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Do this, not that: tips for healthy living and feeling better

One of the most popular trending diet fads today is going on a master cleanse vitamin detox. Essentially, the detox means starving yourself. Sounds like a surefire way to lose weight, right? Naturally, when you don’t eat, you won’t really gain weight, but depriving your body of vital nutrients after a prolonged period can wreak havoc on your body’s system.

These detox diets make promises to flush the “poisons” from your body, which in turn will purge pounds of excess fat, as well as even out your complexion and improve your immune system. These restrictive diets are more popular than ever, since the success stories of their use can be attributed to several celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie and Beyoncé.

The idea of detoxing or purifying the body of harmful substances has been around for centuries and continues to cycle back into popularity every once in a while (as does every once-popular trend). However, nutrition experts still warn of the dangers and possible risks from lengthy or repeated fasts like these detox diets, such as vitamin deficiencies, muscle breakdown, and blood-sugar problems, in addition to frequent liquid
bowel movements.

Dietitian, Lona Sandon, and nutrition consultant, Susan Moores, and spokespersons for the American Dietetic Association attest that long-term fasts lead to muscle breakdown and a shortage of many needed nutrients.

“Depriving the body of the vitamins and minerals we get from food can actually weaken the body’s ability to fight infections and inflammation,” Sandon said.

The idea behind these plans, which can last anywhere from three days to about a month, is to rid the body of toxins absorbed from the environment and the unhealthy foods we eat. The majority of detox plans restrict you from eating all solid foods. This is supposed to cleanse your body and leave you feeling energized.

However, intestinal experts say we don’t need an extreme diet to cleanse our insides.

“Your body does a perfectly good job of getting rid of toxins on its own,” said Dr. Nasir Moloo, a gastroenterologist with Capitol Gastroenterology Consultants Medical Group in Sacramento, Calif. “There’s no evidence that these types of diets are necessary or helpful.”

While there are existing medical conditions that naturally interfere with organ function and prevent the body from clearing toxins on its own, we already have a built-in detoxification system — the liver, kidneys, lungs and skin.

Depriving yourself of foods and replacing them with vitamin supplements results in some unhealthy side effects.

The side effects from prolonged, severe calorie restriction can include headache, fatigue, irritability, aches and pains. Since many people rely on aggressive laxatives in their detox diet, expect to pay frequent visits to the bathroom, which can lead to irritation and breakdown of skin, as well as intense dehydration.

While believers in the detox diets claim they feel lighter and more energetic, studies on starvation show the longer you fast, the more lethargic and less focused you become. Because most of these diets contain very little protein, it can be difficult for the body to rebuild lost muscle tissue.

Many detox diets also call for you to refrain from any physical activity while on the cleanse. You are going to become weaker, due to lack of vitamins and proteins and therefore unable to support your body through physical activity or exercise, contributing to your body’s loss of muscle tissue.

Although it is shown that people can quickly drop pounds on these diets, the majority of people regain all the weight they lose. This is especially true with the highly restrictive diets (such as the vitamin detox cleanse), according to research published in American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association. Researchers found, while people can lose 5 to ten percent of their weight in the first few months of a diet, up to two-thirds of people regain even more weight than they lost within four or five years.

“Liquid meals for breakfast and dinner are less taxing on the digestive system than solid foods and they allow the body to focus on cleansing itself,” said Alejandro Junger, M.D. and author of Clean.

A mostly liquid meal plan may sound intimidating, but when made with nutrient-packed fruits, veggies, and healthy fats, they will keep you from feeling famished and may even boost energy levels.

Simply cutting back on high-fat foods, eating in moderation and consuming more vegetables and fruits may not seem as glamorous as starving yourself like a celebrity for days, but it’s healthier for you in the long run.