debunking detox

I have been reading up more on the whole idea of doing “detoxes” and “cleanses” after reading Bad Science by Ben Goldacre and here is a good resource that summarizes what a bunch of bologna it all is.

At the end of the day eating well, getting rest, exercising, and other healthy lifestyle choices will always beat out fad diets and products, which, at best, probably won’t help you at all but, at worst, could potentially do damage!

I write all of this somewhat begrudgingly because I was sold the detox agenda for a long time and completely gobbled it up.  However, I am also happy that I now know better and can make more informed decisions.

I just want to be clear, I am not saying that all forms of giving your body a break from eating heavy or hard to digest foods is bad (we all tend to eat a little more salad after Christmas holidays I think), but making drastic changes to your diet with the intention of “flushing out toxins” is probably not the way to go.  At least, it is not necessary.

The pamphlet: Detox Leaflet (

the more you know


inside and out

It seems like as with every year, this is the prime time for people to get sick.  My boyfriend has been sick most of the week and I started to get little twinges of a possible cold moving in on Wednesday.  Luckily, I have a lot of years of experience under my belt in terms of supporting the body and specifically the immune system, so this time around I have been following my three-prong attack on the potential sickness and it seems that outside of some minor sniffles and headaches I have remained in pretty good shape.  Thought I would share my process with you in the hopes that it will keep you healthy as the seasons change!

Part 1 – The External


Detox Baths – Baths are a good way to unclog your nasal passages and get the lymph system going once you are already sick, but they can also be used during the preventative stage to draw out the nasties in your body that could lead to getting sick.  This bath is one that can be used in either scenario.  Fill the tub with hot water (as hot as you can handle but don’t burn yourself please!).  Add in Epsom salts (about two cups), about a cup of baking soda, and thin slices of fresh Ginger root.  Essential oils can be added also.  You can do some research about which oils to use for what ailments, but you can also add in some Lavender or Eucalyptus for example just for the aroma alone. Soak for about 20 minutes.  Make sure to get all bundled up as soon as you get out the tub!

Lavender Oil – Lavender essential oil is a good oil to use as a subtle antibacterial.  I learned this when I was flying to Taiwan and was told that it is a good oil to use as a hand sanitizer as well as a defense around the nose and mouth so that germs don’t get in.  You can either put some on a handkerchief and breathe it in or rub a few drops around your nose and mouth.  So much better than the industrial strength hand sanitizer!

Bundle up – Ok maybe this one is a no brainer, but it is oh so important!  Stay warm!  You especially want to make sure that your feet are warm and do not expose your body to cool temperatures if you have a fever.  It is very tempting to unbutton that coat and take off that scarf if you have a fever, but if you are outdoors you are just making it more difficult for your body to regulate its body temperature, therefore adding even more stress to the immune system in the end.

Part 2 – The Internal


Food/Drink – There is a lot that can be said on this topic so I am going to break down some of the main things here but you can do a lot more research to see what other foods are good for preventing and dealing with being sick!

  • Garlic!  Onions!  – pungent but are great natural antibiotics.  Eat raw in salads, sandwiches, etc.
  • Apple “cider” antibacterial drink – mix 1 tbsp raw honey, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 2 tbsps raw apple cider vinegar into hot water and sip slowly.  Tastes like apple cider and is really great at getting rid of unwanted things in the body.  I also sometimes add cayenne pepper and fresh ginger.  A really great drink for a cold day as well!
  • Stay away from sugar and dairy – these two things really slow down the function of white blood cells and you want these little guys to be in tip top shape during cold and flu season!  Gluten is also a good thing to take out of your diet especially when already sick.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine.  Yeah yeah, I know it’s the good stuff but it really doesn’t do your body any favors, especially if it is already working overtime to keep/get you healthy.
  • Keep it simple.  Whatever you end up eating try to stick to things that are easy for your body to digest.  Steak dinner?  No.  Brown rice and steamed veggies?  Yes.  And while you are at it, add some garlic to that rice bowl!

