Is it healthy to detox?
The January detox is almost as traditional as the festive binge that precedes it – but what does the word mean to you? We look at whether restrictive diets can do more harm than good, and what to do to help improve your wellbeing
Making plans for a healthier lifestyle doesn't have to mean crash diets and drop-a-dress-size obsessions. Our handy list of diet dos and don'ts will help you feel better, more energised and stay healthy all year round.
What is a detox?
Our everyday use of the word ‘detox’ is associated with promises of rapid weight loss, luscious hair, skin and nails, boundless energy, reduced cellulite and an enhanced immune system. Lasting anything from 24 hours to a few weeks, a ‘detox’ diet often involves the following:
- Fasting for short periods
- Eating only fruit and vegetables, or their juices
- Cutting out major food groups
- Avoiding caffeine, sugar or alcohol
- Supplementing with a ‘detox’ solution, pill, tea or lotion
The good news is this is unnecessary, because our bodies are well equipped to manage toxins and waste products – we have in-built mechanisms to facilitate filtering, breaking down and removing them. Organs like the skin, liver, kidneys and gut all play a role in detoxification. This means if we over-indulge – say we have a drink or two too many, the liver works hard to break down the alcohol into products it can safely remove from the body.
What to do during a detox
- Exercise – Getting active is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle, but you don't need to be an athlete to reap the benefits. A simple walk before eating is thought to improve the way your body metabolises food while exercising with friends has been shown to increase the levels of endorphins released while working up a sweat.
- Eat in moderation – Denying yourself your favourite foods will only see your health goals collapse when cravings get the better of you. Instead, listen to your body and curb hankerings for unhealthy snacks with good-for-you treats.
- Eat little, more often – If necessary and your lifestyle allows, regulate your metabolism by eating five or six small dishes during the day instead of three large meals and you'll find you won't need to reach for those calorie-packed snacks.
- Stay hydrated – Your whole body can suffer when dehydrated, affecting everything from your skin to your concentration. Many of us also misinterpret thirst for hunger, so be sure to always have a bottle of cold water to hand and sip throughout the day.
What not to do during a detox
- Skip meals. Your body will go into starvation mode and you'll be far more likely to tuck into something calorific later in the day.
- Keep energy levels up with low GI-foods and plenty of healthy snacks.
- Cut out food groups. Many believe cutting fats and carbs from their diets will speed up weight loss. In fact, removing major food groups is more likely to make you give up your good intentions as energy levels dwindle and your body is deprived of vital nutrients.
- Give up everything too quickly. The temptation when starting a diet is to go cold turkey, cutting out all vices and expecting your resolutions to stick with will-power alone. While it may take a little longer to see results, slowly making changes to your lifestyle will mean you are far more likely to stick to your healthy eating plan.
- Don't be disheartened. Everyone has a bad diet day, so don't throw in the towel if you stray from your plan. A balanced diet is something we should strive for all year round, so allowing yourself the occasional treat will help keep you on track in the long run.
While following a ‘detox’ diet may encourage some positive habits like eating more fruit and vegetables or drinking more water, unless you have a serious health condition, you don’t need to severely restrict your diet or take supplements, teas or potions. Your body is well equipped to detoxify and remove waste, so the best strategy for dealing with occasional over indulgences is to get back to enjoying a healthy, varied diet combined with an active lifestyle.
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Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a Registered Nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food. Find her on Instagram at @kerry_torrens_nutrition
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