‘Detoxing’ is certainly an appealing concept. It suggests undoing an unhealthy lifestyle, the late nights, the hangovers, the greasy junk food. While effortlessly losing weight and gaining clearer skin and shinier hair!
At least, that’s what TV health personalities like Dr. Mehmet Oz and Jillian Michaels have been touting. Michaels, the trainer on the TV show “The Biggest Loser,” shared a recipe for "Fat Flush Water" she claims can help you lose up to five pounds in a week!
Detoxing is undoubtedly lucrative marketing term, just think of all those products that instruct you to drink only their magic green juice for three days; give up all manner of supposedly ‘toxic’ foods; perform elaborate bath-time rituals to ‘draw the toxins out’; or more worrying, encourage the unlicensed use of laxatives or diuretics.
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What are these so-called ‘toxins’ that we are trying to get rid of? Is it actually possible to ‘detox’ our bodies at all? Or is it all just an elaborate myth?
What is a ‘toxin’?
In medicine, the word ‘toxin’ is usually used to describe either drugs or alcohol, and ‘detoxing’ is the medicalised process to help someone wean off these substances.
In more widespread use, the term is now also used to describe the thousands of different substances that get into our bodies, such as pollutants, plastics, pesticides, preservatives, flame retardants, synthetic chemicals, heavy metals and more. Global industrialisation and intensive farming has hugely increased the number of chemicals we are exposed to.
We can be exposed to these from the processed foods and drinks we consume, but also from the cosmetics or cleaning products we use, and the air we breathe. Also, your own body produces toxins, called metabolic waste products, as a natural result of processes like digestion and respiration. Some we can control, others we cannot.
Detoxification is something our body does for us
The good news is that our body is incredibly good at ‘detoxing’ a lot of these chemicals all by itself: no crazy detoxification diets, ‘magic’ bullet supplements, smoothies, juicing or teas required! Don’t believe the spurious claims on packaging that states otherwise.
‘Detox’ within the body is a beautifully orchestrated set of chemical reactions, which get hold of a toxic substance, mix it up a bit, add some tag-on substances to make it safer, and then try to excrete it out of the body through urine, faeces and exhalation (even our breath). Most detoxification happens in our liver, although minor roles are also played by our kidneys, the lining of our gut, our gut microbiota, our lungs and our skin. It’s a team effort.
A few ‘toxins’, such as POPs and heavy metals (including mercury, cadmium, aluminium and lead) may potentially accumulate in fat tissue or bones, rather than being eliminated from the body. I therefore encourage my Nutrition Coaching clients to minimise exposure to these where possible.
How to support your body for true detoxing.
I am against any sort of extreme diet, ‘detox’ or otherwise. Also, I don’t think that any concept that encourages us to associate food with sin, contamination, ‘toxicity’ or guilt is helpful. I worry that ‘detox’ diets and cleanses potentially set the stage for an increasingly anxiety-provoking relationship with food.
Your body is ‘detoxing’ all day, every day. I think it is far better to look at ways we might be able to support these processes every day of our lives rather than something that you can do one week a year and throw caution to the wind for the other 51 weeks. I believe that the best course of action is to always follow a sensible, healthy lifestyle (and handily my Vitality Nutrition Programme covers all of this)!
What to do:
I define detoxing as “lifestyle changes that reduce the exposure of toxins while nourishing and supporting the body’s own abilities to improve digestion and elimination”, to help the body do what it's already doing.
- Eat less processed foods and up whole foods in your diet. Include a wide variety of nutrient dense whole foods. Try to shop in the green grocers,, bakery. fish mongers and butchers, it makes this much easier. Only buy from the supermarket what you have to such as toilet paper, cleaning products etc
Buy organic foods if it's within budget, particularly meat and dairy. Organics cost a bit more, but the quality of the produce is superior. Particularly animal products, leaner and tastier than factory farmed.
- Use less toxic household cleaning products. I use Malone's products in my home and in my Pilates studio. You can also make your own quite cheaply. Remember Kim and Aggie from "How Clean Is Your House?" performing miracles with vinegar, lemon juice and other things we have in our cupboards!
- Use more natural personal care products, especially those which are absorbed by our skin, for example, body and facial moisturiser, sunless tanner, SPF lotions etc and also your toothpaste. Parabens and Phthalates are found in all sorts of products, from cosmetics, to food packaging and even the coating on nutritional supplements. Concerns have been raised that they may disrupt normal hormonal function in humans. I love Elave products for my son and their shampoo is amazing, Mio skincare and many others. But sometimes I simply use coconut oil to moisturise my skin and as a hair mask.
- Avoid plastic containers, especially for food and water. Use glass jars etc and get a stainless steel water bottle and lunch box (if you take lunch to work). Use your own cloth bags when shopping instead of plastic. Use stainless steel cooking utensils.
- Avoid BPA, a petroleum-based chemical. Bisphenol A is a common component of plastic packaging, bottles and the linings of tin cans. It has been banned for use in baby bottles by the EU. It has been linked to numerous health issues, from cardiovascular disease to reproductive changes. It is still being used, because although links have been made, there has been no absolute proof of harm. Never microwave or heat food in a plastic container. Under high temperatures, BPA is most easily transferred from plastic to food. Use a plate or bowl instead.
- Say “no thanks” to receipts unless necessary. Another widespread use of BPA is in thermal paper commonly used for till/atm receipts.
- Avoid scented candles and air fresheners. I use an oil burner with pure essential oils and beeswax candles at home and in my studio.
- Drink lots of water. Have as many glasses of filtered water as you can a day.
As you can see, I don't promote starving yourself or limiting yourself to only juicing or shakes for days at a time. Those gimmicks don’t work long-term and your hard work will be for nothing. A gradual move away from processed foods and creating permanent positive habits gives results and is much more satisfying.
I hope that this article helps you to better understand what the concept of detoxing actually means, how the word is being used to sell products and how to actually "cleanse" your body. I also hope that the information helps you to make better, more consistent choices throughout the year, rather than just a week.