By Anna Sachse
One of Hollywood’s favorite go-to diet plans is actually extremely easy and super cheap—it’s called fasting. The gist of this fashionable slim down secret is that you starve yourself. Sure, fasting has been around for ages as a component of numerous religions, often paired with prayer, a surefire way to make yourself a little crazy in the head and thus more likely to get jiggy with the Holy Spirit, but it’s also used for more vainglorious pursuits—as in, not eating also equals losing weight equals skinny. To glam it all up a bit, the marketing wizards who feed our obsession with being thin have renamed the whole process “detoxing.” With this new turn of phrase, they can now sell you books or even exclusive spa packages that teach you how to not eat.
But don’t fool yourself into unhealthy behavior just because you want to lose a few pounds. There is no magic button in the body that puts you into fasting mode—starving is starving is starving.
Based on the theory that the food we consume daily is loaded with an overabundance of terrible substances which accumulate in your body and cause unexplained weight gain, fatigue, headaches, nausea and disease, fasting/detox diets (which usually last three days to a month) claim to remove these “toxins” from the body. Typically the practitioner is required to temporarily give up certain foods that are thought to contain toxins, such as meat, sugar, grains, dairy, caffeine and alcohol—conveniently, these are also the foods that contain the most calories. After a few days of eating nothing at all, you might be allowed to add back in raw vegetables, fruit and fruit juices—in addition to being tired and irritable, prepare yourself for serious stomach cramps and gas at this point, due to all that fiber. Some detox diets may also advocate using (i.e. purchasing) herbal laxatives or colon cleansing (enema) products to help “clean” out the intestine and liver.
Now, to be honest, most people will probably lose weight on these “diets” due to the severe calorie restriction, but most people also tend to gain it right back. Beyoncé reported that she did the Master Cleanse (a starvation diet of maple syrup, lemon water and laxatives that sounds an awful lot like an eating disorder) and lost 10 pounds in 20 days before filming Dreamgirls, but the weight promptly returned after filming was over and she has advised against the plan in subsequent interviews. Not only is the weight loss unsustainable, starving can cause your metabolism to slow down and forces your body to essentially eat muscle for energy, rendering you less fit and capable of burning calories when all is said and done.
Further, according to Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist Michael Picco, M.D., there is no evidence that detox diets even detoxify. Most ingested toxins are efficiently and effectively removed everyday by the kidneys and liver and excreted in urine and stool, says Picco. Instead, prolonged fasting can result in anemia, low blood sugar and irregular heartbeat. To really scare you, I’ll also mention the 52-year-old English woman, Dawn Page, who made headlines earlier this year when she received more than £800,000 after suffering permanent brain damage while on a detox diet that instructed her to reduce her salt intake and consume large amounts of water. The salt on the wound? She’s no thinner.
If you’re looking to lose a few pounds while also boosting energy, the best diet is based on whole foods. This includes fruits and vegetables, but also whole grains, lean sources of protein and unsaturated fats, such as avocados and olive oil. A well-rounded diet fuels your body for exercise which builds muscle, strengthens bones and fortifies the heart. And that’s the skinny on that.