Everywhere you turn these days someone is talking about “doing a cleanse.” Celebrities, health websites and even your friends in your exercise class always seem to be pushing one cleanse or another.
But despite all the excitement there’s also a lot of confusion.
The three questions I hear most often about cleanses are…
- How do you do one?
- Do they really work?
- Is one cleanse better than another?
Today I’ll breakdown three of the most popular cleanses out there—the Master Cleanse, the Green Smoothie Cleanse and the Colon Cleanse—explaining the plan basics, what they claim to do, and offering my thoughts on how well they work.
Let’s get started with what is, arguably, the most popular cleanse, the Master Cleanse.
Mastering the Master Cleanse
Chances are you’ve heard of the Master Cleanse before. Its popularity has skyrocketed in the past few years, probably in large part to the rumor that pop superstar Beyoncé used it when preparing for a movie role.
But the Master Cleanse is far from new. In fact, millions of folks have embarked on this super-popular cleanse since the 1940s when it first made its appearance.
The Master Cleanse promise:
The Master Cleanse has a two-pronged promise.
It claims to…
- provide all needed nutrients and calories while resting your digestive system.
- flush your body of toxins allowing your body to heal naturally.
Followers say you can shed up to 20 pounds in less than 14 days, and rid yourself of cravings. Master Cleanse converts claim the cleanse gives followers a sense of control over what they eat motivating them to keep going (even as their stomachs shout, “Feed me!!!”).
The basic breakdown:
For 10 days during the Master Cleanse you drink 6 to 12 glasses daily of a “lemonade” made from…
- fresh lemon juice
- maple syrup
- cayenne pepper
On top of that you take either an herbal laxative tea or a “salt water flush” that has a laxative effect.
Yes, you read that right. No. Solid. Food. And a laxative.
For the first three days and last three days of the total cleanse you are in an ease in and ease out period, in which you eat some so-called live foods such as vegetables, grains, fruits and broth.
You’re not supposed to exercise during the Master Cleanse.
When you’re drinking all your meals for 10 days straight and taking a laxative there’s no doubt you will shed some weight. After all, you’re basically drinking lemon water for over a week.
But because the diet is so low in calories and nutrients, you’ll also be losing muscle mass and bone at the same time.
And as far as flushing toxins is concerned, with the laxatives you’re taking you’ll certainly be flushing something. But most of all, you’ll likely be simply miserable.
Side effects you can expect with the Master Cleanse include…
- and exhaustion
In fact, you might be so starved and overtired by day 14 when the cleanse is over that you eat anything and everything you can get your hands on, including, possibly, your fingers.
Going green with the Green Smoothie Cleanse
The Green Smoothie Cleanse has become so popular in the last few years that you likely know at least one person who has tried it. There are actually a few different ways you can do this cleanse, but they typically all involve eating plenty of greens and natural, whole foods.
The Green Smoothie Cleanse promise:
The basic concept behind the Green Smoothie Cleanse is that folks who are having trouble losing weight are actually victims of toxins that are trapped in their fat cells. Believers in the cleanse claim that raw greens can rid your body of these toxins as well as reset your taste buds so you no longer crave junk foods, but rather cucumbers and spinach instead.
Promoters of the Green Smoothie Cleanse promise it will…
- help you to lose 10 – 15 pounds,
- supercharge your energy levels,
- clear your mind,
- help you sleep better,
- and lead to less tummy bloating.
Oh, and did I mention you’ll be in a better mood?
The basic breakdown:
There’s isn’t a single way to do a Green Smoothie Cleanse, but the basics are pretty much the same. For 10 days or so you will be replacing either one, two or all three of your meals with green smoothies.
Green smoothie drinks typically use water as a base and include some fruit. But, as you may have already guessed, the star of the green smoothie drinks are the green leafy vegetables such as arugula, bok choy, collard greens, dandelion greens, kale, lettuce, spinach and watercress.
You’re encouraged to drink lots of water and herbal teas. And to help keep your metabolism firing on all cylinders Green Smoothie proponents suggest adding in some non-dairy, plant-based protein, such as soy milk, almond milk, or protein powder.
