How to Detox Without Starving Yourself

by | Jul 6, 2015
Photo by Robert Gourley

Photo by Robert Gourley

Earlier this year my husband and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary. If you were following along, you might remember that we didn’t get to have much of a honeymoon after our wedding since my book was scheduled to launch just four weeks later. (Yes, I regret these events being so close together. C’est la vie.)

So for our first anniversary we felt we deserved a real break, a relaxing trip with no friends, family or even Toaster. We took five glorious days off and chilled on a beach in Mexico, making a point to spend more time in the spa than in the gym.

As you might expect we felt a little doughy when we got home, so we immediately called our local juice company and ordered a 7 day detox cleanse to make up for it.


I know the temptation is there to combat what feels like extreme “bad” behavior with extreme “good” behavior. I get emails nearly every week from someone slyly asking me if it’s cool to try something intense like a juice cleanse or fasting to “get back on track” after a particularly decadent holiday.

Of course, moralizing your food choices in this way is the first part of the problem. There is nothing inherently bad about enjoying yourself, and nothing inherently good about starving yourself. As a foodist I’d argue that the opposite is closer to true.

But I can still understand the desire to right the ship when it feels like a large deviation from healthy has occurred. It sucks to feel unhealthy.

Finding a better way starts with your mindset. Combating extreme behavior with more extreme behavior undermines your healthstyle, because it undermines your habits. A foodist must remember––and believe––that attempting to build health through suffering hurts rather than helps.

Besides, you don’t need it.

When I get back from a long trip or encounter something else in life that takes me away from my normal healthstyle, I double down on my efforts to defend my Home Court Habits as soon as possible.

This usually starts with a trip to the farmers market or grocery store to stock up on healthy foods. I am sure to make my favorite breakfast every day, try to cook at home as much as possible. I focus on vegetables, beans, eggs and meat, and neglect sugar and refined grains. I get 10,000 steps a day and train at the gym.

In other words I do what I always do, without cutting any corners.

One of the greatest things about my Home Court Habits is that they are already designed to account for occasional indulgent behavior. When I follow my habits more tightly it creates a slightly negative energy balance (aka weight loss) while boosting nutrition and decreasing “toxins” (I hate that word) from processed foods.

It’s essentially a detox without suffering, though I don’t like to call it that. For me it just feels normal, and good.

Focusing on the healthy habits I already know and love certainly takes some work, but it doesn’t feel like suffering at all. It feels awesome. And it is usually just a matter of days before I’m back to my normal fit and happy self.

How do you recover from an indulgent period? Have you been tempted to do a cleanse or detox? What was the outcome?

Originally published July 21, 2014.

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41 Responses to “How to Detox Without Starving Yourself”

  1. Laura says:

    Dear Darya,
    first i have to tell you how awesome you are! I love your blog and book (and audiobook, for that matter). It´s so nice to have someone sane to listen to, whilst everyone is being crazy about weight and exercise.
    I recently spent 10 days in beautiful bologna (italy)and find it especially hard to get back on track. I basically go through phases of eating normally (healthy, after all you toght me to cook insanely amounts of lentils and beans) or eating normal PLUS eating a whole lot of chocolate (and choclate relatet sweets). I find it very hard to limit my sweets intake, wich is why I either have none or quite a lot.
    Do you have any suggestions how to manage such a craze?
    Best wishes from germany!
    PS If you are interested: I also love my fitbit(thanks to you again), do 10,000 a day and do HIIT at least 3 times a week, plus yoga and the occasional pilates.

    • Darya Rose says:

      Have you tried scheduling your treats? For instance, you might get everything tempting out of the house, then choose one day a week to fully enjoy your favorite treat. It’s best if it is something discreet, not something you can just eat and eat. That way you can manage your indulgence, yet always have something to look forward to.

      • Laura says:

        I used to do that while I was in school! actually today I thought about trying it again, and since you brought it up I will. thanks for replying so fast!

      • PH says:

        Do you really mean discreet? Or do you mean discrete?

      • cewterry says:

        PH do you really mean to be a know it all? Or are you really trying to be helpful?

        Anyone reading knows what she meant.

        Stop doing that.

