Detox diets are all the rage at the moment.
And rightly so..
See, you spend all day surrounded by the toxins found in sugar, processed food and the evil powers of rock n' roll.
And that's why your diet isn't working.
Luckily, there's a shake for that..
Celebrities do them. Reality TV "stars" do them, too.
But should you do a detox diet if you want to lose weight?
Today I'm going to break them down, and give you some facts to wash away the mountain of hype surrounding this latest craze of the fitness industry.
Let's face it, we all know at least one person who sells detox diet shakes.
(I'll call her Sandra.)
Sandra says "drink this miracle weight loss shake"...
So you try your best to avoid Sandra every morning on the school run, as she stalks the yard like a lion looking for weak antelope to sell a pack to.
And you feel genuinely sorry for the unlucky recipient she finally selects (but not sorry enough to take their place), cringing as she reels of the buzzwords... "cleanse your system of toxins".... "enhance your glow"... "reboot your body"... for a good 15 minutes.
But hey, at least it wasn't you.
Until one day, she gets you.
To make matters worse, it'll happen on the day from f**king hell. So as you roll up to school with 60 seconds to spare, your 5 year old tucked under your arm wearing a pair of underpants as a hat and a Nutella smile reminiscent of Heath Ledger's Joker, Sandra looks down her nose at you in judgement, waiting patiently to give you the speech about why you need to "realign your chi".
Suddenly it ain't so funny, is it?!
If you know Sandra, and would like to see what happens when her head explodes in rage, feel free to share my article with her...
Yes, it's going to be one of those posts...
I guess my problem with the whole detox thing stems from it being the latest in a long line of fitness marketing buzzwords.
It's all about images of avocados splashing into glasses of water, and models pouting next to bowls of really colourful fruit and vegetables.
It's full of annoying people who say things like "Fruit is nature's candy!"
The next time I hear that phrase, I'm going to high five an electric fence.
Clearly, Sandra has never experienced the ecstasy of a late night Galaxy binge.
I've been a personal trainer for 12 years, and in that time I've been lucky enough to have helped 1000's of men and women to lose weight.
And the one thing I wish people would stop doing is comparing fruit to f**king chocolate.
I love fruit, it's packed with vitamins and minerals which will do you good. But there is nothing wrong with having chocolate if you want chocolate. You do not need to replace it with an apple. You just need to stop eating so much of it that your optimal transport choice is rolling.
It's also part of fitness culture that refuses to give any credit to the hard-ass work registered dietitians have to endure in order to be able to call themselves RD's, instead basing it's proof around the phrase "Well it worked for me..."
Because nowadays, Jackie from your local chip shop can decide she wants to sell something like Juice Plus shakes and is given the title of wellness coach or weight loss nutritionist.
NOTE: These are not real job titles. You cannot attend college to become a qualified wellness coach. They are merely fancy names given to build false trust and disguise the real job title, which is sales rep. Because pyramid scheme.
And these people don't bother chasing academic approval, instead obtaining their degree from the University of Pinterest., where anything natural is deemed good for you (try drying your hair in a tornado) and anything colourful is deemed "bursting with natural goodness".
You'd have thought I'd have been super shredded as a teen, then, given my childhood diet of Wham bars and Refreshers.
So before I get into the facts on why detoxes are bulls**t, it's probably a good idea to start by running through what a detox diet actually is.
It's based around the idea of "cleansing" the body of toxins, and in order to do this we are told to remove certain foods from the diet (sugar is a favourite) for three-to-four weeks.
What a toxin actually is, however, isn't clearly defined.
During a 2009 study, researchers questioned 15 leading detox and cleanse companies (including Garnier, Boots Vitabiotics, Innocent, and more) about their products in order to determine precisely which aspects of human health they were attempting to fix. (3)
None of them could provide any information on which toxins their products were specifically targeting, or even agree on a solid definition for the word "toxin"!
Further still, none of them were able to provide any evidence to show either the safety or the effectiveness of any of their products.
So not only do they not know if their own products are effective for targeting these so-called toxins they are demonizing as the reason you can't lose weight, they don't even know which toxins they are!
That's fitness industry nonsense in full effect, right there...
But by scientific standards, a toxin is classed as something that's dangerous to human life.
So that could be anything, really.
The poison is in the dosage.
Too much water can kill you. (1)
Should you stop drinking it? No - that would also kill you!
