If by detox you mean a detox diet, it depends. But probably not. It depends because there’s no single definition of “detox diet” so I can’t say absolutely never or absolutely whenever. It also depends because everyone’s bodies and tolerances are different, as are everyone’s preferences and intentions.

Generally speaking, for the average healthy person with a functioning liver, I’m not a fan of detox diets. That’s what the liver is for. If your liver is grooving as it should, then what do you need a “cleanse” for? There are more manageable changes you can make to your eating habits than drinking pounds of pureed produce or eliminating food altogether.

I’m saying that with the assumption that the average healthy person exploring a detox diet is doing it to lose weight. Or maybe even because it’s trendy and seemingly healthy. If these are your reasons for trying a detox diet, keep reading to check the pros and cons. Like I said, there are likely more healthy and sustainable approaches you can take to cleaning up your eating habits.

What’s a Detox?

There are a lot of detox diets out there. I’ve alluded to some.  The common thread is to reduce the amount of crappy food and drink (i.e. ingredients you are consuming). Described typically as to eliminate toxins from your body. There is a solid Precision Nutrition article on just what a toxin is and the topic of detoxing in general. As they state, anything can be toxic given the dose. The dose makes the poison, as you’ve heard. Water and bock choy can cause problems if too much is consumed.

My favorite line from the article is, “Eating one cookie instead of six is a detox diet.” What the author means is that eating reasonable amounts of quality foods over processed foods, is one of the best ways to “detox” naturally. But more on that later.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics lists detox diets as a fad diet. That right there should tell you the cons outweigh the pros for the average person. Not surprisingly, the academy has a great article explaining the body’s natural detox process and how to support it.

I don’t want to get too deep into how the liver works (you can read that here from Johns Hopkins). Suffice to say, your body gets rid of two types of toxins through pooping and peeing. The two types are, the type you make in your body as byproducts of metabolism, and the type that you bring into your body through eating, drinking, breathing, and skin absorption.

As the academy and PN point out, people’s ability to naturally detox varies. It’s influenced by lifestyle (diet, exercise, etc), health, genetics, and environment. So, going back to the original assumption, that you or whomever is a healthy person thinking a detox diet is a great way to lose a few pounds or just get and feel healthy.

The thing is, you probably won’t feel healthy. You most likely will feel hungry, grumpy and overall depleted. Or maybe you will. Maybe you will feel full of energy—some do—because you believe you’re doing something great for yourself. The problem is, you likely aren’t.

Pros and Cons

The academy and PN articles do a great job at detailing the pros and cons of detox diets. I’ll hit the highlights here:

  • You will likely just be losing water weight and “intestinal bulk”. Once you go back to your regular eating habits, you’ll gain this back. And you will revert, because detox diets are unstsustainable.
  • That’s another con. They are unsustainable. No one can stomach (pun intended) eating a hypocaloric diet for an extended period of time without causing some serious damage to their bodies, and even mental state.
  • Because most detox diets are hypocaloric, you risk losing muscle mass and slower your metabolism as your body works to adapt to what it thinks is the new norm.
  • If your detox diet includes epic amounts of produce, you can overdo the amount of nitrates and other fun stuff. And if it’s extracted juices, or no food, you could be missing out on fiber. Fiber is needed to, you know, poop.
  • If you bounce back and forth between cleanses/detoxes and your normal eating habits, you also risk the same pattern that plagues yo-yo-dieters (because you are one) and getting caught in a indulge-restrict cycle. This affects your body and mind.

There are some potential pros but you can achieve these same pros by making more sustainable baby steps to change. They are: reducing processed foods and drinks, limiting sugar and sodium intake, and potentially identifying unknown food sensitivities.

What to do Instead

Instead of hoping on the detox train, take a moment to ask yourself why you want to.

If you want to lose weight but are not working out regularly and/or have poor eating habits, take steps to adjust these behaviors. If you want to just improve your eating habits and don’t care about your weight/appearance, again adjust your behavior in a way that’s enjoyable and sustainable.

I keep using that word (sustainable) purposefully. Because it is critical. Most extreme changes are not sustainable and you bounce back to your old habits. Often that is accompanied by feelings of failure.

Instead, eat one less cookie. Eat eggs or egg whites for breakfast rather than sugared cereal. Meal prep on the weekend, to ensure you aren’t ordering take out or fast food or feeding off vending machine stock. You can start with just one meal until you get the hang of it.

Chew slowly, drink water, get enough protein and produce (especially veggies). Quick fixes are never what they seem. They may be quick but they rarely actually fix. Whatever habit was broken is still broken.

Once you have identified your reason for wanting to detox, figure out one small change can start with to achieve the same goal. Build from there.

Research published in May 2016 and July 2017 by lead author Adam Culvenor shows thigh muscle strength “predicts” the risk for both knee osteoarthritis (KOA) and knee replacement (KR) in women. The relationship between weak thighs (quadriceps and hamstrings muscles) and KOA and KR is likely that if the muscles are weak, more stress is placed on the joint during exercise and daily activities. Eventually the cartilage wears down, and ultimately the person develops Osteoarthritis, Culvenor told Reuters.

Read More

I’ve heard it said that the universe will continue to teach you the same lesson until you’ve learned it. For me, the lesson is patience. Or, put another way, to play the long game. I’m finally learning: Life is increasingly magical as I get better at accepting: what I do and do not have control over; letting go; and striving more for long-term goals than short-term rewards.

This mindset shift is epically challenging for so many of us because we are nurtured in a society that feeds off instant gratification, or at least the hope of instant gratification. We want pleasure, success, accomplishment, validation the very minute we begin. We want to skip the journey of struggle and sacrifice, and teleport to the destination.

Read More