If you’re considering enlisting the help of a detox diet plan for weight loss, hold your horses. Far from being a viable solution to sustainable health, a detox diet may do more harm than good in the long run. We investigate the correlation between detoxing and weight loss, and enlist the help of two nutrition experts to bust some detox myths with facts. Read on for all the tea.
It can be incredibly tempting to kick off a brand-new year in weight loss goals by going all-in on a detox diet plan. In the ever-changing landscape of social media, celebrities and influencers wield much power over our choices, whether they be in fashion, food, entertainment, and more. In the health and wellness sphere, said influencers often shape trends, propagating fitness routines and endorsing a variety of fad diets and detox myths that are ‘guaranteed’ to help you fight the flab.
However, despite what social media may tell you, some of these trending wellness fads can pose a danger to long-term health. Far from facilitating long-term weight loss, a detox diet can harm your body and its functions; in severe cases, it can even necessitate a trip to the emergency room. Navigate this sea of often-inaccurate online guidance by approaching every tip with a critical and discerning eye. There is no such thing as a universal detox plan or a one-size-fits-all approach. And thus, we ask ourselves: What are the myths or facts of detox diets, and how can we arm ourselves against potentially harmful advice?
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The modern detox diet plan: Expert opinions on myths and facts
Dietitian Leonard Yap believes fad diets to be a dangerous lifestyle choice, particularly when performed unsupervised. Leonard, who also founded dietetics resource company LTD Dietetics Enterprise and nutrition support brand Hojū, has much to say about detox myths and their harmful effect on health. Boasting seven years of nutrition work and 10 in the F&B industry, Leonard has seen the rise and fall of fad diet myths, from ‘gurus’ who vilified or glorified specific nutrients, to those insisting upon diets comprising nothing but cabbage soup and sweet potato.
“Whether for commercial reasons, or for genuinely good intentions where people are trying to get healthier, fad diets can become dangerous when followed without medical supervision.”
He adds, “Take the keto diet, for example. It was first devised as part of an overall treatment for epileptic paediatric patients and now introduced as a low carb diet for the masses. And though there are merits in quick weight loss, the sustainability of it is questionable.”
Scientist, holistic nutritionist, and cook Li Goh shares this opinion. A firm believer in the act of eating for health and pleasure, the Le Cordon Bleu graduate leverages her voracious appetite for human science and hopes to use her expertise to improve public health through education and lifestyle intervention. She says, “Detox diets can result in weight loss due to calorie restriction, elimination through bowel movement, and loss of water retention. However, due to their extreme and restrictive nature, individuals may find a decline in energy levels, muscle mass, quality of life, and general health.”
And that’s not all on the list of potential dangers in detox myths surrounding weight loss. Li goes on to add that detox dieters stand to lose muscle mass from excess calorie deficits. “You can get liver damage from consuming unregulated supplements, and nutrient deficiencies from cutting out food groups,” she shares. ”And isn’t it ironic that following a restrictive diet can potentially disrupt your gut microbiome which can lead to poor digestive health and discomfort.”
With all the evidence lined up like ducks in a row, it’s no wonder the experts in health and nutrition are cautioning against blindly following social media diet fads. Considering the amount of health problems that they can potentially cause, from compromised immunity (also known as a ‘detox flu’) to organ damage, it makes sense to exercise caution. Maybe the solution to our problems is as simple as a digital detox. If only.
The contemporary detox diet plan: Myth or fact?
While the consensus among experts appears to be that detox myths need to be debunked with cold, hard facts, the average layperson with little knowledge of nutrition and diet is likely to have questions. Read ahead for some of the most asked questions about detox diet plans and find out whether they are myth or fact.
Myth – A detox diet plan can help with weight loss
Because detox diets usually involve fasting and the elimination of certain food groups, weight loss in the short term is possible. However, this weight loss is not sustainable, as many detox diets also require one to take supplements or switching to a liquid diet to ease the load on one’s digestive organs. Instead of adopting unverified and unsupervised detox diet plans, Li suggests sticking to a balanced and varied diet, which can promote an improved sense of well-being while supporting the major detoxification organs: the liver, lungs, kidneys, colon, and skin.
“Such a diet would include a variety of fruit and vegetables, which are a source of vitamins and minerals with antioxidant properties, complex carbohydrates such as whole grains like brown rice, barley, and quinoa, and legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and beans that are high in fibre,” she shares.
