New Year’s resolutions can span from being on time, to keeping your room clean, to getting your reading done on time (or at all). More than likely, however, resolutions have to do with getting fit, eating healthy and losing weight. In the midst of this flurry of health conscious choices (I’ve heard SPAC has been packed the last two weeks), there are a myriad of options to kick-start your healthy new year, each promising better results than the last. The most mind boggling of these options is the juice cleanse. We’ve detailed the benefits of juice before, but what happens to your body when juice is all you survive on for 1-14 days?
The idea of a juice cleanse sounds great to kick-start weight loss: lots of fresh nutrients, a quick way to lose a few pesky pounds, it “cleans out” your digestive track and brightens your skin. Proponents of the programs praise the “mental and physical reset” effect of a cleanse. Different programs have different rules, but most cleanses require that you drink a specific number of juices a day and have no solid food, caffeine or alcohol. The juices in different programs (check out a list here) focus on providing protein and nutrients to keep you full and prevent bloating, all while you lose weight. Some users have even reported that it weaned them off their worst habits: after a cleanse, one coffee addict went from 3 cups a morning to one a day. It sounds simple, right? Even after writing the last paragraph, I considered doing a cleanse for a few days just to kick-start my healthy new year (my resolutions included cutting out dessert, eating more veggies and talking to the cute guy who lives down the hall from me).
However, after considering what a cleanse can do for you, you absolutely must consider what a cleanse can do to you. Ingredients can be expensive, and hunger pangs and cravings make you cranky. Most programs require around 6 juices a day, but only 800-1200 calories a day. The high end of the spectrum is dangerously low for active people and the middle to low range of the spectrum is dangerously low for anyone: your body requires a certain amount of calories everyday to perform simple functions, like breathing, digesting food, sleeping and finishing a problem set. This is essentially starving your body and by doing so, your body begins to dip into muscle stores in order to find energy (which is exactly what you don’t want when trying to shape up). By doing a cleanse, you do lose weight, but most, if not all, is water weight that will inevitably return once you resume your regular solid diet. And to make matters worse, the cleanse can make good bacteria disappear from your digestive tract that regulate digestions and boost your immune system. Health experts warn against juice cleanses for all the reasons above, but also for the scariest result of all: cleanses can lead to disordered eating that cause mental and physical distress.
But is there a healthy manner to go about jump-starting a healthy year? I’m a huge advocate of moderation and the experts suggest just that when entering cleanse territory. Juice-only for three or more days is dangerous and not recommended, but try a one-day program to feel lighter and more focused for the next day. If you’re preparing to do a quickie-cleanse, slowly cut dairy, caffeine, sugar and alcohol out of your diet in the days leading up to the cleanse. Easing your body into the idea of a day of just liquid will yield better results, as will gradually adding solid foods back into your diet. Obviously, the morning after a cleanse, you shouldn’t have a Baconator — focus on easing your body back into natural, healthy, whole solid foods. Or, for a daily dose of the cleanse craze, have a smoothie (check out our ideas here) made from fresh, whole ingredients that has around 300-400 calories for a filling breakfast.
To truly cleanse your system of processed foods, focus on incorporating whole, natural foods with lots of fiber and vitamins (hi, veggies and fruits!) into each meal. The best “quick fix” for dieters is simply to return to clean foods that give your body a healthy, happy glow inside and out. Should you decide to juice cleanse for a few days, be safe, and always remember: you have teeth for a reason. Use ‘em to chew on something cleansing.