Kim Yawitz, RD
If some of your healthy habits went by the wayside during quarantine, you may be wondering about the best cleanse for weight loss or detoxification.
Friend, I say this with love, the best cleanse doesn’t exist. As a dietitian, there are fewer topics that raise my hackles more than cleanses. I rarely speak in absolutes, but anytime someone asks me if they should do a cleanse, they get a firm hell nah.
Let’s talk about why I so ardently dislike cleanses, and about some ways to reap some of the benefits of doing one without becoming ravenous and developing wicked diarrhea.
Reasons to Stop Searching for the Best Cleanse (like, yesterday)
Best case scenario: Cleanses waste your time and money. What’s worse, some cleanses come with serious health risks. Here are a few reasons to rethink your cleanse ambitions.
Cleanses Aren’t Necessary
Have you ever noticed that most DIY and over-the-counter cleanses don’t tell you exactly what toxins they’re removing? Even in the case of systemic toxins that might be concerning in high enough levels, there’s no strong scientific evidence that cleanses will rid you of these toxins.
Do you know what can remove those toxins? Your lungs, your liver, your kidneys, your colon, and your bladder. Your body is a pretty amazing machine, and you already own it! No need to waste time and money on additional detoxification strategies.
Weight Loss is Likely Temporary
Cleanses can be very effective for a couple of reasons:
- You eat very few calories
- You eat very few carbs
- You (might) poop your brains out
Much of the weight loss that occurs during a cleanse is just water weight. When our carb intake exceeds our body’s short-term needs, we store extra glucose in the muscles and the liver in the form of glycogen. Glycogen molecules contain 3-4 grams of water for every gram of glucose.
You use up your glycogen stores pretty quickly in the first couple of days of any lower-carb cleanse. In the process, your body sheds the water molecules that were attached to the glucose.
Water weight aside, the low fiber/high carb combo on some cleanses give you the runs, so you’re losing water from your colon. This is a big reason why cleanses are popular—because you can lose a few pounds very quickly!
But remember, this is mostly fluid weight and not tissue (fat) loss. Once you resume eating carbs and stop pooping 18 times per day, you’re almost certain to gain most of the weight back.
Cleanses Aren’t Sustainable
Cleanses typically last just a few days, and there’s a reason for that. To follow one longer would put you at a significant risk of malnutrition and possibly serious illness. But there’s also a human element—it’s really freakin’ hard to follow a highly restrictive diet.
Look, if you can come off a 10-day Master Cleanse craving broccoli and alfalfa sprouts, then more power to you. I still don’t recommend you do it. But if I lasted even 2 days on that mess, I’d be wanting a massive bacon cheeseburger, some loaded fries, and at least a couple glasses of wine (and I know I’m not alone because I’ve had several clients who’ve approached me to help them with serious cravings during and after DIY cleanses). And then what happens?
Helllooooo, weight regain! And as if that’s not bad enough, there can be a tendency with cleanses (or any restrictive diet) to get in this awful spin cycle of cravings and food guilt. This is one of the main reasons I hate cleanses and highly restrictive diets so much–because so many people feel like they “failed” if they don’t stay “on the wagon,” when the reality is their diet failed them.
Your Cleanse May Hurt You
Still scouring the internet for the best cleanse? You really need to know that your cleanse may hurt you.
Most cleanses are very low in calories—certainly too low to support vigorous training. Even worse, some cleanses can impact the balance of fluids and electrolytes in your system (and these electrolytes serve very important roles, like keeping your heart beating).
At the very least, cleanses are counterproductive. First, your brain prefers glucose (from fruits, veggies, and other wholesome carbs) to function. Your colon is best cleaned out by eating adequate dietary fiber, which is found in whole foods (this is why some cleanses may constipate you instead of giving you the poops). And last (but not least) you need protein to stay strong, but also for virtually all of your body’s essential functions.
Ditch the Cleanse, Do This Instead
By this point, I hope I’ve convinced you to stop looking for the best cleanse. But let’s say you still want to feel a little healthier? Here are a few ways to reap some of the purported benefits of cleanses.
Eat a wide variety of WHOLE fruits and veggies.
Whole fruits and veggies tend to be naturally high in fiber and/or water—a great combo for keeping your system moving. Juices, by contrast, are very low in fiber and not very filling. You can get the most nutritional bang for you buck by eating fruits and veggies of all colors, as a lot of the amazing nutrients hang out in the pigments that give fruit and veggie skins their vibrant colors.
Drink plenty of water.
You don’t have to be that meathead that carries around a jug of water everywhere you go, but you do need to stay hydrated throughout the day! Start each morning with a big glass of water, and drink at least 1-2 with each meal.
Limit highly processed foods.
Highly processed foods tend to be higher in sodium and sugar than less processed foods. This combo of nutrients increases the likelihood of water retention (and is also highly palatable, making it more difficult to eat in moderation). It’s best to stick with fruits and vegetables, high-quality proteins, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Keep a food journal.
Are you considering a cleanse because you have a gurgly, distended belly? Assuming you’ve already ruled out any GI nasties with your doctor, try writing down every last morsel and drop you eat and drink for a few days, along with any GI symptoms you have. There may be some food (or combo of foods) that are bothering you.
Given the hype surrounding cleanses, it’s understandable to wonder about the best cleanse after quarantine. However, a gentler and more sustainable approach can give you results that last.
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