|When the words ‘swimsuit season’ are uttered, people often cringe. New Yorkers have been cooped up in their houses and apartments all winter, prompting us at Maimonides to ask our physicians, "Are humans are biologically prone to hibernate?" Unfortunately, those months of copious amounts of eating and sleeping have taken their toll. It’s time for some ‘Spring Cleaning’ and we’re not just referring to your apartment – it’s time to refresh your body.
As a quick fix, many are turning to ‘detox diets,’ which promise to remove environmental and dietary toxins from the body and promote weight-loss through a strict diet lasting anywhere from a few days to a month. Participants are expected to feel more energized, less bloated and, perhaps, a little thinner. Popular detox diets emphasize drinking water spiked with ingredients such as cayenne pepper or vinegar, while limiting most solid food intake with the exception of raw fruits and vegetables. Some even recommend the use of laxatives, enemas or colonics to speed up the weight-loss and ‘cleansing’ process.
This fad has become increasingly popular, especially through endorsements from actresses such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Beyoncé. In a recent issue, Fitness Magazine polled 2,400 women over the age of 17 and found that 30% were inspired by a celebrity to try a trendy detox diet.
But, according to Dr. Kadirawel Iswara, Director of Endoscopy, “There is no evidence in medical literature that proves the effectiveness of this type of diet. The kidney, liver and gastrointestinal tract naturally and efficiently remove toxins from the body.” In fact, Dr. Iswara confesses that unfortunate complications can arise in certain people choosing to partake in these diets. “One negative potential side effect is excessive diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration and loss of electrolytes,” warns Dr. Iswara.
Heidi Becker, MS, RD, Chief Nutritionist at the Maimonides Cancer Center, is also concerned about the safety of detox diets. “These diets can disturb the body’s electrolyte balance (sodium and potassium levels), which is critical for cardiac regulation and kidney function, as well as a person’s blood sugar,” cautions Becker. She discourages pregnant women, people over 65, children, teenagers, and those with heart disease, kidney disease or diabetes from engaging in detox diets. These types of people are all at risk for dangerous side effects if they follow a detox diet such as blood sugar imbalance, dizziness, rapid heart beat, and even a coma.
“Detox diets are usually completed over a short period of time so a person will see quick weight loss results, which is unfortunately attributed to loss of body proteins and fluids – not fat,” explains Becker. When the dieter resumes normal fluid and calorie intake, this weight is quickly regained. Further compounding weight loss troubles, most detox diets are very restrictive in calories and proteins, which can slow a person’s metabolism thus making it more difficult to lose weight.
So, what are some healthy and effective ways to get summer-ready? Our experts recommend a good old proper diet and exercise regimen. “Exercise increases the flow of oxygen to cells and stimulates better circulation,” explains Dr. Iswara, “thus helping to move toxins to the liver, kidney and GI tract where they will be filtered out of your system.”
Being active and engaging in cardiovascular activities also boosts your adrenaline. Becker states, “Exercise combined with eating a well balanced diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins is the best way to eat if you want to healthfully lose weight and feel energized.” Becker recommends a weight loss goal of 1 to 2 pounds per week. While this may require more effort than following a ‘detox diet,’ it’s more likely that you’ll experience sustainable results.