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What You Need to Know If You Are Thinking About Starting a Detox Diet

Posted on on June 12, 2018

Open any popular magazine at the supermarket checkout on any given issue and chances are good that you’ll see an article on the latest “detox diet.” Often tied to a celebrity from the entertainment world, and occasionally endorsed or promoted by these famous people, detox diets may sound like an easy way to achieve better body composition. Your first thought might be to give a popular detox diet try – after all, it sure seems to be working for the celebrities!

Detox diets seem to endure because we want quick and surefire methods to lose and maintain weight. But is a detox diet right for you? This article will:

  • clear-up the differences between detox diets and medical detoxification procedures

  • discuss a couple of examples of popular ones that you may have heard about

  • explore the relationship of detox diets to metabolism and weight management

  • offer simple suggestions before starting one

What are detox diets?

Detox diets are essentially diets that are intended to achieve positive health results. Claims made for them are often similar and include their ability to eliminate toxins such as organic pollutants and reduce weight. Can a detox diet actually achieve these results?

Some evidence does exist for claims of detoxification, for example, research suggests that detoxification effects may occur from the consumption of coriander, nori and the synthetic cooking oil olestra. And because a common theme in detox diets is their reliance on caloric restriction, these diets can lead to weight reduction.

Weight loss achieved through caloric restriction by detox diet is often short-lived and weight gain often occurs at the end of detox diets when you increase your caloric intake. And you should avoid yo-yo weight gain and loss, also known as “weight cycling,” which has been associated with health risks, including impaired immune function and endometrial cancer.

How are detox diets different from medical detoxification procedures?

Detox diets can be endorsed and promoted by anyone, including celebrities. They may or may not be designed by people with traditional medical degrees or complementary health care provider credentials, but are used by different healthcare practitioners.

Naturopathic Practitioners, in particular, have been shown to use a wide range of detox methods including vitamins, minerals, and diet.

In contrast to such a body cleanse, medical detoxification procedures are more formal methods used to treat dangerous materials in the body. Medical detoxification of people addicted to opioids, for example, observes specific treatment guidelines.

Additionally, formal drug detoxification procedures may incorporate the use of ethical pharmaceuticals like methadone, buprenorphine or lofexidine under the strict oversight of medical physicians and other healthcare providers. Such detoxification diets are clearly tools for use by medical professionals and not intended for either quick or healthy weight loss.

Examples of popular detox diets

Returning to the non-medical detox, Google “detox diet” and you’ll get a basketful of popular diets from numerous sites that often make marvelous claims. Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website, GOOP, has blogged about Dr. Alejandro Junger’s Clean program if you want “some mental clarity and to drop a few pounds.” Oprah Winfrey’s website has listed the Burn and Build Body Detox which “resets your eating habits, no fasting required.”

It’s understandable that if you are a fan of a celebrity who directly or indirectly endorses a body detox program then you may set high expectations for the beneficial results of one that celebrity endorses. Let’s take a look at a couple popular detox diets and the opinions by health care professionals at Harvard and Cornell.

The 5:2 Program

The 5:2 Program is part of the fasting category of body detox and discussed on a Harvard information site. These fasting programs include intermittent, modified and time-restricted eating.

As the name indicates, the 5:2 Program is an intermittent fasting program that permits the practitioner to eat normally for five days followed by two days when consumption is limited to 500 or 600 cal.

There apparently isn’t a recommended number of cycles or days in the 5:2 Program, and practitioners may stay on the diet until some target is achieved, such as a certain amount of weight loss. A typical issue encountered is the food deprivation of fasting which can lead practitioners to abandon the Program. There are a host of claimed benefits and side-effects you should consider.

  • Claimed Benefits: increased lifespan, improved cognitive function, protection against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Notable Side Effects: difficulties sleeping, irritability, anxiety, dehydration, daytime sleepiness and bad breath.

Master Cleanse Diet

The Master Cleanse Diet is one of the many prescriptive programs that rely upon a specific food or drink regimen and discussed on a Cornell information site. Introduced in the 1940s, the Master Cleanse Diet became popular after the Public learned that several high-profile celebrities followed the diet.

This diet is intended to last approximately two weeks and relies upon drinking a mixture of water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper. And, yes, this is pretty much all you consume, unless you incorporate a salt water flush. Even if this mixture doesn’t sound yummy to you, you may give it a try if you believe it can help you look like your favorite celebrity!

Physiological changes during detox diets

Metabolism is the rate at which your body burns energy, and this rate can change due to different factors beyond genetics, including a temporary increase when excessive calories are consumed.

There is apparently no difference of weight loss in diets that focus on fat versus carbohydrate reduction. Detox diets can certainly change the amount consumed and available for use, but they may also change other health parameters.

