With winter on its way out and glorious spring days in sight, it's natural to want your body to feel as fresh as the weather. A detox can seem like a logical choice—but it's important to understand how they can affect your body. " 'Detox' has become a buzzword," says Peggy Swistak, MS, RDN, CD, of Pacific Northwest Ballet. "They promise to eliminate any 'toxins', but we have organs like the kidneys and liver to do that for us. However, some detoxes won't cause real harm if done in a controlled way over a short span of time."
Are you considering a fast to purify your body of toxins or to shed a few pounds? Whatever your ultimate goal, food deprivation is dangerous and can even lead to weight gain and muscle loss. Before you go on a fast, here’s what you should know.
Fasting: The Dark Side
During a typical fast, a person refrains from eating solid foods for a certain period of time in order to lose weight, rid the body of toxins, or for spiritual or religious reasons. But fasts may not yield the results that you want. In addition to weight gain, fasts can cause muscle loss, headache, irritability, poor concentration, nausea and other side effects. Because bodies need energy to function properly, even while sleeping and during sedentary activities, when meals are skipped, the body enters a semi-starvation state, with metabolism slowed in order to conserve calories for vital organs.
Within three to four hours after a fast begins, the body starts rapidly depleting its stores of sugar, also known as glycogen, to fuel the brain and other vital organs. When glycogen is broken down, water is released, resulting in multiple trips to the restroom. This means that the majority of pounds melted away consist of water, not body fat. Once you start eating again, your body weight will go back to where it started as the water from foods and beverages rehydrate your body.
Every time the body is deprived of calories, it consumes some of its calorie-burning, dance-enhancing muscle mass. Because fat tissue requires far fewer calories to function than muscle, the less muscle you have after a fast, the higher your fat levels will rise.
Instead of fasting, try a modified detoxification diet like the one below to clean out your insides and safely lower body fat.
Nature’s Best: Food in its natural form contains fewer toxins and can help eliminate toxins in the body. Aim for a well-rounded, portion-controlled diet that contains five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, along with plenty of whole grain breads, cereals and crackers; pasta and rice; lean proteins such as chicken, turkey, fish, egg whites and lean red meats; nuts and seeds; nut butters; and olive oil.
Fab Fiber: High-fiber foods facilitate natural waste elimination, ensuring the removal of toxic substances. Fiber also helps keep energy levels on an even keel and appetites at bay. Fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains are the best sources of fiber.
Clean Shop: In addition to limiting highly processed and refined foods, take a vacation from caffeine, alcohol, fatty and fried foods and anything high in artificial additives, sweeteners or preservatives.
Drink Up: Drink at least eight glasses of water a day to keep everything moving through your system. To stimulate digestive juices, drink a glass of warm water with juice squeezed from half a lemon.
Detox diets are recommended two to three times per year for one to two weeks at a time. Avoid detox during and prior to performance, heavy training and stressful times.