One thing’s for certain. The juice cleanse has gone mainstream.
Celebrities like Julia Roberts and Beyoncé have gone public with their affection for juice delivery services like NYC’s Blueprint Cleanse and that old dieting stalwart, the Master Cleanse.
But are they effective? Depends on the goal.
“The motivation for these cleanses is typically weight loss,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, a NYC-based nutritionist and author of Read It Before You Eat It, who points out that most people who lose weight on trendy cleanses tend to gain it back.
For those looking for more of a digestive tune-up – following, say, an overindulgent summer barbecue – the experts are split when it comes to endorsing the recent spate of pricey juice and raw-food cleanses to get back on track.
But they’re all in agreement that easy lifestyle fixes (read: inexpensive) can be just as effective. Here are 5 simple expert-endorsed tips to cleansing and getting your systems back on track.
1) Find the right time to do it.
Timing is everything, and that applies to cleansing as well. Don’t pick the week a big work project is due to focus on detoxing.
Dr. Ron Stram, Director at the Center for Integrative Health and Healing, cites a low-stress environment as being necessary for optimal results. “Activity level should be moderate and you should feel relaxed,” he says.
And let’s not forget sleep. Pamela Salzman, a holistic health counselor based in Los Angeles, states that sleep is when detoxification and physical restoration occurs. Plus, “people who are under-rested are more susceptible to illness and tend to make poor dietary choices,” says Monica Reinagel, nutritionist and author of Nutrition Diva’s Secrets for a Healthy Diet.
Taub-Dix agrees, saying, “You end up reaching for a cookie instead of a nap.” She also says sustained wellness comes from practicing the trifecta of exercise, healthy diet, and sleep: “Think of a 3-legged stool. Take away one of those legs and the stool won’t be stable.”
2) Create a sustainable cleanse.
Most experts who aren’t fans of juice cleanses point out it’s not feasible to sustain them and their effects for a prolonged period of time.
“Healthful cleansing has just as much to do with moderation as overeating,” says Taub-Dix, who suggests taking an overall look at your diet and eating habits to assess what’s missing and what you really need to add for good health.
Set goals that can be integrated into your life, such as planning, shopping for, and eating a well-balanced breakfast for a week to combat the mid-morning slump. “The reality is that fad diets are based on some sort of truth that go off the deep end,” she says.
Apply common-sense principles, such as eliminating processed foods and caffeine or eating more raw food. Avoid extremes and look for sustainable change.
Reinagel also says that a 24-hour fast may be useful for people who are overly dependent on food and need to “break the cycle,” adding that a fast has “little to do with resting the digestive organs, but can reduce inflammation and improve immune response.”
No matter what, fasting for a prolonged period of time or drastically reducing your caloric intake aren’t good ideas. “Your body actually needs food to cleanse and won’t be able to function properly while fasting,” says Salzman.
3) Up your intake of fruits and vegetables.
Certain powerhouse fruits and veggies will offer more benefits on a cleanse than others. Salzman favors dark green, leafy vegetables, like kale and parsley, as they’re “rich in chlorophyll, one of nature’s natural detoxifiers.” She also recommends adding lemon juice to your water and food, as it “breaks up and draws out stagnant mucus in the body.”
Dr. Stram advocates consuming cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, and bok choy, all of which contain compounds that help the liver detoxify. “Fruits and vegetables promote healthy colon function,” adds Reinagel, meaning that they help flush out toxins.
4) Chug more water.
The easiest, fastest way to jumpstart a cleanse is to properly hydrate. “Water hydrates the cells and helps flush your circulatory and lymph systems,” says Dr. Stram.
Translation: Your internal system of checks and balances won’t function at its best unless you’re drinking enough water.
Plus, “cleansing is about eliminating toxins,” says Salzman. “Once your body releases toxins, you must up your intake of water to dilute them and flush them out.”
5) Give it time to kick in.
Most people find the first few days the most challenging. “Sometimes you feel worse before you feel better,” says Salzman. “Many people experience symptoms of withdrawal from sugar, caffeine or chemicals in foods. Headaches and irritability are very common as toxins enter the bloodstream.”
Dr. Stram will advise patients combating caffeine withdrawal to switch to green tea for a few days.
If you’re sticking to healthful, “clean” foods, drinking lots of water, aiming for adequate sleep, and still feeling rotten, give your body the time needed to expel the toxins first, before turning to more drastic, less balanced fad cleanses.