  2. Kevin says:

    As of late, I’ve noticed that there are a few areas of my life that I need to grasp better control of. Eating habits being primary. I thought some sort of detox would be the way to go. Of course, my searches online lead me to many of the liquid cleanses, which I seriously considered.

    As I read this post, what you write seems like plain common sense: eat right, and the rest will follow. I never thought a “detox” could really be that straightforward. Your timing on posting this could not come at a better time for me, and I am thankful you prevented me from starving myself when it really isn’t necessary.

  3. Abbey says:

    I had quite an indulgent weekend and totally overdid it on the caffeine and sweets at a family reunion. I thought I might have sugar withdrawals today so we stopped at the store on the way home and loaded up on meat & veggies. My plan is every time I get a craving for a cupcake to eat a deviled egg instead. So far, eggs ingested: 2. Cupcakes: 0. Hopefully, I won’t end up eating the whole carton of eggs by dinner, otherwise I’ll have to come up with another plan. I like your idea about scheduling treats. I’ll try that this weekend. Until then, hopefully I can keep the cupcakes at bay. 😉

  4. Kate says:

    Usually when I’ve indulged too much, I try to think about loading up on healthy ingredients (vegetables) and making my very healthiest recipes for a day or two, rather than doing anything too drastic or depriving myself of, say, solid food.

    Related: A few months ago I met a young friend of mine for happy hour and when we arrived at the bar she informed me she actually wasn’t going to order a drink because she was on a three-day juice cleanse. Then she proceeded to tell me how tired and strung-out and shaky she was after one day.

    I asked her, “You’re a slender, 26-year-old, half-marathon-running vegan. What on Earth are you cleansing FROM?” She texted me later from home saying she was making one of her usual healthy meals and was grateful for my commonsense.

  5. Elen says:

    Great advice! I normally have a few days of extremely “clean” eating (with no processed foods) just to reset my palate after an indulgent few days. I have a week away with my family coming up which I know will be quite extravagant and I was actually considering a more extreme detox afterwards, but I think I might give it a miss now. Your article makes perfect sense, I follow a healthy lifestyle so that I can enjoy myself more when I indulge, so long as I go back to that healthy lifestyle after there’s not much I need to change, thanks!

  6. Carolina says:

    I have done some detox in the past after vacations or overindulgent weekends. Truth is i felt awful and ended up eating whatever I could find because I was starving and in a terrible mood. Having said that, I think a short detox could work when is done for the right reasons, once in a yoga retreat I did a one day fruit and veggies juice kind of detox and i felt amazing, i think mostly because there was some purpose behind eating that way for a day and was not loosing weight.

  7. Lisa Cervantes says:

    I’d like to introduce the idea of a juice cleanse as a pleasant experience. My husband and I discovered a vendor in our neighborhood that makes delicious concoctions from local organic produce. Once a week we pick up a simple one day juice fast from them — six bottles, conviently numbered, including a “smoothy” type drink for lunch and a flavored nut milk for dinner. It’s a nice change of pace that resets our appetites and relieves whatever slugginess may remain from a weekend of minor over indulgences. No hunger and no feeling of deprivation. In fact, it feels more like a spa day for our digestive systems.

    • Jessica L says:

      I love this! I can definitely see a benefit in giving the body and especially the digestive track a break after subjecting it to a little abuse. Especially as you hit a few important key points: fresh, real juice [that means quick n easy nutrients, antioxidants, etc], plentiful amounts with mindful ingredients to ensure well rounded nutrition [Thicker juices for “mealtimes”, who doesn’t love Smoothies? Adding the nut milk is genius!] but most importantly the attitude of it being a relaxing retreat for your body to restore and rejuvenate itself. [Positive – Not a punishment for being “bad” and not unrealistically long.]

      I think you have worked out a great balance and logical foodist headspace toward “Detoxing cleanses”. – Thank you for sharing!

