The #1 Cleanse of 2015: Ditch the Detox Diets

Highlights: 
  • Your body is already 'cleansing' itself.
  • Weight loss on cleanse diets is deceptive.
  • Cleansing can put your body at risk.
  • You can eat normal food to lose weight the right way.

Juicing and cayenne water and supplement-popping, oh my!

After an indulgent holiday season, you may be feeling bloated or sluggish. Before you jump onto the newest detox wagon (“souping” anyone?), consider these four cleanse reality checks:

body-already-cleanse-detox

#1. Your body is already ‘cleansing’ itself.

The definition of “detox” is a treatment to help patients cut out an intoxicating or addictive substance. In hospitals, medical professionals use prescription medications to remove life-threatening levels of drugs. But do healthy individuals need to detox?

As Paracelsus stated way back in the 1400s, “the dose makes the poison.” Toxin is a relative term; even water and oxygen can be deadly in large amounts! Fortunately, our bodies eliminate useless chemicals and compounds that build up from daily activities. Your immune system, kidneys, liver, and skin work around the clock to keep your body running smoothly.

cleanse-weight-loss-trick

#2. Numbers on the scale are tricking you.

Unfortunately, limited research is available related to the effectiveness of reducing “toxins.” A few studies show that some detox diets enhance liver detoxification of organic pollutants. However, small sample sizes and flawed methodologies plague their results. Success or failure of a "cleanse" is often judged by anecdotal reports of weight loss and improved mood. Until researchers conduct appropriate studies, stay skeptical about the effectiveness of these programs. If diets that supposedly remove "toxins" truly were effective, it would be in the interest of their purveyors to point to solid evidence of their efficacy. To some doctors, they are little more than quackery.

Ads for commercial "detox" products are often deceptive and vague. You may hear vague terms like “toxin” and “cleansing.” But what exactly are these toxins that the product eliminates? Your body is likely already eliminating these “toxins” are through normal physiological processes. The "toxins" also may not cause any harm in the first place!

These cleanses may often result in rapid weight loss. Why? Liquid cleanses restrict calories or encourage fasting. Without food to burn, your body will start losing both fat and lean muscle. When you drop your calorie intake quickly, a higher proportion of weight lost will come from lean body mass. Weight lost during a short-term cleanse often doesn’t stick; especially once you bring your caloric intake up to normal.

The supposed energy or “lightness” you may feel after a cleanse could be from a placebo effect or from low blood sugar. Drinking tons of fluids may have a laxative effect as well, resulting in less bloating or abdominal discomfort. Unfortunately, abdominal discomfort may return once the dieter resumes a normal intake. You can reduce bloating in a much healthier way by trying a prebiotic and consuming fiber-rich foods like oatmeal and vegetables. 

cleanse-health-risk

#3. Cleanses might be putting your body at risk

There isn’t much research available on commercial detox diets, so the safety of these diets is questionable. Patients often try these protocols without physician or dietitian supervision. Side effects include inability to concentrate, nausea, and vomiting. If you are considering a detox diet, be sure to discuss it with your doctor. He or she will likely discourage it, especially if you have preexisting medical conditions.

But we do know the risks of depriving yourself of certain nutrients and electrolytes. This can be especially risky for those who have heart or kidney conditions, and low blood sugar can be potentially fatal for those with diabetes. Many cleanses also rely on laxatives, which themselves can pose risks, especially to those for whom regularity isn't an issue.

In addition, the FDA has issued warnings when unapproved and sometimes dangerous substances are found to be added to "detox cleanses."

lose-weight-without-cleanse

#4. You can eat normal food to lose weight – the right way!

Not sure what to do after a celebratory indulgence? Adopt a healthy habit instead of a cleanse. Drink an extra glass of water and choose high-fiber foods (fruits, veggies, and whole grains). Don’t forget lean proteins! Be sure to add some extra physical activity each day, whether at the gym or with the kids. (Cleanses often sap dieters of the energy they need to continue their normal exercise routine.) Small changes can bring more lasting and healthful results than a "cleanse" ever could.

Megan Solloway is currently a University of Maryland College Park Dietetic Intern and NASM Certified Personal Trainer. You can read her blog at thedeadliftingdiva.weebly.com.

References:

Spring Cleansing: Assessing the Benefits and Risks of Detox Diets

Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: a critical review of the evidence

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