Detox diets can do more harm than good. Here, we offer a sane strategy
Camille Noe Pagan
How’s this for insane? One in 20 women would rather give up a limb than be obese, according to a study in the journal Obesity. So it’s pretty much a no-brainer that hordes of rational women desperately want to believe in the power of a detox diet. “These diets are so popular right now, mostly because people think they’re a quick fix for shedding pounds,” says Jennifer Ventrelle, R.D., a nutrition counselor at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
As nice as it is to think you can simply flush fat away by drinking so much liquid you spend half your day in the bathroom, the reality is that some of these diets are not just literally hard to swallow, but they may also be bad to swallow.
Recipe for Danger?
The concept of fasting—drastically reducing caloric intake or following a liquid diet—isn’t new. The modern-day detox has existed since at least the 1930s, with the first grapefruit diet fad.
Today, most commercial detox diets tout an unhealthy formula of minimal calories and nutrients along with some key—usually foul-tasting—ingredient that has supposed fat-melting power, like cayenne pepper or vinegar. But no science backs the idea that following a specific diet for a week or eating only one food will get rid of “toxins.” Your body has the power to do that all on its own: That’s why you have a liver, kidneys, and a digestive system.
What’s worse, “most of the so-called ‘detox’ supplements and diets on the market aren’t regulated by the FDA and are potentially harmful, especially if they’re very low-calorie or contain diuretics that flush your body of potassium and other crucial nutrients,” Ventrelle says.
And with these very real risks come minimal rewards. Much of what you’re losing on this kind of extreme diet is water weight, which lasts only until you refill on fluids. If you see a more permanent drop on the scale, chances are it’s muscle, not fat, that’s missing. Without adequate protein (and a liquid diet doesn’t offer much), your body takes it from its most available source: your own muscle tissue.
Not good! Muscle is your built-in calorie furnace, torching those muffin-top makers even when you’re not moving. And the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, which is why dramatically slashing calories can actually slow your metabolism in just a few days. “Your body thinks you’re starving and panics,” explains Marc Hellerstein, M.D., Ph.D., professor of human nutrition at the University of California at Berkeley. “Your metabolism slows way down to preserve your muscle and basic bodily functions.” So when you go back to eating normally, you gain weight faster and from fewer calories.
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A Body Cleanse That Isn't Crazy | Women's Health Magazine