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Is Detoxing Actually Healthy for You?

Thursday, June 11, 2015


A major component of my Portland acupuncture practice is custom nutrition counseling. Whether a patient has inflammatory arthritis, Hashimoto’s, fertility struggles, weight issues, or another health concern, diet is a key part of helping them heal. One of the most common questions patients ask in reference to diet is "What do you think about detoxes?" It is a loaded question, and there are a variety of answers. There are a slew of different detoxes available, and they are all complicated by the fact that many people use the terms detox and cleanse to mean the same thing. This article is going to attempt to answer the detox question. 

Detox vs. Cleanse

These words are often used interchangeably, and whether or not that is correct really depends on who is talking and what the objectives are of the program. There is the famous Master Cleanse, which is basically drinking nothing but water with lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper for several days, and there are food cleanses, which just eliminate foods that are traditionally bothersome for people and replacing them with better food choices. Then there is everything in between. Technically a detox is a shorter diet that is really just about eliminating and giving your body a break so that you can clean out your system. A cleanse is often deeper than a detox. You do the elimination piece, but you also focus on reviving the health of certain organs or of the entire body by adding in specific nutrition as deemed necessary by the creator of the cleanse.

Are detoxes good or bad?

This is the loaded part of the question, and the short answer is “It depends.” 

It depends on the detox itself, and it also depends on the constitution of the person doing the detox. In general many nutritionists, myself included, feel that following a restrictive eating plan a couple of times/year is a great idea. It allows you to reset your food habits, to break free from unhealthy cravings, and to really cultivate the relationship between what you put in your body and how your body reacts. I do not think that most people would do well on a non-food detox, and even those who are robust enough to handle that (not anemic, not hypoglycemic or diabetic, already in good physical health, can devote your time to being tired, not working as hard and making sure you get enough sleep, etc.), should not do them for more than 3 days.

Beyond that, there are many many variables to consider before detoxing. If you are interested in doing a detox or a cleanse, here are the 4 most important things to consider when making your decision:

1. Devotion

How devoted can you be to this detox? This may seem obvious, but detoxes are not known for being easy. If you are going to half-ass a detox, you may as well not do it because you won’t get the benefits. Detoxes usually involve some amount of depravation, and cutting out your favorite foods, coffee, etc can sometimes open a can of worms that has less to do with hunger and more to do with your habit of using food as an emotional crutch. You need to be honest about your commitment in the face of obstacles. You also need to plan for your detox. Some of the foods you give up may literally have addictive qualities to them, so give yourself some time to set yourself up for success. If you don’t have the time to properly grocery shop or prep meals and snacks, you will be much more likely to give up on the detox. There will be tough days, and if you attempt to start a detox during a monumentally busy week of work, you may want to rethink your start date. 

2. Expertise

Who developed the detox, and what is their expertise? There are all kinds of detoxes being offered these days, and some of them are great while others are being developed and/or led by people who have no idea what they are doing. There are also lots of detox-in-a-box options that I would suggest you avoid. A proper detox should be tailored to your needs or at the very least come with some customized support — especially if it involves using herbs or supplements during the process. Lots of detoxes offer weight loss, but it comes mainly from the fact that they are having you take a mild laxative. This is not a problem, because proper elimination is part of any good detox, but just bear in mind the reality of what you are signing up for.

3. Goals

What are your goals/motivations for detoxing? Being honest with your intended outcomes will not only help you choose the right detox for you, but can also give you the motivation you need to stick with it when times are tough. If your goal is weight loss, you may choose a detox that centers around calorie restriction but still allows you to have enough energy for exercise. If you are hoping to cut ties with your sugar addiction, you’d choose a detox that focuses on that piece.  

4. Support

How much support will you need during the detox and how much is available? Detoxes can be all encompassing. You have to prep different foods than you are used to eating and you will not be able to rely on grab-and-go options. You will also have to deal with the birthday cake at the office that tempts you and the invitation for after-work drinks. There are so many ways that you will be tested during your detox, and it really helps at these times to have support. For instance, if you are wanting to do a sugar detox and your husband sits down to watch a movie with you all the while chowing down on a carton of ice cream, this puts you in a bad spot. If you can bring your whole family on board for a detox that is ideal, but at least shoot for bringing your partner on board. Sign up a close friend or colleague to do the detox with you so that you can call each other to vent or to share new recipes. It is also great if the person running the detox offers some sort of email support or an online support group in the form of a Facebook group or something similar. 

Follow these tips and you can successfully detox. You’ll find renewed energy, you’ll likely lose some weight, and you’ll find yourself no longer craving that junk food that had you under its spell. Detoxing is a great idea as long as you prepare and choose wisely.

Erin Brockmeyer, LAc, is owner and acupuncturist at Solstice Natural Health in downtown Portland.  She creates custom health plans for patients to help them tackle their most complicated health concerns, including infertility, prenatal care, fibromyalgia, thyroid conditions and chronic and acute pain conditions.  Visit her website for more information and to download her free e-book 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Health Today.


Related Slideshow: The 7 Best Health and Fitness Apps

Here is a list of some of the most obsession worthy health apps.

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MapMyRun is the number one selling running app for a reason:  it is easy to use, offers community support if you want it, and tracks and stores your exact routes for you.  If you are training for a race or a serious runner, users say that the extra perks in the upgraded paid version are well worth it. 

Made for iPhone, Android and Blackberry 

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MyFitnessPal seems to be the clear favorite amongst everyone polled.  It is helpful not only for the fitness tracking aspect, but everyone polled mentioned how much they loved the food/diet aspect as well. From carb counting for diabetics to recipe ideas to complement your fitness goals, users love this app. 

Made for iPhone and Android

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JeFit is another fitness app that has rave reviews.  It not only tracks progress for you, but offers a huge database of workouts.  While many apps offer community support, JeFit allows you to sync workouts with friends who use the app, offering a (real) virtual buddy system.

Made for iPhone and Android

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Strava gets the highest mark of all the cycling apps.  While it is also great for runners, the cyclers seem particularly inclined towards the fierce competition that can be ignited by this app.  You can track all of your rides via GPS, then you can compare your efforts to those logged by others in the community on the same stretch of road.  You can also join ongoing challenges that can net you great prizes (in addition to bragging rights). 

Made for iPhone and Android

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YogaStudio gets the top vote for Yoga apps.  It has a lengthy collection of full class-length videos available at your fingertips.  Unlike many other apps, this one also allows you to customize your own video yoga class.  All of the poses are done by qualified yoga instructors, and you can find classes suitable for all levels of yogis.

Made for iPhone only

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SimplyBeing meditation app offers the best of both worlds.  You can choose to run this app as a background for your meditation with soothing music or natural sounds that run for a set amount of time.  Conversely, for those of you who have trouble focusing during meditation, you can choose a soothing voice-guided meditation. 

Made for iPhone and Android

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Fooducate is an app all about educating people so that they make healthier food choices.  Although not perfect, this app is easy to use (you can even take pictures of bar codes to instantly find foods in their database).  It gives food a letter grade, tells you the pluses and minuses, and gives you better ranked alternatives.  You can also use it as a weight loss tool by tracking your daily calories. 

Made for iPhone and Android


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