Oil of Oregano – This oil has gained a lot of popularity as of late so I just wanted to write a little bit about it and how to best use it.  I really like this stuff for weeks like this one where I could tell I was probably about to get sick.  Taking a few drops in water throughout the day for a few days has really helped me to not let whatever has gotten into my body develop into a full out illness.  However, oil of oregano is very potent and is not very discriminatory about what kinds of germs it kills.  It’s sort of like throwing a bomb into a room and shutting the door.  Sure the bad guys are done for, but so are the good ones.  Therefore, it is really important to not overuse this one, as after prolonged usage it could end up compromising your body more by getting rid of some of its natural defenses.

Water – Duh!  Drink it!  Lots of it.

Part 3 – The Behavior

Rest – I know that we all have a lot of stuff to do.  We may have demanding jobs, kids, social commitments, world domination schemes to iron out… I get it.  But just laying back and letting your body do what it needs to do is the best, THE BEST, thing you can do when you feel like you are getting sick or trying to kick an existing cold to the curb.  The best rest?  Sleeeeeeeep!  Sleep at night, get up and maybe have some food, and go back to sleep.  Keep doing this throughout the day if possible.  Seriously.  No amount of sleep at this stage can be seen as too much.  Your body can normally handle things very well if you let it use the maximum amount of energy on keeping itself healthy.

Hope some of this stuff helps you out next time you feel a cold coming on.  The combination of these three areas of focus does wonders for me!

extra ingredients

Look at what I found/read/saw/ate/listened to this week 

extra ingredients

28 Ways To Live Life Like Lucille Bluth (

Deal with seasonal allergies without over-the-counter meds (

Inspired by this recipe, I have been making my own versions of the “deconstructed sushi” salad all week. (

My friend took a quick little jaunt to BC and came back with the tunes of Buckman Coe.  Love it!

Summer is coming and I can’t wait to go camping.  Here are some of the best places to camp in Ontario.  Although why Algonquin isn’t on here is a major head-scratcher for me.  I love that place! (

Bicycle cup holder?  Yes please.  This one is especially nice. (

april wrap up

I started this month off with some ambitious goals.  The 30 Day Green Smoothie Challenge, avoidance of alcohol, lots of rest, lots of yoga, overall healthier lifestyle, and getting my bike out of storage.

So, how did I do?

30 Day Green Smoothie Challenge – raw-ked it!  Only missed one day of not having a green smoothie, but every other day had a blender full which I reckon is about one litre per day!  I found that it really helped to prep everything the night before (minus the liquid) in the blender, so that in the morning I just had to add whatever I was using that day for liquid, blend, pour into my canteen and take it to work with me.  Most days this ended up being my breakfast.  Yums!

Alcohol – pretty pretty good on this front as well.  I had one bottle of beer at a birthday party, a pint at a show, a half pint at lunch with my parents, and some wine this past weekend at my friend’s house.  Up until the wine I never had enough to feel any sort of effect from the booze, but since I had about 2.5 glasses of wine in one sitting I definitely felt a little lightheaded and folks, it was terrible!  I left my friend’s house, got home, and spent the next three hours eating and drinking water hoping that the feeling would pass.  Maybe it had something to do specifically with the type of wine, or it was just the effects of alcohol, but I was not happy about it at all.  Good motivation to keep booze at arm’s length going forward.

Rest/Yoga – I am grouping these together because they go hand in hand.  Without the rest, my yoga practice suffers, and when I am doing lots of yoga, my sleep is much better and I feel more relaxed.  Not to brag, but I think I did very well in this area as well.  I tried to do yoga at least 4 times per week, with a few weeks going more and some less.  Last week my right wrist started to get a little angry, so this week I may have to take it easy with some yin classes and lots of icing and rest.  Also, the May Grow Your Yoga Challenge is about to start which I am super pumped for.

Overall Healthier Living – I tried to do this mostly through my food choices and have come to a few realizations.  I have avoided dairy, eggs, and meat for the majority of the month and have discovered that eggs, and especially dairy, are not my friends.  Both leave me feeling all sorts of terrible, after I eat them but even into the following day.  I am not going to get into details here, but dairy and digestive functioning do not go hand in hand in my body, at all!

Bike – The beginning of April was pretty terrible weather-wise, but I did get my bike out about mid-month, and have been cycling to work almost everyday.  I was very happy to not have the jelly legs I dealt with last summer when I started.  I think continuous exercise throughout the winter really helped with that.

