Published July 27, 2013
Detoxes and cleanses have become so mainstream, you may feel like you’re doing something wrong if you haven’t tried at least one. But the truth is detoxes and cleanses aren’t right for everyone, and they can even backfire.
The key to reaping the rewards is finding what works, and doesn’t work, for you. Here are five dos and don’ts, and real-life lessons I’ve learned from my clients. Some of them may just surprise you.
Don’t do it to be trendy
Even at the thought of being restricted, some of my clients experience intense cravings, or obsessive thoughts of food, and become more prone to binge eating. This is often the case for people who were put on diets as children, or have a history of strict dieting or disordered eating. While some people rave about how amazing they feel physically and emotionally during a cleanse, I’ve seen others struggle with moodiness, irritability, depression, fatigue, constipation, constant thoughts of food, and rebound overeating.
Striving to eat clean, all natural foods is fantastic, but you don’t need to do a cleanse or detox to be healthy. If your body, mind, or both don’t react well to limiting your diet, even for three, five, or seven days, don’t put yourself through it.
Do choose a detox or cleanse that’s right for you
There’s no one standard definition of a cleanse or detox. For some, it means pressed juice only, and for others a cleanse can simply mean cutting out things like alcohol, caffeine, processed or refined foods, sugar, gluten, common allergens and animal protein. While super strict regimes are incredibly popular, most of my clients feel much more energized and satiated when they include lean protein, and/or raw veggies and fruits they can chew, rather than juices that are gone in a few gulps. It’s perfectly OK to “cherry pick” from various plans to create a program that feels right for you.
Don’t pull a double whammy and work out too
Detoxes and cleanses are all about ending erratic, unhealthy eating, and rebooting and resetting your metabolism. This is much easier to do when you give your body a brief break from exercise.
Trying to workout while following a limited eating plan can create unwanted side effects, because cleanses and detoxes generally don’t provide the extra fuel needed for exercise, or the added raw materials required for healing and recovery. As a result, doing both can leave you feeling tired, dizzy, and nauseas. It can also result in breaking down muscle mass, which can up your injury risk and lower your metabolic rate, the exact opposite of what you’re aiming for.
Do use a detox or cleanse as a gateway to a healthier diet
In my experience, the greatest benefit to a detox or cleanse is its ability to start fresh, and transition to a long-term, healthy way of eating. Many of my clients, and people who have followed the ‘5 Day Fast Forward’ cleanse from my latest book, have told me that even within five days, their cravings for salty, fatty, or sweet foods disappear, they begin to appreciate the natural flavors of whole, fresh foods, and they’re able to reconnect with normal hunger and fullness cues.
In addition, losing some pounds and inches quickly can create the motivation and confidence to embark on a longer journey. Finally, detoxes and cleanses prevent you from being able to act on your usual emotional, social, environmental, and habitual eating triggers, which can be the first step to breaking unhealthy patterns. All of these benefits can make committing to healthy goals – like cooking at home more often, eating breakfast each day, and bringing your lunch to work – a whole lot easier.
Don’t use a detox or cleanse as a way to purge
I’ve seen numerous people get stuck in the trap of bouncing back and forth between a cleanse or detox and bouts of overindulging. Because cleanses and detoxes have become so popular, this seesaw syndrome can be socially acceptable. But emotionally, using cleanses and detoxes this way can become a lot like other methods of purging, including over-exercise, or taking laxatives or diuretics – it can feel like something you don’t want to do, and know isn’t healthy, but feel like you have to do, in order to undo the effects of overeating.
If you’ve found yourself on this roller coaster ride, reach out for help. While black and white, all or nothing relationships with food are common, they aren’t good for you physically or emotionally, and striking a sustainable, healthy balance is possible.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.