The idea of a quick 7 or 14 day detox can seem very appealing, especially if you've been feeling a bit sluggish and tired or you'd like to drop a few pounds before your summer holiday. There's certainly plenty to choose from:
- Juice cleanses
- Detox teas
- Flat belly detox
- Sugar detox
- Smoothie detox
But are you giving your health a well needed boost or simply wasting your time?
My views on detoxing have changed over the last few years. Many years ago I ran a 14 day detox programme with a small group of my Pilates clients. For two weeks we cut out sugar, alcohol, caffeine, gluten and dairy. On the positive side many of them found they were less bloated, less tired and generally felt better. However, several of them commented afterwards that as soon as the detox was over all they wanted to do was eat cheese on toast washed down with red wine!
The more I learn about what it takes to achieve and maintain good health the more I realise how damaging it is to restrict foods unnecessarily and stop listening to the signals your body is giving you. This is why I feel strongly that...
"You don't need a detox. You need to make healthy, sustainable habit changes to reduce your toxic load... permanently."
A detox is "the removal of toxic substances" , a toxin is "a poisonous substance".
So what toxins do our bodies have to deal with every day?
- Heavy metals such as mercury found in some fish, lead found in old paint, aluminium found in anti-perspirant
- Chemicals found in household cleaning products and toiletries
- BPA's and PHA's found in some reusable plastics
- Chemicals and additives in processed foods
- Alcohol, nicotine
Your body also creates a fair amount of internal toxins as it burns energy to rebuild tissue and replace dying cells. Even your own thoughts can be toxic. Emotional and mental stressors can have a direct effect on the nervous and endocrine system which can impact the body's ability to detoxify. There is a strong correlation between stress and chronic illness.1
Add to this a diet that includes a lot of processed foods and too many calories plus a stressful job and too many late nights and you can see why so many people suffer with:
- Poor quality sleep
- Skin conditions
- Poor digestion
- Weight gain
If our bodies are having to cope with all this, why don't I recommend a detox?
Your body already has a very effective detoxification system. Your liver, kidneys, lungs, colon and skin are constantly working to remove toxins from your body. Of course, this system won't work effectively if your body is overloaded with toxins, but you don't need a detox plan to make it more efficient - I'll talk about lightening your toxic load later in the article.
The cost. I was shocked at how expensive some of the detox plans on the market were! A quick Google search brought up a juice diet that cost £199 for 3 days (5 juices per day), a 9 day calorie controlled detox plan that included gel, shakes and supplements for £111 and a 5 day 'Rainbow Cleanse' for £365 (enema kit optional!)
Detoxes keep you trapped in a 'dieter's mindset. The diet mindset is so pervasive in this country that so many women spend a huge amount of their lives 'on a diet'. And when you 'on' you're depriving and restricting yourself, often relying on willpower to get you through. People love the idea of getting healthy/losing weight fast when really it's just a ...
Short term fix. Detoxes give your brain something new and exciting to focus on. The short time-frame is appealing, "its only for 7/11/14 days" so it feels like the honeymoon period when you start a new diet. Yet research shows that our willpower is exhaustible and when the detox is over you're very likely to return to your old eating habits, retoxing your body and sending you back to square one.
So what can you do instead?
Make healthy, sustainable habit changes to reduce your toxic load, permanently. By doing this your very efficient, very clever inbuilt detoxification system will be able to work effectively.
Cut back on the alcohol
It doesn't matter what the latest Daily Mail headline says about all the anti-oxidants in red wine, alcohol is a poison that puts your liver under tremendous strain. Do yourself a huge favour and drink less alcohol.
Eat less of this
- Processed foods
- Ready meals
- Processed meats such as bacon, ham, sausages
- Refined starch foods such as pasta, white bread, breakfast cereals
Notice I said 'eat less' of these foods, I didn't say cut them out altogether. These foods are not toxic but eaten in excess they can cause inflammation in the body and lead to hormone imbalances.
Drink more water
A shocking 89% of British people aren't drinking enough water to maintain healthy hydration levels and 17% of people drink no plain water during the day. 2
Water makes up 60% of your body weight and our brains are 73% water so it's not surprising that when you're well hydrated you will have less headaches, be able to think more clearly and concentrate better.
If you find plain water too boring then add some fruit - a slice of lemon or orange, some cucumber or sliced strawberries. Carbonated water is good too - just check it doesn't have any sweeteners added.
Read the labels
Take a closer look at the products you use at home and on your body. Everything we put on our skin is absorbed into our body. For example; experts suspect that oxybenzone, a common ingredient in sunscreen is a hormone disrupter. Air fresheners, scented candles, room fragrancers, cleaning products etc., can all add to your toxic load.
Reduce your stress
Chronic stress disrupts your hormonal balance and, as I mentioned before, there is a strong link between stress and chronic (long term) illness. So learn to say no, meditate, go for a walk, take a yoga class - anything that gives you the opportunity to slow down, breathe deeply and relieve some of the mental burden you're carrying.
Get more sleep
Getting enough sleep is so important for good health. When you are sleep deprived you
- Compromise your immune system
- Tend to make poor food choices (reaching for sugary snacks for a quick energy fix)
- Are more vulnerable to anxiety and depression
So switch off your phone, take a nice relaxing bath and aim for 7-8 hours a night.
Go for a walk...
...every day! I'm not talking about power walking, rather a nice leisurely stroll, preferably in a nature setting. This is a great way to lower your stress levels, make your body more sensitive to insulin and improve your digestion.
And if you're still tempted by a quick detox ask yourself these questions first:
- What do I want to achieve being doing this detox?
- Am I going to go back to my old eating habits when it's over?
- How is it going to help me in the long term?
Now I'd love to hear what you think. Have you ever been on a detox? How did you feel while you were doing it and when it was finished? Did it encourage you to make life long changes?
Please leave your comments below.