Detox the right way

Health and Lifestyle Editor at Bupa UK
04 January 2019

We’ve all been there – too much turkey or nut roast at Christmas and an extra glass of bubbly to toast the New Year. Or maybe commitments at work or home have caused you to slip up on your pursuit of a healthy lifestyle.

When this happens, our knee-jerk reaction is often to rid our bodies of the ‘bad stuff’ and brashly declare that we’re going on a detox. But what does it mean to detox your body and is it the right thing to do?

Woman with a healthy drink

What it means to detox

By definition, to detox is to abstain from, or get rid of, unhealthy substances or toxins from your body.

There are lots of different methods that people try. Some people choose to go on detox diets, while others may choose more unusual alternatives. From colon cleanses, to foot pads that claim to drain toxins from your body – the list goes on. But is it necessary?

Should I detox?

It’s easy to get swept away with the media hype, but it’s important not to fall victim to claims that aren’t backed by science or good quality evidence.

It’s also important to remember that your body already has its own natural defences against substances that can cause it harm. Your liver, kidneys, digestive system, lungs and skin all play a part – and they do a fine job at that.

So although you may be tempted to try out the latest detox fad or product on the market, the reality is that you don’t actually need them. What’s more, some detoxes can even cause you harm.

Niamh Hennessy, Lead Dietitian at the Bupa Cromwell Hospital says, “Detox diets often involve things like fasting, cutting out or limiting the types of foods you eat, and even consuming pills and solutions that claim to cleanse, flush out or detoxify. These diets can cause you to become deficient in certain nutrients and can be outright dangerous. The majority of claims aren’t supported by good quality evidence (if any) and the concept of a ‘detox’ in today’s consumer market is essentially a myth.

“Our bodies are naturally equipped to remove harmful substances. The liver is a great example. It breaks down things like alcohol into less harmful substances that our bodies can handle.”

“The bottom line is that having a healthy, balanced diet, staying active and getting enough sleep is the best way to keep your body healthy.”

Adopting a healthy lifestyle

So perhaps the key here is that if you say you want to ‘detox’, what you actually need to focus on is being healthier. You should look to cut back on things that you know aren’t good for you like alcohol. Kick habits like smoking that are bad for your health and proactively look to change your behaviours to adopt healthier habits.

But as we all know, sticking to our New Year’s resolutions can be a struggle. I spoke to Juliet Hodges, Behaviour Change Adviser at Bupa UK to get the low-down on how to commit to healthier behaviours and make them stick. Here’s what she had to say on the matter.

“It's really tempting to try and make big changes all at once, particularly after Christmas. The New Year feels like a blank slate where we can leave our old, flawed selves behind and start over - a phenomenon known as the fresh start effect. Though it might feel less exciting, setting small manageable goals will give you a far greater chance of success. Publically committing to these goals can also help. Tell your friends and family, your colleagues or go even bigger and bet against yourself. The public commitment or vested interest in achieving may help you to follow through.”

“It’s also important to recognise that changing your behaviour or adopting a new one is tough. Not only will it take time for your brain to override the things it does automatically, but many of us view our new commitments as a sort of punishment for our past failures. This mindset can be particularly unhelpful when trying to achieve new goals. So if you want to make a lasting change, remember to make your new behaviours fun and sustainable. Repeating them will also help you to override other, less desirable behaviours over time.”

“My final tip would be to own it. If you want to live a healthier lifestyle, start to think of yourself as someone who is into health and fitness. Embedding your behaviour in your identity may help you to stay on track."

Niamh also shared her tactics, "I'm a big fan of app based fitness trackers. Not only can you track your progress, but you can also compete to reach health and fitness goals with friends and family. For me, they're a great source of motivation. There are also lots of different ones to try, from running and cycling apps, to pedometers that count the number of steps you take each day."

Find out more about setting goals and how to stick to them. And for more information on wearable fitness trackers, find out what Professor Greg Whyte, a sports scientist and former Olympian has to say about them.



Do you know how healthy you truly are? Bupa health assessments give you a clear overview of your health and a view of any future health risks. You'll receive a personal lifestyle action plan with health goals to reach for a happier, healthier you.

Laura Blanks
Health and Lifestyle Editor at Bupa UK

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