Forget The Detox Diet Because of These 4 Powerful Truths

By Mike Howard

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Detoxing and cleansing are big business. And why wouldn’t it be? The promise of fast weight loss, removing toxins, improving digestion and fighting just about every ailment known to mankind is pretty enticing. I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of the phenomenon. I think that detox and cleansing promoters use deceptive and fear-based marketing to promote protocols that are unnecessary, ineffective over the long run, and potentially dangerous.

Perhaps you or someone you know is faced with the “to detox or not” conundrum. Here are 4 rationalizations people tend to give for fasting, accompanied by a counter argument.

1. I just need a “boost” for my weight loss

This is likely the most common reason for detoxing (whether people want to admit it or not). The hard truth though is that weight re-gain is almost inevitable with a fast loss. People tend to delude themselves into thinking that if they just get that “kickstart” that they’ll be on the permanent road to “thinville”. Not likely…

Fast weight loss through liquid diets and otherwise insufficient calories does not boost your metabolism – it stifles it. The metabolic and hormonal response will continue to tell your body to eat and sooner or later your weight will creep back up. Those who have kept the weight off are the exception – not the rule.

2. I need to “clean out” my system

Promoters of detox diets have curious interpretations of gastrointestinal physiology. Many proponents believe that our colons need to be periodically “flushed out”, lest wastes accumulate and cause dire consequences.

Don’t get me wrong, a healthy digestive system is important, but in the absence of a medical condition, this can be achieved through sound dietary choices that include adequate fiber, water and other dietary interventions that keep healthy bacteria thriving and the unhealthy beasties in check.

3. I need to remove “toxins”

Promoters of detoxing are vague in their definition of “toxin”. This is either because a) a toxin comes in so many different forms or b) by keeping the definition vague, the detox promoters can attract a broader spectrum of customers.

The general theory is that our world is full of toxins and our bodies can’t get rid of them fast enough. If the toxin alarmists were right – most of us would be dead right now. To legitimize these claims, toxin theorist ought to be able to provide before and after blood analysis showing noticeable differences in liver enzymes, levels of antioxidant vitamins, and levels of aluminum and other metals.

4. I feel better when I do it

Feelings of increased energy are reported by many who undergo a cleansing protocol. When you restrict calories for longer periods of time, however you will almost assuredly experience a decline in your energy levels. Further, reports of increased energy can be explained by the placebo effect (if the promoters tell you it will boost your energy – you will be more inclined to buy into it).

Another plausible explanation for the energy surplus is that it may be a built-in mechanism – a vestige left over from our ancestors who had to go days without food during times of famine.

How to Cleanse without “Cleansing”

One of the main issues I have with detoxing is that it feeds into the false assumption that we can atone for our dietary sins through periodic cleansing regimens. This is far-removed from what I believe the concept of healthy eating should encompass.

And while I take issue with detox protocols that are restrictive, require supplements or herbs and institute bizarre rules – small scale, daily cleansing is a concept I’m on board with.

This would entail eating healthfully most of the time, getting plenty of exercise, adequate sleep and remaining as light-hearted and stress-free as possible. Not always easy in today’s world but certainly better than being on the indulge/restrict roller coaster.

Also, I’m all in favor of periodically eschewing things like fast food, coffee and desserts for a set period of time. Call it a fast, detox, cleanse – whatever you like!

32 Comments

  1. Charles

    Here’s my perspective on cleansing.

    I think cleansing is a tactic that by itself cannot produce significant long-term results.

    You must first start with an overall healthy approach, philosophy and strategy.

    Once you have a sound overall strategy, you can more effectively institute tactics that support your strategy.

    If you eat fast food and want to cleanse to lose weight, you will regain the weight very quickly. If you eat well, and periodically cleanse you will maintain your weight loss more long-term.

    Reply
  2. rervin

    Quick comment – I see alot of posts encouraging probiotic use – this shouldn’t be used by everyone. Thankfully I didn’t use it on my daughter who has digestion troubles relating to pancreatitis. They had to stop a study on the probiotic yogurt because a large amount of people with pancreatitis died after participating in the study. Before you eat this have your enzyme levels checked just to be safe.

