Opinion: Cleanse Diets

I am not a dietitian or a doctor but I think I know enough about health and nutrition to give an educated opinion and help steer others in the right direction. Sometimes it’s hard being in the wellness industry because, as a professional (and ethical!) licensed massage therapist, I have to do a lot of smiling and “mm-hmm”-ing. I can’t give judgements or diagnose (nor do I want to), and I can only make recommendations if it’s specific to muscles. Some clients that I’ve seen for awhile now flat out ask my opinions and want me to give an honest answer, and that’s okay for most part, but I make sure new clients are kept to the utmost level of professionalism.

I worked on a new massage client earlier this week who was on day 6 of a 40-day cleanse. The cleansing program she is following is being monitored by a chiropractor (is that as odd and random to anyone else as it is to me?) and her calories are kept to a mere 500 a day. She is eating small portions of protein but, as she told me, since the daily calorie allowance is so low, she is not allowed to workout for the entire 40 day period.  Followed by an awkward pause, this was the exact point where red flags were being thrown all over the field inside my brain. I wanted to shout how that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard because it’s completely counter-intuitive to healthy, long-term weight loss. Starvation for over a month with no exercise?! Even inmates are given full meals and time outside to exercise. I know the irony of “40 days” is suggesting there’s some religious influence here, but I assure you there’s not. She explained it’s purely to “jump start” her weight loss, because she’s “guaranteed to lose at least 20 lbs.” While I’m sure there are some success stories (there always are, just to keep us on our toes and the marketers happy) but the vast majority of people either drop out, go back to their old habits on day 41, or start a very unhealthy eating disorder. Because really, how far away from anorexia is a 500 calorie diet? It’s certainly in the same family tree.

Hearing stories like this makes me both angry and sad. Angry that there are so many false advertisements and gimmicks out there preying on the insecurities, unresolved psychological and emotional issues (one of the main causes for obesity), and quick-fix desires of people struggling with their weight. And sad that people aren’t educated enough to realize that it takes a lifestyle change that can realistically be maintained for life. Realistic is a 1500+ daily calorie intake (depending on starting weight) with at least 140 minutes/week of exercise (roughly 20 minutes/day.) This mentality that a “jump start” is the answer to all your problems is crazy to me. I get how people fall for this trap, but if you’re going to such extremes at the beginning, how can you expect yourself to not be full of resentment at the end? How can you maintain your new weight when you’ve just put yourself and your body through hell?

At first my husband laughed at the irony of some of the unhealthy appetizers I posted to my health and nutrition blog during the week between Christmas and New Years. But then I reminded him that I did it because they all are special occasion treats. We don’t feast on those cheese-loaded dips more than 4 times a year. It is completely unrealistic to think we, or you, will never indulge in goodies again once we commit to a healthy lifestyle. Healthy equals balance. That’s exactly why I think 40-day starvation diets are such a joke. If 80% of the time you’re eating healthy and working out, then that extra 20% is not going to do any damage. That’s the secret, people! It’s not a detox, a magic pill, or a starvation diet, it’s a commitment to a lifestyle change that allows for some slip ups and indulgences. That’s realistic. That’s healthy.

Meridith Oram
Meridith Oram is an ACE-Certified Health Coach at Love Yourself Towards Healthy where she helps chronic dieters heal their relationship with food, fitness and body image. She is also the creator of Gain Wellness, a 5-week behavioral change program to unlearn diet culture, stop negative self-talk and set wellness goals---not appearance goals. Follow Meridith at @loveyourself2healthy on all social channels.

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