Every week I hear or read about someone doing some sort of new cleanse or detox routine. It's a trend that just won't go away, but do cleanses really do anything beneficial for us? The purported values of detoxing include but are not limited to:
- Removing toxins that are trapped in the body
- Increasing energy
- Rapid weight loss
- Increasing immunity
Is there science to back this up? The short answer is: not really. But the cleansing folks sure have some great marketing (and some excellent celebrity testimonials!), and people are willing to try almost anything to lose some weight and feel better about their health.
A while back I gave cleansing a try. At the time I was open to trying anything that might help increase my energy -- I've been diagnosed with both low iron and low testosterone in the past, so lethargy is my homeboy. A good friend of mine suggested that I try Isagenix. He swore by the system and said it changed his life. He also mentioned that he was making additional income through the company -- a win-win right? Long story short, I did a nine-day cleanse and the immediate results were positive. I leaned-out and felt pretty good.
At the time, I fully believed that cleansing had a place in my life. Fast-forward a few weeks and I realized that my results didn't exactly have longevity; my body composition returned to its pre-cleanse state and I continued to be exhausted on a regular basis. When the human brain wants to believe something, it is great at convincing itself.
I know this isn't going to impress my friend, but I've got to be honest. Isagenix has some decent products, but in the end it's a company of people who know little about nutrition, plugging nutritional products to those who know even less. I don't have first-hand experience with other cleanses, but my instinct tells me that they're all cut from the same cloth. I was excited to try cleansing, and I was happy with the immediate results, but ultimately realized that cleansing did nothing for me physically. Mentally, perhaps there was value, but the tangible results just weren't there.
So let's talk about the need to eliminate toxins. In order to do this, we first need to identify what is toxic to the human body. Most people might start this list with things like alcohol and smoke, which are good answers, but almost everything we consume is toxic on a certain level. Water can be toxic. Vitamin B can be toxic. The process of cooking food creates toxins. I think you get my point.
The reason that we can consume almost everything and maintain a healthy body is because we have a number of extremely impressive organs and systems that are specifically designed to remove toxins from the body. The digestive tract actively eliminates anything the body doesn't need or can't use. The lungs eliminate toxic carbon dioxide with every breath. Even skin is designed to eliminate fat-stored toxins through sweating. Long story short, the human body is more than well-equipped to eliminate toxins.
Aside from the fact that we simply don't need to do anything special to eliminate toxins, cleansing also has several potential downfalls. Firstly, almost all cleanses are low in calories. Low caloric-intake slows the metabolism and encourages poor eating habits -- certainly not a recipe for sustained weight loss. Secondly, cleanses reside in the universe of extremism. When it comes to nutrition, any extreme is almost surely unhealthy. Take juice cleanses for example -- do you think it's healthy to consume a shake that contains of 15 servings of vegetables? Metabolizing all those nutrients and nitrates will surely put a lot of stress on the body.
On the other end of the spectrum, some cleanses are basically about starvation, and I don't think I need to explain why this isn't a healthy activity. Finally, almost all cleanses are low in protein, which is the one macronutrient that should be prioritized under any circumstances. The kicker is that protein deficiencies can actually inhibit the body's ability to eliminate toxins! Wrap your head around that one!
So is there any benefit to cleansing? There can be a time and place for everything. If you need to use a cleanse to get you out of bad habits and on track to a healthier lifestyle, it can surely have a place. If you feel the need for a mental break from making your daily food choices, take the break. But don't lean on cleansing as a crutch for an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle. There is no "Get Healthy Quick" scheme. Much like you can't get abs in seven days, you also can't eliminate health problems in a week. Any time you read about improving your health in a short period of time or through easy methods, you should immediately be skeptical.
So if cleansing isn't worth it, how does one go about minimizing toxins in every day life? Here are some tips:
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water and green tea. Use a filter on your tap for an added layer of protection. Why? Because the kidneys are major detoxification organs and will function best if kept clean.
- Get a good sweat on, as often as possible. As mentioned above, skin is a major elimination organ, and sweating is the easiest way to purge unwanted substances from our bodies.
- Do what you can to be as lean as possible. Fat-soluble toxins reside in fat cells, therefore the less body fat you have, the less room there is for said chemicals.
- Eat local, and wash your produce! Eating local increases the chances that your produce will be as nutritious as possible, and the shorter the distance produce has to travel, the fewer chemicals need to be used to prevent spoilage. Fruits and vegetables are likely the most important ingredient to maintaining a healthy body, and the more produce you eat, the less you'll eat of other problematic foods.
- Embrace moderation and diversity. Eating far too much of something or simply eating far too little of everything won't lead you down a pleasant path. On the same note, try not to abuse medications or supplements -- both should be taken only if absolutely necessary.
- Get outside! Maximize your time in the sun (vitamin D is incredibly important to overall health) and breathe in as much high quality air as possible.
In the end, it's the same old message ringing true: There are no shortcuts to optimal health and fat loss. If something seems too good to be true, it's likely quite false. Set a plan to gradually increase your healthy activities while limiting your vices and over time you'll achieve the results you want!
For more information, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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