Seeing as you have landed on this page, one of two things must be certain: You are either contemplating going on a weight loss detox, or you have heard way too much about this (dare I say) ‘fad diet’ and want to know if it’s worth it. Either way, prepare to get schooled on what a detox really is, what it entails, and if it is really worth it or if it’s a game that’s just not worth the candle.
Everyone would want an easy way to lose weight (we certainly would). And while many diets out there claim to offer you the easy way out, nothing beats the good old-fashioned calorie deficit. Weight loss detoxes, as popular as they are, have been marketed as being ‘effective’ and ‘the easy way to lose weight’. But is this really true?
How important is detox for weight loss? And can going on a detox jumpstart your weight loss journey? Let’s demystify this.
What Exactly Is A Detox?
Detoxification is defined as the process of getting rid of toxins in your body. And what are these toxins, to begin with? Well, the term toxin may be used to refer to any substance (dietary or environmental) that has the potential to cause harm. Examples include heavy metals, industrial chemicals, allergens, pollutants, pesticides; you name them.
The term detoxification is coined from drug and alcohol recovery, and it is now one of the most common words when it comes to dieting and weight loss. Just as it is in drug and alcohol recovery, detoxing in the dietary world refers to measures taken to rid the body of potential toxins in the food and environment alike.
Usually, detox diets involve strict dietary regimens that include (but are not limited to) fasting; taking various herbal supplements and laxatives; enemas; eliminating many food groups from your diet, and other methods used to ‘flush’ your system.
Some detox diets even go as far as claiming to detoxify specific organs in your body, such as the liver, kidney, or colon.
More often than not, weight loss is the goal for most detox diets. However, detoxification also targets physical ailments such as headaches and migraines, allergies, hormone imbalances, digestive issues, nausea, and fatigue.
But, does detoxification actually hold water?
Read More: The Watermelon Detox And The Truth Behind It
Do You Really Need To Detox Your Body?
One of the main arguments by detox proponents is that we are exposed to toxins every day, and some of these are even present in our foods.
While government agencies keep an eye on food production, there is debate about the practices used in food production, with some studies even suggesting that specific processing methods or added ingredients could be harmful in high quantities or among particular populations (31).
Furthermore, it is argued that since some artificial ingredients and processing methods, such as the use of GMOs, have been banned in some countries, their continued use could be harmful to people’s health. However, most of these claims are yet to be proven.
Truth be told, in today’s world, it is impossible to avoid toxins, but do you really need a detox to rid your body of them? Short answer: no.
For one, although detoxes remain very popular, there is no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of this kind of diet regimen (6).
Furthermore, even though you might not see it, your body is doing an excellent job of eliminating harmful substances on its own. The liver, for example, is amazingly good at filtering toxins out.
The human liver works 24 hours a day and has three major roles:
- Storing and metabolizing nutrients
- Producing enzymes and hormones
- Processing various bodily elements
The processing function involves filtering out toxins and other byproducts from your blood by turning these toxins into less harmful substances like bile or filtering them out of your system.
If you have a healthy liver, then you need not worry, because, in a healthy liver, daily detoxification occurs naturally.
It is also important to note that while the liver is somewhat of a superstar in the detoxification game, overloading your liver with toxins can actually impair its function – but this is only in the case of exposure to dangerous toxins or excessive alcohol intake or drug use.
Furthermore, poor dietary choices long-term can also lead to poor liver health, increased inflammation, and increased risk of chronic diseases, including those of the liver (8, 21).
And while a healthy diet is essential for long-term liver health, a special detox diet isn’t crucial. In fact, no research shows that these types of diets are effective in detoxifying your body (6). In fact, some detox diets can be dangerous.
When all is said and done, the truth of the matter is that it is impossible to avoid all toxins from food, water, and the environment at large. Suppose you are worried about the toxins in food or the environment. In that case, you may choose to limit your exposure to questionable ingredients and chemicals in food by eating more organic food, decreasing your intake of heavily processed foods, and living a healthy lifestyle.
Furthermore, your body is already doing an excellent job at detoxing your system naturally, so you don’t really need the extra help from a detox diet.
Now, onto the big guy: Weight loss detoxes.
What Is A Weight Loss Detox?
A detoxification diet is not necessarily geared towards weight loss, although there are many claims that detoxifying your body can promote weight loss in a few different ways. However, there isn’t any scientific backing to these theories.
Calorie control is still the most effective approach to weight management and weight loss.
While fasting and cleanses can help you cut out a significant amount of calories, which often results in weight loss, there actually is no research that suggests that the actual act of “detoxifying” produces better results when it comes to weight loss.