Iron – I wrote on here a while back that both my general practitioner and rheumatologist diagnosed me with very low iron, so I started taking FeraMAX 150 about two weeks ago.  I spoke to a naturopathic doctor about my options, and since my iron stores were very low she said that the liquid iron supplement I have used in the past (Salus Floradix Formula) would not be enough.  It is a good supplement to take to maintain iron levels, but not to replenish low stores.  FeraMAX 150 is an over-the-counter supplement and although other iron supplements can cause major digestive issues, I personally have not had any issues with this one.  I am supposed to continue taking it for three months (I guess I was really depleted) but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is already contributing to me feeling so good and much much less tired.  My plan is to continue taking it for the two and half remaining months and then get blood work redone to see where I am.

So what now?  I will admit that in the past I have done cleanses, detoxes, elimination diets, etc, etc, only to swing back into all sorts of unhealthy lifestyle choices as soon as I finished.  This time, I approached this month as the beginning of a lifestyle change as opposed to a temporary endeavor and I feel very optimistic about maintaining this for the long term.  I think the important thing with making any big changes in your life is to not feel like you are giving things up, but rather focus on what you are gaining instead.  I now feel like I am making choices about my health and well-being from a really great space and because I have seen major changes in how I feel both physically and mentally, I have that much more motivation to keep going.  What a great way to kick off spring!

To your health!

stained glass

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.

– Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Recently in a yoga class the teacher remarked that yoga is a good practice for getting to know yourself under pressure or stress.  He instructed us to really focus on the thoughts that come up while holding difficult poses.  So imagine, you are in a hot and humid room, you are sweating, your legs and arms are shaking from fatigue, and the teacher is saying “three more breaths”.  Not an easy-peasy situation to be in.  So, how does your mind react?

I will be honest, there have been classes when I am so uncomfortable, so tired, so sick of being there, that all I can think in my head is how much I hate the teacher for making me do these things.  I have gotten more aware over the years of such emotions and thoughts and am now much better at letting that stuff go or quietly laughing to myself about them however, there have been times when the hate has been palatable.  When I think about it in retrospect, what an odd reaction for my mind to have.  I put all of my stuff in my bag, I showed up to class, I rolled out my mat and got on it, I chose to follow the instructions for poses, and I chose to stay for the whole class. So how is this anyone else’s fault?

Well that’s just the thing isn’t it?  The human mind is very adept at passing the buck.  At blaming others.  At playing the victim, even in situations which are clearly our own decisions and based on our own choices!  It’s all a bit silly when you think about it, and the realization of this silliness is basically what I am striving for on a regular basis.

Here is another scenario.  You are in the grocery store and are trying to get a can off the shelf while another shopper, who is completely unaware of you standing behind them, is blocking the shelf from your reach.  My reaction most of the time, if I am being honest with you, is “ugh! Can this person just get out of the way?!  How rude!”  Silly, no?  They have no idea I am there, there is no harmful intention in their action.  They are not standing there purposefully blocking me.  And yet, the mind becomes frustrated.  There are lots and lots of other situations like this I could describe that I think we are all familiar with. And these are just small everyday occurrences.  What about the big stuff?

The beauty of mindfulness/meditation/yoga is that these practices exercise your mind in a way that is ultimately getting to the goal of not letting your mind get to this frustrated, angry, blaming, “poor me” victim place.  They teach you to acknowledge these thoughts/sensations but not be ruled by them while additionally teaching you how to better react (or not react I suppose) to these thoughts when they arise.  It wasn’t until my yoga teacher talked about this specific connection between yoga and everyday thought/behaviour patterns that the light bulb in my head turned on.  The collection of essays about the connection between Yoga and Buddhism, which I am currently reading (Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind edited by Michael Stone),  is also helping me understand these links further.  It is very powerful and fascinating stuff!

Two more quotes I have recently collected which I think relate nicely:

Where does the body end and the mind begin? They cannot be divided as they are inter-related and but different aspects of the same all-pervading divine consciousness.

— B. K. S. Iyengar


We should not forget that the mind, whatever turn that we want to give it, is very flexible.  To the extent that we train ourselves, we create a habit and the mind accepts the crease that we give it.

