If you've ever counted down the weeks until your fast-approaching holiday, and vowed to do something to get a bit more 'in shape', you're not the only one. We all want to feel as confident as we can in swimwear on the beach or by the pool, after all. But - spoiler alert -this kind of last-ditch pre-holiday detox can actually be quite damaging to our bodies.
A poll* from constipation treatment Dulcolax revealed that over two thirds of surveyed women (67%) have changed their diet and exercise habits ahead of a holiday, with 43% saying they’ve tried to lose weight before hitting the beach, and 23% admitting they've tried to tone up.
But Nutritionist Kate Arnold has news for us: at best these detoxes are pointless, and at worst they can be harmful. "'Detoxes' are especially problematic," says Arnold, explaining: "They tend to involve eating less and drinking more liquids, so although you may lose some weight initially, it’s not sustainable."
If you don't opt for a juice cleanse but instead dramatically reduce the amount of food you eat, the nutritionist explains you’ll probably just end up chasing your tail. "Reducing the amount you eat will make you hungry so more likely to binge on unhealthy snacks. Then as soon as you resume your normal diet, any weight you might have lost will go straight back on," she says.
And it's not just the fact that these quick-fix diets can be pointless that leads nutritionists like Kate to warn us against them. "Extreme diets can have a negative effect on your body, particularly on digestion," she explains.
"Our bodies like habit so sudden changes to what you’re eating play havoc with your digestion. And if you’re eating less you’re probably not getting enough fibre, which can leave you bunged up, feeling sluggish and bloated," the nutritionist adds. Kind of the opposite to the results you were hoping for.
Instead, the expert recommends "small, simple changes you can maintain over a long period" as a healthy way to make a difference in advance of your summer holiday. "You’ll still see a difference quickly, but this way you’ll make sure you’re feeling good all holiday long," Arnold adds. Here's what she suggests:
1. Keep a food diary
"Start with increasing your awareness of food. Keeping a note of what you’re actually eating every day can be a real eye opener: it shows whether you’re having enough of the good stuff or too much of the bad. It’s surprisingly easy to eat more than you need without realising, which can clog up your digestive system and make you feel sluggish and bunged up."
2. Water is key
"Your body needs to be properly hydrated to work at its best. You need to be drinking enough water so your kidneys can remove toxins from your body, and it’s also vital for your bowels. Adequate water keeps things moving through your bowels; if you don’t drink enough your stools become hard and dry and you can become constipated.
"This doesn’t mean you have to drink water all day long, just make sure you’re having the recommended amount of around eight glasses or two litres of water a day. Remember that high-water-content foods like fruit and vegetables also count."
3. Get plenty of fibre
"On a restricted diet you can easily be missing out on the fibre you need to keep your digestive system working well. Fibre helps control your blood sugar level and contributes to feeling full so it’s really vital stuff for a healthy body. Plus an efficient gut means your body will have more energy for all the other things it has to do.
"Ideally for this you need both soluble and insoluble fibre. For soluble fibre go for oatmeal, nuts, beans, apples and blueberries, and for insoluble pick whole-wheat bread and pasta, and fruits along with their seeds and skins."