Jillian Michael's Cleanse and Burn: Expensive Laxative or Effective Weight Loss Supplement?

05/31/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

If God had intended me to shart Depends would come in a bikini style with fun pattern options. (My buns like to be festive, what can I say?) This was my initial reaction the first time someone talked to me about doing a "cleanse" not of the deep breathing variety. See, I'm what they call a negative first responder. Me at eight: You want me to go to Disneyland?! Don't you know the Mad Hatter is mad because of severe lead poisoning incurred from his antiquated hat-making techniques? And you want me to go on a ride designed by this idiot?!? (Side note: That trip to Disneyland got mononucelosis and ended up not only not getting to ride any of the rides but also missing a month of school. See what paranoia gets you?) Me at 30: You want me to drink a bunch of crappy tasting liquid to flush toxins out of my system? Last I checked my liver wasn't broken and it'd better be doing something to earn it's keep in my abdominal cavity, by golly!


So when one of my friends sent me an e-mail with the subject line of "I can't believe I'm doing this but..." and continued on to say that she and her husband were going to try Jillian Michael's "Cleanse and Burn" my initial reaction was, well, negative. "Don't you know she's already been sued three times over those pills?" I responded shrilly trying not to sound like the bossy know-it-all I totally am. A few days later another friend with a cruise coming up e-mailed asking me the quickest way to lose 10 pounds. "Try cutting out a snack and all junk food," I suggested helpfully.

"I need to drop 10 pounds in a week," she clarified.

"Well there's always Master Cleanse," I joked. "That's what Beyonce used to slim down for Dream Girls and she lost 20 pounds in two weeks."

"Perfect!" she exclaimed and started writing down the ingredients.

"Noooo!" I cried. "You might lose some water weight and a lot of poop in the short term but cleanses don't work!"

"Hmm..." she mused, "If I'm just trying to poop a lot, what if I cut to the chase and just take laxatives instead?"

"That would be called bulimia," I sighed.

And then I got an e-mail from an very sensible old Gym Buddy (old because she moved halfway across the country, not because of her age) telling me that she had just started a 30-day cleanse called Isagenix and not only lost 5 pounds and 15.5 inches in the first week but felt so awesome she did two hour-long runs after not having run for nearly a year. Finally the coup d'etat: Experience Life magazine, one of the most respected and scholarly fitness journals in the biz, ran a whole feature story about, yes, the benefits of cleansing, this time touting Ann Louise Gittleman's "Fast Track Liver Detox" plan.

I think the Universe was telling me to rethink my stance on cleansing. Either that or its telling me to stop checking my e-mail.

Do Detoxes Work?
To answer this question we need to look at two factors: the type of cleanse and what your definition of "work" is. A cleanse or detox is defined as, "any health regimen designed to remove toxins from the body." That's pretty generic and could encompass practices all the way from sweat lodges to massage to acupuncture to diets so I'm going to narrow it down here to ones that use a drink, pill and/or supplement to cleanse the body. That still leaves a lot a lot A LOT left but it's a start. Basically there are as many cleanses as you have potentially defective body parts.

As for the definition of "work", that's a little more variable. Most people I know -- indeed all of my friends who talked to me about it -- follow in Beyonce's stilettoed footsteps and cleanse to lose weight or jump start a weight loss plan. Others like Gwyneth Paltrow and Dr. Gittleman recommend detoxing for health purposes such as gaining energy, flushing out toxins, and "restarting" the body. While the latter is very subjective and is mainly supported by people saying things like "I just felt lighter and, you know, cleaner!", the former is pretty easy to quantify. Either you lose weight or you don't. Given those criteria I think it's safe to say that most cleanses work -- Beyonce and my Gym Buddy certainly lost plenty of weight.

Jillian Michael's Big Unanswered Question
One big problem with these plans is that you can't "cleanse" forever. And what happens when you return to eating again? A popular theory is that since the weight loss is mainly water and poop as soon as you start drinking and eating again the weight will return as well. Beyonce gained all 20 pounds back -- not that she seems at all sad about it, to her credit. But my main issue is that most detoxes are oozing with quick-fix smarminess. Jillian Michaels recently did an interview with a local radio station and before she came on the air, the radio show hosts explained that her P.R. rep had specifically forbade them from asking her any questions about her controversial pills. I was disappointed because I have wondered how someone who tells people every week on The Biggest Loser that the way to lose weight is through very hard work in the gym and a lot of self control in the kitchen can start schilling diet pills without her brain imploding from the contradiction. Instead we got to listen to five minutes of her promoting her new yoga DVD.

Perhaps she prefers to let her Cleanse and Burn system speak for itself. Martha Edwards over at That's Fit tried it out for the full two weeks and reported that while the cleanse pills made her "get the runs" and the burn pills made her "jittery" the side effects did lessen over time and she lost 3 pounds which made her happy although she qualifies her weight loss by explaining that she also made an effort to clean up her diet despite being told by the PR folk, "that's one of the selling points of the product ... no special diet is required." So what of my friend and her husband who also tried it out? My friend quit after the second day when she was knocked out by diarrhea and stomach cramps. She wasn't sure if it was the stomach flu which was making the rounds or rather really aggressive cleansing action from the pills. Either way she didn't finish her pack. Her husband however went through the whole thing and reported similar feelings to Edwards saying that he "pooped a lot" during the first week and spent the second week on a caffeine buzz. He did not lose any weight.

I have no conclusions for you. Honestly I am really conflicted about this subject still. And normally I would try it out myself (oh yes I would!) so I could see how it made me personally feel but I'm nursing and I'm not about to take any risks with my baby's food supply. On one hand, there is no reputable research that cleanses and detoxes lead to long-term weight loss or health improvements. But on the other hand there are a lot of people who certainly think they do. So now I'm asking you -- any of you tried a cleanse or detox? What was your goal in doing it (i.e. weight loss or health improvement)? Did it work? Anyone else find Jillian exhaustingly hypocritical?