The Smart Cleanse: A Reboot That Works

“A safe cleanse is one that doesn’t make you starve yourself or take fancy pills, potions or expensive drinks.” ~Mark Hyman, MD., Institute For Functional Medicine

I don’t juice-only cleanse. Ever. I don’t start a cleanse without preparing. Ever.

A close friend informed me two weeks ago she was going on a cleanse to jumpstart weight loss and healthy eating. As she was talking I thought, “it’s not going to work.” But when she said,”It just feels like the right thing to do. And, I’m ready,” I thought to myself, “Don’t be so quick to dismiss it, maybe it will work.”

For a few days my friend sent me photos of what she was eating, with updates, “Oh my gosh, I feel so great!” On day three the texts stopped. The following week when I asked her how the cleanse was going, she replied, “I stopped. I couldn’t do it.”

Juice cleanses are all the rage — a celebrity-driven $5 billion (yes, $5 billion) industry and growing — promises weight loss, detoxification from food and environmental chemicals, mental clarity, improved digestion, clearer skin, and a jumpstart to healthy eating.

Juice cleansing is not a panacea to good health.

My personal opinion is that all-juice cleanses are just another fad diet. And, in fact, juice cleansing can come with short- and long-term detriments to lasting wellness.

There are a variety of cleansing and detox plans — from 3-day juice only detoxes to 21-day programs and anything in between. While a 3-day juice-only cleanse may not have lasting negative effects they are not the solution to jumpstarting weight loss or a new healthy way of life either.

Before you decide to jump on the hype of a short-term all-juice cleanse, take a look at the downsides:

** weight loss is actually water loss — when you eat whole foods your body needs to hold onto water to digest them properly. Take away the food and you take away the water. When you begin eating solids again, the water will likely come right back, leaving you where you started.

** juices, particularly fruit juices, have more sugar than a can of soda, making your insulin response spike, resulting in… a craving for more sugar!

** the restrictive nature of a cleanse may cause sugar and carbohydrate cravings, “making it easy to spiral back into not-so-great eating habits once you complete it,” says registered dietitian Marissa Lippert as quoted by Kate Parham in Real Simple magazine.

** an all-liquid cleanse will likely make you go to the bathroom more often. As a result, you flush out important electrolytes and that help heart function and maintain fluid balance in your body. This explains why some people may experience muscle weakness and mental fogginess, according to an article in Glamour magazine.

** contrary to popular belief, juice cleanses do not clean the colon. They do not contain fiber, which is responsible for “scrubbing” the colon clean.

** the notion that your body is better able to digest liquids is “nonsense.” The stomach is “built to cope with solid food, and it doesn’t need a break,” says Michael D. Gershon, M.D. as quoted by Jessica Girdwain in Glamour magazine.

** headaches experienced with all-juice cleanses are not the “toxins coming out” but are often the result of inadequate caloric intake and/or the cold-turkey withdrawal from caffeine.

Longer term cleanses — anything, I would say, over three days, — have additional and potentially life-damaging consequences:

** malnourishment — under the guise of a juice-only, calorie-restricted “cleanse,” the “dieter” is literally starving her/himself.

** key nutrients essential for the normal functioning of the body and brain are omitted, Judith J Wurtman, Ph.D, writes for the Huffington Post. They lack protein, calcium and vitamin D crucial to maintain muscle and bone strength, quickly contributing to osteoporosis and scarcopenia (muscle wasting).

** often appeal to a segment of the population that wishes to eliminate eating so they can become super-skinny, and has actually been coined, “juicerexics,” says Wurtman.

There is, however, a healthy, responsible way to cleanse and reboot your system. Follow these steps and you will clear your body of the Standard American Diet (S.A.D), flush out environmental toxins, break free from cravings, lose weight, boost your immune system, reduce systemic inflammation, allow you to identify food triggers, and jumpstart a lifetime of healthy eating.

