There’s no such thing as cleansing your body with juice.
Especially because it's kind of impossible to ignore all the messages that are around us in the new year that it's time to lose weight and start your diet. So, when you see the way juice cleanses are marketed — that they can rid you of those "toxins" you ingested and maybe help you drop some weight — they can seem like a great idea.
To learn more about the physical and emotional effects of cleanses, we talked to Dr. Holly Lofton, director of the Medical Weight Management Program at NYU Langone Medical Center; registered dietitian Brian St. Pierre, director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition; and Christy Harrison, a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor. Keep in mind that there's no real universal definition of a cleanse — some are a couple days of fruit or vegetable juice, others are longer and include hot water with lemon and cayenne pepper, and still others are soups only. In this post we're talking about fruit and/or vegetable juice cleanses, generally.
Fun fact: Your body has built-in mechanisms that keep everything clean 'n' tidy and moving nicely.
There are a bunch of organs — the liver, kidneys, spleen, lungs, and even your skin — whose job it is to remove toxins from your body, says St. Pierre. Harrison adds that unless you have a rare disease, these organs are doing their job without you having to do anything at all. You know how, typically, your heart pumps blood without you having to give it a jump start? Same deal with your whole digestive system. It breaks down everything you consume into nutrients your body needs, absorbs the good stuff and sends waste where it needs to go, all without you doing a damn thing.
In fact, you can think of your digestive system, liver, and kidneys as a waste treatment plant. Their job is literally to do the thing a cleanse or detox claims to do: treat and dispose of garbage.
Harrison explains: "They [your organs] aren't like filters in the sink that get clogged up with gunk and need to be cleaned out; they’re more like a wastewater treatment plant that uses chemicals to neutralize and dispose of harmful compounds."
Also: Nope, your system doesn't need a "break," even after a holiday season of more and richer foods than usual.
It might seem like you've put your body through the eggnog-and-Christmas-cookies ringer, but, again, that's where your organs come in, and they don't need a rest before doing their thing. "Sure, you might genuinely CRAVE some simpler foods for a bit (or not), but you don’t need to deliberately do anything to 'reset' your organs," Harrison says.
And you can get back to your baseline of feeling better simply by returning to your everyday, nonholiday way of eating.
The best way to start feeling like yourself again is to just get back to (or start) eating a balanced diet of mostly whole and minimally processed foods (and of course getting quality sleep, keeping an eye on your stress levels, and doing some kind of exercise). Here are some tips for getting back to your baseline after the holidays — and btw, restricting calories is not recommended.
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Cleanses are not amazing for your mental health or your relationship with food.
At the very least, Harrison says, the hunger and deprivation cleanses can set you up to eat to the point of discomfort once the cleanse is over. Worse still, "they can trigger disordered eating and full-blown eating disorders in people who are at risk," which, she points out is potentially two-thirds of women in the US, according to a 2009 study of more than 4,000 women.
"Like other forms of restrictive eating, cleanses make you ignore your hunger cues, which causes them to get out of whack, and ultimately creates more angst with food," she says. So, if you struggle in general with your relationship with food, cleanses are likely to just make that worse, rather than provide some kind of "reset."
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Unlike a lot of stuff we do to/with our bodies in the name of health, juice cleanses have never really been studied.
As a 2015 review in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics points out, "no randomised controlled trials have been conducted to assess the effectiveness of commercial detox diets in humans." Without rigorous research, we don't really know for sure what the benefits and risks of cleanses really are.
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Sure, you'll lose weight cleansing, but the weight is mostly water and stool, along with some muscle.
Yup, you will likely lose weight while on a cleanse, but not because fruit or vegetable juice is a magical weight-loss elixir. You'll lose weight because you're most likely taking in far fewer calories than your body needs. And the weight you're losing, says Lofton, is going to mostly be three things: water (after taking in lots of sugary fluids, the body flushes out water), stool (more on that in a bit), and, because you're consuming almost no protein, muscle.
Losing water and stool are obviously pretty temporary ways of slimming down — once you go back to your regular diet of solid food and a calorie intake that's close to (or beyond) your body's energy needs, you'll likely gain that weight right back. And losing muscle isn't great; as BuzzFeed Health has previously reported, maintaining muscle mass is better for your overall health as well as your metabolism.
If weight loss that sticks is what you're after, juice cleanses are actually a uniquely poor way to go about it.
St. Pierre says that cleanses don't help you change your eating behaviors in the long term. For example, on a cleanse you can't practice eating slowly, listening to your body's hunger cues, or learning how to eat a diet balanced in fat, protein, and carbohydrates. These mental and behavioral changes are what translate into long-term, sustainable weight loss.
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If you drink only fruit juice, you're taking in a lot of sugar.
On a juice cleanse, your body will experience fluctuations in blood sugar that are likely more extreme than what it experiences day-to-day during regular eating, says Lofton. That's because you're not taking in fiber or a macronutrient, like fat, that would slow its digestion and absorption. When your body has to process a whole bunch of sugar at once, your pancreas will release insulin to process the sugar that's been introduced to your bloodstream. This insulin response can cause your blood sugar to drop too low, which could make you feel lightheaded, dizzy, and fatigued, especially if you're someone who is particularly sensitive to changes in your blood sugar. In fact, people with hypoglycemia or who are prone to fainting should definitely avoid juice cleanses, says Lofton.
"Cleanses can also have harmful effects on your blood sugar and electrolyte levels, which makes them risky for people with diabetes, heart problems, kidney disorders, or other underlying health conditions," Harrison adds.
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BTW, cleanses can cause all kinds of diarrhea and, again, not because they're helping your body void ~toxins~.
Basically, according to Lofton, the stomach and intestines can only absorb so much sugar. If the intestinal system is flooded with liquid with a large load of sugar (like what would be in fruit juice or some vegetable juices) and without anything to slow digestion and absorption, like fiber (which is removed from produce when it's juiced) or fat, you're basically asking your digestive system to process a shit ton of carbohydrates, more than it actually can. So the sugar stays in the intestinal system, and along with an influx of water, causes a massive amount of stool output.
Bottom line: The diarrhea doesn't indicate that you're giving your body and organs sweet relief from toxins. It indicates that your digestive system is doing whatever it can to process all the juice you're consuming.
If you now have second thoughts about cleansing, and would further love to be liberated from restricting what you eat, consider making 2018 the year you give up dieting entirely.
Maybe you don't call what you do dieting; maybe you just "watch what you eat" or avoid certain foods (for reasons other than health, allergies, or intolerances) or "eat clean." These still fall under the umbrella of dieting, says Harrison. And dieting can be a frustrating, soul-crushing roller coaster to ride. Consider stepping off it by looking into intuitive eating.
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And if that sounds impossible, consider getting some help.
"If giving up dieting and eating intuitively is a struggle for you, seek professional support — and if you have any history of an eating disorder, seek out an intuitive eating coach who’s also a registered dietitian specializing in eating disorders," Harrison says.
In conclusion: Skip the juice cleanse.