We’ve all heard about detoxes. Whether we are scrolling on Pinterest or tuning into morning TV shows, it seems like someone is always trying to sell us a shake, pill, eating plan, or juice cleanse that will rid our body of toxins and deliver the life we always dreamed of. I have some good news for you. You don’t need to do a detox for that. You are alive enough to read this post. That means you have a liver and a kidney or two. Congratulations, you are detoxing right now! If your body wasn’t constantly detoxing itself, you would die.
found the photo on Kait’s instagram but believe it was originally on AskforEvidence.org
When people say your body is full of toxins and you need help to get rid of them, obviously that sounds scary. I can see the appeal of a detox. But in reality, our body is constantly taking care of these toxins, which can be anything from an air pollutant to a food additive. (Barring a medical condition that interferes with these processes, of course. I’m writing this for the general healthy population.) Kidneys pull waste products from the blood, then we pee them out. The liver neutralizes toxins, then we excrete them. If you went to the bathroom today, you detoxed. High five!
There is a newer area of nutrition research looking into whether certain nutrients can aid these detoxification processes. I’ve looked into this since my dog is liver impaired, and I was curious if there is anything I could give her to help. So I am happy that this research exists for people (and dogs) who need it. I don’t think that the general population needs to stress about that, but you can probably guess that signs are pointing to fruits and veggies. I know, that’s not as sexy as a juice cleanse. Also, that doesn’t mean we should ONLY eat fruits and vegetables. Like anything in nutrition, it can be taken too far.
A lot of my beef with detoxes is just how fearful they can make people of food. I did a few Google searches and ended up on the website for my favorite doctor, Dr. Oz. I’m being completely sarcastic, he drives me nuts. He promotes a detox plan that, among other things, says you cannot eat anything that comes from a package or has a nutrition label. Ok, that leaves plants. I’m not certain you can survive and thrive on that. You couldn’t even cook them in oil or anything to add flavor and nutrients. What’s healthy about that?
This is typical for detoxes; they’re very eat this, not that. This will cause disease, this will cure your body of disease. In reality, food doesn’t work like that. Our bodies can handle it all, and there’s no reason to be so fearful. Even once the detox is over, this black-and-white thinking about food may remain. Detoxes are promoted as healthy, but the anxiety and fear they cause certainly are not. Detoxes are promoted as “energy boosting,” yet eating nothing but juice or a very small list of food sounds like a great way to drain your energy.
If you truly do feel tired and in need of a restart, think about a few areas of your life. Are you sleeping well? Are you nourishing your body adequately? How’s your stress management? Is there too much on your plate? If you do feel like you’re exhausted for no reason and really need help, advocate for yourself and seek out a medical provider. You know your body the best, and what you may need is medical attention of some kind.
Finally, often times detoxes are just a marketing ploy for weight loss. Sure, you may lose weight by drinking nothing but mineral water for a few days or cutting out large food groups. (You will likely also lose joy and confidence in your eating.) I would argue that most of this is water weight, partly due to your body breaking down muscle to use for energy. Your body doesn’t know you’re doing a detox because a vacation is coming up, or you just got home from vacation and feel like you overdid it, or because you feel tired and hope it will restart your system. It just knows you’re starving.
I know if I had to drink all my food or abstain from large groups of food, I would become obsessed with what I couldn’t have. Food doesn’t deserve that much power. It would be socially isolating. I would definitely overeat all of the forbidden foods once I was given permission. That’s because I’m human and my body is smart. Yours is, too. The next time you start to think “I was bad/I’m tired/I’m unhealthy, now I have to detox” I hope you’ll remember that eating a certain food does not make you good or bad, and that you already have all the tools you need to take care of yourself.