Detox 101

"Detoxing is nonsense," says British Dietetic Association spokesperson Rick Miller. "It’s a complete fallacy that the body needs to detox. Removal of waste products and toxins is a continuous process and we don’t need to periodically flush them out. The body does a perfectly good job of eliminating any substances on its own."

If you have a liver (which most of us do) then you are a self-detoxing machine. The liver is nestled away in the right side of the abdomen and is the body’s largest internal organ which is responsible for sorting out the usable nutrients from the waste products in the food that we consume and filtering them out. To make the livers job easier, it’s best to consume food high in nutrients that the body can use rather than filling it with unnecessary garbage which will force it to work harder and as a result you may feel tired, have poor digestion and gain weight. This leads me onto the ‘detox’ or ‘cleanse’ diets…

The ‘Detox Diet’

Detox diets promote weight loss and say they will cleanse your body from toxins. The detox plans can last from one day to around 1 month and can include:

·         Consuming only fruits and vegetables

·         Fasting for short periods of time

·         Consuming a limited range of foods

·         Cutting out wheat and Dairy

·         Avoiding caffeine and alcohol

I don't know about you but I can find a negative to each of the bullet points listed above. For starters, why would we want to only eat fruits and vegetables? I know I couldn't do it!  Even though fruits are a healthy source of nutrients in moderation, drinking copious amounts will result in a high amount of fructose entering your body and will wreak havoc on your insulin levels. Limiting the range of foods we consume is both boring and is not the healthiest of ways to lose weight and 'cleanse' your body - I will explain more about this later on in the article.

So what are these ‘toxins’ we are all desperate to flush out of our body?

By definition, toxins are 'a substance created by plants and animals that are poisonous to humans' so, if the human body really accumulated lots of toxins then we would feel ill. Anything consumed in excess could potentially have toxic effects on the body so that's why we should eat a balanced diet. As they say 'it's the dose that makes the poison'.

What about the scientific evidence?

Research has been conducted into detox diets but to date, there has been no evidence that they actually work and they may actually be detrimental to your immune system and have a number of side effects.

What are the side effects to a detox diet?

For starters, when you starve your body of calories, your body goes into ‘starvation mode’, (ketosis) and will start to build up chemicals called ketones. These chemicals can result in nausea, dehydration, bad breath, weakness, light-headedness and irritability. Another side effect is that due to the prolonged lack of protein, your body will start to break down its own muscles and can therefore compromise your immune system.

Maybe you’re thinking ‘But it’s just for a week or two so it can’t be that bad, I just need a quick fix and this will help?’

The human body is an amazing creation and as soon as it feels as though it isn’t getting the calories and nutrients it needs to function properly, it will start to go into the state of ketosis, which can be as little as two days! The main weight loss you will see will be coming from water, glycogen (the bodys carbohydrate stores) and muscle rather than fat so there are far healthier ways to lose weight. At the end of the programme when you return to your old eating habits, any weight that you have lost while on the ‘detox’ is likely to go back on so you will be back to square one and the only thing that will be lighter is your bank balance.

There’s a lot to be said for a healthy lifestyle.

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Many people who choose to start a detox diet plan eat a poor diet. It’s understandable that if you eat a poor diet and have gained a few pounds over the years that you want to ‘in effect’ press reset on your body and that’s why these detox diets seem like a good way to help shed a few pounds, clear your body of waste and give you a head start but in reality, when the programme finishes, you’re more than likely not going to change your eating habits overnight.

Our advice is to start introducing healthy options into your diet, make a conscious effort to drink more water and learn about the food you are putting into your body. If you eat a diet high in sugar, it’s best not to cut out all sugar completely straight away as you may have withdrawal symptoms that include headaches, irritability and you may find yourself eating more carbohydrates to get your ‘sugar fix’. It has been proven by scientists that sugar has the same effects on the brain as drugs so to cut it out all at once may not be the best solution for you (or your friends and family). Click here to read the full research paper on "Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioural and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excess sugar intake."

The best way to lose weight and have ‘clean’ insides is to eat a well nutritionally balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates and fats and take part in regular resistance and cardiovascular exercise. You can download our free guide to nutrition management and flexible dieting here for more information and guidance.

Remember, there are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going!