As warmer temperatures rise and we get ready for the summer (and swimsuit) season, fad diets emerge as an option for those looking for a quick fix. One popular diet that has garnered attention as a means for rapid weight loss is known as a detox diet. But are detox diets all they’re cracked up to be? Kaylee Jacks, a sports nutritionist at Texas Health Sports Medicine, gives us the details on this particular trend.
What is a detox diet?
“A detox diet can be a variety of things,” says Jacks. “Generally, they consist of removing less harmful foods from the diet and replacing them with more healthful, nutrient-dense foods.”
This may look like removing processed foods and one or more food groups, or removing foods that someone may have an allergy to or sensitivity.
“Many other detox diets consist of fasting for a period,” Jacks continues.
Additionally, some detox diets include drinking certain liquids, like fruit/vegetable juice, water, or teas, or even using laxatives.
You have probably heard the terms “detox” and “cleanse” used interchangeably. This is because they mean the same thing.
“Many people who partake in detox diets believe they have certain health benefits, or that they are ‘cleansing’ or ridding their body of toxins,” explains Jacks.
This is why detox diets appeal to so many. They make claims of “resetting” the body and its organs, which will ultimately leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated with weight loss as a bonus.
“Some other appealing claims are improved energy and digestive health,” she adds.
Another thing people may use detox diets for is identifying potential food sensitivities or allergies.
“This is referred to as an ‘elimination diet’,” Jacks states, “which entails eliminating certain foods and food groups, commonly wheat, milk, eggs, soy, and shellfish, and reintroducing them back one at a time while monitoring symptoms to identify a potential food sensitivity.”
Is a detox diet necessary?
“Absolutely not,” Jacks asserts. “The liver and kidneys filter toxins which are excreted through our digestive tract in urine, stool, and through our skin in sweat.”
The body already has so many ways to get rid of toxins, and it does a great job at eradicating the harmful substances it comes into contact with.
So, more often than not, detox diets are completely unnecessary.
The pros and cons of a detox diet
As mentioned before, Jacks says that one benefit of a detox diet is identifying a potential food sensitivity or allergy.
Additionally, while doing a detox diet, you’ll probably notice some weight loss. That can be a benefit in itself.
However, the majority of weight lost during a detox is water weight. As soon as you start eating normally again, and your body retains water once more, the numbers on the scale will creep up.
Some other potential health benefits of a detox diet are eating less processed foods, exercising regularly, eating fruits and vegetables to decrease inflammation, and to drink lots of water.
And while these are all good things to have for a healthy lifestyle, it’s important to note that you can reap these same health benefits regardless of whether you’re on a detox diet or not.
Jacks notes that the risks of a detox diet far outweigh the benefits.
For example, calorie restriction is common with detox diets but it can cause a lot of problems.
“It increases the risk for under fueling or having too little energy for regular body functions such as expanding your lungs and pumping your heart,” Jacks claims. “It can also increase your risk of dehydration, injury, illness, mental fog, and damage to reproductive health.”
And too few calories isn’t the only pitfall.
“Malnutrition is another harm,” mentions Jacks. “Deficiency in vitamins and minerals has adverse health effects.”
And Jacks states that the more you restrict the food you eat, the higher your risk for developing unhealthy dietary behaviors, such as eating disorders or disordered eating.
Overall, most reviews on the research for detox diets claim there’s no solid evidence that detoxes or cleanses help at all.
Ditch the Detox
So if detox diets aren’t worth it for weight loss, what does Jacks recommend instead?
“I recommend meeting with a registered dietitian and making a nutrition plan that is specific to the individual and will allow them to lose the unwanted weight while maintaining or improving their health.”
Sometimes, meeting with a dietician isn’t feasible, but Jacks has some tips for that as well.
“Find your specific dietary behaviors that are less healthful and change them one at a time. Healthy behavior changes may include being more physically active, incorporating more vegetables or lean proteins in the diet, increasing water intake, and avoiding fried, baked, and sugary foods.”