To Cleanse Or Not To Cleanse? (Your System, That Is!)
The prospect of starting a cleanse is akin to the idea of climbing Mt. Everest: Some find the notion enthralling, while others have absolutely zero interest. A good many fall somewhere in between -- and if you're reading this, it's likely you're one of them.
I'm familiar with the trepidation. After years of professing how much I wanted to do a cleanse (plus one failed attempt), I recently got around to actually doing it. The verdict? It wasn't always fun, but it wasn't hard either. In the end, the results -- clearer skin, better digestion and weight loss -- were well worth the time, effort and discipline. But don't just take my word for it...
Maybe you’ve been wavering because you’ve heard that the liver already detoxifies the body. This is true, but the bigger question is, what exactly is your liver getting rid of? "In our modern times, with so many food and environmental toxin exposures, it's my opinion that the liver is overtaxed," says Dr. Kirti A. Patel, who runs Daya Wellness in Ayer, Massachusetts. "Some would argue that if you eat a clean, organic diet with purified water and limit your exposures to harmful chemicals in your food, air and environment, you don't need to give your liver a break. I would agree with that statement. But how many people do you know who can say that?"
To help you figure out if you're cleanse-ready, we've compiled advice from experts such as Dr. Patel, a registered dietitian and a personal trainer on the benefits of cleansing, and how to find a cleanse that's right for you.
Choosing A Cleanse
Are you someone who forgets to eat during a busy day at work, or does your stomach start growling the second the clock ticks to noon? If you're among the latter, a full-on juice cleanse likely isn't for you. "I tend to prefer cleanses that incorporate solid foods with low allergen potential and have a lot of raw food, especially if you'd like to do the cleanse for a month," says Dr. Patel. "However, a liquid cleanse, like a juice cleanse, might be OK if it is done for a shorter period of time." Plenty of cleanse programs offer both options, so do your research by looking up programs online and reading feedback on health message boards.
Perhaps the most important thing to consider is whether cleansing could compromise health conditions or interfere with medications. "In general, anyone with severe chronic conditions, blood sugar problems, very low blood pressure, anemia or who is underweight should avoid cleanses," says Dr. Patel. "It's best to check with your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough to do a cleanse."
Kareen Turner, a registered dietician based in Southern California, adds that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding also shouldn't cleanse (though they can consider a change in diet). "Both [conditions] take a lot of calories, so you want to be sure you're eating enough to sustain yourself and your child," she notes.
That said, cleansing doesn't require buying into a specific program. Turner points out that shifting, even briefly, to a vegan diet from a carnivorous one can be beneficial for many, while still supplying the nutrients a body needs.
I don’t have children but I do have a husband who likes to cook, so it was important for me to eat at least one meal a day on my cleanse program. Still, there were days I wasn’t allowed to eat anything at all, so I took a fellow cleanser’s advice and told my husband it was a great time for him to cook a dish with mussels or scallops -- two ingredients I don't enjoy.
When cleansing, make sure whatever food you eat is organic, since detoxing your body is the whole point. "That means no pesticides, insecticides, chemicals or anything toxic like that," says Amanda Rose Walsh, a certified personal trainer in NYC with a master's in exercise physiology.
Look for a program that offers support, because you're going to need it. Isagenix, the program I did, had a Facebook group where I could post questions that got almost immediate responses. Walsh, who cleanses twice a year, likes Organic Avenue for the daily emails it sends full of tips and advice.
The final component to consider is convenience. You want to be set up for success, so look into whether the program delivers or offers a line of approved snacks you can have on hand during the program.
As cleansing programs can be costly -- upwards of $400 in some cases -- money is one area where our experts beg to differ.
"I would recommend spending a little bit more money," says Walsh. "It is an investment, but it's an investment in your health."
Turner put her own cleanse together. "A lot of [cleanse programs] have guidelines online, so I followed [their] schedule but bought the products myself from the health food store."
Juicing and smoothies are other DIY cleansing options. If you go that route, Turner says, "You're not really spending a ton of money on products, you're just replacing what you would spend on the cleanse program on produce."
Dr. Patel echoes that sentiment. "There's no need to do an expensive cleanse," she says. "It may be more convenient for some, but most people can develop their own cleanse using online resources. I especially like the Clean program, which has a great website and book that you can check out at the library."
The Physical Effects
Much like how body shape differs from person to person, one person's cleanse experience won't necessarily reflect another's.
"It really depends on what's going on with your body and what your diet was like before," Turner says. "If you're someone who eats healthily, then chances are your symptoms aren't going to be as bad as someone who may have had a diet where their body was like, 'Wow, thanks for the break, now I can clean myself out!' They might be going to the bathroom a little more frequently, but it's a gentle process and nothing that is uncomfortable."
If I'm being honest, the thing that held me back from doing a cleanse for so long was the need to be near a bathroom at all times. But in my experience, that notion couldn't have been further from the truth -- I often had the opposite problem.
And so with that: Are you ready to climb Mt. Everest and try a cleanse?