During a green smoothie cleanse you typically can do some light snacking to help fight off hunger as well. Crunchy fruits and vegetables, such as apples, celery and peppers during the day, as well as high-protein snacks like hard-boiled eggs, and raw, unsalted nuts and seeds are usually okay in moderation.
If your cleanse plan lets you eat a non-smoothie meal once or twice a day, for those meals you should stick to only healthy foods such as salads without creamy dressings.
During a Green Smoothie Cleanse you should avoid…
- refined sugars,
- meat and dairy,
- and coffee.
Many folks will lose weight on a Green Smoothie Cleanse. After all you’re putting mostly just green vegetables into your body. At the same time you will be getting a good level of calories and nutrients with all the veggies and fruit you’re eating. However, this cleanse, like most, doesn’t come without some potential side effects.
Commonly reported side effects include…
- muscles aches
- and skin rashes.
Advocates of this cleanse will insist that these side effects are simply signs that your body is detoxifying, and that not only should you expect them you should welcome them as a signal that the cleanse is working. However, the real truth is they’re most likely actually due to… wait for it… hunger!
Also, similar to the Master Cleanse, there’s a very real possibility that after not eating much solid food for 10 days you’re primed for overindulging as soon as you’re off the cleanse, erasing any gains you may have made.
Cleaning things out with the Colon Cleanse
The first thing to understand about a Colon Cleanse is it’s not the same thing as a colonic. This type of cleanse uses psyllium husk over a 10 day to one month period.
The Colon Cleanse promise:
The truth is the average American’s digestive system is a mess. The typical Western diet, which is packed with pre-processed, overly refined, fiber-lacking foods, wreaks havoc with their guts.
Food doesn’t get digested properly which means waste lurks around in the colon for way too long. And that old undigested matter can turn toxic, essentially poisoning your system making it difficult for your body to eliminate.
You may have heard of psyllium husk before. It’s a bulking fiber made from the husks of the seed of the Plantago ovate plant. When psyllium husk comes in contact with the water in your gut, it expands, forming a gelatin-like mass. This makes the stool in your intestinal tract softer and more efficient at transporting waste.
According to Colon Cleanse proponents, by helping rid your body of toxic waste this cleanse will lead to…
- better energy,
- a clearer mind,
- more radiant skin
- and a weight-loss jumpstart.
The basic breakdown:
To do a colon cleanse you will drink a psyllium-husk-based colon-cleansing product, anywhere from 1 to 3 times a day, while eating a healthy, whole-foods diet. You’ll be eating lots of vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats along with whole grains and fruits.
To make sure to keep the psyllium husks moving along, you’ll also need to drink 8 to 12 glasses of water. This will also help keep your high-fiber diet from causing a lot of gas and bloating.
The truth is, if you’re eating a proper diet your colon should already be doing what it needs to on its own without any extra help. For this reason it’s up for debate whether or not you actually need a colon cleanse.
That being said, most Americans aren’t eating the best diet or getting nearly enough fiber. Women should be getting 25 grams of fiber daily, and men need 38 grams per day. But the average American is getting a paltry 15 grams.
Psyllium husk can help you reach your fiber goal. Also, since psyllium bulks up in the digestive tract, it can give you a feeling of being full, helping you to eat less and even lose weight.
As a practicing physician, “Dr. Steve” has cared for general surgery and general medicine patients. In addition to his work as a medical doctor, he worked for the U.S. Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment and at the U.S. Congress, performing research on health care, medical technology and drug-related issues.
Dr. Steve received his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine, his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and his master’s degree in manufacturing engineering from UCLA. So you could say he is a doctor with an engineering mind.
Dr. Steve is focused on creating evidence-based nutritional supplements that actually do what they claim. The problem currently on the top of his mind is figuring out the right combination of natural supplements, optimal diet and behavioral changes that will help people get a handle on their weight and health issues.
He is the proud father of 4 children all under the age of 10, and is active in the New York City community. He loves Frank Sinatra, and if you get him in a really good mood, he just might sing you a tune.
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