Are Detox Diets Right for You?

The Risks May Outweigh the Benefits

Detox diets and juice cleanses
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Nowadays it's tempting to try to lose weight and improve health with a "detox" or "cleanse." But these approaches might do more harm than good.

Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pie. Not to mention eggnog, mulled wine, and a beer (or three) during the game. It’s tough to say no in a season of holiday indulgence. No wonder so many of us wake up a few pounds heavier come January 1st.

When you’re having trouble zipping up your jeans, it can be tempting to look for a quick solution.

Something like a “cleanse” or a “detox.” Just to “reset” your system and jump-start a renewed fitness routine.

But don’t kid yourself. A detox diet may sound promising. But it won’t have lasting benefits. Worse, it may even do you some harm.

Here’s why – and what you should do instead.

What’s a Detox Diet, Anyway?

The term “detox diet” usually refers to a liquid diet composed mainly of vegetable juice. Sometimes it means an outright fast—as in, not eating at all.

The idea behind it is that giving our bodies a little break from inflammatory substances will help our digestion—and make us lose some weight.

It sounds great in theory but detox juice cleanses can be expensive. And even if they help you drop a few pounds in the short term, they put you at greater risk for long-term weight gain.

3 Reasons Not to Try a Detox Diet

  • Detox diets are very low-calorie: In fact, some juice cleanses are so low in calories that they will slow down your metabolism. Any weight you lose is likely to be water, carbohydrate stores, and intestinal bulk. It will just return when you start eating normally again.
  • Detox diets can cause stomach upset and blood sugar swings: Most detox diets fail to include enough fiber. And fiber is what helps clean our digestive tracts! Now, that’s ironic—a cleansing diet that leaves out the cleaner?  Not only that, but if they’re high in fruit juices, they can cause blood sugar swings. This makes them downright dangerous for people with diabetes—and risky for many others.
  • Detox diets don’t supply enough protein and can leave you hungry: When we don’t get enough protein, we get hungry a lot faster. And protein deficiencies can make it harder, not easier, for our bodies to clear themselves of toxins. What’s more, without adequate protein, we lose muscle mass.

In other words, detox diets don’t do what they claim to do. They can also make you feel deprived. And when we feel deprived, we tend to indulge later on which sets up an unhealthy cycle.

5 Steps to Detox — Without the Fancy Diet

If you’re worried about seasonal weight gain or toxins entering your body from the foods you eat, you don't have to buy an expensive juice cleansing kit. Here's what you can do instead.

  1. Eat reasonable amounts. If you’re eating too much, you’re probably accumulating more toxins than your body needs. Eating one cookie instead of six is a detox diet. Slow down and chew your food.
  2. Eliminate your problematic foods. This relates mostly to Step 1. If you just can’t seem to master the habit of one cookie, and you always end up eating six, maybe it’s time to restructure your relationship with cookies.
  1. Build your plate around plant foods and eat organic when possible. This reduces exposure to potential toxins. Veggies and fruits play a major role in a healthy body because they contain compounds that can help the body deal with incoming chemicals.
  2. Drink enough fluids, including water and tea. And use a filter. The kidneys are major organs of elimination: Keep them clean.
  3. Allow time between dinner and breakfast. If you finished eating dinner at 7 pm, maybe you could eat breakfast at 7 am. This gives the body a 12-hour break from food for every 24-hour cycle. This might also improve your sleep.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Sure, it’s tempting to think that if we just go on a quick juice cleanse we’ll be ridding our bodies of toxins and losing those extra pounds in one fell swoop. But you don’t want to set up a cycle that will only make you fatter and more toxic.

Really, we already know what we should do to maintain our weight and stay in shape. Eat less processed food, more fresh whole fruits and vegetables, and more lean protein—and keep moving.

The good news is that you’re already ahead of the game. If you don’t over-indulge in the first place, you’ll maintain your weight and shape through the holiday season.

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