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8 Dos & Don’ts of Detoxing

I was recently interviewed for a newspaper story about detoxing. It’s a controversial topic because expert opinions on this trend (which seems to be taking America by storm) are all over the map. When I’m asked about this topic, my first response is always the same, “How do you define detox?” These days there are dozens, which range from simply cutting out animal products, white flour, sugar and alcohol, to juice fasts or extremely strict liquid only regimes. And today’s detoxes range in length from a weekend to a few weeks or a full-on 30 consecutive days.


I don’t believe that detoxes are necessary, but I do think they can be very helpful - if they’re done right. Here are my thoughts on the Dos and Don’ts:


DO: Think of it as a transition period – in my experience, this is the top benefit a detox offers. Starting an ultra simple eating plan that’s easy to wrap your head around can feel like a reprieve from the chaos of erratic eating. Use your detox days to think through what you’re transitioning to – is your goal to eat more veggie-based meals, eat on a regular schedule, cook at home more often, cut out processed foods? A detox can be a first step toward a bigger goal and help you see some immediate results that fuel your confidence and motivation.    


DO: Eat fresh, organic (or at least all natural) unprocessed foods – if you’re following a simple plan – especially one that’s lower in calories than you have been eating - you’ll want to get the most nutrition bang per bite. In my opinion, whole (unprocessed) organic foods offer the greatest quality, nutritional value and flavor.


DO: Listen to your body – when a detox is done right, you should feel light and energized, but a too-strict detox can leave you feeling weak, shaky, dizzy, cranky and headache prone. If you don’t feel well, you’re missing something your body needs. Pay attention to not just the number on the scale or how your clothes fit, but also how you feel. I don’t advocate detoxes that do more harm than good, even short-term.   


DO: Drink plenty of water – a good chunk of your daily fluid intake comes from food. If you’re cutting back or cutting out certain foods, be sure to drink plenty of fluid, about 2 liters (8 cups) a day. One of the best indications that you’re well hydrated is the color of your urine. It should be clear or very pale (a dark hue indicates that it is concentrated, or lacking in fluid).


DO: Eat protein, carbs and good-for-you fat – some of the most popular detoxes cut out one or more major of these three major macronutrients. That’s not smart in my opinion, because you need each one to help your body function optimally. Carbs and fat serve as fuel (you’re body’s top priority) and both protein and fat are involved with healing and repair work (your body is in a constant state of regeneration). Even in the short-term, a detox that cuts out one of these three can affect how you feel and how you look – and not in a good way!                                                                            

DON’T: Rely on laxatives, diuretics or stimulants – laxatives and diuretics are popular during detoxes because they both trigger additional weight loss. But, it’s not fat loss. Laxatives cause the loss of waste that hasn’t yet been eliminated from your digestive system, along with fluid, and diuretics simply cause you to lose water weight. Both can be risky, even in young, healthy people, primarily because electrolytes (which regulate heart function and fluid balance) are also lost. And if you feel like you need a stimulant to keep you pumped up, your detox is too strict. Rely on the power of real food to reboot your body.


DON’T: Cut calories below 1,000 – if you were to lay in bed all day and do nothing, you’d still need at least 1,000 calories, just to do all the “jobs” that need to get done in your body, namely keep your heart pumping, circulation going, lungs, nervous system and brain functioning, etc. Dipping below 1,000 calories means your body will go into serious conservation mode (e.g. burn fewer calories) and will eat away at its own lean tissue (muscle) to compensate for the shortage. It would be great if we relied solely on stored body fat when fuel is in short supply, but it just doesn’t work that way. Aim for 4-6 small meals daily that are at least a few hundred calories each.


DON’T: Follow a detox for too long - the longer you follow an eating plan that’s more restrictive than you can maintain for life, the greater the chances you’ll rebel and rebound overeat. This is another reason for not making a detox too strict. In my experience, a short-term detox can be helpful for breaking a pattern (like drinking soda or mindlessly munching on free snacks at the office) or taking a few baby steps towards a healthier way of eating, but a too-long detox can be a recipe for winding up right back where you started.  


So what are your thoughts? Have you tried any detoxes? If so, what was your experience like? Please share!


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