To Detox or Not to Detox?
Is a detox a great way to feel confident in your bikini or a recipe for disaster?
Detoxing in my experience is considered extreme, and for lack of a better word, ‘fringy.’ But in the past few years, the word ‘detox’ has taken on a whole new meaning. Now, it seems to be a catch-all term to describe some sort of intervention that gets the junk out and helps restore the body to a better state of balance. It seems as if everyone is jumping on board!
What Counts as a Detox Diet?
Detoxes can be relatively basic, from simply cutting out alcohol, caffeine, and processed stuff (white flour, sugar, artificial ingredients, etc.), to downright extreme, like liquid-only regimes.
Advantages of Detoxing
The main advantage of a basic detox is that it eliminates things you should be trying to limit or avoid anyway. Committing to “banning” certain foods can be a great way to allow your body to experience what it feels like to take a break from things like alcohol and sugar. While you may not drop a lot of weight on a basic detox, you’ll probably feel lighter, more energized, “cleaner” and motivated to stay on a healthy track.
When Detoxing Can Become Dangerous
More extreme detoxes on the other hand, especially those that eliminate solid food, are a different story. Because you won’t be taking in enough carbohydrates, you’ll deplete your body’s glycogen stores, the carbs socked away in your liver and muscle tissue. That alone can cause you to shed 5 to 10 pounds in just a few days, but that loss won’t be body fat, and it can come right back as soon as you revert to your usual routine. Another big problem with liquid cleanses is they generally don’t provide protein or fat, two building blocks your body needs for constant repair and healing. Consuming too little of these key nutrients can lead to muscle loss and a weaker immune system. Psychologically, the quick weight loss can be a real high, but eventually the lack of nutrition may catch up with you, usually in the form of an injury, catching a cold or flu, or just feeling run down and exhausted.
Do What’s Right for You
So my bottom line advice on to detox or not to detox: don’t feel like it’s is something you should be doing just because it’s popular. But if you could really use a clean slate and you decide to try one, follow these two basic rules:
- Think of a detox as a transition period or jump start to a healthy plan. It’s not a long-term “diet” or a way of making up for every overindulgence. Getting into a cycle of continuously overeating then detoxing isn’t healthy physically or emotionally.
- Listen to your body. You should feel light and energized, but a too-strict detox can leave you feeling weak, shaky, dizzy, cranky and headache-prone. If you don’t feel well, modify the plan to better meet your body’s needs. Ultimately, any detox should feel like a stepping stone to a healthier path, not a punishment.
What’s the Deal with Detox Diets?
It seems everyone is talking about “detox” or considering a “cleanse.” Detox diets often are misunderstood, especially since your body already comes equipped with a detoxification system. Understanding how detox works may help clear up some confusion.
How the Body Naturally Detoxifies
Detoxification is a process that the body performs around the clock utilizing important nutrients from the diet. It’s the process that transforms toxins so they can be removed from the body. They fall into two main categories: toxins that are made in the body during regular metabolism, and those that come from outside the body and are introduced by eating, drinking, breathing or are absorbed through the skin.
Toxins that are produced in the body include lactic acid, urea and waste products from microbes in the gut. External toxins may include pesticides, mercury in seafood, lead from car exhaust and air pollution, chemicals in tobacco products and drugs or alcohol.
Detoxification also us the process by which medications are metabolized and removed from the body. Because toxins are potentially dangerous to human health, they need to be transformed and excreted through urine, feces, respiration or sweat. Each person’s ability to detoxify varies and is influenced by environment, diet, lifestyle, health status and genetic factors, suggesting some people may require more detoxification support than others. But if the amount of toxins to which a person is exposed exceeds his or her body’s ability to excrete them, the toxins may be stored in fat cells, soft tissue and bone, negatively affecting health. This is the rationale behind the use of practices that support the body’s own detoxification capabilities, but more research is needed.
Most detoxification programs recommend removing highly processed foods and foods to which some people are sensitive, such as dairy, gluten, eggs, peanuts and red meat. They also recommend eating mostly organically grown vegetables, fruit, whole non-glutenous grains, nuts, seeds and lean protein. Other programs recommend fasting, a potentially risky practice for some people, which may actually suppress detoxification pathways in the body. This is why many health practitioners advise against this practice.
Many non-credentialed people claim to be experts in detoxification; however, there is a lack of research at this time to support its use. Plus, detoxification programs can vary widely and may pose a risk for some people (such as people with health problems, those with eating disorders, those who take multiple medications, and pregnant or breast-feeding women).
8 Ways to Support Your Body’s Natural Detox
Detoxification support doesn’t need to consist of a rigorous plan; doing some or all of the following can support your body’s natural detoxification:
- Stay hydrated with clean water.
- Eat five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
- Consume dietary fiber each day from vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains to help maintain bowel regularity.
- Include cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli and brussels sprouts, berries, artichokes, garlic, onions, leeks and green tea. These support detoxification pathways.
- Consume adequate amounts of lean protein, which is critical to maintaining optimum levels of glutathione, the body’s master detoxification enzyme.
- Consider taking a multivitamin/multimineral to fill any gaps in a healthy diet, since certain vitamins and minerals enable the body’s detoxification processes to function.
Eat naturally fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut — or take a high-quality probiotic — to help promote a healthy gut.
If you have questions about your eating style and its role in supporting the body’s detoxification, check in with me.
By: Niki Vlachou, RHN