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  3. Supplements Canada

    While I do someone agree with some of the above reasons, I do still see benefit in detox and detox kits. Mainly is they help many people who typically eat horribly at least take some time to eat well for 2-6 weeks. Sad as it may be, some people need to buy a detox kit for them to eat better than without.

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  4. Jade

    I would like you do me a favor, Jo, by telling me more detailed about a friend of yours who has autistic child. I have never heard before that cleansing can improve autistic child’s capability. I have a best friend who may consider that as an alternative medication for her autistic son and it could be useful information for another friend who owns the nursery for autistic children.

    How often does it have to be done? How old is the autistic child? Where can I find more info on this issue.

    I didn’t think before that I could get a useful info about detox and cleansing here as I have no interest of doing this stuff myself, especially after reading Spectra’s below (though I have constipation problem). My preference is to chew the double cellulose tablets of a famous company to come over my lacking of dietary fibers.

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  5. JivaFit

    Why not cleanse yourself by staying away from sugar, refined carbs and celebrity gossip mags for a week instead?

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  6. Georgine

    I forgot to add – I wonder how long the patches were used before testing. Using them once or twice will obviously show up…nothing. They are meant to be used over a period of time…for some people a week, others a few weeks, others months.

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  7. Georgine

    Maybe they know that the last time they ate corn flakes was 20 years ago? Although I doubt that, too.

    Also, after all that time, can they really without a doubt identify that this or that is what they assume it is? I mean, think of the state of it after all those years.

    …’date stamp’…I loved that!

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  8. Georgine

    I don’t know about the company you mention, but most sites that sell them state very clearly that they use a particular type of wood vinegar…so anyone can ‘find out’ they use vinegar just by reading the info.

    Since I was curious, I tested mine before using them a while ago and they did not turn dark just by wetting them.

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  9. Georgine

    I’ll bet she meant adding ground flax as a condiment to the finished soup, stews. That is what I do. I agree, heating it (as in cooking with it) is not a good idea…as well as using pre-ground flax. I grind mine fresh each time I use it.

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  10. Georgine

    Although I agree with Lynn that a once a day bowel movement is not necessarily ‘normal’ for everyone, I have to question ‘eating fiber like crazy’ but still going only three times a week.

    The first thing I think of how much water/non-commercial, non-caffine liquids do you take and the second is how is your exercise program? Eating lots of fiber without sufficient liquid will plug a person and definately slow them down. This is often overlooked/misunderstood.

    Secondly I wonder if you are moving your body enough? Lots of fibre, not enough liquid and a sedentary/insufficient movement lifestyle often means slower perastalic action. Even more walking will help this as well as yogic exercises anyone can easily do for the intestines. There are herbs that also help with perastalic action as well.

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  11. Kes

    I’m always mystified by the 20-year-old cornflake that seems to be found in every colonic cleanse. How does a whole cornflake get through to the colon? Don’t these people chew at all? And how do they *know* it’s 20 years old? Does it come with a date stamp?

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  12. Spectra

    Speaking of “nocebo” effects…has anyone seen those infomercials for the Kinoki Foot Patch detox system? Supposedly, you put them on your feet and they suck all the toxins out and the toxins turn the pad black.

    20/20 did an investigation on them and found out that the patches had vinegar in them and just getting them wet with water turned them black…some toxin that is! They did blood work on people that tried them before and after and there was no change. At least the pads didn’t cause any harm, but at $19.95 + shipping and handling, those will detox your wallet pretty quickly.

    Reply
  13. MizFit

    AGREED Dr. J.

    I oft feel that way with my coffee in the am.

    it perks me right up and all that matters is that I THINK it’s caffeinated.

    Reply
  14. Jan74

    Water + the 2 types of fiber (soluble and insoluble) is enough. You are absolutely right.

    Reply
  15. lynn

    your dr is right. not everyone needs to have a bowel movement every day or even every other day. if you are eating a healthy diet and are not constipated or uncomfortable youre fine.

    Reply
  16. Girth Watching Matt

    Drinking enough water should do all of the flushing through your body needs surely?

