Cleansing: the Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

I’m on a Cleanse

These are words that I never thought I would say, but here I am, about to embark on my first ever cleanse. For the next 10 days I will be following a whole food, plant-based cleanse. I will be eliminating coffee, sugar, gluten-containing grains, soy, dairy, night-shade vegetables (potatoes, eggplant, and tomatoes), processed foods, and meat and animal products except for fish (and maybe a little chicken if I get desperate). I will instead be eating a TON of vegetables, some fruit, nuts, and non-gluten grains (quinoa, rice, amaranth, etc). The basis of this cleanse is that the phytonutrients from the plant foods nourish your body while the fibre from them helps ‘flush’ you out. Also, in conjunction with the dietary changes I’m making for the next 10 days, I’ll also be switching up my skin & hair products in favour of natural alternatives. I’ve already removed toxic cleaners from my home, so my goal is to be as toxin free as possible.

Why do People Cleanse?

Funny comic

This guy might need a Cleanse!

I have been interested in, reading about, researching, and learning about health and wellness for more than 15 years, and in this time I’ve thought a lot about ‘cleanses’. They are very popular in most health circles, and have become very trendy. There tend to be 2 main reasons that people ‘cleanse’:

1)      They are concerned about toxins in the environment and/or in their food. The idea behind a cleanse for these folks is that it temporarily reduces exposure of toxins via your food (since you don’t eat, or don’t eat much on most cleanses) and gives your body a chance to process and eliminate the toxins that have built up within the body. These cleanses are repeated periodically to remove toxins that build up between cleanses. Although there are varying frequencies, most people who cleanse for this reason will do a cleanse every 3 months or so.

2)      They want to lose weight (and quick!). Cleanses tend to be associated with weight loss. They are typically low in calories so people sometimes think that they are a good way to lose weight. They also tend to ‘flush you out’ in the sense that you get rid of intestinal contents that are hanging out inside of you on their way to be eliminated. This ‘emptying out’ typically causes a few pounds of weight loss and a trimmer feeling mid-section. These results are temporary though and last only until you ‘fill back up’ with the foods that you regularly eat.

How do People Cleanse?

Most cleanses either reduce or eliminate certain foods or all foods entirely in order to give the body a ‘break’ from the hard work of digestion and can focus its energy on detoxifying and repairing the body.

Cleanses can last anywhere from 1 to 10 days (or longer) and typically include 1 or more of the following components:

  • A period of fasting (where you don’t eat anything)
  • Juicing (where you drink fruit and vegetable juices)
  • ‘Detoxifying’ foods (plant based foods that are thought to help the body remove toxins)
  • Supplements, including herbal preparations and medicinal teas (that are purported to assist the body in detoxifying).

Why I Swore I’d Never do a Cleanse

There are several reasons that I had absolutely NO interest in cleansing:

1)      It just didn’t make sense to my scientific mind – I took a variety of nutrition, toxicology, biochemistry, anatomy, and physiology classes in university and I just didn’t come across anything that gave a strong indication that our bodies need to be cleansed. Our bodies have evolved to constantly be protecting us from the chemicals that we come into contact with. Perhaps some detoxification pathways could become overburdened, but I just didn’t see how any of the cleanses that I had come across in the past would help with the detoxification process.

2)      They can be very dangerous – this is something that isn’t talked about a lot but cleanses can in fact be quite dangerous. They can wreak havoc on blood sugar and electrolyte levels, the supplements themselves can be toxic or cause unwanted side effects, and drinking large quantities of juiced vegetables can in and of themselves stress the body and the digestive and elimination systems. Precision Nutrition did a great article on this aspect of cleansing here: http://www.precisionnutrition.com/detox-cleanse-diets

3)      There are usually negative side effects – headaches, fatigue, moodiness, and hunger/cravings are all common during cleanses. The cleanse proponents call these effects ‘detox reactions’ and point to them as evidence that the cleanse is working – they say that these side effects are caused by the toxins that are being drawn out of your fat cells and eliminated. I think that these side effects are more likely due to caffeine withdrawal, low blood sugar, and NOT EATING! The common advice given to people during cleanses is to plan to stay home because you won’t feel like going out or being nice to people. It never made sense to me – if a cleanse is supposed to be so good for you then why would it make you feel so bad?

4)      I like to eat! – the idea of spending any amount of time more than about 18 hours without food sounds horrifying to me. Any cleanse that I had seen in the past required that you vastly cut down on your food consumption (or not eat any food at all).

