The Detox Deconstructed

6 min read

It’s no coincidence that the dawning of a new year is an incredibly popular time for people to embark on cleanses and detoxes. The promise of a clean slate and new beginnings ties in well with our health-focused goals and resolutions and often feels particularly necessary after the over-indulgence of the festive and holiday season. However, with the cleanse and detox market inundated with many different products and methods, it can often be confusing to know what course of action works best for our bodies and goals. As a beauty writer I’ve subjected myself to numerous cleanses over the years that have been both enjoyable and challenging, and what I’ve learnt is that it’s important to do your research and educate yourself on the benefits, potential drawbacks or side effects and the necessary preparations before beginning one and to identify what you would like to get out of the experience and to manage your expectations accordingly. While weight loss is frequently associated with cleanses, throwing yourself into a detox as a way of losing weight quickly is definitely not a sustainable or healthy solution for weight loss, but if you’re looking to reset your system after a period of unhealthy eating and kick-start and cultivate healthy habits it can be a great place to start.

“During a cleanse we are targeting the digestive system, your gut in particular. Modern medicine has made us understand that a lot of diseases are caused by inflammation and the gut is the first line of defence for our immune system. Doing a cleanse works to clean, fortify and strengthen our gut,” explains Chirine Watfa, Dubai-based lead dietitian at specialised healthcare provider Novomed Centers.

The term cleanse is very broad and can mean different things to different people, for example some people choose to stick to a juice or liquid only diet when cleansing whereas others may choose to mix both juices and clean food such as fresh fruit, vegetables and lean meats. “Doing a detox juice cleanse is a great way to focus on changing habits and resetting the digestive tract,” says Emma Sawko, founder of Dubai-based healthy restaurant and juice company Wild and the Moon which offers a variety of detox programmes centered around cold-pressed juices and nut milks. “The New Year is certainly a time where we focus on our resolutions and how to let our mind and body recharge their batteries. There’s no ideal time to start a cleanse and everyone’s different as we all crave a juice cleanse at different times of the year,” she notes. “We all work hard, play hard and move fast in our urban environments so cleansing is a way to regain balance whenever you feel the time is right. The cleanse can be used to jumpstart and aid the body’s natural processes of detoxifying, alkalizing or simply give the body a much-needed break from processed foods.” According to Watfa, you shouldn’t just cleanse at the beginning of the year. “It always makes sense to do a cleanse,” she says. “If this is your New Year’s resolution, why not? But really, you might need more than that – it’ shouldn’t just be because you’ve messed up with food during the holidays, you need to clean your gut more regularly. Doing a cleanse every four to six months is essential especially if you’re not planning to continue with a healthy diet after your cleanse. It definitely helps with weight loss, but this shouldn’t be the target, more of a side effect.” Watfa prefers her patients trying a cleanse for the first time to begin with a seven day program that includes both juices and solid foods and a three week program for more experienced cleansers. “I believe that if you want to focus on improving your gut motility and push out the bad things, then you need to be chewing. A combination of good full juices with pulp or fiber combined with a 50 to 60 per cent vegetarian diet, supplemented with fruit, vegetables, whole grains that eliminates gluten and lactose is a sustainable starting foundation.”

Sawko acknowledges that there are many misconceptions when it comes to cleanses. “Most people link juicing with deprivation, however we believe that health should go hand in hand with pleasure in order for a healthy diet to be sustainable in the long run. Cleansing doesn’t have to be a tedious medical process; it should be fun, varied and effective. Most importantly, it’s a time to really listen to your body and give it the attention it requires.” There are of course some side effects. “During a cleanse you might feel irritable because you’re cutting sugar, caffeine and alcohol so you may experience cravings and headaches and your bowel movements may change due to the different types of ingredients you are introducing to your body,” notes Watfa. “However, this can be corrected within a few days, especially if you do a proper introduction leading up to the cleanse by trying to reduce caffeine, sugar and alcohol for three to four days beforehand.”

It’s highly recommended to speak to a nutritionist or health professional before beginning a cleanse especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or issues. This is also beneficial to ascertain what type of detox is best for you. “Seeing a doctor or dietitian first will ensure you have the right tools and  information such as what you should being and when you should be doing it as well as what to eat. A medical professional will make sure that your body will be able to cope if you are restricting certain things and that processes like your liver function will not be impeded or affected, this is  particularly important if you’re doing a cleanse for a longer period of time,” says Watfa.

Once you have decided on the type of detox to do and the duration of it, start to prepare your body in the days leading up to the cleanse by altering your eating habits. Scale back on sugar, caffeine, alcohol, processed foods and meat which will help your body acclimatise and transition into the cleanse more easily. Stick to fruit, raw and cooked vegetables, nuts, legumes and drink plenty of water. “It’s best to participate in a cleanse when you’re feeling relaxed as this will improve your cortisol levels and you’ll have a better result, doing it on leave or vacation is even better,” notes Watfa. “Stress triggers your body’s hormones causing the body to resist fat release, compromising the weight loss element of a cleanse.”

During a cleanse it’s important to follow the guidelines set out by the program you are following, as this will ensure you get the best results. Plenty of sleep, water and regular exercise comes highly recommended too. “We need to exercise to stimulate our metabolism and motility,” Watfa says.

Once you’ve completed a cleanse it can be tempting to indulge in junk food however, both Watfa and Sawko advise against this. “I’m a big believer in eating clean and the Mediterranean-style diet is something I always recommend to patients to try. These principles are similar to a cleanse but not as restrictive. You can include wheat and whole grains as well as dairy and lean meat, particularly fish – but exclude preservatives, flavourings or colouring,” Watfa advises. “These elements are great foundation for a healthy long term approach to clean foods.”

For those coming off a juice cleanse, Sawko recommends a more gradual transition “Post-cleanse your body is all set up and in relax mode. Take great care of it and do not go back to the bad eating habits you had. Slowly bring back cooked green veggies and fruits into your diet. You can also add sprouted seeds, nuts and dried fruits,” she says.