We're only a little over two months into the new year, but if I had a dollar for every person who has told me they're on a cleanse or detoxing, I'd be able to pay my student loans off. All kidding aside, it amazes me how much the diet industry profits off people with juice cleanses and trendy diet detoxes. The problem is that they just don't work.
I get it: We all want to lose a few pounds or get healthier and assume that tossing back shots of cayenne and hot lemon water all day, every day, for a few weeks is going to remedy that. But think about it: The same thing happens when you catch a stomach virus and end up having to live off soup for a week. You may lose weight, but you end up exhausted and worn down, because your body is in desperate need of nutrients. Doesn't sound so appealing, does it?
What cleanses and detoxes don't do is teach people how to develop healthy habits or make healthy eating choices. Instead, they convince you that a quick fix is all you need to be as good as new (or a few pounds skinnier), when what you're really losing is water weight, according to fitness instructor and nutritionist Monika Paez. "Water is stored in your muscles with glycogen," she says. "When you eat a low-calorie diet, you use up those glycogen stores and lose the water weight with it."
Consequently, even if you lose any weight while you're cleansing, you'll gain it all back as soon as you stop, and guess what? You'll be looking for the next "diet" to help shed
those 10 pounds (note: now 15 pounds) you struggled so hard to get rid of. Remember, the goal is to gain healthy habits that will help you out in the long-term, not short-term. But you have to apply those habits to your life, over and over again, for them to actually work.
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Moreover — and more importantly — our bodies are naturally built to filter themselves of these "toxins" cleanse programs tell us we need to get rid of. Your liver, respiratory system, kidneys, digestive tract, skin, and colon work daily to keep your body healthy. Take, for instance, the simple act of breathing or when you use the bathroom. Your lungs allow you to breathe oxygen (clean air) when you inhale and exhale carbon dioxide (not so clean air) as a way to keep your body's ventilation system in check. Meanwhile, your digestive system and kidneys help you excrete any toxins in your body when you pee or poop throughout the day.
And let's be very clear: There is no concrete definition for the word toxin. As a 2014 article in The Guardian points out, if there were a way to define the term, medical experts could measure them before and after cleansing to determine if it worked. Further, when a group of British researchers contacted the manufacturers of 15 detox products to ask them how they defined "detoxification," none of them could provide an answer.
But beyond the yo-yo weight loss and gain that cleansing can cause, constantly trying to force your body to be rid of toxins (that don't exist) can lead to some serious long-term damage for your health, mostly because many detox and cleanse programs are low-calorie programs that eliminate important food groups.
"Dehydration, dizziness, fatigue, and brain fog can occur," dietitian and fitness trainer Gina Allioti points out. "You can also throw off your gut flora and not only rid your system of the bad but also the good." Your gut flora is good bacteria that lives in your intestinal tract and thrives off of the plant-based foods you eat. Believe it or not, your gut is the first place where diseases are born and your gut health tells you a lot about your overall health. Maintaining a healthy amount of flora in your gut helps keep your immune system happy and helps regulate your metabolism. If you get rid of this much-needed bacteria, you leave yourself susceptible to diseases and can get sick because you aren't protected by it.
Caitlyn Seitz, a professional singer and NYC-based fitness instructor and personal trainer, can vouch for this. She ended up in the emergency room after doing an 11-day cleanse that left her vomiting with diarrhea and a fever. "The doctor told me I lost all of my good flora and healthy bacteria in my intestines, which takes time to recover," she said. It took her a few weeks to get back to normal, and now she says she'll never do another cleanse again. “I thought cleanses were supposed to rid your body of toxicity, not healthy things we need to survive," she said. "I learned the lesson the hard way and my body told me so."
Plus, don't forget, once your cleanse is over, you have to be mindful and cautious of what you put in your body, Allioti says. So don't go reaching for that pizza or chocolates just yet. "It is important to add foods back in slowly . . . your body has just been stripped of so many nutrients, bacterias, good and bad, and is fragile, to say the least," she says. Keep in mind your body may be less tolerant of certain foods at this point, so you need to listen to it and slowly integrate them back into your diet.
But what about those times when you overindulge on junk food or booze and you're feeling a little sluggish? While a cleanse might seem like the right approach, the truth is, you're better off "resetting" by focusing on consuming natural whole foods and avoiding processed junk food.
It’s important to give your body the TLC it deserves. By cleansing, you’re not treating your body with love; instead you’re creating a cycle of punishment each time you find yourself overindulging or looking to lose a few pounds quickly. Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut to losing weight or getting healthy, and everyone's journey to health will look and feel different, but as long as you're trying your best and taking it one day at a time, you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. Remember: You only live once.