Gwyneth Paltrow does it. So does Angelina Jolie, Oprah, Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck and Christy Turlington (to name a few). Beyonce did it to lose 20lbs quickly for DreamGirls. I’m talking about “detox” or “cleansing” diets.
What are detox/cleansing diets?
There are different variations of detox diets but all claim to clean out our bodies of chemicals and dietary toxins. The supposed result: weight loss, increased energy, better digestion. Another claim is that by allowing the cells in the gut to rest, they are able to grow stronger, resulting in a healthier gut.
You can ‘detox’ by eliminating certain foods from your diet- Oprah recently followed a 21-d detox diet in which she eliminated animal products, sugar, alcohol, caffeine and gluten. The stricter versions are liquid diets- lemonade (followed by Beyonce and others) or juice fasts where followers will drink anywhere from 32 to 90 oz juice/24 hours, and even water fasts. Many of these diets also suggest enemas. These diets vary in time- from 1 day to a few weeks.
Do they work?
There is no scientific evidence available to support any of the claims these diets make- only people’s testimonials. Most health professionals, myself included, will tell you that our body is able to “detoxify” itself naturally. Abstaining from food will not help you be healthier. In fact, fibre’s role is to help clean out the gut- so a diet that’s rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and lentils and other lean proteins and water would be the perfect detox diet!
With summer coming up, you may be tempted by this supposed “quick fix” to weight loss. However, for the most part, these diets and fasts are an ineffective weight loss solution. If you do lose weight, it’ll mostly be water weight and you’ll most likely regain it... quickly. Any diet that eliminates major food groups (or food, for that matter!) is not sustainable- definitely not a long-term solution. Moreover, many of these diets are extremely low in calories. As a result, your body goes into ‘starvation mode’- your metabolic rate will decrease so you’re burning less calories at rest. Moreover, your body will hold on to its fat stores (because it’s more energy-efficient) and burn lean muscle... something you obviously want to avoid. When you start eating again, your body will more easily store those calories as fat and, as a result, you’ll regain the weight faster.
You need to eat to lose weight!
These diets also lack major nutrients: protein, an essential nutrient in helping you maintain lean muscle mass during weight loss, as well as fat, an essential nutrient that, among other things, is essential in helping you feel full after a meal. As a result, people claim to always feel hungry on these diets... something that is not only uncomfortable but can cause irritability and lead you to eat irrationally afterwards. Beyonce was quoted as saying: “I was hungry, therefore I was evil. When we wrapped the movies, I was so excited... I ate a whole dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts”. It was also reported that she quickly regained the weight she had lost on the diet... a fact that’s ignored by followers of the same diets!
A dietitian calculated that the Master Cleanse diet (a well-known detox diet that consists of drinking 96 oz of lemonade with maple syrup and cayenne pepper a day) is 1300 calories. A woman should never eat less than 1200 calories and a man, never less than 1500 calories. So, for a woman, 1300 calories isn’t drastically restrictive. However, it lacks major nutrients. Why not eat 1300 calories of fibre-rich vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and drink water?! You’re more likely to stick to a meal plan that includes real healthy foods, you’ll lose weight, and you’ll also have more energy to exercise- an important key to long-term weight loss!
Oftentimes, these diets are used to “jump start” weight loss, ie. They start with a strict “detox” diet for a few days and follow it with a weight loss program. Maybe. A diet (under the supervision or guidance of a Registered Dietitian or doctor) that restricts certain foods, ie. alcohol, sugar, animal products (if replaced by vegetable protein), can be useful in motivating someone to kick-start a weight loss program and perhaps feel ‘cleansed’. As long as the diet is not overly calorically-restrictive and includes all the major nutrients, it can be an effective motivational tool to start a healthy weight loss program... although, not necessary.
What are the risks?
Evidently, the extreme diets, (fasting- no food) are extremely dangerous. However, even restrictive diets can be dangerous if you’re not replacing the nutrients you’re eliminating. As a result, speak to your doctor and/or a Registered Dietitian before embarking on any diet.
Many of these detox diets will rightfully warn pregnant and breastfeeding women and women trying to become pregnant against trying them. Children should not be put on these diets. These diets can widely affect blood sugar levels so people with diabetes and low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) should avoid them as well.
If you’re recovering from an illness or injury, suffer from anemia, have weakened immunity (ie. elderly), have heart problems, psychological problems (depression, bipolar disorder, prone to eating disorders), are underweight and/or suffer from migraines, you should not embark on these diets- they can exacerbate existing illnesses or delay healing/recovery.
Apart from irritability, side effects of liquid diets and fasts can include GI problems, ie. diarrhea and/or constipation, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, depression, headaches, fainting, irregular heart beats, dehydration and even death.