  8. Laura says:

    Hi there! I love your blog and love your tips! In my experience, similar to Carolina, I usually end up over-indulging *again* because I feel so deprived from not eating! My best trick is like you in that I will tighten up my habits, but I’ve also noticed for myself that if instead of eating my regular 5-6 meals a day I go to eating 3 meals a day, I’m able to get myself back into a healthy cycle. Just a tip for those out there like me. 🙂
    Thanks for your lovely posts!!!
    Damsel with Dumbbells

  9. Cara says:

    I just recently returned from a vacation and I have to admit that the thought of a cleanse crossed my mind. But I’ve never had good luck with cleanses. I get hungry and cranky, especially since it’s such a drastic change from the eat-all-the-yummy-things diet (sorry – healthstyle) that can come with vacation. So I focused on getting back to my normal routine with slightly larger portions and gradually reduced those portions until I was back to my totally normal healthstyle.

    I’ve recently started practicing mindful eating, and found your book. It really helped assure me that I can still maintain a healthy weight without dieting, tracking calories, etc. My reasoning for starting this mindful eating journey was more for my mind than body, but knowing that it can actually HELP, not hurt, my body was amazing news … especially since I, like so many, have been a serial dieter for years and have struggled with body image issues. So what I’m trying to say is, thank you. 🙂

  10. Li says:

    Hi Darya,

    Do you ever plateau from your home court habits? I hear so often from people that the stuff that worked before, stopped that case, what can one do when their home court habits already account for healthy nutrition and regular physical exercise? Is “switching things up” really necessary?

    • Darya Rose says:

      Hi Li,

      If your HCH have helped, but not enough to get you to your goal weight you just have to keep tweaking them. For instance, maybe walking more or reducing bread/sweets from 1-2x per week to 1-2x per month would help (this may only need to be temporary). Maybe add interval training? Depending on how much weight you need to lose, the Recalibration may help as well.

  11. Maggy says:

    For some reason (boredom, bad weather, no lock on the refrigerator) there was a lot of chocolate and ice-cream in my weekend. I’m back to the veg and grains this week, but I’m not changing anything about what I eat; instead I did an extra 10 lengths of the pool and added 10 minutes to my daily walks. In the past when I’ve tried fasting to make up for a binge, it just makes me tired and grumpy and I end up back in the cookie dough to cheer myself up.
    PS I hope you had a great anniversary and that Toaster is pleased to see you back. LOVE Summer Tomato!

    • Darya Rose says:

      Thanks Maggy. If you’re bingeing on a semi-regular basis, you may not be eating enough normally. I worry when I hear just “veggies and grains,” without a hearty source of fat and protein you’ll eventually be driven to overeat.

  12. Adrienne says:

    After an extended indulgent period (holiday season,long vacation, really chaotic and prolonged schedule), I go back to my home court habits and focus on whole foods. If after a month or more, I’m still hovering a few pounds above my preferred set point, I collect more detailed data. I start with the fitbit app’s calorie counting and water tracking feature. If that’s not providing any insight, I switch to the myfitnesspal app for more detailed nutrition information. I would continue this until achieving my set point, but in the past usually several red flags tell me it’s time to back off. 1) If for one instant I consider not eating because the data says I’ve already eaten “too many” calories. 2) I become too obsessed with the data. I’m an engineer, and I love data. But it has to be accurate data. If I catch myself getting frustrated with the data, unsure whether or not I’m getting “enough” or “too much” of a category, macronutrient or micronutrient, then it’s time to pick some areas for improvement based on the information collected and go back to simple Foodist Journaling. A recent example: detailed tracking reminded me that nuts are nutritious but calorically dense, so maybe I should switch my midmorning nut mix for a vegetable. But when I started getting frustrated trying to figure out what a serving of a vegetable was to make sure I was eating enough, my husband asked me, “What would Darya say?” Clearly it was time to relax and trust that my new observations were enough to refine my Foodist habits.

  13. Samantha says:

    I love this, Darya!

    I just returned from a VERY indulgent trip to Brazil, and I was worried – would I be stuck in these new, poor eating habits? Would my body recover?

    I did as you said, and stuck to my Healthy routine, without the corner cutting, and have been pleased to find how quickly my strength (mental and physical) has bounced back.

    If anything, recovering from my trip using my own healthy habits (versus a fast or some diet plan) makes me feel more empowered and able to handle whatever the world throws at me. I know that I can get myself back on track, and that my body will come along for the ride.

