Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Problem with Cleansing

Ah, its January, so in holistic/yoga/health nut circles, that means its time for a cleanse!

While most people consider cleaning up their diet, exercising more, or losing weight, the health-concious-iest among us have to take it a step further. If you're already vegan, gluten-free, etc, what else can you eliminate? Enter the "cleanse."

The term is unfortunately typically associated with the "juice cleanse," which entails some number of days where only clear-ish fluids are consumed, and unfortunately, those fluids do not include scotch. If you own one of these noisy, expensive machines, that means you have the honor of watching pounds of perfectly good fruit and vegetables pulverized into a few ounces of disgusting liquid (I'm looking at you, kale), all while making the kind of mess in your kitchen where your husband comes home and feels lucky he has my psychiatrist on speed-dial.

I you are either 1) a celebrity or 2) lazy and bad with money, you can sign up for a service who will deliver your juice to you. Considering how weak you'll be from only drinking juice, this will prove crucial. Especially because your ass will be glued to your toilet seat.

You see, to the "holistic" crowd, cleanse really means one thing: ceaseless diarrhea. The uninitiated hear "clearing toxins from the liver" and are told of occasional skin breakouts, but waaay too much euphemism is used when it comes to the colonic effects of juice.

Like this, but on a toilet. 
This is because of the way water moves back and forth across your gut. Remember that from biology class in high school? Do people still learn about the movement of water from areas of high concentration to low concentration? Like this:

Anyways, when you drink water thats full of sugars and particles that are NOT absorbed by the body, it actually pulls more water into your gut. So even through you're drinking a ton of liquid, you can actually end up shitting out even more.

Also, all that sugar is feeding the garden of bacteria in your gut. As those bacteria eat the sugar that you're not absorbing, they create gas. So not only will you be peeing from your butt, you can also look forward to filling the yoga studio will enough farts to set off a fire alarm.

I'm obviously being facetious. The truth is, the occasional juice cleanse rarely does any lasting harm. Review of the literature is scant to say the least. The truth is, most of us can do just fine not eating ANYTHING AT ALL for days at a time. In the hospital, we frequently have patients on IV fluids who are NPO (short for the latin phrase for nothing by mouth) for days at a time. The fact is, as long as you're hydrated (drinking water), you're fine. The human body is awesome like that.

To live, we need lots of stuff, thankfully in small quantities. But there are 3 things we need on the kinda-regular: sugar, fat, and protein. The fact is, a juice cleanse provides the water and the sugar, but very little in the way of protein or fat. When the body doesn't get these things from the diet, you metabolism harvests them from your muscles and fat stores. The fat harvesting sounds awesome, but the muscle wasting - not so much.

Even the high "nutrient" content that everyone refers to is something I have issue with: by digesting these plant extractions without their natural fibers, there's a fairly high chance you won't absorb the nutrients that are there. When you eat fiber, you gut simply works better. It doesn't just "make you regular." To completely over-simplify, it helps slow things down enough for you to actually absorb all the good stuff that's there.

All this stuff will make you poop. 

However, I have fallen in love with occasionally (read: 3-4 times a year for no longer than 5 days) restricting my diet. It works as a mental reset more than anything: it helps develop a taste for healthier things, helps break my addictions to salty, fatty, fried foods (at least for awhile), and yes, help to relieve any, ahem, blockages.

Notice that I focus on the MENTAL aspects of the cleanse. I'm sure my cholesterol and my colon and maybe even my weight are all the better for the extra fiber from eating a ton of fruits and vegetables. And this time, I'm hoping the slow re-introduction of glutens and dairy products will once and for all whether I have any sensitivity to these foods.

Here's to a "cleaner" new year!

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