Updated: Nov 30, 2022
Detoxification (or detox) continues to gain the attention of health professionals and individuals who are open to alternative therapies outside conventional healthcare. They recognize detoxification as a form of self-care that can help to restore the internal balance of an otherwise toxic body. While the jury is still out when it comes to conclusive scientific evidence of the safety and effectiveness of detoxification, many people around the world practice some form or another of detoxification and/or cleansing and they report a range of benefits in the way they look and/or feel afterwards.
Our body naturally detoxifies without us even trying to help it to do so. Sweat, tears, acne breakouts, urine and poop are some of the natural ways that the body detoxifies itself on a daily basis. Timeframes and methods of detoxification vary. Some detoxes are limited to just a few days while others can go as long as 28 days (Peter Bennett and Stephen Barry, 1999; Don Colbert, 2006). For lasting results, detoxes require dietary and lifestyle changes that need to be maintained so that short-term detox gains are not lost afterwards. Let's look into how detoxing can support weight and fat loss in this blog, and then discuss the two main approaches to detoxification along with how specific diets can enhance detoxification and activate weight and fat loss. I also share general and specific gains associated with detoxification.
Can detoxification trigger weight and fat loss?
Targeted detoxing using foods, specific supplements, and lifestyle practices that are known to enhance the body's natural balance can be a useful strategy for activating the "body's natural ability to burn fat ..." (Mark Hyman, 2014).
Several studies published by the National Institutes of Health offer interesting insights into how food-based detoxes can help you lose weight.
In one study, “[e]ighty-four premenopausal overweight Korean women were randomly divided into 3 groups: a control group without diet restriction (Normal-C), a pair-fed placebo diet group (Positive-C), and a lemon detox diet group (Lemon-D). The intervention period was 11 days total: 7 days with the lemon detox juice or the placebo juice, and then 4 days with transitioning food.” The researchers concluded that “…the lemon detox program reduces body fat and insulin resistance through caloric restriction and might have a potential beneficial effect on risk factors for cardiovascular disease” (Kim et al., 2015).
There are other studies that focus on the specific detoxification properties of particular foods, making the case for including them when you detox, and integrating them into your regular diet as well. “There is preliminary evidence to suggest that certain foods such as coriander, nori and olestra have detoxification properties, although the majority of these studies have been performed in animals" (Klein, 2015).
The book by Donna Gates with Linda Schatz, The Body Ecology Diet, includes seven principles of the diet they recommend, with cleansing presented as the most important principle. “If you forget the other six principles on the Diet but begin to master this one, you will still be on your way to becoming well" (Donna Gates, 2011). According to the authors, cleansing benefits include:
Enhancing the body's natural ability to get rid of waste or toxins.
Restoring the balance of the body's vital organs so that they can eliminate toxins much more effectively;
Building the immune system to fight disease; and
Reaching an ideal weight (as a result of cleansing and applying other key principles of the Diet, in particular one of proper food combining (Donna Gates, 2011).
Cleansing the body of these toxins will take time, depending on each person’s unique situation but “as stored toxins exit the body’s cells”, weight loss will follow, something that should not worry those who are naturally slim. "In time, when your body starts rebuilding, you will regain to your ideal weight, the weight at which your body functions best" (2011).
There are other books that present comprehensive diet plans anchored by detoxing. The Blood Sugar Solution: 10-Day Detox Diet by Mark Hyman specifically targets those who are looking for strategies "to activate your body's natural ability to burn fat and lose weight fast". The Living Beauty Detox Program by Ann Louise Gittleman (2000) includes a diet plan specifically for women who want to cleanse their bodies of toxins as a strategy to balance hormones, including fat-regulating hormones such as estrogen that drops in menopause leading to greater fat storage in the abdominal cavity. Ellen Landes (1999) and L.M. Brown and D.J. Clegg (2009) also discuss the benefits of detoxification and hormonal balance for weight loss and fat-burning.
