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How to Get the Most From a Detox Diet — And the Ones You Should Avoid


There’s a lot of buzz about “detox diets” these days — and with very good reason. Our bodies are handling more junk food, stress hormones and chemicals than at any other point in history, “and sometimes they struggle to keep up,” notes women’s health guru Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD. Without a little TLC, our systems can fall so far behind, they become like drains clogged with toxic gunk. The blockage builds, releasing more and more ‘fumes’  that trigger anything from minor fatigue and weight gain to a domino effect of serious health issues. The best way to fix clear the gunk? You guessed it: The right detox! 

 “A good detox diet is simply a healthy way to support your body as it does exactly what it’s designed to do: clear out toxins and other harmful substances, soothe any damage or inflammation left behind and keep you in tip-top shape,” says natural health expert Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CDN.

How can you tell a good one from a bad one? For starters, pricey pills and potions can be dangerous and best avoided. Starvation plans are out too, says Dr. Axe, since they stress your body and stress, in turn, blocks detoxification. The main goal of any good detox — including all 17 specialized plans you’ll find on the following pages — is to nourish yourself well as you aid the overwhelmed organs working to keep your insides squeaky clean and functioning optimally. “Any effort you invest in a healthy detox pays off big time,” he promises. You end up feeling amazing and with a body primed to keep you lean and healthy for good. 

How Your Body Gets Rid of Junk

Virtually every cell inside you plays at least a small role in helping eliminate troublesome compounds. But there are some detox superstars. Your gut and pancreas both work hard to separate nutrients you consume from waste. When they’ve done all they can do, the liver takes over and further breaks down food and medicine, plus filters your blood and recycles used hormones, too.

“It’s also the liver’s job to recognize toxic substances and convert them into harmless material that can be released,” notes Dr. Axe author of Ancient Remedies (Buy on Amazon, $18.99). Then your digestive system and skin take over to help push junk out through perspiration and urine. If that seems like a lot, well — it’s actually just a tiny fraction of what your body does to protect you! So it’s really no wonder that from time to time it could use some rest and a helping hand.

That is exactly why detoxes (also called cleanses) have been around since the beginning of recorded history — and over the years, experts have learned quite a bit about how to make them more effective.

Easier and Speedier Self-Cleaning

Most of the food you eat to help your body detox won’t surprise you: Think lots of antioxidant-rich plants, protein chock full of healing amino acids and soothing forms of fat. Many detoxes rely on smoothies and soups since they’re particularly easy for the body to break down. While detoxing, Dr. Axe notes that what you don’t eat tends to be as important as what you do consume. “In addition to supplying all of the important nutrients that your body needs, a good detox also cuts out ingredients that overburden your system.”

The idea is to allow your body to clean itself out, heal and start fresh — so you don’t want to continue eating anything that will slow that process down. You’ll typically steer clear of anything ultra-processed or with a lot of chemical ingredients as well as anything that spikes blood sugar, causes inflammation in your gut or makes any of your detox organs work extra hard. 

Bonus Slimming Benefits

A lot of us are drawn to detox plans because we’ve heard they can help us lose weight, and we’re happy to report that’s true. Turns out, when the body’s detox system isn’t able to eliminate harmful substances in a timely manner, they are stored in fat cells where they’re safely away from major organs.

“Toxins end up embedded in fat tissue, and that fat becomes very difficult to lose,” says world-renowned detoxing expert Elson Haas, MD, author of The False Fat Diet (Buy on Amazon, $8.99) and Staying Healthy with NEW Medicine (Buy on Amazon, $15.99).  But as you help your body release these trapped toxins, “‘unburnable’ fat can also be released.” So trouble spots dissolve quickly as your well-being soars. Says Dr. Haas: “Supporting and enhancing the detox process deliver one advantage after another!” 

Do you need a detox?

Since there’s no such thing as being too healthy, virtually every adult will benefit from a regimen that replaces not-so-great food choices and lifestyle habits with health-promoting ones. “An occasional detox is a smart choice for anyone who wants to feel lighter, more energized and rejuvenated,” notes Gittleman, author of The Fat Flush Diet (Buy on Amazon, $15.77) and Radical Longevity (Buy on Amazon, $24.99).

That said, you’re more likely to see dramatic results from a detox if you’re already showing signs that your body is at least a bit overburdened by toxins and other junk. Experts generally agree that most common symptoms include at least fatigue, weight gain, cravings, bloating, digestive issues, acne or skin conditions, headaches and migraines, brain fog, joint pain, difficulty sleeping, sinus and allergy-like symptoms and mood issues. Think of them as clues. Your specific symptoms can guide you to the best detox approach for you. 

The Bottom Line

Life is busy and messy, and none of us perfect all the time. No need to worry about it. Just detox whenever and however you can. Even if you feel stretched too thin to start a formal plan, small lifestyle changes like switching the type of salt you cook with are easy to sneak into your regular routine. “The body will work to rid itself of toxins no matter what you do, but supporting and enhancing the detox process provides huge advantages,” promises Dr. Haas. And take heart: Short periods of detoxification stimulate the release of a backlog of impurities, which means you continue to feel better even after you return to normal eating!

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Detox Your Way (Buy on Amazon, $12.99).  

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