High fructose corn syrup is often demonized as the cause of weight gain, but given it's very similar structure to regular sugar and the fact that growing evidence suggests it's no worse for you, the problem once again comes down to the dosage.
Queen sang Too Much Love Will Kill You. That's probably also true.
This overtly black & white logic that everything man-made is automatically bad for you, and everything natural is great for you, runs rife throughout the world of detox diets and cleanses.
It's utter nonsense.
"Urgh... there's mercury in that can of tuna! Why are you eating metal?!"
Well, there's arsenic in apples and you're telling us to go big on those, Sandra, so...
Again, food is a very subjective and the poison is always in the dosage, not the ingredient. If you avoided something like tuna for fear of mercury poisoning, you'd also be losing out on the multitude of health benefits found in essential Omega-3 fatty acids. (2)
Besides, if you actually consumed enough mercury via tuna to result in acute toxicity (which you won't, unless you're AquaMan), your first port of call would be to go to hospital - not to buy some bulls**t greens drink from a f**king sales rep!
Even if you'd consumed high enough levels to cause (highly unlikely) chronic toxicity (not life threatening, but still not great) your best move would be to consume a varied, well balanced healthy diet.
Because "detoxing" is not the job of expensive pills and powders.
It's the job of your liver and kidneys.
I mean, it's literally what they do on a daily basis. That is correct. Your body comes with it's own built-in detox system.
Allow me to introduce the star players in the team:
Consider the liver a filter, which stops dangerous substances contained in food from entering the blood. Like the gatekeeper in Thor. Kinda.
The kidneys find and terminate toxins via urine. They're basically Arnold.
Regular bowl movements help keep your body running like clockwork. And if you've tried any of the crazy detox diets I mention below, you'll know that the shapes you'll be busting into the toilet are anything but "regular".
Yes, your lungs are the final part of the body's built-in detox network. They dispose of toxins which have entered your body via breathing.
While these programs differ in the specifics, the one thing they all share is a strict regimen about which foods you are not allowed to eat, and getting a good sized chunk of your daily calories via special juices, shakes or teas.
Some of these diets go to crazy extremes, too.
One so-called cleanse requires you to swallow pills which make your poop turn into something that resembles a long black snake.
You get to sigh "Bye bye, toxins!" as you watch it slither down the u-bend, but what's really happening here is the pill uses a polymerising agent to give your poop a plastic overcoat. It has absolutely nothing to do with toxicity.
Detox foot pads are another trendy option.
These bad boys go under your feet and slowly turn brown during the night while you sleep.
Despite the marketing proclaiming that the brown sludge represents toxins which have literally been pulled from your body, what is actually happening here is a substance within the pad turns brown when mixed with human sweat.
Simple as that.
So while you might expect to wake up feeling like one of those yoga chicks in memes, what you should be feeling is p***ed off.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg...
When it comes to fruit juice cleanses, you are getting nothing more than sugary water in a bottle at an astronomical price.
Look at Green Supreme (by Suja Juice) for example.
At a cost of $7.99 for a bottle which contains only 2 drinks and has 25 grams of sugar in each serving, it's no wonder you feel full of energy after you drink the f**ker. I could go to my local supermarket and spend under $1 on essentially the same product.
Of course, they can negate the lack of science by talking about connecting you to your inner wild spirit and making your skin glow.
Another rule of thumb with detoxes is they come with lots of big promises.
Jillian Michaels (of The Biggest Loser fame) claims that her detox product will "support your colon and digestive systems in clearing away harmful toxins."
(Yes, it's the same Jillian who was sued 3x about her fat loss pills.)
Any research to support these bold claims?
Nope. Don't need any. Science is for dicks.
Once again, this is total marketing BS.
If your colon isn't working properly, you have bigger issues than needing a supplement.
Gwyneth Paltrow sits firmly on top of the celebrity nut pile.
Goop (her "wellness" company) can be seen at the forefront of whatever the latest magic bullet is, often using marketing woo so strong that it has actually enticed people to pay over $40 for an egg which is quite literally shoved up your lady garden (thoroughly debunked, by the way), while Gwyneth recommends busy parents drink nothing but raw goats milk (?!) all in the name of cleansing the body of those nasty, slimy toxins.
People would have to be insane, right?
So colour me insane, and I'll bend over while you shove a rock up my a**.
All of this comes despite the fact that, when questioned about her products on American television, Gwyneth admitted they're complete nonsense.
