Before I start this blog, I'll ask a quick question, have you ever noticed how the people who are in the best shape, the fittest, strongest and leanest, never seem to use these kinds of fast track solutions? So what gives? Can these short term strategies lead to long term results? Or are they a just a way of promising the holy grail of fitness which is big results in return for minimum effort but in reality they come up short?
As a trainer I should be happy to see people trying to make an effort, right? I mean, what's the worse that can happen if you try something, albeit unsustainable, for a couple of weeks or months? Well, there are two potential issues. I'll start with the physiological problem first.
1. What happens to your metabolism when you diet
During a consultation a client once expressed his intention to “reset his metabolism” by following a juice diet that he had seen on the internet for a period of two weeks. The theory being that he would lose a couple of kilos over that period and “kick start” his fat loss. The only problem being that that is not how the metabolism works, sadly dieting has the opposite effect on your metabolism.
Repeated dieting makes you fatter, and the effect appears to be dose dependant. In other words, the more often that you diet, the fatter you will end up. This effect is independent of genetics and is referred to as "dieting-induced weight gain". This appears to be as a result of several factors, but essentially the calorie deficit triggers some metabolic adaptations, sometimes referred to as metabolic damage, which effectively decreases the amount of calories you expend at rest and increases your body's ability to preferentially store calories as fat when they do arrive. This, frankly, is an awesome evolutionary adaptation if you need to survive harsh winters or periods of low food availability. Just think, one year you nearly starve to death over winter, so next year, your body saves energy as fat ready for the next one. Not quite so great if you crash dieted for your friends wedding this year to fit in the hideous bridesmaid's dress, and next year you are getting married in August in a strapless number and want to shift that stubborn upperback fat. Therefore if you are embarking on some kind of diet, it wants to be either a long term sustainable change, or at the very least, be aware that a short term strategy may have long term consequences. In other words, think before you diet.
So what about detox/cleanse diets? Maybe you are doing it for the health benefits rather than the weight loss. That's a good thing to work towards, good health is a fantastic thing to have, after all, whenever someone says, "at least you've got your health" when your life is going down the pan, imagine how bad it would be if you didn't even have that? So do these diets actually resolve your bodies toxic build up?
First of all, a quick digression about toxicity. Anything can be toxic at the right dose. Too much water can kill, and has done, so simply saying something is toxic requires a bit more context. In other words, there are many things in our diets that are toxic at the right dose, but safe or even beneficial below that. An example of the overuse of the word toxic is when people put it in the sentence “sugar is toxic”. It’s not, unless over a certain dose. I’m not recommending high levels of sugar as being healthy, but to suggest the odd sugary treat can’t be part of a healthy diet is frankly both alarmist and ignorant.
To return to the question of detox diets and their efficacy, I'll leave you with three points which should make you think twice about starting a cleanse, particularly one which costs money. The first is this; in 2009 an investigation into 15 detox products found that not a single producer could name any of the toxins that their products were supposed to be combating when asked. The second is that the body is quite capable of detoxifying itself thank you very much. Liver, kidney, lungs, skin etc. all doing a great job without mysterious products. The third is this; any restrictive diet by it's nature can lead to deficiencies, a healthy diet should be varied and contain all the essential nutrients required for healthy function. Some of these detoxes encourage being on juices and cutting back on meat and protein in general. Protein is not bad for you, essential amino acids are just that, essential, as indeed are essential fatty acids.
Toxins are indeed real, it's just that there is no evidence to suggest that detox diets actually remove them.
2. The Wrong Mindset
If you are still not convinced by the physiological arguments, there is the behavioural issue. If you want to get results, and not in a kind of airey-fairey sort of way, then you need to get your head around the fact that hard work and consistency trumps short termism everytime. Short term goals can be great, but only in as much as they should ultimately be part of a bigger picture. If you want to lose a few pounds quickly, that's OK, but you do need to have some sort of exit strategy from your diet to prevent rebound. In the meantime, if you want to improve your diet, make changes that suit you, that you think that you can do, not for 10 days, or 4 weeks, but that you can see yourself doing in 2 years, 5 years and for the rest of your life.
Each individual and their goals are different, but if you have a few things with regards to your diet and lifestyle that need overhauling, you are probably better off setting yourself one or two achievable goals to accomplish to start with. This might be going to the gym twice a week and eating 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per kg of your body weight per day. Once these behaviours have become your new normal, then add in some more, bit by bit you will lay down some sustainable changes that will improve your health, physique and performance.
That said, it is totally understandable if you feel like you absolutely have to change your physique in a short space of time, in preparation for a wedding for example. It that situation, a piecemeal approach may not cut it, and you will need a more drastic approach to meet your goals. Please just bear in mind that severe restrictions and hardcore approaches can lead to big rebounds, so just be aware of the pact you are making with yourself.
I'm off for a quick lemon and pepper colon cleanse so I'll leave you to your protein shakes and push ups,