Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday. Does that leave Sunday for Detox?

Today my internet search of the word “detox” came up with over 67 million hits. The subcategories include detox diet, detox tea, detox smoothie, detox juice, detox cleanse, detox fast, etc. Branching off of that are detox baths, detox yoga, detox brushing. The list goes on.

I do want to differentiate this post is not discussing detox from substance abuse of alcohol, illicit and prescription drugs.

In my area of expertise, dietetics, the pseudoscience of detox never even comes into our training. Well, actually that isn’t exactly true. We do extensively study biochemistry, physiology and advanced human nutrition. Most specifically the liver, kidneys, lungs and skin and the role they play in excreting the byproducts of metabolism. Of course the colon has a role to play in that excretion as well. These byproducts are not exactly toxins in and of themselves but if allowed to accumulate they would certainly be toxic and detrimental to the host.

Team detox will tell you your food is full of toxins (which are never defined or clarified) and that these toxins build up in your bloodstream, fat cells, colon, liver, etc. leading to excruciatingly vague symptoms like fatigue, bloating, dark circles under the eyes, brain fog, sugar cravings, etc. Instead of advising an appointment with a person’s Primary Care Provider to rule out any potentially serious illness the answer is detox. If you elect to undergo detox you will be presented with, of course, a list. The list will include foods to eliminate (usually for a specific amount of time) and foods to incorporate, which often are juiced or pulverized into a smoothie. I have yet to see any specific mechanism of action for how cayenne pepper, lemon juice, or grade B maple syrup (commonly included detox ingredients) detoxify the body. Know why? They don’t. But this prescriptive “diet” is actionable. People feel like they are doing something. Conveniently, the side effects of this detox which are most assuredly from ketosis or inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract (according to the peddler of nutrition “facts”) are signs it is working. This, of course, is based on the years-ago-debunked theory of autointoxication. Autointoxication is the theory that rotten components in fecal matter were absorbed into general circulation and were the cause of disease. Science has not given this theory any credence since the 1920s. A logical person will tell you that if one were concerned about keeping the colon healthy one would feed it rather than starve it. It is known that starving a digestive tract will cause it to atrophy which WILL cause the bacteria in the digestive tract to leak out into the rest of the body. This is one of the reasons people in a coma are fed via a feeding tube. It’s not just about delivering nutrients (that can be done via the bloodstream) but also about preserving the integrity of the digestive tract.

What is the non-diet approach to detox?

The non-diet approach would not specifically tell you “not” to do these things. You are, after all, the boss of you. But this dietitian would definitely inform you of the risks both short and long term. You would be informed of the prescriptive “bossy” nature of these techniques that do not honor your internal hunger and satiety cues. You would be informed of the lack of scientific rigor behind these claims. They would be identified as another “diet” – meant to keep you locked into the cycle of believing there’s a specific correct way to eat. Forgiveness would be discussed. Perhaps judgment was clouded by the recent holiday. Perhaps you didn’t eat mindfully and let the festivity, the joyfulness, the celebration skew your honoring of self. It’s okay. Accept it. Learn from it. Then let it go.
There are more holiday gatherings to come in the next few weeks. Don’t fall back on those old “tricks” of water loading, fiber loading or any other formerly used compensatory techniques that denied your body the nourishment and your soul the full engagement in the festivities. Try the delicious food that many of us only eat at Christmas time (I’m looking at you Aunt Bill’s Candy).
Do it with the full engagement of your senses to maximize the pleasure and minimize the guilt!

Enjoy your food, enjoy the festivities, and enjoy your life!

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