The Nourish Your Body Cleanse is designed for a minimum of seven days, but can adhered to for up to six weeks, or even longer, depending on your particular needs. But, just like any big trip, you need to prepare, plan, and get your body ready. If it’s your first time trying a cleanse, commit to three days, and then lengthen it if you feel so compelled.

Nourish Your Body Prep List

1. Choose a date to begin your cleanse at least a week into the future. This allows for proper preparation, which includes “pre-cleansing.”

2. Begin “pre-cleansing” a week prior to your chosen start date. If you are a coffee/tea drinker this means beginning to wean yourself off caffeine in order to avoid the withdrawal symptoms that often spell failure for even the most committed detoxers. (See more below regarding caffeine withdrawal.)

3. Take measurements — weight, measure your waist and hips, or if you are experiencing headaches, determine the duration, intensity and frequency. The point is, document your starting point of any “symptoms” you are eliminating in order to have a measurable result.

4. Organize your pantry — get rid of the unhealthy food, gather recipes, make a shopping list, create a cooking “schedule.” The more prepared you are the more you will enjoy the experience.

5. Think about the kind of exercise that will best complement your end goal and schedule it in your calendar. Non-negotiable. Make sure your chosen exercise/s is one you can stick with and that the schedule will not be excessively taxing. The point is to mindfully set a schedule you can commit to. Consider taking a daily walk out in the fresh air. This supports a “detox,” which for some is a cleanse from excessive exercise, and for others is the beginning of a renewed exercise program.

6. Cleansing requires that you slow down. Make sure you can make sure this happen. You don’t want to start this during a time when there are high demands on your time and energy.

The Nourish Your Body Cleanse allows clean foods, simply meaning, a whole-foods-based diet that removes all the sugary, fatty, chemical-laden, artificial stuff that creates havoc in our system and feeds the want of more, more, more.

Eat Enough: No starving! You should eat a minimum of 1,200 calories each day and at least 50 grams of protein. If you feed your body properly it prevents holding onto excess weight that occurs when you don’t eat enough calories.

Eliminate all inflammatory foods including:

** all refined sugars — this includes all table sugars, any added sugars, including honey, agave, molasses
** all sugar substitutes — this includes stevia, xylitol and any other “healthy” sugar substitutes
** all flour — any and all flour
** caffeine — including black tea
** all dairy
** all chemical additives — this includes diet soda, and probably most store-bought items that have an ingredient list

By “cheating” on any of these items you allow certain triggers to stay in the diet. And, in fact, your cheat item is likely the very thing you need to eliminate to break the vicious cycle of cravings and addictive behavior.

Enjoy Nutritious and Delicious Whole Foods:

Veggies — think a rainbow of color, and try to go for seasonal. Some of my winter favorites are sweet potatoes (steer clear of white potatoes), all squashes, broccoli, green beans, kale, eggplant, brussel sprouts, arugula, spinach, bok choy, carrots, onions, parsnips. They are so many. Take a walk through your produce department and find your eye candy.

Fruits — Enjoy fruit throughout your cleanse. High in fiber, and packed with vitamins and minerals fruits don’t make you fat! Apples and pears are perfect. And I like metabolizing-boosting berries, avocados, lemons, tomatoes, and limes.

Yes, Fat! — Organic, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil, walnut oil, flaxseed oil, hemp seed oil, macadamia nut oil and avocado oil are my favorites. When cooking with oils do not allow them to burn. Do not heat flaxseed oil. I use olive oil at medium and low heat, and use avocado oil at high heats. When making salads try avocado or macadamia nut oil. They add distinctive, yummy flavors.

Don’t forget seeds and nuts — they are full of protein, minerals, vitamins, and of course, healthy fats. I love walnuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, almonds, pecans, flaxseeds, and sunflower seeds. You may also enjoy nut butters. My favorite is freshly ground almond butter. Do not buy commercial nut butters. Read the ingredient list to make sure the only ingredient is nuts.