— Bokar Rinpoche


grow your yoga

April is almost over and I am so looking forward to May which is promising to be one exciting month!  The first long weekend of the summer, my birthday (wooooo), and the next 30 day challenge at the Moksha Yoga Danforth studio (this time with a twist)!

I last participated in the 30-day challenge in October of 2012.  The idea is to do 25 classes in the 30 days.  Some of those days can include practice at home, and last time around I counted a one day Vipassana course towards my goal as well.  I think my final count for that month was 22 days of practice of some kind.  In the month of May, the challenge is also coupled with the Moksha Yoga worldwide initiative called Grow Your Yoga.  I will let “Woody” explain it further…

The month is also split into four one-week mini challenges that help extend the practice beyond the mat.

Week One – Live Green – the focus is on healthy eating – organic, vegan, local, raw – some or all of these aspects can be focused on in the week, but the overall idea is to eat consciously.

Week Two – Be Peace – the challenge is to be more at peace with your thoughts, which then has the effect of being at peace with the external.  10 minutes of meditation daily.

Week Three –  Be Accessible – no gossip for the whole week!  Become more accessible to deeper and more worthwhile conversation.

Week Four – Reach Out to Africa – this final week is all about raising the $100, 000 goal to benefit the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust!  If you are feeling so inclined, you can donate to my page and my community here.  And don’t worry, I will be posting this URL on this page throughout the month in case you need some extra time to think it over.  I will also do a separate post about the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust so you can have more info!

After this month of daily green smoothies, lots of yoga, no alcohol, general healthy eating, and plenty of rest, I am feeling like a million bucks and I am very excited to further expand this into the month of May.

One of the principles of Buddhism is that we strive to become better beings because that has small but incremental benefits to all other beings on the planet.  I like to think that while these types of challenges and lifestyle changes are good for me, they also make me a better person which then influences those around me.  Without making a large commitment like this challenge, think about a small thing you can do in the month of May that benefits yourself and those around you.  Small drops eventually make oceans!

Note: the above quote is attributed to Buddha, which is only partially true.  Here is some more info.  Nevertheless, a great sentiment.

…but eating healthy is for sissies

Well, that is not the truth no’ mo’!  My friend sent me a link to this site last week and I have been giggling/thinking of thug ways to talk about my nutrition ever since.

The site is called Thug Kitchen and it is bad ass.

So if you think that eating healthy is wack, then this is the site for you, foo’!  There is not tons of content up yet, but I hope that they continue to expand.  Funny and informative!  What more could you ask for?

what is thug kitchen?

thug 1thug 2thug 3thug 4

that’s why it is called a practice

I went to a 75 minute Moksha yoga class on Tuesday night after not going for over a week, and I am not sure if it was just that, or the heat, or the humidity, or what I ate or didn’t eat/drink that day, but it ended up being one of the most intense classes I have had for a long time.  I was going to write that it was the “hardest”, but I have learned that as far as yoga goes, that is not really a word I would like to use in this context.

Within the first 30 minutes or so of the class I started to feel very nauseous and decided to rest it out in child’s pose.  I slowed down my heart beat through my breath and although was not feeling 100% decided to get back up to complete the last of the standing series by doing Tree Pose.  As soon as I stood up, I lost my vision for a fraction of a second, everything went sort of spinny, and I decided that lying down in Savasana was definitely the way to go.  At this point my heart was beating so fast that I actually felt serious panic about what was going on.  I tried to calm my body down by making my exhales longer than my inhales (a trick I learned from a teacher that helps calm the nervous system), and while I eventually was able to do this, for a few minutes I was having a mini-freak out on my mat.  This, my friends, hasn’t happened in years.  I was able to complete the floor series without too many difficulties, but ended up thinking about the class for much of my night.