    So glad that you are finding that your healthy home habits are working for you as well!

  14. Tracy K. says:

    Love this article! I too have tried the “I’ll be super good” approach after vacation or an indulgent weekend. I would cut out fruit, starchy veggies, and whole grains to limit my calories and reset my palate. This would last for maybe a day or two before I would end up overeating as a reaction to my “punishment” mode. It finally hit me that my solution was working against me and making me grumpy and sluggish. Now I focus on resuming my normal, healthy eating habits as soon as possible.

  15. Ashley says:

    I’m so glad you posted this! I had a weeklong beach vacation, and was unpleasantly surprised to see I gained 4 lbs in that time. I was determined to get back in my home court habits (no sugar, no wheat/flour, no alcohol), but found my resolve a little weak.

    I did the best I could and tried not to beat myself up about not being perfect at it. I’m on day 4 of my normal healthstyle, and a couple of those lbs have already disappeared. I’m confident that by simply sticking to my homecourt habits, the other 2 will soon be gone as well.

    Thanks as always for your relaxed, normalizing view of health and eating. I like the reinforcement of eliminating the extremes, and not moralizing your food choices.

  16. Joy Z says:

    My husband and I have been refining our habits in the foodist tradition for about 17 years (ever since a recurrence of a pesky cancer caused us to rethink our lifestyle), and after all this time our love of healthy, simple and super-flavorful food has become such a habit/priority that we plan highly rated restaurants and eating experiences into our vacations. Sometimes we can’t get the food we want, but those days are the exception. We hiked in some US national parks recently and it was some work to eat foodist – and not always possible, but Europe is the opposite – with great, healthy food widely available. We NEVER feel like we’re denying ourselves – we get more and more creative and look forward to every meal – and our respective weight setpoints hold steady with no effort. Daria – I love your book! I’ve given it to friends and family and highly recommend it to all who are searching for a great way to live.

  17. Kate says:

    Just the comment thread I needed:). Thanks for a great post Darya! Could use some encouragement on this topic, fellow commenters.

    I had an amazing year becoming a happy, healthy foodist. I lost 40lbs in a way that felt effortless (about 25lbs in the first 5 months, 10lbs the next 4 months, then 5lbs the final 3 months) since I’d “simply” established new healthy homecourt habits that made me really happy. Cutting out junk food, near-daily exercise I enjoy.

    But by the end of the year, my two best friends said I looked way too thin, that my face looked too thin. I was still effortlessly losing a bit of weight, so I decided maybe they were right that it was strange that I was still losing without trying.

    That was 3 months ago. In an effort to re-gain some weight, I’ve destroyed the healthy habits I’d developed. Now, I exercise only once or twice a week (miss it) and have gotten back into the habit of larger meals than I need, diet soda, chips, dessert most days.

    I feel out of control! I’ve gained back 10 pounds in these 3 months. I was happier before. I liked my habits better, and I liked my body better.

    For the past month, every night I say, tomorrow’s the day I revert to my healthy self- because she made me happier. Yet, the next day I succumb to the old habits.

    I’m stumped because during the past year I never had to rely on daily willpower: I was genuinely happy in my new habits.

    • Darya Rose says:

      Oh man, what a bummer. Communicating with friends and family who don’t understand health or habits is one of the most difficult challenges people face when adopting a foodist lifestyle. The truth of it is that if you’re eating and exercising in a healthy manner it’s almost impossible to become too thin (you can certainly become too thin in an unhealthy way, but that looks very different). The standard of “normal” is so skewed these days that it is hard for people to recognize good health when they see it.

      Now to getting back on track. It sounds to me like you’re a bit overwhelmed by feeling like you need to get all your healthy habits back at once. My advice is to start smaller. Pick one habit and focus on that for a week. Once you feel good about that, pick another. I bet since you used to love these habits the transitions will be easier than you think. Best of luck!

    • Jessica says:

      Darya nailed it! I have been underweight in an unhealthy way and it doesn’t happen “without trying” it happens without eating! It makes me sad that they were unsupportive of your new healthy-happy state and it makes me think they were feeling their own insecurities. [It’s funny how often the things people say are usually more about them than you!]
      We support you and want you to be happy and healthy! One at a time is a great suggestion – perhaps start with the one that seemed the most “effort-less” then build on your success. You’ve got this!

