While there are some legit reasons for doing a strict detox diet (which I’ll get to), most people who do undertake such a plan don’t need to be so extreme. Remove the word detox and you get to the heart of the matter. It’s a diet…and diets don’t work for the long term. Better to take gradual steps to reduce less-healthful parts of your current diet, while adding in better stuff.

On the whole, cutting out entire groups or classifications of foods without a compelling reason to do so (and weight loss is not a compelling reason) is not a good idea. It’s imbalanced, lacks variety and is not conducive to good health (and by health I mean physical, mental, emotional and social). I’ll use gluten as an example:

  • Good reasons to cut out gluten. You have a medical diagnosis of celiac disease or have learned through a carefully conducted elimination diet that you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
  • Not-so-good reasons to cut out gluten. You think it will help you lose weight, it’s trendy, your best friend/personal trainer/neighbor/cousin said that no one should be eating gluten.

If you have a diagnosed food allergy, you obviously need to eliminate that food (but if you don’t have an allergy, there’s no benefit). Ditto lactose-intolerance and dairy foods.

Other prime targets on a detox diet are sugar and white flour. While these foodstuffs are certainly not health-promoting in excess (especially if they crowd out more nutritious foods), they are not harmful when they make up a very small percentage of your overall diet. Do you really want to never have a piece of birthday cake again? What about artisan sourdough bread? Or gelato on a trip to Italy?

If you feel your sugar consumption is too high, it may well be. But eliminating all sugar forever more is not sustainable. And cutting it out for a period of time to “reset” a sweet tooth isn’t really necessary. If you go get a cookie every afternoon when you take a break from your computer, consider that the culprit is not necessarily a raging sweet tooth–it may simply be habit. If you get a cookie every single afternoon, odds are excellent you’ll get one this afternoon. It’s simply Pavlovian.

Learn your triggers for eating desserts and other sugary foods (the clock strikes 2:30 p.m., you finish dinner and sit down in front of the TV, you have a lousy day at work), and take steps to circumvent them. That’s one aspect of being mindful about what you eat. When you enjoy dessert occasionally, because you specifically want it, instead of eating it every day out of habit or knee-jerk reaction, you can have your cake and your health, too.

So what might be a compelling reason for a detox diet? If you are having symptoms, especially multiple symptoms, that might be food-related (gastrointestinal issues, skin issues and fatigue are a few), then following a methodical, well-structured elimination diet under the guidance of a registered dietitian who has experience with elimination diets may be beneficial. (Notice I said elimination diet, because detoxing is really about eliminating things.) The idea is to try to get to the crux of the problem as quickly as possible so that you are not eliminating any food groups for any longer than necessary. Don’t go for “one-size-fits-all” detox plans…a knowledgeable RD can tailor a plan for you and your specific concerns.