• Monique Jephcote

What’s the deal with the detox?

Updated: Oct 21, 2019

What are detoxes, what do they do, and are there risks?


I hear it all the time.


Someone has heard about the latest detox, juice cleanse or fast, and jumped on the train because of what it promises to deliver.


And I get it.


The world we currently live in is confusing. We’re told that in order for us to have vitality, energy, lose body fat, have great concentration and glowing skin, and be all-round healthy, then we must ‘detox’ ourselves.


And more seemingly, the world we live in today, or perhaps just where I’m sitting, there seems to be more and more pressure on making our bodies smaller, ‘shedding the kilos’. And influencers, or friends, or even family members in your ear telling you about how the latest detox they did allowed them to lose 5kg’s in 1 week.


SO WHAT ARE DETOXES, WHAT DO THEY DO, AND ARE THERE RISKS?


What is detox?


Centuries ago, a detox referred to a ‘medical procedure that rids the body of dangerous, often life threatening, levels of alcohol, drugs or poisons’. People undergoing medical detoxification were often treated in clinics and hospitals.


Detoxes promoted today largely follow a ‘do it yourself’ system, with the aim to rid your body of toxins supposedly responsible for causing headaches, loss of energy and fatigue, weight, bloating and depression etc. Detox products are sold over the counter, ready and willing to fall into vulnerable populations hands.


A quick google search allows you to find some of the popular detoxes on the market.


The purpose of detoxes generally tend to be to lose weight and/or restore energy, and rid the body of ‘toxins’.


What do detoxes do?


Many studies show that fasts, detoxes, and extremely low calorie diets often invariably lower the body’s basal metabolic rate (the energy that our bodies need at rest).


Just quickly: Energy is measured in KJ’s, KJ’s is also the exact same thing as calories (just a different metric measuring system). More simply, basal metabolic rate thus refers to the amount of calories one needs to consume ‘at rest’ to meet their body’s needs. And this changes across our lifespan, circumstance and depends on our food intake. A lower basal metabolic rate means you require less calories to meet your body’s daily energy needs, a higher basal metabolic rate means you require more calories to meet your body’s daily energy needs.


Ok where were we?


Many studies show that fasts, detoxes, and extremely low calorie diets often invariably lower the body’s basal metabolic rate.


Once normal eating is resumed, rapid weight gain follows.


Majority of the weight loss achieved in the time period of the detox/fast/cleanse, is a result of fluid loss, predominantly from a low carbohydrate intake (water follows carbohydrates in the body), and frequent bowel movements and/or diarrhoea. When normal fluid and food intake resumes, the weight that was lost during the detox, is often quickly regained.


The body adapted to its lower calorie intake while in the detox/diet/cleanse, therefore the basal metabolic rate decreased. Suddenly, an influx of food/fluid commences, and you can see why and how weight is quickly regained.


Do you see how people who are cyclic dieteters/cleansers/detoxers, struggle with weight over many many years? It's a heck of a confusing time for your body!


Detoxes and quick fix diets I liken to putting a band-aid on. You're covering up what's really going on and maybe exposure of that is how you will actually heal. We all eat for very different reasons at different points in our day/life, if you can identify the 'root-cause' of why eating is such a disconnected experience for you, and observe without judgement, & stay AWARE, then it's more likely a behaviour change will occur here. And behaviour changes is what creates sustainability in the long term. My guess is that if you haven't delved in to any of that during your 7 day detox (which really isn't that much time and are you equipped with the skills and resources to deal with all of that alone or know how to do any of that for that matter?), then you'll hook straight back into your regular eating patterns and it will just become a cycle.


Are there risks?


The risks involved in these detoxes usually include disruption of our gut health; our bodies are not receiving the prebiotic or probiotic foods our gut flora needs in order to thrive and create diversity in our gut, electrolyte loss through diarrhoea, macro and micronutrient deficiency’s, often the detoxes (depending) are lacking in protein and fatty acids, and finally someone who goes on these forms of detoxes/diets repeatedly or for extended periods of time can run the risk of developing metabolic acidosis due to disrupting the body’s acid/base balance.


