Trust Your Gut

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By Maureen Stoecklein, RD

Detox Diets & Firefighter Performance

Detoxes and cleanses are popular but commonly misunderstood concepts that involve eliminating foods or food groups for a given period of time. Popular detoxification programs such as juice cleanses, sugar detoxes, elimination diets, fasting and taking fiber supplements usually involve eating a minimal amount of food.

But I recommend that you think twice before you try one. Limiting food intake can have a negative impact on your performance and recovery as a firefighter.

People often try a cleanse hoping for a fresh start, a renewed sense of control over eating, or quick weight loss. But before jumping on the bandwagon, you need to understand that very little research supports these practices. There is little to indicate that they effectively remove toxins — or provide any benefits at all. By contrast, a healthy, well-balanced, and performance-based plan that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and adequate hydration will promote gut health and support the body’s own detoxification systems.

Detoxification is the process nature designed to utilize nutrients and remove toxins, both internal (lactic acid, urea, waste) and external (pesticides, chemicals in tobacco products or alcohol, air pollution) from the body.


Toxins are excreted through our urine, feces, respiration and, thanks to sweat, skin. We all have the ability to detoxify our bodies by employing factors including diet, lifestyle, activity level, sleep hygiene, and our overall environment.

Although detox diets can result in initial weight loss due to inadequate calorie intake, they typically lead to weight gain down the road, once a normal eating pattern is resumed. About 20 percent of the calories consumed on a daily basis are used to
fuel our brains. The food choices we make have a direct impact on our mood and, ultimately, our brain functions. Low calorie consumption will leave you feeling mentally and physically exhausted, making our tasks as firefighters even more taxing. Diets and detoxes are not sustainable eating programs and more research is needed to determine their long-term effects on chronic disease prevention, aging and weight loss.

For now, taking charge of your health, making consistent, high-quality, nutrient-dense food choices and drinking plenty of water is the best way to cleanse your system while keeping your digestive system regular.

Find out more about firefighter and nutritionist Maureen Stoecklein in our profile of her.

The Disadvantages of Detoxes & Cleanses

  • Muscle loss
  • Lack of macronutrients needed for performance including protein, complex carbohydrates & healthy fats
  • Inadequate calorie intake causes weakness, dizziness, fatigue and nausea
  • Rebound overeating & increased craving
  • Blood sugar fluctuations
  • Deficient intake of gut-health promoting fiber
  • Dehydration – short-term weight loss resulting from loss in water weight
  • Lowered metabolic rate – the body becomes less efficient at utilizing calories for energy

The Disadvantages of Detoxes & Cleanses

  • Drink plenty of water. Try to drink at least half your body weight nin ounces of water daily
  • Cut back on processed, prepackaged & fast foods
  • Eat 8 to 10 different fruits and vegetables daily. Choose a variety of brightly- colored fruits such as oranges, berries, melons, cherries, apples & purple grapes. Be sure to include colorful veggies such as bell peppers, purple cabbage, spinach, carrots, tomatoes & green beans. Fruits and vegetables are prebiotic fibers that act as fertilizer to stimulate and feed the healthy bacteria or probiotics in the gut
  • Include at least 35 to 40 grams of fiber daily. Boosting your fiber intake by eating vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains & seeds will promote regularity
  • Eat plenty of lean proteins: protein-rich foods contain glutathione, an important enzyme for detoxification in the gut
  • Increase your intake of cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, garlic, brussels sprouts, onions and green leafy veggies all help support natural detoxification pathways
  • Eat more fermented foods foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir and kimchi as probiotic foods like these help promote a healthy gut