Furthermore, most detox diets are short and often result in the loss of water weight.
Drastic diets, such as detox diets, also fail to instil the behaviors and knowledge needed to continue to lose weight, which is why so many people regain any weight lost from detox diets as soon as they resume their regular diet.
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What Is The Difference Between A Detox and A Cleanse?
It isn’t easy to differentiate between detox and cleanse diets because none of them actually have a standard, scientific definition. In fact, there is a significant overlap between the two. For example, both diets are intended for short-term use, usually lasting anywhere from one to 30 days.
The two terms are even used interchangeably at times, although some people claim that distinct differences exist.
The main differences between the two seem to lie in the overall intent behind the respective methods.
So, what is the best detox cleanse for weight loss? Some of the most popular cleanses include:
A 30-day diet cleanse that eliminates multiple groups of foods, including sugars, dairy, legumes, grains and alcohol. You are encouraged to consume plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins instead.
These typically last for three to seven days. These types of cleanses eliminate all foods other than juice and water, and there is a specific set of fruit and vegetable juices to be consumed in a particular order.
The Master Cleanse
This one is also referred to as the Lemonade Diet. This cleanse consists of eating only a mixture of lemon juice, water, cayenne pepper and maple syrup for an entire ten days.
BeachBody Ultimate Reset
This is a 21-day diet that focuses on eliminating dairy, meat, eggs, sugar and processed foods. Nutritional supplements, probiotics and herbal laxatives are included throughout the cleanse.
10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse
This one replaces all meals with specific green smoothies that are made from various fruits and vegetables. The dieter is allowed to eat unlimited amounts of non-starchy vegetables.
While the answer to “What is the best detox diet for weight loss?” is subjective, the aforementioned cleanses seem to be the most popular.
How To Detox Your Body For Weight Loss?
Apart from letting your liver do its job of detoxifying your body, there are some things that you can do to improve your overall health and its ability to lose weight.
Maintaining A Calorie Deficit
No matter what, cutting calories is still the most foolproof approach to losing weight. To create and maintain a calorie deficit, choose the best quality foods for fat loss, such as lean proteins, fiber-rich grains, and nutrient-dense vegetables.
Increase your calorie burn by getting plenty of exercises. Exercising will also help you maintain lean mass and promote better health.
Control Stress And Get Plenty Of Sleep
Lack of sleep can cause an increase in levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that fuels weight gain.
Studies have shown that high cortisol levels can increase your appetite and alter your metabolism, resulting in increased fat storage (32).
One study even found that better sleep quality was associated with successful weight loss maintenance (33).
Other studies have shown that sleep deprivation can increase food intake, cause weight gain, and lower a person’s metabolism (10, 27, 19, 16, 11).
Ideally, aim for at least 8 hours of sleep per night to aid weight control and facial fat loss.
Drink Plenty of Water
Numerous studies have revealed that drinking water keeps you feeling full and enhances weight loss (12).
One such study found that drinking water before a meal significantly decreased the number of calories consumed during the meal (9).
Drinking water may also temporarily increase your metabolism, and therefore increase the number of calories you burn over the day. This helps in weight loss.
According to a 2016 review of the relationship between hydration and weight loss, water consumption also promotes lipolysis (17). Lipolysis occurs when the body breaks down fat stores into fatty acids that it can use as energy. Making use of these fat stores is key to losing weight.
Decrease Your Consumption Of Alcohol
Excessive alcohol consumption promotes facial fat accumulation and bloating as well (1). Furthermore, alcohol is high in calories, low in nutrients and is associated with an increased risk of weight gain.
Decrease Your Intake Of Refined Carbs
One study in 277 women revealed that a higher intake of refined carbs was associated with a higher risk of obesity and a more significant amount of belly fat (3).
Try swapping out refined carbs for whole grains to increase overall weight loss, which may also aid in facial fat loss (13, 34).
Read More: Grapefruit Diet: Ultimate Detox Or Health Hazard?
Do Weight Loss Detoxes Work?
The effectiveness of weight loss cleanses and detoxes is yet to be established, as no scientific studies have been conducted on specific brands of such detoxes.
However, such diets are most comparable to short-term, very-low-calorie diets (VLCDs).
A VLCD is a diet that consists of 450–800 calories per day. This number is comparable to that of some widespread weight loss cleanses.
Several types of research on VLCDs in obese people have revealed significant reductions in weight (30, 4, 36).