These are important for promoting the elimination of toxins through bowel movement, and likewise also support gut health. Alongside adequate hydration that can help to eliminate toxins through sweat and otherwise, a healthy diet should also include lean and easy-to-digest protein like yogurt, eggs, fish, tofu, and chicken, which aid in cellular repair, as well as foods containing unsaturated fats like flaxseeds, chia seeds, avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
Myth – Occasionally engaging in a detox diet plan is essential for good health
Good health is a long-term project, and it is a myth that following a detox diet can help improve bodily functions. It is imperative that we engage in regular daily movement and restful sleep, both of which work synergistically alongside a balanced diet to promote and support the body’s detoxification. Avoid the consumption of alcohol, unnecessary supplements and smoking, to decrease the toxic load on the body.
Myth – A detox diet plan can reverse health conditions such as fatty liver
While many detox diet plans claim to reverse chronic health conditions like fatty liver, diabetes, high blood pressure, and so on, the reverse is true. Those with these medical conditions would do better to see medical specialists to attain prescription medication, and incorporate behavioural strategies that include sustainable dietary modifications, regular exercise, and mindful rest.
Fact – A detox diet plan is not sustainable for long-term weight loss
While immediate weight loss is possible for those following detox diet plans, Leonard has a different possibility to share. “It is unlikely that a detox diet alone could result in weight loss.”
He goes on to add that a detox lifestyle typically includes a certain amount of lifestyle changes, such as the incorporation of healthier foods in one’s diet. “So, is it really the detox diet, or are you just becoming healthier as a result of your changed lifestyle?”
Additionally, it is a myth that one can sustain long-term weight loss with a fad diet. Leonard shares, “The effects may not be so obvious at the start, but what happens is that you’d enter a cyclical diet without proper medical guidance. People go through strong yo-yo phases where they end up losing and gaining repeatedly. This refers more towards fad diets for weight loss purposes; detox in this context has no medical purpose and is very much just boiled down to your general health.”
Fact – A detox diet can be harmful to your health
Contrary to popular belief, celery is not a miracle healing juice — ditto with the many detox and herbal supplements that are frequently promoted on social media. Speaking on the detox myth she’d love to bust, Li shares, “Many supplements are neither regulated nor tested rigorously. The concentration of active ingredients may not be accurate. They may contain contaminants that can damage our organs, particularly the liver, which is a hardworking organ responsible for daily detoxification. It breaks down compounds in food, alcohol, medicine, supplements, pollutants, and so on, to be used by the body or excreted. Consuming detox or herbal supplements simply adds a greater load onto the liver.”
On its own, the science of nutrition is complex and nuanced. Indeed, given how different the individual body is, it stands to reason that diet plans need to be personalised for safety, sustainability, and effectiveness. “Fad diets are based on singular facts that are sometimes outdated, and partial truths that make them very dangerous,” Li shares. “They are often highly restrictive diets and focus on consuming a certain food group such as protein, while eliminating others such as grain, fruit, potatoes and so on. This can lead to health complications, including malnutrition, if carried out over an extended period without proper guidance.”
Likewise, Leonard is a firm believer that all diets must include a healthy balance of foods and nutrients, sharing a similar vein of thought. “A lot of the time, you see diets that put forward the idea that you should eat specific foods in high quantities. You don’t see it at a community level due to pop culture influences, but the effects are obvious in the emergency room.”
Indeed, with the negative effects of detox diets generally only showing up after a few months, it can be difficult to alter course until it is too late. “Going on something like the keto diet without supervision can be especially dangerous if you have a pre-existing condition like diabetes. And, if you have an existing kidney disease, going on the carnivore or high protein diet may hasten kidney failure,” he says.
Fact – Your body is perfectly able to detoxify itself
From a medical perspective, there is no such thing as a detox diet – which means it’s all just one great myth. Leonard shares that the body generally does a pretty good job of detoxing, ‘so to speak’, and we generally remove toxins from the body through our skin, liver, and kidneys. “As long as you’re taking care of these organs and keeping them healthy, your body will detox for you. We cling onto the notion that we need to clean ourselves, but that’s not really true.”
He says with a laugh, “You don’t need to go through a two-hour long session of diarrhoea or an enema to clean yourself.”
Hero and featured images: Courtesy Ivan Samkov/Pexels
This story first appeared here.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
– How effective are body detox diets?
There is no empirical scientific data to prove that your body responds well to detox diets. It is a myth that your body requires detoxing, as it can perform the function if your detoxification organs are in good condition. Your key detoxification organs are your liver, kidneys, lungs, colon, and skin.
– What happens to your body when you start detoxing?
Your body naturally detoxes itself through your major detoxification organs, which are the liver, kidneys, lungs, and skin. Not all detox diets are safe, and it is a myth that your body needs additional help detoxing. In the event you have a pre-existing condition, following a fad detox diet without medical advice or supervision can lead to negative long-term health ramifications.
– Is weight loss possible on a detox diet?
While weight loss may be possible in the initial stages of a detox diet, it is neither sustainable nor safe, particularly when performed without medical supervision.
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