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Detoxification: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and Why You Should Care

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Detoxification diets have gained signification attention over the past decade, due mostly to publicity they’ve received from celebrities who have “detoxed” to drop weight before a film or photo shoot.

A quick search of “detox diets” yields more than a million results, and if you click the first 10 links, you’ll get 10 different explanations of what a detox diet is. That makes it tricky to differentiate the good information from the bad.

It’s time to illuminate some of the darkness surrounding the subject and highlight some changes you can make today to truly detoxify your body.

Defining Detox Diets

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Before we go any further, let’s clear up the definition of toxins. It’s tricky to do, because even the experts can’t fully agree on what to include and exclude. But most simply stated, toxins are substances poisonous to humans. When it comes to detox diets, most promote the elimination of some combination of harmful dietary byproducts, metals, chemicals, and free radicals.

Detoxification, then, refers to the removal of toxic substances. It isn’t defined by weight loss or caloric restriction. In fact, removing toxic substances from the body often leads to weight gain because of an increase in muscle mass. That improvement in body composition is attributed to the removal of toxic byproducts hindering hormonal function. As hormonal function improves, so does body composition.

The best way to rid your body of undesirable toxins is either to avoid consuming them — removing things like alcohol, tobacco, pesticides, and BPA from your diet — or to have healthy organ function so your liver, kidneys, and digestive tract can do their jobs and eliminate those toxins for you.

Simply put, a true detoxification is the end result of cultivating a healthy lifestyle that eliminates excess accumulation of undesirable properties within the body — but it is not a quick-fix weight loss plan.

Why Does Detox Lead to Weight Loss?

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The majority of mainstream detox diets are promoted as fast ways to lose weight by removing toxins from your body, which in turn makes you lose weight. However, these same diets all drastically reduce caloric intake, usually by eliminating whole foods and replacing them with a fruit or vegetable juice-based diet, which immediately raises red flags.

While juices often are nutrient-dense and can be part of a healthy diet, they aren’t magical weight loss products. In fact, the weight loss that occurs on these diets actually occurs because of the caloric deficit caused by not eating and glycogen depletion caused by restricting carbohydrates and leading to loss of water weight.

The “detox gurus” selling these juices and diet plans are charging people money just to tell them that if they eat less, they’ll lose weight. The delivery of said advice might be sexier because it’s packaged and sold as a detox regimen, but the bottom line remains the same: If you don’t eat, you’ll lose weight.

You should save your money. The weight you lose on a detox diet will come right back as soon as the detox is complete and you start eating again. And oftentimes, you’ll actually gain more weight back than you lost, creating a yo-yo effect.

Your Body Doesn’t Need a Detox; It Needs Nutrition

Instead of falling into the newest fad detox diet, try a real, healthy nutrition plan instead. Most people just need a clear protocol that’s possible to follow over the long haul. That approach eliminates the need for a detox because the majority of harmful products aren’t introduced to the body in the first place. Those that do make it inside the body will be safely eradicated by normal bodily function.

Consider these tips in place of a detox diet:

1 Avoid processed foods. Cardiovascular disease, inflammatory joint disease, and cancer are just a few of the long-term side effects that come with a large amount of processed foods in your normal diet.

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2 Avoid tobacco and foods high in heavy metals. Tobacco, tuna, swordfish, mackerel, farmed fish, white flour, and some baby formulas are all high in heavy metals.

3 Avoid pesticides, food dyes, and chemical food additives. Stick to the outside of the supermarket. Real foods should be the staple of your diet. If it comes in a box or a can, you should avoid it for the most part.

4 Eat foods rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are your body’s best defense against cellular damage from free radicals. Vitamins are your primary source of antioxidants and are available in a diverse diet of leafy greens and colorful fruits and vegetables.

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Detox diets won’t help you lose weight and keep it off in the long-term. Making sure your diet is filled with a variety of whole, healthy foods and minimizes contact with toxins is a much better path to healthy, effective weight loss and management.

About the author: Alan Bishop is the Director of Sports Performance for Men’s Basketball at the University of Houston . Alan has a Masters Degree in Sports Conditioning & Performance and holds certifications through the NCSC, CSCCA and USAW.

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