Whatever You Do, Don’t “Detox Diet” | Vol. 4 / No. 10.3

Sevin (Carbaryl) is an *actual* toxin. DO NOT INGEST SEVIN | Photo: Mike Mozart, CC BY 2.0

In which I take a minute to explain that your body detoxifies itself, and if it needed your help you’d be pretty far beyond help.


Do you have a functioning liver? How about kidneys? Then your body is working to “detoxify” itself right now. Especially if you’ve just had a mimosa or whatever we white people can get away with drinking at 11am and pretending it’s totally different than drinking a whiskey neat with brunch.

So many diets claim that they can “detox” you, especially after the holidays. But here’s the thing: you’re not full of toxins, and what few toxins your body has to deal with it deals with rather well without your interference.

But if you’re feeling gross after the holidays you might well be tempted to buy in to one of these “detox” scams. Drinking liters and liters of fluids, not eating much of anything, maybe drinking something made in a blender with grass-like substances and potentially salmonella-carrying raw eggs.

Don’t do these things. Don’t “detox.” Detoxing diets, doctors have once again warned, are often bad for you. Not good. If your body were full of actual toxins that your body couldn’t deal with on its own, well, you’d need medical help, not a diet.

So instead here’s some advice for feeling “less toxic” (in the PURELY COLLOQUIAL SENSE) in the new year that isn’t likely to cause you much harm:

  • Eat more unprocessed fiber. Things like non-blended fruits and vegetables, and non-“butter” nuts (if you’re not allergic to nuts). But if you haven’t eaten much fiber for a while, maybe start slow. Scratch that: definitely start slow. Build up. Everyone with noses will thank you.
  • Eat a little less meat. Not none, I’m no prohibitionist. Just maybe sub in a black bean burger for a beef burger once a week. It’s got a lower caloric density than meat, but it’s still pretty tasty. You know, that kind of thing. I’ve also heard good things about fermented foods, but you should probably look into that yourself.
  • Drink less alcohol. I know. The inauguration is coming up. I’m trying too. But it’s really high in calories, and really low in much of anything else beneficial, and it’s one of the most toxic things we commonly ingest. Your liver will thank you. Maybe also your waistline.
  • Eat less rarified sugar. Sugar’s not inherently bad for you. It’s not “toxic” in the quantities we consume (even over the holidays) but in, say, chocolate bars (or jelly babies, skittles, or the quarter cup of pure cane sugar you put in that salad to make it palatable), it’s really high in calories. And when it’s just sitting there on the table all day in front of you because aunt Janine just can’t help herself at Christmas so everybody gets two thousand Lindt balls in some sick attempt to make diabetes contagious… well I’m just saying those five pounds you put on over the last two weeks aren’t exactly mysterious, you know?

Lastly, learn to identify expertise, and then ask the advice of experts. This one’s not about feeling better after the holidays, but it’s something everybody should try. For example: I’m not an expert at helping people lose weight. But there are medical professionals with accreditation whose job is to do that specifically. Don’t take advice from me, take it from them. If a guy who runs a blog is telling you to get more exercise — well, everybody should get some but you know that without the blog, don’t you? Expert advice should come from experts. Not me. Maybe that’ll “detoxify” your brain, I don’t know.

So on that note, if a little belatedly, have a happy and safe 2017. And maybe lay off the resolutions, especially if they involve “detoxing.”


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.