    Reply
  17. Dr. J

    The placebo effect has gone from “sugar pill” to best medicine there is in my view. It’s the nocebo that worries me.

    Reply
  18. MizFit

    and yet people always will huh?

    Im never certain if it’s ME (all the reason above I shouted YES YES) and people truly are realize benefits from this practice (greetings placebo effect!) but Ive always been a skeptic.

    Reply
  19. Spectra

    I haven’t heard of anyone that’s been negatively affected by fasting or doing a liquid-only diet, but I have heard of people getting injured from doing colonic cleanses. If you try to do a colonic on yourself, you could end up with a perforated bowel or injuring your colon. And if you get one done professionally, you have to be very careful that they don’t put anything weird into the colonic mixture itself because it will be absorbed by your intestines…I’ve heard of people having issues after receiving caffeine colonics. So I’d definitely advise against doing a colonic unless you’re somehow severely severely constipated and a doctor recommends it.

    Reply
  20. Jan74

    You should not heat up flax meal. The oils go rancid, and are actually *harmful* to you that way. Bad for your stomach.

    Adding it to the oat bran – good. Using it in all the other uses you mentioned – bad.

    Reply
  21. weight loss guide

    Very interesting article on the benefits and/or pros and cons to detox. I’ve realized over the last year that poor digestion is the main problem in our society and could be the main reason why so many of us develop hypertension, heart disease and malnutrition even though we are consuming more food than ever before.

    Flaxseed meal made from ground seeds is one of my major sources of fiber. I add it to soups, stews, breakfast oat bran and even add it to wholewheat flour to coat fish when I fry. Eating without digesting, cleansing and eliminating is like running a car without ever getting an oil change. This is my simple reason for supporting a detox program.

    Starting the morning with a glass of warm water and lemon juice is a good way to prepare your stomach to receive its first meal of the day. Also, lots of dark green leafy vegetables, such as dandelion greens, kale, romaine lettuce, broccoli and steamed artichokes make good roughage.

    I enjoyed reading this and have decided to add your blog to my blogroll so I can read and learn more everyday.

    Reply
  22. L.A.J

    I did the master cleanse last month and only got through three days. I honestly did it because of the digestive health benefits, but in the three days that I was on the detox I only moved by bowels one time. I even did the sea salt water flush and it took me a full 18 hours to go after that. I had to stop because I ended up vomiting three times on that third day. I eat fiber like crazy and still only go about three times a week. I am at my wits end. My doctor claims it’s normal, I don’t think it is.

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  23. Robert Mayer

    I think detoxing has been marketed and capitalized on the same way doing ab exercises with ab rollers and other little gimmicks has been. We all know here that there are tons of fruits, vegetables, and other things that can help cleanse your body and make you more healthy. I’m sure there is some truth to detox, at least in some form. Just because a few smart people capitalized on it doesn’t mean there isn’t a legitimate and maybe even inexpensive way. I haven’t stoppoed doing my ab exercises just because the electric ab belt didn’t work 😉

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  24. Habit Guide

    I’ve never done a ‘product’ detox but in the past I definitely found it helpful to just pull back on number of calories for a few days, and avoid ‘heavy’ types of food.

    I’ve heard alot of very good things about fasting and it would seem to make sense to give your nutritional system a breather. It amazes me how quickly a human body will restore balance if it’s just given a chance.

    I agree completely with the sentiment that prevention is better than cure. You don’t need to detox if you’re giving your body what it needs most of the time. If you get your diet and lifestyle right, there’s surely no need to even think about detoxing. ~ James

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  25. Spectra

    Every time I see one of those commercials on TV about “detox” programs, I take them with a grain of salt. Most of the liquid-only diets I’ve seen have strong diuretics and laxatives in them which will make you lose weight…water and food-matter weight, which will come back as soon as you start eating again.

    And any time you get rid of the flora in your intestines that keep your system healthy, you can end up with all sorts of problems, including yeast infections and diarrhea. If you eat plenty of fiber and try to eat live-culture yogurt every day, you’ll maintain a healthy bacterial environment in your system that will prevent yeast from being able to grow in your system.

