Detox is a buzzword an abbreviation of detoxification that has been popularised over the past few decades, usually by alternative health practitioners or celebrities flogging their own dietary programs, books or supplements
The idea sounds simple enough, and so tempting: if I party hard or just let my personal dietary habits slip, I can undo the damage with a week-long or month-long "detox".
Most detoxers are seeking to boost energy levels, restore digestive balance, improve their complexion (although, a detox can initially cause your skin to break out!) and lose a few kilos.
But how long will the effects last and is the effort worth it? It's true that any kilojoule-restrictive diet is going to make you feel a bit "high" initially. Reports of feeling "lighter" or "having more energy" are to be expected when you're eating easily digestible food and less of it. But if you are using substantially more energy than you are putting in, the euphoria will soon turn to fatigue and you could start to feel faint or light-headed after a few days.
Supplements for sale buyer beware
Nearly all commercially available detox kits combine supplements with dietary guidelines. Some even suggest you fast. The claims made by manufacturers vary from curing constipation to curing cancer.
Less is more
Effective detoxing should be about what you take out, as much as what you put in. The basic no-noes are alcohol, caffeine, sugar and refined or processed foods. Some detox diets also remove animal products, including dairy. Although the principle of detoxification is elimination, many detox programs want you to put unknown substances herbal concoctions and pills into your system. Things that have been sourced from God-knows where and sat on a shop shelf or in a warehouse for who knows how long.
The business end
When analysed, the so-called detoxifying element of most of these products is simply a laxative something that can give you a false sense of having "purged your body of toxins".
In fact, many detox products seem rather overly concerned with your bottom and what comes out of it. One popular detox product, Dr Natura, even boasts I kid you not a gallery featuring pictures of their clients' poo on their website!
Talking about "toxins"
Dr Lawrence Gibson, a dermatologist from the Mayo Clinic in the US, cautions that the only thing you'll be cleaning out is your wallet: "The trouble is that no scientific studies have been published that demonstrate that these products actually remove toxins from the body … 'toxins' is a trendy word when pushed, most manufacturers can't identify which specific toxins are supposedly being removed."
Give yourself a break
Often the lure of the detox is the positive psychological impact the improved self-esteem you get when doing something for your health. It can make you feel good to atone for your perceived sins and give you a sense of being in control if you manage to stick to a diet for a set period of time. However, it can also make you feel really crap if you fall off the wagon or don't reach your intended goal. It's worth considering how much "lighter" and more "energised" you might feel if you accepted yourself as you are.
Detox for life
If you do want to make changes that will last, even small ones can have a greater effect on your health and wellbeing. Try signing up for an organic vegie delivery, buying a water filter and not buying food that has numbers listed as ingredients.
Detox if you feel you need it, but beware the supplements. You probably don't need them and you can design your own detox by following some simple guidelines:
- Drink eight to 10 glasses of water a day.
- Eat five serves of fresh vegetables and three serves of fresh fruit a day.
- Have a few alcohol-free days.
- Cut down on caffeine. Try substituting your morning coffee with green tea for a mildly caffeinated, antioxidant-rich pick-me-up.
- Increase your fibre intake through the food you eat. Along with regular exercise and plenty of water, that will "keep things moving" more naturally than laxatives.
- Relax. Stress can be "toxic" too. Take time out to meditate or reflect.
- Don't detox when you need your energy. Wait until you're on holiday or ideally, get yourself to a reputable health retreat where you can be supervised by expert nutritionists and even be pampered while doing your "penance".
- Be prepared for the headaches that can accompany a detox.
- Check your head. You're changing your diet for a few days, not your life. Detoxing may not be healthy for anyone with a history of eating disorders or mental issues such as anxiety or depression.
Remember, it's what you do either side of the detox that is ultimately more important. Life is a marathon, not a sprint, and developing good, sustainable health habits will better serve you in the long-term.