The idea of a cleanse is “to give your body a rest,” from digestion as well as the animal proteins, caffeine, alcohol, and highly processed foods that many people normally consume, Sakoutis says. “We are consuming these in quantities as never before. It’s not healthy and it’s not natural. Our bodies are not designed to digest Twinkies and Raisinets.”
Meizler, of Joos, has a slightly different model. Because of demand, she offers a three-day juice cleanse but doesn’t heavily promote it.
Instead, she tries to direct her clients to what she calls a “reboot,” to break bad habits and establish new habits. “A reboot, which can range from three to 21 days, includes Joos juices, but allows you to eat unlimited fruits and vegetables throughout the day, as well as one “sensible” meal at lunchtime and a salad or stir-fry at dinner. These programs include health coaching and start at $149 for three days — less expensive than the pure juice fast, because the company is providing fewer bottles of juice per day. Customers supplement with their own food.
A pure juice fast “is a sprint,” Meizler says, and can mess up your metabolism. “Anytime you deprive yourself of something, you want it back. If you fast, you go into starvation mode. Your body overcompensates.”
Marjorie Nolan Cohn, a registered dietician and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly American Dietetic Association), questions the popular argument that a raw vegetable and fruit diet makes the body more alkaline and thus resistant to disease. “It’s completely wrong and makes no sense.”
In reality, our body knows perfectly well how to neutralize everything we are eating. “Even if you ate nothing but Big Macs all day — even though that’s highly acidic and supposedly toxic — your body is going to figure out how to cleanse your blood.”
Nelson adds that the digestive track doesn’t need the “rest,” and in fact, works better when food is moving through it. Removing the pulp from certain vegetables also eliminates the phytochemicals that are found in the fiber.
The euphoria and mental clarity many juice fasters report on the third day of the fast isn’t about good health, Cohn says, but a simple result of starvation. “At some point your body shuts down that feeling of immediate hunger, you become lightheaded and dizzy, and that euphoric feeling starts to come on,” she says. “I work with a lot of anorexics, and they feel euphoria, too.”
She believes the primary motivation fueling the current frenzy isn’t health, but weight loss. She says the average person will lose about 5 pounds through the cleanse, but it will be mostly water loss, and easily regained.
“But if you can use it as a jump start — and some people have that personality — losing 5 pounds could be motivation to cleaner eating. It could be a positive thing,” she said.