Despite the fact that the detox diet industry is booming, researchers have determined that there is very little clinical evidence to support the use of these diets (Klein & Kiat, 2014). In fact, no rigorous clinical investigations of detox diets have been conducted and the few studies published thus far suffer from various limitations to their findings (Klein & Kiat, 2014).
Moreover, the human body has evolved such that the liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal system, skin, and lungs all play a role in a highly sophisticated system for eliminating toxins (Anzenbacher & Anzenbacherova, 2001). As such, not only are detox diets unnecessary for eliminating toxins, they can be harmful – consumers run the risk of being deprived of adequate nutrition or overdosing on certain supplements. Additionally, these diets can perpetuate unhealthy relationships with food and nourishment for some individuals.
Given the dearth of scientific data supporting these diets, the fact that these diets are unnecessary, and the data illustrating that they can actually be harmful, the question is: why are detox diets promising toxin elimination so seductive?
The promise of purification through toxin elimination is a fantasy that may be connected to an inner sense of contamination.
Detox diets may be a form of magical thinking that serves to perpetuate a vicious cycle of deprivation and indulgence.
With an understanding that detox diets may be a form of a defense mechanism that end up perpetuating a vicious cycle, it is important to ask ourselves what motivates our desire to detox.
By giving ourselves some reflection time when the urge to cleanse or when detox comes up, we can become aware of what we really need on an emotional level. By asking ourselves what we really need, we can become open to an answer that is a bit bigger than a detox diet or cleanse. Is there a possibility that we look to detox diets to solve something we are not fully conscious of? Part of healing our relationship with food and with our bodies involves making the unconscious conscious so that we have choice and can have a new experience of having needs met. It is incredibly helpful to start by putting thoughts and feelings into words. When we put our thoughts and feelings into words, we don’t have to put them into actions and can understand ourselves and others better. In the context of detox diets, this, once more, means that we can shift our focus from the action of following the instructions of cleanse, rinse, and repeat, to the space of putting into words what is happening inside of us.
Anzenbacher, P. & Anzenbacherova, E. (2001). Cytochromes P450 and metabolism of xenobiotics. Cell Mol Life Sci, 58, 737–747.
Fairburn, C. G. (2013). Overcoming binge eating. Guilford Press.
Klein, A. V. & Kiat, H. (2014). Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: a critical review of the evidence. Nutritional Sciences, 28 (6), https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jhn.12286).