O‘ahu-based macrobiotic chef and life coach, Leslie Ashburn, lays out a fail-safe game plan to live and feel better in the new year, one meal at a time.
Story by Leslie Ashburn
Photos and food styling by Ja Soon Kim
Now that the new year has arrived, it’s a perfect chance to set a healthful course for 2014 by reflecting on your diet and lifestyle. This year, “spring clean” early by focusing on the foods you eat and changing a few habits.
To undo the bad stuff (who didn’t splurge this past holiday season?), there are several gentle steps you can take to cleanse and detox. For the purposes of this article, this means aiding your body to release accumulated toxins and create the optimal conditions for your body’s organs to function most efficiently. The simple ways laid out for you here will naturally prepare your body and mind for success. My suggestions are meant for long-term, sustainable health — there are no magic bullets here. And, as you’ll see, cleansing can be gentle and actually quite delicious!
Diet Dos & Don’ts
First, DO take the middle path with your diet and DON’T go to extremes. Strict fasts (such as liquid-only diets) may produce short-term results. Their severity, however, often results in a yo-yo effect, sending people back and forth between overeating and not eating enough. If you greatly restrict your calories, it is inevitable that you’ll end up with a strong urge to binge. Situationally, a fast may be appropriate on a sojourn in the woods or while on a meditative yoga retreat, but for people who need to show up for a full-time job, parent, or who like to exercise, it is neither functional nor practical.
While it’s not healthy to overly restrict your diet, it is important to limit certain foods. DO avoid consumption of antibiotic- and hormone-laden animal foods, refined sugar, too much coffee, alcohol and anything containing nitrates, food colorings, preservatives and additives. If your goal is to clean up a polluted ocean, river or lake, it makes little sense to continue to dump toxins into it. In general, your best bet is to avoid anything processed. If it has gone through a factory of some kind, is in a box, a can or is pre-made, then it’s processed!
DO eat wholesome, nutritious regular meals three times per day to keep your blood sugar levels even. Eat your last meal at least three hours before you go to bed. Your liver and kidneys work their detox magic at night and need all available energy to do so. Dealing with a full stomach zaps energy from other organs, leaving you feeling tired and sluggish when you wake up.
DO switch your thinking. Sometimes overly concentrating on avoiding certain foods makes them even more tempting — like that chocolate cake in the fridge that you absolutely “shouldn’t” eat. Instead, turn your focus to adding new, amazingly healthful things into your daily diet.
The best possible diet you can adopt in order to rebalance and cleanse your body is a whole-food, plant-based diet with ingredients grown as close to the source as possible with organic farming methods. Eat this way as often as possible. This diet is easy for your body to digest, freeing up energy that would otherwise be spent trying to clean and filter your organs. It is also fills your system with good stuff — valuable nutrients, vitamins, minerals and more.
My suggestions for a whole-food, plant-based diet include: unrefined starches and whole grains, such as organic brown rice, quinoa, barley, oats, sweet potatoes, taro and breadfruit; a wide variety of vegetables prepared in different ways, including root vegetables like burdock root (gobo), round vegetables like kabocha, and hardy, dark leafy greens like kale; beans and bean products; sea vegetables; naturally fermented vegetables like kimchee or sauerkraut; and lastly, fruits, nuts, and seeds. These foods are low in calories, high in fiber, and you can pretty much eat as much as you like.
You absolutely DON’T need to deprive yourself, ever! DON’T feel that you’re going to be eating sticks and rocks, either. There is a world of incredible food out there just waiting for you to discover! In fact, Forbes rated well-crafted vegan cuisine as one of the top trends of 2013.
Food is Medicine
While eating a variety of unrefined, plant-based foods is the most important thing you can do to give your system a rest and help it rebuild, it’s also important to know how foods affect your body. After all, food is medicine!
Easy first steps include adding the following items into your diet. First, homemade soups are an excellent way to fill up, not out (avoid adding too much sodium and fat). Soups are very gentle on your digestion, which can often be taxed due to overconsumption of the standard American diet. In particular, miso soup made from “unpasteurized” or “unrefined,” organic soybeans is an excellent way to build immunity, cleanse your blood and alkalinize your system.
Limu, or seaweed, is an often over-looked food that is rich in essential minerals. It helps your kidneys function well, and aids in removing heavy metals from your body. I highly recommend certified organic, in this case.
Sauerkraut and other fermented foods aid digestion and help your liver in assimilating oily foods and fat. These are especially important for us to eat in the spring. Sour flavors are also great for cleaning out the liver, such as umeboshi plums (without MSG), and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Other fat-dissolving foods include daikon radish and dried shiitake mushrooms.
Kale and other dark leafy greens are what I consider the secret fountain of youth. In fact, in Oriental medicine, they are associated with spring cleansing and liver purification.
Kukicha tea is a full-bodied and flavorful tea (available in your local health food store) that is alkalinizing and cleansing to the blood.
Eat, Breathe, Rest
While food is a critical component in cleansing and detoxing, it’s just one piece of the health puzzle. Just as important is gentle exercise. Activities like gardening, yoga, or going for a walk, hike, surf, SUP or swim enable you to breathe in fresh air and sweat out toxins.
Lastly, practice a daily body scrub so that your skin, the largest organ in your body, can more easily release toxins. Pamper yourself with massages. Practice meditation. Turn off the TV or close the newspaper while you’re eating your meals (your entire environment is “food”). Get ample rest to allow your body to heal from stress.
“What do I have to look forward to?” you ask. The list is long: getting along better with your loved ones, easier weight management, clearer skin, deeper sleep, better moods, more energy, reduced cravings, and protection and healing from a wide variety of lifestyle-related illnesses.
Here’s to YOUR healthful 2014!
Leslie Ashburn is an internationally trained personal chef, educator, blogger and life coach. She is a Level 3 graduate of the Kushi International Extension Program in Osaka, Japan, mastering in “Samurai Macrobiotics,” a holistic approach to well-being. She loves challenging stereotypes about what it means to eat healthy.