Trying to define what a cleanse is and what it does can be difficult. Commonly, the goal is to detoxify the body or to clean out our digestive system. We could think of a cleanse like a forced purge of toxins from our bodies, making up for a lifetime of processed foods, alcohol, medications and other chemicals or toxins. But our body already does a great job of getting ridding of toxins on its own and there is no current scientific proof that any cleanse or detox actually removes more toxins. So maybe we are trying to give our body a break, kind of like a reset button for our health, but can a 3 day juice cleanse really undo years of unhealthy decisions? Probably NOT. The best way to detox the body is to ramp up your natural detoxification systems and to take good care of them in the long term. Including whole minimally processed foods in our diet and exercising are still some of the best and easiest things we can do for our health. Most cleanse and detox diets only try to bypass our natural detoxification systems by limiting nutrients and forcing increased excretion through the over consumption of liquids.
Cleanses come in many different forms including juices smoothies and teas, elimination diets or restrictive eating, even fasting can be a form of cleansing. Yet, all of these different cleanses have one thing in common: they significantly limit what we eat, which is generally not something the human body does well with. We already know that we perform optimally when we consume a variety of macro and micro nutrients. So, choosing to do a cleanse should be taken seriously as the unwanted side effects can often outweigh the benefits. Cleanse programs that promote fat loss or improve digestive system function or promise to give us boundless energy may actually have the opposite effect. Of course, there will always be some people that will feel rejuvenated or lose a little weight or have improved digestive function but these effects are more of the exception than the rule. Limiting nutrients can make us lethargic or even affect our hormone balance. Withdrawal effects can be severe for some as well; headaches, mood swings and irritability are common as we suddenly drop coffee or sugar from our lifestyle. Consuming unusually high amounts of liquids can also lead to an electrolyte imbalance that can severely impair your brain and body function.
Now that we know more about some of the potential effects of a cleanse, is there still a time when they are recommended? The short answer is yes. If anything, these programs may encourage us to eat more nutritious foods. Popular cleanse programs usually include foods like lemons, green tea, and pure vegetable or fruit juices that are high in nutrients and can help boost our own detox capabilities. But we need to be careful and not use this as an excuse to eat poorly.
Many people will do a cleanse as a way to get used to or to prepare for a more major lifestyle change. So, if you think you may want to try a cleanse or detox diet consider WHY you are doing it, not just because someone told you to or because other people are doing it. Talk with your Doctor or Naturopath or Nutritionist about the benefits and risks of the cleanse you want to try. Or have them recommend one to you based on your lifestyle and health. Do your own research or talk to people that have already done the cleanse. Use logic and common sense… remember removing toxins doesn’t affect fat loss, no matter how you spin it! Keep in mind, these programs can be expensive, time consuming, or difficult to maintain, not to mention being potentially harmful to your body. So choose carefully. Try a mini fast (where you skip a meal or don’t eat for up to 12 hours a once or twice a week) as a trial. Or stop consuming coffee or sugar for a few days to see if you can handle some of the more mild effects of a cleanse. Having an exit strategy is important as well, because going from a restrictive cleanse to binge eating cookies is obviously not a good idea for your health. When transitioning from a cleanse to a healthy or new diet, consider including as much whole minimally processed foods as possible and eat a little less food than normal to lessen the stress on your digestive system.
Remember a long term healthy lifestyle is always better than a 3-day detox diet. Cleanses and detox diets don’t shift toxicity, or health, anywhere near as much as maintaining a healthy lifestyle the other 362 days of the year.