By Karima A. Kendall, PhD, RD, LDN
What comes to mind when you hear the term “detox diet”? The need to detoxify the body, especially in relation to weight loss or management, has become very popular. Unfortunately, few people are clear on what exactly this means, or what a “detox diet” is meant to do. Here, we will define the detoxification process, compare and contrast detoxing versus “cleansing” and help you to decide whether or not you need a good detox.
What is a “detox”?
Detoxification, or “detox,” is your body’s natural process of eliminating toxins. This process is ongoing, and organs such as the liver, kidneys, intestines, lungs and even your skin, work together to neutralize and convert toxins so that they may be excreted from the body. “Toxins” are any substances that can potentially harm the body’s tissue, and include naturally-occurring waste products, as well as chemicals in our environment, our water and our food.
The term, “detox diet,” refers to a dietary regimen that has been designed to remove environmental and dietary toxins from the body. This regimen may include dietary restrictions, emphasizing foods that provide nutrients and antioxidants that promote natural detoxification, or it may minimize exposure to chemicals and toxins by including only minimally processed or organic foods. A detox diet may also include herbs, high-fiber food or water, which help eliminate toxins via more frequent urination and bowel movements.
“Detox” versus “Cleansing”
The terms “detox” and “cleanse” are often used interchangeably. In fact, most people believe that they are one and the same. The truth, however, is that there is a distinct difference between the two. The purpose of a “detox” is solely to eliminate toxins from the body, and can be specific to certain organs (such as the kidneys, liver, etc.) or the bloodstream. On the other hand, the purpose of a “cleanse” is to clear the digestive tract of harmful contents such as parasites, fungi and compacted fecal matter. A lot of programs which are labeled as “detoxes,” particularly those where only liquids are consumed, are actually cleanses, and do little to assist the body in its natural detoxification process.
Do YOU need to detox?
It can be argued that, given the many toxins we ingest and come into contact with daily, EVERYBODY needs to detox. There are chemicals in household cleaners, pollution, drugs, not to mention the pesticides, antibiotics and hormones in our food. Signs that you need to “reboot” include fatigue, skin and digestion problems. Following a detox regimen, many have reported better sleeping patterns, better concentration, clearer skin and improved digestion and regularity.
It should be noted, however, that detox plans are not recommended for everyone. Those with certain medical conditions, such as liver or kidney disease, as well as pregnant or nursing women should not go on a detox diet. You should always consult your health practitioner before beginning this, or any type of dietary regimen.
The bottom line is, as noted earlier, the body has its own built-in “detoxification system.” Given the proper fuel (foods that contain nutrients to support the body’s ability to detoxify chemicals), your body will “detox” itself. For those of you looking to lose weight and even those who want a “fresh start” on the journey to better health, think long-term wellness and weight management, as opposed to any quick fixes. Like most “diets,” as soon as you go back to eating as you did previously, you will gain back any weight you lost on a detox plan. Instead, clean up your eating habits by including more fresh fruit and vegetables and drinking more water. Focus on lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation and scanning labels for harmful chemicals in the products you buy. These changes will aid the body in its natural ability to eliminate harmful chemicals on its own.