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What I learned from my 48-hour cleanse Add to ...

My lunch this past Friday was a strange, blue-grey liquid that had the consistency of watered-down prison gruel. If I had to give it a name, I would have called it the Bruised Puke.

Why was I subjecting myself to this so-called banana-blueberry “smoothie?” Like a lot of people, I decided to start the new year off by detoxifying, but not with the ridiculous Master Cleanse – where water is pretty much all you consume – or some bizarro, ultra-organic Goop diet prescribed by the ever-perfect and equally condescending Gwyneth Paltrow.

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I went for a more accessible option: Dr. Oz’s 48-hour weekend cleanse. A few things attracted me to this cleanse: 1) It had solid food. I’m not a fan of juice on the best of days. 2) It was only 48 hours. Being hungry makes me cranky and for my friends’ and family’s sake, I wanted to minimize their exposure to a monster Maddie. 3) Oprah did it.

Despite these bonuses, however, the cleanse had one major drawback: It lacked protein.

And while I was a little worried by the lack of protein (especially since I work out five days a week), I’m a firm believer in the old adage: Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

As well, I understood that cutting out major nutrient groups is kind of the point of a cleanse: no protein, no fat, barely any carbs.

Unfortunately, that’s also what can make them dangerous, said Kate Comeau, a registered dietitian in Montreal and a spokesperson for Dietitians of Canada, a national professional association.

“I am concerned by the lack of nutrients [in these diets],” Comeau said.

“When your body has an inadequate protein intake, it finds what it needs elsewhere, like your current muscle mass.”

Of course, this downside is not what people are thinking about when they toy with the idea of cleansing. They are thinking about the endless string of promises that accompany short-term starvation (let’s call it what it is), such as weight loss, cleaning out of your bowels, improved metabolism, clear-headedness.

Some people even purport to feel spiritually purer after a cleanse. Or they’re thinking about how fabulous Gwyneth Paltrow looks all of the time.

Unfortunately, there is no science to back any of these claims, said Comeau.

“We find that these diets are unlikely to lead to fat loss, and can actually prevent you from building and maintaining muscles because of the low-protein content, which is why we don’t recommend it as a new year’s or weight-loss solution,” she said.

As for the perceived improved mental alertness, it’s probably just due to the fact that most cleanses have a sizable amount of fibre, which helps you poop.

“Mental sluggishness and headaches are some symptoms of constipation,” Comeau said.

“There are ways to work on this – like increasing fibre, drinking more water and exercising more – that don’t have the same health risks as a cleanse.”

Charlene Chen, a Vancouver-based dietitian with 21 years of experience, agrees with Comeau that drinking more water every day is a better way to rinse out your digestive system.

“Hydration is one of the best ways to cleanse,” she said. “It’s like showering the inside of your body.”

In Chen’s opinion, cleanses can be done safely if a few guidelines are followed.

First, they shouldn’t last more than two or three days. After that, your body starts to digest itself to get what it needs and your metabolic rate drops, meaning once you come off the cleanse and start eating again, you’ll gain weight back more quickly.

Chen also suggests people opt for cleanses that include all of the major nutrient groups, like the Wild Rose diet.

For Chen, a healthier way to think about eating a clean diet is to make small, permanent changes, like cutting down on carbohydrates, caffeine, salt and dairy.

“Healthy cleansing is really just adopting a vegan diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables,” she said.

By doing this, you keep your gut purring because the fibre from the veggies acts as floss; it scrubs out all the build-ups that can lead to constipation.

And while I didn’t enjoy my cleansing experience on any level – nor did I find it to deliver on any of the common promises, even in terms of “flushing out” my system – I will cherry-pick some of the ideas from it and apply them to my everyday diet.

For example, I discovered that I do like prunes and that mixed with quinoa they can make a fairly tasty porridge (especially if I could have added some maple syrup and walnuts).

I probably won’t ever cleanse again. It’s weird to me to choose to be starving. Plus, I like food way too much.

Next time I want to deprive myself post-holidays, I’ll try the stomach flu. I think it’s more effective and, frankly, more appetizing.

Lessons learned

1. Don’t start on a weekday Doing so was a regrettable choice. Especially after my colleagues decided to order some fragrant Thai food for lunch.

2. Sleep a lot. By day two, I felt like I had low energy. Not surprising, since I was consuming around 1,000 calories a day. So I skipped my workout and ended up taking a three-hour nap in the afternoon.

3. Don’t be surprised if you feel drunk. On the first night, we had some friends over, all of whom were drinking while I sipped some watered-down pomegranate juice. Strangely, I felt just as drunk as they did in the beginning, until my blood sugar levels rose back up.

4. Have toothpaste close at hand. None of this stuff tastes good. I found myself scrubbing off my tongue and brushing my teeth frequently over the 48 hours.

Follow on Twitter: @_mjwhite

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