LONDON, England (CNN) -- Meeting naturopath Max Tomlinson outside a cafe in Covent Garden, I was sure I'd recognize him. In a crowd of pasty Londoners he should stand out as a beacon of health and vitality. And so he did. He shook my hand with vigor, his eyes sparkled and he had a pretty good complexion for a man in his 40s.
Alcohol and cigarettes are off the menu when on a detox.
Tomlinson has been a naturopath for over 20 years and his enthusiasm for good health and clean living is infectious. Tomlinson's book, "Clean up your Diet" is an idiot-proof guide to detoxing. It offers the options of a weekend, week or month long detox together with recipes and tips.
What is a detox?
Detox is a term inclined to abuse. It's bandied around by celebrities and on lifestyle shows and applied to everything from fasting to colonic irrigation to going vegan. But broadly speaking a detox is when changes in diet are made so the load on vital organs such at the kidneys and liver are lightened.
On a detox, food and drink that may place stress on these organs such as alcohol, caffeine, sugar and red meat are out of bounds. The result, is that the body has time and energy to eliminate toxins that have built up, leading to a healthier digestive system, clearer skin and eyes and an overall feeling of good health. But the concept of detoxes is not without its critics.
Dr Richard Gordon, a general practitioner says: "Detoxing your system is wishful thinking at best. That you can cleanse your system is a complete fiction.
"You can damage your liver by taking drugs and you can stop taking drugs to stop the damage, but you can't clean your liver."
Gordon's advice is to examine your diet and see if there is anything in your diet that causes harm to yourself - if there is, get rid of it.
Yet the number of detox kits and detox books on the market keep growing. It seems in this highly toxic world of fast food, cheap and plentiful booze and lifestyle factors such as exhaustion and job stress, are making us reach for solutions that promise some sort of transformation and purity.
But what does a detox really mean and what does doing one entail?
"Detox is an underlying principal in naturopathic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. It's a 200 year-old naturopathic term. Doctors have become aware of it, as it's become a media word. It's a bugbear because it's a misunderstood term. All the glossy mags talk about it," says Tomlinson.
Tomlinson explains the concept of detox as: "What goes in in terms of food, alcohol and drugs have to be eliminated and if things aren't eliminated properly they accumulate if you can't excrete it through the gall bladder and the bowel. One of the places the body stores it is in fat."
The process of detoxification allows the liver to convert fat solubles stored in our cells into water-soluble substances that can easily be excreted.
The aim for many people is to get their digestive system back on track. Says Tomlinson: "You have to start taking better care of your body these days. You don't get another one. When I started having kids, I made a vow to be a father with energy -- you've got to be responsible for you health. People say they feel ill but they've been drinking alcohol and doing cocaine and they've got to do something about it."
Tomlinson's clients are generally trendsetters, people go to him with a specific goal they want to achieve.
In his book Tomlinson divides detoxes into three types: weekend, week or month-long. He has several pieces of advice for those wanting to embark on a detox, the main being that you should detox from a position of strength and vitality when you are feeling strong and committed.
He also advises to get organized and stock up on detox foods in advance.
"People who are busy are the best because they are well organized," he says.
Why do a detox?
Tomlinson says stress is a major factor in people feeling run down and with their body not working to an optimum level.
"Occasionally a body needs a roadworthy certificate. People often end up in stressful jobs that they fell into so they become entrenched in that life and they need the money and they are unable to say stop," he says.
The result can be exhaustion.
"Clean up your lifestyle and you have energy. Most people when they are tired just want to sit in front of the TV. You have to clean up, calm down, eat better and be responsible for your health."
Responsibility comes from knowing what's in food, such as different types of preservatives and sugars, as well being educated on a food's seasonality and freshness. Detox diets shouldn't be confused with weight-loss diets. According to nutritionists weight loss can be an unintended side effect of the detox, but in my case a detox of a week meant a weight gain of 2 kilograms.
But each person handles a detox differently and results may vary.
"I think weight loss and detox should be separated otherwise people get disappointed," said Tomlinson.
