Photo: Toa Heftiba via Unsplash
With Thanksgiving behind us, you may be feeling some food guilt. While there is no shame in indulging during the holidays, we get that eating loads of carbs and sweets can leave you feeling weighed down and sluggish. But before you resort to unhealthy habits or celeb-endorsed cleanses that leave you hangry in preparation for all the Christmas cookies or latkes still to come, you may want to reconsider.
People choose to cleanse or detox for all sorts of reasons, though usually after a period of unhealthy eating or at the beginning of a weight loss program. But guess what? It turns out that consuming nothing but juice for five-plus days isn’t good for you. We spoke to top nutrition experts to learn how to cleanse without risking your health, and here are three things they want you to consider before hitting the reset button this season.
Don’t always believe your fave celebrities or influencers
Most celebrity-endorsed cleanses are largely made up of low calorie liquids with minimal (if any) amounts of nutrient-rich food, explains Dawn Jarvis, MS, RD, LDN, the senior director of nutrition science and educational content at Garden of Life. What’s more, instead of being clinically tested, they are simply approved by paid spokespeople with no scientific credit.
Anna Brown, a studying dietitian and wellness blogger at Nutrition Squeezed, also emphasizes the safety concern, pointing out that herbal supplements and diet pills do not need FDA approval prior to hitting shelves. This means you don’t really know what you’re paying for—or consuming for that matter. “Plus, celebrity-endorsed products are usually pay-for-play, so it’s not always a product that the celebrity genuinely believes in or actually uses,” she says.
While these methods might be okay for a short break from an uncharacteristic junk food bender, they are a far cry from the protocol a nutritionist would recommend for long-term use.
Some cleanses can do more harm than good
“By depriving your body of essential nutrients during a juice, tea, or pill cleanse period, you could be doing more harm than good,” says Brown. She lists negative effects including dysbiosis (imbalance) in your microbiome while your body is forced to eliminate more than it normally would, a slower metabolism as your body tries to preserve energy, spikes and crashes in your blood sugar levels, and a “yo yo weight cycle,” as it’s unlikely you’ll keep off the weight you lost during the cleanse.
That's because whole foods are essential to daily function. “The body needs daily protein, adequate amounts of essential nutrients like vitamins and electrolytes, adequate dietary fiber, and probiotics for regular bowel movements, along with sufficient fuel to support a healthy metabolism and daily activities such as exercise,” Jarvis says. And without sufficient daily protein, muscles and other tissues will break down and your immune function can become compromised. If you suddenly cut out food intake, you can become weak or feel light-headed, which is very dangerous if you’re exercising.
There is a healthy way to detox after indulging
Our experts agree that the best place to start is by eliminating junk and processed foods, along with excess alcohol, added sugars, and caffeine. Next step is to bump up your daily intake of water. Incorporating whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins will also help your body return to its own healthy detoxifying system. And while organic green drinks and fresh, low-sugar veggie juices may be used as part of the program, Jarvis says that they definitely shouldn’t replace food entirely. Try adding organic greens to certified organic plant-based protein smoothies, which will nourish the body and enhance its own natural detoxification process.
Brown lends a recipe for tea that uses the “Ayurvedic philosophy of gently stoking your digestive fire without going overboard.” Steep equal parts whole dried cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds in boiling water.
“If you feel that you need a more advanced cleanse to help support certain body systems, you should select a program that has clinically-studied ingredients published in reputable academic journals,” says Jarvis. “The herbal ingredients used in a cleanse should be in the same amounts shown to be beneficial in the clinical trials, or used in practice by clinical herbalists, such as the Garden of Life® Wild Rose Herbal D-Tox 12-Day Cleanse.”