Ditch the Detox & Avoid the Retox
by Catherine Morris | March 4, 2021, updated about 1 month ago
The Detox Industrial Complex, as I like to call it, really comes into its own at this time of year. Sluggish, tired and carrying a few extra holiday pounds two months post holidays, people throw themselves into all kinds of weird rituals in hopes that they will emerge from their deprivation a gleaming new version of themselves.
Time for some harsh truths—a 30 day cayenne pepper cleanse won't transform you into a glowing example of perfect health, just as sipping a 'special' smoothie won't give you magical healing powers.
The only way your body is going to be at its best, over the long-term, is if you treat it with respect and compassion. That means getting back on track in a way that doesn't risk your health, breaking free of the toxic diet culture, and prioritizing foods that nourish both body and mind.
A Vicious Cycle — Detox to Retox
In the party days of my 20s, my friends and I had a catchphrase we'd pass around when bleary-eyed and sobering up, “Detox to retox”.
Thankfully we grew out of it, but that's often the uncomfortable truth about detoxes—people throw themselves into a cleanse to mitigate the bad habits that went before it, and almost immediately revert right back to type once they're done 'being good'.
This kind of weight cycling plays havoc with our health. Yo-yo dieting may work in the short-term but often leads to dieters piling on all the pounds they lost and more. It can also worsen your mental health, and even increase your risk of heart disease, according to one study.
Holistic nutritionist and performance coach Francesca Ortepi has a key piece of advice for anyone lured in by the promise of instant weight loss—beware of the quick fix.
“People are so enthralled by fads and gimmicks. What they don't realize is that the quick fix has a quick downfall, and by the end of it they are wondering why they're depressed and they haven't lost 20 lbs.”
Ortepi, who says there's no room for the word 'diet' in her health coaching, adds—“When your body is not getting enough nutrients you'll feel depressed and fatigued. You'll have brain fog and feel weak and depleted. It takes its toll mentally. We need healthy fats, carbs, and proteins. Our bodies need that fuel to survive. [yo-yo dieting] is like starting and stopping a car a hundred times. Eventually, you're going to break down, or need a new car.”
Letting Go of the Detox Mentality
All too often the main focus of the detox is weight loss rather than healthfulness. It's understandable—for instance we eat, drink and make merry during the festive season only to regret it in January when clothing starts to feel tight.
Of course, if you do need to lose weight because it's threatening your health then embarking on a sensible diet is a great idea, but beware of falling into a detox mentality that's more about attaining 'the perfect body' than it is about your wellbeing.
How do you know if you're straying into this dangerous detox mentality? One glaring red flag is if you're treating your new health plan as a punishment rather than a reward. Think about why you want to change your habits—are you motivated by shame? Annoyed at yourself for not sticking to your usual eating routine? Disgusted at the bloating that always seems to happen after dinner?
Shame, disgust, and annoyance are not a good foundation on which to build better health. Instead, try framing it as a reward. This is something you're doing to help your body get back to its best. It's put up with the late nights, the sugar, the alcohol, and the stress. It deserves some love and nourishment.
Ortepi encourages her clients to forget restrictive eating and simply concentrate on the basics—whole foods, accompanied with honest self-reflection and compassion. She says it's important to have a support network that's genuinely invested in your progress, as that will help you overcome any bumps or doubts.
“People need that connection with others. I am very transparent and authentic with my clients, I tell them: 'you are going to have a bad day, we are all human. It's okay. We are all navigating this together'. It becomes a flow once you get over that hurdle. People start loving themselves and seeing changes.”
How to Help Your Body Heal, Naturally
Here's the thing about detoxing—your body has it covered. We already possess a very powerful detoxing machine, also known as the liver. This mighty organ's job is to filter toxins and it doesn't work alone. The kidneys and the pancreas are also important filtering mechanisms and then there's several, more minor but equally important detox tools at our disposal, such as sweating and urinating. Our ever-efficient natural processes make sure we eliminate waste products from our body every day.
If you really want a path to better health, the key is supporting these systems through diet, exercise, and healthy habits.
For an extra dose of cleansing foods, try getting more fresh ingredients into your meals. Ortepi says her optimal eating plan includes plenty of nutrient-dense whole foods such as brown rice, root vegetables, leafy greens, fruit, and some fish. She mostly follows a plant-based plan, and advises people who want a more cleansing diet to avoid animal proteins, coffee, sugar and alcohol.
As for the notion of 'detox', she says there's plenty of natural ways to cleanse, many of which are extremely easy to integrate into your daily routine.
“Try drinking warm lemon water in the morning, just doing that can transform how your body feels the rest of the day. Increase how much water you drink during the day, eat leafy greens. It's about doing the little steps. It's not about detoxing or restriction, it's a lifestyle.”
Struggling to lose weight? Need a dietary refresh? Book a consultation with Francesca to take that next step to better health, or talk to one of our other Which Doctor practitioners. Our network has a range of dieticians, nutritionists, and naturopaths, all available for phone or online consultations to draw up a diet that works for you.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.