Cleanse Diets: Effective Weight Loss or Harmful Trend?
We have all heard of cleansing. *Insert famous person’s name here* just finished their juice cleanse and is claiming miraculous results. Cleanse diets come in all forms and lengths, but do they really deliver lasting results? Is a cleanse diet a tool for effective weight loss or is it a potentially harmful trend?
The DIY detox trend claims that by following a cleanse diet you can rid your body of toxins that are responsible for symptoms such as bloating, headaches, joint pain, fatigue, or depression.1 The premise behind this trend is that your body accumulates toxins that can cause cancer or other diseases and that regular cleansing will lead to a healthier and more energetic life.2 Many cleanse diets also claim to be a means to rapid weight loss.3
Cleanse or detox diets often recommend periods of fasting, specific foods (primarily fruits and vegetables), special juices, “detox” concoctions, and sometimes colonics or special supplements.4 One popular diet, the MasterCleanse, has adherents drink warm salt water in the morning followed by a 60-ounce mixture water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper throughout the day and a cup of laxative tea at night. MasterCleansers follow this regimen for ten days. The MasterCleanse diet claims that it will restore energy, relieve symptoms of chronic conditions, and lead to weight loss.5 Sounds great, right?
Let’s take a closer look. Before the recent health trend, detoxing referred to a medical process meant to rid the body of dangerous levels of alcohol, drugs or poison.6 Currently, there is little clinical evidence for the detoxing health trend.7
What exactly is a toxin? A toxin is a small molecule, peptide, or protein that has the capability of causing disease when put into contact with body tissue. There is often confusion on what is toxic versus what is non-toxic. Too much of anything can be toxic: alcohol, sugar, vitamins.8 Overconsumption of things we typically view as okay can be toxic to your body.
How do toxins enter the body? Toxins--both manmade and natural--can enter your body through a number of ways--overuse of medication, lack of sleep, the chemicals in your skincare products, lack of physical activity, overconsumption of alcohol, inhalation of pollutants, poor nutrition, and the list goes on! Toxins are all around us--in the food we eat, the air we breathe, and even the water we drink. Toxins are also produced within the body as the result of biological processes. One such toxin is the metabolic waste of cells.9
How does your body deal with the toxins it comes into contact with? Fortunately, your body has a capable natural detoxification process. The major organs of detoxification within you body include the digestive tract, kidneys, skin, lungs, liver, lymphatic system, and respiratory system. These organs breakdown potential toxins into substances that can be expelled when you sweat, poop or urinate, or exhale.10 The liver is particularly important in your body’s natural detoxification process. Anything that you eat or breathe that enters your bloodstream must go through the liver.11
Many cleanse diets come with the label of “liver cleanse”. These particular cleanses and products associated with these cleanses claim to detox the liver. This is false advertising because toxins are not stored in the liver.12 You can work to support your liver function by giving it the nutrients it needs and by avoiding the overconsumption of alcohol and other potentially harmful substances.
Other cleanses claim to cleanse the colon. However, these cleanses can be potentially harmful to your digestive tract. Your gut contains microbes, or good bacteria, that aid the digestion process. When tampered with, you may impede your digestive system and potentially create space for bad bacteria to replace good bacteria.13
Cleanse diets do result in weight loss, but this is not the kind of lasting weight loss you are likely looking for. Instead of losing fat, the weight you lose during a cleanse diet is due to the loss of water stores, carbohydrate stores, and intestinal bulk.14 This weight is easily regained once you start eating normally again. According to Dr. Michael Gershon, in an article published by LiveScience, the burning of fat cells is not a function of the body’s natural detoxification process.15 If the special organs designed to detox your body cannot burn fat cells, then you cannot expect a cleanse to burn any fat cells either. It is simply outside the scope of cleansing.
Following a cleanse diet can also have negative repercussions for the rest of your body. It can lead to swings in blood sugar and imbalances in electrolytes. In addition, you often deprive your GI tract of the protein and fiber it needs for optimal digestion.16 Cleanse diets often lack the vital nutrients your body needs and can end up disrupting the native bacteria in your intestine as well as your body’s acid-base balance. You may also experience dehydration from frequent bowel movements.17
Cleanse diets do often suggest nutrient-rich foods that you can incorporate into your diet in other ways. These foods include lemons, green tea, and colorful fruits and vegetables.18 Certain foods may also have detoxifying properties according to a review of detox diets published by the British Dietetic Association.19 However, no one food is going to be the key to lasting weight loss.
