Why I Don’t Believe in “Cleanses”…and How to “Cleanse” the Right Way

Almost every client I’ve ever helped has asked me about cleanses, detoxes, and other “quick fixes” that promise fast weight loss, jump-started metabolisms, glowing skin, millions of dollars, and other less-than-believable results.  So far, I’ve never been able to recommend any cleanse program they’ve ever suggested.

I understand the appeal behind cleanses: rigorous but short-lived, they provide the kind of punishment we seem to think we need in order to achieve out-of-this world progress…and by the time we’re sick of kale/lemon juice/caviar or whatever else the program may prescribe, we’re free to resume our prior habits.

I can also say that if any of these cleanses worked, I’d be out of a job. (Happily so, if you all had the results you were looking for, but out of a job nonetheless.)

Allow me to make some sweeping generalizations about cleanses, preceded here by the caveat that I’m not a doctor and I’m not referring herein to any program prescribed to you by a medical practitioner.  Always heed your doctor’s advice. (And if you happen to be on a cleanse prescribed to, say, someone who has been in contact with heavy metals or perhaps working in a coal mine, please follow that program.)

So, what don’t I like about cleanses?

At their least offensive, cleanses are a waste of money and time. Juice fasts can easily cost upwards of $60/day! It takes hours to brew the special teas, track down the various powders and supplements, and prepare the miniscule meals (if your cleanse allows food at all) that most of these programs call for…hours that could be better spent cultivating a sustainable program.

(I know, I know, we don’t want long-term sustainability, we want results yesterday.  We’re getting to that part.)

The real danger in cleanses, to me, lies in their ability to damage your metabolism. Most “weight loss” from these quick programs comes from water weight, while the remainder typically comes from severe calorie restriction.  Undereating slows your metabolism (reference), so whatever weight you lose during your cleanse will probably creep back on within a week or two, possibly with interest. Moreover, many popular cleanses include stimulants in their powders and potions in order to compensate for the low calorie diets that accompany them.  These stimulants can create dependencies and may present risks of their own (elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, greater risk of stroke and cardiac arrhythmias…).  (There are also lots of herbal ingredients in some cleanses that can have unexpected interactions with medications you may be taking or unanticipated consequences, like the extreme fertility boost that can come with ingesting maca!)

In addition to the physical dependencies, there are the mental dependencies that come from relying on quick-fix cleanses. You already have the power to make the lifestyle changes that you want.  You don’t need any products to make those changes possible – you just need your determination and drive.

What’s the right way to cleanse, then?

My general point of view is that no “cleanse” is a good cleanse.  I will happily evaluate each and every individual program that my clients bring to me, but my generalization is that you are better off making sustainable, long-term changes than you are from cleansing or detoxing anything.  There are some good principles from this “cleansing” way of thinking, though, that you can bring to your everyday routine!

  1. Drink water. Drinking enough water allows all of your body’s systems to function optimally.
  2. Eat plants. I recommend making half of your plate plant-based at every meal. If calling this a “cleansing” principle helps you stick to it, so be it!
  3. Minimize caffeine, sugar, and alcohol.  These substances are doing your body no favors, but I know they make life more fun.  Just choose your treats wisely and find healthy swaps when you can.
  4. Eat whole foods. Try to find foods that are ingredients when you can, rather than foods that have ingredients.  Cooking doesn’t have to be cumbersome.
  5. Treat yourself well. Don’t reserve this last one for an occasional 3-day program – treat yourself well every day! You’re more than worth it

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