The words liver detox can, for many, conjure up feelings of dread, despite the definite health benefits of cleaning up your lifestyle in order to improve your liver health. So when preparing for a detox, we need to remove any mental barriers. I think of these as supposed truths about what we have to do in order to truly be healthy. These truths are usually myths and they need to be discounted as they can prevent us from even starting because we fear the worst. Below are the most common myths relating to liver detoxing that I hear in clinical practice and that act as barriers to change.
Myth #1: I will need to become vegan
Although there are some health benefits to eating more plant-based foods in your diet, you do not need to become vegan in order to have a healthy liver. However, most of us do eat way too much red meat and usually in preference to salad and vegetables. This can lead to health challenges such as an increased risk of bowel cancer.
Many people also believe that they will become anaemic if they don't eat red meat daily. In reality, there are many regular meat eaters who are anaemic. This could be due to heavy menstrual blood loss, for instance, or because of regular overtraining with exercise. Likewise, there are many vegetarians who are not anaemic. Red meat can, however, be included in a healthy diet in moderation; that being two to three times per week.
Myth #2: I will need to give up alcohol
Although it is often a good idea to give your liver a rest from having to process alcohol (especially during Dry July), this does not mean that you have to give up alcohol forever. Once your liver is healed after doing a liver detox, you can go back to including it in your diet as long as you do so in moderation. Of course, there will be the occasional function or special event where you may drink more than what is recommended for liver health but this should hopefully be the odd occasion not the weekly norm.
Myth #3: I will need to give up sugar and carbs
In order to have a healthy liver you do not need to give up sugar completely. Be aware, however, that sugar is found in so many foods in our diet today, causing us to crave it more and more. This can be a real problem and can quickly overload the liver if we are consuming too much sugar.
As for carbohydrates, these can be consumed in excess easily in our diet and overload the liver because they are converted into sugar in the body. Although we don't need to give up carbohydrates altogether, we will need to cut down.
Myth #4: I will need to lose a huge amount of weight to be healthy
If you are very overweight, you may feel that you need to lose a large amount of body fat in order to be healthy. Although you may feel more comfortable losing this weight, you only need to lose a small amount to significantly impact your liver health. In fact, studies have indicated that losing around five to 10 percent of your body weight is usually all that is required to improve your overall health including liver health. For example, if you weigh 100kg, losing just 5-10kg would be enough to improve your liver health significantly.
Myth #5: I will need to count calories
You do not need to count calories in order to have a healthy liver. This can be too stressful and time-consuming. Most of us need to reduce our portions and this can be a visual process rather than a mathematical process.
Myth #6: It will be really hard because I will feel deprived
You should not feel deprived by following a healthy eating plan including a liver detox. The goal with any lifestyle change is that it is sustainable. Remember, however, that it can take anywhere from seven to 40 days for your body to acclimatise to the changes you are implementing, which can be a very challenging process for some people. Be rest assured, it does get easier with time, so don't give up!
Dr Cris Beer is a Dry July ambassador and author of Healthy Liver.