Are Detox Diets Good or Bad?
Those colorful, expensive bottles of juice goodness look healthy. But are the detox diets they promote good for you?
Like most things related to diet & nutrition… it depends.
In this article we’ll cover what science says about detoxing and whether or not these cleanses may are good for losing weight (But don’t get me wrong… there’s nothing wrong with slamming down some green juice for health)!
What Does it Mean to Detox?
Like other health buzzwords such as “eating clean” and “going green”, “detox” has no universal definition.
That’s partly because like nutrition… there’s a heavy emphasis on belief systems rather than scientific facts. In other words, “nutritional detoxing” is usually based on what someone thinks rather than what is.
When someone asks me if they should detox…
My first question is, “What are you trying to detox?”
We’ve seen throughout history that in the absence of science, people are usually left with confusion, superstition, and myth (plus charlatans ready and willing to take their money).
This trend is no different: Despite a lack of scientific support for any “detoxifying” dietary process, many “detox diets” have emerged. They take various forms, but most prescribe:
- certain foods,
- special juices,
- “detox teas”, and/or
And some simply promote fasting.
Of course, the imagined purpose of these interventions is to purge would-be toxins (dirty, yucky, poisonous chemicals) from our bodies. And yes… there are many, many toxins and/or compounds in our enviroment (including food) that are harmful to our body.
But again… What toxin specifically are you trying to detox from?
By definition, toxins are small molecules, peptides, or proteins capable of causing disease on contact with (or absorption by) body tissues.
The science is pretty clear on how to detox from certain substances. But depending on what you’re trying to detox, not one particular diet will do it. There are very specific steps to getting toxins unbound from your tissues, binding them to inert agents that can then be expelled by the body via respiration, sweat, urine or stool.
Fortunately, The Body Cleanses Itself
Since WW2, over 85,000 chemicals have been introduced into our lives. Out of those 85,000 approximately 2500 have been tested.
The truth is, we can’t avoid toxins so it actually makes sense to do some sort of detox. I personally try to give my body a break from toxic exposure every 3-4 months. But it’s also important to remember that our bodies have very robust detoxification systems.
Our major organs of detoxification include the:
- digestive tract,
- lymphatic system, and
- respiratory system.
These systems break down chemicals (toxic or otherwise) into other forms we can eliminate via the toilet, sweat, or breathing.
And the body seems to do a pretty good job of this when placed in a balanced (i.e. healthy) environment.
If our body detoxes itself, why go through the trouble of detoxing?
While it’s true that your body detoxes by itself; it’s also true that your body wasn’t designed to be continuously exposed to the amounts of toxins in modern society and industrial civilizations.
In other words, do you think your liver (or your body) was genetically programmed to deal with:
- overuse medications,
- sleep disturbance,
- chemicals continuously slathered on our skin,
- not getting enough physical activity,
- over-consumption of alcohol,
- smoke, breathe in smog and ingesting other environmental pollutants like heavy metals,
- eating nutrient-poor foods that the body might not recognize as “food”, and
- overusing supplements?
You see… all these factors lead to higher levels of toxins in the body, a weakened ability to excrete them and thus… a higher risk of disease.
So the theory behind a detox diet is that, by giving the body a break… one can atone for lifestyle sins and purge all the nasty chemicals from the body. It’s a sort of health reboot.
But with respect to losing weight… this guilt rooted logic ignores something important:
The best way to “detox” the body is to ramp up your natural detoxification systems and to take good care of them in the long term — not to bypass them altogether, as you do when you’re on a detox diet.
Detoxing to Lose Body Fat Doesn’t Work
For a moment, let’s assume that a detox diet will help you get rid of impurities. (It doesn’t quite work like; but let’s assume it anyway.)
Does ridding yourself of impurities facilitate fat loss? Nope.
The reason folks lose a remarkable amount of weight — quickly — on most detox regimens is because they’re “empty”.
They quickly lose body water, carbohydrate stores, and intestinal bulk. It’s gone during the “cleanse”. But all of it comes back a few hours after the detox ends. Because you can’t stay empty forever.
Interestingly, these folks lose very little fat — unless their cleanse includes fasting for really extended periods (which, if not done carefully, can be dangerous and throws your metabolism into shambles).
In the end, while it feels like a detox is helping shape up your body, it’s a sad illusion. You’re not losing anything that won’t come right back within hours after the end of the diet. And you’re putting your health at risk to support the illusion.
If weight loss is your goal, there are smarter (and more permanent) ways to do it. Ones that are both healthy and sustainable.
All that said, if you or your doctor know exactly what you’re trying to detox from: chemicals, heavy metals, gut infections, viruses and parasites…
Detoxing can be very effective at helping to improve your health.
10 Steps On What to Do Next
Detoxing can be great when you’re specific about what you’re trying to detox from. But detoxing to lose weight is simply not the right approach.
Here are 10 steps you can take each day to help your body do its natural job of detoxing:
1. Eat reasonable amounts of nutrients. If you’re eating too much, you’re probably accumulating more toxins than your body needs. Eating one cookie instead of six is a detox diet. Slow down and chew your food. We all have “anatomical juicers” – they’re commonly known as teeth and stomachs. Use them as they’re meant to be used.
2. Eat plenty of plant foods, and choose organic options when possible. Veggies and fruits contain compounds that can help the body deal with all of the incoming chemicals. Organically raised plants and livestock are generally lower in the types of things you don’t want, such as pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, etc.
3. Stay lean. Certain fat-soluble compounds can accumulate in body fat. Less body fat = less real estate for potentially problematic chemicals.
4. Drink enough fluids, including water and tea. And use a water filter. The kidneys are major organs of elimination for fluids.
But don’t overdo it: Fluid intake needs to balance our bodies’ electrolytes. Generally you can avoid overhydration by not drinking more than one liter of fluid per hour.
5. Allow a little extra time between dinner and breakfast. During brief periods of fasting (such as overnight), our bodies clear out cellular debris. If you finished eating dinner at 7pm, maybe you could eat breakfast at 7am. This gives the body a 12-hour break from food for every 24-hour cycle.
This might also improve your sleep, which is another critical factor in allowing your body to appropriately recover.
6. Get outside in the sun and fresh air each day. Not only do we synthesize vitamin D from the sun, but we can breathe fresh air nto our lungs and hear the sounds of nature. Good ol’ Mother Nature.
7. Exercise regularly. Getting your blood flowing will help circulate good stuff where it needs to be, and clear out waste products more effectively.
8. Limit unnecessary dietary supplements. Supplements don’t automatically equal health. And some might just be another burden for the body. Make sure each supplement in your cabinet serves a purpose. I generally only recommend a good whole food multivitamin, fish oil, probiotics and vitamin D3+K2.
9. Cut down foods that you know are bad news for you. You may know that some foods don’t agree with you, whether because they make you feel bad physically, because of how they make you feel emotionally, or because you don’t like the person you become when you eat them. Consider moving away from these foods gradually. (Eliminating them all at once may work, but you may find the same problem with all-or-nothing thinking that characterizes detox diets.)
10. Check your cosmetics. Our skin is our largest organ; each day we lather hundreds of chemicals into it. These then enter our blood and circulate throughout the body. If you want to burden your body with fewer chemicals, check your body products.