Why You Can Ditch the Detox

My sister just returned from a food show where several ‘cleanse and detox’ diets were featured. I don’t know what bothers me more: that people make tons of money with bogus detox claims or that so many consumers actually believe the hype around some of these ‘detox diet’ programs. So once again I feel compelled to address this topic.
As a nutritionist, I get questions all the time about the potential benefits of “detoxing”, “cleansing” and fasting.  We often hear of mega-watt celebs — everyone from Beyonce to Gwyneth — crediting their liquid diets for their fabulous figures. And with the rise in popularity of the BluePrintCleanse and similar plans, I’m seeing more and more people turn to so-called detoxification programs to lose weight, shed belly fat, clear acne, and even increase fertility… just to name a few! But before you forsake your fork, know the myths and facts about cleansing and fasting.

Fasting and weight loss
Most experts (this one included) do NOT recommend fasting as a way to lose weight.  If you’re itching to shed pounds, a drastic cut in calories may seem like the fastest way to see instant results.  However, when you eat less food, your metabolism slows down to conserve energy. Then, when you go back to your usual diet, your lowered metabolism may cause you to store more energy, so you will likely gain back the weight you lost and possibly even put on more weight when eating the same calories you did before the fast.

Fasting to “detoxify” the body
Many fad diets include a “detox” phase during which dieters are instructed to drink only water, juice or herbal teas. But there is scant scientific evidence showing that fasting will detox or cleanse your body. Fasting does not boost the body’s disposal system, or cleanse your body in a healthy way. Some people say they feel great during or after a fast. They might feel great because they believe fasting is healthy or has a significant spiritual meaning, or they might feel great because severe calorie restriction (like fasting) can produce feelings of happiness or even euphoria. In either case, fasting isn’t actually doing a body good. What’s the long-term solution for cleansing your body, then? Eating a sensible diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and unsaturated fats.

For most healthy individuals, a short term fast isn’t harmful.  That said, if you are considering any type of fast, it is imperative that you check with your doctor first. Fasting can be dangerous for some people, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, the elderly, and individuals with certain health conditions.

Fasting and heart health
There is some recent research indicating that regular fasting may be good for your heart.  One study found that periodic fasting not only decreases the risk of heart problems and diabetes, but may also lower blood sugar levels. The data showed that people who fasted regularly had a 58 percent lower risk of coronary disease compared with those who said they didn’t fast.  Study findings were presented at the ongoing annual scientific sessions of the American College of Cardiology in New Orleans. While these findings are intriguing, experts say it is still too early to conclude that fasting should be used as part of a heart health prevention plan.

Fasting for a longer life
Meanwhile, caloric restriction, while not a strict fast, has been shown in numerous studies to extend life in rodents, yeast and various insects. The National Institute on Aging funds several projects investigating this possibility in monkeys. Investigators at Washington University in St. Louis are studying members of the nonprofit Calorie Restriction Society, a group that exists to promote this type of research in humans. Several compounds also are under investigation in hopes of reproducing the benefits without the negative aspects and challenges of ingesting so little food.

The Bottom Line: For most healthy people, a day of fasting for spiritual or religious purposes will not cause harm.  While there is some interesting research on the potential benefits of fasting/calorie restriction, more studies are needed to determine just how fasting can effect the body.  So hold on to your fork and keep eating healthy meals and snacks.  It’s good for your body… and tastes good too!

– Katherine

Comments

  1. I agree with most of the points made in your article.However, I find them a bit inconclusive and generalized.

    For starters, I agree with the fact that fasting (even through juicing) is not feasible solution to maintain weight lost. As much as I hate to admit it, weight loss doesn’t happen overnight so the same rule applies to the reverse– it really is about adapting better eating habits. In the other hand, I don’t discard the benefits of juice fasting IF only IF the juices prepared throughout the day average about 1,200 calories for females and 1,500 for males. This way we ensure a healthy caloric intake while reaping the benefits from fruits/greens detoxing properties. If you think about it, it’s not really hard to hit the caloric range with the amount of fruits and vegetables it takes to procure 16oz of juice. Juicing works really well for people with sugar,carb, processed food addictions. After following a juicing regimen of 3 or 4 days, most people notice how clean their palates are; food flavors are sharper, cravings are significantly reduced,and several pounds lost. Unfortunately, what people fail to realize, is that this weight comes mostly from water retained, impacted intestines and removal of toxins; this is really the main benefit of juice detoxing–giving the body a break and allow it to heal from within. After the “fasting” (which should really be ” juicing feasting”) period, Is recommended to introduce food by grazing sensible food. this could be a great opportunity to reconsider adjusting the eating habits and food choices. I`ve seen many people whose eating style has changed completely after feeling the energy and wholesomeness juicing provides. Not all have stocked to juicing, but they admit it`s an important,very encouraging stepping stone for permanent weight loss. Knowing/feeling better usually means doing better in order to keep the momentum going.

    So my point is: is juicing a quick fix? Absolutely not, but it shouldn`t be “ditched” either, as suggested in tittle of this article.

    I dont`t consider myself a food purist who is trying to push a concept,but I like to bring as many facts to the table as possible in order to make a better, informed choice–it`s a personal journey for everyone.

    As far as caloric restriction and its benefits refers, I also concur with the mentioned studies. I would like to add, that the main correlation between caloric restriction and longevity, seems to be that (CR) Caloric Restriction aids in the delay of oxidative damage or Telomere shortening. Telomores are the protective ends of chromosomes. they are specialized structures involved in the replication and stability of DNA molecules.

    I hope my lengthy post does not come across as contradictory of confrontational because I really enjoy reading your blog :). I just feel really passionate about the subject and merely wished to express my opinion.

    Sources: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100715193749.htm
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1096719200930774
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047637401002196

  2. Really great article! I’ve been so tempted to “fork” out some big money to order these cleanses to my doorstep. Glad to read this article. I”ll save my money for other things.

    Very insightful!

  3. Thanks Sonja! So glad to hear it! Hope all’s well. Katherine

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