When you think about all the hormonal havoc that comes with being a woman, your mind probably drifts to frustrating mood swings, cramps, intense chocolate cravings, hot flashes, and night sweats. What most of us don’t consider is the impact that such hormonal fluctuations have on the liver — but breakthrough science from Loyola University Chicago suggests we should: The researchers report that the wax and wane of estrogen and progesterone throughout our menstrual cycles forces the liver to work overtime to filter the hormones and bring them into balance. Over the course of a lifetime, this takes a toll on the liver — by age 40, 90 percent of us are dealing with some degree of liver burnout. And as our hormones go haywire during perimenopause and menopause, the liver becomes even more overtaxed.
Complicating matters, trying to diet away the pounds can further burden the liver. “The liver is responsible for breaking down and neutralizing toxins, and scrubbing the blood clean of things that can hurt us,” explains Ian K. Smith, MD, the Harvard-trained medical contributor to The Rachael Ray Show and host of the nationally syndicated radio show HealthWatch. The problem, he says, is that many weight-loss plans encourage processed “diet” foods that are loaded with synthetic ingredients, refined carbohydrates, and toxic compounds that overload the organ. He adds that even many popular “detox” diets that are designed to help the body flush built-up toxins don’t work long-term because they do nothing to actually heal and nourish the liver so it can function optimally once the detox period ends.
To help women break free from this sneaky fat trap, Smith dug into the latest science to find the best foods that cleanse the liver naturally. His research led him to nutrients that work to recharge a sluggish liver, and he hit upon a blend that revitalized the organ to deliver fast, permanent weight loss. “I determined that eating natural, unprocessed foods that contain three key nutrients will enhance the body’s removal of harmful toxins,” he explains. The three essentials:
- Phytonutrients and bioavailable plant-based enzymes found in fresh produce work to boost the liver’s natural detox abilities fourfold.
- Fiber binds to liver-clogging toxins and excess hormones in the bloodstream and eliminates them from the body. “This reduces the toxin-filtering work the organ has to do, so it can devote more energy to its other metabolic jobs like fat burning,” notes Smith. Indeed, Brazilian researchers report fiber-loading the diet can improve liver function by 44 percent.
- Lean protein supplies amino acids that are used for liver repair, helping to reverse signs of an overworked liver by 48 percent and firing up metabolism by 30 percent.
Smith put the plan to the test — and the results were astounding. More than 1,000 people tried the superfood formula for 20 days and they reported benefits including lower cholesterol, more energy and better moods, plus they lost as many as 13 pounds every week! And published science backs up their success: Research by Stanford University scientists published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that people who cut back on highly processed foods while concentrating on eating plenty of the whole foods featured in Smith’s plan lose 266 percent more weight than those who focus on counting calories or limiting portion sizes.
The fat will keep falling off your frame even after the 20-day cleanse is over. How? “After 20 days, the body has freed itself from the toxic by-products of processed foods and chemical-laden drinks,” explains Smith. “You’ve hit the reset button, so everything — from your digestion to your metabolism — will function better.” Read on for the food formula that will help you reboot your liver and slim without struggle.
3 Water Add-Ins That Heal and Slim
Eliminating processed foods helps heal the liver to recharge metabolism — and water facilitates the removal of toxins to bolster the organ’s recovery. Try these delicious add-ins for an additional boost that will fast-track your results.
Lemon: Spiking a glass of water with the juice of half a lemon activates key detox enzymes in the liver. Researchers found that this effect can improve the organ’s ability to flush harmful toxins from the body and burn fat by as much as 30 percent.
Berries: Adding 1⁄4 cup of raspberries, blueberries or blackberries to a glass of water can help eliminate fat deposits from the liver. According to researchers at the Cleveland Clinic, colorful plant pigments called anthocyanins in the sweet gems signal muscle cells to break down stores of harmful organ fat.
Apple: Muddling thin apple slices in a glass of water infuses the sip with pectin, a soluble fiber that binds to liver-sapping toxins and helps flush them from the body. Bonus: Apples also contain antioxidants that increase metabolism within 20 minutes.
How to Do the 20-Day Cleanse
Eliminating toxic and processed foods and filling up on liver-healing superfoods helps heal the organ to recharge metabolism and speed fat burn. And according to Smith, who outlines his plan in the new book The Clean 20 ($14.29, Amazon), it only takes 20 days! “A healthy detox means eating natural foods that do all the work for you,” says Smith. “If you stick to clean ingredients for just three weeks, they will deliver a tremendous amount of fuel for your body’s optimal performance.”
During the reboot suggested by the Clean 20 book, you’ll enjoy three meals and two snacks each day with phytonutrient-and-fiber-rich picks, including unlimited fruit (apples, berries, citrus, pears) and vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, eggplant, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, tomatoes). At each meal, you’ll fill the rest of your plate with 4 oz. of lean protein (beans, fish, poultry, eggs), up to 1⁄2 cup of whole grains (oatmeal, quinoa, 100 percent whole-grain bread or pasta), low-fat dairy (1 cup of low-fat yogurt, 1⁄4 cup of low-fat cheese or milk), and healthy fats (one-quarter of an avocado, 3 Tbsp. of extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, nuts, or seeds).
