Time for a detox?
It’s that time of year again; we’ve all overdone it during the festive season and we’re feeling tired and sluggish. A lot of us are a few pounds heavier and our bodies are feeling bloated and out of sorts after weeks of delicious gluttony. Now it’s time to kick start the New Year with a detox!
But is a detox really the answer? The detox industry is a multi-million pound business, with thousands of books and products available in pharmacies, book shops, supermarkets, cafes and anywhere else that will sell them. Why are we surrounded by detox advertising? For the simple reason that there’s a demand and many of us want to desperately believe that the guaranteed weight loss and health benefits will ring true for us.
What is a detox diet?
The term detox (short for detoxification) is used to refer to a programme of diets, herbs and other methods of removing toxins from the body, generally alongside excessive weight loss as an anticipated outcome.
The usual theory generally states that once you’ve removed all these toxins, you’ll experience improved body functions and drop those unwanted pounds by metabolic acceleration.
One of the most popular detox diets, the ‘Master Cleanse’, encourages detoxers to spend 10 days drinking a concoction of lemon juice, maple syrup, water and cayenne pepper. Other detox diets urge users to only drink fruit and vegetable juices for several days to weeks, while even more severe ones entail consuming only water and no food for several days at a time.
Does the body need detoxification?
Detox diets claim to “cleanse” your system of toxins, but the liver, the body's key detoxifying organ, is perfectly capable of cleaning the body itself. A healthy liver processes most of the things we throw at it, sorting out compounds and chemicals, and sending unwanted stuff to our intestines to expel as stool, or to our kidneys to excrete as urine. So why do we think that a little lemon juice, vegetable juice, or bowel rest is actually going to make a difference to our health?
There is no scientific research available to support the benefits of any detox regimen (fad diets or herb kits included), and there’s no scientific evidence to support the need for detoxification. However, the basic premises of any detox regimen – increasing water intake, while reducing intake of processed foods, alcohol and cigarettes– are positive measures we can all take to feeling healthier.
But detoxing makes me feel so energised and vitalised!
Following a detox, many people feel a lot more energised, their food cravings are controlled and they experience overall well-being. The simple reason for this is because detoxes always eliminate high-sugar, high-fat foods from the diet, foods which are known to increase food cravings by causing surges and rapid drops in blood sugar. Removing these foods will support stable blood sugar levels, thereby decreasing food cravings and improving energy levels.
Detoxing and weight loss
It is true that many people lose weight during a detox. Detox diets are very restrictive and calorific intake is typically a lot less than what you would normally consume. However, most of this weight loss will not be body fat, it will be mainly water loss and some muscle tissue loss. Even worse, when you start fasting, your body goes into conservation mode, burning calories more slowly. In the end, not only is there a very high possibility that all the weight will pile back on, you are also likely to gain more weight due to slower metabolism. Furthermore, remember that any lost muscle during detox can only be built back up at the gym!
Are detox diets safe?
Detox diets typically involve fasting followed by a strict diet. If you're a healthy adult, following a detox programme for a few days is probably not going to put you in danger. However, frequent fasting or fasting for more than a few days may cause unhealthy side effects such as headaches, dehydration, low blood pressure or an irregular heartbeat. Some detox diets include intestine-clearing supplements that might actually be harmful, so always do your research.
If you have a medical condition or take certain medications, a detox programme could be dangerous or even deadly. If you are determined to give detox a try, talk to your doctor first. Otherwise, following the simple Eatwell Plate guidelines will give you the best chance to keep your body healthy:
1. Base you meals on wholegrain starchy foods.
2. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables.
3. Eat more fish – including a portion of oily fish each week.
4. Cut down on saturated fat and sugar.
5. Try to eat less salt – no more than 6g a day for adults.
6. Get active and try to be a healthy weight.
7. Drink plenty of water.
8. Don’t skip breakfast.
Along with the diet plan above, always make the effort to add sufficient sleep and regular medical check-ups to the mix and you’ll be on your way. A perfect recipe for a robust self-cleaning system that will sort out any festive indulgences!