Cleanse Diets are Obvious Hoaxes, so Why do People Buy Into Them?

Fad diets don’t work. Any physician will tell you that to lose weight, you simply need to eat nutritious food, consumer fewer calories than you expend, and engage in physical activity in order to slim down. The American Heart Association even had to publish an entire book called “The No-fad Diet” imploring Americans to stop looking for magic bullets.  Yet, the gluten-free-low-carb-sugar-free-paleo-army persists in its insistence of the (usually expensive) tricks.

On an episode of Point of Inquiry, author Tim Caulfield spoke about celebrity culture and its affects on the population’s take on health. He specifically called out Gwenifer Paltrow and her Goop-tastic take on health and diet. She has become a spear head for natural food and “clean living” yet demonstrates a clear misunderstanding of nutrition.

gwyneth-paltrow-food-stamp-challenge-twitter-failNumerous people have spoken out about the silliness of cleanse diets, yet they continue to gain in popularity. In her 2010 New York Times article, Judith Newman tried the Juice cleanse and described it being as ubiquitous at New York Fashion Week as cigarettes and adderall. the other two are effective weight loss tools, but no one would call them “healthy” by any definition of the word. Both Judith and Caulfield describe the cleanse diet as a sort of masochistic atonement for nutritional sins; cleanses have traditionally been used in religious and cultural context as a way be free of the physical body and apologize for being a jerk. But, I wouldn’t trust a religion with my health.

Religion is perhaps one of the biggest reasons cleanses, in particular, are so popular, or should I say pseudo religion. The master cleanse was re-branded and marketed by Peter Glickman, who is a Scientologist. The original cleanse was created in the 1940s and now touts such acolytes as Beyonce. The Master Cleanse asks participants to simply not eat or drink anything besides water with a bit of lemon and cayenne added for three days. This probably won’t kill you once or twice, but when done frequently, it can be quite harmful.

In contrast, recent studies have suggested to incorporate sporadic fasting days to help with heart health. From IFLscience:

Now, scientists finally have some evidence that similar effects occur in humans, backing up what the same team observed in rodents. During a small trial, researchers discovered that following a diet designed to mimic the effects of fasting for just five days a month reduced risk factors for a range of health problems, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. Furthermore, all of these benefits came without any apparent major adverse effects.

They suggest doing this 5 days a month, and to do so, simply consume fewer than 1,000 calories.

from Time
from Time

This is easy enough with discipline, but won’t have you wishing for death. This is proven to help lose weight and become over more healthy. In another article from Scientific American, it cites a study that has “shown that periodic fasting protects neurons against various kinds of damaging stress, at least in rodents”.

Cleanses operate under the pretense that you have toxins in your body that are making you fat, and that you need specific magic juices to get rid of them; fasts reduce the caloric intake in order to promote general health. The main difference is the length and frequency of the diets. Periodic fasting has no negative health benefits, while cleanses done over a long period or more frequently wreak havoc on the body.

In Newman’s article, she went to an internist after completing her three day cleanse. She said she felt a sense of euphoria which Dr. David Colbert said was ketosis. In his words “That giddy feeling you get is what diabetics get when your body runs out of sugar and starts using other products for energy … You have to adk yourself this question: With a juice cleanse, what are you really cleansing?  Really, nothing. The bowel self-cleans. It’s evolved over millions of years to do this”. He went on to say that infrequent cleanses are fairly innocuous, but frequent ones are quite dangerous.

We all know models and actresses stay thin with the help of cocaine, Kate Moss is practically synonymous with the drug. It’s not just her, a 2005 article in the Independent shed light on how pervasive speed is in the fashion industry. Thousands of middle class white girls aren’t flocking to their friendly neighborhood dealer like they are to cleanses. So, why is this different?

I believe it’s partly thanks to the faux intimacy and performance of celebrity and internet culture. Everyone feels like they know their favorite blogger/singer/youtuber/whatever. Most of these celebrities are attractive, and their followers want to look like them, as most people would. The problem is that the friend-like relationship is entirely part of the act, and when a waif-like woman says she eats clean, or subscribes to a certain juice company, she omits the colonics, the speed, the 6-hour gym days, or the personal chef that makes her physique possible (Colonics are actually endorsed by the Blue Print Juice company).

It’s hard to crack the shell of fad diets because many have already been dazzled by the celebrity or guru of their choosing. We feel as if we can get an inside look at how the beautiful, the privileged, or the wealthy act, but all the insta-twitter posts are orchestrated and sponsored. So, no, there is no magic bullet to health, but if there were, would you want it to be as corporatized and celebrity-dependent as juice cleanses?

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