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Do Detox Diets Really Work?

There is a popular belief that restricting what you eat for a period of time can rid your body of built-up toxins and help you lose weight. The appeal of this claim is hard to ignore – and it seems that advertisements for detox diets pop up everywhere, in magazines, health food stores, and online. While other diet fads have come and gone, detox diets remain popular. But do they really work?

The concept of dieting to detoxify your body can be traced to ancient Indian cultures. These days, there are plenty of detox diets from which to choose, from the one-day fast to the five-day juice diet to the three week detox program. The diets are all different, but they all focus on severe food restriction for a period of time.

The Case for the Detox Diet

Promoters of detox diets claim that the only way to rid the body of chemicals and toxins is through a detoxification diet. If these toxins aren’t removed, they claim, they can lead to health problems, and even cancer.

The most common type of detox diet allows the dieter to eat fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, but not meat, fish, eggs, dairy, wheat, sugar, caffeine or alcohol. There is also a juice diet, which only allows juiced vegetables and some fruits. Another option is fasting, during which a person consumes only water – although some diets allow herbal teas and fruit juices. Fasting is also commonly done for religious reasons – not just for health.

Proponents of detox diets believe following the diet will give the following benefits:

  • Fewer headaches
  • Improved complexion
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased bloating

These are actual benefits, and it’s really no mystery why these things occur. Since you are drinking more water and less caffeine and alcohol, you may have fewer headaches. Since you’re becoming better hydrated and getting more nutrients from fruits and vegetables, your complexion may improve. And because you’re consuming fewer calories and less salt, you will likely see weight loss and decreased bloating.

Scientific Evidence Lacking

Very little research has been done on the various detox diets available, therefore there is no scientific support for or against any of the diet’s claims. Those who attempt to make cases for or against the diet method rely on what is known about the functioning of the human body as well as toxicology.

We do know that certain components of detox diets are very healthy, such as:

  • Focusing on fruits and vegetables. Everyone knows fruits and vegetables are healthy choices. The most recent dietary guidelines have raised the recommended daily servings for these foods. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and are full of vitamins, fiber and antioxidants.
  • Reducing calorie intake. When food groups such as meat and dairy are eliminated from a person’s diet, calorie intake will be lowered. Since most Americans consume too many calories, reducing calorie intake will likely lead to gradual weight loss. Many of these diets, however, reduce calories too much, which can lead to muscle loss and put the body in starvation mode, leading to a slower metabolism.

The Body’s Way of Detoxifying

Our bodies filter out toxins on their own on an ongoing basis. The liver, lungs, kidneys and skin all work to detoxify our bodies. When nutrients and other substances enter our bodies, their first stop is the liver, which filters out and eliminates harmful toxins. The kidneys also filter out waste by creating urine. The skin allows us to sweat out toxins, and the lungs help us filter the air we breathe.

Our bodies are about 70 percent water, so it makes sense that staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water will help us stay healthy. But to date, there is not scientific evidence to support the idea that drinking water flushes out toxins.

Safety Concerns

The benefits of detox diets are questionable. If you decide to go on one, be sure to talk to your doctor first. Certain people should never use a detox diet, including children, pregnant women, and diabetics. Also, vigorous exercise should be avoided during these diets since calorie intake is severely limited.

The Bottom Line

Those who are considering a detox diet should be careful. There is little research available to support their claims. Instead of short-term detox diets, healthy long-term changes would be more beneficial. Eat a more plant-based diet, drink more water, and cut back on your caffeine and alcohol intake.

RESOURCES:

American Dietetic Association
http://www.eatright.org

Nutrition – Answers.com

http://nutrition.answers.com/

The Nutrition Source

Harvard School of Public Health
http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/

Healthy Diets are Better for Weight Loss than Exercise

Exercise on its own will not help you drop pounds if you continue eating an unhealthy diet.

An Australian review of 43 weight loss studies dating as far back as 1985 has proven this.

“Exercise by itself is not going to be an effective weight-loss strategy for an individual. You really need to combine exercise with better nutrition,” said review lead author Dr. Kelly Shaw, a public health doctor with the Department of Health and Human Services in Tasmania.

Dr. Shaw further concluded that following a healthy diet actually does more to help weight loss than exercise.

“You need to look at your nutrition intake because there’s a bigger bang for your buck from modifying nutrition than there is with physical activity,” she tells those who want to lose weight.

Her review is published in The Cochrane Library journal.

It seems apparent that diet has more of an impact on weight loss than exercise in the short term, according to John Jakicic, chair of the Department of Health and Physical Activity at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education. Jakicic was not involved in the review.