So Why am I doing a cleanse then?

First, let me tell you that I was not seeking out a cleanse in any shape or form – I had pretty much written them off as something that I’d never do or recommend (for all of the reasons above). But, I got an email from a friend, Ashley Srokosz – she is a registered holistic nutritionist, a mompreneur, and also manages to fit caring for a busy toddler into her schedule. In her email she explained why she had done a cleanse, how she managed it with her busy schedule, and why she would recommend it to others. I was intrigued, so clicked the link to learn more. That is when I became blown away…

This was not just any cleanse!

This is a whole food cleanse – you don’t take any supplements, you just eat. And, you eat as much as you want, as long as it fits into the the ‘whole, raw, plant-based foods’ category.

What makes this cleanse different?

harvest

Well, the first is that you eat as much as you like – in fact, you are encouraged to eat 8 cups of veggies a day. The second differentiating factor is the fibre – 8 cups of veggies pack in a LOT of fibre! The whole premise behind this cleanse is that the phytochemicals (plant based chemicals) in the veggies help your body process and release any stored toxins while the fibre helps trap the toxins so that they can be moved out and eliminated. In fact, proponents of this fibre-full method of cleansing say that the down fall of juicing is that much of the toxins being released from your body end up getting reabsorbed later on in the gastrointestinal track due to the lack of fibre in the juice. Also, since the food and your body are doing all of the work, there are no supplements involved. Thus, this is a very safe way to cleanse!

And, did I mention that you get to eat?

So, why did I chose to do it?

After reading about this cleanse, what makes it different, and how it may help me, I though of 3 reasons that influenced my decision to participate.

1)      My acne has been out of control. I don’t just mean that I have the occasional pimple, I mean that I often have 10 or more spots that I am trying to cover with concealer. It is painful, irritating, annoying, and kind of embarrassing. I feel like people don’t take me seriously as a health and wellness coach when I have a face full of acne. I also feel like people don’t treat me like an adult when I have acne (I get asked for ID more often when buying alcohol, which I must admit is a bonus at my age, but I also feel like strangers ‘talk down’ to me more and treat me like I’m in my late teens not my mid-thirties when I have more acne).

The skin is one of the largest detoxifying organs, so perhaps a cleanse may get rid of some of the toxins that are trying to escape via my face, and thus improve my acne! This alone makes the whole cleanse worth a shot!

2)      I have been having digestive issues – bloating and stomach aches are the name of the game. This is something I’ve had all my life, as a kid I was treated with herbs for stomach aches, in university I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, and just recently I was tested for gluten allergy (I haven’t had the results back yet). I have identified some foods which make it worse – eggs are a big issue for me, and I tend to feel better when I eat fewer processed carbs (like bread and pasta). I am still having issues though, so a cleanse where I temporarily remove most foods that people have sensitivities to, could help me identify what (if any) foods are contributing to my discomfort.

3)      I have been growing around the middle. Ok, let’s get real here – sometimes I downright look like I’m pregnant. Family members have asked me on many occasions recently if I was pregnant (when I wasn’t!) and the other day my 3 year old daughter even said to me “I think your tummy is big because you’re going to have a baby” (cute, but horribly sad when I had to burst her bubble and explain that NO, I wasn’t).

I know that I’m not overweight by any stretch of the imagination – I am well within the normal weight for my height, however, my weight just seems to be distributed more around the middle. As a health coach, I know that there are a number of reasons for excess weight around the middle:

  • Too much sugar or refined carbohydrates
  • Hormone imbalances (specifically estrogen dominance) (this can also contribute to acne – hmm, a possible clue here…)
  • Stress – un-managed stress can cause excess weight around the middle too

Looking at these factors, I think that that hormone imbalance could be the primary culprit, but I wouldn’t rule the others out. Although my diet tends to be pretty healthy, I do eat some sugar and refined carbs and could definitely eat better than I do. Stress in my life comes and goes, I think that I tend to manage it well, but there have been a number of intensely stressful situations in the past few years.

Regardless of the reason that I have excess weight around the middle though, I know that all of the causes can be improved with the right food choices – specifically, a whole, raw, plant-based diet, just like the one in this cleanse!

Ding, lightbulb moment!

Watch for next week’s blog when I share the low down on my experience – I’ll let you know what my results were and give my verdict on whether it was it worth it. Stay tuned!

And, as always, I am here for any questions you may have. You can reach me at Lisa@healthappeal.ca

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  1. Pingback: My Cleanse Experience Inspired A Health Overhaul!

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