With the festive season behind us, many of you will have started your New Year’s resolutions. And, if you followed the advice in this article, you should hopefully find it easier to stick with your plans than in previous years.
For many people, New Year’s resolutions involve the decision to eat better and lose weight and, to do this, some will turn to detox diets. Detox diets are especially popular with people who have over-indulged over the festive period and are feeling the ill-effects of eating and drinking too much or consuming an overly rich or unhealthy diet.
What Are Toxins?
Toxins are virtually everywhere! Toxins are chemicals deemed to be harmful to your health and include food additives, sugar, many medicines and caffeine as well as tobacco smoke and other air-born pollutants. They are in your food, your water, your cosmetics, your detergents, the packaging of your food, even in the air you breathe. Your body also produces toxins during respiration and cellular function. It’s very hard to avoid toxins but many people ingest far too many – usually because they smoke, are exposed to high levels of pollution or eat a very processed diet.
What Is A Detox Diet?
Detox diets, also known as cleanses, are strict diets designed to remove accumulated toxins. It is commonly believed that the accumulation of dietary and environmental toxins can inhibit fat loss, impair the immune system and generally clog you up so your body is unable to function properly. Removing these toxins is said to take the brakes off fat burning, improve digestion, help clear up skin problems, eliminate cellulite and generally boost your health.
There are several approaches to detoxifying including consuming fruit and vegetable juices, fasting, getting colonic irrigations, taking special detoxifying supplements, sweating out toxins in saunas and steam rooms and with body wraps.
Detoxes last anywhere from 24 hours to 28 days and can range from mild to extreme and most also promise significant weight loss.
Detox Side Effects
Many people experience some pretty gnarly side effects during a detox. General aches and pains are common, so too are cold-like symptoms, headaches, nausea, skin outbreaks, fatigue, disrupted sleep, bad breath, stomach upsets and, of course, hunger.
Side effects are normally short-lived and disappear within a few days and not everyone experiences the same problems when they detox. Some people experience very few if any side effects while other unlucky people will get them all.
These side effects are said to be caused by speeding up of the natural detoxification process but, in many cases, are actually caused by low blood glucose due to low calorie consumption and withdrawal from caffeine.
Does Detoxing Work?
This is not an easy question to answer! Detoxing does seem to help speed up the elimination of toxins but it’s important to understand that your body is actually very capable to expelling toxins already and without the need to do anything overly exotic.
Your lymphatic and urinary system, along with your skin, help your body get rid of anything that should not be in your body. This happens automatically and 24/7 without the need for special teas, fasting or any other detoxing method.
As for detox and weight loss; most detox diets are very low in calories and this is why detox diets result in rapid weight loss. Many detox diets are liquid or juice-based, prescribe the consumption of lots of low-calorie fruit and veg or involve fasting. If you significantly reduce your food intake, your body will burn fat for fuel and you’ll lose weight.
This is not the result of detoxification but, rather, simple thermodynamics: eat fewer calories = burn more fat.
The main issue with detox diets is that they attempt to provide a quick fix for a long term problem. Years of eating unhealthily and being exposed to environmental toxins cannot be undone in just a few days of drinking green smoothies or a detoxifying tea. Toxins are often stored in fat cells and will only be released if and when that fat is used for fuel. Cellulite, for example, is often considered to be toxified fat cells.
In addition, a three day or even a 28-day detox will be of little use unless the dieter can avoid all exposure to toxins thereafter – something that is all but impossible.
Being very low in calories, detox diets may make strenuous exercise all but impossible. This is not really an issue during a short detox but a longer detox could result in lost fitness, reduced muscle mass and a decreased metabolism.
Detoxes can also cause severe cravings. These cravings could lead to overeating once the detox is over as dieters “reward” their good behavior with the very same goods that caused them problems in the first place!
It’s not all bad news, though. A detox can provide a stepping-stone into a more moderated, balanced eating plan. Going cold turkey on all the things that are bad for you is often the only way to break unhealthy habits and a detox provides the means to achieve this.
If you are an “all or nothing” type of person, a detox might be a good way to kick-start your new healthy eating resolution.
Many people also associate the side effects of a detox with “paying their dues” and a reminder that eating unhealthily has a price. Although this is flawed logic, for some people it is a motivating factor.
The Alternative To Detoxing
You can experience most if not all of the benefits of detoxing without having to suffer through an extreme cleaning diet. The process won’t be as dramatic or fast but you’ll experience the same results with far fewer drawbacks…
- Reduce your exposure to toxins by eating fewer processed foods
- Eat more organic fruit, vegetables and grains
- Switch to organic meat, fish, eggs and dairy
- Drink plenty of plain water to help flush out any accumulated toxins
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid taking medicines unless they are absolutely essential
- Keep your stress levels to a minimum
- Get plenty of rest and sleep
- Stop smoking, avoid second-hand smoke and other air-born pollutants
If you feel you need to go “cold turkey” after a period of overeating, a brief detox can help break unhealthy habits and get you back on the straight and narrow. However, the idea that you have to detox for your body to eliminate toxins is incorrect as your body can happily do this already. The key to long-term detoxing is to avoid as many toxic substances as you can in the first place!