Detox diets – what’s all the fuss about?!

After an indulgent Christmas and perhaps some half-hearted efforts to get yourself ‘back on track’ in the new year, drive and determination may be dwindling. It’s at this point, you may consider either throwing in the towel or searching for a shortcut to get you where you want to be.

Coincidently, at this time of year, you may have also noticed an influx of ads, emails and content from Instagram influencers, all promoting the newest fad diet – from gel sachets to skinny teas. All vary in their claims, but most of these products state they will detox and cleanse your body, whilst promoting fat loss, heightened focus and concentration. Sounds like the perfect solution, right?

Detoxing – what is it, and is it necessary?

By definition, detox (detoxification), refers to a process or period of time in which one abstains from or rids the body of toxic or unhealthy substances (Allen et al., 2011). When it comes to ‘detox diets’, this definition extends to include ‘promoting health’ and ‘assisting with weight loss’ (Klein and Kiat, 2014).

Toxins are substances created by plants and animals that are poisonous to humans. They can also refer to certain medicines which may be useful in a minor dose, but poisonous in greater amounts (Kao and Rusyniak, 2016). When it comes to detox diets, people are usually sold the message that certain toxins build up in the body over time and so a detox must be carried out to avoid negative effects to health.

There are countless different approaches in the current market, including, fasting, liquid only diets and the use of laxatives, diuretics and, or foods that are said to ‘cleanse’ the body.

However, the body has an innate ability to remove detrimental substances and get rid of the unwanted products of metabolism. This process is carried out by the liver, kidneys, lungs and a number of other organs, meaning we do not need to opt for detox diets for help with these processes.

Why do people buy into these fads?

Detox diets promise rapid weight loss.

However, it is essential to note that weight loss does not equate to fat loss, as the weight lost is primarily water weight, lost due to a reduction in carbohydrate consumption.

The terms weight loss and fat loss are often used interchangeably, when in fact they refer to two very different things. Weight loss refers to a loss in total body mass, which can come as a result of a reduced muscle mass, body fat, and fluid. Fat loss on the other hand refers to a reduction in body fat.

Are there issues surrounding this craze?

Yes, countless!

Firstly, the diets are usually extremely restrictive and deficient in calories and nutritional value. Many of the products have detrimental side effects, including cramps, diarrhoea and dehydration, which all in turn have negative effects on overall health and well-being.

Secondly, when considering these detox protocols, many of the companies do not state the toxin the products are targeting. They often refer to toxicity in a basic manner when it should certainly consider factors such context and dosage before making bold, often misleading claims.

Additionally, many of the marketed products are sold as food or dietary supplements, meaning they do not have to go through the same testing and approval processes medicines do by the FDA (in the USA) or MHRA (UK). They are then subject to food safety laws instead which are less rigorous.

Lastly, celebrities are being paid to promote these products or detox diets, with little to no knowledge about what they entail and their effects. They have large followings, often made up of younger audiences, who can be more impressionable.

What the studies have found

To date, there does not appear to be any definitive evidence which backs the use of detox diets for cleansing the body or for fat loss.

Are detoxes worth it?

Whilst you may lose weight in the short-term, dieting in this way will undoubtedly not be beneficial in the long-run.

Opting for a quick fix plan will often be more difficult to stick to and you may even see negative effects on both your physical and mental energy levels. This will translate into your daily life, making things like getting up in the morning or getting through a chaotic day at work 10x harder.

Short-term crash dieting damages your metabolism, causing it to slow down, making it more difficult to keep weight off. In addition, cutting calories too quickly, will often lead to a reduction in muscle mass. Muscle mass can also influence your metabolic rate as muscle cells require more energy to maintain than fat cells. Therefore, it’s important that a weight loss plan factors in adequate protein.

Fad diets tend to encourage an unhealthy relationship with your body, disordered eating behaviour and can make you obsessed with the number on the scales, rather than the bigger picture. Ultimately methods of this kind lead to inconsistent results.

Instead, aim to implement healthier habits, both in terms of your nutrition and physical activity. Start by setting yourself realistic, achievable goals and make yourself accountable, and give our Fat Loss – 8 steps to get started a read for some top tips.

If that all seems a little daunting, we’re on hand to sort half of the battle for you!

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Meghan Foulsham

Published by Meghan Foulsham

Meghan's fascination with metabolism and the effect of diet on the body covered in her BSc Biochemistry, paired with being a passionate mental health advocate, led her to a Master's degree in Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition. Using this, Meghan works with clients to help them reach their goals in the most sustainable way, without sacrificing or risking their mental health.