January is the month that we undertake New Year’s Resolutions, re-start that exercise programme and, for many, ‘detox’. But is there any benefit in detoxing or is it just health-extremist mumbo-jumbo? The answer may depend on what is meant by detoxing.
The purpose of the detox is to help the body’s elimination processes so that the body rids itself of any stored toxins. Well trained nutritionist would point out that there is no evidence that toxins build up in the body and need to be eliminated in this way. Our bodies process and eliminate waste materials all the time. The perceived benefits of the detox are mostly theoretical and anecdotal. On a typical detox many feel headaches, extreme thirst and food cravings at the beginning and these recede after a few days, suggesting that some sort of cleansing has gone on. Whether or not these toxins exist in us, after the indulgences of the previous months our body may be in need of a break in January, which is the other purpose of the detox.
All this does depend on what your normal diet is like. If you did not indulge very much at Christmas then there is not much need to detox. If however, you did and habitually drink every night, drink lots of tea and coffee, and eat frequent takeaway, processed, fatty and sugary foods then it may be a good idea to give these a rest for a while. It may also be time to review your diet as a whole.
One step at a time
It may be necessary to take changes one step at a time especially if the detox is a new concept to you or you find it difficult. If you are in the habit of over indulging, be it chocolate, alcohol or something else, try to cut it out for a month or reduce it to the occasional treat? Then perhaps you could make one change to your diet, such as eating more vegetables. In this way a detox can be a good start to a healthier diet, as you feel the benefits pretty soon, and this encourages you to keep going throughout the year.
The best type of detox, I believe, is eating very healthily and lasts for a few days and a maximum of a week: eating lots of fruit and vegetables, cutting out or down on sugary foods, caffeinated drinks and processed foods, cutting out suspected food intolerances, (e.g. wheat, dairy) and drinking plenty of water or herbal tea. But don’t cut out your proteins such as meat, fish, beans, pulses, and eggs. And make sure you have plenty of roughage-containing foods such as brown rice. Then it’s a question of how you feel afterwards. For the first few days of cutting out sugar and caffeine you may feel cravings and headaches and intense thirst, but then after that you may feel great. From this healthy platform you may be encouraged to review your diet and notice how you eat and the effect it has on your body, good or bad.
Juicing and supplements
It isn’t necessary to go on a seven-day juicing detox, which costs lots of money and time, or to buy many expensive supplements, the benefits of which are not certain.
Part of the appeal of the detox may be that it is self-denying. It has an aspect of purifying the body after the food ‘sins’ we have committed. It is a symbolic gesture. Often on a detox we eat little so it is a bit like a fast, which has obvious religious connotations.
Detox is not for life
Our diets are becoming more and more alienated from the food source. Extensive processing means we have little idea what goes into our food or where it has come from and this means that ‘non-nutrients’ are in our foods and we don’t know how these effect the body. But what we can know is how we feel when we eat certain diets? How do we feel if we live on takeaways and drink every night? How do we feel if we eat home-cooked meals, fruit and veg and moderate amounts of sugar and alcohol? There can’t be much wrong with cutting out some foods for a few days, even up to a week, and there is no harm in giving your body a rest after the Christmas break, particularly from sugar, alcohol and caffeine.