In some parts of the country, It's common to hear statements like these:
- I can’t join you for lunch. I’m cleansing.
- No pizza for me. I’m detoxing.
- I don’t eat breakfast. I juice instead.
It’s almost a badge of honor: Look how vital and healthy I am! I juice.
What many people don’t realize, and what concerns me greatly, is that juicing and cleansing have become trendy ways to hide an eating disorder.
Yes, I'm a fan of juicing.
I’m pretty obsessed with my green juice. I drink about four or five glasses per day of my kale, cucumber, celery, ginger, yellow beet, lemon juice mix, and a few times per year, I do a week-long green juice cleanse and have led my audience through the same program with my cleanse teacher Tricia Barrett. (You can get on the waiting list for next one here.)
Juicing is a supplement to my otherwise pretty healthy diet, and when I do cleanse, it's a nutritional program that includes green juice, vegan broth, vegan soup, and sprout salad. At no point am I limiting my caloric intake to dangerous levels or failing to give my body nutrition. (In fact, because my weight is healthy and I don’t wish to lose weight when I cleanse, I often supplement my cleanse with whole avocados to ensure I get enough calories and healthy fats.)
So that’s the backstory on why I’m a fan of juicing. But—and this is a big but—as a physician leading this cleanse, I felt that it was SUPER important to address the issue of eating disorders, especially because so many people use cleanses to hide their unhealthy habits around food. So I included this huge disclaimer in the sales letter for my program:
A note about eating disorders.
Before you register, we feel compelled to mention one thing. We are both super conscious about the issue of eating disorders. We understand that the idea of cleansing can be easily distorted into something unhealthy. In fact, many with eating disorders hide it under the guise of “cleansing” or a raw foods diet, when really, they’re anorexics, limiting their caloric intake in an attempt to lose unhealthy weight.
This is NOT the goal of this cleanse. While weight loss is a common and often helpful side effect of the cleanse, and while weight loss in overweight people can benefit your health in numerous ways, we do not recommend this cleanse to anorexics or anyone with disordered eating. We feel very strongly that we don’t want anyone using this program to exacerbate an eating disorder.
In fact, although people with eating disorders carry certain toxins and could benefit from a detox cleanse, most experts do not recommend cleanse programs for those with eating disorders. Those who suffer with eating disorders already have disordered eating, and cleansing can exacerbate the disease. If you choose not to listen to us and decide to cleanse anyway, please consult your doctor, psychiatrist, therapist, nutritionist, and anyone else on your eating disorder team.
Juicing has become so ubiquitous in some parts of the country, particularly in California and New York, that it’s almost fashionable for someone to show up at a lunch date and not order from the menu, because “I’m cleansing" when really, they’re not ordering because they don’t want to reveal their eating disorder.
So how can you tell the difference?
Here are 10 signs that you (or someone you love) is masking an eating disorder with juicing or cleansing:
1. Your BMI, or body mass index, reveals that you are underweight or normal weight, yet you replace meals with juice regularly. (Not sure about your BMI? Calculate it here.
3. Other people think you’re skinny, but what you see in the mirror is a big fat slob.
4. For women, skipping periods or not menstruating at all can be a sign that you’re not getting enough calories. The body is genius. If it thinks you’re not at a healthy enough weight to have a healthy pregnancy, your periods will disappear.
5. You binge on unhealthy foods and then either induce vomiting, exercise excessively, misuse laxatives, or use juicing as a sort of penance to undo the damage.
6. You embark upon juice fasts that last more than a week. For example, a month of nothing but juice just isn’t healthy.
7. You find yourself avoiding meals out with friends and family “because I’m cleansing.”
8. Other people worry about how often you skip meals or cleanse.
9. Being away from your juicer or a juice bar triggers anxiety or even panic.
10. You obsessively weigh yourself, and change your cleansing behavior as a way to diet yourself back to your target weight.
Our culture is so focused on rail-thin models and unhealthy body types that it’s easy to fall prey to disordered eating. Juicing and cleansing can be healthy ways to detox and dsupplement an otherwise healthy diet. But we need to be careful we’re not masking dangerous, life-threatening conditions like anorexia or bulimia.
If you or someone you know is using juicing to mask an eating disorder, please stop cleansing and get help from a qualified therapist. For more thoughts about the risks of cleansing and eating disorders, read this blog from Potentia, a therapy practice run by my cousin Rebecca Bass Ching that specializes in eating disorders.
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