Are Cleanse Diets a Good Idea?

It’s January, which means that New Year’s Resolutions to lose weight are still at the top of many people’s priority lists.  I’ve written at length about the best diets (or, should I say, eating plans) out there, but I haven’t given much discussion to some of the worst.

Knowing which diets you should not follow is really just as important as knowing which diets you should.  For every good diet out there, there are at least five bad ones, some of which are easier to spot than others.  When deciding which eating plan you’ll choose to help you lose weight, beware of any diet that involves the following:

  • Cutting out certain foods or food groups
  • Fasting or following a strict eating schedule
  • “Miracle pills”
  • Consuming fewer than 1,200 calories a day

Any diets that include one or more of the above may put you at risk for nutrient deficiency; alter your metabolism in an unhealthy way; cause unwanted, potentially serious side effects; and leave your body without enough fuel to properly function.  Cleanse, or detox, diets, about which I am occasionally asked, can contain all four of these diet deal-breakers, despite how healthy they sound.

The philosophy behind “cleansing” is simple – by replacing food with a special juice or water formulation, you will theoretically “recharge, renew, and rejuvenate” your body by clearing it of all toxins.  Unlike some of the best diets to follow, like DASH or TLC, the rationale behind cleanse diets isn’t supported by scientific evidence; most of the “evidence” that supports these types of diets is psychological and spiritual, meaning it comes from people who have tried a cleanse diet and claim to have felt much better as a result.

Taking someone’s word for the effectiveness of a diet without scientific research to back it up is never a good idea.  In most cases, the only scientific evidence behind these types of diets shows that they’re not effective, and not safe.  What we do know about cleanses is that their proven effects are not weight loss and increased muscle mass but rather elimination of the good bacteria that keep our immune systems and digestive tracts working properly; nutrient deficiencies; low energy; increased muscle loss; and disruption of many of our body’s major metabolic processes.

Instead of depriving your body of the calories and nutrients it needs to function, try cleansing it the natural way by employing the strategy of clean eating, which simply involves eating minimally-processed foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.  Think lots of whole fruits and veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, low-fat or fat-free dairy, and lean protein, with plenty of herbs and spices thrown in for flavor.  By feeding your body the right types of foods, your metabolism will work more efficiently, you’ll experience increased energy, and you’ll actually feel satisfied by what you’re eating.  That sounds much more fun than only subsisting on lemon water, doesn’t it?


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