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Detox Diet: The Ultimate Guide

By | January 1, 2019 | wellness

You are a living, breathing, whistling detox machine. Your liver and kidneys are working every day to break down and filter out toxins and harmful substances from your body. Which is a good thing, because we are exposed to everyday chemicals that aren’t good for us. So how can a detox diet or cleanse program help? 

Simply eliminating “bad” foods and restricting alcohol use can help reduce your liver’s workload, promote weight loss, and can help you feel better in general. But easier said than done, right? That’s because:

  • Old habits die hard. It’s hard to make changes to diet because you have to make a conscious effort over a period of time — 66 days to be exact — before a new habit becomes automatic.
  • Small improvements go unnoticed.  Maybe you cut candy from your diet. Any positive may be hard to detect in the short-term. Worse yet, you may focus on negatives like increased cravings.
  • No plan, no action. Planning is a great motivator. As the saying goes: a goal without a plan is just a wish.

A detox or cleanse program can help put you on a path to adopting a healthier lifestyle that you can feel good about. It’s like a kick-starter for health goals.

Purpose of Dietary Detox and Cleansing Programs

We have little control over the environmental toxins we are exposed to. The top culprits include air pollution, organophosphates (insecticides), and flame retardants found in furniture, curtains, carpets, and food wrap, to name a few. Then there are the toxins we put into our bodies that we can control: alcohol, drugs (prescription and otherwise), and foods we eat. 

A detox or cleanse focuses on what we can control: what we eat and drink. According to Dr. Rosenberg, psychotherapist and behavioral specialist in suburban Philadelphia, there are a number of potential benefits of temporarily restricting your diet (by limiting caloric intake, eliminating certain foods, or both) such as more energy, shinier hair, clearer mind for thinking, clearer skin and an overall uplifted feeling. Some reasons why people choose to detox:

  • Kick-start weight loss
  • Identify food “triggers”
  • Transition to a new diet
  • Improve digestion 
  • Relieve constipation or bowel irregularities 
  • Relieve symptoms of IBS
  • Control yeast overgrowth
  • Meditation or spiritual growth 

Some people use detox or cleanse to “reset” after the holidays or after a weekend of heavy drinking. Although you can never undo the indulgence, it can reduce the guilt and have some added physical benefits. 

Understanding Dietary “Triggers”

If you are like most people, you may not be aware of the toxicity of certain foods, or how eating those foods may affect your overall health. Even if you are aware that there are some “bad foods” in your diet, you may not connect eating those foods with how you feel.  A detox or cleanse program may help you become more aware of how your body responds differently to the “good” and “bad” foods in your diet.

The idea of dietary “triggers” is that some foods may cause or exacerbate symptoms or conditions. If you suffer from migraines or arthritis, you may already be well aware of triggers. Other signs of a dietary intolerance include:

  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Frequent fatigue
  • Problems losing weight
  • Moods swings
  • Anxiety

So why do some foods trigger migraines while other foods help to reduce inflammation? That’s because all foods are made up of chemical substances. For the most part, these chemicals are harmless or beneficial. In other cases, some foods have chemicals that trigger allergies, inflammation or are generally not well tolerated by our bodies. Some detox programs include an “elimination diet” if you are trying to identify food insensitivities, allergies or anything that is causing a problem.

Preparing for a Detox Diet: A Plan for Success

The decision to do a detox diet is the first of many steps to actually doing a detox. As with anything, having a solid vision for what you’re embarking on will not only make the experience more meaningful, it will also make it less frustrating (especially if this is your first detox). Here are some tips for planning a successful detox:

  • Define your goals. Why are you doing a detox? What will make the detox a success for you? Knowing this can help you choose the right kind of detox.
  • Pick a detox right for you. Based on your goals you may choose to replace solid food with liquid sustenance, include solid foods but restrict calories, or focus on foods that boost liver function or digestion.
  • Schedule it. Set a start date and end date. Take into account your work schedule; avoid planning it during stressful deadlines or intense activities. Add in buffer days for pre- and post-detox if needed. Getting it on the calendar will help you mentally prepare and will give you time to stock up on provisions. 
  • Create a menu. This is clutch for sticking with it. One of the biggest challenges to completing a detox is having the right foods, teas, juices, or shakes ready and available. Make a grocery list and stock up on fruits and veggies. 
  • Meditate. Clear your mind of toxins, too. The mind-body connection plays an important role in physical health. The practice of meditation can help clear your mind and deep breathing has restorative benefits as well.
  • Get approval (if needed). If you have a medical condition or a history of heart disease, you should clear your plan with your doctor. Severe calorie restriction can cause low blood pressure and may have health risks for some people. A “clean eating” detox is a safer option with fewer risks.