“Within 6 months, with diet alone, we can get about a 9 or 10 kilogram weight loss, which is over 20 pounds, versus with activity, we get about a 2 kilogram weight loss in that same period of time,” Jakicic said.

But exercise should not be ignored. While diet is important in the early stages of weight loss, “exercise seems to be one of those key factors for keeping the weight off when you lose it,” Jakicic said.

Effectiveness of Internet-Based Weight Loss Services

These days, there are many online weight loss programs in addition to traditional weight loss programs, such as Weight Watchers. But do they work, and how do they compare to traditional weight loss services?

The Appeal of Online Dieting

Online weight loss programs can easily be accessed from the comfort of your home, making them very convenient. Dieters can also be anonymous on the Internet, which is a big plus since research shows that many adults prefer to lose weight without having to participated in a face-to-face program. Additionally, many of the online diet programs offer helpful tools, such as the ability to track your progress, online food journals, and grocery list apps for smart phones. All these things could help motivate a dieter to stick with their program.

How Effective Are These Services?

Internet-based weight loss programs are fairly new, but so far, they’ve received extremely positive reviews. They have been proven to work, and, in some cases, they’ve been shown to be as effective as in-person interventions.

A study found in Preventive Medicine looked at the effectiveness of behavioral weight loss programs delivered via the Internet, in person, and both online and in person. After six months, the in person group experienced the highest percentage of people reaching a 7% weight loss (56.3%). The Internet group saw 37.3% of its members reach 7% weight loss, and the combination group has 44.4% of its members reach 7% weight loss. The percentage of participants who reached a 5% weight loss, however, didn’t differ among the groups. Researchers determined that Internet-based interventions are effective alternatives to in-person treatment. They also determined that the addition of occasional in-person counseling sessions didn’t improve the outcomes.

Weight Loss

The effectiveness of Internet-based weight loss programs has been studied since they began to appear in the late 1990s. A Journal of the American Medical Association study compared the use of an Internet behavior therapy weight loss program with the use of a website which provides weight loss education. Participants in the behavior therapy group were e-mailed 24 weekly behavioral lessons and had access to an online bulletin board. They also wrote self-monitoring diaries weekly, and received individualized feedback concerning what they wrote. Participants in the behavior therapy group dropped more pounds than those who were provided with online access to weight loss information. The study seems to prove that Internet courses are a good method for delivering weight loss behavior therapy.

Another study by the same group of researchers compared a basic Internet dieting program with a program which also offered e-mailed behavioral counseling. Individuals in the counseling group submitted calorie and exercise information via email and received weekly behavioral counseling and feedback from a counselor. The study, also published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that participants in the online counseling group lost more weight on average than the group which didn’t receive counseling.

Weight Maintenance

The long-term effects of Internet-based programs on weight loss maintenance have yet to be seen. But most research indicates that Internet-based weight loss services are beneficial. A group of 255 overweight and obese males participated in a six-month behavioral weight control program online. After the six-month period, the participants were divided into groups – frequent in-person support, minimal in-person support, or Internet support – for a 12-month weight maintenance phase. Participants in the Internet-based program lost approximately the same amount of weight in the 18-month period as the individuals who met with counselors. The study, published in Obesity Research, also suggests that the Internet is a viable method for promoting weight maintenance.

Choosing an Online Weight Loss Service

You may want to give online dieting a try, but you may not be sure how to choose the right program. Before you jump into a program, make sure the following criteria are met:

1) The program should be designed and operated by qualified health professionals with experience in weight loss counseling. At least one of these professionals should be a registered dietitian (RD).

2) Be cautious of services that:

– Try to sell you extras, such as special foods, vitamins, or supplements.
– Advertise quick weight loss. A healthy diet results in steady weight loss – no more than two pounds a week.
– Promote fad or very restrictive diets.
– Offer a one-size-fits-all diet. Diets should be individually tailored based on weight, height, age, goals, activity level, and medical history.

3) The program should offer a variety of diet plans from which to choose (low-fat, vegetarian), as well as flexibility within the plans.

4) The website should have a professional appearance, be easy to navigate, and offer supporting tools such as progress trackers, chat forums, and bulletin boards.

5) Before making a final decision, talk to your doctor. Ask if you have any dietary restrictions due to your health. An Internet-based service will likely not be able to offer that kind of advice.

Is Online Dieting For You?

Online diets are popular because they are private and convenient. If you use the Internet regularly, you may find that an online program suits you best, rather than following a traditional program or reading a self-help book. Remember that, whether you choose an online diet or a traditional weight loss program, it’s up to you to make weight loss happen.

RESOURCES:

American Dietetics Association
http://www.eatright.org/Public/

American Obesity Association
http://www.obesity.org/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/index-eng.php

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/hl-mvs/index-eng.php/