Q: "What's the real deal with detox and cleanse diets—good or bad?” —Toxic in Tennessee
A: Detox and cleanse diets are bad for a number of reasons: They waste your time and, depending on the duration and the level of restriction, they may do more harm to your health than good. One of the problems with ‘detoxes’ is that they are very vague—What toxins are being removed? From where? And how? These questions are rarely answered, because most detox plans lack any real scientific basis. In fact, I recently challenged a room of 90+ fitness professionals to show me any evidence in humans (not mice or in test tubes) that lemon detoxifies your liver, and no one could come up with anything.
When a client comes to me to detoxify or cleanse their system, it tells me that they’re not feeling good physically and maybe emotionally. To help them start feeling better, I work with them to reset three key areas of their body: focus, metabolism, and digestion. Here is what to do to optimize these three areas and why it matters:
Your digestive track is a powerful system in your body that actually has its own nervous system. Alleviating digestive problems is one of the fastest ways to start feeling better.
What to do: Start removing potential allergenic foods from your diet such as wheat, dairy, and soy, while also taking a daily probiotic supplement. Focus on eating ample fruits and vegetables in addition to proteins (beans, eggs, meat, fish, etc) and a variety of oils. After 2-3 weeks, slowly add back gluten-, soy-, and dairy-containing foods one at a time; one new food type every 4-5 days is as fast as you want to go. Monitor how you feel as you add each of these foods back into your diet. If you start to have bloating or other gastrointestinal issues, this is a red flag that you might have an allergy or intolerance to one of these food types so keep it out of your diet moving forward.
Your body can store environmental toxins and metals in your fat cells. This is the only area that I think we can truly detoxify ( actually remove toxins from your system). By burning the fat stored in fat cells, you cause the fat cells to shrink. As a result the fat-soluble toxins are released.
What to do: When resetting your metabolism, don’t focus on restricting your calories, as we don’t want to depress your thyroid function. Instead focus on eating the nutrient-dense foods mentioned above and exercising at least 5 hours per week. The majority of that exercise should be high-intensity metabolic training (a few intense exercises repeated in a circuit with little to no rest to push the body to its absolute limit).
It’s not uncommon for me to find clients running around with empty energy stores, using caffeinated beverages to help them surge through meetings and long work days. Here’s why that’s bad: Relying too much on stimulants like caffeine wreaks havoc on your focus, sleep quality, and ability to optimize stress hormones.
What to do: Stop drinking caffeinated beverages altogether. This will cause headaches for the first couple days, but it passes. When you’re no longer hopped up on caffeine, it will become clear that you need to start getting better sleep at night. Make a deal with yourself to get 8 hours of sleep each night. This will also help with resetting your metabolism, as quality sleep is essential for optimizing weight-loss hormones like growth hormone and leptin.
Practicing mindfullness meditation is also important for resetting your focus. Research shows that people who regularly practice mindfullness meditation have a greater ability to focus on tasks and avoid distraction. You don’t need to go out and buy a meditation pillow so you can sit in the lotus position for hours each day. Just start with a simple 5-minute meditation. Sit and count your breaths, one to ten, repeat, and try to focus only on your breathing and not what’s on your to-do list. You’ll find that even 5 minutes is enough to make your feel rejuvenated. Make a goal of working up to 20 minutes 3 times per week.
A final note: Please don’t go on any crazy detox or cleanse plans. Try following these simple steps instead to reset your metabolism, focus, and digestive track for 3-4 weeks, and you’ll feel great, improve your health, and lose weight as a bonus!
Meet the Diet Doctor: Mike Roussell, PhD
Author, speaker, and nutritional consultant Mike Roussell, PhD is known for transforming complex nutritional concepts into practical eating habits that his clients can use to ensure permanent weight loss and long lasting health. Dr. Roussell holds a bachelor degree in biochemistry from Hobart College and a doctorate in nutrition from Pennsylvania State University. Mike is the founder of Naked Nutrition, LLC, a multimedia nutrition company that provides health and nutrition solutions directly to consumers and industry professionals via DVDs, books, ebooks, audio programs, monthly newsletters, live events, and white papers. To learn more, check out Dr. Roussell's popular diet and nutrition blog, MikeRoussell.com.