What’s the Deal with Detox Diets?
Can I really lose weight or improve my health?
As a personal trainer, I get asked about detoxes or cleansing diets all the time. Lately these diets have really grown in popularity thanks to many celebrities and the media. Do a quick search online or at your bookstore and you will find a variety of detoxes from fruit drinks, liquid diets, intestinal “exfoliating” diets, liver cleanses, and many more. It can be quite overwhelming but at the same time tempting to try because they promise a quick solution to loosing weight. The major theme of most detox or cleanse diets is elimination. Most require you to eliminate at least one or more of the following: gluten, alcohol, sugar, refined foods, fats, cigarettes/drugs, etc to make you feel better. Well, this is not rocket science – of course you will feel better if you eliminate these! But, you can still do this safely while incorporating a healthy diet and exercise.
What exactly is a “detox” or body “cleanse”? Well, most of them consist of eating or drinking specific foods and drinks for a specific time days while eliminating toxins (certain foods, chemicals, drinks, etc) completely from your diet. Take for example the popular Master Cleanse which has been one of Google’s most popular diet searches over the last year and was made popular by celebrities such as Beyonce and Gwyneth Paltrow. It consists of drinking a concoction of lemon juice, water, maple syrup and cayenne pepper for days and sometimes weeks with little or no food! Sound appetizing? Personally, I think it sounds horrible! Plus…there are so many things wrong with this…keep reading…
There are many risks of doing a detox diet, especially if it requires you to eat little or no food. First of all, your body needs calories to use for energy and most of these diets restrict your calories to a level that puts both your body and your brain at risk. You might feel better after a few days on a mostly liquid cleanse but this is primarily because you are staying more hydrated and consuming more fruits, vegetables and antioxidants. Why not just eat more fruits, veggies and drink more water to get the same effect and you’ll have the energy to get in a workout too! If your friend is ranting and raving about how euphoric she feels after a day on a liquid diet, this might be because she is well hydrated, has a sense of control and doesn’t have to stress about planning each meal. But, this “high” could also be a dangerous result of too few calories because our brain also needs calories to function. If you are feeling lightheaded or slightly euphoric this could be a sign you need to eat something quick to restore proper brain function and get your blood glucose levels back to normal. Get your friend a bag of almonds – STAT!
If all you’ve had all day is grapefruits or spicy lemon juice – you will be lucky if you have the energy to get out of bed…much less function at work or get in a metabolism-boosting workout (in order to really lose weight)! Also, remember that drastically reducing your calorie intake with reek havoc on your metabolism. Ever wonder why when you are sick and lose weight, the weight comes right back and usually with an extra pound or 2? It’s because you body goes into starvation mode to help hold on to every little calorie for fuel. Once you get back to your normal eating habits your metabolism is still a little out of whack and it takes time for your body to burn calories (fuel) at the rate it once did so you have to work harder. You want your body to act like a furnace and efficiently burn fuel (i.e. calories).
It’s a myth that you can “flush” fat out of your system. Yes, drinking water is great for you and if you are properly hydrated your body will function better – i.e. digest food better, keep your skin and hair hydrated and will allow you to sustain a tougher workout without getting tired quickly. But, flush fat and get rid of cellulite?? Not so fast! You can’t reduce body fat by diet (or extreme detoxes) alone. Sure, you can lose weight by restricting calories, but to change the shape of your body by shifting or reducing body fat…you need to do weight training. Trust me, as a personal trainer I’ve seen many skinny “fat” people that eat like birds and are shocked to find out their body fat puts them in the obese category.
Cleaning Your Insides:
Some of these programs suggest that we all need to cleanse our colon. Gross. Sure you will feel lighter once you’ve eaten a diet that flushes your intestines…because you are consuming more fiber and we all know what that does to the body! But, some colonic or intestinal diets include pills and supplements to flush your system. Do you need to put your intestines through this traumatic experience every day for 2 weeks? Uh, no. The lining of your intestines serves an important purpose in your body and doesn’t need the help of colonics (colon flushing), pills or strange diets. Just up your intake of whole grains, fruits, veggies and other foods high in fiber to get a temporary “exfoliation” or cleansing of your intestines. This will allow you to get the same effect without ridding your body of the good bacteria and enzymes that it needs in order to deliver nutrients and protect your organs from foreign bacteria and crud that you’ve ingested.
Remember, before you make any drastic changes to your diet, be sure to consult a registered dietitian, your doctor or nutritionist first. But, if you STILL want to try it (uggg)…I would not recommend doing any of these trendy diets for more than a couple of days. Instead, use that cayenne pepper to spice up your protein shake or smoothie (tastes great with mango) or spice up some homemade guacamole!
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