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Here's Why Doing A Juice Cleanse Is A Bad Idea

There's no such thing as cleansing your body with juice.

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When you feel bloated, tired, and filled to the brim with delicious holiday food and drink you pretty much want to un-feel that way.

Especially because it's kind of impossible to ignore all the messages that are around us in the new year that it's time to lose weight and start your diet. So, when you see the way juice cleanses are marketed — that they can rid you of those "toxins" you ingested and maybe help you drop some weight — they can seem like a great idea.

To learn more about the physical and emotional effects of cleanses, we talked to Dr. Holly Lofton, director of the Medical Weight Management Program at NYU Langone Medical Center; registered dietitian Brian St. Pierre, director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition; and Christy Harrison, a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor. Keep in mind that there's no real universal definition of a cleanse — some are a couple days of fruit or vegetable juice, others are longer and include hot water with lemon and cayenne pepper, and still others are soups only. In this post we're talking about fruit and/or vegetable juice cleanses, generally.

1. Fun fact: Your body has built-in mechanisms that keep everything clean 'n' tidy and moving nicely.

There are a bunch of organs — the liver, kidneys, spleen, lungs, and even your skin — whose job it is to remove toxins from your body, says St. Pierre. Harrison adds that unless you have a rare disease, these organs are doing their job without you having to do anything at all. You know how, typically, your heart pumps blood without you having to give it a jump start? Same deal with your whole digestive system. It breaks down everything you consume into nutrients your body needs, absorbs the good stuff and sends waste where it needs to go, all without you doing a damn thing.

2. In fact, you can think of your digestive system, liver, and kidneys as a waste treatment plant. Their job is literally to do the thing a cleanse or detox claims to do: treat and dispose of garbage.

Harrison explains: "They [your organs] aren't like filters in the sink that get clogged up with gunk and need to be cleaned out; they’re more like a wastewater treatment plant that uses chemicals to neutralize and dispose of harmful compounds."

3. Also: Nope, your system doesn't need a "break," even after a holiday season of more and richer foods than usual.

It might seem like you've put your body through the eggnog-and-Christmas-cookies ringer, but, again, that's where your organs come in, and they don't need a rest before doing their thing. "Sure, you might genuinely CRAVE some simpler foods for a bit (or not), but you don’t need to deliberately do anything to 'reset' your organs," Harrison says.

4. And you can get back to your baseline of feeling better simply by returning to your everyday, nonholiday way of eating.

The best way to start feeling like yourself again is to just get back to (or start) eating a balanced diet of mostly whole and minimally processed foods (and of course getting quality sleep, keeping an eye on your stress levels, and doing some kind of exercise). Here are some tips for getting back to your baseline after the holidays — and btw, restricting calories is not recommended.

5. Cleanses are not amazing for your mental health or your relationship with food.

At the very least, Harrison says, the hunger and deprivation cleanses can set you up to eat to the point of discomfort once the cleanse is over. Worse still, "they can trigger disordered eating and full-blown eating disorders in people who are at risk," which, she points out is potentially two-thirds of women in the US, according to a 2009 study of more than 4,000 women.

"Like other forms of restrictive eating, cleanses make you ignore your hunger cues, which causes them to get out of whack, and ultimately creates more angst with food," she says. So, if you struggle in general with your relationship with food, cleanses are likely to just make that worse, rather than provide some kind of "reset."

6. Unlike a lot of stuff we do to/with our bodies in the name of health, juice cleanses have never really been studied.

As a 2015 review in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics points out, "no randomised controlled trials have been conducted to assess the effectiveness of commercial detox diets in humans." Without rigorous research, we don't really know for sure what the benefits and risks of cleanses really are.

7. If you drink only fruit juice, you're taking in a lot of sugar.

On a juice cleanse, your body will experience fluctuations in blood sugar that are likely more extreme than what it experiences day-to-day during regular eating, says Lofton. That's because you're not taking in fiber or a macronutrient, like fat, that would slow its digestion and absorption. When your body has to process a whole bunch of sugar at once, your pancreas will release insulin to process the sugar that's been introduced to your bloodstream. This insulin response can cause your blood sugar to drop too low, which could make you feel lightheaded, dizzy, and fatigued, especially if you're someone who is particularly sensitive to changes in your blood sugar. In fact, people with hypoglycemia or who are prone to fainting should definitely avoid juice cleanses, says Lofton.

"Cleanses can also have harmful effects on your blood sugar and electrolyte levels, which makes them risky for people with diabetes, heart problems, kidney disorders, or other underlying health conditions," Harrison adds.

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