Cleansing for a healthier 2016

As we’re already waist-deep into the annual season of gluttony, it’s a good time to practice moderation, but not deprivation. And it’s also a perfect opportunity to restart our personal health and wellness planning for 2016, including nutritional changes if required, exercise and other smart lifestyle choices.

Enjoying ourselves during the holidays may not sound like sage nutritional advice, but it’s a stressful time of year without additional pressure. Eat and drink consciously and reasonably, try substituting healthy snacks like vegetables and fruit when possible, and think about personal goals. Whether it’s eating more healthfully, exercising more, finding time to relax or whatever suits us, change takes place progressively and through conscious choice.

As people contemplate nutritional changes, the topic of “cleansing diets” often arises, typically as a precursor to jumping into a more comprehensive diet. The idea is that if we “cleanse” our bodies by purging all the toxins and bad stuff in us, we’ll have a cleaner slate upon which to rebuild. Many popular “juice cleansing” or all-liquid diets are available in stores, or touted online, but they aren’t necessarily healthy or safe, or the best path to true wellness.

There’s nothing wrong with drinking juice, although it’s not as healthful as eating fresh fruits and vegetables, which are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and plenty of fiber, especially in their skins and pulp.  But when a person is sucking down only fruit and vegetable juice as part of a juice cleanse — usually 16 ounces of juice every few hours, plus unlimited water — and often forgoing food for three to five days or longer, that’s an extreme approach, according to many nutrition experts.

And juice cleanses often don’t involve the typical juice carton found in the supermarket. They require expensive, prepackaged bottles of pulverized produce blends, or they can be homemade in a juicer or blender. The trendy beverages might be a green mixture containing kale, spinach, green apple, cucumber, celery and lettuce, or a red concoction made with apple, carrot, beets, lemon and ginger. While popular, there’s no scientific research that proves these cleansing diets provide short- or long-term benefits, nor are they a healthy or safe approach to weight loss.

The scoop on cleansing diets

The body detoxifies itself naturally, primarily through the actions of the liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal (GI) tract. These organs help remove toxins or harmful substances that should not be stored in the body, and since our bodies are always in a natural state of cleansing, a person does not need to do a juice cleanse or follow a liquid detox diet to be healthy.

One of the most well-known detox diets instructs people to drink lemon juice and water spiked with maple syrup and cayenne pepper — supposedly this helps the body remove toxins and aid in speedy weight loss. Though touted by many entertainers, physician worry that any 10-day liquid diet, regardless of the combination of liquids you imbibe, could pose serious health risks, especially for people who use it for longer periods of time.

During the first few days of a juice cleanse, a person initially burns their glycogen stores for energy. Using glycogen (the stored form of glucose) pulls a lot of water out of the body, which causes weight loss. But the loss of water weight comes at the expense of a loss of muscle, which is a steep price to pay. Weight loss is not always about the numbers on a scale, it’s also about the ratio of body fat compared to lean muscle mass.

A cleansing diet is low in dietary protein and calories. Having more lean muscle and less body fat means burning more calories and boosting metabolism, in the long run. Additionally, a cleanse could also lead to side effects such as a lack of energy, headaches and shakiness due to low blood sugar. Over time, it may lead to constipation from a lack of fiber, as well as irritability. Physicians also caution against any diet that uses natural or synthetic laxatives.

Once we come off a cleansing diet and returns to solid foods, it’s easy – and very common — to regain the weight we’ve just lost.  Some people may experience a psychological lift from a cleanse, such as feeling ready or motivated to adopt healthier eating habits, but it doesn’t replace smart, common sense nutritional practices and healthy lifestyle changes. That includes setting simple goals, taking the time to determine how we’ll achieve them, and figuring out how to measure our success.

When it comes to reasonable health and wellness planning, here are some tips to help guide our steps:

  • Acknowledge a realistic vision of success. If losing weight is a top goal, set a realistic number and timetable to achieve this mission safely. Take the time to learn about potential problems, such as vitamin deficiencies or other health risks that accompany weight loss, and read about sugar, fat, carbs, and the chemistry of food. Also, talk with a physician, fitness expert and/or a licensed nutritionist about longer-term lifestyle changes that will help you pursue this task successfully.
  • Adopt an effective strategy. Focus on relatively short-term goals, like eating vegetables four times a day, cutting back on carbs and sugar, eating healthy snacks, and doing at least 20 minutes of cardio a day for the next few weeks. Keep track of efforts daily and weekly by writing on a calendar or maintaining a journal, and create simple “rewards” for weekly or monthly successes, such as buying a gift or doing something personally meaningful.
  • Review and adjust each commitment. To be successful we have to set goals, measure our progress, and adjust. Be flexible — if, for example, walking every day is impossible, walk four days a week, or longer on the weekends. Sign up for a yoga or fitness class. And when we give in to that yummy, calorie-rich dessert, don’t despair … tomorrow is a new day. We know ourselves better than anyone, and can make adjustments to get back on track after we’ve fallen off the wagon.
  • Use the “buddy system.” We should tell a friend about our goals and see if we can work out, walk, or practice our new diets together. Share helpful articles and tips, check in regularly, support each other when a goal is missed, and celebrate individual and mutual successes.

Ultimately, the best advice about getting healthier is to just get started, remain diligent, and don’t give up. By setting realistic goals and a simple, formal plan, the gift of improved health and wellness is ours to keep.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!