The Real “Cleanse” Diet


Ah, the cleanse. What is a cleanse? Webster’s says it’s “to rid of impurities by or as if by washing”. They’ve been around for centuries, apparently, but there’s been a huge trend of new cleanse diets in the past several years.

There are a few reasons folks choose to begin a cleanse diet.

  1. To lose weight.
  2. To feel better (physically maybe, but primarily psychologically), especially after a period of self indulgence. Ahem, Mardi Gras.
  3. To “clean out your system”. Or at least feel like you are.
  4. To torture oneself. No one has actually ever admitted this, but I have to believe it’s true considering the restrictions of many cleanse diets.

There are an insane number of cleanses marketed these days (seriously, who comes up with this stuff?!). First, I’ll touch on a couple of the more popular diet trends, then I’ll address the proper “cleanse”.

**Please note, this post is not intended to insult those who have tried these cleanses. All of these diets have lofty claims, and the originators are great at confusing even the most intelligent and informed of individuals. 



First, The Juice Cleanse.

The gist: Juicing itself has become pretty popular – which is fine. If you’re not straining it first (and thus not losing half the nutrition and fiber), there’s nothing wrong with drinking some of your veggies/fruit occasionally. For the juice cleanse, you usually consume some sort of pre-packaged juice the company sells. And only the juice. It works for weight loss, because replacing every meal with a bottle of juice cuts calories. Obviously. In fact, it’s likely to cut them down to 1000 calories/day or less.

The problem: Reducing calories to this level makes your metabolism hate you. It slows to a crawl. I also haven’t found many people who are satiated after drinking their calories. Hello, hangry.

The bottom-line: Apart from annoying friends with your irritability and insistence on talking about which juice flavor you’re trying next, there’s not much of a result. These diets are normally short-term, 3-5 days. It’s not long enough to lead to substantial or maintainable weight loss, but luckily you likely won’t do any long-term damage to your metabolism in that time either. That being said, if a 3-day juice cleanse will totally set you straight psychologically – have at it. But don’t expect to reap any physical benefits.



Next, The Master Cleanse.

The gist: If you want a twist on a juice cleanse with greater amounts of torture, this’ll do it. You consume only lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and water. All day. Every day. Oh, and then you end each day of starvation and spicy sugar water with a laxative. And if you really want to vamp-up your cleanse, drink a liter of salt water every day, too (called “the Salt Water Flush”). Joy! The website is pretty fascinating, stating this diet will “detox” your body (which doesn’t make any sense on so many levels), give you more energy ((very low calorie diet + laxative use) × multiple days ≠ higher energy), and may cause cold-like symptoms (?!). It also says you’ll lose weight F.A.S.T., although they never explain what that acronym stands for.

The problem: Looking past the fact that this would be miserable, the website recommends sticking with this diet for 15 days or longer. It even mentions some people who have supposedly done this for over a year! This is your metabolism’s worst nightmare.

The bottom-line: We know long-term very low calorie diets wreak havoc on your resting energy expenditure (the number of calories you burn at rest). As with the general juice cleanse, feel free to experiment with this for a couple of days if you’re so inclined, but longer-term use could be seriously detrimental to your physical health (and your psychological well-being, if you’re like me and would absolutely lose your mind on this diet).

Any Office fans remember when Kelly Kapoor enjoyed this diet?



Lastly, The Detox Diet.

The gist: The basics of these diets vary greatly across the board. While some are just adapted versions of liquid diets (see juice cleanses above), many actually include food. Perhaps to reduce suffering?  All the food-containing “detox” program rules I’ve read require that you eliminate processed foods, added sugars, alcohol, and sometimes caffeine. But then most of them go a few steps further, cutting out all dairy and grains.

The problem: While these diets will likely not hurt you even long-term, they’re more stringent and unrealistic than necessary. High-fat dairy (cheese, ice cream, whole milk) and refined grains should certainly be limited, but there’s just no reason to cut out low-fat dairy and whole grains.

The bottom-line: I admire that folks want to cut back on processed foods. Great! Nothing wrong with that. It’s also a grand idea to reduce the alcohol intake – I’m talking to you, Carnival celebrators. However, unless you think you may have an intolerance to lactose or gluten, no need to ditch the dairy and grains food groups. You can reap a lot of vitamins, minerals, and fiber from low-fat dairy and whole grains. If you do suspect a food intolerance or allergy, that needs to be discussed with a Registered Dietitian and physician (contact me for help on locating one in your area). As for the “detox” aspect, if you’re a relatively healthy individual, your kidneys and liver do all the detoxifying your body needs. Yay, biology!



So what’s a cleanse-crazed creature to do? Luckily, there’s a legit way to feel better, make weight loss easier, and actually “clean your system”.

  1. FIBER! Fiber is like cleaning the lint trap regularly on your dryer. It’s the oil change to your 20-year-old car that’s still ticking. It’s the Drano to your clogged bathroom drain. Your digestive tract will adore you for it. In fact, adding more fiber long-term could prevent it from literally killing you (i.e. colon cancer). To prevent a back-lash from your bowels, how can you get more fiber in?
    1. Ditch all the refined grains for whole grains. Think whole grain bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta. Peeeerfect after a season-long king cake indulgence.
    2. Beans, man. All of the beans. They’re cheap, they’re an awesome source of protein, and yes. Fiber.
    3. Add more fruits and veggies to your diet. Not the ones that are fried or covered in cheese. See this post for some new and tasty veg recipes.
    4. Gradually. For most healthy people, a good aim is 25-30g of fiber daily… but don’t try to start reaching that goal all at once if you don’t want to be constipated for days. Add a few grams daily every couple of days.
  2. HYDRATE! If you’re not drinking enough water, all that fiber won’t move through efficiently. Depending on your size and assuming you’re healthy, you likely need at least 6 cups daily. Aiming for more than that is best. 8-9 cups would be fabulous. Fiber + water is about the most “cleansing” duo to put in your body.
  3. EXERCISE! Yea yea, I know. Health advocates are broken records with promoting exercise. But going for a 30-minute walk, taking a few laps in the pool, or actively playing with your kids outside will do tons more for your physical and psychological health than a cleanse diet. It’s also way less torture. The key is to find an activity that gets you moving and is actually fun for you.


Still feeling confused, or just interested in learning more? Contact me! I’m always open to answering questions through email and am also available for appointments (including consultations to create your own personalized, legitimate, healthy, “cleanse” diet, if you so choose).

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