Understanding the properties of detoxing can help to make an informed decision regarding whether a detox can serve one's needs to achieve weight and fat loss.
Approaches to detoxification
There are two general approaches to detoxing that are often applied: A product-based approach and a food-based one. They both promise results. Whether these results are lasting and sustainable is a question for a different post. What is distinct about each?
Product-based detoxes: These detoxes rely on specific products that are prepared with the goal of supporting users to remove toxins and restore balance where it was lost. Some target specifically weight and/or fat loss. They come with instructions on how to use them to make them effective. These pre-packaged powders and/or drinks are meant to replace one or more regular meals. They are supposed to work by reaching deep inside the body, perhaps even inside fat cells, while also providing the nutrients the body may need to be in balance and remove toxins from the body. Some claim that they are easier on the digestive system, and if they allow to cut calories without leaving one feeling hungry and deprived, they can support weight or fat loss.
Detox and/or cleanse products abound. If you take a moment to type in “detox for weight loss” in your favorite search engine, you will find product after product promising to help you lose weight and excess fat fast, often within a matter of days. On many of these websites, along with targeted social media posts and TV ads, your favorite celebrity may appeal to you directly, trying to convince you that his/her product is the best on the market and that it is guaranteed to solve your weight and excess body or belly fat issues.
The challenge for the consumer is how to keep those pounds off, if you choose to use the product and it works. I have worked with clients who have tried some of the detox for weight loss products and who did indeed lose weight and even feel great while taking the product. Unfortunately for many, when they returned to business as usual, the weight lost came right back. At worst, a self-guided product-based detox can exacerbate an existing medical condition and require a visit to a doctor for help reverse any negative side effects. If this requires medications, then the body is potentially exposed to more toxins. Nonetheless, possible risks of side effects of product-based detox plans have not stopped marketers from continuing to push detox products forward. There clearly is a market for them. In fact, the global detox market was valued at over $51 billion in 2019. People across the world are eager to do whatever it takes, including spending hard-earned money to lose stubborn weight (Marino, 2020). Slick marketing and promises of quick results can be luring (Harvard Health Publishing 2008). But do they work? And are the results sustainable? Each supplier of a detox product claims they do. The science to back these claims is not there yet.
Food-based detoxes: This approach relies, generally on whole unprocessed foods, which makes them much more nutritious than highly processed ones. When these whole foods serve to meet individual nutritional needs and body chemistry, they can help to restore the body back to a healthy balance, including a healthy weight and waistline. A food-based detox program often includes a guidebook, shopping list, a meal-plan and recipes, and a list of “do's and don'ts” to remove barriers to success. Oftentimes, select supplements may be included, as well as specific lifestyle practices that are meant to complement the nutrients that the foods provide.
There are specific restrictions and requirements for each diet or approach to detoxing that relies on real foods to facilitate natural body detoxification with the goal of losing weight and breaking down excess body fat. Below are eight of them. Let's look at what these dietary approaches entail and how they can support weight and fat loss.
1. Juicing: Based on drinking freshly made vegetable and fruit juices for one, two or all three meals of the day. Juices are easier on the digestive system and nutrients are much easier to access and supply to the different cells in the body. When made with the right combinations of fruits and vegetables, they can be life-transforming, filling nutritional gaps quite effectively. And the less efforts the body makes to digest the food, the faster the healing and restoration of balance. Weight loss then follows naturally. One of my favorite juices is made with fresh beetroots with turmeric.
2. Intermittent fasting: This entails fitting all meals in a timeframe not to exceed 8 hours each day. This often entails increasing the amount of time between the last meal of the day in the evening and the first meal of the day, the following day. The longer the gap between the two meals, the greater the effectiveness of the fast, especially during the first week of the fast. The goal is also to reduce the amount of time and energy the body invests in digesting food. An effective fast can lower inflammation and facilitate weight loss.
