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Pillar #3 – Identify YOUR toxins

Written by Emily Hartmann MD

August 24, 2020

“Daring to set boundaries is about having courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.”
-Brené Brown
This isn’t what you think. It wasn’t what I thought it would be. There are toxins and then there are YOUR toxins. YOUR toxins are the ones you have control over. I’ve totally been on the organic bent since college because pesticides just don’t seem like something we should ingest. Coupled with the litany of experimental evidence it was an easy lifestyle choice. Other toxins are far less obvious and often fly under the radar until too much damage has ensued. The other problem is that they are so intertwined with our social lives (think drinks after work or bottom-less mimosas at brunch) and we are so fearful of disappointing others. I chose the above quote by the mind-blowing Brené Brown for this reason. Letting go of toxins in our lives often requires that we let go of our rituals. Once you make the changes, you will likely be delightfully surprised by how well you adapt.
It’s absolutely impossible to avoid toxins all the time. From a medical perspective toxins, or their byproducts, are damaging to cells. Our metabolic waste systems (liver, kidneys, lungs and gut) are designed to remove toxins when they appear on the occasion and are fantastically efficient. The trouble comes from the modern world which is CONSTANTLY flooding us with toxins and our systems become overwhelmed. We then look to the billion dollar industry of antioxidants and liver detox sessions. It only takes one walk through a natural food store to realize how EXPENSIVE a detox lifestyle is. Then enters the question of efficacy. The best detox is not needing a detox at all. Why not solve the problem by avoiding (or limiting as much as possible) the problem altogether?
Stress in our environment (anxiety, scarcity, pandemic, fire danger, impending election, other 2020 phenomenons) increase our cortisol levels which increase oxidative stress on our bodies. Just like toxins, these stressors, over time, cause damage. This is a question of what we CAN control. Many of our life stressors are not avoidable which is why we should do what we can to reduce toxins we CAN control. I recently saw a lovely Instagram post by a friend and fellow plastic surgeon, @Davidleemd, which sums this point up perfectly:
YOUR toxins are right there in the dark middle. You have control over them (as much as you possibly can) and THEY MATTER!
I’ve put this in its own pillar because we don’t realize how much control we have over our external insults. Below is a list of toxins you CAN control.
1. Food – I want you to feel good when you eat. Not just good in your stomach but a sense of pride in what you’re putting in your body. My food mantra is pretty simple: Eat plants in the way they came out of the ground or on the tree. Minimize processed foods. No processed sugar (fruits are good). The less we adulterate food the more vitality it brings. If you aren’t the type to give up meat it’s ok. We all have our things that keep us feeling good. If you are a happier camper eating meat just be mindful of where it comes from. Grass-fed, organic is so important. If you are lucky enough to harvest your own meat in the field this is absolutely amazing. You’ll notice dairy is no where on the pyramid and I get a little gag’y just thinking about it. Dairy is meant to feed calves and full of growth hormones not meant for our consumption. If you absolutely cannot do without your greek yogurt then find a local, high-quality, producer. This isn’t a diet to ascribe to but guidance to get the most out of your nutrition. More to come with the next pillar (food is medicine) but here’s a sneak peak of my pure food pyramid:
2. Alcohol/Recreational Drug use – this is where you have to tune into yourself. I’ll speak to alcohol, since it is the drug with which I had a long relationship… We are all different on this. My recommendation is to go 4 weeks without alcohol and see how you feel. Then slowly reintroduce a small amount and take note of how it effects you. Take stock in how you feel, both physically and mentally/emotionally. I like to think of it like a research project. You’re doing research to understand how things impact you, and your body (this research exercise is useful, I find, and not just for alcohol). Keep a journal! After doing this for several months, I actually decided to quit alcohol altogether and I’ve never felt more alive. You may find that you choose a different path than me… What I’d recommend is that, if and when you decide to partake, try to do it slowly, with intention, and savor every sip. My personal problem with this philosophy is that I would start with the idea that, “I’m just going to have one glass and sip it slowly.” Unfortunately, the effects of that one glass would hit me and I would no longer care about staying in control. One glass would become two… or three… and I would tumble into a pit of indulgence (yes you can binge on healthy vegan items). The next morning I was angry and furious with myself for losing control. The anguish just wasn’t worth it for me. We are all different, my husband, for example has also worked through finding a balance with alcohol. He’s a hobby winemaker and a bit of a bon vivant, so his journey looks quite different from mine. He tries to drink only on the weekends and has applied a new rule to “only drink when feeling joyful.” He’ll also admit that his nervous system tends to take a beating the day after drinking, even if it is a moderate amount. I’ll finish this section by stating, it is a pretty generally accepted truth that alcohol has many negative aspects… long gone are the days of proclaiming alcohol as having “health” benefits, even my beloved red wine. I’d advise you explore your relationship with this toxic habit and find peace, both physically, as well as, emotionally. I’d challenge you to apply this method to any recreational drug that you might use as well.
