I'm asked this question a lot these days. Detoxes are now so common that some of my clients feel like they're doing something wrong if they don't take part in some sort of cleanse. In my opinion, detoxes are not essential, but if you're thinking about trying one, consider these pros and cons before you take the plunge:
I did include a detox, which I call the 5-Day Fast Forward in my newest book, but I made it 100 percent optional. It's there because in my private practice some of my clients absolutely need to see quick results in order to feel confident and successful, which allows them to gain the motivation and momentum they need to move forward with long-term lifestyle changes. Otherwise, they tend to stay stuck.
A key advantage of a detox is that it can help you end a chaotic eating pattern by introducing order, simplicity and repetition. And eating or drinking only clean, whole foods can reboot your taste buds. By day five of my Fast Forward plan, many people notice that their cravings for salty, fatty, or sweet foods disappear, and they begin to appreciate the natural flavors of whole foods. Finally, when all of the decisions about exactly what to eat, how much, and when have been made for you, you can't act on emotional, social, environmental and habitual eating triggers, which can be the first step to breaking them.
The biggest downsides are that detoxes tend to be extreme and difficult and some can be pricey. Further, the majority of the weight you'll lose will be water, stored glycogen (carbs), and waste, which you may regain in part when the detox ends, depending on what you transition to.
Moreover, some people find that even short-term restriction can lead to intense cravings and rebound overeating. If you have ever quit a diet early because it was too strict, or binged after following a limited eating plan, if you tend to get bored when you eat the same foods or meals too frequently, or if you've ever felt panicked at the thought of not being able to choose your own meals, then a detox or cleanse isn't for you. In fact, it may set you up for gaining back more than you lose and feel like nothing but torture.
Listen to your instincts. If you don't think a detox is right for you or you've tried one before with miserable results, it's OK to buck the trend. On the flip side, if you thrive on structure and tend to throw in the towel when you don't see speedy results it may be something to contemplate. Just be sure to consider whether it's safe to limit your diet (you should check with your doctor - if you have diabetes, hypoglycemia or other medical conditions, or if you're pregnant or breastfeeding it's definitely a no-no). Also, take some time to think through how you think your body will react, and how a detox may impact your work or social commitments. For my newest book, I chose a solid food detox that includes just five foods that provide a combination of lean protein (vegan or vegetarian), carbohydrates and good-for-you fat, which I have found to be easier to follow and more filling than liquid-only plans. Just be sure to listen to your body. A detox should feel like a full body tune-up, not a punishment.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.