Fasting Vs. Detoxing
Not sold on intermittent fasting? Consider a detox program instead.
Unlike fasting, which is about avoiding all foods for a specified period, detox diets propose a restricted menu of cleansing foods. Depending on your health status and motivations, you may find a detox program more appropriate, and perhaps more effective.
“People often feel bad when they fast,” says Mark Hyman, MD, founder of The UltraWellness Center in Massachusetts. “That’s because they are releasing metabolic wastes but not eliminating them properly.”
Some key biochemical pathways essential to detoxification are activated by specific nutrients, he explains. “If you’re fasting, you’re not getting those nutrients, and if those pathways aren’t activated, you’ll get sick. It’s like opening a water faucet of toxins but plugging up the drain. So if you’re going to fast, you have to do it in a very thoughtful way or it can be harmful.”
For this reason, Hyman finds detoxing gentler and more effective than fasting. “If you’re currently eating gluten or dairy and are sensitive or intolerant to them, you’ll find that just stopping those foods will produce dramatic improvements,” he says. “You’ll get even better results by doing a detox program designed to support and enhance detoxification.”
Integrative nutritionist Kathie Swift, MS, RD, LDN, agrees that nutrients drive detoxification. That’s why, during her workshops, Swift emphasizes a program of optimal nutrition designed to kick-start and support a detox experience in which participants are coming off sugar, alcohol, caffeine and processed foods.
Ann Louise Gittleman’s Fast Track Detox Diet (Three Rivers Press, 2006) includes a 24-hour cranberry-based juice fast, but it also calls for seven days of preparation for the one-day fast. Healthy fasting, says Gittleman, PhD, includes preparing the liver and providing fiber for the colon. Since your liver will be working extra hard on fast day, she recommends fueling up on liver-loving foods beforehand, such as broccoli, kale, oranges and eggs. Her detailed plan, she says, helps pull toxins from the body.
The key, Gittleman says, is to plan in advance. “It’s not something you jump right into,” she says. (For more on Hyman’s and Gittleman’s detox diets, read The UltraSimple Slimdown and Fast Track Liver Detox.)