Is There Any Safe Way To Do A "Cleanse"?

Photographed by Daniel Castro.
Whether you're dealing with acne, anxiety, or pretty much any health problem, according to various corners of the internet, you could solve it by way of a restrictive "detoxifying" cleanse. But not only are these cleanses often ineffective, they can also be legitimately dangerous. It's understandable to want to kickstart your health, but there are much safer and healthier ways to refocus your eating patterns — and they certainly don't require you to subsist entirely on liquids.
"We can help our bodies do their job and get rid of toxins and byproducts of metabolic processes by simply eating well," says Kim Larson, RDN, spokesperson for The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. That's good news, since extreme cleanses can be harmful: They deprive you of the fuel your body and brain need, they rid your body of helpful gut bacteria, and they can contribute to an unhealthy relationship with food.
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But your reason for wanting to do a cleanse may be totally admirable. For instance, perhaps you want to break out of eating patterns that leave you feeling sluggish halfway through your workday, or maybe you'd like to turn down your meat consumption a tad for the environment's sake. In those cases, you can still do what Larson calls a "reboot" rather than a cleanse to accomplish those goals without depriving your body of necessary nutrients.
"A nutritional reboot is a change in diet that reestablishes variety and balance, and improves the quality of the food you are eating," Larson says. "But there is really no need to feel like these changes have to be made all at once, as the words 'reboot' or 'cleanse' imply." Instead of forcing you to drink various juices for three days in the hopes that they'll transform the way you feel about your meals, a reboot gradually nudges you in the direction of healthier, more balanced food options.
To do so, Larson suggests making one change in your diet per week. For example, you can try to add an extra fruit or veggie to your lunches, aim to get more protein-rich meat alternatives in your dinners, or pledge to really, definitely, for sure eat a nutritious, energizing breakfast every day. You could also aim to bring your lunch from home a few more days a week.
The point with all of these approaches is that you're adding or swapping foods into your meals rather than excluding anything. And you're making these changes slowly, which gives them a chance to take hold and gives you the opportunity to really assess how those modifications make you feel.
"Excluding foods is never a good idea," Larson says, "but focusing on eating primarily whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and more fruits and vegetables is the best way to change eating patterns." And, of course, sticking to a balanced, nutritious diet can definitely make it easier to deal with other health issues. But you should leave the actual treatment of those conditions to your doctor.
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