Are Detox Diets Good for You?

Pineapple kale smoothie in a glass jar with a striped paper straw

Recently a friend asked me what I thought about the “cleanses” that are all the rage in mommy circles these days. She was curious because a number of her acquaintances had embarked on a month-long detox: no dairy, no meat, no gluten, no sugar, no alcohol, no caffeine. I told her I thought there was little harm in a day or two of “detoxing”, particularly following a holiday bender or decadent weekend. For some, a couple of days of cutting out the garbage, or juicing, or eating just fruits and vegetables, can kick start better eating habits. It’s like pushing the reset button on a healthy diet.

The Downside of a Detox

That said, many cleanses are nutrient-poor, very low in calories, last for extended periods of time, and often are just code for weight-loss diet. Such restrictive regimens can mess with your metabolism, effectively tricking your body into thinking you are involuntarily starving, and then turn sluggish accordingly.

Nearly as troubling is what it can do to your head. After weeks of deprivation, some folks find themselves bingeing once they return to regular eating. For parents, it’s particularly important to consider what you are modeling for your children when on any kind of special dietary program. Healthy eating and a loving attitude towards your own body are key in raising kids with the same.

After our conversation, I percolated this cleanse idea for several weeks. I’d heard people exclaim they felt “eurphoric” while detoxing: a side-effect they chalked up to their livers eliminating toxins and colons being scrubbed silly.

A Three-Day Trial

In the spirit of keeping an open mind, and just plain curiosity, I embarked on a three-day fruit and vegetable juice cleanse that measured in at about 1200 calories a day: enough to meet my basic needs. There was no euphoria. I’m not sure anything spectacular happened to my internal organs. But the whole experience reminded me of what it’s like when I leave my kids for a couple of days: a kid detox, if you will. I always return with some new insight or perspective.

Some Good Insight

Likewise, stepping out of my eating habits was a consciousness raising” for my diet. I noticed places where I’d gotten at little lazy (breakfast) and a little indulgent (afternoon snack) and in a rut (routinely eating the same vegetables, fruits and grains). I also discovered that my body doesn’t digest milk particularly well. As a result, I’m eating better breakfasts, a wider variety of nourishing foods, almond and soy milk in place of cow’s milk, and sweets only when I’m truly craving them. I was surprisingly not hungry for those three days, though I did miss having a warm meal of chewable food.

Doing the cleanse was enlightening, no doubt. But I feel a little bit like I did after being on the receiving end of a rather aggressive bikini wax several years ago: I don’t regret it, but don’t need to try it again.

For more food for thought on detoxing, I found this post by Ellie Krieger to be enlightening. You might also want to check out my Four Habits for a Healthy Weight


02.23.2011 at3:30 PM #

Jill O'Connor

Funny and insightful, and above all open-minded and balanced! Love hearing about your experience and now I don’t have to do it (whew!)

02.23.2011 at4:13 PM #


I like this! I am one of those people who has to be very careful about cleanses or I will overeat afterwards. My poor body has had to put up with such a mix of deprivation followed by eating too much! It has taken years to realize that healthy eating all the time keeps my body happy and healthy. That said I just asked my doctor to recommend a good cleanse!

02.23.2011 at5:27 PM #


As one of the moms who did the month-long cleanse, I agree with everything you said. I learned a lot on the cleanse, particularly about sugar but also about animal products. And I am keeping up many of the good habits. But I also binged too much when it was over.

02.23.2011 at5:40 PM #

Carolyn Jung

Hah! You have me rolling on the floor in laughter. I feel the same way about cleanses. I’d rather follow the late-great Julia Child’s philosophy: “Everything, but in moderation.” 😉

02.24.2011 at1:53 AM #

Verne Doxey

Right on Katie – I think this is plain(old) rubbish which is now being resurrected in newer guise. Its really medically unnecessary and possibly harmful. thanks for putting your thoughtful take on it out there.

02.24.2011 at11:43 AM #


This is great, Katie. I feel inspired to pay a little more attention to my “indulgences” after reading this…happy to skip the cleanse and the aggressive bikini wax!

03.01.2011 at10:59 PM #


I am not a fan of the “cleanse” either. Rather, I try to follow French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano. It is not a diet. It is a way of life.

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