Does a Detox Diet Really Help You Lose Weight?

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A detox diet typically begins with a time-limited fast and encourages drinking plenty of water and eating natural foods such as fruits and vegetables. Though they often sound healthy and safe, detox diets, like fad diets, can have potentially harmful side effects, and generally, do not lead to permanent weight loss.

What Is a Detox Diet?

Detox diets usually involve some sort of fast, during which you are required to completely eliminate food for several days and then you gradually introduce specified foods back into your diet.

Some detox diets also encourage some sort of "cleansing" process via colonic irrigation or by the use of enemas. Other detox plans may recommend the use of supplements or laxatives to aid in the purification process. Some people believe that this process helps "rid the body of toxins."

How It Works

Toxins are chemicals known to have unfavorable effects on the human body. They can be found in food (or substances used in growing food), water, and even in the air.

Toxins are processed through organs like the liver and kidneys and are eliminated through perspiration, urination, and bowel movements. Detox diets require giving up specific foods that may contain toxins in order to "purge" the body of them.

Possible Benefits

Proponents of detox diets believe that toxins don't completely leave our bodies through the body's naturals systems. Instead, they say that toxins linger in the digestive or lymph systems and can cause harmful effects such as headaches or fatigue. Many advocates also claim that detox diets can promote weight loss, increase energy levels, and even prevent—or cure—certain health conditions.

However, there is no substantial scientific evidence that detox diets rid the body of toxins any more effectively than the body's natural processes, or that the diets improve overall health or cure any medical conditions.

Can Detox Diets Help You Lose Weight?

Many people believe they can lose weight with detox diets. And you might notice a change on the scale after limiting the amount of food that you eat for a few days. Detox diet plans are not the best method for healthful, permanent weight-loss results. Diets that involve fasting or restriction of entire food groups are generally not a good idea.

While people who fast do seem to lose weight, this weight is actually water loss rather than fat loss (which is what you need to achieve in order to permanently reduce your weight). This type of crash dieting can also lead to muscle loss. Most people gain back all the weight they lose during a fast or detox.

Fasting or "detoxing" on a regular basis can actually cause the metabolism to slow down, making it harder to lose or maintain weight in the future.

Are Detox Diets Safe?

Eating a diet that is low in fat, high in fiber, and full of healthful, natural foods is healthy for anyone, and improved nutrition can certainly increase health and well-being. But replacing nutrient-dense whole foods with juices and/or restricting most other food groups is not safe for most people, especially when the detox diet plan extends beyond a few days.

Children, teenagers, pregnant women, those with heart disease or diabetes, or other medical conditions should not follow a detox diet. In addition, anyone with an eating disorder or a history of disordered eating should not follow a detox diet, since it labels certain foods as "bad" and could create an unhealthy relationship to food.

Detox diets are also not appropriate for people who are very active, have physically demanding jobs, or participate in sports because they do not provide sufficient energy or nutrition. Many detox diets also promote the use of proprietary laxative-type supplements, which can be especially problematic, as they can cause dehydration or mineral imbalances, as well as digestive problems.

Before starting a detox diet or other weight loss program that involves food restriction or the elimination of entire food groups, it's important to talk to your healthcare provider.

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  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. "Detoxes" and "Cleanses": What You Need To Know. Updated September 2019.

  2. Roerig JL, Steffen KJ, Mitchell JE, Zunker C. Laxative abuse: epidemiology, diagnosis and managementDrugs. 2010;70(12):1487-1503. doi:10.2165/11898640-000000000-00000