Love That Feeling After A Detox Cleanse? News Flash: It’s Your Body Starving Itself

Sugar cleanse this, cucumber detox that…it seems like detox cleanses are all the rage right  now. Cleanse enthusiasts often claim a magical euphoric feeling of physical and emotional bliss while doing a cleanse. And some people even advocate detoxes on the regular. But what is actually happening in your body when you start a detox cleanse and force yourself to down maple syrup, paprika, cucumber-lemon water concoctions every 3-4 hours and deprive yourself of nutrient rich whole foods?  It’s a one word answer and it’s called (drum roll please)… STARVATION.

Lets explore the Master Cleanse Diet, for one example.  This lemonade based diet bans all solid food and only allows consumption of an elixir comprised of lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and water. Proponents of this cleanse claim it clears and detoxifies toxins and internal wastes that are building up within the body.  The Master Cleanse by Stanley Burroughs suggests the method helps “release years of built-up waste in just 10 days, while your energy soars.” Additionally, this master cleanse is advocated as a fast weight loss solution. What the master cleanse fails to do is explain physiologically how all these claims come true.

The bottom line is, the master cleanse diet is a severe caloric restriction that causes your body to rely on different energy sources than normal. Usually, your body subsists on carbohydrates and other foods you eat as a first energy source.  When you severely restrict your caloric intake, the body takes a different metabolic pathway. It starts burning fat for fuel. And while that may seem like a good thing, it quickly becomes dangerous.

It takes about 3 days for the body to think it is in survival mode. Essentially, you are starting to starve. In order to survive, the body  releases glucocorticosteroids to mobilize energy stores. And that euphoric feeling? It’s your brain releasing endorphins that create a “high” to mask the pain of starvation.

So your body thinks you’re dying and you think you are Alice in Wonderland crawling through the rabbit hole.  Is it truly worth it? You may lose a few pounds, but placing your body under that extreme condition can be dangerous to your health. Ultimately, detox cleanses are not required to rid your body of toxins and wastes, because your body already has systems implemented that are extremely efficient at doing just that. Your liver and kidneys efficiently detoxify and excrete waste from the body.

And in case y0u’re hoping to lose weight in the long term, you should know that any rapid weight loss experienced from a cleanse is typically gained back shortly after. Bottom line: this is a diet. It is not a lifestyle change. Trying to switch to a healthier and more mindful diet in the long term paired with daily physical activity is still the best way to maintain weight and muscle mass. Unfortunately, there still aren’t any short cuts to good health — so next time you read the next best thing about detox cleanses, take it with a grain of salt (or better yet, some more calories).

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    • Kim Foster MD

      Exactly. There are much better ways to get healthy and lose weight. But maybe not as trendy!

      I did a post on this topic a little while ago, if you’re interested in my take:
      Detox Diets & Cleanses: What’s the Deal?

    • julia

      Yeah. I think these things are totally nutty. As a recovering anorexic, I’m familiar with the starvation “high” and don’t recommend messing with it. Plus, these flush all the carefully cultivated flora of your gut and leave you susceptible to bacterial overgrowth syndromes of “bad” bacteria. There’s just no biological reason that these would do anything helpful.

    • Tina

      You got it totally right. I have avoided cleanses like the plague. I have trouble dieting without bingeing (even if the binge is on lettuce with no-cal dressing) …
      Needing a cleanse like a hole in the head …

    • Shaniqua

      Sad people. These cleanses are not meant for weight loss! Anyone who uses a cleanse as a weight loss mechanism is SADLY misinformed.

      People don’t think twice about deep cleaning their house or getting a tune up on their car once a year but balk at the idea of cleaning out their insides. How ironic.

      Most peoples toilets are filled with less pathenogenic microbes than their intestines. I personally believe 10 days is overkill, especially if you are on the thin side, but if the person has a lot gunk built up in their gut a longer cleanse followed by good probiotics might actually be just what they needed to “clean house” and establish a clean slate on the path to a better healthier long term plan of eating.

    • Jena

      I have always thought cleanses are nutty, for all of those reasons.