THE MEDICAL WAY: Jacqueline Ehlert, Dietitian, Head of Nutrition at The University of British Columbia and Researcher at Columbia University, New York.
I don’t understand the notion of cleansing – your body’s not a garburator that you clean once in a while. It’s a piggy bank; every day you make a deposit to your health. If you eat horrible foods, you damage your body, and starving yourself for two days isn’t going to fix it.
Most of the claims about cleanses aren’t backed up by science and don’t make sense: Food doesn’t make your body toxic; toxins don’t cause weight gain. And 20 pounds of waste isn’t clinging to your colon – that’s outlandish.
When you eat food that’s processed or high in saturated fat or sugar, your bad cholesterol rises. So if cleansing means getting rid of white sugar and trans fats and eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, I support it – that’s healthy eating. If you did that for six weeks and restricted your saturated fats and sodium, your cardiovascular system and liver would improve. You’d be giving your body the nutrients and fibre it needs.
But if you only drink lemon water or severely restrict your calories, you put undue stress on your body. Your metabolism drops to compensate, so you don’t lose anything, except water weight. And there’s no way you’re getting enough nutrients, such as calcium.
I tried a detox diet because I was researching them, and I found it expensive to buy the special supplements and inconvenient to do. Some days, I was allowed to ingest only liquid, which made me lethargic and gave me a headache. It was a lot of effort for no results.
THE ALTERNATIVE WAY: Heidi Kussman-Armstrong, Naturopathic Doctor at the Armstrong Clinic, in Simcoe, Ontario.
We don’t live in a pristine environment: Plastics leach chemicals into food; we breathe in toxins from pollution; chlorine is added to drinking water. Even if we’re careful, we can’t avoid exposure. So I advise all women to do a cleanse every six months to clear their systems: It’s like getting your car’s oil changed.
Drugstore cleanses are often glorified laxatives or extremely low-calorie diets. They’re dangerous; they make your body process toxins without nutritional support. A cleanse shouldn’t mimic an eating disorder – losing weight isn’t the goal. The aim should be vitality: more energy and better overall functioning.
Beginners should, under the guidance of a naturopath, start with a gentle cleanse. There are many types: You might take probiotics and fibre (as capsules or powders) or botanicals, such as slippery elm, which soothes the digestive tract, or dandelion root extract, which helps regulate the liver’s detox process. You’ll drink lots of distilled water and follow a whole-foods diet.
The first three to five days are the hardest. I advise people start during a long weekend. As the toxins are removed from where they’re stored in your body, you might get headaches or feel tired. You’re more toxic when you’re cleansing, and it’s hard on your system.
After that, most people improve significantly. Women have said to me, “Wow, I had no idea I could feel so much better,” and they often continue to make positive changes.