One of the reasons I really like yoga is that it is so much more than a physical activity.  It is a great training ground for ego management and mindfulness practice.   A lot of my teachers remind their classes almost on a daily basis that yoga is a practice, it is not something that will ever be perfect because every day the practice is different.  Or, alternatively, everyday is the perfect practice because it is what it is on that day. This is actually the same way I was taught to think about meditation. Part of the way yoga works to control the ego is through focusing on the present and on your own body, forgetting the past (“I was able to go deeper yesterday” or “I felt so strong last time, and now feel so weak”) and stopping comparisons with others in the room, which I will admit is difficult to do, but gets easier with time.  One of the most difficult things to do, especially for those starting out, is taking breaks and lying down while the class keeps going.  I know that personally I used to worry about looking weak.  Now, although those thoughts may still pop up from time to time, I choose to focus on how great it is to know my body well enough to know that it needs rest.  That today is not a day to push.  Alternatively, I now know when I do feel strong and can find and push on my edges without doing harm.

While I was lying on my mat, my heart and mind racing, but my body lying in stillness, I remembered a quote I once heard comparing someone to a duck floating on water: “calm on the surface, paddling like the dickens underneath”.  Yep, that was me alright.  Although through meditation and yoga I am trying to calm the paddling before it ever gets to the “dickens” level, I am happy to report that it seems like I have learned enough self-awareness to be able to quickly calm myself and return to a more comfortable level should it ever progress to that point.  This yoga class was just one example over the past several months, where I have felt either physically or emotionally (it’s all one and the same really) that things were getting too fired up and was able to step back and stop knee jerk reactions.  It reminds me of what S.N. Goenka says on the last day of the Vipassana course.  Meditation, the search for self-awareness, is a life-long journey and we cannot be disappointed with ourselves for not getting immediate perfect results.  But what we will begin to start witnessing is our mind behaving differently 1 time out of 10 and that will be enough fodder to keep going because eventually the number will climb to 2, 3, maybe 4…

I can say from the most honest of places, that even that 1 time feels incredible.  When I can break out of my habitual patterns of thought or action and become aware of the moment instead, while behaving accordingly with compassion for myself or others, it is a great feeling.  The work is paying off.

pretty sure this duck is smiling!source: Mrs McG East Yorks - Flickr

pretty sure this duck is smiling!
source: Mrs McG East Yorks – Flickr

-The Postliminary-

On the topic of yoga, here is a good little short article I came across recently that I enjoyed called “How to Heal Body Image Struggles with Yoga“.

not so iron woman

Within the last month I have had blood work done by two different doctors both of which pointed out that my iron levels are very low.  This has been an issue that has come up previously, but it seems like this time it is worse than it has been.  One of the main symptoms of low iron in the body is fatigue.  I have a very hard time waking up in the morning even after very long periods of sleep, and also generally feel tired throughout the day.  It’s pretty terrible actually because I end up feeling sluggish and lazy.  Another symptom is always being cold…hello!  So me.

My rheumatologist prescribed FeraMAX which is an oral iron supplement that claims to have reduced and/or eliminated (depends where you get your info) the not so pleasant side effects of most iron supplements like constipation.  This is a product that can actually be bough over-the-counter.

Previously I have taken the natural route and taken Salus Floradix Formula which is a liquid supplement taken daily, and is the choice for most vegetarians/vegans I know.  I can’t say that I have noticed major differences after taking this one, but I have a feeling that I did not take it for long enough or was regimented enough to take it everyday.

When I started doing the research to figure out which of these would be the better option this time around, I also looked into where I could find natural sources of iron in food and I found something quite surprising.  According to The Vegetarian  Resource Group, despite popular opinion, vegetarians do not have any more incidence of low iron stores than the general population.  Additionally many of the foods that are considered to be the staples of plant-based diets are superior in the amount of iron they hold when the iron in these foods is expressed as milligrams of iron per 100 calories.

Table 2: Comparison of Iron Sources
Food Iron (mg/100 calories)
Spinach, cooked 15.5
Collard greens, cooked 4.5
Lentils, cooked 2.9
Broccoli, cooked 1.9
Chickpeas, cooked 1.8
Sirloin steak, choice, broiled 0.9
Hamburger, lean, broiled 0.8
Chicken, breast roasted, no skin 0.6
Pork chop, pan fried 0.4
Flounder, baked 0.3
Milk, skim 0.1

It should be noted that the type of iron found in food derived from animals is easier absorbed by the body than that found in plants.  However, most plant-based diets are high in Vitamin C, which helps with the absorption of iron in the body.  Read more here and here.  For a list of iron rich vegetarian foods click here.

