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The truth about cleanses: From detox to weight loss

Friday - 1/24/2014, 7:49am  ET

Cleanses usually involve several days of little-to-no food, no caffeine and no alcohol. Are they worth it? (Thinkstock)

Josef Brandenburg
WTOP Fitness Contributor

WASHINGTON - Could you go three or more days with little-to-no food and nothing but juice?

Lots of Americans jump on the opportunity to detox, reset and maybe lose a little weight in the meantime with a cleanse. But is it really worth it?

There's no doubt about it: cleanses are hot. And since the New Year, I've received questions, such as, "What's the best Cleanse?" "How long should it last?"

If you like cleanses, I know how you feel. I started doing them as a teenager, and from the beginning, I loved how I felt while cleansing -- especially when it came to the temporary relief from bloating and gas.

Then it occurred to me: Maybe I shouldn't be bloated, gassy, tired and achy most of the time. Maybe my normal diet (which was 100 percent plant-based and endorsed by experts) did not agree with me. Maybe the reason cleanses make me feel better is because they give me a break from my normal diet.

My friend and fitness expert Mark Fisher sums up these realizations nicely with this saying:

"If eating food leaves you full of toxins, perhaps we should seriously consider the quality of the food you eat."

What About Weight Loss?

Unfortunately, cleanses are often misconstrued as a diet. And while drinking nothing but juice will most likely leave you a few pounds lighter at the end of the week, it's keeping those pounds off that's the hard part.

Most people actually end up heavier than when they started, as the result of seeking a "quick fix." And foregoing food for days can impact your metabolism in a negative way, making it easier for your body to retain fat.

Time To Detox?

Wanting to detox, or rid one's body of toxic chemicals, is one reason many people turn to cleanses. However, this buzzword is powered with more marketing intent than health. After all, the "detox industry" is a booming one, with books, pills, plans and cleansing kits littering the shelves.

Here's one of the best quotes I've read on detoxing. It's from Alan Boobis, a professor and toxicologist in the Division of Medicine at Imperial College London.

The body's own detoxification systems are remarkably sophisticated and versatile. They have to be, as the natural environment that we evolved in is hostile. It is remarkable that people are prepared to risk seriously disrupting these systems with unproven detox' diets, which could well do more harm than good.

The bottom line: Rather than cleanse your life for a few days, focus on a lifetime of healthy habits.

If you want to lose weight, feel better and have more energy -- and who doesn't? -- do yourself a favor and focus on the next 12 months, not the next 12 hours.

I firmly believe that when it comes to a long-term healthy lifestyle, it's all about making a manageable number of changes (usually two) and having the patience to stick with them until they're really a part of your lifestyle.

Focus on treating yourself right with proper nutrition and plenty of exercise most of the time, and with patience you'll get the energy and the body you want in a way that you can actually sustain.

Remember: The only free cheese is in a mouse trap.

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Editor's Note: Josef Brandenburg is a D.C.-area fitness expert with 14 years of experience and co-author of the international best-selling book "Results Fitness." In 2004, he started The Body You Want personal training program, which specializes in helping you get the body you want in the available time you have. You can also check out his blog, follow him on Twitter, or check out his fitness videos on YouTube.

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