Monday, January 14, 2013

Detoxing: Helpful, Harmful or Useless

(salad juice with cayenne) 

There is something about being an American that leads us to look for a quick fix to any and all of our problems.  As a nation we love to pop a pill to reduce our cholesterol.  We like to go on a diet rather than changing our lifestyle in order to lose weight.  We are also drawn to a detox to cleanse our bodies rather than eating clean.

Earlier this week I was asked how I felt about a specific cleanse in order to detox.  Those of you who have been reading me a long time can probably guess how I feel about this.  This post is geared more to our newer readers.

What will a short term detox do?

Assuming the detox program is well structured it won’t be adding any toxins into your body which is a good thing. By eliminating anything that the body’s detox system has to handle we may be able to remove a small amount of our stored toxins.  Additionally you will probably lose a few pounds but those may or may not be mostly water weight.

What a short term detox can’t do.

I am sure that I am going to make a lot of people who are selling detox products and systems angry but in my opinion they are useless if the person using them goes right back to their original habits.  Our bodies are built to detox on a continual basis.  The problem is that we are throwing into our bodies more toxins than they can push out.  When you add to that the fact that our perfectly designed bodies store toxins in our fat where it can’t harm us you can see how a short term detox can only be of negligible benefit.  When we go on a short term diet (or detox) the weight we drop initially is water weight first and then fat.  Think about that for a moment.  How many toxins do you think you could be removing in a three days or even a week?  My thought is not many at all.

(curried almond salad, apple slices and butter lettuce leaves for wraps)

Can a detox harm you?

A short detox program can harm you.  If you are thinking of using a commercial detox product like a powder or a tea I would caution you not to unless the ingredients are completely spelled out and you have researched the safety of every ingredient. I honestly doubt that 1 out of 1000 people who consider these products do that research.  Many of these products contain ingredients that have been studied.  Worse some of these products contain things that are known to be harmful because they rev up the metabolism or are a known diuretic.

If you are thinking of embarking on a juice fast I would caution you to think carefully about this as well. If you are a healthy person I don’t think that you have anything to be concerned about and a short juice fast is probably fine. However if you are on any medication, have diabetes or cancer I wouldn’t even consider a juice fast.  There are too many things that could become a problem to take a chance with your health.

For those of you who are thinking, wait a minute you said that you did a 16 day juice fast not long ago what gives, let me explain. Yes I did a juice fast but I am on no medication and all my body metrics (blood pressure, blood sugar, etc.) are excellent.  While I did a juice fast I would never encourage or go along with Dan doing one.

Is a short term detox ever a good idea?

After I “indulge” in less healthy food I go on a self imposed detox of sorts but not for the reasons you think.  I eat an extremely healthy diet after indulging and it does have the impact of detoxing me but that isn’t the reason that I do it. I go on my ultra clean diet to:  1) get the added weight off as quickly as possible, 2) make myself feel physically better by increasing my phytonutrient (plant nutrients) intake and 3) to get back on track with my healthy lifestyle as quickly as possible.  However I do not do these with the idea of detox in mind.

(blood orange, fennel, hearts of palm and avocado salad on arugula)

If a detox isn’t a good idea what should we do instead?

In my opinion this is the most important part of this post.  To truly be healthy we need to make healthy decisions at most opportunities.  Our health is not the result of a juice fast of an occasional detox but rather it is a function of the last few thousand decisions we have made.  Remember we are just a meal or workout away from starting to change our health.  Here are some things I want you to think about an answer:
  • Are you adequately hydrated?
  • Do you eat 10 servings of produce per day on average?
  • Do you eat predominately food rather than food-like substances?  (This goes back to my rule of food needs to either rot or sprout. If it doesn’t rot or sprout it is probably a food-like substance and you should not be eating it.) 
  • Is your diet mostly natural food rather than refined food?
  • Are you physically active a minimum 60 minutes per day on average?
  • Do you have a plan that you use to manage the stress in your life?
  • Do you go to the doctor for an annual physical?
  • Have you had your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, vitamin D and B12 levels checked within the last year?

If you answered yes to all these questions congratulations you are well on your way to vibrant health if you aren’t already there.   However if you didn’t answer yes to these question you need to re-examine what is important to you.  Do you want to be healthy or do you want to continue doing what you have always done? 

Inertia is difficult to overcome which is why many of us stay stuck in our old patterns.  However at any moment any of us can start to move in a more healthy direction.  You can make your next meal a big healthy salad. You can put on your tennis shoes and head out the door for nice walk.  Initially these take more work that doing what we have always done. As you start to make more healthy decisions the physical effect will become more profound and more noticeable. Once this happens it becomes almost as easy to maintain a healthy lifestyle as it is to live an unhealthy one.

