Cleansing is trendy in the West, where proponents fast or limit themselves to special juice concoctions meant to expel toxins from the body. Does this sound like an eating disorder, or is it actually a healthy way to give your body a break? To find out, we spoke with Kimberly Ashton, a health coach with a nutrition background, and Dr. Margaret Keefe, a registered dietician with United Family Hospitals.

The Fast

Fasting seems like a quick road to anorexia, but both Ashton and Dr. Keefe say that, in moderation, it’s safe. “Fasting really depends on the individual,” says Ashton, who adds that she doesn’t fast but instead sticks to a healthy diet. “Anyone with a medical condition or pregnancy should not undertake a fast, nor would I recommend it to busy, energy-consuming, working professionals.” Dr. Keefe does not recommend fasting for more than a day or two; if doing so, you should drink two liters per day of hydrating fluids. 

The Cleanse

Slightly less extreme than outright fasting are cleanses. These include all-juice cleanses, where you consume only fresh fruit and vegetable juice, green tea cleanses (easy enough in China) and the Master Cleanse, which was popular in the ’70s and involves drinking a mix of water, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup, as well as guzzling salt water and consuming laxative tea.

Some use cleanses to lose weight, others to clean out their colons. Asked about the effectiveness of the Master Cleanse, which is often practiced for up to 10 days, Dr. Keefe says, “Assuming you are healthy, it is never safe to stop eating and only have liquids. Existing on liquids for more than two days can lead to digestive problems due to lack of fiber. Liquid diets are too low in calories and deficient in many other nutrients. You do lose weight on this regime but only because the daily calorie intake is less than 800 calories a day. There is nothing magical about lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup. The maple syrup is added for calories so you don’t faint after the first 24 hours. 

Be Smart

Ashton, meanwhile, says that while there are benefits to giving your colon and digestive system a break and that cleansing is safe if done sensibly, she doesn’t believe in extremes. “Someone coming from regular steak eating, heavy drinking and smoking who then goes directly to a juice fast will lose weight and feel great for the first few days, but it’s not sustainable and is a shock to the system.” In the simplest of terms: if you’re binge drinking, cigarette smoking and on a bing a day, a cleanse isn’t going to repair all the damage you’ve been doing. 

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