The Truth About Why You Feel So Great After A Cleanse

Photographed by Maria Del Rio.
All evidence points toward the conclusion that juice cleanses and other detox diets are not only ineffective but also potentially harmful.

Our organs naturally clean out toxins, so cleanses aren't necessary, says Trish Lieberman, MS, RD, LDN, Director of Nutrition at The Renfrew Center of Philadelphia. Plus, any benefits a cleanse might provide (questionable to begin with) don't usually last, since the restrictive habits are so hard to stick to — and detoxes can lead to low blood sugar, malnutrition, fatigue, dehydration, irritability, and a slowed metabolism, and can even trigger disordered eating.

So yeah, cleanses are pretty much bullshit — but if that's true, why do so many people who love to detox say it makes them feel so amazing?

It turns out, there are some legit reasons why you might feel a psychological or even physical boost after a cleanse — but the risks almost definitely outweigh those benefits, Lieberman says.

For example, you may notice your energy is higher or that certain digestive problems go away — that makes sense, because you're not eating as many processed foods and you may be getting more good-for-you nutrients than usual, depending on your normal diet. But the deprivation is sort of a red herring, and it's not necessary. "Eating a balance of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and nutritional fats without depriving yourself will improve how you feel on a regular basis without needing to detox," says Lieberman. (In other words, focus on adding good stuff, not subtracting bad stuff.)

You can keep yourself feeling energized by eating breakfast within 30 minutes of waking up, including protein with each meal, and consuming more fiber, fruits, and vegetables.

"Don’t rely on a cleanse to meet your nutritional needs," says Lieberman. "Many cleanses lack adequate energy and nutrients."

One other reason some people feel awesome after detoxing: They may actually have a food intolerance or allergy, and the detox temporarily eliminates that food from their diet. If you suspect this might be the case, talk to a doctor or registered dietitian about how to safely determine what might be causing you trouble, and to come up with a diet plan that'll help you avoid what you can't tolerate without cutting out foods you don't really need to.

And an obvious reason all that juice could lead you to feel at the top of your game is that you're super hydrated. You can get that feeling by aiming for eight glasses of liquid a day (including food and even juices) while still eating normal meals — it's not exactly the most science-backed recommendation, but it's an easy guideline, especially if you're one of those people who aren't into drinking water. And if you're in that category, flavored seltzer, tea, and milk can also work, says Lieberman. Eating fruits and vegetables also helps hydrate you.

Finally, there's that heady feeling of success — you tried something really tough and actually achieved it. But let us say it one more time: That positive psychological effect of a cleanse, like basically all the others, can totally be replicated without doing one. "Following a cleanse or detox typically requires following a very specific protocol, which may lead to a feeling of accomplishment," says Lieberman. "Other ways to get that accomplished feeling are to set small goals for yourself, noting barriers to reaching that goal and how you’ll overcome those barriers to help you stay on track."

If you're looking to improve your health in 2017, you can work on cultivating your ability to eat intuitively, developing an enjoyable exercise routine, or cooking at home more often, says Lieberman. But your goals don't have to be nutrition- or fitness-related. Cleansing your apartment of unnecessary stuff, your mind of negative thinking, or your life of bad habits can give you as much satisfaction as cleansing your body — with none of the drawbacks.
Advertisement