Cleanse and Detox Diets: Do They Live Up to the Hype?

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Cleanses and Detox diets are everywhere today and it’s an attractive idea, particularly after a holiday season of indulging, to think that one of these special diets will magically fix everything you’ve done before. Especially when Internet personalities and celebrities alike swear by them and post their picture-perfect results for all to see- but the problem is that there isn’t any evidence that these cleanses are beneficial AND some can do more harm than good.

Here’s the breakdown on everything you’ve heard about cleansing and what will actually help you feel great year-round!

The idea of cleanses is that they’re cleaning out your body, ridding it of harmful toxins. They usually involve a combination of laxatives, food restrictions, and extra fluid, juice and fiber intake. The thing is- your body already does this on its own. Your liver, kidneys, lungs, and intestines already work constantly to filter out and remove things that are toxic to your body, and if those systems weren’t working, you would know it from some pretty serious side effects. Of course, removing holiday “extras” like alcohol, excess sugar and salty foods helps your body do this work more easily and naturally.

If you’ve ever followed the progress of someone doing a cleanse or detox, they might admit to the side effects- which includes diarrhea, bloating, cramping, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and a lack of energy- but they’ll claim means that the cleanse is working! Some also say after a few days they feel so clear and amazing and have a heightening of senses, almost a sense of being high, and this means its working. Not really. The former side effects are often the result of taking laxatives, massively cutting your food intake and consequently your energy levels, having too much water or fiber or concentrated sugars from juices and the breakdown of your body’s lean muscle for basic hormonal and enzyme function. It is not a sign of good health! The latter “Detox High” is actually an evolutionary mechanism to prevent you from giving up looking for more energy and sustenance. Generally- being healthy means doing things that make your body feel GOOD not like you’re dying. You do not need to go through a period of awful before you can begin to feel great. Besides these side effects- there are a whole bunch of behind-the-scenes stuff that could be even more serious.

What are the possible side effects of cleanses? Some include changes in electrolyte levels, high or low blood sugar or blood pressure, dehydration, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, etc. These can be even more dangerous if you’re pregnant, have diabetes, kidney, heart or liver issues, or are on medication.

Have you cut your intake in half or are living on juice? Then yes- you’re probably losing weight. In a short-term and really unhealthy way. Just like other fad diets that make extreme cuts to caloric intake, initial weight loss often results. But these types of restrictions are unsustainable- and dangerous if followed for too long, so it’s likely you’ll gain that weight once you go back to eating a reasonable diet again.

An important note about the success stories- they are anecdotal, not evidence-based. Remember the sources- is a celebrity with private chefs and trainers and a medical team to make sure they’re getting exactly the nutrients they need raving about this cleanse? A Youtube star who is paid to promote cleansing teas? Beyond that- everyone reacts differently to extreme diets, and there are no guarantees that you will get those results or that you won’t have one of the really negative side effects listed above. This industry is incredibly unregulated, meaning that there aren’t a lot of rules for the people promoting these and the claims that they’re making. And, studies that have been done on particular cleanses have generally been poorly done, and still don’t point to success for the general population.

If you are in love with the idea of cleansing your body of all the bad stuff, we can help: Eat a generally healthy, well-balanced diet. The body is incredibly efficient at dealing with the bad stuff we put into it, but you can help it by eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, low in processed foods and added sugars, and by staying hydrated (in a non-extreme way). I know, not as flashy as cleansing and detoxing, but getting healthy should make you feel good, energetic, and nourished, not starving, exhausted and sick.


Nishta Saxena is a Registered Dietitian, Paediatric and Family Nutritionist, founder of Vibrant Nutrition, and proud Mama of two.  In her practice she helps families through all stages of nutrition.  Nishta believes that nutrition can transform lives, and it is her goal to change lives through her work!

Click here to contact Nishta about an appointment.


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