The name sounds reassuring — everyone knows that anything toxic is bad for
you. Plus, these diets encourage you to eat natural foods and involve lots of water
and veggies — all stuff you know is good for you. You hear about celebrities
going on detox diets, and people who go into drug or alcohol rehabs are said to be
detoxing. So shouldn't a detox diet be a good bet?
Not really. Like many other fad diets, detox diets can have harmful side effects,
especially for teens.
A toxin is a chemical or poison that is known to have harmful effects on the body.
Toxins can come from food or water, from chemicals used to grow or prepare food, and
even from the air that we breathe. Our bodies process those toxins through organs
like the liver and kidneys and eliminate them in the form of sweat, urine, and feces.
Although detox diet theories have not been proven scientifically, the people who
support them believe that toxins don't always leave our bodies properly during the
elimination of waste. Instead, they think toxins hang around in our digestive, lymph,
and gastrointestinal systems as well as in our skin and hair causing problems like
tiredness, headaches, and nausea.
The basic idea behind detox diets is to temporarily give up certain kinds of foods
that are thought to contain toxins. The idea is to purify and purge the body of all
the "bad" stuff. But the truth is, the human body is designed to purify itself.
Detox diets vary. Most involve some version of a fast: that is, giving up food
for a couple of days and then gradually reintroducing certain foods into the diet.
Many of these diets also encourage people to have colonic irrigation or enemas to
"clean out" the colon. (An enema flushes out the rectum and colon using water.) Others
recommend that you take special teas or supplements to help the "purification" process.
There are lots of claims about what a detox diet can do, from preventing and curing
disease to giving people more energy or focus. Of course, eating a diet lower in fat
and added sugars and higher in fiber
can help many people feel healthier. But people who support detox diets claim that
this is because of the elimination of toxins. There's no scientific proof that these
diets help rid the body of toxins faster or that the elimination of toxins will make
you a healthier, more energetic person.
What Should You Watch Out For?
Detox diets are supposedly to help "clean out the system" but many people think
they will lose weight if they try these diets. Here's the truth:
Detox diets are not recommended for teens. Normal teenagers need
lots of nutritional goodies — like enough calories and protein to support rapid
growth and development. So diets that involve fasting and severe restriction of food
are not a good idea. Some sports and physical activities require ample food, and fasting
does not provide enough fuel to support them. For these reasons, detox diets can be
especially risky for teenagers.
Detox diets aren't for people with health conditions. They're
not recommended for people with diabetes, heart disease, or other chronic medical
conditions. Detox diets should be avoided if you are pregnant or have an eating
Detox diets can be addicting. That's because there's a certain
feeling that comes from going without food or from having an enema — for some,
it's almost like the high other people get from nicotine or alcohol. This can become
a dangerous addiction that leads to health problems, including serious eating disorders,
heart problems, and even death.
Detox supplements can have side effects. Many of the supplements
used during detox diets are actually laxatives, which are designed to make people
go to the bathroom more often, and that can get messy. Laxative supplements are
never a good idea because they can cause dehydration, mineral imbalances, and problems
with the digestive system.
Detox diets don't help people lose fat. People who fast for several
days may drop pounds, but most of it will be water and some of it may be muscle. Most
people regain the weight they lost soon after completing the program.
Detox diets are for short-term purposes only. In addition to
causing other health problems, fasting for long periods can slow down a person's metabolism,
making it harder to keep the weight off or to lose weight later.
Eat Right and Your Body Does the Rest
Of course, it's a great idea to eat lots of fruits and veggies, get lots of fiber,
and drink water. But you also need to make sure you're getting all of the nutrients
you need from other foods, including protein (from sources such as lean meats, fish,
eggs, and beans) and calcium (from foods like low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt).
The human body is designed to purify itself. You can help by eating a variety of
healthy foods. If you have questions about detox diets or are concerned about your
weight, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian.