Lose 20 pounds in 20 days! Cleanse your colon and flatten your tummy! Eliminate toxins and regain your health!
Detox diets promise big results in a matter of days, but how do they really measure up?
Detox (short for detoxification) diets are touted as having all sorts of health benefits, ranging from rapid weight loss to cancer prevention (or cure!). Just visit any detox website and you’ll read all sorts of personal testimonials that seem too good to be true. Celebrities have used them to drop pounds for movie roles and even Dr. Oz has gotten on the bandwagon.
The premise is that our typical diets and environments are laden with ‘toxins’ that our bodies cannot process or eliminate on their own. To kick these nasties, we must purge them with (insert detox regimen). Once ‘detoxified,’ our bodies will purportedly function at a higher level, sending our metabolism into high gear.
Detox diets can vary widely in their recommendations. Most involve literal fasting (if not starvation), while some allow for a small, select menu of foods. The majority of these plans are very low in calories (sometimes as little as a few hundred calories per day) and are extremely restrictive. Many include special formulations or drinks that are meant to expedite or enhance the body’s natural flushing and filtering processes and may include use of laxatives and/or enemas. Plans typically last a couple days up to a couple weeks.
But is there evidence to support these claims? Will drinking a maple syrup, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper concoction truly cleanse your system and promote health? And, most importantly, are they safe?
Let me begin by saying that there is nothing magical or miraculous about the weight loss that occurs on such diets. If you don’t eat, you will lose weight. (Surprise!) But what kind of weight? Though you will certainly lose a bit of body fat, most extreme weight loss plans cause the body to dump water weight and also tear away at your hard-earned muscles. So while it might be nice to see that number on the scale take a dive, your body will pay the price. Plus, when you regain those lost pounds (which most inevitably do), you’ll be regaining fat–not muscle–leaving you ‘fatter’ than you had been before, even if you never exceed your initial weight.
As for the purported health benefits, little reputable evidence exists to demonstrate that our bodies need any help filtering and removing waste. Our kidneys, liver, and colon are designed and fully-equipped to handle this dirty work. Though many of the foods or nutrients incorporated into detox plans may have health benefits, there is little to justify following a diet that consists solely of these few foods. Any potential benefit these items could offer would be vastly outweighed by the overall lack of nutrients.
Without reliable research to back their claims, most detox plans must therefore rely heavily on mind-numbing scientific jargon laced with user testimonials to capture consumers. Such an approach takes full advantage of both the hope and trusting nature of the average dieter.
Considering the extreme recommendations of most detox diets, it is not surprising that there are potential dangers. Furthermore, the longer these nutrient-poor plans are followed, the riskier they become. While following a detox diet for a couple days will not likely cause immediate harm, some plans last for up to 10 to 14 days. The most common negative side effects experienced on detox diets include low energy and fatigue, irritability, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, and dehydration. Dangerous electrolyte imbalances and damage to the colon can occur if laxatives and enemas are used inappropriately. Individuals with medical conditions or illnesses could face more serious consequences. Even a few tinsel town residents have recently come forward regarding the unattractive aftermath of detox diets and have urged their fans to steer clear.
Now, if you are eating a crummy diet that’s dripping with grease and sprinkled with sugar, you might be feeling like you need a good detox. But what you really need is some healthy living. You know what I mean. Cut back on the junk. Lay off processed and fast food. Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Choose lean meats and non-fat or low-fat dairy products. Use less salt. Drink more water. Get active. Though decidedly unglamorous, these really are the basics and the ticket to wellness.
For more information, check out this great article on WebMD explaining the myths and dangers surrounding detox diets.