The morning after
July 5: that midsummer morning when many Americans wake up wishing they'd thrown back fewer beers, turned down more hot dogs and said earlier "goodnights" the day -- or days -- before. As a result, they crave cleanses, detoxes and commitments to extreme healthy eating that they believe will get their diets back on track or cancel out their so-called eating sins. "I can't tell you how many [social media] statuses I saw that said, 'Time for a detox,'" after the holiday, says Yasi Ansari, a registered dietitian in Newport Beach, California. But while cleanses can benefit some people, they can also be downright dangerous. Here's how to craft one that works for you:
Articulate your intentions.
In addition to post-holiday repentance, other people want to detox to jump-start weight loss; disrupt unhealthy sugar, caffeine or alcohol habits; or de-bloat prior to a wedding or body-baring event. "People want to do something," says Jim White, a trainer and dietitian with studios in Virginia. Simply "eating healthy" doesn't have that same psychological appeal. "There are people who need a time period to really stay disciplined to a healthy eating regimen," Ansari finds. If you can relate, that's OK. But if you're detoxing to lose weight sustainably or because it's the cool thing to do, reconsider. "Don't detox just to detox," says Revée Barbour, a naturopathic physician in Sacramento, California.
Consider your health.
Even if your mindset is expert-approved for a detox, your body may not be -- particularly if you're considering a more extreme plan like the Master Cleanse or any very low-calorie, liquid-based detox, Barbour says. "That's when you want to be more cautious and get a doctor on point," she says. For example, if you have digestive or kidney problems, such cleanses may not work because they rely on those systems to flush out so-called toxins. If you have blood sugar issues, low-calorie plans are risky. Got excellent health? Cleansing too much can overstimulate organs like the liver that are operating just fine. "Your body is made to cleanse itself," Barbour says.
Build your menu.
Sure, you can risk cleansing with nothing but pulp-less juices, but you can also cleanse with real foods for a safer and more effective experience. "We never recommend going under 1,200 calories [a day]," Ansari says, since anything less may undercut your body's normal functioning and slow your metabolism. Instead, consider a week without added sugars, alcohol and processed foods. Eat small, regular meals with vegetables, lean protein and fiber. Practice healthy cooking habits like steaming, boiling and baking, too, and wash it down with eight to 10 glasses of water a day, Ansari recommends. After a week, "most people feel great, and they just want to keep going," she says.
Help your body.
While the word "detox" emphasizes what food and drinks you'll be missing, effectively supporting your body's natural cleansing abilities can also mean adding certain nutrients. "I encourage foods that help protect the liver," like grapefruit, garlic, beets, green tea, avocado and turmeric, Ansari says. She also recommends foods including tomatoes and onions that support glutathione, an antioxidant produced naturally in the body. "Your body has a natural way of detoxifying toxins that come into the body, and usually that takes place in the liver," she says. "The body converts these products into compounds that can be eliminated through your urine or sweat or bowel movements."
Time it wisely.
July 5 may be an impulsive time to launch a cleanse, but it's not a good one if it also corresponds with a big work project, a hectic social calendar or a marathon training plan. "You need to be doing your cleanse during a time you can rest, otherwise you're going to negate the purpose of your cleanse," Barbour says. Don't have the luxury or desire to rest while detoxing? Consider a moderate approach by, for example, going vegetarian for a week, prioritizing sleep for a month or drinking hot lemon water every morning. "That's an easy way to do a daily cleanse," Barbour says, since it supports your liver and aids digestion.
Make a post-cleanse plan.
In "gym talk," it's called "reverse dieting," or crafting an eating plan for after your diet or cleanse is over, White says. "People go on this cleanse or fast and it's so strict that after that time, if you don't have something to follow up, it's defeating mentally," he says. As a result, people are more likely to gorge, feel guilty and cleanse again. Instead, think about how you might slowly re-introduce a vice more moderately or allow for the occasional not-so-healthy food or meal. If you plan it responsibly, you'll end the cleanse motivated -- not primed to binge. "Ultimately," Barbour says, "this is supposed to feel good."