Lifestyle

Are Cleanses the New Eating Disorder?

Could excessive juice cleansing be classified as an eating disorder?

Juice is far more than just juice these days. For one thing, it’s a verb. Juicing. We’ve all heard of it. Celebrities make cleanses a popular media topic, with stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Owen Wilson and Blake Lively and even Bill Clinton touting their beneficial properties.

But are cleanses safe? Are they just another method of extreme dieting that’s gone too far? It depends on who you ask. Some nutrition experts say there are benefits to an annual cleanse, but many people are going overboard, doing an extreme juice cleanse, then jumping to a green smoothie cleanse, then a nothing-but-fruit-juice cleanse to make sure they’ve properly detoxed.

There’s no set definition as to what encompasses a cleanse. It can be whatever a person wants it to be, but more moderate versions such as Dr. Alejandro Junger’s 21-day Clean Cleanse entails cutting out all caffeine, non-organic foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners, refined carbs and many other off-limits foods. Then there are more extreme cleanses, where freshly pressed fruit and vegetable juices are all that’s allowed for an extended period of time, such as 30 days. 

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Are Cleanses the New Eating Disorder?

There’s no set definition as to what encompasses a cleanse. It can be whatever a person wants it to be, but more moderate versions such as Dr. Alejandro Junger’s 21-day Clean Cleanse entails cutting out all caffeine, non-organic foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners, refined carbs and many other off-limits foods. Then there are more extreme cleanses, where freshly pressed fruit and vegetable juices are all that’s allowed for an extended period of time, such as 30 days. 

 Lina Sbrocco, a naturopath and licensed acupuncturist with the Connor Integrative Medicine Network at University Hospitals in Ohio, said she believes cleanses can be safe and effective when done appropriately.

“An appropriate cleanse targets the five major organs of elimination involved in detoxifying and excreting toxic compounds and waste material. These organs are the colon, liver, kidneys, lungs, and skin. The best cleanse or "detox diet" as they are popularly referred to is to eat sensibly and healthy. A complete cleanse incorporates an organic vegetarian/vegan diet, fresh juices, medical foods/shakes, exercise, skin brushing and meditation,” Sbrocco said.

But the cleanse can’t be done continuously, or repeated many times each year. Sbrocco said she recommends doing no more than one to three cleanses a year, for 1-2 weeks at a time, and that they work best when centered around the changing seasons.

Some people shouldn’t do a cleanse. “People with certain health conditions are more vulnerable and should not do a detox diet/cleanse. Always consult your health care provider before starting a detox diet. These include: Pregnant or breastfeeding women; children; elderly; those with a heart condition; those with an eating disorder.”

Are Cleanses the New Eating Disorder?

Sbrocco said cleanses are popular for many reasons. “Mainly because most people understand the importance of a healthy diet and feel a cleanse can get them back on track. It can be a positive motivating factor. Losing weight is another reason people do a cleanse, however this is not the main goal of an appropriate detoxification program.”

There is a danger of turning a cleanse into an eating disorder, she said. “I believe it can be if the person is so preoccupied with food and weight that they focus on little else.” If someone has an eating disorder, they should steer clear of a cleanse.  

The benefits of a cleanse is “similar to spring cleaning your home. It assists the body's own systems to efficiently get rid of excess stuff that can accumulate. Exposure to toxins can exceed our body's natural ability to detoxify itself causing a build up over time. This excess can come from an  unhealthy diet, polluted air and water, herbicides/pesticides on our food, cleaning and beauty products and even cookware. A healthy cleanse or detoxification program should always begin gradually. One can start by eliminating coffee, alcohol, refined sugar and meat while increasing fresh organic fruits and vegetables.  Proper hydration will promote better functioning of all the body's systems,” Sbrocco said.

Austin Arnold, an ACE certified personal trainer at FitRated.com, said he has a lot of clients asking him about cleanses these days. “I discourage all my clients from doing cleanses. Cleanses, like
diets, are temporary, and thus the results my clients and I are so eager to
see will be temporary too. The minute a cleanse ends, my client's progress
begins to regress,” he said.

“While some cleanses could be considered eating disorders, it all depends on
the type and the intensity of a cleanse,” Arnold said.

Austin Arnold, an ACE certified personal trainer at FitRated.com, said he has a lot of clients asking him about cleanses these days. “I discourage all my clients from doing cleanses. Cleanses, like
diets, are temporary, and thus the results my clients and I are so eager to
see will be temporary too. The minute a cleanse ends, my client's progress
begins to regress,” he said.

“While some cleanses could be considered eating disorders, it all depends on
the type and the intensity of a cleanse,” Arnold said.

Arnold explained that there are three key issues everyone needs to address before starting a cleanse: 

1. Does it advocate nutrient density? The healthiest way to live is eating
at least nine servings daily of fruits and vegetables, as well as a diet
rich in whole grains.
2. Does it advocate exercise? Exercise is just as vital, if not the
most vital part needed for losing weight as well as raising a person's quality of
life.
3.  Does it make sense? This addresses whether the cleanse meets the
individuals personal needs/goals; what are the financial costs; and where
is the evidence?

“To sum up, in order to cleanse the body in the healthiest way possible, a person should make a lifestyle change that includes a healthy eating plan and ample physical activity. This strategy will yield better results than any popular cleanse on today's market,” Arnold said. 

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