Detox diets have become hugely popular these days. It’s not unusual to hear of a celebrity going on a detox diet to improve their figures or to prepare themselves for a special role or event.

But you don’t even have to look that far. It’s likely that you have someone in your immediate vicinity, like a friend or a co-worker, who is attempting to do a “cleanse.”

As the word “cleanse” suggests, detox diets are supposed to clear your body of toxins. The idea is you’d feel lighter and be full of energy after a cleanse because you no longer have those toxins weighing you down. A cleanse is also considered to be a good way to shed off pounds more quickly.

But do detox diets really work? Let’s find out.

What is a detox diet?

What exactly is a detox diet? There are many different kinds of detox diets out there, but they all work on the same idea. And that idea is that if you keep your gut clean by ridding it of toxins that can harm your health, you will strengthen your body against disease. Not only that, you get to lose weight and stay in shape.

Detox diets, no matter what kind, typically follow the same formula. First, you go through a few days of fasting in which you’re restricted from consuming solid foods. Instead you’d be consuming nothing but specific liquids and supplements.

After a specified period, you may gradually reintroduce regular food into your meals. While you’re doing your cleanse, you may use a gut-cleansing agent, such as an enema or a laxative. You’re also supposed to sweat the toxins out with exercise. Detox diets are short-term, meant to last only a few days.

As said, there are many different kinds of detox diets out there. Some of the most popular are:

  1. Colon cleanse. A colon cleanse is designed to expel toxins out of the colon. This is done by taking in liquid or powdered supplements while fasting for a few days. You can also approach a colonic hygienist for colon irrigation. In colon irrigation, the therapist will use a machine to pump your abdomen with water through your rectum. The therapist may massage your abdomen during the treatment and have you drink a liquid supplement. After the treatment, you’re supposed to expel that water through regular bowel movement.
  1. Liver detoxification. Your liver can get stressed out if you don’t control your consumption of fatty foods or alcohol. A liver cleanse, however, can de-stress your liver by removing fat and toxin buildup. Cleansing the liver can be done through taking cleansing and liver-stimulating supplements while fasting for a number of days. You can also approach a hygienist for a coffee enema. Coffee enemas are supposed to open up the liver’s bile ducts, release the toxin buildup in those ducts so they could process more toxins, and generally revitalize the liver.
  1. Juice cleansing. Sometimes, the reason you feel toxic and exhausted is your body isn’t getting enough of the vitamins and minerals it needs. To flood your body with these vital nutrients, you can go on a juice cleanse. This means spending a few days fasting and drinking only specially formulated juices made from vegetables and fruits. Your fasting period can range from just one day to five days.
  1. Green smoothie cleanse. The green smoothie cleanse pretty much works like a juice cleanse. However, instead of drinking juice during your cleansing period, you’re supposed to consume smoothies made with vegetables and fruits. The advantage that smoothies have over plain juices is smoothies retain the fiber from the fruits and vegetables you used in making them. You can mix your own smoothies at home using your trusty blender.
  1. The Master Cleanse. The Master Cleanse is perhaps the most popular detox diet out there. This cleanse is pretty simple. For ten days, you’re supposed to fast and consume nothing but water mixed with lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. There are a number of variations to the Master Cleanse, but lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper are the key ingredients.

History of the detox diet

Detox and cleansing diets have been around for millennia, according to The Complete Guide to Cleansing and Detox, a book by nutritionist and herbalist Nicholas Schnell.

Ancient Egyptians and Greeks have practiced it in preparation for religious rituals. So did the Native Americans. Regular detoxification was a feature of traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. Christians also occasionally observe fasting periods.

Schnell also wrote that Europeans traditionally went on seasonal cleansing, usually at the onset of spring. This led to what was called the “spring cure.” In spring, people fasted and ingested herbal concoctions to get rid of heavy metals and toxins that may have built up in their gut during the winter months.

Eventually, the spring cure evolved into holidays to spa towns, resorts and sanatoriums that the upper classes enjoyed for their health in the 17th and 18th centuries. At these spas, guests are treated to special cleansing diets, enemas, and other detox treatments.

Today, there are many holistic clinics that offer treatments that include detox diets and cleanses. It’s also easy for you to buy packaged detox kits so you can conveniently cleanse at home and in your own time.

Foods you can and can’t eat on the detox diet

What you can and can’t eat while you’re on a detox diet depends on the particular diet you’re on. Generally, a detox diet is designed to last only a few days.

During those days, you’re supposed to limit your food intake to nothing but water, juices and smoothies. Those juices and smoothies may come in packages if you bought a detox kit. But you can also make them off a recipe and using fresh ingredients.

You’re also supposed to consume cleansing supplements while you’re detoxifying. These supplements may come in powdered form that you mix with your juice or smoothie or pop in as a pill or tablet.