For best results, Smith recommends preparing most meals at home, using any spices you like as well as low-sugar condiments. “They’ll give your liver a break from all the processed foods that dominate the choices in our stores and restaurants,” he explains. And for speedier slimming, incorporate these simple success strategies:
Enjoy a protein-rich breakfast. “Eat breakfast within 90 minutes of waking up — that will literally set you up to burn more fat and feel less hungry for the rest of the day,” says Smith, who advises including 4 oz. of protein to ensure you're getting the amino acids necessary to heal the liver. One delicious option: 2 eggs with 2 slices of turkey bacon. Or if you’re not a big breakfast person, opt for a smoothie or yogurt parfait made with 1 cup of protein-rich Greek yogurt.
Mix it up. It’s easy to get caught in a “food rut,” but Smith recommends mixing up your meals so you don’t eat the same food more than once a day. “You want to make sure you’re getting a variety of different nutrients,” he says. This strategy ensures the liver is getting plenty of the vitamins and minerals necessary to boost healing and detoxification.
Go light at dinner. Smith recommends dining on a lighter meal, like fish with veggies or a large salad topped with chicken breast. Why that’s smart: Smaller meals require the liver to produce less digestive fluid — and that sets the organ up to dedicate all its energy to healing and burning fat while you sleep. The payoff: Research in the journal Obesity found that subjects who ate a larger lunch and a lighter dinner lost twice as much belly fat as those who ate a light lunch and a large dinner instead.
Move a little. “Exercise is a form of detoxification, as it increases the release of toxins through the skin,” says Smith, adding that this lightens the liver’s workload. And it doesn’t take a lot of intense effort. “You only need 20 minutes of exercise five times a week.” Indeed, scientists at Tulane University in New Orleans report that light exercise is just as effective at revitalizing the liver as a vigorous workout. To get the benefits, alternate between 30 seconds of jumping jacks, 30 seconds of squats, 30 seconds of lunges, and a 30-second plank, resting for 30 seconds between each move, then repeat the cycle once. Complement this eight-minute workout with a brisk 12-minute walk.
Day 21 and Beyond
Now that you’ve rebooted your liver, you can reintroduce some of your favorite foods — and keep slimming! “I want this to be sustainable, so I don’t expect you to never eat another chocolate chip cookie again,” Smith says. “In fact, if you just decrease the overall percentage of processed foods in your diet, you’re on the right track.”
One word of caution: “Your taste buds have been altered and your digestive system has been reset to expect a different quality and quantity of food,” he asserts. “It’s important to take it slow and not rush back to indulging.” Instead, Smith suggests adding just one “splurge” food to your diet every two days so you can easily track how the foods are affecting your mood and energy level.
Prefer to stick with the clean-eating plan long-term? Smith says it is completely safe to remain on the diet for life or to revisit the plan whenever you feel run-down or notice excess pounds starting to creep onto your frame. “I want this plan to be something you have in your tool kit — something that you can pull out once or twice a year, whenever you feel like you need to hit the reset button.”
Liver Cleanse: Sample Menu Plan
Breakfast: Berry Smoothie: In a blender, puree 1 cup of frozen blueberries, half a banana, 1⁄2 cup of nonfat Greek yogurt, and 1⁄2 cup of unsweetened almond milk.
Lunch: Pasta Fresca: Toss 1⁄2 cup of cooked whole-grain pasta with 1⁄2 cup of steamed broccoli, 4 oz. pre-cooked chicken, 1 Tbsp. of olive oil, and 1 Tbsp. of minced basil.
Snack: Enjoy up to two 150-calorie snacks per day, like 1⁄4 cup of nuts, 1 cup of roasted chickpeas, veggies with 2 Tbsp. of hummus or one-third of an avocado mashed onto whole-grain toast.
Dinner: Salmon Dinner: In a 425 degrees Fahrenheit oven, roast sweet-potato wedges tossed with 1 tsp. of olive oil for 15 minutes. Add 4 oz. of salmon and 1⁄2 cup of broccoli florets; roast 10 minutes more.
20-Day Cleanse Weight Loss Results
As the cursor on her computer screen flashed, Monica Thomas thought about all the ways she had been hiding from the world: hiding in oversize clothing, hiding in the back room at her retail job, and hiding from social invitations like the one in front of her. Finally, Monica took a deep breath and hit send, agreeing to meet a man for a first date. "I don’t know what will happen, but I know this is a huge step."
Buoyed by the relationship that soon blossomed, Monica — who had been dieting since the age of 13 — made a vow to transform her health. She whittled down her food choices to only clean options and made sure to eat protein at breakfast every day. Before long, she found she craved the whole foods.
At the same time, Monica started walking and doing Zumba, and she received “loving accountability” from her local TOPS support group. There, she registered an average three-pound loss every week as she shed 10 pant sizes. “I went 10 months without a gain,” she cheers. “Instead of hiding, I was becoming part of a community again.”
As the weight fell off, Monica saw dramatic improvements in her joint pain, blood pressure and cholesterol. As a bonus, she inspired her now-husband to lose 70 pounds. “Letting this man into my heart allowed me to start loving myself,” she shares. “And when I became compassionate with myself, I was able to flourish!”
This article first appeared in our print magazine.