Why I Wish Everyone Would Ditch the Detox, Wipe Away Their Thoughts of Cleansing

lemon cleanseI’ve been writing about the detox and cleansing trend for many years, including here, here and here.  It was even a topic of mine five years ago for NBC News:  Why You Shouldn’t Detox Like Demi (or eat like Gwyneth).   Beyond the famous juice cleanses, it looks like other foods and beverages are getting in on the trend, including tea, green smoothies, watermelon and soup.  In fact, soup cleanses are being called the new juice cleanses.

I wrote about the problem of cleanses in my latest post for U.S. News & World Report’s Eat + Run blog, posted below:

Cleansing has become a national obsession. Celebrities are praising cold-pressed or raw juice cleanses – and some have even started their own line of products. “Wellness warriors” are posting Instagram selfies sipping on detox smoothies. And you can’t escape all the books to get you started on a cleansing or detox regimen.

A search on Amazon reveals more than 3,000 books promoting some type of cleansing. The promises are lengthy: lose weight, burn fat, flush toxins, reset your system, heal your body and transform your life. You can find a range of cleansing books, including juice, green smoothies, fruit-infused water, watermelon, tea, soup and lemonade, which is also known as Master Cleanse.

Only CleanseOne book I hope will curtail the current fascination with cleansing is called “The Only Cleanse: A 14-Day Natural Detox Plan to Jump-Start a Lifetime of Health” by registered dietitian Samantha Heller.

This is not your basic cleansing book. In fact, it’s an anti-cleanse approach – or at least in the way we’ve all come to know detox and cleansing. Heller, who is a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, says she wrote the book because she saw so many of her patients, including those with cancer, spend a great deal of money on cleansing products and supplements. “It was making my head explode,” she says.

So Heller set out to redefine the notion of cleansing and show people the solution is in their own hands. Rather than relying on strict liquid diets and buying detox products, you have the ability to cleanse your own body, she says. “The best way to ‘cleanse’ your system is by supporting your body’s innate, amazing, complex, integrated detoxification systems.”

Nothing we sip is going to speed up our body’s ability to detoxify toxins. The body has a pretty good system of its own, but Heller says we can support our inner system by eating well, staying active, thinking positive thoughts and sleeping well.

The book outlines a 14-day cleanse plan that includes what to eat and what not to eat – including no deep-fried foods, desserts, sugary drinks and alcohol. While I’m not typically a fan of forbidding foods, for some people, a short-term, structured phase that takes out the junk can help kick-start a new healthy eating routine. I like that Heller recommends an “after-cleanse” plan since that’s where many people fail – transitioning to a lifestyle approach and making new habits stick.

Heller evolves the concept of cleansing to include “space cleanses.” These are actions to help detoxify and cleanse our relationships, thought processes and personal space. “We spend an awful lot of time focusing on what to eat, but we forget that our psychological and emotional well-being are deeply intertwined with our physical and environmental health,” Heller says. “Space cleanses help us identify toxic areas of our lives and offer strategies to help clean them up.”

For example, to prepare for the cleanse, Heller recommends a kitchen cleanse. “New habits demand a new environment,” she writes. One of the chapters outlines a plan for cleaning, rearranging your kitchen and stocking your pantry, cupboards, refrigerator and freezer to help guarantee success. She also suggests “mindful moments,” such as laughter, gratitude, counting blessings, being present and living fully.

After each day, Heller recommends preparing for the next day:

  • Pack your gym bag or lay out your workout clothes.
  • Prep or plan ahead for tomorrow’s lunch.
  • Organize your personal space. Clean out and organize your briefcase, backpack or purse. Assemble paperwork or other necessities for the following day.
  • Take a shower or bath.
  • Wash/cleanse your face.
  • Brush and floss your teeth.
  • Drink a glass of water.
  • Nighttime affirmation: I will sleep well. I will have pleasant dreams.
  • Lie in bed: Mentally prepare for your workout tomorrow, take a deep breath, exhale stress and negativity, and relax.

Maybe this book won’t put an end to all cleanses, but perhaps it will help people think twice before jumping on the juice-cleanse bandwagon. If you’re tempted to follow a detox diet, keep these points in mind:

  • Eat real food instead of drinking liquids only.
  • Avoid laxatives and detox supplements.
  • Eat consistently throughout the day, every three to five hours.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Be physically active.
  • Do not consume less than 1,000 calories a day.
  • Transition to a long-term approach after a temporary cleanse.


Starting a cleanse photo by Kennedy Goodkey on flickr

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