The Myth Of Detoxing To Lose Weight

The Myth Of Detoxing To Lose Weight

Every January our thoughts turn to how we might improve ourselves. Many of us recognise the need to lose some weight to counteract the overindulgence that usually takes place over the Christmas period. We usually look for the quickest and easiest way of achieving this.

A detox is just what we need, right?

Detoxing - A Myth?The rationale behind the idea of detoxing is that over time, toxins can build up in our bodies and this accumulation needs to be dealt with to ensure we stay healthy.

Some sources would have you believe that detox diets will result in rapid weight loss, improved digestion, a stronger immune system and better energy levels. You can easily recognise a detox diet, they are usually one day to one month in duration. They can involve:

  • Fasting for periods of time
  • Consuming only a limited range of foods
  • Juice or water only diets
  • Avoiding dairy, wheat, caffeine, alcohol etc.
  • Pills, lotions, powders

It’s completely unnecessary. The body is a tightly regulated homeostatic system that has inbuilt mechanisms to detoxify and remove waste. Our bodies constantly filter, break down and excrete waste products and toxins such as alcohol, medication, metabolites of digestion and exercise, and environmental toxins from sources such as pollution.


Being well hydrated is something we should all aim for, but be aware that drinking too much water can be as dangerous as not drinking enough. If the body is taking in large amounts of water more quickly than it can remove, it can result in a dangerous condition called hyponatraemia. The excess water upsets the normal balance of sodium and other electrolytes, the water can then pass from the blood into the cells and organs such as the brain causing swelling.

Although intermittent fasting can be beneficial, severe fasting will cause rapid weight loss. It is important to recognise that this is largely through glycogen (the body’s carbohydrate stores) and water depletion rather than loss of body fat. This will result in tiredness, irritability and less energy. The lack of fuel will have a negative effect on physical activity performance. Exercise and physical activity are important for weight management and general health. It’s also likely that you will regain most of the weight you have lost once you finish the detox, going back to old eating habits will replenish glycogen and water stores.

So, if detoxing is nonsense, why do people praise it so much?

Not smoking, drinking less alcohol, increasing fruit and vegetable intake, and getting enough sleep will make you feel better! Detoxing will generally ensure you are in a caloric deficit, resulting in weight loss without the need to track anything. However as I talked about earlier, this is not necessarily fat loss and once the detox period ends, the weight will likely be regained.

Most people are attracted to detoxing and other fad diets because they are novel, they promise great results and more importantly, they promise fast results. Unfortunately more often than not, this is exaggeration and marketing at work rather than science. Some messages such as increasing fruit and vegetable intake are positive, however this should be part of a balanced diet, not limited to that specific food group alone. Also, any benefit is usually very short lived.

The Answer?

You will be better off in the long term if you have some patience with your weight loss goal. Aim for around 1 pound loss per week. Enjoy a healthy, varied diet with as little processed food where possible. Be mindful of portion size and increase physical activity where you can. Be consistent with your small changes and you’ll see big results over time.

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Liam Leech, BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science, MSc. ANutr.

Liam Leech, BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science, MSc. ANutr.

Liam Leech







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