In the natural health and raw food movement, the concept of detox refers to the process your body goes through when it expels toxins. This process usually occurs during a cleanse or fast – such as a juice fast.
When you do a detox cleanse, your body is said to suddenly release built up toxins all at once, causing a host of unpleasant symptoms referred to as “detox”.
These symptoms might include skin breakouts, gas and bloating, body aches, brain fog, fatigue, low energy, headaches, irritability, extreme cravings (for sweet, salty or other unhealthy foods), constipation and diarrhea.
It’s a miserable experience for many, and if you are reading this page right now, you’re probably looking for some relief.
Or you’d like to try a cleanse again, but without the misery.
So I’m going to share what I know that might help make your next cleanse much easier to handle.
Why Are You Experiencing Detox Symptoms?
Your body is in a constant state of detox. Your liver, kidneys, colon, and to some extend, your lungs, are constantly ridding your body of toxic substances. That is what these organ’s primary function are. They keep your body from accumulating toxic substances.
Whether you eat the purest of pure diets, or you live on pizza, beer and ice cream, your body never stops detoxification. As long as you have a functioning liver, kidney and colon, your body is always removing toxins.
BUT – your body might not be working as efficiently if your diet is full of processed foods. Certain food ingredients (refined sugar, refined wheat, alcohol, caffeine) and chemicals (pesticides, fungicides, food coloring, MSG), may have a cumulative effect on your body, making it difficult for your body’s natural detoxification processes to function at full efficiency.
AND – if you quit coffee cold turkey, or you cut out all added sugars, or you suddenly remove stimulants like chocolate from your diet, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. Since sugar, caffeine and other stimulant substances can be addictive, your body will react when it is no longer given these substances. And let me tell you, you will feel all of the common detox symptoms!
PLUS – your body will go into a bit of a shock when you make a sudden, drastic change to your diet. It will protest. Your digestion might feel a little confused. You’ll go through withdrawal. You will feel like your body is finally clearing out the garbage. And it is.
But you don’t have to suffer through it.
What Common “Detox Symptoms” Really Mean – And How To Clear Them Up
Here are the most commonly reported detox symptoms and what they really mean.
Some of these might have nothing to do with detox, so it’s important to recognize them for what they are so that you can remedy the situation. Why suffer if you don’t have to?
1) Acute Acne/Skin Breakouts
There is limited scientific evidence linking diet with acne. However, acute acne is sometimes reported as a detox symptom in people who change their diet suddenly. This may include people who suddenly switch over to a raw and or vegan diet, (even if temporarily for a cleanse).
All I can do is offer some anecdotal evidence, and advice, if this happens to you: Watch your fat intake!
In my personal experience, the more fat I eat, the more susceptible to acne I become. Over-consuming on fats, even from from nuts, seeds, avocados or supplements (including cacao), can cause my skin to break out.
If you are eating a diet that is very high in fat (like a low/no fruit vegan diet), cutting back may help clear up the problem.
2) Gas & Bloating
Gas and bloating are common symptoms of suddenly increasing fruit and vegetable intake. This is not a symptom of detox.
You might get gas and bloating if you suddenly start drinking large green smoothies. You might also experience discomfort if you eat a fruit-based meal (like a green smoothie) after eating a fat-based food (like nuts, seeds, or any fat-heavy meal).
Gas and bloating should subside within a few days as your body adjusts to a healthy increase of fruits and vegetables. If gas and bloating persist, cut back on the serving size of your green smoothies, or take a step back your diet/cleanse, and slowly work your way back into it.
Reduce your fruit and vegetable intake temporarily, and slowly increase the amount you consume. Discontinue fiber supplements if you are getting adequate fiber from your new diet (chances are, you are getting more than enough just from fruits and vegetables alone).
Read more about preventing/stopping gas and bloating.
3) Constipation and/or Diarrhea
Diarrhea and, to a lesser extent, constipation, are commonly reported when fruit and vegetable consumption suddenly increases. This is temporary, and it has nothing to do with detoxification. Once your body adjusts to the the increase in healthy food and fiber, the symptoms will subside – usually within a couple days.
Constipation may be due to the sudden increase of fiber in the diet. It can be exacerbated by taking fiber supplements, as well as dehydration. Make sure you are drinking at least 64-ounces of water a day.
Read more about resolving constipation with green smoothies and whole foods.
