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We’re at the beginning of the year, which means we’re surrounded by hyper-healthy-minded people right now. (Don’t worry… it will peter out.) But something that’s always extra popular right now is doing a detox or a juice cleanse. So what’s the deal with these? Is a detox or a cleanse something you should do to reset your body and help you get healthier? Well, let’s take a closer look.
Years ago, my guilty pleasure show used to be the Real Housewives of New Jersey. I know, I know… it’s absolutely ridiculous, and I would only catch it from time to time. But something that always stood out to me about the show was that these ladies were always doing various “detoxes” or juice cleanses. It was a constant topic of conversation. The idea was that they were ridding their body of harmful toxins and pollutants that prevented them from being healthy and lean. I think what always bothered me the most, was they would chat about it with such piety and a superior sense of health. But the most bizarre thing to watch was when these ladies weren’t detoxing, they were smoking, drinking, and eating in overabundance.
So I guess the question is: “Are detoxes and juice cleanses actually a superior method of health and a good thing to do if your body needs a reset, or is it just a bunch of wasted money, time and effort?”
If you grew up in the 80’s and 90’s (like myself), there were little green stickers that were extremely popular at the time - Mr. Yuk stickers. Do you remember these?
These round stickers showed a cartoonish Mr. Yuk with his tongue sticking out and a very sour expression on his face. The stickers could be found all over the place back in those days, especially in your goodie bag after visiting the town fair or on all the bottles under your bathroom sink.
Mr. Yuk was actually developed by a pediatrician in Pittsburgh to help prevent kids from accidentally eating something toxic and harmful for their bodies.
From a very young age, we’ve all been taught to steer clear of toxins and poisons. So it’s not surprising that there’s a widespread belief that cleansing your body of toxic substances is a really good thing to do.
But is it?
Detox diets and juice cleanses are actually two different things.
With a detox diet, you’ll spend a couple days, weeks, or months eliminating certain foods and beverages from your diet. You eat only “clean foods”, and completely restrict any foods that could potentially be “toxic”.
Juice cleanses are more concentrated and intensive, and involve several days or weeks drinking only specially formulated fruit and vegetables juices. The specific ingredients are said to detoxify or cleanse the cells of your body.
The idea is that your body can begin to accumulate toxins that are dangerous to your health and make you feel downright miserable. The most common “toxins” are said to be excessive sugars, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, caffeine, alcohol, certain fats, nicotine, and even environmental pollutants.
With a detox diet or a cleanse, the point is to rid your body of these toxins so you’re healthy and clean again. It’s like taking an antibacterial wipe or a pressure washer to all of your cells. All cleaned out and good to go, right?
So then, what’s the harm?
First of all, you need to understand that your body isn’t just full of bare pipes and compartments that easily get gunked up with slime. You’re far more intricate and better designed than that. In fact, your body has numerous detoxifying mechanisms in place already, so for the most part, it cleanses itself. In fact your liver is one big filter.
And in a “healthy” environment, this works quite well.
But in certain situations and environments, you can place too much of a burden on your body’s own filters. This is how people end up with cirrhosis of the liver.
If you over-consume alcohol, sugar, fat, nicotine, and even certain supplements and dosages of medicine to an extreme level, your body’s cleansing systems might have a difficult time keeping up. And when this happens for an extended period of time, those extra unfiltered toxins are stored somewhere in your body (typically your fat cells).
But if you lead a healthy lifestyle and only consume unhealthy foods in balance and moderation, there’s nothing to detoxify or cleanse! Your filtering mechanisms are doing their job well, and you have nothing to worry about.
So the solution to extreme overconsumption and overburdening our body’s natural detoxifying mechanisms shouldn’t be to do periodic juice cleanses and detox diets… the solution should be to stop living an extreme life like that to begin with!
(Honestly, what cracks me up about the detoxing trend is that the loudest proponents of it are typically hyper-healthy people. I’m sure if we were to place their cells under a microscope there would be absolutely nothing to be concerned about.)
So what’s the harm then? I mean, if detox diets and juice cleanses aren’t doing anything at all, then why worry about it?
(I can almost hear half of Hollywood crying out from here. “Can’t you just let us drink our expensive juices and leave us alone?!”)
Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there are some real downsides to it.
Juice cleanses and many detox diets can actually remove a lot of the “healthy” things for your system (like fiber and protein) that are crucial tools for your body’s own detoxifying systems. So ironically, it’s a bit counterproductive.
And here’s something that’s even more ironic…
With juicing, as much as 15 pounds of fruits and veggies can get squeezed down into just a couple glasses. Your digestive system and filtering mechanisms were never intended to process hyperconcentrated forms of nutrients like this!
Plus, certain ingredients that are used heavily in cleanses, like celery and beets, have quite a bit of nitrates, which when juiced and eaten in high amounts can give you horrible headaches and make you feel downright awful. Like a hangover.
Sadly, I’ve heard many stories about people becoming quite ill and even ending up in the ER from nitrate poisoning after doing juice cleanses (if they miraculously happened to last longer than two days on their cleanse anyway).
It sure sounds like they could use a cleanse from the toxicity of their cleanse. Isn’t it ironic?
Now, at this point you might be thinking, “Actually I disagree with you Megan - not doing a dangerous cleanse, but detoxing myself from sugar or other splurges for a few weeks always feels beneficial.”
Let me push back and ask you, “Is it actually always beneficial for you?”
Unfortunately from my vantage point as a coach that works with hundreds of women, the damage caused by detox diets and juice cleanses doesn’t just stop with physical damage. There is some serious mental and emotional damage incurred, as well.
Have you ever gone on vacation while on a diet and realized that your eating restrictions were going to be too difficult to stick with - so you figured it wasn’t worth doing at all?
Yep, I’m sure you have. What you experienced is the all-or-nothing mindset.
You’re either all-in, following a full blown extreme diet and closely sticking to the rules.
Or you’re out, going hog wild, eating and drinking whatever you want.
And nothing perpetuates this self-sabotaging mindset more than detox diets and juice cleanses.
In fact, they basically give you permission to over-consume, promising that you can “erase” the damage done by simply detoxing when you’re all finished binging.
I hate to be so blunt, but if you struggle to consistently eat healthy and balanced, doing a detox diet or a juice cleanse is the absolute worst thing for you to do. It might feel momentarily beneficial (you get a surge of power and pride that you’re restricting yourself so firmly for a period of time), but in the long run it’s going to cause more damage to your eating habits.
Recently, in my Jumpstart 30 course someone asked me, “I have hypothyroidism and my thyroid feels like a mess. Should I do a thyroid cleanse?” I told her no. I said let’s just wait and see how your body feels after consistently drinking plenty of water every day, after eating very slowly, after getting your meals regulated to evenly spaced out intervals throughout the day, after consistently (day in and day out) eating lots of protein and produce and having that be the large majority of the foods that you consume. My bet is that this consistent balance will even out your thyroid without ever having to do a cleanse. And I was right. By the end of the month of just consistent healthy habits she was feel better than ever.
While the word “toxin” can sound so scary, and the word “detox” feels so right, you can save yourself a lot of pain and hardship by avoiding detoxes and cleanses all together.
When you learn how to consistently eat healthy on a regular basis, not only will you never have a reason to detox, but you’ll also overcome your inconsistency and that self-sabotaging all-or-nothing mindset.
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