Make your detox personal. Tailor your detox diet plan to your goals, your needs, and your lifestyle. Do a set of mini detox weekends if it is too challenging to take on during the week. But most importantly, make it about you.

Need some guidance? Get the 5 Day Body Reset Meal Plan. Designed by a Registered Dietician, this guide includes a shopping list and detox tips.

What Ails You? Choosing a Detox Program

A detox diet isn’t going to “clean out your colon” or to remove toxins from your body any more than what your liver and kidneys are doing. But, it can help support the natural detoxification process and potentially help alleviate other issues. If you’re facing any of the issues listed below, a detox might help :

  • Weight loss resistance
  • Increased belly fat
  • Fluid retention and congested sinuses
  • Uncontrolled blood sugar and food cravings
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Frequent Overheating
  • White or yellow coated tongue and /or bad breath (halitosis)
  • Fatigue
  • Problems with sleep
  • Frequent and long-lasting headaches
  • Moodiness

Types of Detox Diets

Fasting for weight loss usually isn’t successful because once the calorie restrictions are lifted, the weight comes back. However, a detox diet that eliminates fried and processed foods, refined sugars and carbohydrates, alcohol, and other empty calories is a good way to improve your awareness of how the foods you eat impacts your weight, energy levels, and appetite. The most common types of detoxes are:

  • Fasting. Strictly no food and very few calories for 1-3 days. Primarily water and tea, though, some fasts allow for specific liquids. Fasting is helpful if you are looking to reset your appetite, but you can do a detox diet without restricting calories.
  • Smoothie fast. Get out your juicer! Anything that goes in is liquified but that doesn’t mean eliminating fiber! It is recommended to choose smoothie recipes that include a high ratio of leafy and fibrous greens or veggies. 
  • Detox colon cleansing. Increasing fiber intake or using laxatives while restricting toxins from the diet. The purpose of a cleanse is to flush out the colon and digestive tract.
  • Elimination diets. Removing “trigger” foods or any allergenic foods. This is often a cornerstone of detox diets.
  • Heavy metal detox. Focusing on eliminating foods known to be high in heavy metals or contaminants. You should consult a doctor first if you think you are suffering from heavy metal poisoning. 

Typically, a detox diet also means swearing off alcohol, coffee, and cigarettes. Some people choose to take supplements or herbs to support their program. 

Is a detox different than a cleanse? Check out this helpful guide for a breakdown on the detox vs cleanse debate.

Detox Diet Tips

Detoxing can help you ween yourself off of unhealthy foods. It’s also a good practice for learning about foods that you didn’t know where making you feel not your best. Here are some tips for doing a detox right.

Tip #1: Cut Out Inflammatory and Unhealthy Foods and Substances

This is probably the most important tip for a successful detox diet. To begin with, remove the “trigger” foods and toxins from your diet. Whenever possible try to eat raw foods. Some foods and substances that you’ll want to remove from your diet when you go on a detox will be:

  • Soda
  • Refined sugars
  • Starches
  • Processed meats
  • Fruit juices
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Drugs (unless prescribed)
  • Dairy

You’ll also want to steer clear of foods that may contain heavy metals, pesticides, or chemical additives.

Lulu Cook, dietitian and best selling author regularly supports clients in detoxing. “I regularly remind clients that detox can’t happen until we quit putting toxins into our system in the first place! In other words, there’s no use gobbling down heaps of “detox foods” if you’re still eating highly processed, packaged foods chock-full of added chemicals and artificial ingredients, then washing it all down with a dodgy “energy drink”! So that’s step one, and once we’ve removed the damaging foods, then we can refocus on what will bring the most benefit to support our liver and other detox systems in the body.”  

It may require a little bit of extra research, but here are a few useful guides to get started:

Tip #2: Drink LOTS of Water

Water is fundamental to a detox. (You want to flush toxins out, right?!). Water is essential in your kidney’s ability to purify your blood and your liver’s ability to remove toxins from the rest of your system. It is extremely important to help support these organs so that they can work in tandem with your own purifying efforts. And if you are restricting food or calories, drinking water will help you feel full.

