Eating Better, But Feeling Worse?
If you’ve set out to improve your diet with an influx of fresh, wholesome foods, quality supplements, and pure water, it’s possible you’ll feel worse before you feel better. Remember when you were a kid and your mom told you to just rip the Band-Aid off? This is the exact same thing.
One of the greatest misunderstandings in the field of nutrition is the lack of interpretation of the symptoms and reactions which follow the introduction of higher quality foods in place of lower quality ones.
This phenomena of feeling worse before you feel better is what happens when natural detoxification cycles cause stored toxins to release and flood the body on their way out. This can cause a multitude of uncomfortable symptoms, from nausea and other flu-like symptoms, to headaches, skin rashes, and breakouts.
Bottom line: if you’re eating better and feeling worse, don’t be quick to jump to the conclusion that you’re not cut out for this ‘healthy stuff’ because what you might be experiencing are the temporary symptoms of a ‘Herxheimer Reaction’, otherwise known as the ‘healing crisis’.
What happens when a person improves their diet?
Hippocrates (The father of Medicine) wrote: "Nature cures, not the Physician".
Your body is regenerating 24/7. We see this externally through the new growth of hair, eyelashes, and finger nails. But we don’t always see the internal regenerative processes. For instance, your skin replaces itself every 35 days. Your liver replaces itself every 6 months. Your bones, every 10 years.
Your body makes new cells and tissue from the foods you eat. What you eat literally becomes you. So when you’ve replaced unhealthy foods with healthy ones, your cells takes advantage of rebuilding its structure with the higher quality nutrients.
In the interim, the body begins to discard the lower-grade materials. This might ignite a Herxheimer Reaction, where you could come face-to-face with weeks, months, and even years or decades worth of stored garbage that was used to build old tissue or toxins stored inside the tissue.
But if given time and support, remarkable things begin to happen. The self-healing nature of many conditions such as colds, fevers, cuts, sprains, and other injuries provide endless examples of how the body tends toward health, unless we do something to prolong the progress.
Think of the last time you accidentally cut yourself. First the wound might have bled. Then throbbed. Then scabbed over. Then got itchy. Then showed a scar. Then disappeared without a trace. It had to get worse before it got better. This is the Herxheimer Reaction in action.
Your body always knows what to do to heal itself. The more nutrition we provide it with, the more tools it has to do its job, the quicker the recovery.
What are the signs and symptoms of a Herxheimer Reaction?
Although you may only experience a mild reaction or nothing at all, it is important to be aware of the possibility and to understand that it is a symptom of healing so you don't become discouraged.
The most common reactions are:
Congestion or runny nose
Sweating / chills
Itching / skin rashes
Body aches / weakness
Constipation / diarrhea
Brain fog / lethargy / vertigo
Joint / muscle pain
While reactions that present themselves can be alarming (and may not feel particularly pleasant at first) they are temporary and are actually a sign that healing is taking place. Any discomfort or "out of the ordinary" symptoms typically begin subsiding within one week of making the change.
Each person’s experience will be unique to them. Your Herxheimer Reaction may be different than someone else’s due to how well your elimination pathways are functioning, and if you’ve had differing exposures to chemicals and low-quality foods in the past. Those who have abused their bodies will experience more severe symptoms if their liver, kidneys, and other eliminating organs have been damaged.
The majority of people find their reactions tolerable and well worth the effort to feel significant improvements when they get to the other side of it.
What to do in the event of a Herxheimer Reaction:
The good news you can help your body overcome these reactions quicker by giving it extra support. You can help your body rebound by staying well-hydrated and eating plenty of raw, plant foods, like leafy greens and berries. Steer clear of inflammatory compounds that can prolong the process like caffeine, sugar, dairy, and processed foods. And if you’re really wanting to kick this draggy feeling to the curb, try the following:
Drink plenty of purified water and herbal tea (I use this water purifier)
Add lemon to your drinking water
Take an epsom salt bath or sauna
Gentle exfoliating and dry brushing
Get plenty of sunshine and fresh air
Get more rest, take a nap, and get to bed earlier
Go for a slow walk
Do light yoga or stretching (especially twisting poses)
Take quality supplements to support your detoxification cycle, like milk thistle, alfalfa and probiotics. (Here’s my favorite)
Realize that these symptoms are an indication of your body becoming younger and healthier every day. And remember, these reactions do not happen to everyone, just those who need nutrients the most.
Nutrition works slowly, so give your body time to adjust. Delayed gratification is VERY gratifying. Now repeat after me: this too shall pass!