Cleanse, Detox or Challenge – Is one right for you?
Cleanses, detoxes and nutrition challenges are popular within the health and nutrition sphere.
They come in countless varieties, including whole foods, limited foods, plants, liquids, smoothies, and even water only. Each type touts various benefits from weight loss to minimizing toxins to mental clarity. Some even proclaim the ability to shake chronic disease or improve serious medical conditions. Let’s look at some of the risks and benefits of short-term nutritional programs.
One of the greatest benefits to a nutritional challenge or detox is weight loss and improved health. There are many reasons for these positive changes.
Restricted items on these plans almost always include junky and processed food. Eliminating these products is an uncontroversial boon to health. Additionally, restricting foods that an individual commonly eats will typically lower overall calories, reduce inflammatory foods and outlaw mindless snacking. All of these impact weight and health for the better.
The short duration of most of these types of nutritional plans is also a resounding benefit. Initial motivation to make a big change is powerful but often short-lived. This internal drive can be enough to push through three, seven or ten days successfully. Slightly longer programs that might last twenty or thirty days take a different type of motivation. This can often be fueled by the improvements that one on a detox begins to see and feel after a week or so.
While many nutrition and medical professionals may discourage restriction as being too extreme and unsustainable, temporary checks on food intake can contribute to long term healthy changes. This is due to the forced awareness that participants are exposed to. For many Americans, sweetened drinks, fast food and junky snacks may slip into their habits and routines at a much higher frequency than they realize. Taking a structured step back from those foods for a period of time can expose the true impact of those foods.
Certain types of nutrition plans – called elimination diets – exclude all highly allergenic foods, including wheat, soy and dairy. After a period of consuming only non-allergenic foods, these potentially problematic foods are reintroduced one at a time. A dairy sensitivity, for example, may have gone unidentified for years, but will be quite evident after a break. People with autoimmune conditions can benefit from the further exclusion of nuts, eggs, and nightshades. These types of challenges can give participants invaluable information on the types of foods that work and do not work for their unique biochemistry.
For beginners, huge and sudden changes can be overwhelming, even if motivation starts out high.
The realization of all the elements of everyday life that are impacted by significant dietary shifts can come as a surprise. Increased meal planning and prep time, shifts in shopping routines and eating with others- as well as other social situations – can present unexpected hiccups in the implementation of the plan. If the stress of following the plan outweighs the perceived benefits, then your chosen plan might not be the right one for you at that time.
While several days of liquids and several weeks of reduced food is well within the healthy tolerance level of most people, the sudden shift can be too extreme for some. A detox should feel invigorating. While there may be initial struggles, like hunger, cravings and detox symptoms, a detox may not be right for you at this time if debilitating weakness or fatigue is experienced. This is a sign that a slower introduction to this type of plan is warranted.
One major problem with structured nutrition plans is the perception of binary outcomes – either success or failure. It is easy for participants to fall in to the mindset that any slip-up is a sign of inadequacy, when it just may be a clue that this is not the right program or that a slower pace or additional support from friends, family or a coach is needed. Even “failing” a program is not a failure – just practicing the act of making changes can have a life long impact.
Jumping from a typical diet high in processed foods to a liquid detox or cleanse can be too harsh for most people’s systems.
There can be very uncomfortable side effects as the liver goes into overdrive trying to do its job. Detox symptoms can range from fatigue and brain fog to cold symptoms and acne. Even restless leg syndrome can be a result of too much detoxing too fast. It is much easier on the system to start with a food based challenge, like the Whole30 or 21-Day Sugar Detox. Success with these programs will be encouraging, and may even lead to some long term dietary changes. When a healthier diet becomes the default, a more stringent challenge will be attainable if additional results are desired. It is important to avoid completing liquid only plans too frequently. A nice schedule may be spring and fall detoxes each year.
This article expresses the opinion of the writer, a Nutritional Therapy Consultant. It should be used for educational purposes only and not interpreted as medical advice.
Sara Kennedy is a special education teacher in the Anchorage School District and a certified Nutritional Therapy Consultant. She likes to swim, bike and run around Alaska, and camp and fish with her family.