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Detox and Cleanse: Healthy Words, Unhealthy Diets?

Jen Geller
May 4, 2011

All the stars are doing it.  Detoxifying cleanse diets are the hottest trends to lose weight quickly.  A quick way to slim down always sounds enticing.  And with claims of shinier hair, more energy and clearer skin, they just might be worth stomaching the ingredients.  But are they really as good for you as they may claim to be? Here's the skinny on the 4 most popular detox diets:

1.  The Master Cleanse

This is also known as the Lemonade and Maple Syrup Diet.

The Diet: Drink 6-12 glasses of a lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper mixture a day for 4-14 days.  Take a laxative morning and evening or sub in a salt water flush.

The diet also asks that you carry around a 1-liter BPA free water bottle of pure water at all times.  (Considering the laxatives involved, you may not be walking around too much.)  After the initial cleanse, followers ease back into solid food like vegetable soup, fruits and vegetables.

Health Benefit Claims: Toxins will be cleared out of your system, leaving you with clearer skin, fewer colds, improved circulation and reports of better sexual vitality.

Difficulty: This is hardcore.  Not for the faint of heart.

Does it work?: Considering how few calories you take in, obviously you will lose weight.  But it is incredible hard to follow long term.

Experts Say: "Who goes on a diet to lose muscle?" asks Lisa Sheehan-Smith, Licensed Dietician and Nutritionist and Associate Professor at Middle Tennessee State University.  She points out that much of the weight loss from this diet is from water weight and lean body mass, not fat.

Kimberly Snyder, Clinical Nutritionist and author of "The Beauty Detox Solution" is also dubious about the Master Cleanse and other restrictive diets.

"The major problem, is that these trendy fasts and cleanses do nothing to teach the real life skills of detoxification: learning how to eat healing foods each and every day--and stick with it!  Unfortunately, many people who go from unhealthy diets to short-term fasts end up going right back to old habits when they finish."

2.  The Fat Flush Diet

Created by Ann Louise Gittleman, this diet maintains that eating the correct combinations of foods and eating more often will increase the body's metabolism.

The Diet: Divided into three phases

Phase 1: A two week very restrictive cleansing diet.

Phase 2: Less restrictive diet that is continued into the desired weight is reached

Phase 3: A typical low carbohydrate diet that can be maintained for life.

Health Benefit Claims: Rapid Weight Loss, increased metabolism, more energy, better sleep, better attitude, eliminates cellulite.

Difficulty: There are a lot of rules to follow and the first phase can feel very restrictive.  The diet says rigorous exercise could be difficult during the first two phases.  It also may be hard for vegetarians to follow.

Does it Work?: Again, restricting calories will lead to weight loss, but it can be hard to follow longer term.

Experts Say: Snyder says, as with most cleanses "It's too much too quick.  I have personally witnessed people getting very, very ill from making drastic changes immediately."  Snyder also adds these types of diets could shock your system by drudging up too many toxins too quickly.

3.  Quantum Wellness

Created by Kathy Freston, this diet suggests making gradual but progressive lifestyle changes in order to achieve optimum health.  Freston recommends a vegan diet not only for health benefits but also because most of the meat we eat comes from of the inhumane treatment of animals and is bad for the environment.  A 21-day cleanse is recommended that eliminates all animal products, caffeine, sugar, alcohol and gluten.

Health Benefit Claims: More energy, better digestion and relief from joint and muscle pain.  Quantum Wellness also recommends an exercise plan.

Difficulty: Depends on how dependent you are on meat.  However, thinking about your diet from a psychological and ecological perspective may make you want to stick to it.

Does it Work?: This diet is more about a lifestyle change than weight loss, so results may vary, but if followed closely, fewer calories will likely be consumed.

Experts Say:  Sheehan-Smith gives points to this diet for eliminating nutrient poor substances like refined sugar and alcohol and because it is rich in fruits, vegetables and fiber.  But she questions the need to remove gluten from a diet unless there is an allergy.

4.  Raw Food Diet

The raw food diet is based on the belief that the most healthful food for the body is uncooked.  Cooking is thought to denature the enzymes naturally present in food.  According to raw foodists, enzymes are the life force of a food, helping us to digest food and absorb nutrients.

Health Benefit Claims: Weight loss, improvement in digestion and skin tone, more energy and mental clarity, and alleviation of various health-related symptoms are usually the most common things people notice when they begin their transition.

Difficulty: Hard.  There is a lot of preparation for this diet and some say it's hard to stick to, particularly in cold weather.  Some people claim of major hunger on this diet.

Does it Work?: It will take a bit of time since it is a major overhaul of your eating.  Someone can fall off the wagon on this diet, hard.

Experts Say: Snyder's concern is that this diet allows someone to eat copious amounts of oil and nuts, not exactly great for your health or waistline.  Sheehan Smith says the diet is low in vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.

The Bottom Line:

Yes, these detoxes and cleanses will cause you to lose weight, but the difficulty of maintaining them will probably not keep the weight off for long.

As Kimberly Snyder explains, true detoxification--the kind that nourishes and heals--is a process that demands patience, a well-informed perspective, and--most of all--an immense respect for one's body.  This kind of detoxification can't be had in quickie cleanses or spicy lemonade.  It's not that simple, and it's not that shallow.

Kimberly Snyder's recipe for better health and beautiful skin:

Go green.  Snyder recommends adding something called a Glowing Green Smoothie (a mixture of romaine lettuce, spinach, celery, apple, pear, banana and lemon juice) every morning to start the day with loads of vitamins, minerals and energy.

Daily routine.  Try to eat a diet that is 80% fruits and vegetables and 20% protein, carbs and fats.  Avoid acidic foods like caffeine, dairy products, and processed foods.  Creating these healthy habits will truly cleanse our system and of toxins - long term.  A person will get the spectrum of nutrients they needs and be able to absorb nutrients better, leading to better health, better skin and a more beautiful you. 

Lisa Sheehan-Smith recommends living by these EASY rules:

  • Eat fewer calories.
  • Ask for smaller portions and low-calorie options when eating out.
  • Sit in front of the TV less and move more.
  • Yes to enjoying real food, fun physical activity and life!

There may be an event that you will want to shed pounds quickly for, and words like detox and cleanse may make you feel like you are doing something good for your health.  They do work for some people.  However, for an average person this doesn't seem to be a long term solution.

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