    • Bridget says:

      I completely and totally relate to hearing that you look to thin. I’m just starting on focusing on the foodist approach to creating and maintaining healthy, happy habits. I’ve been obese all of my life, and every time I drop more than 20 pounds, people start commenting about how I’m losing weight too fast, or depriving myself. It’s bizarre, and very, very disheartening. I’d confuse peoples concern with criticism, and then I’d let my feelings be hurt or I’d feel self-conscious/insecure, then I’d overindulge in rich, fatty foods and sweets until I gained back whatever body fat I’d lost, plus some.

      I’m just now starting to realize that people say these things not out of cruelty, but out of concern. My loved ones are accustomed to seeing me overweight – so when I start to lean out, they worry because I look’different’. This might sound a little funny, but, I came to the realization that people are often shocked when someone they know and love looks different, by observing my infant nephew: my brother had longer hair, and cut his hair very short. When his 18-month-old son saw him with short hair, the baby was so shocked that he screamed and ran away crying, because Daddy looked so different. My brother had to put on a baseball hat that the baby recognized and associated with ‘Daddy’s normal look’ to get his son to calm down and see that Daddy was still the same Daddy, he only changed his hair (once the baby took my brother’s hat off, put it back on him, took it off and put it back on a few times, he accepted Daddy’s new look).

      So, I’m bracing myself to reassure the people around me who will tell me if they think I look ‘too thin’, or if they worry that I’m trimming down too quickly, that I’m actually the healthiest I’ve ever been. People are funny creatures – we crave consistency, and freak out when something in our ‘norm’ suddenly looks different. Instead of letting their concern cause me concern, I’m going to focus on reassuring them, and happily answering any questions they might have. 🙂

  18. Katie says:

    When you eat healthy and live healthy, fad diets or detoxes are absolutely unnecessary. Fasting is good but it should be a positive thing aimed at giving the digestive system a rest not what some called detoxification of the gut or gut cleanse. If fasting is not possible eating light is another option to give the insides a lighter work load.

  19. Jane says:

    Oh dear. Kate I feel for you. I have been in the same boat. We try so hard to establish good habits and some well meaning family and friends give advice and we think they know better and destroy all the good work. Can’t blame them. It is us. If we are happy and doing the right thing we need to simply brush off these comments. Easy to say. Harder to do. It’s taken me more than 3 years to get back on track. All the good habits established went down the drain in those 3 years. Now, I have set myself a small goal and the fact that is achievable with some modest amount of work has got me motivated to reach for it. I am slowly getting back to my good ways 🙂 Finally.

  20. James says:

    Hi Darya, this is a great post. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to be so extreme when I detox. I can be quite hard on myself when I get back from a long vacation or just a loss of willpower.

  21. Faith says:

    I wish people wouldn’t compare or pass comments. Even though most people are well meaning. It can completely derail somebody’s hard work. It just a few words but months of hard work goes down the drain. Been there. Done it and still to get back on track. Good for you Jane. You have inspired me to get back to my good ways.

  22. ansa says:

    I have to try any detoxification method yet. I do drink half glass of warm water with some honey and freshly squeezed lemon juice in the morning if it counts as detox.

    I take it as replacement for my cup of tea in the morning.

  23. I think its excellent post, very informative. I wonder why the opposite experts of this sector do not understand this.
    You must continue your writing. I am sure, you’ve a great readers’ base already!

  24. Bridget says:

    I love this article. When I know that I’ve overindulged, I panic – and that’s when I start to think that I should do something that, for me, personally, would be too extreme (such as a juice cleanse or fasting).

    It just occurred to me that by re-focusing on naturally healthy eating habits, I AM detoxing from overindulging – and I’m doing it in a gentle, healthy manner.

  25. Jenn says:

    Love all your tips and tricks. Very inspiring and motivated to do some work. Loved reading your blog posts. You reminded me of a women’s activewear brand I stumbled upon. [link removed]. They support real women with real stories who we people can relate to. You both should work together. Best of luck to you on your journey in inspiring others

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