Losing My Cleanse Virginity

I've been weight training & working out since I was 17 or 18 years old. I've been a personal trainer since 19. I've counseled, trained & motivated literally hundreds of people to lose fat. I've also lost fat myself - I've had 2 babies in the last 4 years. The point is, I know a thing or two about fat loss. And I've never, ever, ever used a muscle building supplement, fast, cleanse or other nutritional program to help me either gain muscle or lose fat. I think I've done alright without them, if I do say so myself.

One of the hottest trends in the fitness/nutrition world is the cleanse. Celebrities are notorious for starving themselves for weeks on end, consuming nothing but concoctions of maple syrup, lemon juice, cayenne & water. There are less severe options that promise to deliver similar "cleansing" benefits while still providing calories for daily life (usually with protein shakes, juices, etc. but no solid foods). Cleanse programs typically promise to alleviate gastroinstestinal symptoms, burn fat , end sugar cravings & food addictions, improve mental clarity and increase energy.

Many a client has approached me to ask my opinion on systems like these. Each time, I have said decidedly, "no." Why?

1. I am not a dietitian or nutritionist, so I don't prescribe diets or supplements.

2. I believe that fasting and cleansing can feed easily into negative patterns such as crash dieting, anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and food/body image obsession. I don't want my clients to fall into these traps so I don't encourage a route that I know may lead there.

3. I've never used one and never felt I needed to use one. My advice as a trainer is based very much on experience, as well as knowledge.

But then... Rebecca Malen from Total Cleanse emailed me and offered me a 3-day trial of her home-delivered juice cleanse service. I thought about it. And thought about it. And thought about it. A few weeks later, I decided to bite the bullet. I was skeptical but this was one experience I couldn't honestly tell my clients I had. This was my chance to experience for myself the effects of a cleanse and feel completely certain about the advice I would give clients in the future.

From Monday to Wednesday of this week, I consumed nothing but 6 freshly pressed juices (delivered in coolers to my front door) and any water and herbal tea I desired.

It was very difficult. Preparing meals for others, delivering snacks and drinks to my kids and hubby, even driving past my usual Starbucks stops without having anything was torturous at times. These 3 days required all of my willpower. But I got through them. The first day, I was plagued with hunger and sort of giddy with anxiety... how was I going to make it through 3 days? By day 2, I still had physical hunger but less appetite... the idea of actually eating food didn't seem as attractive and I had fewer cheeseburger fantasies than on day 1. On day 3, I was reaching the end of my rope. My appetite was not big but my hunger was distracting. Though the juices were delicious & fresh, I was ready for a new taste and maybe some texture to go with it! I white-knuckled it through the afternoon and evening of my last cleanse day, cheered on by my wonderful hubby. I had committed to reviewing Total Cleanse so I had to finish Total Cleanse. On only about 900-1,000 calories per day, I was feeling fatigue build up in my body after 3 days of training, mothering, running around and starving all the while. (To the credit of Malen & Total Cleanse, the website does recommend one stick with low intensity exercise like walking or yoga if exercising at all during a cleanse. Unfortunately, my occupation doesn't always allow for that.)

Now the question everyone has for me is, "Would you do it again?"

I don't think so.

Total Cleanse was a wonderful service and the juices really were delicious, high quality and fresh tasting. But cleansing didn't give me the feeling of lightness and peace I was hoping for. It caused me anxiety and physical stress. Realistically, it wasn't suited to my lifestyle. There were a few positive outcomes from my 3-day cleanse, however...

  • I experienced less bloating and stomach discomfort than usually (this might be an effect that others with gastrointestinal issues would notice more than those whose stomachs and GI systems function quite happily; mine are often unhappy).
  • I got so much done! Without being able to eat or drink a cup of coffee, tea, wine, etc., I found myself struggling to stay busy. Sometimes it was to distract myself from my hunger (cleaning up the kitchen while everyone else ate the dinner I had prepared); other times, it was to replace the mindless eating and/or drinking in my regular routine (folding laundry at night when I would normally have enjoyed a snack and a cup of tea).
  • I was reminded of the sensation of actual hunger. I mean real hunger. I hadn't felt that since my son was born and I was in the first few days of struggling to breastfeed and finding it difficult to feed myself regularly. I am more aware now that appetite is not the same as hunger.
  • I became aware of all the times in a day when I might eat or drink something purely out of boredom or a desire to eat, simply because, for 3 days straight, I had to deny each of those urges as they arose.
  • I was very well hydrated!

Overall, cleansing provided me a chance to exercise some mental and physical discipline... and I love an opportunity to challenge/torture myself! It gave me a break from my routine (albeit a very, very uncomfortable break - fasting is not easy!) to analyze said routine with a bit of outside perspective. I think I had come to most of these revelations by the end of day 1 and so I would say:

If you are considering a cleanse, I urge you to begin with a single day of cleansing only, using a service like Total Cleanse rather than existing on diuretic teas or powders and pills all day, to see how you feel. One day should be enough to allow you some perspective on your usual eating habits and a complete halt to any overindulging that has been causing you physical or emotional stress. Aim for mental and behavioural change instead of physical transformation and weight loss, and I think anyone could benefit from a single day of experiencing real hunger and denying their mindless urges. A single day is also unlikely to cause any unpleasant side effects (aside from hunger and maybe a bit of fatigue), but talk to your doctor before undertaking to be sure there are no medical reasons you should not fast.

So, I'm glad to say I've cleansed. I finally know how it feels. But I sure am happy to eat again!

For more information on cleansing and fasting and to learn purported benefits, known risks & guidelines for cleansing, try these links:

Fasting: Body Cleansing or Body Starving?, Vanderbilt University

Why Diets Fail & Why a Weekly Fast Might Work, Cornell University

Dangers of Fad Diets, Fort Valley State University