A LUX 2016: The Truth About Cleansing

When in doubt, juice cleanse... right? While this is a very healthy treat for your body, the longevity of a cleanse is a bit broken. Enjoying ourselves during the holidays may not sound like sound nutritional advice, but it’s a stressful time of year without additional pressure. Eat and drink consciously and reasonably, try substituting healthy snacks like vegetables and fruit when possible, and think about personal goals.

As people contemplate nutritional changes, the topic of “cleansing diets” often arises, typically as a precursor to jumping into a more comprehensive diet. The idea is that if we “cleanse” our bodies by purging all the toxins and bad stuff in us, we’ll have a cleaner slate upon which to rebuild. Many popular “juice cleansing” or all-liquid diets are available in stores, or touted online, but they aren’t necessarily healthy or safe, or the best path to true wellness.

There’s nothing wrong with drinking juice, although it’s not as healthful as eating fresh fruits and vegetables, which are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and plenty of fiber, especially in their skins and pulp.  But when a person is sucking down only fruit and vegetable juice as part of a juice cleanse — usually 16 ounces of juice every few hours, plus unlimited water — and often forgoing food for three to five days or longer, that’s an extreme approach, according to many nutrition experts.

And juice cleanses often don’t involve the typical juice carton found in the supermarket. They require expensive, prepackaged bottles of pulverized produce blends, or they can be homemade in a juicer or blender. The trendy beverages might be a green mixture containing kale, spinach, green apple, cucumber, celery and lettuce, or a red concoction made with apple, carrot, beets, lemon and ginger. While popular, there’s no scientific research that proves these cleansing diets provide short- or long-term benefits, nor are they a healthy or safe approach to weight loss.

Here's the breakdown: The body detoxifies itself naturally, primarily through the actions of the liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal (GI) tract. These organs help remove toxins or harmful substances that should not be stored in the body, and since our bodies are always in a natural state of cleansing, a person does not need to do a juice cleanse or follow a liquid detox diet to be healthy. During the first few days of a juice cleanse, a person initially burns their glycogen stores for energy. Using glycogen (the stored form of glucose) pulls a lot of water out of the body, which causes weight loss. But the loss of water weight comes at the expense of a loss of muscle, which is a steep price to pay. Weight loss is not always about the numbers on a scale, it’s also about the ratio of body fat compared to lean muscle mass.

A cleansing diet is low in dietary protein and calories. Having more lean muscle and less body fat means burning more calories and boosting metabolism, in the long run. Additionally, a cleanse could also lead to side effects such as a lack of energy, headaches and shakiness due to low blood sugar. Over time, it may lead to constipation from a lack of fiber, as well as irritability. Physicians also caution against any diet that uses natural or synthetic laxatives.

Once we come off a cleansing diet and returns to solid foods, it’s easy – and very common — to regain the weight we’ve just lost.  Some people may experience a psychological lift from a cleanse, such as feeling ready or motivated to adopt healthier eating habits, but it doesn’t replace smart, common sense nutritional practices and healthy lifestyle changes. That includes setting simple goals, taking the time to determine how we’ll achieve them, and figuring out how to measure our success.

Ultimately, the best advice about getting healthier is to just get started, remain diligent, and don’t give up. By setting realistic goals and a simple, formal plan, the gift of improved health and wellness is ours to keep.