Former Vogue staffer Amie Valpone, 33, battled unexplained illness for 10 years and was even told at various points that she had leukemia (she didn't) and one day left to live (that was six years ago). After years of visiting doctor after doctor and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on her health, it all boiled down to one simple diagnosis: toxicity.
"Our bodies were built to deal with natural pollution created by digestion, respiration, and metabolism, but they’re not designed to handle the enormous amount of artificial pollutants we’re exposed to in today’s chemical-filled world," says Valpone, who has since gone back to school to earn her degree in integrative nutrition. "The only way to deal with this toxic overload is to assist the body’s natural self-cleansing mechanisms with detoxing."
Valpone had been living a relatively "healthy" American lifestyle, eating lean proteins, exercising, drinking unfiltered tap water, and using sunscreen and bug spray. Turns out, this lifestyle was actually toxic, she says. And the drugs her doctors were prescribing were making her even sicker. To top it off, Valpone also has a genetic mutation (MTHFR) that makes it harder for her body to detox.
"I was living a normal lifestyle—I never smoked a cigarette, I had maybe one drink every other week, I ate lots of fresh, whole foods—but I also used lots of chemical foods that I thought were safe. I had no idea those foods were full of chemicals and super-inflammatory ingredients. Detoxing saved my life, and I want to shortcut other people's journey to help them get off their cocktail of drugs and realize there is a way to address the underlying imbalances in their bodies," Valpone tells YogaJournal.com.
After detoxing for the last five years, cleaning up her diet and her lifestyle, Valpone is finally feeling healthy, which inspired her to write her new book, Eating Clean: The 21-Day Plan to Detox, Fight Inflammation, and Reset Your Body (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 2016). "All I want to do is help people and inspire them," she says. "It's about taking a step back and looking at the changes you can make on a daily basis." We caught up with the author to ask her more about what detoxing really means, and how we can all eat—and live—a little cleaner.
Get Valpone's recipes: Eating Clean: 5 Healthy + Natural Summer Recipes
Yoga Journal: What inspired you to write this book?
Amie Valpone: I wrote this book because I never want anyone to go through the hell I went through. Over 500 doctors couldn’t figure out how to help me. I had just left Vogue and was in marketing at the NBA on disability ... I had to quit my job. It was really mind-blowing ... I was working with the best doctors and hospitals in the country, and all they were doing was handing me drugs. That's when I decided to dive deeper into integrative and functional medicine and look at how the body heals imbalances.
YJ: You had a relatively healthy American diet and lifestyle. What made you more vulnerable to the effects of toxicity than the rest of us?
AV: I have a genetic mutation to the MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) gene (and 35 percent of people do), so I'm not able to detoxify as efficiently or effectively as someone without this enzyme. Having the MTHFR mutation also makes you more susceptible to toxins in your environment, particularly any heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and growth hormones in your food. Western medicine doctors don't test for this, so you'll have to go to a functional/integrative MD for this simple blood test.
YJ: But all of us are vulnerable to toxicity?
AV: In 2016 there are more toxins than ever before. Everyone has some sort of toxicity—weight gain, bloating, acne, headaches, eczema, and psoriasis are all forms of toxicity. Our bodies were built to detox—that's why we have a liver and our other detox organs—however, we're at a time where there are toxins everywhere, and many of us aren't detoxing them out, so where are they going? They're lodged in our tissues and attached to our fat cells, causing health issues and weight gain.
YJ: What do people misunderstand about detoxing?
AV: Starving yourself on a juice diet is not detoxing. You want to detox your food, cleaning supplies, beauty products, personal care products. Detox is getting the bad things out of your body and removing from your body the burdens of toxins. (Read more on Amie's blog about how to detox your home and personal care products.) We are bombarded, from car exhaust to chemicals to food to tap water. There are chemicals and parabens in shampoo, toothpaste, sunscreen, deodorant. Detoxing is not a quick fix, it's a lifestyle.
See also 2015 Natural Beauty Awards
YJ: Why is eating clean such an important part of detoxing?
AV: When you’re not eating clean, whole foods, your body doesn’t know how to digest them. When you eat processed food, you're eating chemicals that your body cannot identify and that it has never even seen until recent years. That's why I partnered with NOW Foods, which has so many clean nuts and seeds and whole grains. I want to show people you can create amazing flavor without all that junk, you just have to train your taste buds to do it.
YJ: What are the "Toxic 13" foods?
AV: Gluten, dairy, soy, corn (no cornstarch), caffeine, eggs, refined sugar (and no chemical sugar alternatives), alcohol, shellfish, peanuts, white potatoes, white flour, any processed food sold in a package or can. Try [removing] each item one at a time to see if you have a reaction. If you don't feel well—which can mean a headache up to 72 hours later—then that's a sure sign of inflammation!
YJ: So what should we be eating instead?
AV: Instead, just imagine all the new tasty foods that are coming into your life! Fresh herbs, fruits, veggies, and spices (think garlic, berries, avocado, broccoli, walnuts, flaxseeds, turmeric, beans and black rice) are loaded with phytonutrients, which help our bodies detoxify from everyday toxins. Try to focus on the positive aspect of adding in more of these whole foods at every meal instead of focusing on missing the Toxic 13 foods you’re removing. If you discovered that dairy is a problem for you, for instance, you can remove dairy and switch to my tasty dairy-free nut cheeses and nut or coconut milk. There are always nutritious options, so don’t get discouraged. My best advice is to stick to whole, one-ingredient foods and use them to round out your meals and snacks. Keep your food simple; eating clean doesn't have to be hard or overwhelming. My book includes healthy swaps like replacing refined, inflammatory table salt with sea salt; using coconut aminos in place of tamari or soy sauce; enjoying gluten-free whole grains such as millet, quinoa, buckwheat, wild rice or black rice in place of inflammatory white rice; replacing your peanut butter (which is high in mold and is actually a legume) with almond butter made from just almonds—nothing else—add your own sea salt for flavor if needed. You can also replace all the processed and inflammatory condiments in your fridge with my entire condiment chapter, which has everything from homemade ketchup to dairy-free mayo, nut cheeses, mustards, hummus, and sriracha sauce.
YJ: How does the detox work?
AV: You remove the Toxic 13 from your diet and instead, you use the 200-plus detox-approved recipes in the book. Meanwhile, you keep a journal where you write down how you feel when you re-introduce each food one at a time. You find out which foods are really affecting you. I don't eat any of the Toxic 13 foods, but if you re-introduce things like eggs, dairy, meat, animal products, those are things that need to be organic. For better results, remove them altogether. Every single recipe in my book is free of animal protein, gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts, eggs, corn, white flour, and refined sugar—nothing from a box.
YJ: Do you ever splurge or treat yourself?
AV: In the recipes in my book, I use honey, pure maple syrup, raw nuts, seeds, and coconut oil, and there are recipes for brownies, cookies, and ice cream. They're all really rich and tasty and they're all very clean. You can indulge and eat clean at the same time—I don't want people to ever feel deprived. I want to show people that once you see how amazing life feels this way, why would you ever go back? It's really about using new anti-inflammatory ingredients and making healthy swaps.