Cleanse diets hit the news a few years ago when a bunch of tall, gorgeous and most importantly, thin celebrities began to endorse them as a quick weight loss solution. The most popular cleanse diet, the Master Cleanse, involves drinking water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper while using laxatives or flushes to clean out the intestines for several days without eating any solid food. The first time I heard about it, I thought it would never catch on, but now, after a hundred different iterations, I realize how wrong I was.
And I think it’s time we start to consider the science, and the dangers, behind these diets.
Here’s the thing about the body- it is pretty good at cleansing itself. Your digestive tract is designed to undergo a complex process of breaking down foods and drinks and separating them into the stuff the body needs and the stuff the body doesn’t. Your body absorbs and uses nutrients, fats, carbs, proteins and vitamins, and it is designed to get rid of the stuff that it doesn’t need. Basically, we initiate a cleanse every time we eat.
The first tenant of these cleanses, meaning starvation or deprivation, goes directly against the way the body functions, the way it cleanses. When starved, the body simply does not work well. It will start to cling to every calorie that you do ingest because it’s trying to stock up for a longer period of starvation. And once your body enters that starvation mode, your weight loss will stall or even stop altogether. And so will your metabolism.
Starving your body also alters your metabolism for longer than just the period you fast. Your body doesn’t know whether to burn down what you’ve eaten for energy or to hold onto it for later, so the metabolism rate slows and when you begin eating again, your metabolism doesn’t automatically restart. In fact, this fast might make it tougher for you to lose weight over the long term, even if you get some quick results.
And speaking of quick results, they’re usually short lived. Once you begin eating food again, food your body desperately needs after being starved, the weight will come back, and usually it’ll come back quickly. Sometimes those pounds will even bring friends with them. Essentially, there’s no guarantee, or even likelihood that you’ll be able to maintain the weight lost during a cleanse.
But all weight loss results aside, there is a risk we haven’t noted yet. Your body needs fruits, vegetables, proteins and even carbs to function. And frankly, any diet that asks you to eliminate these should be considered suspect from the very start. And any diet that asks you to eliminate ALL of them? Well, it should give you pause. In doing these fasts you are depriving yourself of vitamins and nutrients that are essential to good function. Depriving your body of vitamins can effect just about any organ system in your body, causing symptoms from headache to vision loss to irregular heart function.
And as if all that isn’t bad enough, many of these cleanses call for laxatives, some natural, some not. Laxatives will prevent the body from being able to absorb any nutrients that it might be getting from what you are allowed to drink and eat, and they don’t give your body enough time to absorb enough liquid, adding dehydration to the list of possible consequences from these diets. The consequences can be serious, extremely serious, and I can promise you that the weight loss isn’t worth the risk.
I understand that many women and men are looking for a quick way to jumpstart their weight loss and that people want to eliminate the impurities within their diet, but I beg you to look elsewhere. Talk to your doctor about your diets, chances are they will tell you much of what I have about these cleanses. The most sensible way to lose weight is to limit portions, eat balanced meals and exercise. And if you feel like your body is impure, consider cleaning up what you eat, go organic and free range. If you feel like you have to cleanse, add more natural foods, drink more water and eliminate the processed foods.
Your body has been doing a good job at cleansing itself so far, there’s no reason to start mistrusting or fooling with it now. Especially when the results could be disastrous.
Katie is a 28 year old Southern Californian, married to a doctor, racking up as much student debt as possible as a full-time graduate student in a health science. Her hobbies include abusing parentheses, baking complicated desserts that almost universally involve frosting and loving her two cats more than is socially acceptable. She’s currently balancing her first child and graduating from graduate school. So planning and timing are also things she excels at. You can read more from Katie on her blog, Overflowing Brain.