Do detox diets work?

The beginning of the year is always a popular time when people make some changes in their lives in an attempt to develop a healthier lifestyle. Many people turn to detox diets as a way to make up for episodes of over-eating that might have happened over the holidays or as a means to lose weight.

What is a detox diet?

Often called cleanses, detox is the abbreviation of detoxification and that kind of diet can take many forms:

  • Elimination of all solid foods; the diet consists only of liquids such as smoothies, herbal teas, juices or protein shakes.
  • Fasting for a couple of days with only water being allowed.
  • Elimination of certain food groups such as starchy foods, protein-rich foods or dairy products from the diet.
  • Use of diuretic supplements or laxatives.

Detox diets claim to eliminate toxins from our body and give some organs such as the stomach, intestine or liver a “break” from their daily functions. Some people also turn to those diets as a means to lose weight or boost their immune system.

Are they efficient?

At the beginning of a detox diet, some people might feel more energized, alert and they might experience positive changes with regards to digestion (feeling less bloated or less constipated). However, these changes might be simply due to the fact that processed foods high in refined sugars and fats as well as alcohol or caffeine might be less present in the diet. In addition, the short-term benefits could also be due to a higher intake of vitamins and minerals from vegetables and fruits in the smoothies or juices.

There is actually no scientific evidence that detox diets are efficient at eliminating toxins from our body. In fact, if our organs are healthy, the liver and kidneys have the main functions of eliminating toxins from our body.

Impact on weight loss

Some people might also lose a considerable amount of weight at the beginning of the diet. However, that weight loss is primarily due to the loss of water and muscle mass instead of fat loss. In fact, some studies demonstrate that there could be a reduction of up to 20 % in the lean mass if someone follows a restrictive diet of less than 1000 calories for a few weeks.  As a result, the metabolism can significantly slow down. In fact, a literature review revealed that people following a short term drastic diets (less than 6 weeks) experienced a metabolism slowdown two times more significant than people who followed a more gradual weight loss method (more than 6 weeks).

And because the weight loss associated with such drastic methods is mostly due to water and muscle loss, the weight comes back after the person starts eating normally again. Also, because the metabolism has slowed down, the person might gain even more weight stored as fat as the body emerges from a starvation phase experienced during the restrictive diet.

To sum up, detox diets have not been proven to have any health benefits and could indeed prove to be detrimental to physical and psychological health. If you want to feel better, try to focus on habits needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle such as a balanced diet and regular physical activity. It will be a much more pleasant way to achieve well-being and could help you get back to your natural weight. If you need help and guidance in your journey to a healthy lifestyle which does not involve fasting, restriction and guilt, feel free to contact a nutritionist or dietitian!