Today, there are dozens of great books, blogs, and other resources to help people interested in detoxing figure out where to start. More than a decade ago, when I was just starting out on my own journey towards healthier eating and living, that wasn’t the case. At first, I honestly despaired a little bit. I didn’t know a lot about cooking, and I worked long hours on a rotating schedule that made it hard to plan and cook healthy meals. My husband and I had just moved to a new city and, between moving expenses and paying off school and vehicle loans, the budget always felt tight. What could I do with little time and little money that would make any kind of impact?
I ultimately settled on an approach that was slow put cumulatively powerful: tackle one ingredient at a time. Since sugar was my biggest nemesis, I started there. First, I cut processed white sugar out of my diet. I learned how to substitute natural sugars (honey, maple syrup) and sugar alternatives (stevia) for white sugar in just about everything, and it changed my life!
When I reached the point where those substitutions were second nature, I cut out high fructose corn syrup. Like the first step in the process, it was rather slow and there was a learning curve. I had to learn to look for all the places HFCS hides, and start finding and identifying alternatives. There were some frustrations as I found it in all kinds of places it had no business being, and (unsurprisingly) found that many of the most obvious clean alternatives were more expensive. Thus, I found myself getting more creative in my sourcing and my cooking. Over time, this too paid off in a big way.
After that, I tackled and eliminated white flour, vegetable oil, and then soy using the same approach. Looking back, this snail-paced crawl towards better eating was exactly the right fit for where I was at the time in terms of knowledge and resources. It wasn’t glamorous, but it worked. And you know what? Every step made me more capable and more confident.
Why am I telling you this? Because you can use the same plan. If the thought of trying to detoxify your life seems overwhelming, or you’re stuck in a place where you feel like you just don’t have any resources to work with, this could be the plan for you. It’s also a great option for people with kids or a spouse that you don’t expect to be on board with sweeping changes.
Here’s How to Get Started:
1. Decide which category of stressors you want to start with. This is entirely up to you. If you’ve had a long-term struggle with something (like I did with sugar), start there. If not, a great bang-for-your-buck option is trading nasty, rancid processed fats (i.e. vegetable oils, margarine) for good, clean ones (butter, coconut oil). Trying to work around skeptical family? Consider easing into the process with something they’re less concerned with or aware of like cleaning and personal care products.
2. Pick one item in your chosen category to start with. Swap margarine for butter, a highly toxic skin care product for a cleaner one, or a caustic heavily fragrance cleaning product for a safer, more natural one. This step might entail doing some research and/or experimentation! If you try something that doesn’t work, it’s okay – keep trying till you find the right fit for you! When the first item has been fully transitioned, and the newer cleaner choice is automatic and working for you, move on to step #3.
3. Pick another item in your chosen category. Repeat step #2 with this new product. Every time you master your selected item, pick a new one and keep going! When you’ve transitioned all the foods or products in your first category (or if you find a different category to abruptly start causing serious issues), pick a new category and rock on!
Don’t be surprised if you struggle at first, then pick up momentum. Every item you replace is part of the learning curve. As you practice reading labels and sourcing your favorite “clean” brands, doing so will get faster and easier. Moreover, undesirable ingredients tend to travel in packs. By getting rid of A, you’ll also unintentionally start eliminating your exposure to B and C. When you switch your focus to B, you’ll automatically get rid of even more of C in the process. By the time you get a few ingredients down the line, there’s drastically less still left waiting to be swapped!
The best thing about this approach is it’s sustainability. Big, sudden shifts can be hard to maintain, but making slow incremental changes can give you the time and support you need to to permanently adopt better habits. Does this sound like something that might work for you?