Disguised as detox

Disguised as detox

On 11 July, actor Ashton Kutcher tweeted to the world about his and his wife Demi Moore’s new detox diet plan: “Starting the Master Cleanse today". The Master Cleanse, which Moore and Kutcher are following, is an extreme plan created by alternative medicine practitioner Stanley Burroughs in 1941. It consists of taking a concoction of lemon juice mixed with maple syrup, water and cayenne pepper for a minimum of 10 days to a month. One also has to take a laxative every morning and evening.

“The Master Cleanse and others like it aim to rid the body of waste and toxic materials," says nutritionist Ishi Khosla, “so it includes drinking copious amounts of water and juices, gorging on salads and laxatives, along with enemas, colonic irrigation and fasts."

According to doctors, most of these diets, which can last from 7-28 days, need to be undertaken with caution since they are usually extreme and cause an acute reaction in the body. “If someone follows any liquid-only diet for more than 7-10 days without supervision, it can lead to severe gas and acidity, low blood pressure, vitamin deficiency, and muscles aches," explains Shikha Sharma, Delhi-based wellness consultant.

Most of these “detox" diet plans are easily available on the Internet and their websites provide detailed information on how to follow them. They also offer books, CDs and kits complete with the things you require to follow a particular diet. Each of them has a system for body cleansing—in one you eat spices and fruit juices, in another, only boiled vegetables. In the Clean Detox programme which actor Gwyneth Paltrow undertook last year, for example, one is supposed to stay on a liquid diet with one semi-solid meal per day for 21 days. Another, called “4 Week Detox Plan", lasts, as its name suggests, for four weeks, with a step by step cleaning of the kidneys and bowels, the lymphatic system, the liver and gall bladder and finally the blood, lungs and skin through a mostly liquid diet combined with herbs, meditation and holistic healing. But the common theme that underlies most of these diets is that they demand a long period of dieting (longer than two weeks) on low-calorie, primarily liquids or semi-solid foods.

Most are extreme

“Basically you are starving your body of its required nutrients. It might work for maximum a week before you start feeling tired and weak," says Dr Sharma. If someone wants to undertake extreme cleansing diets, it’s best to do it in a facility, where a doctor is supervising you. “But on a usual day, when you are dealing with family, work and stress, they can do serious harm to your body since you will tend to forget even liquid intake," she says. Dr Sharma also warns that these types of diets shouldn’t be undertaken more than one day a month or one week a year, if at all. Anything more than this and you are putting your health in jeopardy.

Some of the side effects of these severe diets include headache, fatigue, lethargy, irritability, aches and pains and ironically, a bad digestion if you deviate from the plan. In a way, it’s starvation of the worst kind camouflaged by a feel-good idea. In fact, the proponents of the Master Cleanse list these very side effects as a proof that the body is healing and cleaning itself.

“Such long and intensive detox plans are actually marketing tools which disguise extreme weight-loss diets," according to Sunil Jhangiani, US-based founder of Nutrition Vista (www.nutritionvista.com), an online consultant website for diets. “It’s more fashionable to say that one’s undergoing a detox than saying that one’s on a weight-loss diet," he said in a phone interview. According to him, the celebrities on detox diets actually want rapid weight loss, which is unhealthy in its drastic measures. “Most of the people undertaking these diets become addicted to the weight loss they see in the initial period. However, the rapid loss of weight weakens your body systems and reduces your stamina drastically," Dr Jhangiani adds.

Even practitioners of Ayurveda, which has detox plans, warn against these diets. “The detox diet in Ayurveda is strictly for body cleansing and not for weight loss," says Gaurang Joshi, medical director of Atharva Multi Speciality Ayurveda Panchakarma Hospital, Rajkot, Gujarat. “If you want to go for weight loss, you need a qualified doctor," he adds.

The key thing to remember before embarking on a detox diet such as the Master Cleanse is that once you are back to your normal routine, the lost weight also comes back, which will make you want to go back on the detox diet. “This results in a yo-yo movement in which the diet soon becomes not about detoxification of the body, but about remaining thin," explains Dr Jhangiani.

Occasional detox is a good thing

A good detox diet is not about starving oneself but eating things that will help clean your body’s filters. “Urban lifestyle puts the digestive system, liver, kidney and skin under a lot of stress so it’s a good thing to give them relief every now and then," says Dr Jhangiani. People usually go on a detox diet for a week during season change, twice a year. “At this time, the body is already gearing up for change, hence detox plans are best executed at this time. (But) in our rushed lifestyles, we don’t have that leisure," explains Dr Sharma, “so instead, one should opt for a simple detox diet."

A good diet should include whole, minimally processed foods with fruits, vegetables and adequate antioxidants. The idea is to provide your body its required energy, protein, minerals and vitamins, while cleaning up the system. “The body needs vitamin C, vitamin E, copper, manganese, selenium, and zinc which act like detoxification enzymes and make your organs function optimally," adds Khosla. Your diet should include boiled vegetables, raw fruits such as bananas, apples and portions of wholesome grains. High-fibre-forming foods such as Isabgol (a laxative), beans, fruits and oat bran will help bind ingested toxins. Light fruit juices such as watermelon and lemon, and vegetable juices of cabbage, carrot and beetroot are also excellent.

Dr Joshi says that everyone should go on a healthy detox diet once every three months or at the change of season, but not for more than seven days. “During the initial period, your diet portions should be halved from your usual diet. Eat something after every 2-3 hours in lighter and smaller portions." During the end of the diet, gradually increase your diet portions to get your stomach back on track. “Detox is a great beginning to the whole philosophy of health, but it’s not the end of it. For additional benefits, you need to adopt a healthier lifestyle," says Dr Sharma.


It’s the day after you have gorged on goodies. Here’s how you can clean your body’s filters in a

The night before: Take a mild laxative overnight such as ‘triphala’ or Isabgol.

Early morning: Drink ginger water. Crush half an inch of ginger in water and boil till it changes colour to golden. You can have one-two cups of it.

Breakfast: Make yourself a vegetable juice using half an apple, a small piece of ‘lauki’ (bottle gourd), a pinch of ginger, three-four mint leaves, 1 tablespoon aloe vera juice and a tomato. Have it with a bowl of fruits consisting of apple, pear, plum and peaches.

Lunch: Vegetable soup and a salad of grilled or sautéed veggies, boiled corn, boiled potato, salad leaves, cucumber, tomatoes. This can be topped with crushed almonds and peanuts, a dash of olive oil and a pinch of salt.

Afternoon snack: A banana. Eat five pieces of almond with it if you feel very hungry.

Dinner: Again, have a clear vegetable soup with sautéed vegetables.

Through the day: Lemon water and herbal decoctions.

Avoid: Milk and milk products, excessive salt, tea, coffee and smoking.

Frequency: One day in a month.

What does this do? Fruits and vegetables are very easy on your liver. This diet will help clean your intestines. It solves the heaviness or constipation you might be feeling and eases off water retention. You will wake up feeling light.

Dr Shikha Sharma

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