Though cleansing may seem like just another fashionable trend, it’s a custom with roots reaching way back into history. In fact, ancient Egyptians were apparently passionate about intestinal cleanses, and purification rituals of all kinds are standard practice in religions all over the world.
For so many of us, cleansing and purifying our bodies holds obvious appeal. Many believe that a cleanse can rid our system of harmful toxins while imparting other benefits such as weight loss, mental clarity, an immune system boost, brighter skin and improved overall health. There are juice cleanses, pure-food cleanses, lemonade-and-cayenne-pepper cleanses; whatever the desired outcome, there are a host of cleanse options to choose from.
Cleansing itself may be old-school, but Cleansing 2.0 has definitely seen an upgrade. These days, you can have a customized seven-day juice cleanse delivered to your door, or undertake one as a team-building exercise with coworkers. No matter how they’re approached, most cleanses last for three to 10 days and are composed of three to six juices each day, or a diet of simple, whole foods.
Cleanses can also be used to kickstart healthier choices. “Detoxes shift you away from bad habits — like excessive intake of coffee, alcohol and fatty or sugary foods — and can help foster healthier habits even once we’re off them,” says Cathy Wong, a naturopathic doctor and certified nutrition specialist.
Not all experts agree, however, that cleanses are necessary — or even healthy. “Your liver and kidneys can handle toxins just fine,” says Joan Salge Blake, an associate professor of nutrition at Boston University. “There’s no science to back up cleansing.”
As with any new health endeavor, you may want to consult your doctor before undertaking a cleanse. Proceed with caution if you’re on blood-pressure, blood-sugar, blood-thinning or diabetes medication, and note that cleanses are generally considered off-limits to children and pregnant or breastfeeding women.
New to the idea of cleansing? Here are three ways to give it a whirl:
Add a green juice or smoothie to your day, possibly replacing a heavier breakfast or lunch with this drinkable meal. Go heavy on the greens and light on the fruit to avoid a sugar crash. I especially like adding ingredients such as granola, flax seeds, chia seeds and almonds to my green smoothies — the hearty texture satisfies me for a long time, and the added nutrients are a bonus.
Commit to a food-based cleanse. Dr. Oz’s 48-hour cleanse incorporates real food — including smoothies, vegetable broth, sauerkraut, apples and quinoa with prunes — all purported to cleanse your liver, colon and kidneys. The Bon Appetit Food Lover’s Cleanse espouses “a fresh, healthful approach to cooking satisfying meals with healthful ingredients.” Dr. Oz asserts that the effects of food-based cleanses aren’t just physical. “I believe there is a spiritual aspect as well,” he writes. “Afterward I felt a sense of peace that I didn’t have before.”
While the medical jury’s out on the efficacy or benefits of juice cleanses, you can give one a try and draw your own conclusions. A three-day juice cleanse can be considered a system reboot, helping you to break old eating habits and reset your system, especially after an overload of “bad” food (post-holidays, for example).
Some companies — such as BluePrint, Cooler Cleanse and Organic Avenue — will deliver each days’ juices directly to your door (though you’ll pay up to $80 a day for the privilege). With a little preparation, however, you can easily prepare your own juices at home. In addition to getting a juicer, you’ll want to research recipes and shop for everything you’ll need in advance, because take it from me: The worst thing to do in the middle of a fast is to go grocery shopping.