3. Elimination diets: An elimination diet is one of the most popular method of detoxification. A study published by the National Institutes of Health offers interesting insights into how a comprehensive elimination diet can enhance detoxification. In the study, “[t]he author identifies the comprehensive elimination diet as a useful therapeutic tool for clinicians and patients to use to achieve detoxification. Using this diet, the patient removes the most common allergenic foods and beverages from the diet and replaces them with nonallergenic choices for a period of 4 wk, gradually adding back the eliminated foods and observing their effects. Another effective clinical tool that the author discusses is the detox-focused core food plan, which identifies the variety of foods required to supply key nutrients that can maximize the effectiveness of detoxification” (Cline, 2015). Toxic waste removal naturally lowers body weight.
4. Low-carb diet: This entails cutting back on all starchy foods, significantly limiting or avoiding processed carbs. This can support blood sugar balance and insulin levels. As insulin is a known fat-storage hormone, the less it is triggered, usually by high-carb foods, the more the diet supports weight and fat loss as well.
5. No grain diet: Food products, whether processed or not, that have grains are not allowed in this diet. Whole grains can support weight loss when consumed in the right amounts. However, they can trigger inflammation and weight gain in some people. They are also high starch foods and therefore can be detrimental to efforts to lose weight. Giving up grains for even a week at a time can make a difference in those people who tend to gain weight easily. By giving up grains, one is able to remove gluten, a known allergen as well, that can increase inflammation in the body.
6. Sugar detox: This detox aims to limit or avoid nearly all sources of sugar, in some cases, even sweet fruits. Exceptions include lemons, limes, and cranberries. The less sugary fruits have little to no impact on blood sugar, which turns on insulin a hormone triggers fat-storage. Processed sugar is especially harmful but even natural sugar in fruits for example can be excessive and keep insulin turned on, and fat-storage consistent. A sugar detox can help to rebalance blood sugar and insulin levels.
7. Vegan diet: This diet relies on plant-based foods only and avoids animal food products. It is often referred to as a “cleaner diet” that can naturally cleanse the body of excess waste and can result in weight loss. There are many benefits to a vegan diet, provided one is well-educated to ensure one is not missing out on specific nutrients that are often found in animal food sources.
8. Calorie restriction diet: This is a diet that entails lowering calorie intake so that the body is able to dip into stored body fat instead of always relying on regular food consumption for energy. As long as the detox plan is whole foods-based and is not too calorie-restrictive, it can be beneficial. “If a detox diet involves severe calorie restriction, it will most certainly cause weight loss and improvements in metabolic health — but it’s unlikely to help you keep weight off in the long term” (Bjarnadottir, 2019).
Many people who have tried to detox have applied a combination of dietary approaches to achieve intended detoxification results, which often includes weight and fat loss.
General detox gains
Based on a comprehensive review of the available research on detoxing, and my experiences with this approach to weight loss, here are 9 health benefits of detoxification:
Jump-starting the metabolism: Our metabolism slows down when the body accumulates toxins.
Enhancing fat-burning: Toxins like to hide in fat cells
Improving digestion: When the body is full of toxins, it's a sign that key detoxification organs are not functioning optimally. A healthy digestion means that the bodily systems involved in detoxification are moving waste along, so that none are left hiding especially in fat cells.
Strengthening the immune system: This is achieved by reducing toxic load in the body and avoiding toxins found in foods and the environment
Balancing hormones: Estrogen, insulin and thyroid hormones in particular need to be in balance for effective fat-burning.
Improving vitamin and mineral intake: This happens when you are on an unprocessed, nutrient-dense diet.
Identifying food sensitivities and limiting known triggers (Cleveland Clinic, 2022): Gluten, dairy, soy, corn and foods in the nightshades family (eggplants, tomatoes, green peppers and tomatoes) can hamper the body's ability to burn fat.
