It is inevitable that the December and January timeframes of each year bring a host of articles on how to get a “new you” by following some sort of detoxification, cleansing, or fasting nutritional program. After all, you’ve likely eaten foods over the holiday season that weren’t in your usual routine, attended several social gatherings with tempting foods, and had neighbors or work associates who delivered to you the gift box of baked goods. Your system got polluted and now it’s in need of a cleanse, right? Or perhaps you are having troubles with your weight loss efforts and want to speed up the process?
The lure and appeal of a simple nutritional supplement or program to clean out the system and drop quick body weight is sure to get your attention. The marketing of these supplements convinces you this is the best thing you can do for your body and that it is completely safe. But does it work and is it really safe? Here are some viewpoints for you to consider if you are thinking of doing some sort of detox or fasting program either now or in the future.
- Unless you live in a highly polluted and environmentally dangerous area or you are eating certain types (and large amounts) of seafood that contain high amounts of mercury, your body is not storing high levels of any toxins or metals. Remember, your body’s organs are continuously at work to filter and excrete what it does not need and always on the clock to keep your body in homeostasis (think “stable”). Thank you, kidneys and liver!
- The detox and cleanse supplements do not really target any specific toxin. These are often herbal blends or other plant extract formulas that have little clinical research behind the products to show efficacy. Individual herbs do have medicinal benefits, but there is little evidence that these formula blends do what they purport to do. Especially when there is a “proprietary blend” with a dietary supplement, you cannot know for sure the quality or source of the ingredients or whether what the label says is actually reflective of the contents.
- Often the detox programs are 1 week to 30 days in duration and involve very low calorie meals or periodic snacks. Some plans recommend long periods of fasting while taking their proprietary supplements and permit one small meal or shake per day. This is not necessarily safe nor is the most healthful approach to weight loss. Your body needs other vital macro- (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients) to stay in balance. Inappropriate fasting and very low calories diets can cause thyroid and adrenal dysfunction, as well as negatively impact metabolism, the maintenance of lean muscle mass, and compromise your immune system. This is particularly noteworthy if you do any type of endurance or higher intensity exercise. Is it worth the risk to your health and athletic performance?
- Speaking of “worth”, these cleanse formulas and fasting programs are often costly. You can actually buy quite a bit of wholesome, real food and get a bigger nutritional bang for your buck than from these powders and pills.
- While it’s common for people to lose weight on cleanse programs, the weight loss is typically short-lived. Besides this, what do you learn about changing your behaviors during a cleanse or a fast? The majority of these programs teach you nothing about the reasons why you thought you needed to cleanse in the first place, nor do they teach you how to modify other parts of your life to have sustained weight loss. Behavior change is a critical component to successful weight loss and a sustainable healthy lifestyle. A 7-day supplement or fast will not give you this.
A more healthful way for you to do a “detox” or to start your weight loss plan is to learn how to clean up your nutrition patterns and food choices, along with identifying behaviors in your life that need to be changed. Once you have this, a good support system from your coach, dietitian, and your friends and family can help you with the momentum you need to stay on track and avoid the supposed need for the quick fixes that over-promise and under-deliver.
Dina Griffin, MS, RD, CSSD
Sport Dietitian for eNRG Performance