Our experts weigh-in on how effective they are and what they do to your body.
Everyone likes a quick fix. It's just human nature to opt for instant gratification. An all-encompassing, sweeping life change is so much sexier than slowly adding more and more salad to the dinner plate. Diet books rival 50 Shades of Grey and Harry Potter for sales. We skip on carbs, eat bars, drink shakes, and despite all the time on the treadmill and at yoga, we still aren't as healthy as we'd like to be. We want all the crap (literally and figuratively) out of our bodies--now!
Cleansing is arguably the most popular form of detoxification and weight loss in the United States. Whether it's the classic maple, cayenne and lemon water, whole foods, raw foods, juicing, we've all had a friend tell us the story of how her friend did a master cleanse, lost 10 pounds, and never went back to dipping croissants into venti lattes again.
Whitney Smith is a registered dietitian at Summit Nutrition, Director of the Summit County WIC program, and adjunct faculty at Colorado Mountain College. With an interdisciplinary Master's Degree in Exercise Science and Human Nutrition, she teaches nutrition classes and provides individual nutritional consultations.
"I personally am not a supporter of 'cleanses.' I believe, promote, and teach around the focus of adopting a healthy lifestyle. There are millions of different cleanses out there and the only cleanse I will support is one for religious purposes. Or I will support a whole food, plant based diet as a way of life. I guess this lifestyle can be considered a cleanse because of it's role in reversing chronic disease and optimizing health."
A student of Ayurveda at the California College of Ayurveda, www.happynewshour.com, Jenn Marut, agrees, but points out that short-term juicing can ease the transition to a vegetable-based diet.
"Ayurveda recommends a pure, vegetarian diet. If you stick to a chemical-free, organic, plant-based diet, this works to clean out your GI tract, and facilitates weight loss. However, not many are able to stick to this entirely, and some do benefit from a 1-3 day veggie juice cleanse, if it is part of a lifestyle change."
Growing in popularity, colonics or colon cleansing is an alternative medical practice that involves injecting water, sometimes herb-infused, into the small intestine through the rectum with the intention of flushing out decomposing feces that theoretically causes larger health and wellness issues. Enthusiasts swear by it. Skeptics argue that the body naturally cleanses. Currently there isn't science to support the benefits of colon cleansing for detoxification. To boot, there is potential for irritating the colon, developing hemorrhoids, and other unsightly side effects.
Marut warns against relying on colonics as a catch-all, and instead, highlights their potential as a tiny part of an overall approach to better intestinal health.
"People can abuse colonics, but for some they can be very effective. If you overuse the colonic technique, you can rid your intestines of healthy bacteria that lives there that helps facilitate our waste secretion. However, for some, a colonic is necessary to remove putrefied feces from the intestines. This process should be accompanied by diet changes that enable colon health”.
“People are always looking for a quick and easy fix. But these techniques that are meant to shock the body into weight loss carry consequences. Plus, these techniques aren't sustainable in the long run. "
Since the dawn of organized religion, there have been feasting holidays and there have been fasting holidays. Binge and starve, binge and starve.
Dr. Michael Mosley, author of the Fast Diet, advocates what's called a 5:2 diet. Eat whatever you want five days a week. Two days a week you eat 500 calories split over two meals. Calorie cycling involves shifting from three meals to six, eating a 2,000-calorie diet at the beginning of the week to 1,400 calories mid-week, back up to 1,900 at week's end. Even Tim Ferris' insanely popular, 4 Hour Body, suggests participants keep to a strict, slow-carb, no-sugar regiment six days a week, then offers up a crush-anything cheat day.
Dr. Abby Ruby runs Balanced Power Coaching (balancedpowercoaching.com). She is a USA Triathlon Level II Coach, certified CISSN Sport Nutritionist, RYT Yoga Instructor. She has completed over 50 marathons, 5 Ironman triathlons, Leadville 100 and multiple 50-mile and 50K races.
"Fasting puts the body in a crisis state whereby the entire metabolism slows down to essential functions only so as to preserve fat stores”.
“Fasting is not BS as it can rid the body of toxins and create a new chemistry for the gut (we create enzymes to break down the food we regularly eat, those enzymes can create the craving sensation, so if we regularly eat McDonalds we tend to crave McDonalds, if we regularly eat salad, we crave salad.) So cleansing does in fact offer a "blank slate" for folks to rebuild the chemistry in their stomach, but it is not the best way to lose weight as it slows down the entire metabolism, which is counterproductive to weight loss goals."
Whitney explains the disadvantages of fasting.
"I never support fasting. I believe skipping meals, fasting... all of this could also be considered purging (binge and purge- starving yourself is a type of purge) messes up your metabolism convincing your body is starving. It’s a state of starvation we return to the fight or flight response. Good decisions go out the door. You are fighting to simply get food in your body, not necessarily about choose a healthy option, and this leads to purging or overeating.
Case in point: yo-yo dieting. Trying the latest weight loss gimmick, which results in restricting calories. You slow your metabolism through this caloric restriction. Your body believes it is starving. The diet is not sustainable for the long run therefore the minute you fall off the wagon and consume more calories your body holds onto them in a survival mechanism and, voila, you gain back the weight you lost and then some.
Your body also wants food for energy/fuel and nutrients for optimal functioning. When carbohydrates are not available for energy, as when you fast, ketones build up and we do not want our bodies to be in a constant state of ketosis.”
"Skipping meals is a big no-no, especially if we are trying to maintain health, wellness, and physical fitness. Skipping meals interferes with our metabolism, which confuses our body. When our bodies are confused, they end up converting more calories into fat."
What our experts recommend:
Whitney Smith, Summit Nutrition:
"The best and truest advice of moderation: cover half your plate with fruits and veggies, make sensible choices, and be physically active. These all require work and produce results over time because they are part of a healthy lifestyle. People don’t jump at this. They want a pill, a quick fix, results they could see yesterday."
"Eat healthy foods: whole clean foods regularly throughout the day. Eat small portions every 2-4 hours of a variety of fruits and veggies, a colorful plate. Healthy proteins and fats and whole grains are the optimal way to fuel our bodies."
"If you want something such as health, or well-being, or even wealth, success, and abundance, you have to be willing to put the work in. If you want a killer body and rockin’ health, you have to eat right and exercise. No 3-day cleanse can give that to you for the long term. People use a "cleanse" more as a "crash diet," and these results are merely temporary. There are no shortcuts in life."
*MacKenzie Ryan is a freelance journalist whose writing experience is based in the outdoor, adventure, and action sports arena. Her works have been published in Backpacker, Women’s Adventure Magazine, Bicycling, The Denver Post, and Mountain Bike. Follow more of her adventures at http://mackenzieryan.tumblr.com/