3. Inhalants – Vaping or cigarettes. I don’t feel like this is “new” news but it begs the reminder. Please avoid breathing in toxins. Our lungs are responsible for filtering out the air, eliminating toxic byproducts, keeping our acid/base balance, and basically keeping us alive. The junk in inhalants clog the lungs and limit their ability to do their job well. Just please quit now and avoid second hand smoke as much as possible.
4. Environmental – Our skin is one massive organ, interfacing with our surroundings. Be very mindful of the products you use on your skin and hair. I recommend switching to natural, chemical free, products as much as possible. Another super fun (my husband thought I was crazy) phase I went through was making my own house cleaning products. The book The Organically Clean Home by Becky Rapinchuk is full of easy and fun recipes. Ok, seriously, making your own products takes a bit of an obsessive personality but there are so many great brands at our local grocery store. It feels oddly satisfying to see all natural products in your home and they actually clean well too.
5. Relationships – This plays a HUGE roll in our lives and many people struggle in this department. Hands up if you want people to like you (puts hand up). We all understand the concept of second hand smoke, so I’ll use it as an analogy. People can be toxic, like second hand smoke. I truly believe it could be argued that people can be toxic for us on an even deeper level than second hand smoke. Some people (perhaps of unintentional motives) literally can suck the very life right out of us. I suggest the following exercise. Sit quietly and bring this person to mind. Imagine you both sitting in a room having a typical conversation. Does it leave you feeling respected, worthy, and reciprocated? Does the energy revolve around that person and do they only talk about their issues and their needs? Is there any room for your presence or does their energy take up the entire room? What is the overall feeling you get? If it’s anything but awesome you may want to re-think how much time you spend with them. Also ask yourself this, “what’s the worst thing that will happen if you are no longer involved in this persons life?” I’m not saying completely divorce yourself from this person (especially if they are family members) but limiting contact as much as possible will protect your vital essence. We have one life and the less we spend with soul-suckers the better. Bravo!
6. Work environment – Is what you do fulfilling? Do you wake up in the morning excited about the day and ready to tackle your tasks with purpose? I don’t care if you make 6 figures or you’re working as a barista. Your income has nothing to do with happiness and fulfillment (unless you decide that it does). I know exceedingly fulfilled stay-at-home parents because their job is in alignment with their needs. If your job does not give you a sense of pride, and dare I say FUN, it is time to look for something new. Perhaps it’s a different position in your company. Perhaps it’s time for you to start that internet company selling crocheted hats! Finding your purpose is so different for each person. No time is like the present to look for a new way to love your life. It’s normal to get a little anxious on Sunday about your upcoming week. If you feel tremendously low, sad, and cry on Sunday with the idea of facing your job… it might be time to take some stock in where these emotions stem from. I’m just saying, even if you are absolutely stuck in your job, look for ways to improve your situation. Are you a manager and hate giving people direction…maybe a new position with less responsibility would be a better fit? These are only ideas but I want you to at least ask yourself the question. Does your job bring you satisfaction and pride? Does what you do fortify you or diminish you?
Take stock in your life to see how you can limit YOUR toxins. One person’s toxin is not necessarily another person’s toxin so spend time figuring out what your body is telling you. You also will likely not be able to make shifts in every area all at one time… unless you’re obsessive like me #allineedisachecklist.
Go give yourself a huge hug for reading this all the way! I’m proud of the steps you’re making to change your life.
I’d love to hear your comments below about which of YOUR toxins you’re letting go of today!
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Today is a great day to be your best self!

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