“I remember drinking some kind of nasty liquid for about two weeks, feeling constantly hangry, and finally giving in to a double-fudge brownie my co-worker brought in,” my 29-year-old patient Kayla told me during our initial consultation. Almost-constant cravings, low energy, chronic anxiety, and low libido were among the problems Kayla struggled with. A close look at her blood work showed insulin resistance, elevated inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein (CRP), and estrogen dominance: all signs of hormonal imbalances.
As a doctor who helps women balance their hormones, I take an individualized approach to my patients to treat their root cause and teach them the skills to care for their body. But one tactic that works for nearly everyone is a professionally designed detoxification plan as an effective hit-the-reset-button for your hormones and so much more.
This is what the word “detoxification” really means.
I realize terms like “detoxification” and “cleanse” have various interpretations, and some plans considered detoxification are actually poorly designed, very-low-calorie diets that provide few if any of the nutrients your body requires to optimize detoxification. Kayla’s less-than-enthusiastic response stemmed from some past detoxification struggles. This is not how I do things. When I help patients detoxify, I focus on reducing incoming toxins and helping your body more effectively eliminate chemicals, hormones, toxicants, and other environmental compounds.
While other organs participate, ground zero for detoxification is your liver. While you’re detoxifying, you want to show this organ some major love. Giving your liver love means eliminating anything that potentially stresses it out and giving it the right nutrients to work efficiently. Let’s be clear about this plan: You will not be hangry or otherwise miserable, but especially if you’ve got some vices—looking at you, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar—the first few days might feel a bit yucky.
Kiss alcohol, sugar, and caffeine goodbye (for 21 days).
Let’s talk about what’s gotta go to love your liver and hit that hormone-reset button. Kayla loved her pinot noir, but I explained that even a few glasses could increase estrogen levels, leading to estrogen dominance. It can also stress your already overworked liver, creating more hormonal chaos. So bye-bye alcohol, at least for 21 days. (You can do this!)
My 21-day detoxification plan also nixes sugar, inflammatory fats (including vegetable oils), and common food sensitivities like soy, dairy, corn, and grains that mess with your hormones and keep your body inflamed. Most of these foods should take a permanent vacation. (Alcohol can come back, but remember, imbibing can stress your liver.) The good news is that many patients feel so much better eliminating these problem foods after 21 days that they never want to add them back.
The good news: Here’s what you can eat during a detox:
At least 3 to 6 cups daily, organic if possible. Go green (leafy and cruciferous are awesome) but also eat cauliflower (a non-green cruciferous), beets, carrots, garlic, onions, and artichokes.
Without sufficient amino acids, your liver can’t complete phase 2 detoxification (the phase that actually excretes toxins), potentially making you more toxic. To avoid that pitfall, choose organic, pasture-raised meats, eggs from hens fed correctly, and wild-caught fish. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, focus on protein-rich plant foods like organic legumes, nuts, and seeds.
3. Healthy fats.
Avocado, cold-pressed olive oil, coconut oil, macadamia nut oil, olives, and wild-caught fish are tops for keeping your balancing blood sugar and hormones.
A good rule of thumb is half your body weight in fluid ounces daily. If that seems like a herculean challenge, increase your filtered water about 20 extra ounces every day during your detox. Filtered water’s a yawn? Sip coconut water or filtered water with a pinch of pink Himalayan salt.
This is a day in the life of a hormone-reset detox.
Considering all that, here’s a sample day for what my 21-day plan looks like. You’ll notice it most certainly does not entail starving yourself or otherwise imposing deprivation.
- Upon waking: Begin the day with warm water and lemon juice. If you need caffeine to get moving, stick with organic green tea. If coffee’s a must, go organic and try half-regular/half-decaf.
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with coconut oil, fresh arugula with olive oil and vinegar.
- Lunch: Turkey with sautéed kale or other greens.
- Dinner: Large salad with lots of greens and protein of your choice.
Kayla immediately discovered she had a sugar addiction, and those first few days on my plan were tough going. We remedied that by adding sweet veggies like roasted sweet potatoes, yams, parsnips, and butternut squash. Roasting almond with cinnamon or vanilla can also curb sugar cravings that—I promise—will subside over time. (FYI: Sugar addiction can be a monster for some people. For those situations, I use adaptogenic herbs like Rhodiola, hormone-balancing supplements like 5-HTP, and other nutrients including vitamin B6.)
Going beyond diet: You’ll need to make these lifestyle changes to really detox.
Beyond diet, you want to minimize environmental toxins, reduce stress, and support your body’s natural elimination pathways in every way possible during these 21 days. Kayla incorporated these five strategies to optimize her body’s detoxification pathways.
1. Check ingredients.
Your skin is a sieve and your body’s largest organ. Slathering toxic products can disrupt your hormones and ramp up toxicity. Nix those toxic skin products and check your cleaning products. Check out the EWG Skin Deep Database to guarantee skin-friendly cosmetics.
2. Sweat it out.
While your liver gets most of the glory, your skin also helps detoxify. Movement gets your lymphatic system moving and your blood flowing, and sweat moves waste out of your body. I had Kayla do two to three days of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), two days of strength training, and three days of Vinyasa flow. (None of those things took more than 45 minutes daily.) Far-infrared saunas are another fabulous way to sweat out toxins.
3. Center yourself.
Finding your calm to reduce stress allows your body to more effectively detoxify. That might include meditation, yin yoga, or just deep breathing. Take five minutes every morning to tune into your breath, body, and thoughts. Breathe deeply. Aim for 50 to 100 cleansing breaths. (If you’re new to breathing or need some structure, there are a ton of great apps for this.) Whatever way you choose to center yourself, you’ll calm your mind and help your lungs release metabolic waste.
4. Write it down.
Detoxification means letting go of what doesn’t serve you. During her detox, Kayla kept a journal to release her (judgment-free) thoughts. In the process, she discovered some toxic relationships and behaviors to release. I find old-school pen and paper works best for journaling, but you might use an online app or even your laptop. Begin your day thinking about your goals. (Think big!) And visit that notebook again before bed to empty the day’s thoughts and express gratitude.
5. Get more shuteye.
Scientists find your brain detoxifies while you sleep. Getting eight hours or more also helps you recover, repair, and restore your body while balancing hormones like melatonin, cortisol, and growth hormone.
With these strategies, you can reset your hormones in as little as 21 days. While my plan can help balance them, hormones are complicated and oftentimes require some short-term and long-term strategies to rebalance. While Kayla showed massive improvements after her detox, we still had more work to do during subsequent visits. That’s why I recommend working with a functional medicine practitioner for an individualized long-term hormone-balancing protocol.