08/26/2014 12:48 EDT | Updated 10/26/2014 05:59 EDT

There's a Right and a Wrong Way to Do a Cleanse

Thinking rationally, I know that the feeling of control that a cleanse offers is fleeting, even false, but I wanted to feel like I was closing the door on old (less than ideal) habits, and opening the door to new (more ideal) habits. I wanted a clean slate.


So, I have a confession to make. It may sound hypocritical, and part of me can't believe that I am admitting this, but after years and years of discouraging my clients to go on "cleanses," I myself recently succumbed and did a fairly lengthy (and pricey) "cleanse."

Why? I am not 100 per cent sure.

Curiosity? Yes.

Research? Probably.

Self discovery? In part.

I think if I am being completely honest, I was seeking a sense of control. Thinking rationally, I know that the feeling of control that a cleanse offers is fleeting, even false, but I wanted to feel like I was closing the door on old (less than ideal) habits, and opening the door to new (more ideal) habits.

I wanted a clean slate.

Since the term "cleanse" is haphazardly thrown around and means different things to different people, I should be clear on what I actually did. A cleanse can range from an extreme juice fast -- think only cayenne and maple syrup water -- to simply limiting processed foods for a prescribed period.

I DID NOT do the cayenne pepper water cleanse! Even if I wanted to, which I didn't, I don't think I could. I like (and need) food (fuel) too much. Plus, I am not a fan of extreme, often dangerous "quick fix" regimes of any type -- which the cayenne pepper/maple sugar water cleanse is.

So, my cleanse? I ordered a fruit and vegetable juice delivery service for four days. Each day I received five pure fruit and vegetable drinks and one cashew milk drink. Now, I am not sure if the next confession makes the whole thing better or worse, but here it goes. I modified the cleanse. My job is fairly active, so I couldn't (or didn't want to) exist on what they gave me. I supplemented the regime with one protein shake per day. (This fact could be used to criticize my willpower. Or, if you believe it shows that I stuck to traditional critical stance on cleanses, the fact could be used to commend my integrity. You decide.)

Why does a trainer need a "clean slate" you ask?

During training season I end up eating processed energy food (my favorite gels are chocolate GUs) and I find myself, especially at night, mistaking exhaustion or thirst for hunger. Having slightly less than mindful eating habits and consuming GUs might be totally fine during marathon season, but I like to use off season to re-calibrate my nutrition.

I figured a cleanse might help me become more mindful. Plus, I am always up for an experiment.

The experience taught me a valuable lesson (one I already knew, but I obviously needed to learn it again). The lesson is this, you can't erase old habits in four days. Habits can't be turned "off." Also, although I LOVE fruits and vegetables, I like SOLID foods. The first day I was allowed to eat solid foods I wanted to eat everything, which is LITERALLY the opposite result I had wanted from the cleanse. I cleansed to become more "mindful." Instead, I just became starving.

Did I feel better in other ways? Maybe....I didn't sleep better or have more energy, but I was proud of myself that I completed something. Plus, I think that my stomach did feel better, healthier in some ways, less burdened. Still, I am not sure the positives trumped the negatives. Or, more accurately, I think there are better ways to get the same positive results without relying on a liquid diet for four days.

Main take-away? Be wary of any plan that drastically limits your calorie intake. Be particularly wary of any plan where you simultaneously excessively diet and exercise; doing both at once can be dangerous.

I totally understand the desire to frame your health goals as a "cleanse." Even this modified cleanse filled me (at least initially) with a sense of (however fleeting) purpose, commitment and control.

If framing your goals as a "cleanse" helps to kick start your health regime, fantastic. Just remember, cleanses are not a miracle panacea for good health. Committing to "going on a cleanse" can feel empowering, and/or like a fresh start, BUT when you are finished, the plethora of reasons why you originally established your negative health habits will be waiting for you.

Before starting any cleanse, analyze why past health regimes were not successful. Maybe your goals were unrealistic or vague? Use your reflections to create a unique cleanse that is realistic and tailored to YOUR current lifestyle and future health goals! What I have decided is that for me, month long challenges (rather than a cleanse) work really well. A month is not overwhelming, and as an added bonus, new habits can be formed in a month. So if I like the result of my challenge, I just keep going.

Take the time to figure out what works for you! The process of adopting a healthier lifestyle takes hard work and long-term dedication. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Aim to gradually change your lifestyle so that you have more healthy habits next month then you did this month.