To Detox or Not to Detox

To Detox or Not to Detox

The trend to cleanse through detoxification diets may not be worth following

By Megy Karydes

Our bodies have a built-in detoxifying system, and yet, many people use detoxing diets as a way to cleanse their bodies, lose weight and gain energy.

Leah Woock, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, says detox diets are advertised as a way to remove toxins from the body. “Many come with promises of weight loss, more energy, clear skin, healthy digestion or other benefits,” she adds.

Chicagoan Ada G. was motivated to detox because she wanted to cleanse her body and start with a clean slate. “A benefit to that would be losing weight by clearing all of the ‘garbage’ out of my body,” she says. “Another motivating factor to start the detox program was for more energy. I felt very sluggish and emotionally drained.”

Describing her situation as being stuck in emotional quicksand, Ada followed Karyn Calebrese’s detox program from Karyn’s Raw in Chicago.

“The first week of my detox entailed going vegetarian (or vegan if possible),” says Ada. “The second week was all raw food, the third week was an all-green juice and fasting and the fourth week was reintegrating raw foods back into [my] eating plan.”

Cleanse enthusiasts argue that a detox helps rid our body of toxins due to ingestion of processed foods, chemicals and slow poisons such as artificial sweeteners, processed sugar and caffeine. Detox programs claim to give your body a break, and most focus on fruits and vegetables.

Woock says not so fast. “With current evidence-based research, it is difficult to confirm or deny the efficacy of detox diets,” she says. “Our bodies are able to detoxify through our kidneys and liver. Detox diets deprive our [bodies] of basic nutritional needs in calories, protein and fats that give us energy and build muscle. Excessive use of detox diets can be especially risky, as over time, a lack of balanced nutrition can lead to muscle loss, fatigue and irritability.”

For Ada, though, the detox program helped her feel better. Not only was she feeling better early in the program, but her fears of feeling hungry dissipated quickly, too. “I thought I would be hungry all the time,” she admits. “On the contrary, I felt more satisfied with less food. I felt much happier and more energetic. An uncomfortable part of the detox was getting colonics. You have to power through that.”

For those considering a detox program, Woock suggests that people should always ask themselves whether the diet is eliminating basic, important food groups, whether it’s something that one could sustain long term and whether it promises “miracle cures” in a short time period.

“Eating a healthy, balanced diet including carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats is the best thing we can do for our [bodies],” says Woock. “This is a healthy regimen everyone can do. Those with a history of [eating disorders] or anyone with a nutrition-related illness should consult [a] physician before beginning any detox diet; however, it is always best to avoid all restrictive diets and detox programs and continue with a healthy meal plan.”

Ada stands by her detox program and has taken what she learned in the class and repeated it on her own. She likens it to a spring cleaning for the body and has recommended it to others. Although the motivation behind the detox diet was to cleanse her body, lose weight and increase her energy level, a side benefit was that she learned more about her body and how it reacts to foods.

“Even if you don’t change your [eating habits] to be completely raw, vegan or vegetarian, you learn so many important things about food and what it does to the body,” she says. “It is almost impossible to go back to eating the exact same way you were. Even if you take away a few things from the detox, you are that much better for it.”

Still, Woock defends the body’s built-in detox system. “If a detox diet is something you insist on doing, be sure to consult your medical provider.”


Published May 2014