The term “detox diet” is thrown around a lot in this day and age, and especially around this time of year with New Year’s resolutions and the desire to “cleanse” after a long holiday season. Many of these diets involve a period of fasting and/or a period of strict dieting, which often consists of raw fruits and vegetables, water, herbs, and supplements. They usually promise results such as quick weight loss and a vague “cleansing” of the GI tract, to make you look and feel better. But do these extreme diets actually work? And are they safe to try?
What Exactly Are “Toxins?”
The term “toxin” is defined as “a poisonous substance that is a specific product of the metabolic activities of a living organism and is usually very unstable.” So basically it’s just something in nature that can cause harm to your body. There are detox diets out there for all sorts of different “toxins” ranging from sugar to alcohol to gluten to meat to caffeine. So it can pretty much be anything, so long as the person creating the diet believes that it is harmful to the body. In other words, the term “toxin” has become so broad that is is now essentially meaningless.
Do These Diets Work?
In short, no. There is little to no evidence that these diets actually improve your health at all. Though some people claim that they “feel better” after their detox, this could easily be attributed to other factors. For example, most detox diets completely eliminate all processed foods and foods high in fat and refined sugar. This could easily explain why some people feel better than they did before they started the diet. But this does not mean that the diet “works.” You have to ask yourself, do the promises they’re making sound unrealistic and too good to be true? Like losing 21 pounds in 21 days? (Which is very unhealthy by the way…) Will they actually make you feel completely “detoxed” (whatever that means) and refreshed? Studies show that the promise of weight loss is usually not true. In fact, detox diets often result in long term weight gain. And there is much anecdotal evidence on both sides of how you feel after following a detox diet.
My Personal Experience
Just to give you a little bit of insight as to what these diets feel like, I am going to share my own personal experience. It is not my proudest moment, but I did in fact try a detox diet back in high school (prior to my nutrition education, obviously). My mom and I used the Dr. Oz 3-Day Detox Cleanse. I only lasted one day, if that tells you anything. This diet allows you to eat 4 fruit/vegetable smoothies each day. Not only are the smoothies disgusting, but they simply do not provide the needed energy and nutrients. By the end of the first day, I was so bored and disgusted with the smoothies that I craved some real food. I also had a throbbing headache, which went away promptly after I made myself a nice veggie omelet. I clearly was not getting an adequate amount of calories from these smoothies. You may also notice that most detox diets have little to no protein, and usually not much fat. This is not good for our bodies. Balance is key. And detox dieting is the antithesis of balance.
Are These Extreme Measures Really Even Necessary?
Again, no. Lucky for us, we all have a liver and kidneys that do an excellent job of “detoxing” for us on their own. The liver acts as a filter while our body digests food, getting rid of toxins before they can harm us. The kidneys detox by excreting any toxins out into our urine. Not to mention, we have immune systems that also help keep any environmental toxins from harming us. And the best thing you can do to keep up your body’s natural defenses is to eat a balanced diet, get adequate sleep, exercise regularly, and manage your stress. It sounds boring and repetitive, but it really is true. If anything, detox diets do the opposite, and weaken your immune system due to inadequate energy and macronutrients, which can cause stress on the body.
Is This Sustainable?
Nope. If someone were to stay on a detox diet for too long, they would end up with tons of nutrient deficiencies and probably a bunch of uncomfortable symptoms including fatigue, dehydration, cramping, and bloating. Your body would also respond to the lack of energy by trying to hold on to the energy that you already have: your existing fat cells. In other words, you probably wouldn’t lost any fat at all. If weight loss does occur initially, it’s probably water weight. And the weight will almost definitely come back in the long run. So don’t set yourself up for failure! You’re much better off finding a balanced, nutrient-dense diet that meets your needs. This way, you are more likely to meet your weight loss goals, and you can successfully continue these eating patterns, because they are realistic and do-able for the long-term.
Please do not try any diet that calls itself a “detox.” Just don’t do it. More likely than not, you’ll end up gaining weight and losing confidence. Instead, create a diet that you can enjoy. Eat plenty of whole fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, lean proteins, and whole grains! This combined with sufficient exercise and sleep is much more likely to get you the results that you want. And you’ll feel a whole lot better in the process.