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5 Reasons to Avoid a Cleanse (and What to Do Instead!)

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With the holiday season rapidly approaching, I am reading more and more headlines touting the “quick”, “safe”, and “easy” ways to lose an astonishing amount of weight in just a few days. Most of these articles use the buzz words “cleanse” or “detox” and promote radical shifts in lifestyle habits, yet are not backed by any hard scientific evidence. (Side note: there are no peer reviewed studies available on PudMed, one of the most comprehensive search engines for health and nutrition studies!).

Should these flashy articles be thought of as the Holy Grail for losing those pesky five to ten pounds that tend to accumulate over the holidays? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but these articles really are too good to be true and are not long-term strategies for weight management.

So, let’s go through why you should shy away from a juice cleanse and discuss some tried and true methods (backed by actual science!) to get you back on the healthy train.

1. Your body doesn’t actually need to “detox”

Detox is all the rage these days, with more and more people touting the benefits of removing “toxins” from the body. However, many toxins, such as urea and lactic acid, are produced through normal biological processes. Because of this, the body is equipped with a coordinated system that is able to detoxify and remove harmful compounds. This system includes the liver, kidneys, and GI tract. It involves a variety of enzymes and proteins to help filter out toxins and byproducts from the body.

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2. Cleanses are low in protein

Most juice cleanses involve consuming little to no protein, which is extremely problematic for multi-week juice cleanses. Protein is a macro-nutrient involved in promoting lean muscle development and feelings of fullness. Additionally, protein is critical for supporting immune health, so doing a juice cleanse in the middle of cold and flu season may not be the best idea for protecting yourself against infection.

3. Energy will not drastically improve on a cleanse

The body is able to store energy, about 600 grams, in the form of glycogen, so in the first few days of a juice cleanse, glycogen stores are depleted. Going through glycogen stores can lead to lack of energy, headaches, and dizziness due to unstable blood sugar levels.

4. Just because celebrities do it, doesn’t mean trained healthcare professionals would recommend a cleanse

Celebrities ranging from Gwyneth Paltrow to Beyoncé have made cleanses a household word, but should we be taking healthcare recommendations from them? It is best to consult with a trained and certified healthcare professional such as a Registered Dietitian before making any drastic dietary changes. Registered Dietitian, Sarah Romotsky, says, “Would you got legal advice from an actor from “Law & Order?” Stick to credentialed nutrition experts like myself who understand the science and provide individualized, tailored recommendations for you. I’ll gladly encourage juice as a way to get important vitamins and minerals, but a cleanse is completely unnecessary and unproductive.”

5. Cleansing is not a long-term weight loss solution

Additionally, metabolizing glycogen for energy also draws out water from the body, which results in the short-term weight loss. However, since the body prefers to have glycogen stores, once you resume a normal diet, glycogen will be stored again, which draws in water and translates to increased weight on the scale.

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6. Instead, focus on a balanced diet that incorporates moderate exercise

While it is not the most “sexy” piece of advice, adopting a diet that highlights nutrient-dense foods, incorporates the three macro-nutrients, and makes sure to get in important micro-nutrients is the best strategy for weight management. Additionally, ensuring your energy balance is in check is your best bet for weight management.

What is energy balance? Simply put, it is balancing the amount of calories that are taken in with the amount of calories that are expended. According to the USDA, “People who are most successful at achieving and maintaining a healthy weight do so through continued attention to consuming only enough calories from foods and beverages to meet their needs and by being physically active”.

Eating this way will not only appropriately fuel your body throughout the day, but also give you a long-term sustainable relationship with food. So, cut the cleansing, chose nutrient-dense foods, and make sure you are getting plenty of exercise. This strategy will power you through the (sometimes) overindulgent holiday season and steer you towards optimal health.

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