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The bottom line


1. If you’re reason for going on a detox, fast, cleanse, whatever you prefer to call it, is weight loss, then in the short term, you’re going to lose weight, that’s just basic science. But it’s highly likely that the weight is going to be regained shortly afterward and is not supportive of long term weight loss. The research today seemingly points to the fact that 95% of diets do not work, and weight is regained, if not MORE than the previous weight. If a detox/cleanse is what you adamantly believe you need in order to ‘kickstart’ you (and you’re going to do it regardless), then do it under the guidance of an APD so they can help you once the ‘kickstart’ is over.


2. If you’re reason for going on a detox is for health reasons, then unless you are getting:


5 serves veg

2 serves fruit

2.5 serves dairy (or alternatives if intolerant to dairy)

2 serves meat (or alternatives if not a meat eater)

5 serves grains

PER DAY


Then it's generally not the 'healthiest' experience (re-read 'risks' section).


I do however think that if you are someone who doesn't have a very nutritious diet to begin with, and have never really been someone who eats fruits of vegetables, (and instead mainly consumes discretionary foods high in saturated fats and sugars), and this particular detox places a heavy emphasis on fruit and vegetable consumption and introduces you to that, then so long as you leave the experience consuming more fruit and vegetables in your daily food intake, (and foods from the 5 food groups), then perhaps it’s been a positive experience for you in terms of 'health' outcomes.


3. If you’re doing a detox for spiritual, religious, or personal reasons other than for weight loss or for health – then go for it. I wholeheartedly respect people’s beliefs systems. But I would suggest not partaking in such detoxes for extended periods of time – due to the fact that most of these detoxes/fasts/cleanses are not supportive of meeting our daily macronutrient and micronutrient requirements.


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To conclude

Most people forget that our bodies are unbelievably amazing, and indeed are our own personal weapon against the toxins of the world! We all have our own detoxification system, without having to do a single thing.


The kidneys:

What is the most common way that people are screened for drugs and toxins? A urine test. This is a testament to the kidneys’ effectiveness in filtering out waste substances.


The immune system:

This amazing network of cells and molecules is designed to recognise foreign substances and rid them from the body! The immune system’s working bees are at work in blood plasma, in lymph and even in the small spaces between cells.


The respiratory system:

Hairs inside our noses trap dirt and other large particles that may be inhaled and are often eliminated through exhalation. Particles that make it to the lungs are expelled from the airways in mucus.


The skin:

The skin is the largest detoxification organ of the body due its large surface area. Our skin is constantly in contact with the outside world, and has a vital role in providing a protective barrier against harmful substances, from bacteria and viruses to heavy metals and chemical toxins.


And lastly, one of my favourite organs, the liver:

Your liver has its own natural detox system. Every single thing we put in our bodies, has to be filtered through the liver. That drink of vodka, that cigarette, that maccas meal, that Panadol – EVERYTHING. Your liver is there working hard to regulate the metabolism of such toxins (like drugs or alcohol for example) in order to keep you safe.


A relatively healthy diet, low on caffeine and alcohol, with sufficient sleep, adequate fluid intake and regular exercise, helps support this process immensely.


Indeed, your liver certainly does NOT need its own ‘liver detox’. Liver cleanses promise to rid the body of toxins, yet there is such little science to support its use. Some liver cleanses even use the incorporation of supplements to ‘flush’ out the liver, which invariably, just mean the liver has more to process as some herbal supplements can be toxic when over-used (remember, the liver filters everything you put in it)! That includes filtering these ‘herbal supplements’ which can be just as toxic as drugs - & scarily, can be bought over the counter and use is not regulated like say, a prescription drug. Over-use of herbal supplements can be incredibly detrimental to the liver.


Rule of thumb here- A healthy liver naturally cleanses itself. An unhealthy liver will NOT get better with a liver cleanse. A person with liver disease needs proper, medical treatment.


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The reason that detoxes probably make people feel so good is because they usually don’t allow you to eat highly processed foods.


The only evidence based information we have on the types and amounts of foods we should be eating per day to reduce the risk of chronic disease, i.e. (the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating) also supports this concept of reducing highly processed foods.


It doesn't have to be so complicated.


Do yourself a favour, and stick with the Australia Guidelines of what to eat and #keepitsimple

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Monique Jephcote, 2020 l monique@theintuitivedietitian.com.au

Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor, Dietitian & Personal Trainer

1a/12 Tierney Place Tweed Heads South 2486, NSW, AUSTRALIA

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Intuitive Dietitian Nutritionist Tweed Heads Gold Coast