A friend pointed me to this MSNBC article on the dangers of detox diets. They sound awful, don’t they? Starvation, liquid BMs — why would anyone do this?
The truth: I did. But not quite like this. Last fall I did an 18-day “cleanse,” which could possibly help with fatigue, depression, and allergies. I did it mostly as a way to learn more about myself. I have to say it was an interesting experience, and I look forward to doing it again this year. I never starved, and I never had any totally weird BMs. The way mine worked, we cut out one type of food every day for about ten days — animal products, grains, soy products, etc., until we were down to only fruits and non-starchy vegetables. Then we drank only juice and broth for four days. I felt prepared by the first ten days — a little exhausted in the middle of the four days, but nothing too extreme, and there was always a “way out” — plans for what to do if you couldn’t take the “fast” (which was nutrient-rich, I should add) that would be more gentle to your body than, say, a rare steak.
I knew of some allergies before I started, and I didn’t anticipate finding others. I did feel energized, and I felt like my relationship with food changed. I was committed, strongly for several months and to some extent still, to keeping my body very clean. It’s made me more aware of what I eat, and of what my body needs (as opposed to what my mind needs — that hungry beast I too often feed with food). I felt like I was being very good to myself.
Fasts aren’t anything new — they are a central part of many different religions. The problem, which the article talks about, is fasting to lose weight. This was not what my cleanse was about (or at least that wasn’t why I was doing it). I did lose a couple of pounds in the midst of it, but they came back within a couple of weeks. This was totally expected. I think cleansing can be a really interesting exercise in observing the mind/body connection, but it obviously isn’t a great long-term plan. It can help you clean up your act and change some bigger habits, but in and of itself it is not sustainable.
Getting nutrients is important, I think we would all agree. I do know people who have done the “master cleanse,” drinking only lemon water mixed with cayenne pepper and maple syrup for ten days. I don’t know if I could do it, but my very sensible, health-oriented, not-weight-obsessed friend swears by it, and does it twice a year. Certainly there are dangers, and I think it’s important to do something like this under the supervision of a professional, in the company of some kind of support group, or at the least sensibly, paying attention to your body’s actual needs and not being too stalwart about sticking to it if you’re feeling awful.