Are cleansing diets good for me?

Are elimination diets safe?

When it comes to cleaning, I take the slash and burn approach. I can purge 200 emails from my inbox in a short plane ride. I turn a dresser full of T-shirts and old yoga pants into a single drawer of neatly-folded essentials in minutes. Pruning trees – let’s just say I’m efficient, and no branch is safe.

It stands to reason that when it comes to cleaning up my own nutritional habits, I desire the same “go big or go home” approach. This explains my attraction to the fad of cleansing diets.

You can find tons of cleanses that claim to rid your body of toxins. They are supposed to work by severely limiting certain foods or completely cutting out specific foods. The idea is, after a few days or weeks, you emerge with a clearer head, flatter tummy, brighter skin and, of course, less weight.

Sign me up!

Not so fast, says Leah Widhalm, clinical nutrition senior manager for Banner Health in Northern Colorado. Elimination diets, as she calls them, are not sustainable. She said you’re not cleaning anything. You are starving yourself. As soon as you finish the cleansing period and return to old habits, the weight that was lost returns.

Widhalm explains that the human body comes with naturally-given cleansing mechanisms. They make up your very own detoxification tool kit. The human body has a complex system of ingesting food and pulling all the nutrients it needs from that food. Throughout the process, the different parts of your detox tool kit, like your kidneys, liver, colon and assorted flora in your gut, are hard at work, keeping you clean. And unlike the shakes and supplements on a cleanse diet, you won’t need Amazon Prime for free shipping!

But you do need to provide the necessary tools and environment for your detoxing system to work. That means adopting healthy eating habits and a moderate exercise regimen. Everyone has their moments, but if we would just eat healthy 80 or 90 percent of the time and move a little more, we’d be a lot better off.

Quickly losing 20 pounds and then quickly returning to our old habits just isn’t the way to go.

Supplements are usually another recommendation for those who cleanse. Widhalm said the supplements probably aren’t helpful because your body can only handle so much of a certain vitamin or nutrient at one time. It’s kind of like trying to pour a 100-pound bag of sand into toy sand pail. The extras pour over and are washed away.

Widhalm noted that when you do a cleansing diet and then revert back to your old ways, it is logical that your system could revolt a little. For example, someone who hasn’t eaten fiber or fatty foods for 10 days and then indulges with lots of beans or even fast food is likely going to pay the price. If you do go on a restricted diet, she recommends reintroducing foods gradually.

The cleanse diets might provide someone with a quick change, but it’s not a sustainable change. The tried-and-true message stands firm: For long-lasting results, a person should adopt a healthy diet and exercise program over a quick-fix cleanse.

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