Lately it seems like everyone's doing some sort of cleanse in an effort to shed waste and unwanted pounds. But be warned. According to Debbie Richmond, an HonorHealth nutritionist and wellness coach, the costs of cleansing may be higher than you expect.
What is cleansing?
In a nutshell, cleansing is a food-limiting regimen said to help rid the body of toxins and other unhealthy substances that may accumulate. Cleanses come in many forms, but they often center on consuming only juice for a predetermined number of days.
Other kinds of cleanses require eating only certain types of food for a few days while others use laxatives or enemas to clear the colon. Regardless of the type of cleanse, Debbie said the promises aren't realistic.
"You can't flush out years of abuse to the body in just a few days – that's just not the way the body works. Nothing happens overnight, and there's no such thing as a quick fix."
What are the supposed benefits of cleansing?
Proponents tout the practice as a way to kick-start weight loss, detoxify the body and boost energy levels. Debbie said there's little to no evidence to validate these claims and the documented dangers outweigh the potential benefits.
"The weight loss a person sees from cleansing is typically water loss, not fat loss. True weight loss comes from healthy lifestyle habits that allow the body to burn fat while building muscle."
Debbie suggests these six wellness principles in place of cleansing:
- Focus on eating whole foods: Avoid processed foods.
- Enjoy your vegetables: Eat half a plate of fresh or frozen vegetables at every meal.
- Eat regularly: Have a meal or snack every four hours.
- Stay hydrated: Drink at least 64 ounces of water each day.
- Stay active: Incorporate daily movement with activities like walking and hiking.
- Master your stress: Work on eliminating stress in your life, not just managing it.
What are the side effects of cleansing?
Depending on the type, duration and method, cleansing has been shown to slow metabolism, increase blood sugar, cause dehydration, and create electrolyte and other mineral imbalances. Cleansing via enema carries additional risks, such as possible bowel perforation or puncturing of the gut. Cleanses that use laxatives hinder the absorption of vitamins and nutrients and may also lead to dehydration.
"Cleansing with laxatives just pushes food through the system faster, which means there isn't time for the body to get the health benefits of the food you eat," Debbie said.
Who should avoid cleansing?
Unless prescribed and supervised by a physician, Debbie said it's best for everyone – particularly the very young and the elderly – to avoid cleansing altogether. Instead, she suggests focusing on lifestyle changes that naturally promote healthy weight loss and waste removal.
Colon cleanses and enemas can be particularly dangerous if you have undergone any type of bowel surgery or suffer from digestive diseases such as diverticular disease, ulcerative colitis, hemorrhoids, Crohn's disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases.
What is the alternative to cleansing?
The human body naturally cleanses and detoxifies itself. The liver, kidneys, colon, protective linings in the gut, along with naturally occurring enzymes and bacteria, all help filter the food, drinks and medications you consume to help maintain an internal balance.
"Your body will do all the cleansing it needs on its own if you maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle choices," Debbie said.Need help cleaning up your diet so you're not tempted to try the next cleansing fad? Contact your HonorHealth doctor, call 623-580-5800 to find a doctor, or visit the HonorHealth Medical Group – Wellness Center for help.