Fasting diet effects

Studies have shown that intermittent diet programs can decrease not only body weight and fat, but also total cholesterol and triglycerides. And there is evidence in humans that lower weight is associated with consuming calories earlier in the day.

Prescriptive diet and cardiovascular disease

In a study of women on a lemon detox diet, the researchers found that Serum high-sensitive C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) was reduced which is notable because hs-CRP is considered a marker for atherosclerosis, and a predictor of myocardial infarction and sudden death. And a recent study concluded that patients with higher hs-CRP levels on admission to a hospital after a heart attack are more likely to develop complications while at the hospital.

The reduction of hs-CRP noted above suggests that the lemon detox diet not only reduces body fat and insulin resistance by lowering the caloric intake, but may reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Of course, there are consequences of prolonged liquid diets that don’t contain protein and healthy fat (as found in salmon and sardines) which can lead to muscle loss, increased fatigue, and poorer overall health.

How metabolism affects weight management

The genetic component of metabolism has been compared to an idling car engine; some engines burn more energy than others due to their design. This burn rate in living organisms is known as the Basal Metabolic Rate, or the amount of calories your body burns to create the energy to breathe, stay warm, pump blood and stay alive.

Detoxes that prevent you from reaching your daily caloric needs will inevitably lead to weight loss in the form of muscle loss.

While building muscle can help burn extra calories, you are not be able to significantly change your Basal Metabolic Rate, but you can control how much you consume and use. If you consume more than required, then your body will store the extra calories in fat.

Evidence suggests that modification to appetite regulation, energy utilization and storage may lead to weight gain after weight loss. In a sense, your body may be trying to get back to a more comfortable set point after a detox diet and weight loss. So it’s important to manage your weight at the end of a detox diet by adjusting your environment and behavior, such as self-monitoring of food and calorie intake, choosing lower calorie foods, planning meals, and tracking weight.

Health issues associated with detox diets

On the surface, detox diets may seem straightforward and low risk. Follow the diet, reduce the calories you consume and lose weight. But there are potential health issues to keep in mind, and some are significant.

  • In extreme cases, the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission have taken action when detox diets contained potentially harmful ingredients or made false claims.

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) list various undesirable outcomes that detox diets may lead to such as diarrhea, headaches, and dehydration.

  • One study found that breaks daytime eating habits may predispose you to tumor generation while another found a reduction in a marker for colorectal cancer.

Before you start a popular detox diet

Detox diets will likely be with us for the foreseeable future because of our desire for quick and surefire methods to lose and maintain weight. This desire is so strong that you may be inclined to accept celebrity endorsements as proof for the detox diet that they use. But you a should avoid any extreme diets and consider the guidelines below before you start any of the popular ones.

1. Set realistic expectations

Detox diets work primarily through caloric restriction like a conventional diet. You may feel better on a body cleanse because you will likely be avoiding highly processed foods and “empty” calories. Don’t be fooled into believing that if you follow a cleansing used by a celebrity then you will somehow take on their physical appearance or fame!

2. Speak with your physician

If you are in good health and near a normal Body Composition, then a short-term detox diet may be a relatively harmless diet change. But you should definitely seek consultation with your physician before starting any body detox cleanse, especially if you have an underlying medical condition like diabetes or kidney disease. If you are struggling with obesity, then your physician can provide recommendations on traditional diet and exercise, and other medically approved procedures.

3. Adopt a long-term perspective

Diet and exercise to achieve and maintain a healthy weight isn’t a sprint but a lifelong journey for your overall health and liver. Detox diets may act as a useful tool to jump start you and get you going in the right direction.

Dropping the first few pounds can be a great motivator while weaning yourself off unhealthy foods and improving your environment and behavior. To stay healthy after completing a detox diet, however, you’ll need to stick to the basics of proper diet and regular exercise.

4. Be kind to yourself

Above all, remember that your genetics play a significant role in your metabolism and weight management but you can offset the effects of your metabolism. Eat healthy foods that aren’t highly processed and have lots of nutrients such as vegetables and fruit, reduce your consumption by a few less calories daily, replace drinks with high-sugar content with artificial sweetener, use olive oil instead of butter, and exercise regularly to lose and maintain your weight. Take small steps towards a healthier lifestyle.

Using the information discussed above you can make a more informed decision before starting any detox diet to jump-start your weight loss. Remember, a healthy lifestyle doesn’t happen over the course of a few days; keep making gradual, continuous changes so you’re set on a path to long-term healthy eating and weight management.


Robert Koshinskie is the Principal of Ringbolt Consulting. He is an experienced practitioner with expertise in medical device product and market management, new product development and launch, and business analysis and strategy.

© 2019 InBody USA.


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