by Whitney Trotter MS, RDN/LDN, RN, RYT

January is usually the month chosen for newfound goals, dream boards, a recommitment to the gym, weight loss initiatives, and the start of a new fad diets. I can bet many people are a bit hesitant to claim 2021 as “their year” after the complete shell shock of 2020. Nevertheless, in our quest for health, how do we balance loving our bodies and avoiding the rabbit trails of obsessive diet culture/detox schemes?

First, let us examine what detoxes are and why they simply do not work. There are certain specific cases in which detoxes are called for; however, the vast majority of detoxes or cleansing programs are not called for, not backed by science, and not safe in the general population. Detoxification and cleansing programs usually include some mechanism of fasting, drinking juices or beverages (while reducing food consumption), limiting certain food groups, colon cleanses, sauna, or heat therapy.

When our bodies are consistently nourished with respect to variety, balance, movement, and adequate sleep, our body uses its own system to rid ourselves of waste and toxins. Our body is capable (in most instances) of cleansing itself through the elimination of feces, urine, and sweat. Our kidneys, liver, colon, and skin function to rid our body of chemicals, toxins, and waste! So, most of us do not need to fall into the diet or detox trap! Detox programs that promise long term weight loss are not found in evidence-based or evidence-informed care.

Detoxes and cleansing programs can often lead to disordered eating, eating disorders, and engagement in diet culture. If fasting or a reduction of nutrient intake is a part of the detox process, it can lead to restriction, and consistent restriction intake can lead to binge eating. It can be extremely complicated to break the cycle of restricting and binging when taking part in detoxes or other diet gimmicks. Diet culture is a byproduct of the diet industry. It is estimated that Americans spend 40 billion dollars (about $120 per person in the US (United States) annually on dieting and/or diet-related products, even though research has shown that 95% of dieters regain the amount of weight they have lost.

The diet industry is the only multi-billion-dollar industry which counts its success from individuals’ diet failure rate. Dieting typically, but not always, occurs when there is dissatisfaction in your natural body, shape, and size. When dissatisfaction occurs, there is a tendency to reduce food and nutrient intake to lose weight. Chronic or yo-yo dieting is not only harmful to our physical health but our mental health, as well. Recurrent chronic dieting has been shown to increase the likelihood of binge eating and reduce our bodies metabolic function. Intuitive eating is a framework that uses ten different principles to help chronic dieters break free from the cycle of dieting and restriction. Intuitive eating helps the individual to embrace permission for a variety of foods and decrease the cycle of shame and guilt.

 So, what should we focus on in 2021 for health and wellness?

  • Consistent nutrient intake from a variety of sources like fruit, vegetables, grains, protein, fats, and fun foods  
  • Gentle movement like yoga, biking, running, or walking  
  • Being mindful of others and self 
  • Adequate sleep and rest
  • Embrace our bodies natural intuitive rhythm of hunger and fullness 
  • Body respect for your body and others  
  • Incorporating a spiritual or mindful practice

  Liberating yourself from constant dieting, the latest dieting fad or seasonal detox cleanses can be stressful. Our bodies crave consistency and balance. Coming off the heels of 2020 we could all take some time to pause, reflect, and regroup on how we want to spend 2021 pursing our individual and community health goals.