Many cleansers find themselves feeling better while detoxing. This may not necessarily be due to the detoxing itself, but rather with the change in eating routine--cutting out processed foods, for example.20 If you want to kickstart a new eating program, a short cleanse or fast may a good way to switch into a new food gear. Make sure you talk to your doctor or healthcare professional before making any drastic changes in your diet.
Ultimately, the best way to detox and lose weight is to boost your body’s natural detoxification systems and to change your eating habits.21 Try to increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and water.22 Slow down your eating and make sure you are eating reasonable portions. Build your plate around plant foods and eat organic whenever possible. Get plenty of sun and fresh air. Exercise regularly because sweating is one of the ways the body releases toxins. Eliminate problematic foods. Finally, check your skincare products for chemicals that may be harmful.23
For an afternoon pick-me-up packed with fruits and veggies try EatSmarter’s Banana and Carrot Smoothie. For a dinner filled with whole grains and veggies, check out EatSmarter’s Colorful Vegetable Gratin. Smoothies are a great way to get more fruits and vegetables into your diet without sacrificing the fiber lost during juicing. Check out Julie Morris’ Superfood Smoothies recipe book for suggestions and ideas!
1. "The Dubious Practice of Detox," Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Health Publications, May 2008, Web.
2. Elizabeth Palermo, "Detox Diets & Cleansing: Facts & Fallacies," LiveScience, TechMedia Network, 9 Feb. 2015, Web.; Sian Porter, "Detox Diets," Food Fact Sheet (May 2016): n. pag, www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts, British Dietetic Association, May 2016, Web.; AV. Klein and H. Kiat, "Detox Diets for Toxin Elimination and Weight Management: A Critical Review of the Evidence," Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 28.6 (2015): 675-86, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 18 Dec. 2014, Web.
3. Jennifer Andrews, "Cleansing Detox Diet," LIVESTRONG.COM, LIVESTRONG.COM, 02 May 2015, Web.
4. Ryan Andrews, "Are Detox Diets Good for You?" Precision Nutrition, PrecisionNutrition, 07 Mar. 2016, Web.; Porter, "Detox Diets."; Katherine Zeratsky, "Do Detox Diets Offer Any Health Benefits?" Healthy Lifestyle, Mayo Clinic, 17 Mar. 2015, Web
5. "The Dubious Practice of Detox."
7. Andrews, "Are Detox Diets Good for You?"; "The Dubious Practice of Detox."; Palermo, "Detox Diets & Cleansing: Facts & Fallacies."; Klein and Kiat, "Detox Diets for Toxin Elimination and Weight Management: A Critical Review of the Evidence."; Zeratsky, "Do Detox Diets Offer Any Health Benefits?"
8. Andrews, "Are Detox Diets Good for You?"
9. Palermo, "Detox Diets & Cleansing: Facts & Fallacies."
10. Andrews, "Are Detox Diets Good for You?"; Palermo, "Detox Diets & Cleansing: Facts & Fallacies."; Porter, "Detox Diets."; Zeratsky, "Do Detox Diets Offer Any Health Benefits?"
11. Palermo, "Detox Diets & Cleansing: Facts & Fallacies."
14. Andrews, "Are Detox Diets Good for You?"; "The Dubious Practice of Detox."; Porter, "Detox Diets."
15. Palermo, "Detox Diets & Cleansing: Facts & Fallacies."
16. Andrews, "Are Detox Diets Good for You?"
17. "The Dubious Practice of Detox."
18. Andrews, "Are Detox Diets Good for You?"
19. Klein and Kiat, "Detox Diets for Toxin Elimination and Weight Management: A Critical Review of the Evidence."
20. Zeratsky, "Do Detox Diets Offer Any Health Benefits?"
21. Andrews, "Are Detox Diets Good for You?"
22. Palermo, "Detox Diets & Cleansing: Facts & Fallacies."; Andrews, "Cleansing Detox Diet."
23. John Berardi,"Just Say "No" to That Detox Diet or Juice Cleanse," LIVESTRONG.COM, LIVESTRONG.COM, 19 Jan. 2016, Web.