It's that time of year. Time to start accepting that, yes, your pants are actually a little bit tighter today than they were a month ago. The question now: Should you do something about it? And more specifically, should you do a juice cleanse? Open any magazine and you'll read about a celeb raving about this latest fad.
The promises--"detox" and weight loss--are intriguing, so I decided to try a cleanse in an attempt to stop the downward bodily spiral that usually occurs over the holidays. I chose Ritual Cleanse, which is a one-year-old LA-based brand (they'll ship anywhere).
They don't really promise anything--which to my skeptical mind is a good thing--but rather offer you the benefits that past cleansers SAID they got from doing the program: weight loss, mental clarity, better digestion, happier mood, decreased desire for salt and sugar, glowing skin, increased sex drive. Less salt and more sex? OK!
My main goal was to jump start a little bit of weight loss and to see if I could get rid of my mental "must have one sugary treat a day" edict. My first pass at research was not encouraging. In November's Allure, Harley Pasternak, who has trained Jennifer Hudson, Lady Gaga, Megan Fox and Katy Perry, told the beauty mag, “Don’t do juice fasts or cleanses--they’re not effective, sustainable, or healthy. I had a client who lost seven pounds in a few days, but when she stopped, she gained it all back plus another two pounds. It’s yo-yo dieting.” Oh. But I did it anyway.
I went with the standard three-day juice-all-day option, because I wanted to be a purist. Plus Ritual Cleanse offers something they call a “Shred” option, which is extra juice for before and after a workout to give you a little extra oomph (and presumably so you won’t pass out) while you’re working out and cleansing. And I lost six pounds in two and a half days (I had to stop on the third day because of horrid gastrointestinal distress, possibly caused by ginger, a large amount of which was used in one of the juices. Ginger, while it’s often used for curing symptoms of nausea, also can cause GI symptoms. I’ll leave it at that.)
A few surprising things happened on the cleanse: I wasn’t hungry at all per se--yes, I wanted a grilled cheese and bacon sandwich more than anything, but it wasn’t out of hunger. As a matter of fact, it took me almost two hours to get through each of the six bottles. So I was constantly drinking and filling my belly. Some days I couldn’t even finish all the juices. When I noticed the deficit was when I attempted a workout--I wussed out half way through and had no energy (and I couldn’t bear to drink the “Shred” juices). Unlike some people, I didn’t feel particularly energetic or glowy during or after my cleanse. And I felt bloated throughout the whole thing, so it’s not like I would have felt good about walking a red carpet in a Herve Leger bandage dress, either. Plus the six pounds came back within a week. But was my experience the norm or an anomaly?
I spoke to a few nutritionists about juice cleanses to see if they really offer any benefits. Deirdre McManus, RD, CDN is a dietician based in Westchester county in New York, who is currently in private practice and has 13 years of experience in nutrition counseling. Lauren Slayton, MS, RD is a co-owner of Food Trainers in NYC, where she has been specializing in weight management and sports nutrition since 2001.
Are There ANY Weight Loss Benefits?: Both nutritionists were wary about recommending a juice cleanse solely for weight loss. Dierdre told me that while you might lose weight on a cleanse, you can’t sustain it for the long-term, and that a lot of it is water that’s lost. As soon as you eat something salty or processed, the scale will be back to where it was. Lauren recommended that you focus on what you do before and after the cleanse. “I think that you’re wasting your money if you don’t consider those two time periods. There’s the person that doesn’t follow the steps before the cleanse to ready her body, and then [afterwards] they think ‘I’m done, now let me go pig out,’” she said.
What Lauren said a cleanse CAN do (and I experienced this phenomenon) is reset your habits. If you have a numbered bottle to drink every two hours, it takes out the guesswork and mindless eating. The challenge is then trying to replicate this more mindful eating after the juice cleanse is over.
Does a Juice Cleanse Actually Detox Anything?: “I think if you talk to liver and GI doctors, this absolutely isn’t something that’s necessary. We’re sort of self-cleaning ovens on our own without this help,” Lauren told me. Deirdre agreed, telling me, “If you have a well functioning liver and kidney, the juice can't provide more than the liver and kidney can do.” But, it can “reset” your gut, if that’s something you think you need.
Most juices (and this is often a knock against them) don’t contain any of the fiber that their full fruit and vegetable counterparts do. While this is bad in the long term (fiber can prevent colon cancer and generally keeps the gut in good working order), in a cleanse you theoretically want the gut to have to work as little as possible, giving it a “rest.” That’s why these cleanses are generally low in protein, fat, and fiber. Lauren explained to me, “You’re giving your digestive system a ‘break’. And fiber is not a break. Fiber is work for your intestine.”
So Should You Do a Juice Cleanse? Here are the Pros’ Recommendations: -Lauren is not into a cleanse that involves “no chewing whatsoever.” If you want to juice for a few days, you should feel free to supplement with the real foods that are already in the juices you’re drinking (ie chow down on some kale and pears.) “Whether we need to go to all liquid, I don’t think we really have to go that far. I think there’s an appeal of the intensity of it [for some people],” she said.
-If you hate vegetables, juices are a great way to get anti-oxidants and vitamins, so go ahead and use them as supplements. Lauren’s warning? Make sure it’s organic juice. You’re getting a very concentrated dose, which means that you could also get a really concentrated hit of pesticides, too. (Ritual Cleanse claimed that one day of my reset cleanse was the equivalent of 15 pounds of produce--and yes, they’re 100% organic.)
-An easier way to “detox” might be to just eat really cleanly: no alcohol, sugar, caffeine, or processed food for several days.
-Lauren’s last word of advice? Cleanses are not one-size-fits-all. “Don’t do something just because your friend did,” she said.
Or just because someone in US Weekly did it.