Can a detox diet help you lose weight? We investigate the ins and out of this controversial weight-loss diet.
Pollution, pesticides, additives, alcohol – they all add up. But one diet promises to cleanse your body of these contaminants.
In this guide, we’ll put detox diets on trial and get to the bottom of whether they can help you to lose – and keep off – weight in the long term.
Detox diets can take a variety of forms, but generally promote the theory that the modern world and particularly our diet exposes us to a range of harmful ‘toxins’ that accumulate over time and cause a range of issues, including weight gain and a variety of medical problems.
By forgoing regular foods in favour of things like fruit juice, apple cider vinegar, smoothies and all sorts of bizarre concoctions – it’s claimed that you can flush these toxins from your system, lose weight and enjoy a generally better quality of life.
How you go about detoxing can vary, but some of the most popular options include:
- Detox diets
- Cleansing the colon
- Liver cleansing
- Swapping out regular meals for juice and smoothies
- Taking special pills or supplements
Does it Work?
Detox ties in with the narrative that are modern lifestyles subject us to any number of harmful substances and every now and again, it’s necessary to rid ourselves of them.
But it’s fair to say that detox diets are among the most controversial out there, coming under fire from practically all areas of the medical community.
Falling at the First Hurdle
While most of the diets we’ve explored so far have at least some basis in science, however questionable, the same can’t be said of detox. It’s pseudoscience – pure and simple.
The idea that cleansing the body of unwanted substances could encourage good health dates back to at least ancient Greece and was a fairly mainstream practice well into the 19th century.
Modern detox regimes are little more than cobbled together buzzwords that sound half-way convincing, but don’t stand up to any scrutiny. To illustrate this, let’s put a few of its key claims under the microscope:
Toxins are accumulating in your body: Toxins are real in a strictly medical sense. The term is used to describe any poisons that are made by a biological process - for instance, the nicotine in cigarettes and alcohol.
However, ‘toxin’ is often wrongly used to refer to manmade chemicals, like pollutants, heavy metals, ozone and even dirt, as well as pretty much anything else those who sell detox products or systems are trying to flog you.
A 2009 investigation by Sense About Science grilled the manufacturers of a range of detox products and found that no two used the same definition of toxin or detox. Researchers concluded that at best, these detox diets were a waste of money at best and at worst, could post health risks.
“Detox is marketed as the idea that modern living fills us with invisible nasties that our bodies can’t cope with unless we buy the latest jargon-filled remedy,” said Harriet Ball, biologist and co-author of the report.
“Our new investigation into detox products has convinced us that there is little or no proof that these products work, except to part people from their cash and downplay all the amazing ways in which our bodies can look after themselves.”
Using a detox diet or system will cleanse your body of toxins: Your kidneys, liver, lungs, skin and various other organs are already working to rid your body of ‘proper’ toxins. Plus, if they did build up in a way your body couldn’t deal with – you’d either be in dire need of medical care or already dead.
The idea that you can sweat out toxins, excrete them via dietary changes or flush them from your body with a colonic irrigation is just wrong. Once again, this comes back to the definition of toxins, which those who sell detox products have hijacked to mean pretty much anything they want it to.
Speaking to the guardian, Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, blasted this practice, stating:
“[The term toxins is] being hijacked by entrepreneurs, quacks and charlatans to sell a bogus treatment that allegedly detoxifies your body of toxins you’re supposed to have accumulated.
“There is no known way – certainly not through detox treatments – to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better.”
Fasting or replacing meals will help you lose weight: It’s something of a no-brainer that not eating will cause you to lose weight, but replacing a normal diet with juice, smoothies or herbal infusions both won’t work in the long term and have the potential to be very dangerous.
As Dr Michael Gershon, professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University, told LiveScience:
“In most cases, the liver, kidney and intestine are so good that they can overcome even the stupidity of the worst dietary insults. Juicing and cleansing, however, push the system in an extreme way. They are dangerous even if most people survive. But why take a risk for no gain?"
He went on to warn that extreme dieting and fasting can put the body under a lot of stress, with dehydration standing as a major risk.
As with any form of rapid weight loss, you may initially see the pounds fall off, but firstly most of this will be water and secondly, there’s a high chance of ‘rebound’ weight gain once you switch back to regular meals.
The Delusion of Detox
Nature does contain many miraculous things, in fact, a great deal of modern medicine is derived from copying the mechanisms, processes and chemicals found in the natural world.
However, while it might be comforting to think that relying on ‘all-natural’ products and processes to lose weight and cure whatever ails you is a safe bet – it’s just plain wrong.
There is literally no scientific evidence to suggest that our bodies need a hand when it comes to ridding themselves of waste products and very little proof to back up the claims of detox diets.
Sadly, there’s no way round the fact that the only safe, sustainable way to lose weight is to improve your diet and exercise more. Weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint and the bottom line is, if you encounter a product or process that sounds too good to be true – it probably is.
Have you dabbled with detox or do you want to share your views on this popular trend? We always love to hear what you’ve got to say, so be sure to leave us a comment below or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter.
And if you’re looking for help losing weight, don’t waste time with fad diets and juicing. Simply hit the button below to get expert advice from a UK GP right now: