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I tried a cleanse to lose weight and feel better. All I felt was much worse.

I remember my first cleanse vividly. After months of gorging on French bread, brie, potato chips and more beer than I care to admit, my pants no longer fit. Even my spandex felt tight — a testament to my willingness to consume anything and everything while studying abroad. That’s when I knew it was time for a change. And I wanted a quick fix.

One simple search on the Internet for “lose weight NOW” led me to a 10-day liquid diet consisting only of “lemonade.” Apparently Beyoncé drank the Kool-Aid (err, lemonade) and lost 20 pounds. It’s perfect, I thought. My roommate agreed, and we decided to embark on our first cleansing journey together.


Hours later, we were back in our flat with countless lemons, a huge tub of Grade B maple syrup, cayenne, several jugs of purified water and a bottle of sea salt (for what I fondly started to call the salt water flush from hell). Game on.

The first glass was fine: The spicy-sweet mixture was oddly satisfying. The prospect of dropping 20 pounds in 10 days probably helped make it taste even sweeter.

A full day of cleansing came and went. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for, either. I didn’t feel tortured or skinnier.


Tools and ingredients used to make the lemon juice cleanse. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Day 2, I was miserable. I had no energy. I felt as though I was suffering from a rare disorder in which a parasite eats at you, and my patience level was at an all-time low. After walking two miles to work, I thought I was going to collapse. On top of my lack of physical stamina, I had close to zero brainpower. Staring at my blank computer screen felt as strenuous as running a marathon in a snowstorm; hilarious e-mail chats were the most annoying things I’d ever read; I hated everyone; I hated the cleanse; I hadn’t lost weight.

By Day 4, my friends abandoned me, my spandex still felt as though it was going to burst at the seams and the sight of anything edible made me hallucinate.

Then I found evidence of sandwich consumption under my roommate’s bed. She had been cheating. And she wasn’t ashamed. “You’re insane and this is stupid,” she said. She had a point. An hour later, we were in a bar, beers in hand and burgers in our mouths. Life was good again.

I tried that cleanse again three more times and followed the rules more closely: The first go-round, I’d skipped prep, didn’t listen to my body when it was tired, gave up after four days and skipped the phase-out process, too. But the results were the same: I was hungry, irritable, weak and low on brainpower. Many who have cleansed say those feelings pass and are replaced by energy, stamina and bliss — but that wasn’t the case for me. I did lose a few pounds, but they came back (plus more) as soon as I started eating solid foods.

Maybe it was that particular cleanse, I decided. I needed to try something else.

At this point, I’ve done seven. I experimented with brands, cleanse types, phase-in and phase-out strategies, exercising and not exercising — you name it, I’ve tried it. But just like my personality, my body is stubborn. And every time I’ve limited my intake to liquids, my body simply wanted food — real, solid, ­nutrient-dense food.

So why did I continue to torture myself?

For one, I love trying new trends, diets and means of reaching my full physical and mental potential. I also love food, eating a lot of it and having a few drinks to help wash it all down. Naturally, that can lead to weight gain, and instead of being patient and getting back on track, sometimes I want an easy way to get back to the body I’m used to (and to get out of elastic pants). Plus I have a history of injuries, and as an athlete, it can be difficult to adjust food intake to a body that isn’t hitting the gym six days a week.

Cleansing will solve all those problems, right?

Wrong. And here’s why:

1. Your body needs protein and fiber.

Protein is often associated with gaining serious muscle, but it’s necessary for every body type — weightlifters and yogis alike. Not only does protein help muscles recover, it also helps promote a healthy weight by keeping you full and fueled. Protein also provides essential amino acids the body can’t produce on its own. And, sadly, juice provides little to no protein (unless you’re doing a cleanse that includes nut milk, but that still has a low amount).

As for fiber, most people don’t get enough as is. If constipation, low energy and frequent hunger pangs aren’t reason enough to up your intake, consider this: A high-fiber diet also reduces risk for heart disease. Many fruits have a healthful serving of fiber, but the process of juicing them and discarding their nutrient-rich outer layer cuts down on the fiber that makes it into your cup. The one thing you’re still getting plenty of in juices is sugar. Which leads me to my next point . . .

2. Eating fruit is much more healthful than drinking it.

While juice cleanses may seem like an easy way to load up on vitamins and minerals, they’re often full of added sugars and devoid of the good stuff (such as fiber and antioxidants). Juicing fruits does tend to preserve some vitamins, but why guzzle several hundred calories’ worth of fruit when you can eat one serving and actually feel full? Plus, all that juice can actually lead to Type 2 diabetes, whereas eating fruit reduces the risk.

3. Juice is expensive.

Cleansing, whether you’re making the juice at home or buying a prepackaged one, can cost a pretty penny. In fact, for the price of the average cleanse (around $180 for three days), you can buy two weeks’ worth of groceries for yourself — even at a high-end grocery store. Why not cut back on booze and caffeine for a week and splurge on a massage or class package at your favorite fitness studio instead of hopping on another cleanse? And because studies have found few actual health benefits to detox diets, including cleanses, you’re essentially throwing your hard-earned cash to the wind.

4. Crash diets don’t work.

Losing 12 pounds in two weeks may sound great, but it’s tough to keep it off. When you deprive yourself of sugar and carbohydrates, the likelihood of eventually returning to old habits, and bingeing in the process, is high. The better option: Make small, meaningful changes, such as cutting back on processed foods and drinking more water, one at a time.

5. Cleansing makes you feel crummy.

Sure, several cleansing testimonies say that the results were incredible: “My body has never looked better,” “My mind has never been clearer,” “I have more energy than a puppy.” And while that may be true for some, for others — like me — it isn’t.

The lack of nutrients in juice cleanses can cause hunger, fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, a rapid heartbeat, temperature fluctuations, impatience and a whole slew of discomfort. And to think: This is what you’re choosing to do and paying for. Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll take feeling awesome for free.

6. Your body detoxes itself naturally.

After you overindulge, purging your system of toxins with a cleanse sounds appealing. But that’s what our organs are for. The liver is constantly working to help purify the body. Our kidneys do the same every time we urinate. And so do our intestines: Every time we defecate, we’re getting rid of things our body doesn’t need (or want).

Eating healthfully can help our organs do their jobs more efficiently: We don’t need to drink liquid for days on end to accomplish that.

At this point, I think it’s obvious that I’ve given up on cleansing. Not only did it put my body through a roller coaster of stomachaches, cramps, fainting spells and a lack of focus, but I also never accomplished my goals of feeling better and losing weight. Instead, I have identified the things that make me feel bad and those I tend to overindulge in, and I have created my own plan that helps me get back to feeling good when I need it.

For seven to 10 days, I remove caffeine, alcohol, dairy, meat and anything processed from my diet. I fuel up on whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, lentils, eggs and a whole lot of water and herbal tea. While I’m doing that, I decrease my level of exercise and limit myself to such things as long walks, restorative yoga and 15-minute steam room or sauna sessions.

By the end of my “cleanse,” I feel energized, healthy, happy and fit — even if I’m not fitting into my skinny jeans perfectly. I’ve also found that it helps to “detox” my mind, at the same time. Taking time to meditate and write, and ignoring social media and mindless Web browsing, help me feel more focused, and I sleep like a baby. It may not be double-digit weight loss, but I’ll take it.

This story was excerpted from Greatist.com.

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