Detox: Healthy Weight Loss or Not? 3 Rules of Thumb for Evaluating Diet Programs

apple and water

Although we still have some snow where I live, spring is basically here: robins and Canadian geese have returned. It’s the time of year when we switch up the front hall closet from bulky winter wear to spring gear..and we start thinking about whether we still fit our spring/summer wardrobe. And, we want some quick fixes.

It’s a time of year when it’s tempting to latch into a solution for a little weight loss that you don’t need to think about- where someone else has done all the thinking. Just do the program and voila. There are a lot of programs out there, and it can be really confusing to weed through the marketing claims to know what is truly healthy and what is not.

Over the years, I’ve generally found that amazing marketing claims are not to be trusted, particularly if the miracle in a bottle is only affordable to households with an over 80K income. I have an ethical position that there is something wrong with a system that links health to wealth. It is very important for people in all income brackets and with different lifestyles to be able to find a long term sustainable solution for healthy eating and living.

I also strongly believe in empowering people to be able to maintain their own health, rather than disempowering them. Systems that make you long term dependent on a specific dietary product are disempowering. If you can afford them, there is nothing wrong in principle with dietary supplements. But you really need to be able to make healthy eating choices in a variety of circumstances without being helpless as soon as access to the product is limited or cut for whatever reason.

There are times, however, when plugging into a ready-made system can really help you out. Turning to pre-packaged systems in the short term can help you break old habits while forming new ones. Change is stressful, and the constant act of fighting your bad habits and making new choices depletes energy. So, having a system you can plug into at first can help support you to make the change with less stress. Then when the new ball is rolling forward (better patterns) and you are feeling better, it becomes easier for you to build new, long term habits.

If you are considering short term highly structured diet systems such as those marketed as ‘detox’, there are some rules of thumb to go by. You want to avoid getting sucked in by flashy marketing, to a program that is essentially unhealthy for your body.

Three Rules of thumb for evaluating short term diet systems:

1. Does it major on marketing ‘schtick’ like emphasizing how critical it is for you to also buy their (very expensive) super multi-vitamin or box full of herbal supplements?

pills and supplements
Suggesting vitamin supplementation during dieting is a good idea. But beware of loading your body up with a lot of extras. Overdoing fat soluble vitamins and minerals can actually toxify you. Missing major categories of nutrients is also bad for you. A discussion with an independent nutritionist about your personal eating patterns and lifestyle, and the suggested supplements is a good idea. What works well for one person, might not be a good idea for YOU based on other factors related to your diet, and how your body works.
If the company in question is really pushy about their supplements, chances are that is where their main profit margin is. Remember, this is capitalism: their real goal is profit margin and gross sales, not finding you the best fit for you.

2. Does it absolutely require you to consume large amounts of highly processed protein powders?
A short term diet higher on protein and lower on carbohydrates can be a healthy and excellent way to lose weight- as long as it does not become a long term habit, or overload your kidneys. Your body is designed to need carbs, just not as many simple carbs as we shovel down in Western eating culture. A short term carb break can help break the habits of eating too much, and consuming too many simple sugars.

Also, some protein powder supplementation can help, if you can only handle eating so much meat, eggs, fish, nuts, tofu and other natural proteins. However, your liver and kidneys cannot handle excessive protein, especially in the processed format used for supplements such as shakes and protein bars. Used sparingly and for a shorter term (2-4 weeks), you are probably fine. As a long term replacement for thoughtful, healthy eating- not a good idea.

Also, be very careful of soy protein. Cooked soy (tofu) is best for you. Other formats (powders, soy milk) are high in estrogen in a way which is not healthy for either men or women. Your weight loss is not worth messing with your hormone balance.

I like to think of it this way:
Healthy is not achievable by a road that is not healthy. To become healthy, be healthy along the way.

3. Does it have an end in sight?

sandwich calipersGood business in this consumer culture is all about hooking people in, extracting maximum revenue per client, and keeping them hooked as long as possible. It’s a mimicry of the way good things in life work: To get real health, some event in your life needs to motivate you to hook in. Then you need to put in a lot of effort up front, that gets easier and easier until you reach the point where making healthy choices and being healthy is your happy way to be and you just can’t imagine trading up that good feeling and your productivity in life, for anything less. Really, everyone can get there.

The problem with the mimicry is that it doesn’t lead you to that happy place. If the program you’re considering can’t show you how it is designed to make you free of programs and even wean you off itself…be cautious.

Being a healthy person who maintains an ideal weight is a big, huge goal. If you’ve gotten behind the eight-ball on this one, it can seem like an impossible mountain. Try something if you’d like to. If you feel sick, queasy, don’t like the taste of it, or it’s too expensive for you in reality..drop it and try something else. If you keep feeding your mind good information on nutrition and health, you will gradually become healthier and reach your ideal body weight. You might always have some triggers you know you need to avoid, like an alcoholic. Building safeguards in your life for avoiding those triggers can help, and there’s no shame in having safeguards and owning that you have triggers.

If you’d like to do some more reading, I can highly recommend:
This Bloomberg article on why you shouldn’t use detox diet systems
This great book on eating healthy: Nancy Clark’s Sport Nutrition Guidebook

(c) Heather Sansom. You may share this article through social media, however reproduction without permission violates copyright law.
Heather is a coach, consultant and researcher in wellbeing and sport.  More information is available at www.heathersansom.ca .  Life coaching and healthy weight-loss/fitness coaching information is available at her coaching websites: www.moveforwardnow.ca  and www.equifitt.com .

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