9 Things to Know About These Hazardous Verbs: Detox/Cleanse/Eliminate

No this, no that, no anything? No to that! Photo cred: Women's Health

No this, no that, no anything? No to that!
Photo cred: Women's Health


Juice cleanses, elimination diets, and overall health detoxes have been running rampant, particularly in the past few years. Everyone wants a quick fix to slim down for a wedding, beach weekend, or just feel the need to hit the reset button after a long weekend of poor health choices. All of these systems that seemingly share a common goal of "cleansing" your body of impurities come with some benefits but also a boatload of potential side effects and health hazards people may not realize when jumping aboard.

Below are some of the important stuff to know:

Photo credit:  TBV

Photo credit: TBV


Juice Cleanses

1. Yes, you're probably going to lose weight. But not the kind of weight you want.

It's true, you most likely will drop a few pounds. That's what happens when you drink fluids that only rack up about 1000 calories per day.

But how do those few pounds shed? Most of the popular juice cleanse systems have a serious deficiency of protein (only including a bit with nut milks), which then results in a breakdown of lean muscle mass. Keep in mind that lean muscle mass is what keeps your BMR (basal metabolic rate) up. Your BMR is how much energy (calories) your body burns for its basic functions. Also by putting yourself in that strict of a caloric deficit, your body thinks that it is starving. Your body is a smart machine, therefore it will desperately try to hold onto your body fat like a floating device as a survival backup energy source for your organs to continue functioning. 

2. The juice cleanse will help my body cleanse itself of bad toxins, right?

The body is a medical marvel. Pretty much every organ and part of your body has a function and a purpose. Say a little thanks to your kidneys, intestines, and liver- they are the world's best natural purifying system for all those toxins. No green juice has the power of a kidney, intestine, or a liver. The worst thing you can do is to put processed, junky toxins into your body, then drink a juice in hopes that it somehow negates its effects. Let's just not fill our bodies with toxins as much as possible in the first place, yeah? 

3. On average, about 6 pounds of produce go into a cold-pressed juice. 

The good part: that's a lot of awesome vitamins and minerals packed into one convenient juice.
The bad part: bye-bye 6 pounds of fiber and flavonoids. 
Fiber is integral to supporting your intestines and get things... moving. Oh wait, aren't your intestines one of those powerful organs responsible for ridding your body of bad toxins too?
Flavonoids, that are found in the white pulp of citruses and skins of berries, have great antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that I'd personally prefer to not weed out through juicing. 

Photo cred:  NYU Local

Photo cred: NYU Local


4. Hey there, sugar mama.

By extracting the juice from all of its fibrous parts, you're essentially just getting the sugary carbs out of it- particularly with fruit-heavy juices. Also, because of the lack of fiber, the body more readily absorbs fructose sugar and spikes your blood-sugar levels. This can make your kidneys work that much harder to regulate your body and potentially can lead to dysfunction. No bueno.

5. Let's not get confused here- juices are not bad. 

Juice cleanses are the issue. By all means, I think a juice as a snack or supplemental addition to your daily diet is a great thing- it really does enable you to sneak in some of your produce quota, especially for people not so great at eating their fruits and vegetables. But it is not a substantial meal replacement, and it is most definitely not a sole, nutritional replacement for 3-5 days.

I generally prefer smoothies to juices, as you are able to retain some of the fiber while still breaking down some of the foods structures to make digestion easier. I myself do wish I could drink a bigger variety of juices (boo allergies to apples, pears, pineapples) as it would be convenient and a delicious drink on the go. But do I think that an apple is a overall better choice than an cold-pressed apple juice? For the most part, yes (if you aren't allergic like me!)- but if that juice has kale, spinach, and some lemon in it, that makes it a toss up, depending on what your body needs that day.

Elimination Diets

6. So you think you have a gluten-intolerance/allergy?

Please read this. 

7. Your stomach has been bothering you; your skin is breaking out; you feel sluggish and never well-rested.

If any of those statements resonated with you and you've already started doing your research, you've probably thought of or already tried an elimination diet.

What is an elimination diet? At it's most basic form, you go 30 days without every common irritant currently in your diet, then at the end of 30 days, you reintroduce the culprits back in, one at a time, to figure out what your sensitivity is to. 

For some, this works and people are able to reap a lot of benefits from avoiding their trigger foods- most commonly, gluten, dairy, soy, nuts, eggs, alcohol, and sugar (added sugar is another story). But there isn't actually very much scientific study that backs this method up. But why do people then feel better?