For example, a 15-week study showed that short-term, rapid weight loss through a VLCD was more effective at lowering cholesterol and blood sugar than slower, sustained methods for weight loss.
However, both the slow and rapid weight loss strategies employed in the study led to a reduction in weight and body size. But, the group that used the slower weight loss strategy preserved more muscle mass (26).
Most of the VLCDs in these studies also incorporated total nutrition needs as part of the dietary strategy. These methods were closely monitored by a medical team, well planned and nutritionally balanced.
Weight loss cleanses, however, are different from VLCDs because they often eliminate vital nutritional components, such as proteins, without providing any guidance for replacing them during the cleanse.
Such restrictions could ultimately lead to severe nutritional deficiencies, making such cleanses unsafe.
Furthermore, although appropriately planned and monitored VLCDs may be effective for weight loss in the short term, maintaining weight loss over a more extended period is only possible through balanced, healthy eating behaviours long after the VLCD period is complete.
Do Weight Loss Detoxes Have Any Health Benefits?
As mentioned before, there is no scientific research on weight loss detoxes, despite the many health ‘benefits’ that are used for marketing them. Most of these claims are purely based on anecdotal evidence.
Most weight loss detoxes are low in calories and short-lived, and some research asserts that short-term, very-low-calorie diets (VLCDs) have a positive health impact.
For example, several studies in people with type 2 diabetes revealed that a VLCD regimen significantly reduced fasting blood sugar levels in the subjects (4, 35, 28).
Some other studies also revealed a significant reduction in the risk of heart disease for those who lost weight using a VLCD (4, 26).
However, it would help if you kept in mind that many of these health effects are likely associated with weight loss in general and not necessarily unique to the VLCD regimen.
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can help treat and prevent various chronic diseases, and VLCD regimens are just one of many ways to lose weight and may not be ideal for most people.
A VLCD used as a weight loss cleanse can be socially isolating and difficult to adhere to, as it is far from a long-term, healthy eating pattern.
Furthermore, VLCDs in the studies mentioned above were carried out under medical supervision, whereas a weight loss detox sold on the internet may not have that advantage.
Many popular cleanses also replace a supportive and balanced approach to healthy living with expensive investments in juices, supplements and instruction manuals, all without sufficient evidence backing their effectiveness.
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Dangers Associated With Weight Loss Detoxes
- Rapid weight loss promoted by most weight loss detoxes and cleanses are associated with adverse health reactions such as chronic dehydration and the development of gallstones (29, 25).
- As many weight loss detoxes are very restrictive, they may have a psychosocial effect on people prone to eating disorders as well (24).
- In addition to that, VLCDs accompanying many detoxes could significantly increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies (22). But this risk may vary depending on the duration and degree of restriction of a particular detox.
- To add to that, recent studies indicate that juice and smoothie cleanses that involve consuming very high quantities of green vegetables could lead to progression of kidney damage in people with chronic kidney disease (15, 5).
- For many people, focusing solely on weight loss at the expense of other health issues not only jeopardizes physical and mental wellbeing but also hinders the development of skills to implement long-term healthy behaviours post-cleanse.
If you still want to detox and would like some ideas for detox drinks for weight loss, then the following section is for you. Check out these detox juice recipes for weight loss.
How To Make Detox Juice For Weight Loss?
If you still want to go on a cleanse or detox diet, then here are some recipes on how to make detox water for weight loss.
Lemon Detox Weight Loss Water
Ingredients – 1 lemon, 1 piece of ginger root, 10 mint leaves, 1 quart water
Method – Slice the lemon, ginger, and mint leaves, and add them to the water (7).
Calories: 5.8, Protein: 0.3g, Carbohydrates: 3g, Dietary Fiber: 1.3g, Sugars: 0g, Fat: 0.1g, Saturated Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Vitamin A Iu: 9.6IU, Niacin Equivalents: 0.1mg, Vitamin B6: 0mg, Vitamin C: 20.9mg, Folate: 2.1mcg, Calcium: 23.9mg, Iron: 0.2mg, Magnesium: 5.8mg, Potassium: 43.8mg, Sodium: 8mg, Thiamin: 0mg
Lemon Ginger Water
Ingredients – ½ cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice, ½ cup of filtered water, 1 (2 inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled, 4 teaspoons of honey, 15 cups of filtered water,
Method – Combine the lemon juice, filtered water, ginger, and honey in a blender, and blend for 20 to 30 seconds. Strain the mixture evenly into a 1-gallon pitcher. Top off with remaining water and stir. Cover the pitcher and store the drink in the refrigerator.