While you’re detoxifying, you’re not supposed to eat solid food. Some detox diets, however, allow you to eat one meal made up of fresh, raw vegetables and fruits per day. There are also detox diets where you can eat broths or clear soups.

In addition, you need to stop drinking alcohol and other unhealthy habits like smoking when you’re on a detox diet. Sugary drinks and sugar in general are a no-no when you’re on a cleanse. And although caffeine is sometimes used in enemas and laxatives, you’re recommended to stay away from coffee while cleansing.

Do detox diets have health benefits?

Advocates of the detox diet that regular detoxification gives the body a lot of health benefits. These benefits include:

  • Quick and easily maintainable weight loss
  • Improved focus and mental clarity
  • Improved moods
  • Improved blood circulation
  • Rejuvenated organs, particularly the liver and colon
  • Clear, glowing, blemish-free skin
  • Hormonal balance

Perhaps weight loss is the biggest benefit you can get from a detoxification session. A study suggested that a detox diet may promote fast weight loss. The study used overweight and premenopausal Korean women. These women went through an 11-day diet consisting only of lemon juice mixed with organic maple and palm syrup.

However, a review of literature came to the conclusion that there is not enough scientific evidence backing the health claims of detox diets. The review stated that clinical studies on detox diets either used faulty methodology or have small sample sizes. Other studies used animal subjects rather than human subjects.

If you do lose weight on the detox diet, it’s largely because of the huge calorie deficits you went through while detoxifying. It’s only water weight you’ve shed. You’re also likely to regain all that weight shortly after you get off your cleanse. It’s the tendency of the body to make up for any prolonged calorie deprivation it experienced.

How effective is the detox diet?

A 2014 article published on The Guardian said outright that detoxification is a myth. Most detox diets ignore the fact that the body has built-in detoxification mechanisms. Your lungs clean the air you breathe. It also expels carbon dioxide and other byproducts of breathing. Your skin helps get rid of your body’s toxins through sweating.

Your digestive system is built to detox day in and day out. The liver deactivates the toxins that enter your body by breaking them down. Your kidneys filter out waste and toxins from your blood and the water you drink. Some of these are expelled through sweat. The large intestine or colon expels undigested food and other wastes from your gut. Lastly, the lymphatic system assists in getting rid of toxins from your body.

It’s true that we absorb toxins from the food we eat and from our general environment. These toxins can accumulate in the blood and fatty tissues, and it may take a long time for the body to get rid of them. But there’s no proof that detox diets can help the body address the buildup of toxins from the environment.

In fact, it is even suggested that regular detox diets can impair your overall health in the long term. Detox diets promote calorie deprivation. Your body starves if it’s not getting enough of the calories you need.

Moreover, detox diets can disrupt your normal bowel function, prevent the normal growth of gut flora, deplete electrolytes, and cause dehydration.

But what about the other supposed health benefits that detox diets give, such as increased energy and mental clarity, as well as improved mood? More likely than not, you’re experiencing these benefits for three reasons.

First, the supplements you take as part of your detox diet floods your body with the nutrients it needs. If you supply your body with all its required nutrients daily, you’d feel as sharp and energetic as if you’ve just had a cleanse.

Second, your detox diet forces you to exercise. Exercise gets you sweating out the toxins in your body. It also improves your blood circulation. This means your individual cells are getting their supply of nutrients more effectively. Eliminating waste from these individual cells becomes more efficient as well.

Lastly, going on a cleanse makes you give up your unhealthy habits, albeit temporarily. You’re not supposed to smoke, drink alcohol or consume sugar during your cleanse.

Therefore, it’s entirely possible to experience the so-called health benefits of going on a detox diet without actually going through it. It’s just a matter of living a cleaner, healthier lifestyle.

A healthier alternative to the detox diet

The one real benefit that you can get from a detox diet is you’ll lose a lot of weight quickly. So if you want to look good for a special event, you can go on a cleanse.

A cleanse may also give you a boost of confidence to motivate you into sustaining a healthier diet and exercise regimen. Other than that, you shouldn’t really go on a detox diet that often. In the long run, it may do more harm than good to your overall health.

But, as mentioned earlier, you can experience the temporary benefits of going on a detox diet on a more permanent basis. The only thing you need to do is to live a cleaner and healthier lifestyle.

Besides, if you’re showing signs of needing a detox, such as exhaustion or bloating, maybe you should indeed take a hard look at your habits.

More often than not, the reason why you’re feeling tired, sluggish or bloated is your lifestyle could use some cleaning up.

Again, a cleaner and healthier lifestyle involves eating balanced meals consisting of nutrient-dense foods. It also entails regular exercise and avoiding harmful habits like smoking or consuming too much sugar.

It will take longer to see the results of such a lifestyle. But these results are permanent, unlike with detox diets where you get to enjoy the effects only for a short while. You won’t need to go on a cleanse ever if you live a healthier lifestyle.