One of the biggest diet trends, particularly around the new year, are “cleanses”. The idea that you remove certain items from your diet, and eat/drink large amounts of some supposed “detoxifying” agent, and your body will be cleansed of “toxins”. These agents include everything from vinegar, to cayenne pepper, to lemon juice, to expensive supplements, and the diets are everything from starvation-level 400-600 calorie diets, to a survivable 1200.
However, none of these actually work, and most are actively harmful.
Harvard Women’s Health researched many of these cleansing diets, and found they don’t work. The supplements are snake oil, and eating/drinking large amounts of vinegar, lemon juice, other fruit juices are difficult for the body to process, as they contain high amounts of fructose which is hard on the heart and liver.
Your body has many components to get rid of waste including your liver, kidneys, and digestive system, many of which are actively harmed on a commercial cleanse. None of these cleanses ever identify the supposed “toxins” they’re getting rid of. However, there are certain things that you SHOULD be looking to get out of your body. Refined sugars, alcohol, hydrogenated fats, and processed foods.
If you really want to go on a “Cleanse”, the best thing you can do is to have a look at your caloric intake, and change the types of foods you eat. How can you do this?
1. Limit Alcohol Intake
Your liver prioritizes breaking down alcohol before anything else, so if you drink a lot, or drink regularly, your liver is working overtime to process the booze and nothing else. So, limit drinking to 1-2 times a week, and 1-2 drinks.
2. Eat real fruits and vegetables
Fruit juice is very high in refined sugars, and even items that claim to be “made from real fruit” are usually full of refined fructose. Buy only fresh produce, and HALF of your diet should be comprised of fruit and vegetables.
Most North Americans eat meat with every meal, but we should only be eating 1-2 servings a day, which is the equivalent to a 4-6oz steak, or a serving the size of a box of playing cards per day, and that’s it. Look up alternatives like pastas, legumes, and nuts for sources of protein that are low in fat.
4. Whole Grains
White flour is refined so much that our body treats it as a sugar, and it has no nutritional content at all. Enriched flour is little better, as it’s just white flour with some trace elements added back in. Look for stone ground flour, which is just ground wheat, with all the nutrients and fibre intact. And the increase in fibre is great for you to feel fuller, and lose weight. Bob’s Red Mill, General Mills, and others make it, and most grocery stores carry it, if you know where to look.
Cut out the junk. Packaged meals, processed sauces, pre-made entrees, sides, salads. They’re all full of high-fructose corn syrup, a ton of salt, and preservatives. Buy whole foods, and cook them yourself. Yes, this is a lot to ask, especially if you’re not used to it, but even if you can’t cook every meal from scratch, if you remove one processed meal a day from your diet, your body will feel better.
6. Count. Calories.
The only way to actually lose weight, and keep it off is to count how many calories are coming in, and how many are going out. This sounds like a pain, but there are so many great tools to do it. An activity tracker like a Fitbit, Garmin, or Misfit will track your activity level, and a calorie tracker like Myfitnesspal makes tracking easy, has a simple app, you can add your own recipes, and scan barcodes and it will give you awards for meeting your daily targets. I’ve lost 30 pounds already with this, and kept it off!
Now, a lot of these are big changes for people to make, and if you try to do it all at once you’ll invariably fail. But every good choice you make at the grocery store makes a difference. Make small improvements, and try to make each week a little better. Removing a little bit of junk food every day is far more effective than a starvation “cleanse” once a year, and you’ll feel the improvements all year round.