F*ck your detox.
It had to be said. In recent years, people have been swept into a frenzy of nutritional ideologies and extremes, and the trend of “detoxing” and “cleansing” is part of the hullaballoo. While some of these nutritional trends have merit (i.e. both plant-based and paleo diets encourage the consumption of fresh produce over manufactured snacks that come in plastic wrap), detoxes do not.
Because, spoiler alert: Your liver and kidneys already detox you regularly. Daily, in fact. And your digestive system? Yeah, dropping a deuce can be considered a detox of sorts. So you don’t need a BS detox system – you just need to take a S on the regular (and have a functioning liver and kidneys).
So in order to understand why detoxes are pointless and potentially harmful, we have to know what a detox is supposed to do in the first place. Well, that seems clear from the title, right? Detox…de-toxify…a detox will get the toxins out of your body!
But what are toxins? Well, here’s the tricky part…they’re not actually a thing. “Toxins” is a buzzword. If toxins is supposed to be a word for compounds that can become toxic (poisonous) in the human body, those already have names and our bodies already have a system for clearing them out. For example, lead is a toxin. It is poisonous to the human body at certain levels – we call that lead toxicity (or “lead poisoning”). Mercury is another toxin, as is bisphenol A (or BPA, which is a compound found in some plastics; you’ll see a lot of plastic water bottles and the like that are labeled “BPA free”). Another popular one? Alcohol. That’s right, everybody’s favorite adult beverages can technically be considered toxins, as prolonged heavy exposure leads to toxicity – yall have heard of alcohol poisoning, have you not? Also, keep in mind that even things that are universally agreed upon as healthful can become “toxins” in the right context. Vitamin A toxicity can happen in people that get too much vitamin A (because excess vitamin A is stored in the fat tissue of the body rather than flushed out in urine, which is the case with vitamin C).
So when you break down what a “toxin” actually is, it becomes clear that we are all exposed to small doses of these potentially-toxic compounds every day, just as we are exposed to germs and harmful bacteria every day. Thankfully, just as our bodies have an immune system that fights off most of the bacteria that could make us ill, we are also equipped with our own built in detox systems.
That’s right – your liver and kidneys. Those organs are the body’s primary means of filtering out waste products (including those potentially-toxic compounds) that are encountered in everyday life and produced as byproducts of normal bodily functions. People with kidney failure who need dialysis are getting the truest form of a manmade “detox” treatment, as dialysis involves a machine filtering the blood when the kidneys cannot carry out that function. Or take alcohol, arguably the most popular toxin. When you drink alcohol, your liver is responsible for metabolizing the alcohol and flushing it from your system.
Whatever the liver and kidneys filter out as they do their job as the in-house “detox” system gets flushed out of the body primarily through urine and feces. That’s right, your toilet bowl is proof that you’re detoxing just fine without an $8 glass of liquified cabbage for breakfast. (But if you’re not having regular bowel movements, you should check in with your doctor because that could be a sign that your digestive system is having some trouble. If the trains don’t run on time, eventually the whole town will be effected…the train in this metaphor is your poop system, and the town is your body. Take care of your train, folks.)
Since most of the hype around detox diets is based on a bunch of BS, you might be wondering if there is any truth in the idea of juice cleansing or detoxing? Well, eating well and ensuring that you take in adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals can make you less susceptible to toxins. Example A: You are more vulnerable to lead toxicity if you are deficient in iron and/or calcium (and, you know, exposed to lead). However, this means that having a healthy diet with plenty of foods that are high in micronutrients – vitamins and minerals and antioxidants – is wise, and such a diet optimizes your body’s health and performance to better guard against toxicity. Think of it as a safeguard for your health, just like regularly washing your hands and wearing your seatbelt – it’s preventative. However, if you already have lead toxicity (or mercury poisoning, or alcohol poisoning, or any other kind of toxicity reaction), you don’t need a detox or a juice cleanse or a colonic – you need a f*cking doctor.
So if you are doing a detox diet or cleanse in attempt to rid your body of toxins, that job has already been taken care of by your liver and kidneys. Of course, sometimes “ridding the body of toxins” is the reason people give for doing a detox or a cleanse, because that sounds more enlightened than “I want to lose 5 pounds in a week before I have to see my ex-husband at our daughter’s middle school graduation.” And here’s the thing – losing weight is a fine goal to have (as is wanting to make your ex see what he’s missing out on), and losing body fat is actually a really good outcome to work towards if you are carrying excessive body fat on your frame. But a weeklong detox is about the worst way you could try to accomplish that. First off, you’re not going to lose five pounds of body fat in a week. You’re just not. You will probably lose five pounds of weight, but it won’t be body fat – it will be water weight and waste products due to the Hurricane Shitrina happening in your toilet all week because you’re sucking down a cocktail of celery juice and flaxseeds and unicorn semen and whatever else Gwyneth Paltrow is promoting on her asinine blog. When you go back to eating solid food, stop crapping your brains out, and allow your muscle glycogen stores to be refilled, you’ll gain back all the water weight you lost in a couple of days. Furthermore, you’re likely to be A) so hungry, and B) so bored/irritated from being on a detox diet that you are tempted to shovel everything you see into your piehole, especially all the hyperpalatable junk foods you’ve been dreaming about for the past week. And frankly, if you had avoided the juice cleanse in the first place and focused more on increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables and limiting junk food/desserts, you’d probably be on your way to losing five pounds of actual body fat over the next couple months.
Of course, the whole hyper-restrictive nature of cleanses and detox diets has a negative psychological affect for those who are prone to obsession and extreme restrictive behaviours. As someone who’s “been there, done that” with disordered eating, let me make this brief: Don’t mess with that shit. Seriously, on top of being unnecessary, ineffective, and potentially counterproductive and harmful, it will f*ck with your head. You don’t need that. If you’ve struggled with eating disorders in the past and are currently wanting to lose weight, I suggest seeing a registered dietician who specializes in treating eating disorders. And a therapist. See a therapist. You have no idea how much that can help. (I’m not just saying that because I’m a therapist. We all need a mental tune up once in awhile, and if your brain’s “check engine” light has been flashing, it’s time to get yourself to a mind mechanic. If your friends give you crap about it, give me their address…I know a guy who will shit on the hood of their car for a very reasonable fee.)
Now knowing all this, if you still want to spend an ungodly amount of money on juice made out of leaves to rid your body of substances that your liver and kidneys already filter out, be my guest. For some folks, maybe being hangry all week, resenting everyone who can eat solid food, and pushing the limits of your bathroom’s plumbing sounds like a fun time. In that case, I wish you the best of luck. Just know that your fancy detox diet has nothing on your God-given liver and kidneys, and that one week of sucking down cucumber smoothies will not erase a year of mimosas and donuts.
Although, if someone wants to sponsor a year’s supply of mimosas and donuts, let me know. Actually, if we could make that whiskey and burritos, that would be even better.
May your organs do their job, and may you not fall prey to pseudoscience fear-mongering.
PS….Again, a little louder for the people in the back: If you’re going on a detox because you truly believe your liver and kidneys are not performing this intended function properly, you don’t need to drink liquified kale, you need to make an appointment with your primary care provider.