A Word On Protein — There are lots of ways to get adequate protein. Just green veggies adds a protein punch. For instance, just one cup of cooked spinach has about seven grams, while the same amount of french green beans has about 13 grams. One cup of almond milk can have nine grams. Two tablespoon of a nut butter will get you eight grams of protein. A cup of lentil yields a whopping 18 grams, while a cup of beans is in the neighborhood of 14 grams. It’s easy to eat enough protein when you eat properly. While I choose to avoid all animal products during my cleanse, it is acceptable to add fish to yours, but I would encourage to try the first couple of days without.

Try Adding Fermented Foods & Seaweed: Kimchi and sauerkraut are very high in good bacteria (make sure you buy raw as the pasteurization process kills the good bacteria). As for seaweed, it’s full of minerals (and flavor!). Check out all the different kinds at a health food store. I add dulse to my salads, and use nori as a wrap for brown rice and avocado.

A Note On Grains: While I eliminate all wheat products (no, it’s not just the issue of gluten, but mostly sugar and yeast — my personal opinion is that people who believe they have gluten sensitivity often have a sugar and/or yeast sensitivity), I choose to have oatmeal for breakfast loaded with berries and nuts. I will also make brown rice for my kids, and I eat that limitedly.

Don’t Skimp On Seasoning: But, skip the salt! My favorites are dulse flakes, lots of garlic, fresh ginger, black pepper, wasabi, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, and curry. You might enjoy rosemary, thyme, basil, mint, ginger powder, oregano. If it sounds good to you, go for it! There are also salt-free herb mixes that can be found in the spice aisle.

Drink Liquids: Aim for half you body weight in ounces. Filtered water with lemon, herbal teas, and even green tea (to extract the caffeine I steep it for 30 seconds, remove the tea and add it to fresh hot water — the first flush washes away much of the caffeine).

A Word On Caffeine: Withdrawal from caffeine can have very real and painful side effects and can last for a couple of weeks. These side effects include headaches, fatigue, sleep disturbances, anxiety and irritability, to name a few. This should be taken seriously. I am not a proponent of quitting caffeine cold turkey. I suggest reducing your intake gradually. For instance, if you drink four cups of coffee a day (that’s 32 ozs — about 2 1/2 cups of Starbucks’ smallest drink size — so be sure you know how many “cups” you actually drink!), cut down to three cups for the first 4-5 days, then cut down to 2 cups for 4-5 days, then 1 cup and then 1/2 and then nada. Or, if coffee is part of your morning ritual, for instance, and you don’t want to give up your two cups — start with combining caffeinated and decaffeinated, gradually increasing the ratio of decaffeinated to caffeinated until you’ve eliminated the caffeinated all together. Also, if you suffer from migraine headaches, I suggest working with a migraine specialist who will advise you on withdrawing and then possibly using caffeine medicinally to prevent migraines.

Nourish Your Body Cleanse = Nourish Your Life Cleanse — A whole food cleanse is also a whole body cleanse. Nourish all the aspects of your person.

Sleep Well: Give yourself permission to go to bed. And stay in bed. Our bodies (and minds) work best when we’ve had sufficient sleep.

Eat Mindfully: Sit down and enjoy your food. Think of it as a mini-meditation that allow you to actually experience your meals — tastes, textures, aromas, visuals. Set the table, light a candle, play music you like, turn off the television and savor every bite of your delicious food.

Breathe Deeply: Meditation, deep breathing, or any calming, nurturing activity is good. Take a hot bath, or take a steam or sauna. You might even consider splurging for a massage. Be kind to yourself.

Nourish Your Soul: Keep a journal and track your body’s response to the cleanse. Tuning into your body and listening to the clues it provides is a great way to write your very own “owner’s manual.”

Finally, whether you choose to start small and try this for three days, or commit to up to several weeks, add foods back one at a time to find out how your body reacts. If you add dairy, only add dairy, and keep mindful notes — how do you feel emotionally and physically? If you feel absolutely no change, add another food. If you note sensitivities, consider eliminating it from your diet once and for all. Do this with each food type that you re-introduce.

Enjoy your “cleanse” journey. Can’t wait to hear about your successes!