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Jill S. Brown Headshot

A Cleanse by Any Other Name... Is Still a Crash Diet!

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(Note: "detox" and "cleanse" are often used interchangeably.)

You're two weeks into trying to adhere to your New Year's resolutions. Either you're on a roll (one more week makes a habit!), or you're faltering. If your goal is weight loss through dieting, and you live in L.A., you've probably considered a detox or cleanse. I'm sure it's not just us body conscious Angelenos who've considered this (although I'd bet we are the majority). After all, if a cleanse is good enough for Gwenyth, Beyonce, Oprah and a roster of other A-listers, then it's good enough for the rest of us health conscious Angelenos, right? Heck, there's even a "Celebrity Cleanse Detox."

So, should you or shouldn't you delve into the most ascetic, self-denying type of diet known to man short of complete fasting?

First you have to ask yourself why you think you want to do a detox or cleanse. If it's because you feel like you're "toxic" from eating too many unhealthy foods, then there are some reasons to give it a shot. If you feel like you're "toxic" from environmental pollutants invading your personal space, then you're really barking up the wrong Amazonian rain-forest tree.

There are mixed feelings out there in the medical and health & wellness worlds. Most accredited professionals agree that the cleansing and detox diets on the market are not necessary and some may even be harmful. Steer clear of products containing senna, for example. Senna is an herbal laxative that can damage nerves in the colon.

Be wary of detox or cleansing products making extravagant claims. Detox-evangelists believe the toxins in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract cause diseases like arthritis, allergies and asthma and cleansing will improve immunity and enhance energy. Now I don't know about you, but a good dose or two of Metamucil makes me a lot lighter on my feet and energetic too! I have yet to see if a cleaner colon will improve my joint pain or allergies. For that I'm still beholden to my local CVS for Ibuprofen and Claritin!

There is no scientific evidence saying that cleansing or detox diets are good or bad, nor proof that they remove toxic waste from our systems. After all, that's what we have a digestive system for in the first place.

As for weight loss, detox diets are a catch 22. The upside is they can spark your weight loss efforts. Any major weight loss in a short period of time will be water weight, however, restricting your calorie intake will likely take off a few pounds of fat. By the way, muscle comes off too when you diet. Another benefit is that you will think twice about what you put in your mouth during the diet and hopefully long after. Spoiler alert: there are no detox diets that have a Double-Double with cheese on the menu.

Now for the down side: Detox diets in my vernacular, are crash diets. Unless you're under medical supervision and determined to never enjoy food again, they're not reasonable. Plus, you may find people have stopped inviting you to dinner parties. Gaining some weight back, if not all of it, is inevitable. The faster you lose weight, the faster you put it back on. Other side effects associated with these diets include fatigue, headache, stomach-ache, nausea, essential nutrient loss and electrolyte loss. Obviously, the more extreme the diet, such as the age old, "Master Cleanse" or "21 Lbs in 21 Days," the more likely you are to experience these side effects. If you're looking for a long-term weight-loss solution, these types of diets are not for you.

Of course, cleansing diets have been around for ages, and are probably not going away, considering how much money is made in that industry -- $28 million is the last number I read for sales of cleansing products. If you don't want to contribute to that number, you can just as well do your own cleansing diet.

Patricia Bannan, MS R.D. offers this tip, "If you are planning on going on a 'detox diet' aim for one that includes real foods, not just water and sugar (from maple syrup) that will cause you to drop weight fast (mostly water weight) then gain it back even faster after the cleanse period ends... By eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthful fats (from foods like nuts, salmon and flax seeds) you can naturally detox your body in way that will maintain your energy and weight loss efforts for the long term."

Finally, if you do decide to go on a more extreme type of diet, like a juice fast or one with little solid food, you need to prepare your system by easing into it and then weaning off it. Make sure you check with your doctor first or be under the supervision of a professional.