4) Brain Fog
Brain fog is generally a sign of insufficient calories, or withdrawal from sugar and caffeine. Check your daily calorie intake and be sure that you are getting sufficient calories, protein, and fat in your diet.
5) Fatigue & Low Energy
Fatigue and low energy is a symptom of insufficient calorie intake. For most people, consuming fewer than 1500 calories per day can lead to fatigue (and inadequate nutrition). Severe calorie restriction (1200 calories or less per day) will wreck havoc on your metabolism, causing major energy shifts.
It’s very easy to under-eat when you are experimenting with an strict, plant-based diet. You are definitely under-eating on a juice fast (which is kinda the point of it).
Also, since fruits and vegetables are bulky, but less calorie dense, you might feel like you are eating a lot of food, when in reality, you are not consuming sufficient calories.
The best way to avoid (and clear up) this symptom is to track your calorie intake using any diet-tracking website or app. I use and recommend Cron-o-Meter.
By the way, I highly recommend taking it easy during a cleanse. Take this time to do some much-needed self-care. Now’s not the time to take on new projects, or jam-pack your schedule!
6) Headaches/Body Aches
Headaches and body aches seem to be a rare symptom. They might not have anything to do with your sudden change in diet or lifestyle, unless you’re suddenly hitting the gym like a madwoman! Eating a properly balanced, calorie-sufficient whole foods diet will not damage your body or cause pain.
However, temporary aches and pains within the first few days of changing your diet may be psychological in nature, or they may be the result of unrelated causes.
When you undergo a change in diet, or participate in a detox or cleanse regimen, you tend to be hyper-aware of your body. While random aches and pains might normally go unnoticed, they may really stand out when you are following a diet or cleanse that is supposed to “fix” your body.
It’s also quite possible that digestive disturbances, while your body adjusts to the new way of eating, may radiate outward, manifesting as physical pain in other areas of your body.
7) Extreme Cravings
Extreme cravings are a commonly reported detox symptom, but they actually have numerous causes, and may not be directly related to detoxification.
Cravings may be a symptom of withdrawal from sugar or caffeine.
They are often a sign that you are getting insufficient calories or nutrients.
If you are craving sweet or fatty foods, it generally means that you are not getting sufficient calories.
Increasing your fruit intake can also help satisfy your sweet tooth.
You might also crave salt and salty foods, especially if you eliminate salt from your diet. Rather than eliminating salt, use a high quality sea salt in moderation to ensure that your body gets adequate sodium.
Cravings for meat, dairy and eggs are common for the newly vegan and they do go away. Persistent cravings (beyond a couple weeks) may mean that you are not getting sufficient calories, fat, iron, protein (particularly certain amino acids like methionine and lysine) or iodine (if you’re craving fish or other seafood).
If you wish to stay vegan, then take a good look at your daily nutrient intake and make any adjustments necessary, or fill nutritional gaps with supplements. If you don’t think you can stay vegan, then consider incorporating small amounts of pasture-raised, grass feed meat, dairy and eggs back into your diet.
When Detox Symptoms Persist
It is normal to experience some of the above detox symptoms during the first few days to a week after making a sudden change to your diet and lifestyle.
However, if any of these symptoms persist beyond a week, or they show up after you have been following a particular diet for a period of time, then they may signal a necessary change that you need to make.
Insufficient calories (less than 1500/day for a woman and less than 1800/day for a man) over the long term will lead to nutritional deficiencies without supplementation. Deficiency symptoms are broad and vague, and cause much of the same unpleasant symptoms that people describe as detox.
Use a website or app like Cron-o-Meter to determine where your diet is lacking, and take steps to fill in any nutritional gaps.
And be sure to check with your doctor or a qualified health care professional to rule out any potentially serious illnesses that may not be related to a change in your diet.
Cleanse Without The Detox Symptoms
In my experience, people often feel detox symptoms when they do a juice fast, or a strict detox regimen. And it’s no wonder, because these diets are starvation diets. They don’t do your body any good, and many people feel like absolute crap when they attempt them.
I remember how low-energy I felt when I did a 5-day juice fast experiment. I actually skipped workouts to conserve energy!
So what can you do to cleanse your body without the downside (constant hunger and feeling like crap)?
First, of all, you want a cleanse that FEEDS your body, not starves it.
Secondly, take it easy while you cleanse!