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Winter detox: How to incorporate cleanses into your social life

Cleanses are to January what elaborate, fat drenched dinners are to December. But does temporarily adopting a spartan diet mean forgoing dinner parties, too?

Absolutely not, says Jenny Nelson, a Maine-based wellness coach for Clean, a 21-day cleanse program (and bestselling book of the same name) made popular thanks to a glowing endorsement by Gwyneth Paltrow. "Stress and anxiety and isolation are much more toxic than any food or alcohol," opines Nelson, who has counseled thousands of Clean followers on how to navigate their social lives while nixing dairy, sugar, gluten, caffeine and alcohol (also no-nos in most other popular cleanse diets, including the Wild Rose Herbal D-Tox). "I would rather see someone have a wonderful dinner while connecting with friends and family than 100 per cent sticking to their diets."

That said, there are steps that both guests and hosts can take to avoid going completely hog- (or cheese- or chocolate-) wild.

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"If the host or hostess is a close friend, absolutely chat with them and see what the menu looks like," Nelson says. "However, I don't think asking for an entirely clean meal flies in any situation." Instead, assume there will usually be a cleanse-appropriate salad and cooked vegetable and – only if you feel comfortable doing so – offer to bring a detox-friendly side dish for everyone to enjoy.

"My go-to dinner party dish is a quinoa salad with chickpeas and vegetables," says Meghan Telpner, a Toronto-based holistic nutritionist who avoids cow's milk, flour and sugar 365 days a year. "It's dairy-free, gluten-free and goes with everything."

When broaching the topic with your hostess, however, avoid the C word at all costs. "If you say you're on a cleanse, the person on the receiving end feels judged because they're eating cheese and you're not," Telpner says. Vania Asenova, a frequent entertainer based in Edmonton who blogs at, concurs: "It's rather impolite to think that your hostess needs to cater to your temporary dietary restrictions."

Instead, Telpner recommends positioning it along the lines of 'I'm trying to improve my health.' "That way, it doesn't seem like a fad and your host will be way more receptive," she says. (Take a similar tact if nosy neighbours start questioning what's on your plate: "I hate when the centre of attention is what I do or do not eat," Telpner says. "Just give the vaguest, least judgmental answer.") Above all, avoid getting sanctimonious with your seatmates, says Emily Yoffe, the Washington-based "Dear Prudence" advice columnist at

"Please don't comment on how dairy is going to kill everyone, especially if your hostess has spent all day making lasagna."

On the flip side, a hostess should never draw attention to her guest's dietary restrictions. "You definitely don't want to point out that so-and-so can't eat anything you made," Yoffe says. "If you end up serving them a separate dish from everyone else, be unobtrusive about it."

Now is also not the time to bring up the fact that there's no foolproof short-term cleanse diets that are – as many claim to be – beneficial to the liver or colon.

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("Flushing the liver has no foundation in conventional medical science, while claims that debris can accumulate in the colon are patently untrue," maintains Dr. John Marshall, head of clinical research in the division of gastroenterology at McMaster University in Hamilton. "You can't behave well for a week and then go back to your bad ways.")

As for how to proceed if you're both the host and the one under strict austerity measures, "I've served lots of meals while cleansing and no one was the wiser," Nelson says. "A good hostess will keep the food preferences of her guests in mind, but I also think it's great to introduce people to new foods with incredible flavours and also be able to tell them at the end of the meal that everything was super healthy as well."

One note of caution: This approach won't work for those following über-draconian diets. "If you invite people to a dinner party and then serve six almonds and lemon water, you are not being a gracious hostess," Yoffe says. "Don't submit your guests to a whacked-out regime."

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