Are Cleanses the New Eating Disorder?

juice cleanse

Are juice cleanses the new eating disorder? (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Cleanses are healthy, right?  They are touted on major talk shows, endorsed by celebrities, and billed as a healthy way to lose weight and rid the body of toxins.  But are they actually good for your body?  And is the “cleanse culture” ushering in a new kind of eating disorder? To answer these questions, let’s start by looking at some of the most popular cleanses and the benefits they promise to bring.

  • The Master Cleanse – 10 day liquid diet consisting primarily of lemon juice, water, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup.  Promises rapid weight loss and toxin removal.
  • LemonAid 48 Hour Detox Diet – 2 day liquid diet consisting of a specific lemonade formula.  Promises a lighter, leaner you.
  • iZO JuiceFeast Cleanse – Liquid diet consisting of organic juice that people can do for any length of time.  Promises everything from quick weight loss to spiritual renewal.
  • 21 Day Clean Detox Program – 21 day program that includes specific shakes, supplements, and one small daily meal consisting of food from an approved list.   Promises to remove common food allergens, rebuild the body, and gain a better understanding of how your body reacts to certain foods.
  • Blueprint Cleanse – 3 day cleanse that features juice all day, two snacks, and a vegetarian meal at dinner.  Promises to relieve stress on the digestive system and alleviate toxins.
  • The Quantum Wellness Cleanse – 21 day program that eliminates alcohol, gluten, added sugar, caffeine, and animal products from the diet.  Promises to kick-start physical and mental wellbeing.

While many experts agree that short cleanses like the LemonAid 48 hour detox or the Blueprint cleanse may not necessarily deliver significant benefit, they also agree that extreme calorie reduction for a few days isn’t going to do any harm either.  But when this kind of extreme calorie restriction goes on for a week or more, concerns are being raised about how that is impacting the body.  But even doing something like the Master Cleanse for 10 days isn’t the real issue nutritionists and experts in this area are worried about.

The concern over the popularity of these cleanses is that when people, especially women, go through one of these programs and experience rapid weight loss from extreme calorie restriction or other temporary benefits, they can become obsessed with cleansing.  This can lead to going through a new cleanse every week or two.  Since most cleanses involve extreme calorie reduction and intake of a very limited group of nutrients, this healthy fad, when taken to extremes, can have serious health consequences.    Some have even raised concerns that this type of behavior may be developing into a new kind of eating disorder.

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) defines an eating disorder as a serious emotional and physical problem that involves extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors around weight and food.  Given that definition, it is easy to understand why there are growing concerns about the cleansing craze.  NEDA has recently added a category of eating disorder to their website called Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder that encompasses behavioral patterns where a person fails to take in enough food and experiences serious nutritional deficiencies but without the psychological factors seen with Anorexia Nervosa.  While not specifically related to cleanse craziness, this new disorder seems to encompass the problem that would result from extreme cleansing.

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