Many of us will have overindulged on food and drink over the Christmas period, but now January is here, it’s the perfect time to get into some good eating habits and tackle any seasonal weight gain.
Detox diets are one of the most popular New Year regimes, but do they really work, and what’s the best way to do one?
What is a detox?
Put simply, it’s the idea that you only eat things which help eliminate the toxins that have built up in your body, and give it a break from the foods which overload the system, like sugar, alcohol and caffeine.
“Toxins are food and drinks that are of no nutritional value and that take more energy to process than they contribute,” explains Jane Scrivner, author of Detox Yourself: Feel the benefits after only 7 days (Piatkus, RRP £9.99, available on Amazon).
Is it just about cutting back on calories?
“Most so-called ‘detox diets’ are simply gimmicks - they may help people lose weight in the short term simply because they make you eat (a lot) less, but they don't actually speed up the body's natural detoxification process,” says registered nutritionist Anita Bean.
Do our bodies not detox themselves naturally?
“Yes, the body is designed to detox and does this continually by processing the foods, keeping the nutrition and eliminating the waste,” explains Jane. “It does this amazingly well, but we are also amazingly good at overloading the system, so the body processes continually, but as we eat rubbish, it gets no reward - i.e. there was no nutrition after the hard work. This is where a detox can help.”
What’s the best way to do a detox?
Don’t set unrealistic expectations, and think about changing habits for the long term, rather than just ‘getting through’ a short period of dieting. “Many detox diets don't work because they involve short term changes that aren't sustainable and so you end up returning to your old ways and piling the weight back on,” says Anita.
“Instead, if you've put on a few pounds over the festive period, cut down on your daily food indulgences (especially high sugar foods like cakes, soft drinks, biscuits and chocolate); avoid alcohol for two or three nights a week; and reduce your portion sizes. Step up the amount of exercise you do, too - walking more and sitting less.”
What should I look for in a detox programme?
“If you really want to follow a detox diet, look for one that has minimum food restrictions,” suggests registered dietician and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, Sue Baic. “I would only recommend using it to kick start a longer term, more varied healthy eating plan based on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein.”
Jane agrees: “My detox programme is 30 days, because it takes 30 days to make or break a habit, so by the end, you are more likely to crave healthy foods. It also helps to create a natural balance: before a detox we probably eat 80 per cent rubbish and 20 per cent good stuff, after the 30 days, this reverses and is a much better balance.”
What should I avoid?
All our experts agreed that any programme that recommends going to an extreme – either cutting out major food groups or complete fasting – should be avoided as this is potentially dangerous. “There are possible side effects from the lack of food such as irritability, nausea, headaches, fatigue and when taken to the extreme, nutrient deficiencies, especially vitamin and mineral deficiencies,” warns Sue.
“These extremes give detoxing a bad name,” says Jane, “and you’ll always ‘go back’ to old habits in that sort of situation. But eating healthy, balanced, highly nutritious foods like fish, vegetables, beans and pulses is entirely safe and that’s what a real detox is about.”