Three Top Detoxing Myths

People have come to believe that regular detoxes can get rid of toxins stored in their body cells by eating certain foods or beverages and avoiding others. The idea of "cleansing" the body has become a type of ritual, especially after the holiday season. The idea is to add "cleansing" fruits and vegetables either in raw or juiced form to your daily regimen, to replace your normal foods. At the same time, cooked foods such as meat are removed, as well as all processed foods, caffeine and alcohol. Losing weight while doing a detox is seen as being a great benefit too, if not the primary goal.

Is detoxing a good idea, or another diet fad that has become fashionable? Let's look at three detox myths.

Myth 1 – Detoxing is all about cleansing your body

Not really. It may be more about trying to feel better because of previous bad food choices.

People often choose to do a detox because they know that they have overindulged, or made poor food choices, when they could have made better ones. Detoxing is often simply a guilt response to consistently poor eating habits. Many people pay no attention to what they eat on a daily basis. They make poor food choices, or abuse caffeine and/or alcohol, and think they can simply do a quick detox to lose weight and get their "glow" back.

Up and down dieting and detoxing says a lot about a lack of commitment to a consistent, daily approach to eating well.

If you constantly overindulge, whether with too much food, junk food, caffeine and/or alcohol, then detoxing can make you feel better, and less guilty psychologically, but it’s not addressing the real issue.

Your brain may need a different kind of "psychological detox" to enable you to sustain good food choices, which means you don't have to do drastic detoxes to try to get back in line nutritionally.

Myth 2 – Detoxing = drinking vegetable juices

To most people, detoxing means drinking vegetable juices. But this is not necessarily the best approach. In fact, it may be quite harmful.

During the ongoing housekeeping activities that the body performs to keep you alive, your liver, kidneys, and colon are all involved with eliminating toxins. Toxins are filtered out of your bloodstream via these organs. You actually need to make sure they are working efficiently before you do a detox, otherwise, these organs can become overloaded with toxins and you can end up feeling a lot worse than when you started. So, ironically, you need to be rather healthy, BEFORE you do a detox, rather than doing a detox to get healthy.

In addition, by avoiding protein and the right fats, your body will become malnourished, and you can end up losing muscle mass as well as impairing optimal functioning at the cellular level.

Vegetable juices are also a very poor source of fiber, a food component that is required in optimal quantities to flush toxins out of the digestive track. A lack of fiber can cause toxins to be reabsorbed into the body via the bowel, leading to increased toxicity. This is obviously the last thing someone on a detox desires.

Furthermore, drinking only large quantities of water doesn’t allow you to detox either. In fact, you can end up becoming severely ill by taking this approach.

Adding fiber-rich foods to your daily diet is also good for keeping hormones balanced, especially for women who are entering the perimenopausal years. Eating insufficient fiber will result in excess estrogens being flushed out of the bowels rather than being reabsorbed as they are when fiber-rich foods are part of the daily diet.

Sweating is also important while detoxing, due to fat-soluble toxins being able to leave your bloodstream via your skin's pores. This is one of the most efficient ways to get rid of fat-soluble toxins, which are present in various forms in our environment, from chemicals that leach into drinking water and foods to the air that we breathe.

Detoxing "kits" are available for purchase, which may include a variety of supplements, herbs, fiber and clays. Although these kits may be helpful in the short term, and may help you feel as if you are getting a "clean start", they cannot replace daily detoxing. They cannot address all the nutrient requirements for optimal health and ongoing toxin removal.

And there are much tastier ways to increase fiber content each day than swallowing glasses of clay or fiber-enriched potions.

Myth 3 – A detox will kick-start new eating habits

This is one of the most enduring detox myths. It is based more on hope and hype than on science.

It is extremely easy to go back to eating the way you ate before you went on the detox because "detox eating" is not a normal, everyday way of eating.

If you started the detox to lose weight, then that is your ultimate goal, and it's hard to keep the weight off because you are not eating naturally. In addition, weight loss is not sustainable, as most of what you lose in weight is simply water, or worse, muscle mass.

A few days, or even 10 days, is not enough time to learn new habits for every meal, so it is very easy to fall back into your old patterns of eating.

When people avoid the food and beverages they love and crave, they end up feeling deprived. It is only possible to sustain this approach for a few days before it becomes really difficult to keep on avoiding the foods you desire, all while you force yourself to eat or drink the foods that the detox specifies.

Research has shown that people feel a strong desire to eat high-calorie foods both during and after a fast. It may be that our natural calorie requirement kicks in, and these foods become extra appealing.

The ability to transform your eating habits needs to entail a realistic and consistent approach. It should focus more on which foods to include in your daily diet, than on which ones to exclude. This is how new habits are built, not through shock detoxes. It may be more sensible to simply start eating more nutrient-dense, "clean" foods while avoiding the kinds of foods that make you feel guilty. Your body in its wisdom will efficiently detoxify cells, tissues, and organs in a natural, sustainable way.

Conclusion

The idea that detoxing can be done every few months, or at the beginning of a new season – spring is very popular – cannot help you sustain optimal eating habits. In fact, living in today's toxic world, waiting for months before going on a detox may be very bad for you.

It is far easier to make sure that you detox each and every day. In essence, this is the right way to keep your body clean, and to avoid the mostly psychological need to start afresh, mistakenly, with a detox.

If you are daily supplying the types of food that sustain energy optimally, that flush toxins out of your body using fiber and pure water, and which ensure efficient cellular health, then your body will naturally get rid of the toxins that accumulate due to day-to-day living and toxins from the environment. And you will be energized and vibrant without needing to do a detox, or purchasing expensive detox kits.

Of course, you also have to remove the foods and beverages that add to your toxic load, such as highly processed foods, sugar-laden beverages, caffeine and excess alcohol. But it is much easier to do this in a sustainable way when you don't feel deprived because your diet is full of great, tasty and nutrient-dense foods. And it is much easier to remove the offending foods when your blood glucose is stable, your cravings are gone and you have natural energy.

However, if you really feel you want to turn over a new leaf nutritionally, don't do a drastic, deprivation-focused detox. Simply increase fiber, remove processed foods and add the right oils.

Another point to keep in mind: managing stress and making sure that you enjoy excellent sleep will ensure that your body gets a chance to repair and rejuvenate – and detox naturally – while you are at rest, which ensures optimal cellular functioning too. And then you can glow naturally, without having to plan to glow after your detox!

References

Bee Wilson. First Bite: How we learn to eat. Fourth Estate, Harper Collins. The United Kingdom. 2015

Erasmus U. Fats that heal, fats that kill. Burnaby BC, Canada: Dr. Alive Books; 1993.

Goldstone AP, et al. Fasting biases brain reward systems towards high calorie foods. Eur J Neurosci. 2009 Oct; 30(8): 1625-35.

Klein AV, Kiat H. Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: a critical review of the evidence. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2015 Dec;28(6):675-86.

McMillan-Price and Davie J. Star Foods. Sydney, Australia: ABC Books; 2008.

The dubious practice of detox. Harvard Women's Health Watch. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-dubious-practice-of-detox (accessed 10 January 2016).