Perhaps the craziest of all detox diets, though, is The Master Cleanse.
This program entices people by using the incredible claim of being able to eliminate every single disease (ahem!).
You read that correctly!
Every. Single. Disease.
Who has such a minute conscience that they're willing to use marketing claims like this to prey on people who are desperate to try anything for a solution to their problems?
One thing's for sure, I hope their next poo is a hedgehog.
The main selling point of a detox diet, of course, is the promise of fast weight loss results.
Given the facts that you've read so far, you'd be correct to presume that everything isn't quite what it seems.
Due to the food choices on detox programs being so restrictive, calories are automatically driven down to a minimum, which will always result in weight loss.
Also, as you are required to obtain the bulk of your nutrition from things like lemon water, wheat grass and other non-calorie dense sources, the majority of weight lost is just water, due to the fact that you're dramatically cutting your carbohydrate intake.
If you are under-eating carbs, glycogen stores are depleted rather quickly and we start losing water weight in as little as 48 hours. (6)
The title of the study cited above gives a good bite-sized account of the findings it yielded ("Glycogen storage: illusions of easy weight loss, excessive weight regain, and distortions in estimates of body composition.")...
You can read more about this in my article Why Fad Diets Don't Work.
So much importance rests on this carbohydrate restriction (and subsequent water loss) that most detox programs last no longer than 4 weeks. This is because:
Of course, water weight loss is not real weight loss, and is regained once carbohydrates are reintroduced to your diet.
And when you regain the aforementioned water weight, what is the first thing on most people's lips?
"I'm back at square one. I can't do this by myself. I need to get back on my detox diet soon."
Now you see how this whole addictive scene works, you can see why so many people get sucked in and find it hard to ever break away.
I know what you're thinking...
With no evidence to support their radical health claims... no evidence to determine whether their products are safe or effective... and no evidence to determine which toxins they are trying to eliminate (or even just a solid definition of the word 'toxin'!)... why the f**k are detox diets and cleanses so popular?
Well, it comes down to marketing.
There's a dark side of the fitness industry which has tapped into the fact that most people just want quick results, and want something to pin all of their problems on.
As such, detoxes are based around reducing your calorie intake to near starvation levels and banning certain food groups because they are evil.
The reason you couldn't lose weight in the past is more likely due to a number of small issues which can be easily rectified through education (i.e. you weren't exercising regularly enough, or your diet could have been better, etc), but there are snakeoil salesmen who are willing to take your money in exchange for lies about how it was all down to one little thing.
You want to lose weight? Cut out sugar. It's sugar's fault. Stop eating gluten. Doesn't matter that you've never been diagnosed with coeliac. It's gluten, bro. You need to get off the dairy, mate. That's the problem.
That's how you create a detox diet.
Now top if off by throwing in a free endorsement from some ill-informed celebrities who will do anything for exposure, and give it a trendy name like "The 4 Week Body Reboot" and you've got yourself a product, my friend.
Let's end on a serious note.
Anybody who demonizes food groups is full of s**t.
Your body can handle some pretty amazing things, and unless you have a medical issue there's no reason for you to ban protein, carbohydrates or fats.
In situations where you do have issues, a medical professional is the way to go.
Also, no food (none at all) will inherently "make you fat". You only thing that'll do that is over-eating.
Suddenly avoiding all the foods you enjoy, and chopping your calories from 4000 per day to 700 per day, is a sure-fire way to mess up your metabolism and give yourself problems further down the line.
It's also highly unsustainable.
As discussed in my article Why Clean Eating Sucks, a more flexible approach to dieting (one which includes your favourite treats along the way) has been shown to be superior for weight loss against rigid, overly-restrictive dieting because they key factor in any diet is whether the user can stick to it in the long-term. (5)
To top it off, a fantastic review study published in Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics looked at all of the academic research currently available on detoxes and cleanses, concluding that there isn't enough research to support the claims being made, and that what little data that currently exists is is not very convincing anyway (due to "sampling bias, lack of control groups, and a reliance on self-reporting"). (4)
So the next time "Sandra" approaches you with sales pitch, feel free to re-direct her to this article then stand back and watch the fireworks.
Hey, I'm not saying she's a bad person.
All I'm saying is, if you were drowning in the sea and you saw her speeding towards you on a rescue boat with a rubber ring in one hand and a clutch of detox packs in the other, you'd swim down.
If you've enjoyed my article on why detox diets are bulls**t, give me a share.