A cleansing ritual

Detox diets may not be as beneficial as some would think

While cleanses come in different forms, prolonged use of ones like the Master Cleanse can lead to long-term health effects, according to former nutritionist Gwen Holm.
While cleanses come in different forms, prolonged use of ones like the Master Cleanse can lead to long-term health effects, according to former nutritionist Gwen Holm.
Photo: 
Cleanses like the acai berry cleanse have seen a rising profile, with their use popularized by celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow.
Cleanses like the acai berry cleanse have seen a rising profile, with their use popularized by celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow.
Photo: 

By the sixth hour of my first cleanse, I couldn’t leave my bed.

Drawn by the growing popularity of cleanses — diets that cut out toxins in an attempt to purify the body — I decided to try the Master Cleanse to see how it felt to undergo a drastic change to my food intake.

Widely known for being behind Beyonce’s two-week weight loss plan for the film Dreamgirls, the Master Cleanse involves drinking a mixture of lemon juice, water, maple syrup and cayenne pepper six to 12 times a day. Other than a laxative tea twice a day, no other food is ingested.

In preparing for and undergoing the cleanse, I couldn’t look at pictures of food for fear of losing my willpower. I unfollowed several restaurants on Twitter, while preparing the lemon juice mix.

I became cranky and had to leave the room anytime someone ate. For half a day, I developed severe headaches while being incredibly lethargic.

I felt like crap. And why not? I, someone who has a fast metabolism, was literally starving myself.

At around 3 p.m. of that Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t take it anymore. The mix kept making me want to vomit while preventing me from staying awake.

I finally decided to eat a banana, but it didn’t help much. It wasn’t until I ate a handful of crackers that I started to feel normal again.

I may have been going through a “healing crisis” — the term used to describe the body’s shift from a regular diet to a cleansing diet — but I certainly didn’t want to continue any longer.

While popular regimes like juice cleanses promise fast weight loss, the caloric intake reduction can lead to light-headedness, nausea and other health effects.

But the consequences can also be more long-term, said Gwen Holm, a former holistic nutritionist trained at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition.

According to Holm, a lack of protein over an extended amount of time can lead to muscle deterioration.

That’s why she recommends doing cleanses like juice fasts or the Master Cleanse for one to two days at most.

“You should never do something like that for a month,” she said.

They can have detrimental effects long after the fact, Holm said, as muscle development is key to long-term health and vitality.

“We need to have muscle to maintain our independence,” she said. “You’re more likely to slip and fall if you don’t have core strength.”

She said cleanses don’t have to be so complicated and trendy.

“Detoxing or cleansing can be as simple as drinking less alcohol and not smoking because you’re putting less toxins in your body,” she said.

Still, juice fasts, which can cut out most protein, tend to be popular among young people.

“The younger you are, the easier you can do that,” Holm said. “When you’re 30 or 40 or 50, those things don’t work so well.”

According to Holm, cleansing to lose weight can lead to less-than-desirable effects.

“When you start eating again, your metabolic rate is lower and you just get fatter faster,” she said.

That’s why there are better alternatives when it comes to people’s idea of cleansing, she said.

“You want to move towards clean eating and drinking more water,” she said, adding that diet changes can be as simple as eating more fruits and vegetables.

“[It’s about] eating a more pure diet, living a more pure lifestyle,” she said.

That’s why it’s important to prepare for what could be a drastic change to your health.

Andrea Davidson, ArtSci ’14, said she’s been on a cleanse called the Clean Program since Christmas.

“It’s a 21-day detox program but you can just carry on the diet as long as you so please,” she said.

The Clean Program is a gluten, wheat and dairy-free diet that alternates between liquid and solid meals. Unlike cleanses like the Master Cleanse, the Clean Program doesn’t decrease any daily caloric intake.

Davidson said the first part of the Clean Program cleanse didn’t feel great.

“I felt off,” she said. “That’s just your body getting used to this new system.”

That’s why it’s important to prepare properly, she said.

“Ease your way into it,” she said. “Give yourself a week — don’t drink sugary sodas or caffeinated beverages.”

Davidson said cleanses can be difficult for the typical student, especially since many of them demand the use of organic foods.

“They can be really expensive,” she said. “At Metro, especially, there’s not a very big organic section.”

To combat this, Davidson said she uses half-organic and half-regular foods.

At the same time, the student lifestyle drives her to do a cleanse every three to four months.

“I just don’t feel as healthy when I’m at school,” she said. “It’s such a sedentary lifestyle.”

She said she always feels the need to do a cleanse.

“I feel so much healthier on this.”

Cleanses require more than dietary restrictions for a certain number of days, though.

At the same time, she said, it’s important to ease yourself out of it. Some cleanses give tips on how to slowly readjust your body back to normal eating.

Otherwise, people can get ill trying to get back into routine.

Despite the physical changes that some cleanses cause, Davidson said cleanses might be appealing because of their psychological effects.

“We think [cleanses have] all these major health benefits. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t,” she said. “I think some of it is what we think it does.”

Types of Cleanses

Cleanses have been around for decades, but they’ve seen recent popularity with a growing number of celebrities using them to lose weight. Still, it’s important to talk to your doctor before embarking on a cleanse, as some of these can lead to drastic changes in your health and diet. Here are a few of the most popular cleanses.

Kidney Cleanse

This flushes out the kidneys by ingesting a lot of water or eating a lot of fruits with high water content, like watermelon. Teas can be made from watermelon or celery seeds to create a diuretic effect.

Acai Berry Cleanse

This cleanse uses acai berries, which are said to have detoxifying properties. They contain free radical-fighting antioxidants, amino acids and essential fatty acids. Acai berries can be ingested through acai capsules or acai juice, leading to weight loss, higher energy and balancing the body’s pH levels.

Raw Food Cleanse

This is a seven to 10 day cleanse of fresh, unprocessed foods instead of refined sugars, flours and most fatty foods. It begins with a 24-hour fast and a diet of uncooked, fresh and non-fatty foods.

Juice Cleanse

These vary across the board, but all juices involve a combination of fruit, nut, vegetables or other health supplements blended together. Wildly popular thanks to celebrities like Salma Hayek, juice cleanses are especially popular after gluttony-ridden holidays like Thanksgiving.

— Janina Enrile

Ezinearticles.com, Livestrong.com, Macleans.ca

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