It seems that detox dieting is all the rage lately. Between the juice detox, the gluten-free detox, the dairy-free detox, the vegan detox, the raw food detox, and the no-food detox, it’s a bit overwhelming to say the least. My favorite may be the eat-whatever-the-hell-you-want detox — a sort of anti-detox detox (I just made up that last one, although it wouldn’t surprise me if it actually exists). Detoxing has essentially become the latest fad, diet craze. So the big question is whether detoxing is a good idea at all? Is it good for us or can it actually be bad for us?
The short answer is yes….AND no. The longer answer is detoxing, like anything else, can be a good thing….in moderation. In other words, periodic detoxification can serve the body well by giving it a much needed break from digesting and assimilating processed foods and the often toxic byproducts of these foods. It can also relieve our bodies of the cumulative burden of food allergies and sensitivities. All of these things cause inflammation in the body and that is not a good thing. Essentially, detoxing gives our liver, gall bladder, colon and other bodily systems a chance to decongest and recharge. And this is definitely a good thing.
Detoxing is also an opportunity to rest the mind. A too often neglected component of detoxing is the opportunity to let go of emotional baggage as well as physical toxins. In fact, you can achieve the best results from a detox when you incorporate mindfulness practices such as meditation or gentle yoga. Your body is more apt to let go if you are able to let go in the mind. Simply eating in silence (no conversation or electronics) or keeping a gratitude journal during your detox are ways to accomplish this.
So when is detoxing bad for us? It is bad for us when we go from one detox to the next and we are always detoxing and never eating a balanced diet that we can sustain. Detoxing can be bad for us when it consists of eliminating whole food or whole macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs) for an extended period of time (like juice fasting for 2-4 weeks). Detoxing can be bad for us when we do it under stressful conditions or when our bodies are too overburdened to handle a dramatic change in nutrient intake. Example: attempting to detox while training for a triathalon or during a particularly demanding time at work.
Detoxing is intended to be a temporary period of eating less quantity and avoiding processed foods and giving your body and mind a vacation of sorts. It is not intended to be a way of life. So detoxing for an extended period of time, doing the wrong kind of detox, or doing one under stressful conditions can be very detrimental for the body and mind.
Over the last 18 years, I have guided and facilitated countless detoxes of varying forms and durations. In that time, I’ve gained a better understanding of what does and doesn’t work. I’ve learned these things through research, trial and error, and witnessing my clients go through various detoxes. As a result, my philosophy concerning detoxing has evolved. I have come up with a list of do’s and don’ts concerning detoxes:
- Eliminate solid food altogether for more than a few days. Sure the body can survive for several days on just water, but after about the third day it goes into conservation mode and actually holds on as opposed to letting go, which is contrary to the intention of a detox. For the same reason, any dramatic decrease in calories (less than 1,000 calories/day) is counterproductive.
- Do a detox that consists primarily of juicing. Juicing can mess with blood sugar levels and this can wreak havoc on your pancreas, kidneys, liver and gall bladder, not to mention your heart. Juicing also cuts out protein and fat which your body needs to help regulate blood sugar levels and maintain other metabolic systems.
- Eliminate all cooked food. While there is a significant movement for raw food diets right now, it can be extremely stressful on the digestive tract and promote nutritional deficiencies. The fact is some foods must be cooked at least slightly for your body to be able to access and assimilate the micronutrients. Some good examples of these kinds of foods are Carrots, asparagus, garlic, and brussell sprouts. Heating these foods up actually activates enzymes that are necessary to make the certain vitamins and minerals accessible to human digestive system. In addition, many people lack sufficient gastric juices or enzymes to break raw foods down properly and so a raw food diet can be very stressful on the GI tract.
- Engage in strenuous exercise during a detox. Strenuous exercise is another form of stress and, while it may be an effective method for burning calories and conditioning the cardiovascular system, it is counterproductive for the purposes of a detox.
- Detox for more than a few weeks at a time or more than 4 times per year. There are two reasons for this rule. Making frequent changes to your eating habits too frequently can be stressful on the body. The other is since detoxes tend to involve the elimination of one or more types of food, going for an extended period of time without the nutrients those foods may have to offer can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
- Eat less food (fewer calories) throughout the day, especially meats. Following the concept of lightening the load, so to speak, on your body, taking in fewer calories means your body has less to do and more resources to dedicate to actually neutralizing and eliminating toxins.
- Eat more vegetables, especially green ones. Vegetables are full of phytonutrients and minerals that nourish your liver and alkalize your blood. In other words, they are essential to your body’s detoxification process.
- Eliminate all refined sugars, gluten and flour-based foods, milk, soy, alcohol, caffeine, food additives, and GMO-foods. These foods are common allergens and liver toxins and are exactly the things your body needs a break from.
- Prepare most if not all of your meals yourself during a detox. It is extremely difficult to manage what goes into your food at even the healthiest of restaurants. And that’s another mental and physical stress you can do without during a detox. Between the cooking oils that get reused throughout the day and the “secret” spices and other ingredients, why take the chance when you are trying to eat clean.
- Listen to your body when it comes to exercise. This is actually a good rule to follow all of the time, but especially during a detox. If you body is tired, the last thing you should be doing is piling on and asking it to perform at a higher level. Avoid higher intensity forms of exercise like spinning and hot yoga during a detox. This type of exercise is not conducive to letting go and it can be downright dangerous during a detox.
This is by no means an exhaustive list so I recommend speaking with your nutritional consultant or other qualified health professional prior to beginning any detoxification regimen.