detox diets: helpful or hokum?

Detox diets. They’re all the rage. It seems like everywhere you turn, someone is offering the next best detox diet or cleanse. The main premise behind detox diets is to “rid the body of harmful toxins and poisons,” and many people are partaking in this trend to shed pounds, boost energy levels, boost brain power, help digestion, improve skin, or help manage a particular medical issue. But are detox diets really all they’re cracked up to be?

There are several issues and skepticisms surrounding detox diets. Here are just a handful:

Mindset: one big concern with detox diets and cleanses is how their availability will affect your mindset. Are you the type who will eat like crap most of the time because you know you can just detox later? The “diet” mentality is a strong and powerful force – people see “diets” as a temporary state of eating to get a certain result. After that result is achieved (or after they’re tired of following the diet), they often revert back to whatever they were doing before. This, in turn, creates a vicious cycle (which can put a lot of strain on the body), especially in the case of weight loss.

Safety: some detox diets are just downright dangerous, especially if followed for more than a week or two. Some of these diets are so strict that its followers actually develop nutrient deficiencies as a result (especially if nutrient levels weren’t optimized before starting the detox). Detox diets can also be dangerous for people with certain medical conditions (it’s best to consult with your doctor or friendly neighborhood dietitian before going on a detox).

Effectiveness: some mainstream detox diets and cleanses make outrageous claims that just aren’t substantiated. When looking into these diets, you have to remember that many of the people behind the scenes are often aiming to sell you something and will tell you what you want to hear in order to make the sale (whether based on truth or not). This is especially true with diets and products touting weight loss. Also keep in mind that we all have vastly different needs – there’s not one single diet that works well for everyone across the board (despite what some people and companies would lead you to believe).

Are any detox diets okay?

Absolutely! Many mainstream one-size-fits-all detox diets and cleanses are often not the most effective (and can even be harmful), but a well-designed detox diet that is customized to your individual needs (preferably by a dietitian/licensed healthcare professional) can certainly do wonders for your health. LEAP (which stands for Lifestyle, Eating, and Performance) is a type of detox diet that I use with clients in my practice. LEAP, unlike most detox diets, is completely individualized, as it is largely based off of a blood test that measures your immune system’s responses to different foods and chemicals. LEAP is EXTREMELY effective at improving health because it eliminates the foods/chemicals that cause YOU to have an inflammatory response (inflammation = symptoms/pain) and it focuses primarily on eating whole, organic (preferably non-GMO) foods. Unlike other detox diets, LEAP is a diet that can be sustained long-term (and many people happily follow their LEAP plan because deviations often lead to symptoms/pain).

(By the way, I also work with clients to find out WHY their bodies are rejecting foods that should be perceived as safe – sometimes, after the immune system is able to calm down and other underlying problems are addressed, foods that were once causing reactions can be re-introduced without issues.)

One argument that I often hear from health professionals who have not yet embraced the use of detox diets is that our bodies are capable of detoxing all on their own (that is what we have organs like our liver for, right?). Yes, our bodies detox on their own (if they didn’t, we’d be dead); however, keep in mind that in the last 50 years alone, tens of thousands of new synthetic compounds have been introduced into our environment that our bodies weren’t necessarily designed to process – from chemicals in our foods (preservatives, conditioners, GMOs, heavy metals, etc.) to chemicals on our skin (deodorants, lotions, makeup, soaps, etc.) to chemicals in the air (cigarette smoke, air deodorizers, etc.) to other chemicals that make their way into our bodies (via injections, pills, etc.). There’s no doubt in my mind that our bodies weren’t meant to process these various chemicals and compounds at the level that we’ve been asking of them – many of us need some extra help.

Things to keep in mind:

  • If you’re dead set on trying a detox, consult with a dietitian or other healthcare professional first
  • Individualized detox programs (designed by a dietitian/healthcare professional) are preferred as they take YOUR needs into account and will provide you with the most benefits without compromising safety
  • Eating primarily whole, organic (preferably GMO-free), minimally processed foods is a good place to start as this minimizes your exposure to various chemicals and other substances that your body may have a harder time processing
  • If you experience symptoms, there’s a reason for it – this is your body’s way of telling you that something’s not right. Do NOT ignore or try to cover up your symptoms – in most cases, this will only make matters worse.

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