- Caroline Thomason, RD, CDCES, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator
Let's learn why detox diets are diet culture at its worst—and tactics to resist their toxic lure.
4 detox diet myths to cut back on, stat
Myth: There are special foods that magically detox your body
The truth is, detoxing is an incredibly complex system of physiological processes that our body utilizes to remove harmful substances. According to Deepti Agarwal, MD, director of interventional and integrative pain management, longevity medicine at Case Integrative Health, “there is no single food that will detoxify an individual's body. Detoxification can be seen as a 'package' of physiological and psychological processes through which the body eliminates toxic substances.”
Caroline Young, MS, RD, RYT of Whole Self Nutrition confirms that detox diets are neither healthy for our bodies nor our mental health. “Detox diets typically require some level of restriction and a high level of rigidity—both of which stress the body and the mind by increasing cortisol, our stress hormone, and causing food preoccupation. Detoxes can cause other mental and physical issues, like isolation, fatigue, and brain fog,” Young says.
“Detox diets typically require some level of restriction and a high level of rigidity—both of which stress the body and the mind by increasing cortisol, our stress hormone, and causing food preoccupation. Detoxes can cause other mental and physical issues, like isolation, fatigue, and brain fog,”—Caroline Young, MS, RD, RYT
The verdict is in: Detox diets are just not worth the physical or mental stress.
Myth: Detoxing jumpstarts weight loss
Detox diets are often promoted as a fast track to weight loss; an "overnight" fix. It makes sense: When you eat very little, drink a lot of water, and take pills and potions that may make you go to the bathroom, you will end up a few pounds lighter.
However, this weight loss is often short-lived. As soon as you begin eating again, you’ll find that you regain any weight that you initially lost. Sheri Berger, RDN, CDCES helps us clear up this myth. “The myth that detox diets jump-start weight loss needs to go. You may feel super psyched when you are a few pounds down after days of drinking only liquids, but that is all water weight and not fat loss. The moment you start eating food again, the water weight will come back. Our bodies naturally store a couple of grams of water with every gram of carbohydrates we eat. Carbohydrates are in pretty much everything we eat as they are our main fuel source,” Berger says.
According to Kim Yawitz, RD, a dietitian based in St. Louis, “Cutting back on sugar, alcohol, and other foods commonly eliminated on detox diets will certainly help you lose weight, but enjoying these foods in moderation can help you achieve results that last.”
Myth: Detox plans are scientifically proven to work
Dr. Agarwal fact-checked this one for us: “Many detox products we see online, or even pushed by our favorite influencers, are not regulated by the FDA and may not be properly tested for what they are claiming to do for your body.”
Much of the research around detox supplements is lacking. Instead, the research supports living a healthy lifestyle to reduce your overall toxic load and improve your body‘s natural ability to detox itself. Focusing on consuming a variety of high fiber foods, lots of colorful fruit and vegetables, regular exercise, and getting good sleep are all the building blocks of living a healthy lifestyle. Before we focus on the minutia, let’s make sure that you are consistently taking care of yourself with these habits first.
Myth: Your body isn’t capable of detoxing on its own
In fact, you already have a built-in detoxification organ: your liver! “Our bodies do not need a detox program, because it is naturally taking place. We have an entire system in place to fight off the endotoxins—the toxins we produce—and the exotoxins, or toxins from the environment, that we are exposed to throughout our life,” explains Molly Snyder, RDN a Pittsburgh, PA based dietitian.
“Our bodies are well-equipped to detox on their own via the liver and kidneys. Plus the digestive system, skin, and lymphatic system. Supporting these systems is far more beneficial than any detoxification program, pill, or supplement,’ says Taylor Grasso, MPPD, RD.
“Our bodies are well-equipped to detox on their own via the liver and kidneys. Plus the digestive system, skin, and lymphatic system. Supporting these systems is far more beneficial than any detoxification program, pill, or supplement."
—Taylor Grasso, MPPD, RD
With this said, Casey Kelley, MD, founder and medical director of Case Integrative Health suggests that there is more nuance to this discussion. “While it is true that our body has a natural detoxification system, the influx of toxins to our system can overload the detox pathways, and we aren’t able to detox as optimally. We are dealing with more toxins in our life than our forefathers. Think of it as a sink that is overflowing—the more we can help widen the outgoing pipe, the better," says Dr. Kelley.
Still, Dr. Kelley does not recommend falling prey to the detox diet you heard about on TikTok. Instead, she recommends focusing on specific habits that increase your body’s natural ability to detox. Follow these science-backed tips from Dr. Kelley that will support your body’s built-in detox pathway without harming your health.
- Eat foods that naturally support your body’s detoxification system, including cruciferous veggies, garlic, onions, eggs, and high-fiber foods
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day
- Exercise regularly, because sweat removes toxins through the skin
- Hold a regular sleep schedule by aiming for seven hours of sleep per night
- Reduce your toxic burden: Consider non-toxic beauty products and non-toxic cleaning products. Clean the air in your home: pollutants like mold can increase your toxic burden. If you are able, consider high-quality water or air filters
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