First, what exactly did your diet look like before? Because if it included an afternoon office vending machine trip, nibbling on the bread basket with a bit of cheese, pasta, non-organic soy through seemingly healthy soy milk and tofu, and a few bites of dessert regularly, it's a no brainer that you'll feel better after cutting this stuff out- especially when you look at the quality of food.

Was it a packaged, processed cookie with preservatives and added sugars? Generic bread probably with preservatives with cheese that came from a hormone-riddled rBST cow? Standard boxed pasta? Tofu and sweetened soy milk made with GMO soy? Ice cream whose dairy sources aren't listed on the label?

Perhaps it wasn't the gluten, dairy, and soy elimination that irritated you- maybe it had more to do with the other unpronounceable additives, hormones, added sugars, and preservatives thrown in there... which leads me to:

8. What's the true culprit here?

Let's say a woman (who we will call Amanda for this example) has been having some digestive issues, and has been feeling tired and cranky. Amanda is a pretty typical American woman living in the suburbs, and her daily diet usually looks something like this:

Coffee with soy milk and splenda, the usual morning
Low-fat yogurt with granola, for breakfast
Handful of nuts/dried fruit trail mix, as a snack
Mixed greens salad with grilled chicken and creamy Italian dressing, a common 'healthy' lunch
Chocolate chip cookie, from the box someone brought into the office
Linguini with marinara sauce, out to dinner w/colleagues
Glass of red wine, still at dinner
Few bites of a shared chocolate souffle, still at dinner

That's not too bad. But Amanda decides to try an elimination diet. Her daily diet now looks more like this:

Black coffee (no soy, no artificial sweetener)
Oatmeal with berries and a banana (no dairy, no added sugar from yogurt/granola)
Veggies and hummus for a snack (no nuts)
Mixed greens salad with grilled chicken and oil and vinegar (no processed creamy dressing)
Green tea (no sugar from the usual cookie)
Grilled Salmon w/roasted brussel sprouts & quinoa, out to dinner (no gluten from pasta, no sugar from marinara sauce)
Water (no alcohol from the wine)
Nix the dessert (no sugar)

Suddenly Amanda feels an increase in energy, her skin is glowing, and her stomach is behaving. Elimination has done her well. Now it's time to reintroduce some stuff, and she eats foods similar to her original diet. She feels awful- her stomach is in knots, her mid-afternoon slump makes her so tired she can't reach for that second cup of coffee fast enough. 

It must be the gluten! It must be the dairy, nuts, and soy! 

But, perhaps not? Of course Amanda is feeling better with eating the stuff from day B- there isn't much that could bother her there. But what if we made a couple tweaks to day A instead?

Coffee w/organic unsweetened soy milk
Organic Greek yogurt with berries
Handful of raw, organic almonds
Mixed greens with hormone-free/cage-free grilled chicken breast and oil and vinegar
Green Tea
Grilled Sea Bass over farro, with steamed vegetables

Even with the inclusion of soy, dairy, nuts, and gluten, I would wage some very heavy bets that Amanda would still notice a big improvement from Day A. I would be quick to point out too, that Day A had a sneakily large amount of added sugars in it- if we're talking general common versions of these foods, the soy milk, low-fat yogurt, granola, dried fruit, salad dressing, cookie, marinara sauce, and bites of dessert all can easily rack up to as much sugar as a pint of ice cream and can of soda.

9. Elimination diets aren't for everyone.

Not saying that they aren't helpful for people really struggling to figure out what is going on with their bodies- they absolutely can be; however, too many people are hastily rushing into them even without a doctor's recommendation- even worse, just for the goal of losing weight.

A gluten-free cookie is still a cookie. Some of these food labels touting gluten/fat/carb/sugar-free or low carb/fat, particularly for processed foods you'll find in the supermarket, tend to not mention the adjustments made to the food in order to make that label true. Fat-free? Check out that sodium and sugar on the nutrition facts compared to the original- it is most likely much higher. If you're going to get rid of one flavor, food companies have to supplement something else to not turn off their customer. WSJ posted a great and informative article about substitutions and trends earlier this summer. 

As I said before, your body is an extremely smart operating system- any type of drastic alteration with your nutrition and diet will inevitably yield some type of physiological changes. 

You only get one body in your lifetime- treat it well and don't roller-coaster with your health and buy into the trends. Just as with clothing, you don't want to look back in 10 years and wonder why you were so silly to buy into that trend.