Christmas is a time for family, benevolence and generosity. Christmas lunch is a case in point. When the chef emerged, red faced and weary, we recognised their hard work. They had been multi tasking, stressed and working tirelessly to ensure that we all enjoyed a delicious lunch (unless your well meaning brother-in-law turned the wrong oven up and incinerated the turkey, but that is another story). Fraternal sabotage aside, what got the chef through was the knowledge that the stress would last for a finite time and they could then put their feet up and doze while everyone else did the washing up.
Imagine a nightmare scenario of cooking Christmas lunch every day for a week. You keep asking for help but the music is too loud and people are too drunk to care. As you frantically keep cooking and trying to collect the seemingly endless rubbish, someone walks in and blithely informs you that five old friends have turned up for lunch, they also need you to do their washing and could you go and get more champagne because it is running low. You would inevitably go into meltdown and throw in the towel.
The scenario above is how your liver might feel after the festive period. Stressed, over worked, and unable to do its job properly.
It is common knowledge that the liver is responsible for dealing with alcohol. However, the other 499 functions it carries out are all fundamental to our health and fat levels. Ignoring the vitality of your liver is a sure fire way to end up with poor body composition.
What are some of key functions of the liver (when it is working effectively)
- Making bile and cholesterol (enabling you to break down fat and make hormones)
- Maintaining immunity
- Storing vitamins and minerals
- Balancing hormones (excreting oestrogen, activating thyroid and leaving us lean and happy)
- Controlling glucose and fat supplies (keeping blood sugar and energy levels balanced)
- Phase one detoxification - gathering toxic waste i.e. filling a bin bag (hormones, alcohol, caffeine, medicine and antibiotics).
- Phase two detoxification - conjugation (waste binds with/sticks to something to allow movement to the kidneys for excretion) i.e. putting the rubbish out.
You don't need to be biologist (I hope) to recognise that this is a very important organ. The liver is the key organiser of chemical matter in the body. Just think how many toxins we are exposed to everyday from the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. If you can't get rid of them, you increase your toxic load and impair your body's ability to burn fat.
We all eat a richer diet over the festive period (more fat and toxins), drink more alcohol (more toxins and sugar) and do less exercise (meaning less blood is flushed through the liver).
Phase one (gathering) will take precedent. Like our Christmas chef, the liver can only deal with a certain number of jobs. That means phase two (preparation for elimination) cannot be done efficiently. Toxins have to be stored or excreted and excretion is not an option!
If the toxins are not eliminated, they are going to be reabsorbed and that is when you gain fat and retain water. Clients often attribute fat loss to alcohol abstinence (fewer calories). True in part, but they are also less stressed, less toxic, sleeping better, making better food choices and have better hormonal balance. They can train harder too.
Now that I've made everyone feel profoundly guilty and put a turkey-sized dampener on proceedings, let's look at some basic steps you can take to mitigate the damage (having a few weeks off drinking is a given.)
- Take a good quality multivitamin as an insurance policy. If you take, for example, zinc and selenium A, C, E you are not going to be able to utilise them effectively as all vitamins and minerals work in synergy. You need a multi as an umbrella. In my experience, clients cannot always discern how it has helped but their general state of well-being is almost always improved. They are more balanced.
- Include antioxidants in your diet. A cup of green tea in warm water with half a lemon twice a day is a good way to stay alkaline, lower the GI of food and ensure that you get a good dose of antioxidants. Vitamin E is also a good source (dark green vegetables and nuts - go on, finish those sprouts!)
- Eat foods that will aid phase two. Garlic, onion, leeks and egg yolk are all good bets. Turmeric is also a good addition along with staying hydrated.
- Lay off the fruit. Fructose does not act like other sugars. It can only be digested in the liver. Eat a broad range of vegetables instead for a few weeks.
- Start 2013 with a realistic, sensible goal. People often work in extremes. Horrible Christmas, impeccable New Year. Be patient, implement change gradually. To ensure you are as efficient as possible and maximise progress find a practitioner who can devise a nutrition, exercise and supplementation programme that is tailored to your body and needs.
Happy 2013 and one final piece of advice: if you follow a detox plan that requires you to cut out all protein - good luck. You'll end up lighter but a large proportion of the weight you lose will be muscle.
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