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Colon Cleansing and Detox Diets

While I was in school, I was a dietary tech in a Newborn ICU. I would get there early, about 4:30 or 5:00 am, to do diet assessments on the babies. At 6:00, the nurses would have a shift change. One morning a nurse walked through the door complaining to a friend that she was dizzy, couldn’t see straight and could hardly walk. When the friend asked why the nurse explained that she was on day 3 of a detox. She was only “allowed” water with lemon and honey. The conversation immediately turned to weight loss and how much weight she was expecting to lose. I honestly couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A nurse, who couldn’t see straight, was going to spend the next 12 hours taking care of very sick babies.
Now nothing against nurses, this conversation could have taken place anywhere. In fact, chances are each of you have tried or know someone who has tried a “detox diet” or “colon cleanse”. The theory behind these is that waste builds up in the colon over time and produces toxins. This accumulation of waste then blocks the colon and prevents proper digestion and elimination.
Doesn’t sound pleasant, right?!
You can see why so many people are making a lot of money by selling this. If I didn’t know better, I would definitely want that out of my colon quick. And I would take whatever capsule, laxative, drink, concoction or enema to get rid of it. I may even be willing to do a “high colonic” which flushes water through the intestines. And the biggest selling point? That this will help me lose weight since some people supposedly have up to 20 pounds of compacted fecal matter in their intestines.
This is all untrue and we need to give our bodies the credit they deserve. Our lungs, kidneys and liver remove toxins from the blood and the intestines eliminate waste when given the right tools (ie good nutrition). And even if you weren’t eating healthy, no colonic or detox could take its place.
Not only are they unnecessary, they can actually be harmful. Side effects of colonics or detox diets are nutrient imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, dehydration, a decrease in intestinal performance and integrity (may cause small tears or rips) and improper nutrition. Frequent use may cause the body to become dependent and not able to eliminate waste on its own.
Here IS what works: well balanced meals and snacks that focus on unprocessed, real food…which is not usually the popular answer. It seems easier to eat what I want and have a colonic every once in a while. But it doesn’t work that way. In particular you should focus on:
  • Fiber intake between 25-35 grams a day. This can be achieved with 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables and 4-6 servings of whole grains.
  • Make sure you increase fiber intake slowly and drink plenty of water. A lack of water and fiber is what leads to constipation.
The biggest benefit to eating well is that it will leave you feeling energized rather than drained, lethargic and dizzy. Eating well will enable you to tackle any of life’s challenges, even taking care of sick babies for 12 hours. I sincerely hope that our focus will shift to being healthy and feeling strong rather than just losing weight.
Adapted from a blog post written by: Emily Fonnesbeck RD,CD