So now I know that I can get enough iron from foods, but my follow up question is, am I able to get my depleted iron stores back up just through food alone?  I am thinking that giving my body a boost through a supplement, at least initially, would not be a terrible idea.

-The Postliminary-

Does cooking your food in cast iron pots and skillets help increase your iron intake?  Sounds like an old wives tale but this one is true!

From Wikipedia

An American Dietetic Association study found that cast iron cookware can leach significant amounts of dietary iron into food. The amounts of iron absorbed varied greatly depending on the food, its acidity, its water content, how long it was cooked, and how old the cookware was. The iron in spaghetti sauce increased 2,109 percent (from .35 mg/100g to 7.38 mg/100g), while other foods increased less dramatically, for example the iron in cornbread increased 78 percent, from 0.67 to 0.86 mg/100g.  Anemics, and those with iron deficiencies, may benefit from this effect. 


Another fairly lazy Sunday here on the books at the Shanty.  After two weekends off I was back at the yoga studio early in the morning for my volunteer shift.  Last week was pretty busy for me and I actually didn’t make it to one class.  Having these Sunday shifts is a good reminder of why I love hot yoga so much.  I see the people as they enter the studio and as they leave the class and I can definitely tell you in that span of 60-90 min something changes.  Sweaty, smiley faces are always coming down the stairs after classes.  It makes me crave the same feeling.  This week I have no plans outside of work so am hoping to make it to a class everyday.  I can tell that both my mind and my body are missing it.

Besides missing the yoga classes my first week of “April the detox” month has been going very well.  I have stuck to the smoothie challenge and have had a green smoothie, or two, or three everyday so far.  I haven’t had any alcohol outside of one beer during the week and one on Saturday night.  My eating has generally stayed pretty healthy (with a few minor exceptions) and overall I am feeling pretty great!  I also got fantastic news from my rheumatologist last week.  It seems that my body is starting to heal!  In 2011 I had MRIs done of my hands and feet which were not good at all.  The images showed a lot of fluid, swelling, and other unfortunate symptoms of RA.  About a year ago I decided to start taking Enbrel in order to prevent any permanent joint damage and to try to “turn off” the mechanism in my body that was telling my immune system to basically freak out.  Well it seems to be working.  My blood tests have never been so good and X-rays show an amazing improvement in my hands and feet with no permanent damage.  And when I say that it looks like my body is starting to heal, this is not me talking, these are the words of my rheumatologist.  I can now start taking Enbrel every other week instead of every Sunday, and this has been a huge motivator for me to stay on track with the lifestyle changes in the hopes that very soon I can go off the medication completely.  Isn’t that swell?

I decided to treat myself on Sunday to a celebratory smoothie (not green but still very healthy) that imitates a good ol’ chocolate shake.  This is yet another thing I have been meaning to try for a few months now and I was not disappointed at all.  Here is the recipe if you want to give it a try.

Chocolate Date Smoothie

15 pitted honey dates (soak in water for about 2 hours)

2 cups unsweetened plain almond milk (rice, hemp, or soy milk would work as well)

1 banana

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon cardamom (optional)

1 teaspoon turmeric (optional)

splash of vanilla

Throw in a blender, whirl it up, enjoy!  This recipe makes two smoothies.

This smoothie actually ended up being a little too sweet for me so in the future I plan to replace the banana with half of an avocado which will also help create that smooth texture without the added sweetness.  Also replacing the dates which are quite sweet with soaked prunes.  I chose to put ground cardamom in for a bit of spice, and the turmeric because it is a great anti-inflammatory.  I try to use it wherever I can.  Just a word of warning though, powdered turmeric has a very strong, and not very pleasant taste, so use sparingly.

I have also started to be very curious about how our current understanding of nutrition was formed.  How did we discover vitamins?  How do we know what vitamins and minerals are in what food?  And additionally, how do we know which of these elements is good for specific parts of our bodies?

My first attempt at research led me to a few books that the Toronto Public Library has.  First is Terrors of the Table: the curious history of nutrition by W. B. Gratzer.  This was my wrap up to Sunday evening.  A good read thus far of which I am sure I will be sharing tidbits on here very soon.

Hope you all had a great Sunday!