I have a habit of avoiding cleanses. They torture me, turning my focus inward and stirring feelings of deprivation and wanting - feelings that I’d rather not wrestle with too often.
Since I eat a pretty clean diet anyhow do I really need to cleanse from time to time? And if I do, is there a cleanse that feels satisfying and nurturing, instead of depleting and discouraging?
It just so happens there are a lot of good reasons to cleanse, especially if we are seeking healthy cognitive function. Symptoms of brain fatigue, cloudy thinking, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and even trouble making decisions can all point towards the need for a dietary change. If any of these symptoms are familiar to you, a cleanse might be a good fit for you.
A cleanse that is geared towards brain support is one that includes the following key elements:
Let's start with "Balance." I was surprised and delighted to find a recent article in the New York Times, Big Sugar Versus Your Body by David Leonhard. He claims that sugar has infiltrated nearly two-thirds of all processed foods, largely a result of a campaign by what he terms “Big Sugar,” the sugar industry. In his guide, How to Stop Eating Sugar, he states, "The sugar industry has conducted an aggressive, decades-long campaign to blame the obesity epidemic on fats, not sugars.”
One of the key imbalances that give rise to brain fatigue is an unhealthy blood sugar balance. Many people swing between high and low blood sugar throughout the day, relying on sugar and caffeine to boost mental energy. Episodes of low blood sugar can deprive the brain of much-needed glucose, it’s primary fuel. This can result in a lack of clarity and overall fatigue, especially when trying to concentrate and assimilate information.
Symptoms of low blood sugar include:
• Sweet cravings between meals
• Irritability or light headedness when meals are skipped
• Dependency on caffeine or chocolate for energy
• Increased energy and mental clarity after eating
• Feeling jittery, shaky, agitated or nervous, especially between meals
• Poor memory, absent-mindedness
Episodes of chronically elevated blood sugar can trigger insulin resistance. When this happens the neurons in the brain can’t make use of the glucose which then remains in the blood circulation, causing tissue damage instead of nourishment. In effect, this sets up a situation within the neurons that is similar to the hypoglycemic. In either scenario the neurons are deprived of the fuel needed for healthy cognition. Symptoms of insulin resistance include:
• Sleepy after meals and tired all day
• Sweet tooth that never kicks off
• Feeling hungry right after eating
• Tendency to carry weight in the abdomen, feeling bloated and puffy, can’t lose weight
• Frequent urination
• Aches and pains
• Foggy thinking, poor memory
Taking a break from refined sweets and carbohydrates can be the first step to break the cycle of cravings and restore balanced blood sugar. While this might seem daunting to some, this step alone can have a profound impact on overall health, including brain function. Taking a cleansing break from sugar can help you identify the less obvious places this non-nutrient is sneaking into your diet. It can also help break sugar cravings and your dependency on it for energy throughout the day. When evaluating a packaged product for sugar content be sure to read the ingredients, not just the nutrient profile. A strategy for a newbie cleanser might be to simply avoid any product with added sweeteners, be it zero-calorie or not. This would mean that fruit, which is naturally sweet would still be on the “yes” list. Someone who is ready to dive a little deeper might eliminate fruits, refined carbohydrates, alcohol and maybe even sweet vegetables such as corn and yams. For more tips about managing sugar in your diet try 5 Tips to Sugar Free and download Clear the Mental Clutter with an Easy Spring Cleanse.
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