(grilled veggie and hummus wrap courtesy of Ian)

How do I get started changing my health?

There are many options but the one I recommend is that you follow along in my “transitioning to a healthy vegan lifestyle” series that started last Thursday and will continue every Thursday for at least 8 weeks in total.  While this series is geared to moving toward a vegan lifestyle the tips are also good for everyone’s health vegan or not.

Happy thoughts:
  1. Dan’s fever is continuing to improve which is a huge relief.  His highest temp Sunday was 99.9 (as of this post going up) which is a radical improvement.  That gets both a woo hoo and a happy dance.  Dan is sleeping now as I write this so I suspect when Monday rolls around he might be heading back to work. *woo hoo*  Not that I want him to go to work but I want him to feel good enough to go to work.
  2. I didn’t sleep well again last night as I was up every hour or so checking on Dan’s body temperature.  Fortunately I didn’t have anything pressing to do to today so I was able to take it easy.  I am sooooo looking forward to crawling into bed tonight. I think that I will be out in less than 10 seconds.  LOL
  3. The good thing about being low on energy meant that I had some extra time at home.  I used that time to go a few things and have some pizza nuts dehydrating now which is nice.
  4. My friend Matt will be on his 5th day without cigarettes by the time you read this.  After more than two decades of smoking that really deserves a big high five.  In addition to losing the smokes he is also working to clean up his diet.  Don’t you just love it when the people you care about make positive changes?  I am so pleased!  You rock Matt!
  5. We were so busy with the fever on Saturday that we forgot that we had a jazz concert in Annapolis. Not that we could have made it but we could have given the tickets to someone if we had remembered.  What I am grateful for is that everything will be okay and we can go to another concert.

Signing Out:

This has been one long weekend and I am happy to see it end which is not normal for me.  It is time to get back to our usual routine.  Sadly the weather they were predicting didn’t materialize on Sunday. While it was warmer than usual it was not close to the 70s that were forecast and it was foggy all day.  Basically Sunday was good day to stay home and relax.

Since by the time you are reading this it is probably Monday I hope that your week has started off well and that we can talk soon. Ciao for now.


  1. Hey thanks for the mention you are a serious motivator. I'm pretty happy about quitting the smokes. starting tomorrow I'm going to track my servings of veggies to get to 10. Also, have you ever heard of the Sacred Heart soup diet? Ive had great results years ago and I'm thinking of doing it again very soon.Thanks, you're pics all look fabulous.

    1. Hi Matt!

      I am thrilled for you in case you hadn't noticed. ;-)

      Woo hoo for 10 servings of veggies. :-) Congrats on 3 days without meat too.

      I have not heard of the Sacred Heart Soup Diet but I will look it up tomorrow.

      Hopefully my pics make this lifestyle look more palatable. I promise that your taste buds adapt and you really learn to love eating this way. Can't wait to hear how these changes impact your body composition with all your training. It is going to be incredible; I just know it.


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  3. We were really sad about the beautiful weather on Sunday that didn't materialize! Thanks for posting about detoxing and the green juice fasts. We've been really skeptical about both (even though Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead was very motivational) so it's good to know our instincts were right.

    1. Hi Statch,

      I am not a fan of the concept of detoxing in general. However I do like juicing and periodic juice fasting but not for everyone and obviously not for detoxing. I think the concept of detoxing is both overused and inaccurate. I think the reason green juice fasting works isn't that it is detoxing but rather that it is highly nutritious. By flooding the body with phytonutrients you are removing unidentified deficiencies so the body can operate at it's peak efficiency. Does it make sense how that is different from detoxing?


  4. Awesome. BTW like everyone I'm happy your hubby is on the mend. Gonna hit up nature store tomorrow and get out of my comfort zone. I hope they sell big macs in there.

    1. Thanks Matt!

      Dan is feeling so much better today. His fever has been almost normal all day.

      Yay for a trip to the health food store tomorrow. I love that you are getting out of your comfort zone. If you have any questions at all, please ask. I am happy to help. It hasn't been that long ago that I was lost in a health food store too. ;-)

      you are a character, :-)

  5. My person favorite from this post is the salad drink with cayenne!
    Looks delicious.
    Peace :)
    PS. I think the "quick fix" mindset has invaded other countries as well. Such a mindset is good for some things and not so good for other IMHO.


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