The Truth About Detox and Cleanse Diets
The Truth About Detox and Cleanse Diets
Are the “master cleanse” or “detox diet” plans reasonable ways to lose weight?
One clue that a diet may be more fad gimmick diet and less effective weight loss diet is probably the fact that it has been marketed under a slew of hokey, seemingly irrelevant titles. The lemonade, maple syrup, cabbage soup, fat flush, herbal tea, and 48-hour-detox diets may peak your curiosity on their own, but in the end, they all fit nicely into one, hugely unappealing diet strategy: starvation.
While their titles may give them an air of originality, all of these detox diet plans stem from the concepts put forth in Stanley Burroughs’ original Master Cleanse, developed in the early 1950s and published for the first time in 1976. Who is Stanley Burroughs, you may ask? Well, according to Wikipedia he was a massage therapist and strict nudist. For real. He was also a convicted felon, charged with second-degree murder, practicing medicine without a license, and administering unlawful cancer treatment. Oh and apparently he was a nutritionist on the side… I wish I was lying.
Borroughs’ diet formula is weird but pretty straightforward: water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper + a fine helping of herbal laxatives x 10-40 days = energy, weight loss, and improved health. All other diets with claims about cleansing or detoxifying the body are pretty much a variation of this basic concept, promoting a very low calorie diet that is high in fruits and vegetables in liquid form. It is obvious that no one could sustain life following this strict regimen, but let’s look at some of the health claims to find out why even a short stint on this plan is a bad idea.
Claim #1: By following this diet, you will rid your body of dangerous toxins, which have built up over time and can cause headaches, stomachaches, fatigue, etc.
Detoxification… isn’t that why God invented the liver? And the kidneys, and the GI tract, and sweat…? The bottom line is, the body will detoxify itself naturally.
Claim # 2: This diet will promote weight loss.
True. Eating a diet very low in calories will cause you to lose weight. But trust me when I say that this weight loss is 100% temporary and will most likely cause you to gain in the long run. Borroughs’ Master Cleanse recommends 6-12 servings of juice each day in order to “meet caloric needs.” Newsflash: the only calorie containing item in this beverage is maple syrup, and at 2 tablespoons a pop, you are only getting about 100 calories per serving. This comes out to between 600-1200 calories per day, when the typical young adult needs somewhere between 1500-3000. So essentially, you are losing weight because you are fasting. Unfortunately, when you ditch the master cleanse and move on with your life, your little stint on the detox has caused your body to enter into starvation mode. While burning fat, your body was also burning lean tissue, ultimately decreasing muscle mass and slowing your metabolism. Oops! Here comes the weight gain…
Claim #3: This diet will give you energy and make you feel good.
To the contrary, my friends. These diets are low in nearly all essential macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. As a result, even 24 hours worth of detox could cause you to feel tired, headachey, and nauseous… wait, isn’t that what we were trying to prevent in the first place? Not to mention that the inadequate calories will cause your body’s nonessential functions to shut down, ultimately causing distress to your hair, nails and skin. Do we really want to trade weight loss for baldness and acne?
Claim #4: Lemon juice and other “live foods” contain living enzymes, which are great for your health.
Enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. They are no more alive than a molecule of H20. Period.
Claim #5: By removing milk and dairy from your diet, you will reduce mucus production and increase nutrient absorption.
The belief that certain foods (particularly those high in fat, like milk and dairy) are mucus forming stems from Jewish folklore and ancient Chinese medicine. The myths have led to the belief that these foods should not be eaten if you have a history of respiratory infections, asthma, or allergies. Not only is this idea lacking the modern science to back it up, but last time I checked, nutrient absorption happened primarily in the small intestine.
Claim #6: Frequent use of herbal laxatives, colon hydrotherapy, and salt water flushes will help to detoxify the body.
Aside from manual detox being completely unnecessary, these techniques can actually cause harm to your bowels! Possible adverse effects include serious dehydration, bowel perforation, and infection.
A Master Cleanse kit complete with Pampers… if that doesn’t turn you away, nothing will!
Should any of the above not have been clear, here it is plainly: master cleanse diets and detox diets are neither healthy, nor viable ways to lose weight! If you're interested in burning fat, step away from the fad diets and pick up a sustainable reduced calorie diet plan instead.ShareThis
About the Author
Alyssa grew up in New Hampshire and is a lover of any activity that involves mountains (especially the Greens and the Whites!). She speaks Mandarin Chinese and Japanese and lived in both countries as an undergrad (which partially explains her love for Beijing eggplant, lychee, and anything green tea flavored). Currently, she lives in New York City and is working on her master’s degree in public health nutrition at NYU. For the past year, she has been working at NYU School of Medicine’s Center for Immigrant Health, and last fall was awarded the Gstalder Memorial Scholarship for her research and service in minority health. Active in the Greater New York Dietetic Association, Alyssa is working with student members to create a low-literacy cookbook and nutrition guide for cancer patients, which she hopes to have translated into Chinese and Spanish. Before getting into nutrition, she spent time working for several environmental groups, including The Nature Conservancy in Yunnan, China, the Missouri Botanical Gardens in Madagascar, and the Green Mountain Club on The Long Trail in Vermont. Alyssa was recently accepted to a dietetic internship program at the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center in the Bronx, where she will begin work in the fall.
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