Q: What exactly is a detox diet and is it safe for weight loss? A friend of mine said she lost 12 pounds in two weeks.


A detox diet is a generic name for any diet designed to cleanse the body of toxins (including pollutants, pesticides and other synthetic compounds) ingested through food, water and air. While there are dozens of variations on the theme, calories in a detox diet are generally consumed through liquid-based drinks that contain ingredients such as wheat grass, kelp, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, maple syrup and various teas. Most or all solid foods – as well as caffeine and alcohol – are taboo.

According to detox proponents, these ingredients help flush out contaminants from the gastrointestinal tract and thus purify the body. Raw vegetables and fiber supplements are often added to provide bulk, and probiotics and colonics are sometimes employed to purge fecal matter and other waste products from the large intestine. Completion of these diets is supposed to lead to improved energy, clearer skin, more regular bowel movements, improved digestion and enhanced concentration and mental clarity.

But do detox diets really deliver on their promises? The answer, for the most part, is no. Truth is, the human body has internal mechanisms to eliminate systemic toxins. The liver, kidneys, lungs, skin and immune system are very efficient in detoxifying harmful substances within hours of ingestion, making the potential for toxic buildup highly unlikely. And given that most pollutants are fat soluble, detox diets wouldn’t be effective, even if any toxins did somehow manage to accumulate. Since liquid-based treatments are specific to water-soluble chemicals, they’d have no impact on the detoxification of adipose tissue (i.e., fat cells).

Because of their extremely low calorie content, detox diets almost certainly will help you lose weight quickly. But while this may sound desirable on the surface, it isn’t really what it seems. Understand that you can only lose about 2 pounds of fat per week. Any additional weight loss comes from water and, worse – cannibalization of muscle tissue. Since detox diets contain little if any protein, they are destined to cause extensive muscle wasting. Not only does this have a negative impact on your appearance, but it also slows metabolism, ultimately leading to the “yo-yo” phenomenon of weight regain – often more than at the onset of the diet.

Bottom line: If you’re looking to get lean, reduce calories to create a moderate caloric deficit and maintain protein intake at approximately 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. In this way, you’ll drop fat while holding on to your hard-earned muscle tone, avoiding the negative consequences associated with fad diets.