Don't expect to have a sparkling social life while on detox. In fact if you are doing a detox for a weekend or a week you should probably clear your diary of social events, particularly those involving alcohol or tempting food.
Instead you will probably feel too tired to go out and since many detoxes involve preparing your own food from fresh ingredients, you'll find restaurants more of a hindrance than a help. Giving up social habits, even for a week, can be tough.
Says Tomlinson: "The emotional side of detox can be difficult while the physical side is just organization. There is an emotional connection with food and drink. It can be an imbalanced connection. It may also mean giving up certain friendship connections - detox is a lonely thing. One glass of wine is going to destroy your willpower."
Lethargy is also common in the early stages of detox, particularly if you are giving up caffeine and sugar.
You should not detox if you are:
• Pregnant or breast-feeding
• Recovering from an illness or operation
• A child or teenager
• Underweight or debilitated
• Have diabetes, heart disease, kidney or liver disease or other chronic health problems.
If you are making major changes to your diet or lifestyle through detox you should consult your doctor.
Katie Pisa and Brigid Delaney put their bodies and social lives on the line by embarking on a detox. Here's how they found it:
Maybe it was a funny week to be on my first ever detox. I was simultaneously on a course of antibiotics (maybe not smart timing on my part) and I had quite a full plate at work. I decided to give it a go anyhow, mainly to evaluate first-hand what my health-nut friends have been preaching to me all these years.
My general sleepiness in the morning is usually easily cured with a nice frothy latte on my way to work. No caffeine for a week! The lack of coffee really threw off my energy level and my head was aching by mid-morning. I reached for the paracetamol but quickly retracted as that's a no-no.
While the shopping for organic food was fun, and the sashimi and chicken salads for lunch were easy, it was my lethargy and willpower I struggled with most. The afternoon biscuit run at work became more and more of an evil gesture as colleagues continued to kindly offer up the goodies.
Once I cheated and had a half-decaf soy latte. I didn't tell Brigid, I didn't want to discourage her. Most nights, my husband tried to cajole me into playing tennis or going for a run. I could hardly muster up the energy to click the remote control. I felt negative and down, maybe even a bit depressed at times. I was told this is normal.
What did I gain? I learned loads about the pros and cons of soy milk, and the benefits of seeds -- linseed, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds (they all helped add a little texture to all those veggies.) My skin looked better than it had in years and the non-alcoholic kick left me feeling wholesome. While our detox was short, it highlighted some of my bad habits. It also taught me to be more contemplative about what I eat, where the food I eat comes from and to be a little gentler on myself in general.
I've had a three a day latte habit ever since I started earning pocket money. Cigarettes, alcohol, red meat and processed food I can do without - but could I give up caffeine? I followed Max's book and sadly lattes and other fun stuff like wine and cheese seemed off limits.
The day before the detox Katie and I took the book to Wholefoods and stocked up on organic food. I cleared my diary so I would not be tempted by alcohol, ciggies and restaurant meals. The one social engagement I made was dinner at Katie's, where we could cook one of Max's detox recipes and drink mocktails.
The first few days of the detox were hellish. I was tired and irritable and a had a constant headache from the caffeine withdrawals. I stuck to yogurt or museli for breakfast, organic chicken and brown rice or sashimi for lunch and vegetables with a lean piece of chicken for dinner. In between I had a cup of decaf coffee in the morning, fruit, fresh juices and nuts.
The detox left me constantly hungry as I battled to keep my energy levels up without caffeine to prop me up. I had mysterious aches and pains, poor attention span and chocolate and coffee cravings. I went to bed early most nights and slept like a dead person. Towards the end of the week, I gathered more energy.
By Friday I managed to even go to the gym, a feat that would have seemed impossible at the start of the week. My skin also looked better than it had in years and my eyes sparkled. Nonetheless, the headaches still continued and now, three days after I have finished the detox, I have come down with a cold. Max says that's normal, as it's a sign of toxin's being flushed out of the body. But that along with the two kilogram weight gain and the reduced social life make detox a pretty hard sell. E-mail to a friend