    As far as removing toxins from your body, that’s sorta kinda why you have a LIVER. It’s not a useless organ…there are cytochromes (especially cytochrome P450) that help bind toxins and help you eliminate them safely. Because if the toxin problem were as bad as the “experts” would have you believe, we’d be dead by the time we were 5 years old from all the toxins we’re exposed to on a daily basis.

    I’ve never done a “detox” or cleansing, but every so often I go on a day-long fast to give my digestive system a break. I’m not sure if I really feel better from it, but it gives me more energy for a little while. I don’t do it very often and when I do it, I make sure I don’t do too much strenuous exercise so I don’t get lightheaded or something.

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  26. Mike Rafone!

    I agree that ‘detox’ has been heavily capitalized on and many companies are flooding the market with expensive, yet mediocre products. But I don’t think that means that the principal behind cleansing is wrong. The best way to cleanse or ‘detox’, in my opinion, is also the cheapest. In fact, it’s free. From my experience, fasting has been the most effective cleanse I’ve done. Another good thing to use is unfiltered, unpasteurized apple cider vineger, although it doesn’t taste very good. I’ve done both together and it works great.

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  27. Jo

    I do agree with Mike that we should eat healthfully, exercise, rest, etc. But I have never heard of anyone who has been hurt by detoxing, on the contrary, only benefited. I have used a nutritional cleansing program with great results. Interestingly, I know 2 people who have fibromyalgia and after detoxing for a short period of time had their symptoms lessened and one is no longer using a walker. Also a friend who has an autistic child, after putting the child on a cleanse, the child was able to not only communicate better, but respond to his family with hugs & kisses for the first time in his life. Tell all of those people that they shouldn’t of bothered with cleansing.

    Reply
  28. Beverly Herbal Remedies

    Yes, I agree about the chelation therapy. Also, I’ve recently heard about zeolites. They claim to remove toxic metals from the body. Still doing my researh on that one.

    Reply
  29. David

    Many people seem to have trouble with the word toxin. It usually represents heavy metals, PCB’s, pestacides, environmental plastics, environmental chemicals, etc.

    The fact that we are exposed to these chemicals is undebatable. But, the best way to eliminate them is not known. Chelating heavy metals and upregulating the P450 cytochrome would be a good start.

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  30. Red

    I thought the response to the headline was going to be “Because beer is delicious.”

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  31. Mike OD - IF Life

    Eat healthy foods…drink water….add a short fast in once in a while…you will do fine. You don’t need to speed up detox…your body can already do it if you let it. When you see 100 books and supplements out there about it….it’s just a fad that companies are using to market and sell more things. The only reason those diets may even work, is because chances are you are eating healthy foods….no magic there! If you do a water fast, that is about as fast as you can detox…no supplements or special shakes are going to speed that up. As for colon cleansing…well get the bacteria environment balanced in the gut (take some probiotics) and tell me if you colon doesn’t start to get cleaned out.

    The BBC did a good show on how some famous detox program did not speed up any removal of toxins in a group of people. bbc.co.uk/sn/humanbody/truthaboutfood/young/detox.shtml

    Also some more info here
    projectfit.org/iflifeblog/2008/03/26/why-fad-detox-dietssupplements-are-useless/

    Reply
  32. Beverly Herbal Remedies

    Well, I see your point totally. I go to a naturopathic doctor who had me go on a restrictive 7-day fast that included drinking an intestinal cleanser that had to be pulled out with a caffeine enema in the morning and one in the evening. I hated this of course. I do see the value of fasting and cleansing the colon every few years or so, and especially to get rid of prescription drugs that do no leave the body, e.g., from cortisone injections and antibiotics, which cause yeast in the body which then feeds off of sugur. I know from personal experience that yeast causes a host of problems in the body. After my fast, my symptoms were alleviated and I found it easier to lose weight, my skin looked incredible. It was hard for me to lose the weight until I got rid of yeast. I’m one for natural remedies, so cleansing my body of old undigested food or previous treatments using pharmaceuticals makes me feel good in mind, body and spirit. But I totally agree with your philosophy as well and feel there is a time a place and benefits from fasting and cleansing out the colon.

    Reply