Cleanses and Reboots: When They’re A Good Idea and When They’re Dumb

 

cleansing

When are cleanses a good idea?

Cleanses, fasts, and reboots have proliferated recently, and their sheer diversity makes it hard to discern what benefits they might bring you, if any.

You can find them in the following forms:

  • Water fasts, where you drink nothing but water for several days.
  • Juice fasts, where you drink nothing but juice for several days.
  • Bootcamps of all sorts, for practically any diet or exercise regimen
  • Lemonade fasts, and cayenne pepper fasts, where you drink these with water for 3-4 days
  • Lots of detoxifying supplements where you buy a whole kit for $300-$500 and use only them for your food for 1-2 weeks.

There’s probably more, but this is enough to talk about for one blog post.

When thinking about whether or not to do one of these, it’s important to begin with four observations:

  1. Your body naturally detoxifies itself in a variety of ways, but especially with your kidney and liver.  This goes on 24×7, no matter what else you’re eating.
  2. Traditional fasting, where you reduce your calories and increase your nutrients is very good for you.  The practice has been around since biblical times and its health benefits have since been scientifically verified.
  3. Your motivation and willpower is limited, so occasional pushes in the right direction are fine and helpful, and many reboots and bootcamps aim to primarily do this, which is fine.
  4. If you have serious health problems, it will take much longer than three, ten, or thirty days to right yourself, short of taking a powerful drug.

So with that said, let’s take a look at some of your options if you’re interested in one of these.

Retreats, Immersions, and Non-Invasive Cleanses: Sure, Why Not?

Lots of diet programs offer the opportunity to do a 10-day or 30-day immersion that introduces you to a specific way of eating and provide a lot of guided support along the way.  These aren’t technically required for you to complete their program successfully, but their primary benefit is close instruction to get you on the right track and added motivation to make sure you stick with it.

Absent any zany claims that seem unrealistic, I think these are fine as long as you feel comfortable with the people you’re working with.  Decent examples might be Lindsay Nixon’s 3 and 10 day immersion programs, or Joe Cross’es 15 and 30 day guided reboots.  Neither is particularly expensive, and their primary aim is to provide structure for beginners who are feeling unsure of their ability to complete their programs successfully.

(Note:  I haven’t tried either of these myself.  Just giving examples of programs that come from reputable sources and pass the smell test). 

Water Fasts, Cayenne Pepper, and Supplement Programs that Cost $100+: No, No, No!

There are Hollywood celebrities who extoll the virtues of eating watermelon and habanero juice to clean their colons and rid their body of purities.

Don’t listen to them.  They’re quacks.

Or at least, they have the money and free time to have someone else prepare the food for them beforehand, have a coach on hand to provide motivation and support when they get hungry, and remove themselves from the outside world so nothing can get in the way of their diet hobbies.

That’s great, but it’s not going to work for you.  It’s well established that most of these programs have no scientific basis to stand on, and there are plenty of examples of people who have seriously messed themselves up trying to go too far, or gained weight once they finished.

This lady is a decent example:

You can also find supplements that try to replicate these practices.  Sometimes it’s a single product that’s sold by itself, and other times they’re big families of supplements that you take throughout the day for several weeks at a time and cost $300 or something like that for a 2-week package.

The latter are usually a bad idea, because they’re typically targeted towards unsophisticated buyers who can’t evaluate ingredient quality very well.  They’re often sold through MLM schemes, which have to be expensive as a necessity in order to pay the commissions of all the people downstream of the original distributors.  The high price is a symptom of their crappy business model, not better quality.

Some other supplements are aimed at detoxifying and cleansing and are high quality, and would have my recommendation as long as you don’t take them exclusively for a long period of time.

Fasting is Awesome, But Relax!

Regular fasting is very good for you. It has an effect on your body that’s similar to exercise.  Things like occasionally skipping a meal, juicing or smoothies for a day or two, or weekend retreats where you unplug your mind and body are beneficial.

In general, here are best practices for people looking to “cleanse” their bodies:

  • Gets lots of sleep.  Your body recharges itself and cycles through a lot of its waste products while you’re asleep.  A natural sleep cycle is critical for daily detox.
  • Don’t eat right before you go to bed.  This relates to the first point.  Digestion is metabolically expensive, so digesting your food while you’re sleeping takes energy away from your body’s detoxifying functions.
  • Drink lots of water.  Water is critical for almost all of your body’s detoxing activities, and being dehydrated prevents your body from getting rid of waste.
  • Don’t Stress.  Life’s too short, and it causes your body to make all sorts of hormones that make you fat and bloated.

You can implement all of the above practices and get a lot of the benefits of cleansing.  I suppose you could still do something else on top of that, like the above mentioned programs I talked about, but really really really, the practice of finding “daily sanity” is all most of us need.

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About Jonathan Bechtel

Owner of Health Kismet, maker of Incredible Greens, a green superfood supplement that combines 35 different raw greens, herbs, probiotics, grasses and fruits into a sweet tasting powder.

Comments

  1. Have you heard of Blue Print Cleanse? What do you think about those? I’ve used them before when I was juicing and always thought they were delicioius but was never quite sure if they were the same thing as regular juicing.

    • Jeanne,

      Blue Print Cleanse is good but their products are pasteurized (all commercial products are), so it won’t have the same nutrients as regular juice.

      Besides that they’re pretty good, but I’ve never used their official cleansing programs, just as an easy way to have a healthy snack.

  2. The cayenne pepper thing always struck me as kind of weird. At the very least you;d probably have to take so much ofi t to truly clear your system that it’d cause serious indigestion and heartburn. Caspaicin can be bad for your digestive tract.

  3. You say that skipping a meal occasionally, juicing for a few days or fasting for a day is beneficial..says who? Do you have evidence of that?

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      Hi Heather.

      Intermittent fasting, in its various forms, has a proven track record of being healthy.

      Here’s a general review:

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2622429/

      Here’s a clinical trial that was conducted on humans:

      http://www.jappl.org/content/99/6/2128.full

      It might be easy to misinterpret what I’m saying, but the basic idea of occasional nutrient-dense caloric deprivation is sound, IMO.

      I’m not talking about a 60 day “all in” something or another where you stop eating food or fixate on a specific number of calories. Those are bad ideas. But conscientiously planning on skipping a meal here and there helps to re-calibrate your circulating insulin levels, which is very important for all kinds of things.

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