Detox diets are short term programs designed to eliminate toxins from the body. The idea is that a build up of toxic waste in our body is responsible for weight gain, low energy, low mood and dull hair and skin. Most detox diets involve a period of fasting followed by a period of cutting out all “toxic” foods. These vary from diet to diet but usually include alcohol, sugar, caffeine, meat, dairy and wheat. Raw veggies for breakfast, lunch and dinner basically. Often a detox program will include teas, herbs or supplements which are supposed to speed up the elimination of toxins.
All of these programs ignore the simple fact that your liver and kidneys already do a solid job of removing bad things from your body. If they weren’t working efficiently, you would know it, as you’d be very sick! If you want to help out your liver, take a break from the booze and eat more fruit and veg. But a few days of drinking a detox tea makes no difference whatsoever.
What does make a difference is switching from high calorie, highly processed foods to much lower calorie, whole foods. It’s not the lack of toxic red meat or sugar that is helping you drop the pounds, it’s the lack of calories in the vegetables you are eating instead. Eating loads of fruit and veg will also increase the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients you’re getting. This in turn will help you feel better and probably improve the appearance of your skin and hair (in the short term). But you can certainly eat more vegetables without having to cut out most other foods.
Using detox teas or supplements can also be dangerous. Many brands of detox teas contain Senna, which is classed by the NHS as a laxative. Most detox programmes recommend you drink their tea several times a day, which means several doses of laxatives. Diarrhoea certainly causes weight loss, but mostly from dehydration. As soon as you stop dinking the tea, all the weight you lost will be back. And long term use of such laxatives can damage the liver and bowel.
Other detox regimes use activated charcoal. This is the stuff hospitals use when someone comes into the emergency room having ingested an actual poison. The charcoal binds to whatever is in the stomach, preventing it from being absorbed into the bloodstream. The charcoal and harmful substances can then be vomited or pooed out. The problem is that the charcoal doesn’t just bind to harmful substances – it binds to a lot of harmless nutrients as well. People who take activated charcoal for several days are risking serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Any weight loss using activated charcoal is because the body can’t absorb all the food you are eating, not because you are eliminating toxins.
Fundamentally, foods like meat, milk and bread are not toxic – they are just foods. Yes, we could all do with eating more fruit and vegetables. Yes, most of us could do with less alcohol, red meat and sugar in our diets. However, any weight lost when detoxing is due to eating (or absorbing) fewer calories, NOT eliminating toxins.