Cleanses Are Stupid and You Should Not Be Bothering With Them

ullustration of money going into a blender, juice cleanse
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

I work in a big commercial gym that resembles Globo Gym from the movie Dodgeball. When you're a trainer in such a large facility, people inevitably ask for your opinion on virtually every health-related topic under the sun, like diets, overrated exercises, supplements, and so on.

I'm more than happy to point them in the right direction, but there's one topic that consistently makes my blood boil. Every time someone asks about a cleanse, I have to fight the urge to run head-first into a brick wall -- instead, I try to calmly explain why it's completely unnecessary.

What's the appeal of cleanses to begin with?

In a world of ready-made dinners and factory-farmed food, it’s not difficult to make a long list of all the harmful stuff you ingest every single day. Virtually every month there's a news story about the latest carcinogen, and they tend to implicate foods you love (like bacon).

If you're a bit of a hypochondriac, this stuff might freak you out. Toxins? Chemicals? Unpronounceable words? What are you supposed to do?

The logical answer is: CLEAN THAT SHIT OUT. Cleanses and detox programs are the savior you've been waiting for. They'll rid your body of evil toxins, flush your system, and get you back to working order in no time.

But obviously that’s not all. They’re also an excellent way to start a weight-loss program, because if you listen to the people selling a detox, you'll find out that if you’re overloaded with toxins you can’t lose any weight.

Except it’s all bullshit.

bottles lined up for a juice cleanse

Cleanses: the most expensive trips to the bathroom you'll ever purchase

When you buy a cleanse, you're really buying one pricey stay in the bathroom over the next week or two, since most cleanses are a mix of herbs and stimulants that function as laxatives and diuretics.

Because of ingredients that just sound healthy -- like dandelion root and senna -- you're led to believe that whatever you're taking has some special herbal powers that will boost your body to otherworldly levels of health.

"Herbs! Of course this cleanse is good for me. It'll get the toxins out in no time."

Except those herbs are probably the same as, or similar to, the ones in any natural diuretic or laxative that you can buy at your local supplement store. They've just been repackaged as a "detox" to (you guessed it) make money.

But won't I still get rid of toxins if I poop a lot?

Everyone who goes on a cleanse always talks about the toxins. The toxins they’re trying to get rid of, how much damage the toxins are doing to their body. On and on they go.

But what toxins are they getting rid of? The answers vary. In some cases, there might be some legitimacy to concerns about things like heavy metals, which in high doses can be dangerous. What most people don't know is how much of that element is getting removed by going to the bathroom a lot.

The cleanse and detox market is built on this vague fear that toxins are ruining your health. Luckily, there's a product that can save you... as long as you're willing to fork over the cash.

Your body's pretty good at detoxing itself

The body is remarkable in its ability to withstand abuse. What's more, the body already has its own detox system, available to you free of charge.

That world-class detoxification system is known as the liver and kidneys. It's their job to filter through everything you put in your body, remove all the waste (toxins), and excrete it. They do this all day and night, and never stop. They're so good at what they do that we couldn't live without them, which is why the transplant list for these organs is so incredibly long, and the cost of dialysis punishingly high. No matter how great of a cleanse you think you might have, it doesn't top your own organs.

juicing with kiwi, apples and vegetables
Flickr/Livin' Spoonful

But my friend lost weight on a cleanse!

This is where things get a bit tricky, because most cleanses do work for people in some way or other. This is thanks to a beautiful mixture of the placebo effect and having a plan.

If you're the kind of person willing to spend money on a supplement, that might give you an incentive to take better care of yourself. Otherwise you're just flushing that money away. So when you get results, you immediately think it’s the supplement that produced the results, not the extra work you weren't doing before.

On top of that, most cleanses come with suggested eating and exercise plans, and the ones that don't are the suddenly ubiquitous juice cleanses, which lead to weight loss because, duh, you're just drinking juice. Not coincidentally, these eating plans almost always focus on eating lots of leafy greens and fruits, avoiding refined carbohydrates, fatty foods, and eating lean proteins.

You might be familiar with this concept -- it's called "a healthy diet."

I don’t care who you are, but if you switch from a diet high in sugar and processed foods to a healthy eating plan using the above criteria, you’re going to drop weight, feel less bloated, and look better. That’s not being cleansed. That’s just a byproduct of being healthier.

Just stop buying cleanses

Please, for the love of God, just quit. Tell your cousin who is trying to get you to do the Master Cleanse that you're better than that. Tell your girlfriend who's trying to get rid of her "toxins" that she's fine.

Cleanses are a waste of money, time, and effort. Sure, you may eat healthier when you’re on one, and that's certainly a positive side effect. But not if you view a cleanse as a short-term solution you can continually return to whenever you want to drop a few pounds or rid your body of mercury.

If you want to do your own cleanse, start drinking lots of water, eat colorful fruits and veggies, exercise, and don’t eat too much sugar or fat. It’s as simple as that.

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Tanner Baze is a writer and trainer who loves steak enough to maybe try to package it as a cleanse.