Detox diet tip: Stay Hydrated
Imagine a gallon of milk. You would need to drink about half that in water if you weighed 120 pounds.  Or, line up four pint glasses to get the same equivalent.

Tea and hot lemon water are detox and fasting staples. Lemon peel contains an antioxidant that increases the activity of liver enzymes and boosts your body’s natural detoxification. It’s also a good flavor fix if you are fasting. For more ways to get creative with water, check out Up your Hydration Game for tasty water infusion ideas.

Health tip: The EPA says between 10% and 20% of our exposure to lead comes from contaminated water. If you think you may be at risk, check out 5 Ways to Test your Tap for Lead.

Tip #3: Load Up On Veggies

Fruit smoothies are delicious, but they are also packed with sugar. Try adding in kale, which is high in fiber, and asparagus, which is a natural diuretic, to keep things moving (great for a colon cleanse detox program).

Detox diet tip: Broccoli sprouts are a great detox food because of the high amount of sulforaphane.
Sulforaphane is a potent antioxidant, and broccoli sprouts are loaded with it. It also has powerful anti-inflammatory and detox properties. 

Learn more about what foods aid in natural detox here.

Tip #4: Take Your Vitamins!

Detox diet supplement: Balance Purify
BALANCE Purify is formulated with fiber, probiotics, and antioxidants to help support short-term detox programs. The ginger, cayenne, and flaxseed help to boost metabolism. 

Finally, you should focus on replenishing the nutrients that your body is lacking, or nutrients that you may not get on a daily basis. A detox diet doesn’t mean robbing your body of the good nutrients. In fact, malnutrition can be dangerous. If you choose the fasting method, consider taking a multivitamin or dietary supplement.

Nutrient deficiencies can cause fatigue, anemia, digestion and skin problems, and other health problems. This article lists 5 very common nutrient deficiencies along with natural food sources to incorporate into your diet.

Tip #5: Ease Into It

Rather than make dramatic changes to your diet without any warning, give your body some time to start adjusting. Reducing the intake of alcohol and processed foods in the week prior to beginning a detox can make the transition that much smoother. The purpose of a detox is to make you feel better, not worse, and this is a great way to do that.

Detox diet tip: If you are new to detox diets and are having hunger pangs, try a snack between meals
Don’t ignore your body’s hunger cues. If you’re struggling to get to the next meal, reach for a piece of fresh fruit, a small handful of nuts, or a protein shake to keep you full.

Tip #6: Relax and Destress

Stress can be toxic, too! A whole body, whole mind detox should include some stress-relief activities to help promote an overall sense of well-being. It can also become part of your regular self-care ritual. Here are some ideas:

  • Take a hot bath
  • Treat yourself to a massage
  • Get 8 hours of sleep

Tip #7: Fight the Bloat

Detox diets are great to fight bloating. But increasing your fiber intake abruptly can actually cause gas, bloating, and constipation. So go easy on the high-fiber foods at first if they aren’t typically part of your normal diet. You also want to watch your salt intake  — high-sodium foods can trigger water retention.

Detox diet tip: Ditch the salt -- it can cause bloating.
Lowering your salt intake will help reduce bloating and fluid retention.

Step #8: Do Detox Yoga

When you are going through a detox, you’ll be limiting a lot of the food that your body is used to; so you won’t have the energy to push through more intense workout routines. Still, you’ll want to get some light exercise in. You might find certain yoga postures help with detox and digestion, too.

Detox diet tip: Try yoga to get things balanced
Some yoga poses, like the bridge pose, are stretch moves that stimulate your abdominal organs and can help stimulate digestion and detoxification.

Stay away from strenuous activities such as jogging, weight lifting, spin classes or anything else that is going to put excess strain on your body while you are doing a detox (especially if you are fasting).

How Long Should a Detox Last?

There is no one right time period to detox, it depends on your goals and the type of detox you choose.  Short intense detoxes can increase the risk of adverse effects on your body, and often times they do not result in improved behavior after they are over. Forcing yourself to change your habits too quickly means that you are more likely to go back to unhealthy habits soon after the detox is done. In addition, restricting your diet for a long period of time can lead to cheating and make you less motivated to keep it up.

