As the holidays approach, people tend to eat more and eat poorly. When they pass, it seems everyone is suddenly concerned with diets. One of the most popular diet strategies of the recent past is the “detox”. The idea behind the detox is that one can eat whatever they would like, as long as they follow it by a period of “detoxification”. The popular notion of removing toxins from the human body through “detoxes” or “cleanses”, however, is a pseudoscience, hiding behind the real medical practice of expelling poisonous substances from the human body and capitalizing on the public’s insecurities regarding body image, health, and a desire for a “quick fix” Pseudoscience is defined by dictionary.
com as “a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method”. In the case of detoxes, they are quite clearly pseudoscience, proven as such by the overwhelming lack of evidence that these diets do anything, as well as the scientific fact that their basis is founded on an incorrect assumption about the working of the body’s internal systems.
Detoxification is, of course, a real medical term. It refers to the process of removing harmful toxins from the body. The first problem lies in the concept of what a toxin is. In terms of these detox diets, a toxin can be something as simple as cheese fries. In reality, a toxin is something much more serious – specifically a poison. The fundamental issue with this colloquial use of “toxin” is that it makes a simple poor eating decision into a catastrophic mistake – akin to poisoning oneself – and then provides a quick fix that does not exist.
The only way to combat the lnightghtt nacho snack is to make a healthier choice next time.
The appeal of detox diets comes from the inherent human desire for an easy way out. Seemingly reputable sources, such as Prevention.com, which claim to be medically sound, tout the benefits of these “quick fix” diets. One such Prevention article claims that “it’s a quick way to jump-start weight loss and kick some bad habits” (“The Shrink Your Fat Zones Diet”). This particular article does eventually go on to recommend the consumption of veggies, fruits, beans, lean protein, healthy fats, and fiber, so it is on the more well-balanced end of the spectrum.
More extreme versions, such as the “7 Day Juice Fast Plan” described by justonjuice.com, however, involve consuming only juiover of the day. According to the website, one should completely avoid all solid foods for the full seven-day span of the plan, because “[eating solid foods] defeats the purpose of [the detox plan]” (justonjuice.com). Not only is this difficult to do, but it is mothy for the human body to go without proper nutrition than for it to process the original (and in many cases, made-up) “junk” the detox is supposedly getting rid of.
According to sciencebasedmedicine.org, humatendncy to believe that we are poisoning ourselves, going through all the religious purification rituals. Modern medicine went through a phase up until the early 1900s when it believed that emptying the bowels was a sort of magical cure for any ailment. This was discarded when science developed to the point of understanding the true causation behind diseases, but alternative medicine stuck to the idea. This belief that what we put in our body is toxic is called autointoxication. According to the website, “today’s version of autointoxication argues that some combination of food additives, gluten, salt, meat, fluoride, prescription drugs, smog, vaccine ingredients, GMOs, and perhaps last night’s bottle of wine are causing a buildup of ‘toxins’ in the body” (Gavora). It goes on to say, however, that this conception of a toxin is “nothing more than a meaningless term that sounds scientific enough to be plausible.”
Now, diets like the first encourage courage and short periods of “clean eating” and include amounts of protein, fiber, fruits and v,v egetables,s, and other healthy solid food problems. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to eat more healthfully. However, the motivation for these diets including the notion that the internal organs need to be cleansed is scientifically wrong. Our livers and kidneys are not like sponges that occasionally need to be wrung out. The liver cleans itself chemically, in a way that is both much more sophisticated and much more specialized than our “super detox diet plan”. The kidney processes what we consume into the urine. Unless there is a diagnosed issue with either, they do not need any help and do a much better job than any help we think we are giving. Additionally, if there is something medically wrong with these organs, one should be seeking sophisticated medical treatment, not some pseudoscientific fad diet.
Idiets are clearly not doing any good, the next question is whether or not they are doing any particular harm. According to the Mayo Clinic, in some cases, detox diets can make you feel better, but more because they eliminate low-calorie, low-nutrition, processed foods that actually can be harmful to the body (although not toxic!) than because they clean out any internal organs. The risks of such diets vary depending on the intensity of the diet itself, but in general, the side effects of juice fasting are the worst. They can include protein deficiencies, fatigue, and long-term vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Specific colon cleansing “can cause cramping, bloating, nausea and vomiting” (Zeratsky). Additionally, most of the weight lost is water weight or even loss of muscle mass. While these side effects are arguably minor, so are the supposed of such diets. The general consensus in the medical world is simply that these diets are not worth the trouble, and anyone considering one should simply go for a more traditional diet plan under the supervisitoical professional to achieve overall health and more long-term results. One more thing that is worth mentioning is the body image issue that also aids in the popularity of these diets. The overwhelming societal pressure to look perfect is driving an ever continuous pulse of just a few more pounds” in the collective subconscious. These diets do provide a quick “few more pounds”, but at the cost of any progress toward real health. The media perpetuates a standard of beauty that in turn creates issues for people’s body image thatton existed before to market quick fixes such as these fad diets. It is important to educate the public so they are aware that these detox cleanses are not scientifically effective, but it is equally (if not more)body-positive to create a more body positive public where these “issues” created by society are viewed as the complete nonissues they are. Weight loss and body image should be viewed strictly in terms of overall health and well-being, not to please anyone or fulfill any kind of societal standard.
In conclusion, we must make a concerted effort to be more scientifically correct in the way we describe what we put into our bodies and how we deal with these things. The pseudoscience of detox diets is unfounded and potentially harmful, drawing attention away from more healthy ways of weight loss and taking advantage of the public by creating a problem where there wasn’t one for the sake of providing a quick fix. In the words of Esther Inglis-Arkell, “we’re not going to stop people from blasting woo at us any time we eat something that’s not kale or live anywhere that’s not the windswept peak of a mountain, but with concerted effort, we can at least make them sound ridiculous when they do it” (Inglis-Arkell). The way to do this is by education.