After weeks of overindulging on sugar cookies and cocktails, detox diets can sound pretty enticing. Who wouldn’t want to kick-start their metabolism, melt away unwanted pounds, boost energy and banish belly bloat?
But whether it’s a three-day juice fast or a 10-day trip to Starvation Island, all detox diets come with side effects: Some good, many bad, others just a blender full of ugly.
We’ve all heard rave reviews of the benefits of detox diets and cleanses, from better digestion to heightened mental focus. But despite these “expert” claims, there’s not a page of evidence to back any of it up.
I will say these programs aren’t all bad. They do get you to ditch processed foods, cut down on the booze and drink lots of fluids—all good things. Plus, you will undoubtedly think about food more than ever before. Although this can help you gain awareness about your eating habits and get you to eat more whole foods, it is certainly not the best or only way to do it.
“Hangry” is an Understatement
Detox diets are like skipping the party and going straight to the hangover. Think headache, fatigue, irritability, hunger, cramping, bloating and diarrhea. Advocates will claim the side effects are proof that things are working; in actuality, they’re your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong.
Many detox diets are not nutritionally balanced and can leave your body starving for calories, carbs, protein and fat. If followed for long periods, they can leave you vulnerable to vitamin and nutrient deficiencies that can damage your metabolism, immune system and overall health.
Weight Loss Fake-Out
How’s this for a new cleanse diet: You get the flu, spend the next 48 hours on the toilet, then—magically—you lose a couple pounds. Sure, you’ve been getting sick and sweating and not able to eat solid food—but you still lost weight, right?
Sounds like a lot to go through just to lose a couple of pounds. That’s basically what is happening with a detox diet—you lose water weight and aren’t consuming enough calories or nutrients to sustain you for any length of time. Another thing the two have in common: that weight is almost certain to come back in a matter of weeks
The weight lost during a detox isn’t “toxins;” it’s fluid loss due to extremely low carb intake and/or laxative use. When you start eating normally again, your body soaks up fluid like a sponge and your weight comes back on before you can say “wheatgrass shots!”
There’s another danger to detoxing: It can permanently harm your relationship with food.
Most find the strict diet rules difficult or impossible without “cheating” with a forbidden food or drink. Many will throw in the towel completely and binge on everything in their path.
This can set the stage for disordered eating patterns. Plus, shunning perfectly nutritious foods can lead many down a path of self-punishment and negative food associations
Bad Metabolic Mojo
Many in the detox world tout the weight loss benefits during and after your cleanse. The truth is, this type of dieting can make it even harder to lose weight.
This is because long term fasting can lower your body’s metabolic rate. That means you’re actually training your body to hold onto calories for longer, which can continue long after your cleanse is done. Plus, staying on a restrictive detox diet too long can lead to loss of muscle mass, slowing down your metabolism even more.
Credit Where Credit’s Due
There’s one major flaw in the idea of “doing a cleanse.” Our body does that daily without any help of celebrity doctors or secret potions. We already have highly efficient detoxification systems that use our skin, intestines, lungs, livers and kidneys to neutralize and eliminate toxins—our bodies are truly remarkable.
The Bottom Line
Cleanse Yourself of Cleanses
Instead of spending your money on juices or cleansing products that make you miserable with no proven health benefits, make a list of healthy habits that you hit the pause button on for the holidays—things like carrying a water bottle, going for a walk during lunch and eating regular balanced meals.
Trust me: making lasting lifestyle changes will pay off way more than any cleanse. So treat yourself with the gratitude you deserve and rid yourself of any post-holiday guilt—easily the most toxic thing in your body. It’s time to start making healthy changes that will help you feel great all year round and let your amazing body do the rest.
Here’s to a cleanse-free 2017!