Melissa Smith, naturopathic nutritionist and owner of blog melissasmith.pro, advises: “It’s tricky to pinpoint exactly how long you should detox for, as everyone is different in their exposure and how their body neutralizes and eliminates toxicants. The general rule of thumb though is 1 or 2 times per year for about 3 or 4 weeks.”

What to Expect

Your experience will depend on the type of detox diet you choose. Many people report that while they feel initial fatigue during the detox, their energy levels actually increase towards the end and this remains long after the detox is finished. 

Wendy Hodge, over 50’s health & fitness expert and owner of wendyswaytohealth.com reminds us that, “Everyone’s different, so even if you do a detox, you won’t necessarily see the same results as someone else. I think that if your overall diet is good, then you’ll be providing your body with the nourishment it requires. And assuming that your liver and kidneys are in good working order, then they’ll be cleansing your system on a daily basis.”

That said, there may be some adjustments you need to make because of the diet change:

  1. Low levels of energy. When you are putting your body through a detox, you are fundamentally changing your eating habits. This — mixed with lower levels of macronutrients and calories — will lead to you having less energy than before. If you work a physically intensive job, or if you have an important project coming up that needs all of your attention, you may want to choose a slow period or a long weekend for your detox
  2. Irritability and moodiness. Because of your low levels of energy and potential brain fog, you won’t be on top of your game. You may also experience mood swings. Try some self-care rituals, avoid stressful situations, and give those close to you a heads up and ask for their support.
  3. Withdrawal. People may experience withdrawal symptoms from sugar, caffeine, and tobacco. This might be an annoying headache or a craving. If you are experiencing drug or alcohol withdrawals, you should seek medical attention.
  4. Digestive issues. Increasing fiber intake dramatically or cutting out solid foods can change your bathroom habits. You may experience loose and watery stools. You may temporarily feel bloated or even feel nauseous. If it becomes more severe and you find yourself becoming dehydrated because of this, stop your detox immediately. If these issues persist, seek medical attention.
  5. Food cravings. Cravings are the most common and obvious side effect of detoxing, especially if you drastically reduce carbohydrates or sugar intake. While for the most part, it’s better not to give in to cravings, you should always listen to your body. If you feel like your blood glucose is dropping too much, ease up on the restrictions. The purpose of a detox is not to feel miserable throughout its entirety.

If any of these issues are severe or persist, stop your detox and seek medical attention.

Are There Any Health Risks Associated with Detoxing?

When it comes to detoxing, set a plan that is realistic for you, and if you start to feel notably worse as the detox diet goes on, don’t be afraid to stop early.

As with any regimen that involves changes to your health, there are risks that you need to be aware of when starting a detox program. While some of these risks may be mild, others, like alcohol or drug withdrawal, may require medical attention.

If you begin to experience severe side effects caused by your detox, stop IMMEDIATELY and contact a medical professional. Detoxes also aren’t suggested with those that have pre-existing medical issues, or with women that are pregnant. If either of these is the case, consult a doctor before you attempt a detox.

Detox Diet vs. Detox Lifestyle

There is a nuanced difference between “diet”, which is the way you normally eat, and “dieting”, which is a temporary change in eating habits. You can adopt a “detox diet” without reducing calorie or food consumption. Simply start by avoiding “trigger” foods and eliminating foods that have heavy metals like mercury, and which are processed.

Women’s health and nutrition coach Jasmine Fitzgibbon avoids recommending detox diets to her clients altogether. “Our body naturally detoxifies every single day. When clients come to me wishing to ‘detox’ following the Christmas period, holidays or times of over-indulging, rather than putting them on strict or restrictive diets, I walk them through a meal plan focused on real unprocessed foods that will aid the body to naturally do its only ‘detoxifying’.”

You don’t have to eat less to eat healthily!

Pro-tip: Concerned about lead in your water? Get it tested!

BONUS: Use “Clean” Products

A detox diet can go beyond the foods you consume. Many of the household cleaners, beauty products, and bath products that you use every day can be full of harsh and artificial chemicals as well. Often we don’t consider these to be a threat, but many of them are being breathed in and absorbed by our skin almost every day.

If you have sensitive skin, look for products that use only biodegradable and non-irritant chemicals.

Here’s a shopping tip to make your life easier: get an app, like Think Dirty, to get product information. Simply scan the barcodes of your health and beauty products and get information about toxicity and the chemicals included. 


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