In the health and wellness world, diets are facing a major PR crisis. Diets are evil, mean and restrictive. Diets don't work. Diets suck. But somehow, one of the most potentially damaging diets escapes criticism: the cleanse.
Women are in a constant state of cleanse, ranging from 3 days to 60 days. No sugar, no carbs, no fruit, no fun, no happiness, only water and wheatgrass. In contrast to the old diet (so passé!), a cleanse is so in.
A cleanse, if used properly (and not with a crazed desire to look tight and toned in Key Largo) can be effective, I'm sure. I've heard they increase energy. I've heard they help your skin. I've heard they reawaken your tastebuds.
I say "I've heard" because I've only ever experienced the madness of completing a cleanse. The massive pig out that occurs post-cleanse, in which you order all the carbs in the Tri-State area and eat as if you may never see food again.
Am I the only one who does that? Maybe. But I think many women have had the post-cleanse pendulum swing that leaves you breathless on your kitchen floor, wondering how you ate ALL that ice cream.
I joke, but it's not funny. For women with a history of emotional eating and disordered eating, cleanses can spark periods of anorexia, bulimia, purging and a whole list of painful psychological issues.
I am not a doctor, a holistic practitioner or remotely smart on the medical matter of cleanse effectiveness. I realize cleanses and detox plans have benefits. I've done enough research to know that they have a very valid and helpful place in the world. And before I get myself in any sort of social media scuffle, let's be clear: I know cleanses have their place. That's not what I'm talking about here.
I'm talking about highly restricted periods of not eating that are labeled cleanses.
There is a dangerous and prevalent misuse of cleanses for the purpose of weight loss and a feeling of “control.” Here's what I feel very strongly about, most people "cleanse" for weight loss. Not everyone, but a large majority want to drop weight fast. I've gone on cleanses for that exact reason.
Starving oneself for weight loss may be medically sound, but psychologically it's like running with scissors.
For women with a difficult relationship to food, a cleanse can serve as a sort of sanctioned eating disorder. In no other circumstance would it be recommended for someone to just not eat solid food for days on end. But if you're on a cleanse, it's all good.
The moment you tell me I can't eat something I want to eat it so bad it hurts.So it's no wonder that the restriction of a cleanse is like a tinderbox for a binge. Most cleanses cut out everything that makes a life worth living: sugar, carbs, protein.
It's like prison, and eventually you can't take it. Once your self-control finally busts wide open after a few days of starvation, you nosedive into a food binge. Binge eating is no light issue: it's a real medical and psychological condition. In fact, Binge Eating Disorder has become so prevalent that it is now listed in the DSM V, the big official book that lists all mental health diagnoses.
And the part that's really tough to take is that we do this to ourselves. We embark on a self-induced hunger strike before vacation. Why? Because we feel like we don't deserve to put on a bikini in our current state of winter fluff? We don't feel worthy of showing up to a friend's wedding unless we're the same size we were in college?
Going on a cleanse has almost become a to-do list item before any event. Like we can’t enjoy just showing up somewhere unless we know we’ve done our due diligence before going out in public.
The word cleanse is inherently shaming. To cleanse is to make clean. But are we actually dirty? What filthy things have we done? I'm already feeling kind of down on myself enough, now I have to worry if my insides are toxic?
We're all just living, eating, drinking and trying to stay alive and not look too bad doing it. It's hard enough to feel worthy without seeing messages flashing all over that say "Cleanse" or "Detox".
Now I’ll get down off my soapbox and say what I really want to say. Which is, we are not dirty and toxic. We are human. Sometimes we get a little thicker. Sometimes we have a hangover. But it also means that we are devouring the most incredible thing we all have, which is moments which happen to come with lots of rich food.
I have stopped going on cleanses, but I will admit they tantalize me at every turn. It’s so alluring to think that I could start one Monday and by Friday be a lean gazelle version of myself. But I have not so distant memories of myself driving around town to various fast food chains like a junkie after I finished the Master Cleanse. I am one of those people who can’t cleanse responsibly. There’s no graceful off ramp for me after a cleanse. It’s zero to Dairy Queen in 60 seconds.
So if you’re contemplating a cleanse just realize that first: you’re just fine, you’re not dirty or toxic. And if you still want to do some cleansing, who am I to stop you?
Just remember to treat yourself gently and kindly.