The lowdown on detoxing

It’s that time of year again when people resurrect the new year’s resolution they’ve made again and again – to get fit, lose weight and be healthy.

Many consider a detox diet the perfect way to kick start this new regime of wellness, as well as a means of counteracting all the fattening food and alcohol they have consumed over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Detoxifying the body involves getting rid of toxins and cleansing the body.

This can involve something as simple as cutting out alcohol, caffeine and sugar, drinking lots of water and eating more fibre, fruit and vegetables, while some people turn to herbal supplements to cleanse their system.

General practitioner Dr. John Addleson warned that such supplements are usually diuretics or laxatives and act to flush needed electrolytes and intestinal flora out of the system.

“People feel that they are losing weight and cleansing their bowels, etc, but it’s just a bunch of laxatives and diuretics… When people blast the gut with herbal preparations, they can disturb the normal electrolytes and flora in the bowel.”

Instead, he recommends a liquid diet of water, juices and soups for 24 to 36 hours to help the body become rebalanced after weeks of eating food that has left people bloated.

“You have to keep up the electrolyte and salt intake,” he said, adding that sports drinks like Gatorade or juices like cranberry replace electrolytes in the body.

Those who have undertaken detox diets report that they have more energy, lose weight and feel healthier, but experts argue that this is a natural result of eating fresher, healthier food and improving one’s diet, with the weight loss explained by the fact the ‘detoxer’ is simply eating fewer calories than usual.

Detox diets can act as a starter’s gun for a healthier diet, but should not be used long term to lose weight as it may slow down the metabolism and make keeping the weight off even harder.

Registered nutritionist Andrea Hill says short-term detox diet can indeed by a great way to kick-start a new year of healthier eating and get motivated, but she warns against adopting detoxification as a long-term weight-loss programme.

“With the whole mentality of the new year being a fresh start, they are very popular at this time of year. Everybody needs a bit of a detox in January, especially after the holidays when people have been drinking too much and having so much sugar and starchy foods. They start off January feeling bloated,” she said.

She encourages people to focus on whole grains and eliminate foods with white flour, to eat more fruit and vegetables, drink more water and take more exercise.

Cutting out caffeine and alcohol for a few weeks is also advisable, she says.

Some detox products on the market, in their accompanying literature, say that the toxins being released by the body may lead to a person becoming sluggish and tired and getting headaches, but Hill said this was usually because the products are diuretics which lead to more urination and corresponding dehydration. Basically, if you don’t drink lots of water while taking these, you will get a headache and feel tired as a result of being dehydrated.

Hill says that for some people, they may feel energised and healthier from taking detox products, but this could be a “placebo effect”.

She says the longest period of time she would advise anyone to go on a detox programme would be three days. “Some people go on these detox diets for much longer, for 10 or 14 days, but they’re cutting out major food groups that their bodies need.”

Citing some extreme detox regimes that call for the consumption of little else than water or cayenne powder or maple syrup, she says people on those diets often report feeling better, but warns that this is usually due to the fact that those people are drinking more water than before.

And while those extreme diets might lead to weight loss, as soon as the dieter goes back to eating normally, the weight will simply pile back on, Hill says.

For the new year, she advises eating healthily, taking more exercise and being sensible when it comes to weight loss.

Make sure you speak to your doctor before going on a detoxification diet, especially if you have a health condition or are taking medication. People with diabetes, hypoglycaemia, gastrointestinal disorders, lowered immunity, kidney disease or liver disease are not advised to follow detox or cleansing programmes.