How About a Detox?


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How About a Detox?

How About a Detox?

By Henry Toraño

 

A fairly popular topic in the fitness scene is that of implementing detoxification, or detox protocols to kick start or accelerate the effects of a nutrition plan. This comes up so frequently, it’s no wonder Facebook and Instagram continuously push different alternatives into our feeds. Of course, there’s no shortage of companies ready to prey on this demand by offering countless ways to satisfy it. But before you go out to buy a supplement stack, a box of juices, or get ready to nearly starve yourself for days, it may be useful that you learn the truth about the impact (or lack thereof) that can be realistically expected.

 

First and foremost, let's be clear on one thing. Our bodies are well capable of removing toxins and unwanted substances naturally. In fact, we have entire organs and organ systems that exist precisely for this purpose. Our liver is the protagonist of this process, but the kidneys, skin, lungs, and the entire digestive system also play crucial roles. I mention this because we need to understand that human physiology is pretty fucking amazing and extremely efficient in design. My body is working in detoxification processes as I write this, as is yours while you read. I'm really making an effort to drive this point because you need to be clear on the fact that it’s a process that is already taking place. Anything else that you may try to do would be an effort to expedite the process. This is a completely different concept than suggesting that if you take a particular supplement you initiate detox. Again, whatever protocol you follow would merely make an attempt to facilitate the process, but, the main players are and always will be our organs. Now that we’ve established that, let’s consider some of the options that we see most frequently.

 

Fasting

This has become extremely popular thanks to claims by many of the benefits of time restricted feeding. Without getting too deep into the intricacies, fasting is meant to provide our organs with longer recovery times. The argument is based on the fact that our bodies were originally built to function in times when food wasn’t readily available. Our early ancestors didn’t eat three times a day with jerky and smoothies in between. They’d be lucky to eat perhaps twice a day and would often go days without eating. It is said that our organs function optimally under these conditions of longer periods of less work. Let’s assume that this theory holds true, effectiveness is highly dependent on application of fasting periods. This can range from 12-18 hour daily fasts, up to full days of fasting at a time.

 

Juicing

This camp argues that by limiting calorie consumption to only fruit and vegetable juices for a period of time aids the body in its detoxification functions. Both fruits and veggies are very high in vitamins and minerals which can boost immune and digestive health. This is one of the main reasons why it is believed to help with the process. In addition, juicing plans claim that their protocols actually improve the body’s ability to flush out toxins.

 

Supplements and Herbs

I recognize that these two could be very different, but have put them together because the intention is very similar. Basically, it is believed that certain substances, whether naturally occurring or in the form of drugs will increase the body’s ability to detoxify. They work on the assumption that our organs may need endogenous help to increase their efficiency.

 

Cleansing

By this, I’m talking about more invasive techniques. This includes, but is not limited to laxatives, enemas, or what is popularly referred to as colonics. Regardless of the method, what these do is essentially force out the waste that the body has prepared to excrete. We could say that there’s not added detoxifying benefit, but rather a way to fast track the process.

 

Saunas

It seems like saunas have trended several times, at least in my lifetime. Back in the 80’s and early 90’s, all commercial gyms were marketing their newly installed sweat chambers. Recently, it has gained additional popularity thanks to technological advances that make it possible to install saunas for home use at fairly reasonable prices. The theory is that elevating body temperature to a certain point, for certain durations will promote the elimination of toxins through the skin. Of course, higher body temperature also means elevated blood flow and respiratory rate which may increase our organs’ efficiency.

 

Avoiding Certain Types of Foods

This has been the subject of many debates, particularly from the plant based camp. Now there’s actually a new movement that promotes a full carnivore diet. Regardless of the actual application, they both claim that certain types of foods are harmful to the point that they should be avoided entirely. From a detox perspective, it is believed that short periods of avoiding certain types of food will allow for the body to expel some of the byproducts of said foods. It is important to note that this is not meant to suggest that one type of diet is healthier than the other, but rather that brief stints of limited nutrients, mainly saturated fats and protein, may be beneficial.

 

This is by no means a complete list of all detox plans available, but I do believe that most other protocols fall into one of these categories. The more important question is why one would feel like a detox is needed. We already mentioned that we want to get rid of toxins, sure, but I mean the REAL reason why this concept has gained so much steam. In my experience, 95% of people who are considering a detox are looking to lose weight or make up for a weekend of very poor decisions, usually involving plenty of alcohol. To be fair, I must say that in the great majority of cases, any of these plans will be effective for both purposes. However, it may not be because of the special powers we may think. The reason why one will lose weight during a detox is because calorie intake is considerably reduced. It’s not because juices are special, or meat is the devil, or because the supplement is magical. If you go into a significant caloric deficit for a period of time, you most likely will see acute weight loss. 

 

As many as you already know, I’m a huge proponent of doing things with the right intentions. There’s several reasons as to why I have issues with detox for this purpose. For one, repeatedly going into these deficits is not healthy. There’s a lot of variance in hormonal signaling and other processes that, in excess, may cause metabolic damage. In addition, and very ironically, weight loss experienced from detox plans is not real. No entirely, at least. You may lose 5-8 pounds of body weight in a week, but the vast majority of that is due to water balance. Within a few weeks of eating normally, hydration and retention will go back to its original levels. Net loss will be a fraction of what one hoped for. Which takes me to my next point.

I just stated that bit on “within a few weeks of eating normally”. If you’re going to detox, have decided that it’s the right course of action, and understand the facts, then I propose that you develop habits that will support your body’s function on the other side of it. I already explained that these plans, in theory, help with detoxification but their impact is minimal. Why would you put yourself through that process, for marginal incremental benefits, if you will immediately revert to the habits that brought you to that point in the first place? I’m talking about putting basic lifestyle guidelines (BLG’s) in place that will not only magnify the effect of the detox, but perhaps allow you to avoid the need for it altogether. Yes, I’m talking about daily habits that can boost the body’s ability to detoxify without having to make extra sacrifices.

 

These habits include:

Hydration: drink 50-60% of your body weight in ounces of water every day. Our liver and kidneys convert waste into water soluble substances. Adequate water consumption is essential in carrying these substances out of the body. 

 

Sunshine: it’s free and 20-30 minutes a day of direct sunlight will boost our levels of Vitamin D. Vitamin D, besides a great number of functions, produces antimicrobials that kill several bacteria, fungus, and parasites that may be hanging out in our bodies.

 

Exercise: in any of its forms, this is a very efficient way to increase body temp, circulation, respiratory rate, and lymph movement. All of the above facilitate movement and excretion of waste through various different processes.

 

Nourishment: eating high quality, clean foods will give our bodies all the tools needed to keep our system running efficiently. Also, reducing or completely avoiding highly processed, poor quality foods will help keep toxins out of our bodies from the get go.

 

As with many other concepts, products, and services being offered to cater to our health and fitness needs, we need to be better educated before jumping on the bandwagon of any detox plan. It always goes back to basic principles. Consistent behaviors will yield positive results. Fast tracking and remedial approaches provide short term solutions with increased risk. Yes, you may see the results you were expecting from any of these protocols but it’s the byproduct of other occurrences, not so much a “secret recipe” or “magical effect”. If you’re looking for long term solutions to avoid disease and ward off entropy, don’t look to commercialized alternatives. Instead, focus on applying these basics, EVERY DAMN DAY. 



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