same meal can be detrimental. Popular protein/starch combinations are meat and potatoes, or pasta and cheese. Most people's digestive systems react with gas, bloating, or indigestion to this type of meal. The key here is to minimize, rather than totally eliminate, protein/starch combinations, since, ironically, some starch is required for the proper assimilation of protein. If you do combine protein and starch at the same meal, limit that portion of your food to no more than 30% in total volume, complementing it with non-starchy vegetables, such as lettuce, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, kale, etc.
Even more important for anyone wanting to shed extra pounds is to avoid combining two or more starchy foods at the same meal. Starches are complex carbohydrates which occur in such foods as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, corn, and dried beans and lentils. Carbohydrates provide needed energy, but, when taken in large amounts, they stress the digestive system. Starchy foods are best limited to one per meal. Edgar Cayce said that excess starches in the diet cause a hardening of the glandular system. In Physician's Reference Notebook, renowned Cayce physician Dr. William A. McGarey suggests that the overeating of starches is a prime cause of obesity. And in Vital Food for Total Health, well-known nutritionist Dr. Bernard Jensen explains that " foods containing the least amount of carbohydrates are more easily digested. They also build a better-balanced body. " It is important to note that refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and white pasta, are among the least nutritious foods we can eat. Whole-grain varieties are a much better choice.
Raw Foods and Enzyme Supplements
Spring and summer are a good time to increase the amount of raw foods in the diet. Fresh, raw foods provide superior nutrition, as well as all enzymes necessary for their digestion. The cooking process destroys these enzymes, putting greater strain on the pancreas to produce more internal digestive enzymes. Aim to have at least one completely raw meal each day, or eat a raw salad with a cooked meal twice a day.
Where cooked foods form a major part of the diet, it is important to supplement with a digestive enzyme formulation. Many people also find that they can avoid digestive complaints by taking hydrochloric acid tablets, either alone or in combination with an enzyme supplement. A hectic lifestyle and less-than-optimal stress response create tension in the solar plexus, resulting in inadequate production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, so that protein digestion is compromised. Supplementation often results in better digestion, and consequently in improved nutrient absorption.
Step 3: Optimize Metabolic Function
Balancing and maintaining one's ideal body weight is essentially a function of metabolism-of how foods are burned and utilized in the body. Once toxins have been eliminated and digestion improved, we can keep our metabolism well-tuned with a natural foods diet and a healthy lifestyle. Here are some important suggestions:
Alkalize Your Diet. A diet in which protein and starch form the major portion of the foods eaten creates excess acidic wastes in the body, resulting in an unhealthy increase in the acidity of body fluids. An acid condition in the body reduces immune function, suppresses lymphatic action, and promotes nutritional deficiencies and weight imbalances. The simple answer to this common problem: Eat an alkaline-forming diet. Most vegetables and fruits are alkaline-forming, whereas most proteins and starches are acid-forming. Ideally, the intake of fruits and vegetables should be increased to 80% of total food intake, restricting proteins and starches to 20%. All bodily systems are guaranteed to work better on an alkaline-forming diet!
Nourish Your Thyroid. As a master gland in the endocrine system, the thyroid determines a number of biochemical reactions, including protein synthesis and the rate at which the body burns fat. To function optimally, the thyroid needs a continuous supply of iodine, an essential mineral and vital constituent of the hormones produced by the thyroid. Seafoods, including sea vegetables such as kelp, dulse, kombu, nori, and arame, are particularly rich in iodine and should form a regular part of the diet. Kelp and dulse are also available in tablet form for those who prefer to take them as a supplement. Other iodine-rich foods include asparagus, watercress, Swiss chard, and turnip greens, especially when these are grown in iodine-rich, organic soil. Other nutrients important for thyroid function include zinc, copper, selenium, and the B-vitamins, notably B6.
Know Your Fat Facts. Through magazine ads and TV commercials, we've been conditioned to think that "cholesterol-free", "fat-free", and "low-fat" eating is the only way to stay slim and healthy. What we are seldom told is that natural fats and cholesterol are an essential part of a healthy diet, and that the type of heated and hydrogenated vegetable oils we consume in so-called cholesterol-free and low-fat foods are toxic to the body. For optimal metabolic function, avoid all refined, bleached vegetable oils (this includes most supermarket brands), hydrogenated fats (as found in margarine), vegetable shortenings, as well as commercial baked goods, snacks, and processed foods made with these junk fats. Use only unrefined, cold-pressed, and properly refrigerated vegetable oils, but never cook or bake with these polyunsaturated oils, as heat causes them to break down and become toxic. For cooking and baking, use only butter or extra-virgin olive oil, which remain stable at high temperatures. Of course, you don't have to heat them to enjoy them. To ensure an adequate supply of essential fatty acids, it's a good idea to take a teaspoon or two of cold-pressed, organic flax-seed oil. Through its effect on the endocrine system, this will help to keep weight under control. Use all fats in moderation.
Get Up And Get Moving. Although it is possible to lose weight without exercise, a trim, firm body can only be achieved through physical activity. So go out and walk, run, walk, swim, push the vacuum, clean the tub, garage, attic, or do anything that will get the body moving! Then go back to the closet and try your favourite summer outfit again. And don't be surprised if it fits this time.
Simone Gabbay's book Edgar Cayce's Diet Plan for Optimal Health and Weight Loss contains more information on the topics discussed in this article.
Simone Gabbay, RNCP, is a holistic nutritionist, author, and editor in Toronto, Canada. Her most recent book is Edgar Cayce's Diet Plan for Optimal Health and Weight Loss, published by A.R.E. Press
in March 2008. www.edgarcaycediet.com