01/14/2011 09:29 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Weight Loss Cleanse: A Better Kind

Everyone seems to be talking about cleansing diets. Celebrities and self-appointed diet gurus gush over the joy of a clean intestinal tract. The Internet, drug stores and publishers promote colon cleansers as essential to our well being. Lurid, unbelievably detailed descriptions of the horrors lurking in our guts are available to anyone with the courage to read about them.

According to all the experts, if you don't heed the advice, don't bother trying to lose weight. Apparently the toxins and the nasty bacteria that have snuck into your body are huddling together in the dark recesses of your gut to make fat cells fatter and the mid-section flabbier. Going on a diet is pointless until and unless you rid yourself of these forces for fat.

The simplest and cheapest way of doing so is to drink a homemade concoction of lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, an herbal laxative and lots of water. However, if mixing such a brew does not appeal to you, there are countless commercial versions available that activate bowel motility and supply some electrolytes. They also tell you to drink copious amounts of water. Naturally the combination of fasting and laxative-use is an effective way of losing weight (anyone who has eaten contaminated food can attest to that).

Whether cleansing has any real effect on dieting, bowel health, or longevity is for the experts and epidemiologists to determine. But if a diet is to succeed, removing the supposed environmental toxins from our bodies is not what is important. Instead, what we should be doing is cleansing ourselves of the psychological toxins that have been making us overeat and gain weight.

We rarely overeat in a vacuum. Almost every bout of overeating is caused by something. It could be something acute like finding out that your road assistance plan expired the day before you had a flat tire in a blizzard. Or it may be something chronic, such as being the caretaker for a parent with Alzheimer's disease or being forced to do the work of three recently laid-off coworkers. The reasons may be embedded in your psychological self, such as resenting having someone tell you what you can and cannot eat because that is what your mother did all the time. Or the overeating may be habitual. You always ate while doing your homework when in high school and now you always eat when writing reports for your job.

The "cleanse yourself" people claim that we are bombarded with countless toxins that make us fat. Whether that is true or not, what is true is we may feel unable to control our overeating because of our toxic memories, habits or life situations. Some toxic triggers to overeating can be "cleansed" easily. If skipping breakfast and lunch leads to excessive eating from supper to bedtime, following a structured meal and snack plan will eliminate this. Eating your way through a lonely Sunday can be avoided by finding others with whom you can share those empty afternoons. But other triggers may require help and intervention that can range from a life coach to a lawyer to a dating service. In the meantime, here is what you can do:

1. Use the lemon juice/cayenne pepper concoction to kill the bugs on your house plants and spend the time thinking and writing down the many reasons you overeat.

2. Be gentle with yourself. You are not judging yourself; rather you are trying to understand what has been going on when you cannot resist overeating.

3. Ask yourself if this is even the right time to go on a diet or whether it is better to wait until you are better able to control the stresses that are causing you to overeat.

4. Be honest about why you are thinking of going on a particular diet. Sometimes rigorous diets are selected as a way of avoiding thinking about the problems that caused the weight gain. If you focus on the diet, then you don't have to focus on your problems. It never works.

5. Do you need help and support? Find someone who is as interested in your problems as the number of calories you just consumed for lunch.

6. Find a weight-loss plan that allows you to lose weight slowly, and occasionally not at all, when life starts to interfere with dieting.

7. Avoid diets that mess with your brain chemistry by decreasing serotonin, the chemical which keeps you calm and allows you to cope. Weight loss itself may reveal more reasons why you gained weight and coping with these reasons could be difficult. If you avoid eating carbohydrates, your brain won't be able to make serotonin and coping will become very difficult.

And when you have successfully lost your weight, devote your energy to cleansing your closet of all your over-sized clothes. It is much more fun than drinking lemon juice and pepper.