Jan 4, 2010

Cleanse & Detox Diets: A Big Hoax

Are you about to drink lemon-water-syrup-cayenne pepper juice for 10 days to "cleanse" your system?  Do you plan to eat nothing but vegetables for two weeks to "rid your body of toxins?"  Or maybe buy an expensive juicer so you can have liquid meals & supplements for the month of January and "shed excess fat?"

If the answer to these questions is yes, let me save you an enormous amount of hunger, misery, money, and time spent on the toilet:  Cleanses and detox diets are hogwash.  They're basically glorified fasts, and the only thing they guarantee is that the people who invent them are going to make a lot of money.

"Wait!!" you say, "But I've been so indulgent and mean to my body during the holiday season--and maybe all of 2009--that I need to 'start fresh' and rid my body of the evil things I put in it for so long!!"

News flash: you, along with every other member of the human race, have a built-in detox system.  It's called a liver, kidneys, lungs, and skin.  These powerful organs work round-the-clock to protect you and make sure that whatever you've ingested that doesn't serve you is excreted.  And I assure you, this is the only detox system you need.

Not only will a cleanse or detox not do what it promises, but it can also cause harm to your body.  When you flush out "bad stuff" from your body, you're also flushing out good stuff, like vitamin & mineral stores, and the good intestinal bacteria that keep your digestive system healthy.  Not to mention, the "flushing" of your body's insides means you'll likely have frequent gas and diarrhea, which can quickly lead to dehydration, the breakdown of skin on your bottom, and hemorrhoids.  Sound gross?  It will be.

In addition to unpleasant symptoms, these types of diets severely restrict your calories, to a level that can cause headaches, fatigue, irritability, body aches, inability to think clearly, and overall lethargy.  So forget exercising -- it would leave you lightheaded at best -- and plus, your detox diet is so low in protein that you won't be able to rebuild lost muscle tissue.

While you will probably lose weight during your diet (because of the severe calorie restriction), studies have shown that you will probably gain the weight back and more, soon after you start eating normally again.

Now, if you've gained some chub over the holidays, eaten nothing but cookies and prime rib, and partied like prohibition was about to be reinstated, then doing something to jump start your new year is a good idea.  The something (moderation) is not as sexy as a cleanse, but it works, lasts, and won't leave you starting your new year on the pot.  Here's what I'd recommend:

  • Cut back on high-fat foods, meat, and sweets.  You could even give these foods up for two weeks, to allow your body to readjust to a new healthy routine, and to reduce cravings.  Just don't plan to give these up completely for too long--it won't last anyway.
  • Eliminate alcohol, or reduce your consumption to 1-3 drinks per weekend, and no alcohol during the week.
  • Reduce reliance on caffeine.  If you feel you need a little, limit yourself to one cup of coffee or tea in the morning, then stick to caffeine-free beverages for the rest of the day.  You'll adjust after a week or so, and will sleep better and have more natural energy.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.  This does not mean add lettuce to your cheeseburger, but rather replace some of what you're eating now with vegetables.  If you normally have meat, mashed potatoes, and a vegetable for dinner, replace the potatoes with another lower calorie vegetable.
  • Don't drink your calories.  Stick to water and other calorie-free beverages like sparkling water, herbal tea, iced tea, and the occasional diet soda. 
  • Don't do anything extreme.  If you give up foods you love completely, you won't stick to your new healthy lifestyle plan.  You'll eventually (probably sooner rather than later) revert to your old habits, and you'll gain weight back, feel fatigued, get lazy, etc.  
  • Take baby steps.  Make mini-goals that are specific, realistic, and don't make you feel overwhelmed.  For example: this week I will eat primarily vegetarian meals.  Or, this week, I won't bring any unhealthy foods into my house, to reduce temptation.

Eating in moderation is the only way to maintain a healthy weight and healthy lifestyle in the long run.

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