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Do Detoxes Work?

Do You Really Need a Detox Diet?

We are pumped to share one of our favorite stories from Prevention here on FitSugar!

Peer inside the daily diary of a woman on a liquid cleanse. Plus: top nutritionists weigh in on whether these explosively popular diets help — or harm — your health

By Holly C. Corbett, Prevention

Nothing riles up health writers like the debate over the relative merits and perils of detox diets. In one camp, you have women convinced that cleanses are needed to flush harmful toxins from your body; in the other are people persuaded they're dangerous fad diets that deprive you of essential nutrients (and then trigger binges). I was in neither, so I decided to give one a whirl myself.

Now, I'd like to say my motivation was pure professional curiosity: a desire to use my body as a research tool so that I could better report on a trend that celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow to Beyoncé have sworn by, inspiring legions of women in their wake. But that wouldn't be completely true. When I volunteered to test a liquid cleanse, it just so happened I had a trip planned to a tropical island just one week later. If, in the name of journalism, I could also feel better in my two-piece, well, wouldn't that be nice?

There are countless trendy detox diets out there, but I opted for the Master Cleanse. Sure, subsisting on spicy lemonade for 10 days sounded like cruel and unusual punishment. But unlike other cleanses that cost hundreds of dollars, this one was super easy to follow, and it was cheap. In fact, the only ingredients required were laxative tea, organic lemons, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup.

Ten days sounded like a bit much, so I tasked myself with trying it for five. Here is my daily diary of what happened. Warning: you'd best stop here if toilet humor isn't your cup of (laxative) tea.

Debloat Your Belly!

See if the cleanse worked after the break!

Day 1: Salt-water guzzling and gag reflexes

When I first read about the "internal salt water bathing" that followers are advised to do first thing in the morning, I think it sounds pleasant and soothing — until I actually read the instructions. You're supposed to chug an entire quart of lukewarm water mixed with two teaspoons of uniodized sea salt. "The salt and water will . . . quickly and thoroughly wash the entire digestive tract in about one hour. Several eliminations will likely occur," says the Master Cleanse handbook. Trying to get it down feels like being smacked in the face with a wave while my mouth is open. The first time, I nearly vomit. "Thank God I work from home," I keep telling myself, as I sprint from my computer to my bathroom.

But was there some untold benefit to all of this? "There is absolutely no scientific evidence that our body needs to fast or detox in order to cleanse itself from toxins," says Heather Mangieri, RD, CSSD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "These diets are so popular because they feed off the fear that our environment is full of chemicals, and therefore detoxes are necessary. But our bodies have their own built-in defense system — such as our lungs, liver, kidney, and gastrointestinal tract — to help eliminate toxins."

Day 2: Twilight wake-ups and killer cramps

Surprisingly, I'm not ravenous after drinking only spicy lemonade that first day, though my head is foggy and I'm ready to trade one whole day of my beach vacation for a small cup of coffee. Still, for some reason, ending my day with a cup of laxative tea is kind of pleasant — until about 4 AM, when killer abdominal cramps wrestle me awake and send me careening for the bathroom. I begin to wonder if this torture is worth it, and whether cleaning out my colon is really going to do anything to "purify" my body.

My research reveals that if you're simply looking to optimize your body's natural detoxification system or eliminate unhealthy habits, it's going to take more than simply emptying out your colon with something like the Master Cleanse. "Stuff in your colon is not going to cause disease; it's the stuff in your arteries and other internal organs that leads to heart attacks or pancreatic cancer," says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, MPH, RD, author of the new book The Doctor's Detox Diet. "To help speed the removal of plaques and cholesterol in your system and improve kidney and liver function, you actually need food, such as whole vegetables and fruits, as well as to drink plenty of fluids such as herbal tea and low-sugar vegetable juices." So there's that.

Shrink Your Fat Zones

Day 3: Cat breath and locker room scales

My husband kisses me good morning and grimaces. "Your breath smells like a cat's," he tells me. I tell him I'd already brushed my teeth. He hums cheerfully as he scrambles a couple of eggs, the tantalizing aroma filling the house and making my stomach feel like it's eating itself. I head to my computer, sucking my spicy lemonade furiously through a straw while willing him out the door.

Eventually, my stomach cramps and hunger waves pass. My tummy does look flatter, less bloated. I even feel energized enough to hit an evening Spin class! Off I go, and what a mistake! Halfway through class I think, "Oh God, not here!" I try to power on but it's no use. I rush to the locker room for a bathroom break and on my way back, I spy a scale. I've lost six pounds in just three days! I do the math and calculate that I’m probably taking in about 700 calories — which probably explains it.

To make sure, though, I asked the pros. "You're going to lose lots of water weight doing something like the Master Cleanse, but you'll also lose muscle because you're depriving your body of essential nutrients such as protein," says Joy Dubost, PhD, RD, CSSD, also a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Even worse? That only sets you up for more weight gain later on because muscle burns extra calories and boosts metabolism. Whoops.

Why You Should Cheat on Your Diet

Day 4: Super-sadness and scrambled eggs

I wake up feeling far too weak for my morning run, but I'm not hungry, either. I actually feel kind of sad. And not "I'm having a bad day" sad; I'm talking about "something is wrong with my brain chemistry" sad.

At this point, I'm fed up with my lack of energy, aching muscles, and foggy brain. I may have told myself that the point of testing a liquid cleanse was to use my body as a research tool, but I decide to flush this journalistic experiment (along with the Master Cleanse) right down the toilet. And it's not because I'm hungry; it's because I feel strongly that I’m doing a real number on my body — and not a good number.

I fling open my refrigerator and warm up the stove to make my typically healthy breakfast of two scrambled eggs with steamed spinach. I swap coffee for organic peppermint tea and instead of my usual gluten-free toast with peanut butter, I have a few slices of watermelon.

After eating, I feel like I've taken an upper. I almost immediately start to feel more positive and energized. The fogginess burns off from my brain. I don't have stomach cramps like I worried I might after eating solid food. Throughout the day, I find myself craving protein rather than my typical yearnings for sweet, and I'm eating smaller servings — a cup of lentil soup here, some Greek yogurt there. Best of all, my bad breath went away with my first meal — and hasn’t come back. For this, my husband is truly, truly grateful.

Was the Detox Successful? Read the Rest of the Diary!

Source: Thinkstock
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