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Detox Diets – Help or Hype?
The Detox Diet
If you Google “detox diet”, you will come across a thousand different definitions and variations. To break it down to the common denominators, most include some element of the following: fasting, increased water intake, restricted caloric consumption and often, but not always, a recommendation to consume specific supplements (herbs, laxatives, etc.). Most of these diets (as is common with any diet) are temporary solutions to a greater issue – lifestyle choices.
In addition, may of these diets make “promises” of bright/clear skin, increased energy levels, weight loss, improved mood, etc. This begs the question – how does it work? Perhaps the better question to ask is – Does it work?
Detox diets are centered on the belief that the elimination of certain foods or food groups will rid the toxins found in said foods. In addition, the digestive system gets a “break” from foods that are considered difficult to digest (meat, cheese, processed foods, etc.). As a result of the restrictive eating patterns, individuals lose weight (initially and rapidly).
First we need to examine human physiology in a basic, trimmed down way (no nerdy science talk here…I say this because I, at heart, am a true science nerd :)). The human body has a very sophisticated detoxification process, which involves a number of systems and organs…the digestive system as a whole, the liver, kidneys, lymphatic system, skin, etc. Sure, increasing water consumption is a good practice we should all follow, but to do so with the idea in mind that it will “cleanse” or “detoxify” the body more so than simply eating a balanced diet isn’t necessarily true. Yes, if a toxin or substance is water soluble, a high volume of water may aid the body in ridding that substance; however, many toxins are fat soluble and will not respond to a change in water intake.
The Expert Insight
Many professionals in the health, fitness, and nutrition world would consider these types of diets a “fad” or “food fad” because many “detox” plans involve unreasonable and outlandish claims that the avoidance of certain foods and nutrients will result in “special” health benefits. Not the case. In addition, experts express concerns about the cost-prohibitive nature of these diets. Such costs include physical harm from food-drug interactions or potentially toxic components in certain products the dieter is encouraged to take while “detoxifying”. Further, individuals who may already be suffering from a chronic disease (such as type 2 diabetes or other metabolic malady) may ultimately pay the price for delayed treatment and require extensive and intensive tertiary therapy (ACE, 2013).
While I share ALL of these same concerns as a fitness and health professional, I also have concerns about the psychological costs incurred from “failing” on a detox diet – or any diet for that matter. So many individuals pursue a diet as a way to achieve perfection instead of progress; when progress is not sustained and weight is regained, the dieter feels a sense of failure and, in turn, loses a great deal of self-efficacy. Further, as I’ve noted before, diets often fail to bring about sustainable lifestyle and behavior changes.
Top 10 Questions to Ask
When considering any diet recommendations that don’t come from a qualified professional (RD, etc.), these are the top 10 questions I would suggest you use to scrutinize the information being presented.
- Is exercise encouraged as a component of this program? If so, what, if any, guidelines are recommended to clients? Note: If any program prohibits weight training or cardio during a “weight loss” phase – it’s a big pile of B.S. This likely means the diet is so restrictive (in terms of carbs) that the dieter would have depleted all available energy stores by cutting out carbs, thus not having any resources to fuel exercise.
- How is progress measured? Are the components of health-related fitness (cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and body comp) assessed and reassessed as part of the program itself? Specifically, how is body composition measured?
- Is caloric need/basal metabolic rate assessed and is caloric intake and expenditure tracked and evaluated? How?
- What is the average caloric intake? Is it below 1200?
- What is the risk for ketosis while on this program? With the low carbohydrate intake, is cognitive function impaired?
- Is blood pressure, resting heart rate, and fasting glucose measured regularly?
- What are the credentials of the professionals involved with this program?
- If an exercise professional is part of the program team, does he or she possess a certification that is accredited by the NCCA (ACE, NSCA, ACSM, NCSF, NASM, etc.)?
- Are dietary supplements required/recommended? If so, how is the quality and purity of the ingredients assured as supplements are not regulated?
- What theoretical framework provides the basis for this program? In other words, what substantiated behavioral theories are used to guide this program and how are long-term behavior/lifestyle changes encouraged and taught?
Ditch the Detox & Do It Right
In short, the human body does not to be detoxified through a restrictive diet plan. No detox diet will supersede the quality of the physiological processes we already possess as carbon-based life forms. The best plan to follow – balanced living. Eat a diet of whole grains, fruits, veggies, fiber, water (lots of it), lean proteins, and low-fat dairy. You’ll live in a constant state of “detox” and you’ll be well, live well, and stay well.
Until next time…Meet you at the Well