A Detox Diet (also called a cleansing diet) will remove toxins and poisons from your body.

Drop a dress size in 10 days, get rid of cellulite forever: these are the sort of claims made by “detoxification” diet plans that have become all the rage. The market is crowded with all sorts of products and plans that are supposed to help purge our bodies of chemicals and toxins, while helping us to lose weight fast.

However, do you really need to rid your body of dietary “poisons”? Do your colon, liver, and lymph nodes need to be flushed and cleaned? Should you try one of these detox diet plans for weight loss and optimal body performance?

According to some doctors and dietitians, the answer is a resounding “no”.  A day on a detox diet programme probably won’t hurt you, but there’s little point in following these restrictive diets. They can even do far more harm than good, according to some experts.

The idea of a good detox diet is to eat pure and natural foods that will aid the function of the lymph, kidneys, and liver. All foods that hinder the regime should be avoided.

What is a Detox Diet?

Detox diets initially involve a fast — you are required to completely go without food for two days and then you gradually introduce specified foods back into your diet. Most detox diets also encourage some sort of “cleansing” process via a colonic irrigation or by the use of enemas. Some detox plans may also recommend the use of supplements or laxatives to aid in the purification process.

Many detox diets promote herbs, pills, potions, colonic irrigation, and/or fasts to rid the body of impurities. They also often promise fast weight loss. While this could help shed unwanted kilos, it won’t be because of any medical ‘magic’ but because these plans are extremely low in calories.

Detox diets tend to be extremely restrictive, allowing only unprocessed plant foods, which are supposed to assist the lymph, kidneys, and liver with the detoxification process.

Litres of water or specially formulated drinks containing herbs are generally the only liquids allowed. One plan calls for only liquids, including laxative teas to be consumed for 10 days, without any solids. Coffee, tea, alcohol, processed foods, and animal products are not usually part of any detox diet plans.

Enjoying a plant-based diet is perfectly healthy, but a lot of detox diets go to extremes, experts say. The limited variety of foods and beverages and minimum calories is of concern because it is very difficult to get all the nutrients and energy you need for good health with such restrictive regimes.

These are examples of popular detox diets:

  • Master Cleanse or Lemonade Diet
  • 21-day detox
  • The Longevity Diet

What toxins are the target for detox diets?

The idea for detox diets comes from the concern that toxins are constantly bombarding our bodies. Toxins are chemicals with potentially harmful effects. They may come from many sources, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Pesticides or other chemicals used to grow or prepare food
  • Smog or other substances in the air
  • Substances such as artificial sweeteners added to food
  • Sugar
  • Water

The belief is that the body holds onto toxins in the digestive, lymph, or gastrointestinal system as well as in skin and hair. They can then cause problems such as fatigue, headaches, nausea and a wide range of chronic diseases.

Do Detox Diets Work?

Eating a diet that is low in fat, high in fiber and full of healthful, natural foods is healthy for anyone, and improved nutrition can increase health and well-being. However, there is no substantial scientific proof that detox diets rid the body of toxins any more effectively than the body’s natural processes, or that the diets improve overall health or cure any medical conditions.

Can a Detox Diet Help Me Lose Weight?

Many people believe they can lose weight with detox diets, but these plans are not the best method for healthful, permanent weight-loss results. Diets that involve fasting or restriction of entire food groups are not ideal for anyone.

While people who fast do seem to lose weight, this weight is actually water loss rather than fat loss (which is what you need to achieve in order to permanently reduce your weight). This type of crash dieting can also lead to muscle loss. Most people gain back all the weight they lose during a fast or detox.

Lastly, fasting or “detoxing” on a regular basis can actually cause the metabolism to slow down, making it harder to lose or maintain weight in the future.

Potential dangers of detox diets

Not only do some experts say that we don’t need detox diets, they believe these regimens have the potential to be harmful.

Drastic fluid losses can upset the delicate fluid and electrolyte balance, can cause gastro-intestinal distress, headaches, fatigue and irritability, and can lead to dehydration.

Colons don’t need flushing unless you are preparing for a medical procedure like a colonoscopy. Colonic irrigation and enemas tamper with the body’s natural fluid and electrolyte balance and can lead to infection, irregularity, and dehydration. Instead, you may wish to try a high fibre diet, as eating more fibre in wholegrains, bran, fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts is a safe and natural way to add bulk to your diet.

Fasting or following very restrictive detox diets can slow your metabolism, making it harder to lose weight once you start eating again. In many cases, these diets can result in rebound overeating because of excess hunger, deprivation, and an out-of-control feeling that is not because of a metabolic imbalance or addiction but instead driven by the deprivation of the diet plan.

What’s the appeal of detox diets?

Is there any evidence that detox diets do what they promise? Experts note that most of the studies presented to support detox diet plans have not been published in peer-review journals, the gold standard for scientific evidence.

Despite this, people continue to try detox diets and other regimens promising quick weight loss. Disappointment with past dieting experiences and the search for a quick fix is what usually drives people to try them, experts say.

An alternative to embarking on an unrealistic diet plan may be to try and identify the issues that drive unhealthy behavior. Consider what it is that is causing you to overeat. Is it a lack of awareness, making poor decisions, mindlessly eating, or maybe reaching for food to meet other needs?

Evaluate your eating habits and make small, gradual and sustainable changes. It is better to concentrate on eating healthy foods than to forbid entire categories of foods. Drastic, restrictive diets or forbidden foods have a very powerful effect, triggering cravings.

Experts recommend consulting a registered dietician for a customized diet plan that will help to accomplish personal goals in a safe and effective manner.

The natural way to detox

The best way to “detox” is simply to let your body do its job. Unless you have a medical problem, experts say your body takes care of itself quite nicely.

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) says the body is a well-developed system that has its own built-in mechanisms to detoxify and remove waste from top to toe. Skin, the gut and liver and kidneys are all chemically-controlled powerhouses that are detoxifying the body constantly.

The BDA says that for the vast majority of people, a sensible diet and regular physical activity really are the only ways to properly protect your health. It adds, it makes sense to avoid excessive intakes of caffeine, alcohol and high-fat, high-sugar foods. But if you want to maintain optimal health the best approach is a balanced diet.

Other experts say  if you’re concerned about certain substances in your diet, it’s easier and safer to simply eliminate those substances rather than engage in unhealthy detox plans and if you want to promote water loss, do it naturally by limiting salt and consuming cranberries, celery, asparagus and herbal teas.

Who Should Avoid Detox Diets?

Children, teenagers, diabetics, pregnant women, those with heart disease, or anyone suffering from medical conditions should not follow a detox diet. Anyone with an eating disorder should not follow a detox diet.

Additionally, detox diets are not appropriate for people who are very active, have physically demanding jobs or participate in sports, because they do not provide sufficient energy or nutrition.

The use of laxative-type supplements can be especially problematic, as they can cause dehydration or mineral imbalances, as well as digestive problems.

You need to be aware of these risks

Many detox diets may be nutritionally insufficient. This can be compounded due to frequent bowel movements. Poor nutrition can lead to muscle loss, fatigue, and irritability.

Most experts believe that the body is quite capable of cleaning itself (provided you follow a generally healthy diet, with exercise and adequate sleep). However many natural health practitioners believe that our polluted environment has left us toxic, and our bodies need a little help.

Please do not start a fast or detox plan, or eliminate food groups from your diet, without talking to your health care provider.

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