Increasing water intake (Popkin, 2010; Edmonds, 2009; Bjarnadottir, 2019): One of my favorite ways to hydrate in the morning is to drink flavored water with pineapple peel with fresh turmeric and slices of lemon, soaked together overnight in a large pitcher. Fill the pitcher with filtered water and cover it with a napkin (paper or cloth) and lay a saucer on top to secure the napkin in place. Leave it out on a counter if it is cool enough in the room, or put it in the fridge. Strain it and drink at least two full glasses of this drink first thing in the morning before breakfast. It's hydrating and good for the immune system. And it smells great! You'll love it especially if you like the smell of fresh pineapple.
Reducing inflammation in the body: Food sensitivities, a highly acidic diet and nutrient-deficiencies can be at the heart of increased inflammation. Detoxification can lower inflammation when it removes inflammatory triggers in sensitive people, increases intake of an alkaline and nutrient-dense diet.
While this is not an exhaustive list, these benefits point to the importance of detoxification as a promising step in the process of restoring the body's natural balance and vitality (Gates and Schatz, p. 50).
Specific detox benefits that I have experienced
I have developed a program following the specific steps that I have taken to detox and that enabled me to restore a healthier weight and waistline. Many of my clients have experienced similar positive outcomes after enrolling in this program. The benefits include:
More energy throughout the day
Blood sugar balance
Less brain fog and better mental clarity
Weight and fat loss
Lowered inflammation in the body, including the knees, lower back and shoulders
Stronger and overall healthier-looking hair and nails
In my case, my weight and waistline have shifted from a dress size 14 to a size 4, from a large to a small. This came as a result of dietary and lifestyle changes with detoxification as one of the steps.
Maintenance of the healthy changes made during a detox is what helps me to sustain the gains of a successful detox. To sustain these gains requires being intentional in embracing a healthy lifestyle that is practical and doable and does not get me too much off track even when too busy or while traveling.
Calorie-restriction for example, is one approach that I apply off and on when I lose control over my food choices for an extended period of time and gain weight as a result.
A long fast during which I stay hydrated but eat nothing for 16 and up to 20 hours straight, enables me to stay on track of feeling light and in balance, especially when I go on long flights. When breakfast is not my ideal choice, rather than eat whatever is served, I take the opportunity to fast and wait until lunch or dinner. And I opt for vegetarian or vegan meals that are easier to digest when I eat out, or travel outside my comfort zone. Meat is harder to digest and the most common cooking oils can be hard on the digestive system as well. This can result in constipation and the buildup of waste products in the body, which contributes to weight gain.
My sugar intake is limited these days. So, I no longer need to do a sugar detoxification although I have tried it for an extended period of time to finally conquer yeast infections. Sugar feeds yeast. I avoided grains around the same time as well and I continue to limit my overall carb intake to keep blood sugar in balance.
Paying attention to your unique medical profile and consulting with your healthcare provider before starting a detox program or making other major dietary or lifestyle changes is an important first step. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health summarizes this point well: “Take charge of your health—talk with your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use, including any ‘detoxes’ or ‘cleanses’” (2019). While it's best to be in the driver's seat regarding your health, the guidance of a trained health professional can protect you from the potential side effects of making the wrong turns along the way in your journey to better health and losing weight.
Nutritious, whole food-based detoxes are likely to be more beneficial than harmful. The key is to follow a realistic and sustainable plan that can take one on a journey to better health and balance. This can result in a healthier weight and fat loss as well.
It’s important to note that “[y]our body is already equipped with a natural detoxification system. Your liver, kidneys, intestines, and skin work nonstop to remove waste from your body via feces, urine, and to a minor extent, sweat” (Davidson, 2020; see also Shmerling, 2020). The goal of a detox program should be to support your body’s natural detoxification system, and based on current research and my personal experience, food-based detoxing can effectively play this role.
