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Cleanses, Diets and Mixed Messages

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Is cleansing a great, or even necessary, way to eliminate environmental toxins in this dirty day and age? Or is it a quick, possibly detrimental, weight loss gimmick that rarely maintains results? Contradictory opinions on this subject flood the Internet. But one thing seems pretty clear: cleansing is often used as a new word for dieting.

Recently, I've heard of seven friends (not all together or even in the same time zone) who've tried the Isagenix cleanse. This popular cleansing method involves a combination of fasting, eating normal meals, and consuming snacks and shakes. The nine-day routine costs about a hundred dollars. And I've heard it works to shed pounds (about 15) and increase energy levels. Who couldn't use that? "I probably could!" I thought as I eagerly Googled it. But I stopped myself before pulling out my Visa. I'm skeptical of cleanses that cost money and come in powdered form, as well as of my motivations for doing them.

I'm a highly ambivalent person. Besides my trouble ordering in restaurants (like how if I choose the lasagna, I'll end up coveting my husband's shrimp and avocado salad), I waver on many issues. I can't decide whether to buy the more expensive, natural shampoo; I spend my days breathing LA's finest, after all. Will my conditioner save me when there are a million other things that may cause cancer? You know, like Tupperware, mattresses, or bottled water left in the sun.

What about buying organic? We've all heard that organic produce is more nutritious and exposes us to fewer pesticides and hormones. But it's also more expensive. Is it worth it? It's been said that the "organic" labeling craze, like "fat free," can sometimes be a marketing rip off. I spoke to an Oregon farmer this summer who even argued that the organic requirements are too extreme in limiting antibiotics to livestock. Where the eff should I stand on it all?

There's no secret to how one becomes this way. There is so much conflicting advice out there. And there's so much choice: Dawn or Planet dish soap? Tom's Fluoride-Free Toothpaste or Crest? I was a vegetarian for 10 years. Now I cook a mean roast. To boot, my mother subscribes to alternative medicine. She takes a whole host of herbs for what ails her. My father has two words for her take on health: placebo effect, a.k.a: a bunch of hooey. Talk about mixed messages.

No wonder I have a neither-here-nor-there perspective on cleanses. I've tried several during my 33 years on the planet to varied results. I did Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP cleanse a few months back, which left me feeling pretty vital, and yes, skinnier. And a girlfriend and I even pulled an LA Story once and had a colonic on Sunset Blvd. It actually did give me the energy to jump around like Sarah Jessica Parker in '80s spandex. But then I caught the flu. When I tried The Master Cleanse -- the hell where one consumes only lemon water with maple syrup and cayenne -- I lasted three days, then wound up with a mouth full of canker sores.

If I'm honest with myself, my primary reason for cleansing has always been weight loss, with a dash of overall health. Like most, I slide up and down on the scale with the seasons, and I'm as vain as the next gal reading Vogue. The thought of shedding pounds in mere days is seductive -- whether you're one of the more than two-thirds of U.S. adults who are overweight, or a Hollywood A-lister with a red carpet event coming up. Not surprisingly, my 30-something friends aren't signing up to Weight Watchers on a lark, they're doing cleanses. Detoxifying is hipper. Sorry, Jennifer Hudson I know you're really pushing Weight Watchers to my crowd.

"I'm on a cleanse," is met with knowing nods here in LA when declining Eggs Benedict at brunch. "Can I borrow your microwave for my Jenny Craig?" doesn't have the same ring. Besides, microwaving your food isn't cool; I hear it could give you cancer.

I just read Time magazine's "The Oz Diet," in which Dr. O addresses the yo-yo pattern of food information. He argues quite convincingly that the only diet/lifestyle/cleanse we should be following is: eating in moderation, high fiber (including fresh fruits and veggies), lean proteins, and exercise. And I'm with him on that.

That is, when I'm not eating late night French fries, then going on a fat-burning soup cleanse. Luckily, my ambivalence usually lands me somewhere in the vicinity of moderation. As for whether I'll be trying Isagenix any time soon, I'll never say never. For now I'm going to hike in the LA smog, then BBQ up some mostly organic fare.

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