In recent decades, the fad of juicing fruits and vegetables for the purpose weight loss, “cleansing”, and “detoxifying” has reached alarming new heights. With claims such as “purifying the mind”, “cleansing the colon”, and promoting the ability to drop weight at a record pace, the juicing cleanse fad is a scary monster. There can be many similarities between the thought of a 5,7,14, or even 30 day juice cleanse and eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. This article will look at some of these similarities, as well as some of the claims of “cleansing and detoxification.”
One of the first things that come to my mind when I read about the claims that a juicing cleanse proposes is the current obsession of the ability to have control over one’s food intake to the point of it becoming an eating disorder. To only allow your body to take in ONLY liquid for weeks at a time (or however long the cleanse is supposed to last) is nearly the same as starvation. We currently live in a society that, for the most part, shames body fat in almost any form. People have no problem pointing out body fat on others as if the presence of body fat on an elite level athlete will somehow diminish their accomplishments. The dedicated men and women of LBEB are all too familiar with this. This constant shaming can be a driver that leads to eating disorders, and for the most part, we seem to recognize some of the signs of an eating disorder. The question then remains: how do we not notice the implications of eating disorders in most juicing cleanses?
How is it that we do not seem to bat an eye when a co-worker tells us they are going to drink ONLY cucumber and lemon water for a week in order for them to lose weight? If someone said that they would not be eating any actual food for a week, we might be getting slightly concerned. But if you throw the words “juicing cleanse” into the conversation, suddenly it is not only acceptable, but it may even turn into a workplace-enforced cleanse.(1) What is a workplace-enforced raw juice cleanse, if not mandatory starvation? Now, there is obviously little wrong with fruits or vegetables, even if a juiced form. The problems arise, however, when juice is the ONLY thing that is being consumed. When fruits and vegetables are juiced, the pulp is discarded, leaving only the liquid present in the produce. This robs the produce of the fiber present in it, which also contains antioxidants and enzymes that are useful for us. For example, the white pulp in an orange provides flavonoids, but that is usually left behind.(2) The act of removing the fiber from the produce will also increase the rate at which the sugar in the juice is absorbed, essentially leaving you with sugary water that has antioxidants in it, and little caloric value. It is quite fascinating to think about how drinking only juice will provide you with more energy when your caloric intake is severely decreased for weeks at a time. There is little evidence to suggest that a juiced fruit or vegetable is superior in any way to eating the whole piece.(3) I attribute this to the need in America for everything to be ate and drank on-the-go.
Another obvious physical drawback to juicing cleanses for individuals who are already at risk for an eating disorder is the community and camaraderie aspect of the juicing world. There are juicing cleanse parties, juicing cleanse conventions, and entire websites dedicated to juicing cleanse recipes that contain as few calories as possible.(3.1) The community aspect provides positive reinforcement for something that can be quite harmful. Juicing nearly eliminates the intake of proteins and fats. Fats are of special ironic importance here because there are so many vitamins that need fat present in order to be absorbed.(4) It’s not a question of whether or not a juicing diet will help someone lose weight (starvation will absolutely decrease bodyweight) but the question is, is this a sustainable and healthy way to lose weight, and will you be able to keep the weight off once you finish the crash diet?
Another one of the glaring issues I personally have with juicing cleanse diets are the claims of “detoxifying and cleansing” that they promote. We have discussed many times on LBEB that the body is not a vessel of sickness that can only be fixed by drinking a lot of fruits and vegetables. The body is absolutely capable of cleansing itself. Are there toxins present in our body from things like BPA and carcinogens? Yes. Can we get rid of them by drinking juice for a week, or even a month? No.(5) If toxins are present in our body, most of the time they reside in the bodyfat. Reducing the bodyfat will not decrease the toxins, and juiced produce certainly won’t flush toxins from bones and adipose tissue.(6) Those who make these claims seem to fall into the same crowd that believe meat somehow clings to the walls of your GI tract and colon like hairs on the walls of your shower. Anyone who has ever performed autopsies knows that meat and other foods do not rot in the colon. Just imagine if we were carrying pounds and pounds of rotting material in our bodies for long periods: we would die from the inside out. Or worse, we would resemble a baby’s dirty filled diaper.Our liver does a fantastic job of filtering out toxins, because that is it’s job.
I feel that the obsession for juicing cleanses stems from the fear that cooked foods are somehow robbed of nutrients because they aren’t raw any more. It has been shown time and time again that cooking foods actually unlocks nutrients and kills antinutrients in them. For example, cooking tomatoes unlocks the lycopene in them that would otherwise not be available to us.(7)
I am going to dismount my soapbox now, and close with this: Do I think that fruits and vegetables are worthless to us? No. I view vegetables and fruits and vitamin pills with fiber in them. They are absolutely necessary from a micronutrient standpoint, but they provide little caloric value. I feel that the average American diet is filled with garbage, and we could all benefit from improving our food intake. I do not believe, however, that we must subsist on juice or water-based cleanses alone in order to improve our lives. “Cleanse diet” type companies make billions of dollars a year by purporting claims that do not need FDA approval because they are vague as possible. Subsisting on juice very closely resembles eating disorders, but they are widely accepted as beneficial. What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.