If you are interested in laying the foundation for a healthy weight and waistline, check out my book here. And if you want to go deeper and equip yourself with strategies that will help you reach a healthy waistline, while restoring balance in your body, enroll in my upcoming course in which I will teach you the most effective ways to lose belly fat and keep it off, while also reaping many other benefits that you'll want to maintain. This course includes a module on detoxification and fasting. I present a food-based approach to detoxing that enhances the body's ability to burn fat and balance hormones as well. Ready to take charge of your health and finally shrink your stubborn belly fat? Sign up today and you'll be the first to know the launch date as you also get updates on other updates to support you on your wellness journey!
The Body Ecology Diet: Recovering Your Health and Rebuilding Your Immunity, by Donna Gates and Linda Schatz. Haye House, Carlsbad, CA. 2011.
“Water, Hydration and Health,” by Barry M Popkin, et al. Nutr Rev. August 2010. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908954/. Accessed November 10, 2022.
“Does having a drink help you think? 6-7-Year-old children show improvements in cognitive performance from baseline to test after having a drink of water,” by Caroline Edmonds, et al. Appetite. December 2009. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19835921/. Accessed November 10, 2022.
“Do Detox Diets and Cleanses Really Work?”, by Adda Bjarnadottir. January 10, 2019.
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/detox-diets-101. Accessed November 10, 2022.
“Feeling the Need to Detox? Here's the Real Truth,” interview with Toxicologist Dr. Ryan Marino. January 2, 2020. https://www.uhhospitals.org/Healthy-at-UH/articles/2020/01/feeling-the-need-to-detox-heres-the-real-truth. Accessed November 10, 2022.
“The dubious practice of detox,” by Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. May 1, 2008. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-dubious-practice-of-detox. Accessed November 10, 2022.
“Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: a critical review of the evidence,” by A V Klein. J Hum Nutr Diet. December 2015. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25522674/. Accessed Novemter 10, 2022.
“Do Detoxes and Cleanses Actually Work? Your body naturally detoxes every day,” by Cleveland Clinic. August 3, 2022. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/are-you-planning-a-cleanse-or-detox-read-this-first/https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-dubious-practice-of-detox. Accessed November 10, 2022.
“The Evidence on Detox Diets’” by Evidence-Based Living, Cornell University. https://evidencebasedliving.human.cornell.edu/2021/03/26/the-evidence-on-detox-diets/
“Herbal Detoxes: Myths, Facts, and What to Know,” by Katey Davidson. August 7, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/herbal-detox. Accessed November 10, 2022.
“A Caution Against Detoxes: Breaking Down the 4 Most Popular Types,” by Deanna Debara. January 15, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/detox-cleanses-do-diets-work. Accessed November 10, 2022.
“What’s being cleansed in a detox cleanse?”, by Robert H. Shmerling. March 25, 2020.
“Lemon detox diet reduced body fat, insulin resistance, and serum hs-CRP level without hematological changes in overweight Korean women,” by Mi Joung Kim, et al. Nutr Res. May 2015. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25912765/. Accessed November 10, 2022.
“Nutritional aspects of detoxification in clinical practice, by John C. Cline . Altern Ther Health Med. May-June 2015. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26026145/. Accessed November 10, 2022.
“’Detoxes’ and ‘Cleanses’: What You Need To Know”, by National Center for Complentary and Integrative Health, National Institutes of Health. September 2019. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/detoxes-and-cleanses-what-you-need-to-know. Accessed November 10, 2022.
Cleanse Your Body, Cleanse Your Mind, by Jeffrey A. Morrison. Penguin Group, 2012.
10-Day Detox Diet, by Mark Hyman. Little, Brown and Company, 2014.
The Living Beauty Detox Program, by Ann Louise Gittleman. Harper San Francisco, 2000.
"9 Hormones that Affect Your Weight - And How to Improve Them" by Ellen Landes, medically reviewed by Jerlyn Jones. January 26, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/9-fixes-for-weight-hormones. Accessed November 26, 2022.
"Central Effects of Estradiol in the Regulation of Adiposity" by LM Brown and DJ Clegg. December 24, 2009 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2889220/. Accessed November 26, 2022.