Eat Clean, Don’t Cleanse: Here’s Why

The “eat clean” idea is a good one. Cleanses—not so much. Anything that tells you to drink only water and tea for ten days, promising a quick and drastic weight loss is not healthy; our bodies need nutrients and fuel to run properly, especially if you’re running or working out.

While you will likely experience drastic weight loss, your body will also be losing out on vital nutrients that it needs to run properly. Not to mention, when you start eating normal again you’ll gain most of it back. Here’s the argument for tossing cleanses out the window, and focusing on clean eating.

More: Personal Trainer Tips for Eating Healthier at a Restaurant

The Clean Theory

Cleansing diets became popular as a way to lose weight fast while ridding your body of toxins from pollutants such as cigarettes, alcohol, and processed foods. While, in theory, that seems like a good idea, cleanse diets are not the solution to the problem. What is? Clean eating.

As a healthy person, you may already strive to eat relatively clean. This means that you’re focused on eating whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean meat (or tofu), and grains. If it’s in a box, it’s probably not clean.

Clean eating focuses on staying away from the added sugar, sodium and fat that is found in almost every processed item on the grocery shelf—the very things you’re trying to cleanse your body of in the first place.

By sticking to a relatively clean diet, you no longer need to cleanse your body of these toxins, because you’re simply not eating them. When you eat clean you:

  • Stabilize blood sugar levels: Eating white bread or cookies shoots your bloodsugar up, and what goes up must come down. In this case, your blood sugar comes crashing down once the food has been digested, leaving your body craving more food (sugar) to stabilize.
  • Get more nutrients: The additives in processed food often removes the many nutrients found in whole ingredients, providing you with chemicals and fat-inducing additives instead. Not to mention, eating a wide variety of whole foods ensures that you’re getting a variety of nutrients.

Not to mention, most cleanses don’t specify what toxins are being “cleansed.” There may be an interesting reason for that:

“Your body can store environmental toxins and metals in your fat cells. This is the only area that I think we can truly detoxify (actually remove toxins from your system). By burning the fat stored in fat cells, you cause the fat cells to shrink. As a result the fat-soluble toxins are released,” says Mike Roussell, PhD.

While many health professionals believe cleanses to be unsafe, some agree that short bouts of cleansing, specifically juice cleansing, can be helpful. With the reduction in fiber moving through your system, your digestive tract is able to take a break while still getting a variety of nutrients.

Clean Eating Recipes

If you’re ready to say no to the next fad cleanse, it’s time to focus on how to actually eat clean. There are a number of ways you can incorporate clean eating into your diet, whether you want to start small or go all the way. The key to clean eating is finding what you love and working around that. Here are some meal suggestions to start with.

Breakfast:

  • Oatmeal: Mix 2 cups of boiling water with 1 cup of oats; add in fruit, cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg, jam (check the label for added sugar), raw honey or authentic maple syrup.
  • Eggs with fruit: Cook 2-3 eggs to your preference and pair it with a cup of fruit.
  • Cereal: Look for minimally processed cereal. I’ve found the best options to be from smaller brands, like Enviro Kids or Mesa Sunrise (Brand: Nature’s Path Organic). If you want to choose for yourself, spend some time in the organic cereal section, read through the ingredients, and make an informed choice. Look to avoid foods with ingredients that you can’t pronounce or aren’t familiar with.
  • Smoothie: Focus on veggies, as fruit is high in sugar; try for a 1:3, fruit to vegetable ratio. Try: 1 cup spinach, 1 carrot, 1/2 cup berries, 1/2 banana, 1 scoop protein powder, 1/2 cup almond milk, 2 ice cubes. If you need more liquid, add water.

A.M. Snack:

  • Whole grain rice cake with almond butter and real-fruit jam.
  • Banana and peanut butter, mix some cinnamon or honey into your peanut butter for more flavor.
  • Small bowl of cereal.
  • Apple with nut butter.
  • Dehydrated apples with a handful of cashews.

Lunch:

  • Salad: It’s so versatile, it’s impossible not to love. Use oil and vinegar for dressing, avoid processed options like Russian or Ranch.
  • Leftovers: If you cook healthy dinners, save yourself some time, and bring in your leftovers.
  • Salmon (or any protein) with brown rice and veggies.
  • Quinoa and veggies.

Afternoon Snack:

  • Carrots and hummus.
  • Celery and peanut butter.
  • Sweet potato chips; Make them at home!
  • Popcorn; Make it yourself. Buy kernels in bulk, add 1/2 cup butter in a large pan with olive oil or coconut oil. Slide the covered pot back and forth on the burner, moving the kernels around. Soon you’ll hear popping; continue until it stops. Top with any seasonings you prefer: cinnamon, salt, pepper, vinegar; the options are endless.

Dinner:

There is a simple recipe for clean eating dinners:

Lean Protein (chicken, turkey, tofu) + vegetables (at least 1 cup) + whole grain (brown rice, quinoa, gluten-free noodles).       

Or try:

  • Homemade 5-bean chili
  • Veggie tacos with corn tortillas (check ingredients for additives)
  • Gluten-free noodles with broccoli and kale
  • Lemon salmon with whole-grain linguini

If you eat clean and take care of your body, the rest will come. If you truly believe you need a cleanse, it’s recommended to choose one that is lasts 1-3 days. “[A cleanse] is a great metabolism reset. The only way it messes with your metabolism is if you’re on it for an extended period of time,” says Kelly Boyer, founder and executive chef of PALETA.

When looking for a good cleanse, check for:

  • Legitimacy: What company is marketing it or providing the juices/cleansing items? Is there a doctor or nutritionist backing it? If not, ask your primary care doctor, a natural path or a nutritionist to verify the validity and safety.
  • Real food: A healthy cleanse involves putting good food in your body, in the form of a juice or otherwise.
  • Time: Any more than 3 days can be dangerous. Choose a cleanse that doesn’t exceed that timeline.

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Eat Clean, Don't Cleanse

Jessica Thiefels

Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than ten years. She’s the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Honest Body Fitness, where women are warriors who love their bodies. She’s also a a full-time writer, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition specialist. She’s written for Shape, Reader’s Digest, AARP, Snap Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness and more. Follow Jessica and Honest Body Fitness on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for health articles, workouts tips and more.

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