Every year people use Jan. 1 as an opportunity to set goals and start the new year on a healthier note. One of the most common resolutions is to lose weight, and it may be tempting to jump-start that goal with a cleanse or a detox. But before making a drastic change, there are several things to consider.
Melissa Mamele, MS, RD, CSCS, a registered dietitian and professional research assistant at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, shares a few caveats about the healthiness of the common new year fad.
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First, she said, there isn’t a set scientific criterion for what constitutes a cleanse. Some people think of a cleanse as fasting, others drink only juices or liquids, and still others cut out certain unhealthy foods. A cleanse is usually done for a set number of days. The Master Cleanse, popularized by celebrities, is a well-known detox involving drinking only a spicy lemonade, tea, water and sea salt water for around 10 days. Instagram and Facebook ads are full of similar detoxing products and meal plans.
From false claims to fainting
Mamele said consumers should exercise caution before buying a detoxing product promoted on social media.
“The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) have actually taken legal action against a ton of different companies out there selling detox products or cleansing products because they don’t contain the ingredients that they said they did,” she said. Not everything is third-party tested, and some of the juices sold haven’t been pasteurized or treated, Mamele added.
There are other downsides to going on a cleanse. “You can have electrolyte imbalances. You can faint or feel dizzy or weak,” Mamele said. “And if you have a disease like diabetes that relies on your blood sugar staying stable, when you make really drastic changes, that can be a recipe for disaster.”
Are there better options?
But is going on a cleanse effective for long-term weight loss? When on a cleanse, a person severely restricts caloric intake and the types of foods eaten over a short period of time, according to Mamele. The practice doesn’t lead to lasting weight loss because, “it’s not giving you quality nutrition, and losing weight and quickly regaining it can be worse for your health,” she said.
One tip Mamele swears by is cleansing your environment. “Something I often talk about with patients when they feel like they need to do a cleanse is, ‘Does your home need a cleanse? Does your pantry or your refrigerator need to be physically cleaned out to make space for what you want to keep in there? Is there anything else in your environment that isn’t helping you?’ Get rid of things in your environment that are not supportive of your goals.”
So, if you have extra treats lingering from the holidays, you might give them to a friend or even throw them away.
Another strategy, she said, is to cut back on how often you're eating certain types of food. “I think for a lot of people, maybe a sugar cleanse or trying to avoid sugar as much as possible isn't something they can necessarily keep up with for a year, five years, or 10 years, but cutting back on super-processed, junky foods or alcoholic beverages for a period of time is usually not something that's going to be harmful,” Mamele said.
Priming the body’s own detoxifier
Healthy weight loss requires a multifaceted approach that can include a combination of nutrition, exercise and other behavioral changes. Short term detoxes are not the answer if you want the weight to stay off long term.
The fact is that the best detoxifier is your own body, Mamele said.
“The reality is we've got a ton of different tissues and organs in our own body that are equipped to detoxify us better than any outside product can,” she said. “Two of the most important organs in detoxifying, cleansing and keeping the body healthy are our kidneys and our liver. The kidneys filter toxins from our blood into the urine and out of our body, and the liver processes most medications, supplements and other things that are coming into our body and filters out toxic substances, too.”