There's been a lot of publicity over the Lemon Detox Diet. We answer your questions about this much-discussed, and not well understood, diet.
Q: "I have a few friends doing the lemon detox diet. They aren't overweight, but doing it as a health kick. I'm interested in your thoughts on this detox."
The lemon detox diet involves not eating at all and using a drink made with lemon juice, cayenne pepper and a 'special' syrup (which costs about $80 for seven days' supply), as well as drinking a laxative tea. You get less than 1700kJ a day (an average intake is nearer 8700kJ) – so it's basically a fasting diet which you're advised to do for seven days, or 'even better', 10-14 days. We do not recommend this.
The concept of detox has increased in popularity, and is generally based on the premise we need to get rid of toxins which build up in our bodies and cause weight gain. This premise has no scientific basis.
Our bodies have a number of systems to eliminate waste: our kidneys remove waste as urine; perspiration expels toxins through our skin; our intestines break down and eliminate waste in faeces; our lungs prevent toxins trying to enter, remove dust and fine particles and breathe out carbon dioxide waste; our livers detoxify alcohol and drugs, and filter our blood; and our immune system 'seeks and destroys' toxins. (If someone is concerned any of these systems are not working properly they should see their doctor!)
Some detox diets are just a healthy diet in a detox 'wrapping' in order to sell them. On these diets, you feel better and lose weight because you're making better food choices and probably eating less. The lemon detox diet, unfortunately, does not fall into this category.
Side effects of restrictive diets
Typical symptoms of very restrictive diets or fasting include lethargy and tiredness, headaches, bad breath and constipation (hence the laxative). So you can't expect to effectively carry out your work and parenting roles as usual. While the sales blurb will tell you these symptoms are the toxins being eliminated, this is simply not true. Both science and common sense will tell you it's a lack of food!
Your brain needs a steady flow of glucose to function effectively. If you don't supply your body with enough carbohydrate in your food, your body will break down the energy stores in muscle. These are stored with water, so when energy stores are broken down, it's water which is excreted – accounting for the initial impressive weight-loss on these restrictive diets. Being so low in energy, you will burn fat as well. But once you stop the diet, the fat will most likely pile back on. You will have trained your body to store more fat just in case it comes across those terrible lean times again.
Yo Yo dieting
We don't recommend dieting at all, as going 'on' a diet implies coming 'off' the diet and probably reverting to previous eating patterns. And if you're doing that, you're probably going to want to go 'on' a diet again.
Yo-yo dieting is no good for your body or soul. We believe it's much better to learn and develop healthy eating habits to last a lifetime. This is good for your weight, good for your health, and better for your self-esteem as well.
In the official HFG weight-loss plan in our October 2008 issue, we presented a 10-step plan to help you eat well and lose weight while developing healthy habits for life.
Diet-speak: sorting the 'fab' from 'fad'
Wondering whether the latest diet is going to work? Here are some pointers:
If a diet is promising weight-loss of more than one kilo per week, it is unlikely to last long term. Losing half to one kilo a week is realistic.
Reliance on one food is unscientific and has no metabolic basis. All foods are part of a food group because within that group, they do a similar job. Each group has its own role, so omitting a whole group, like carbohydrates, is not a positive approach.
You can't spot reduce fat. Diets claiming to be specifically for the tummy, thighs or hips, for example, are misleading. You can tone up muscle in a certain area, and you may lose weight from one area faster than another, but you can't choose to lose fat from a specific part of your body.