Calories: 8.1, Protein: 0g, Carbohydrates: 2.3g, Exchange Other Carbs: 0, Dietary Fiber: 0g, Sugars: 1.7g, Fat: 0g, Saturated Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Vitamin A Iu: 1.5IU, Niacin Equivalents: 0mg, Vitamin B6: 0mg, Vitamin C: 3.6mg, Folate: 1.1mcg, Calcium: 7.6mg, Iron: 0mg, Magnesium: 3.1mg, Potassium: 15.6mg, Sodium: 7.1mg, Thiamin: 0mg (20)
Mint Citrus Water
Ingredients – 2 quarts water, 1 lemon sliced, or as desired, 2 limes, sliced, or as desired, ½ cup mint leaves, ½ cup sliced cucumber, or as desired (Optional)
Method – Pour the water into a pitcher. Mix the lemon slices, lime slices, mint leaves, and cucumber together in a bowl, and add them to the water and stir. Refrigerate the mixture, stirring it once per day until the flavors have infused, 2 to 3 days in a row.
Calories: 9.7, Protein: 0.4g, Carbohydrates: 3.7g, Dietary Fiber: 1.2g, Sugars: 0.4g, Fat: 0.1g, Saturated Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Vitamin A Iu: 42.1IU, Niacin Equivalents: 0.1mg, Vitamin B6: 0mg, Vitamin C: 16.9mg, Folate: 4.7mcg, Calcium: 25.8mg, Iron: 0.3mg, Magnesium: 6.3mg, Potassium: 56.4mg, Sodium: 8.1mg, Thiamin: 0mg (23)
Detox Soups For Weight Loss
Green Detox Soup (serves 10)
Ingredients – 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 ½ cups chopped fennel, 1 ⅓ cups sliced leeks, 1 ¼ cups chopped celery, 2 cloves garlic, smashed, 1 (10 ounce) zucchini, cubed, 1 (10 ounce) package fresh spinach, ½ (12 ounce) bag fresh broccoli florets, 6 leaves Tuscan kale, ribs removed and cut into small pieces, ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, 2 cups hot water as needed, 1 avocado, diced, 1 teaspoon spirulina powder, 10 tablespoons gomasio (toasted, crushed sesame seeds)
Method – Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat (14). Add fennel, leeks, celery, and garlic cloves and saute until soft and fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Add zucchini, spinach, broccoli, kale, and parsley; mix to combine. Cook until kale and spinach have wilted slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Puree soup with an immersion blender until smooth, adding hot water if needed to achieve desired consistency. Add avocado and spirulina powder and blend until smooth. Ladle soup into bowls and serve each with 1 tablespoon gomasio.
Calories: 147.4, Protein: 6.1g, Carbohydrates: 14.4g, Dietary Fiber: 3.9g, Sugars: 2.2g, Fat: 10.6g, Saturated Fat: 0.9g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Vitamin A Iu: 5110.8IU, Niacin Equivalents: 1.7mg, Vitamin B6: 0.3mg, Vitamin C: 50.1mg, Folate: 112.8mcg, Calcium: 83.3mg, Iron: 1.9mg, Magnesium: 49.8mg, Potassium: 566.5mg, Sodium: 384mg, Thiamin: 0.1mg
Vegan Cabbage Detox Soup (serves 6)
Ingredients – 3 cups coarsely chopped green cabbage, 2 ½ cups vegetable broth, 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, 3 carrots, chopped, 3 stalks celery, chopped, 1 onion, chopped, 2 cloves garlic, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 teaspoons dried sage
Method – Combine cabbage, vegetable broth, diced tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, and sage in a multi-functional pressure cooker. Close and lock the lid. Select high pressure according to manufacturer’s instructions; set timer for 15 minutes. Allow 10 to 15 minutes for pressure to build. Release pressure using the natural-release method according to manufacturer’s instructions, 10 to 40 minutes. Unlock and remove the lid (18).
Calories: 66.8, Protein: 2.3g, Carbohydrates: 13.4g, Dietary Fiber: 3.8g, Sugars: 7.2g, Fat: 0.4g, Saturated Fat: 0.1g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Vitamin A Iu: 7138.2IU, Niacin Equivalents: 0.8mg, Vitamin B6: 0.2mg, Vitamin C: 27mg, Folate: 37.7mcg, Calcium: 78.8mg, Iron: 2.1mg, Magnesium: 15.3mg, Potassium: 366.8mg, Sodium: 348mg, Thiamin: 0.1mg
The Bottom Line
While a weight loss detox may be marketed as ‘effective’, you really should think twice before embarking on one.