Cleansing Kids? 4 Facts Adults Should Know About Detox Diets

“Kids don’t need a cleanse, they need good food.” — Keith Ayoob, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine

They can sound near miraculous. By drinking particular juices and avoiding food for several days or more, “cleansing” plans state, the digestive system rests and your body flushes out toxic substances, leading to improved weight control, energy, immune function and longevity. Many of the plans claim that taking various supplements, many of which contain stimulants or laxatives, take this process further. Any ill effects you feel meanwhile, from grogginess and stomach aches to anal leakage, are supposedly signs that your body is detoxing. On the contrary, they are signs of body harm and could very well lead to heightened toxicity. Research shows that so-called “colon cleanses” raise your risk for kidney failure, seizures, electrolyte imbalances and even death.

As some of you know, I recently turned down an article assignment on “cleansing your way to a bikini body” because creating damaging materials isn’t worth even the biggest of paychecks, IMO. This morning I caught a Good Morning America feature on “trendy cleanses for Kids.” (Yikes!) Thankfully, doctors and dietitians are speaking out against the trend, stating that not only are the plans ineffective, but risky—particularly for youth. I sincerely hope parents of these young cleansers are taking their messages to heart.

I’m sure many of the involved parents have good intentions, desiring greater health for their wee ones. And it’s tough to sort through the overabundance of conflicting information on diet and wellness, particularly when hundreds of billions of dollars go into convincing the masses that harmful and/or useless and unsubstantiated dietary tactics work wonders. Since the topic seems to be cropping up a great deal lately, I thought I’d put my nutritionist cap on and share a few facts worth recognizing if you or your loved ones are considering a cleanse.

4 Little Known Facts About “Detox” and “Cleansing” Plans

♦ Modern detox diets and cleansing plans derive from the Master Cleanse—a plan created by a man with no relevant credentials or dietary expertise who was later convicted of medical fraud. Anyone who know the ins and outs of digestive function and physiology will tell you that the plans are based on hype, not science. (And nutrition is a science.) There’s not a shred of proof or medical text that upholds the legitimacy of cleansing.

♦ The body cleanses itself, but it won’t if you don’t feed it.  Sure, you might feel rejuvenated by drinking only particular fluids because you feel as though you’re creating a fresh slate and because starvation can cause a release of endorphins (out of panic), but your organs won’t release toxins in the process. That’s just not how food or the body work. When you eat a balanced diet sufficient in calories and nutrients (which isn’t hard to do!), your kidneys, liver and even your skin flush out toxins. If you fail to eat enough, on the other hand, organ function reduces, leading to more toxicity, not less.

♦ They don’t promote fat loss. Weight lost from juice fasts and cleansing derives from water loss and/or diarrhea. The pounds will not only return once you start eating but lead to even more gain later on, because consuming too few calories slows the metabolism down. A balanced diet based on nutritious food, regular physical activity and emotional self-care may not provide rapid results, but they are safe, proven steps to lasting weight control. Besides, eating is fun! At least, it should be.

♦ They can have scary long-term effects. Fasting on water or juice can not only lead to nutrient deficiencies, poor brain function, fatigue, dizziness and other symptoms straight away, but hinder a child’s development. She’s more likely to develop osteoporosis, metabolic problems and obesity later on (which are risks of all restrictive diets), but develop severe psychological complications, such as poor body image, depression and eating disorders. To learn ways to cultivate healthy body image in your kids, check out 50 Ways to Lose the 3-Ds via the National Eating Disorders Association.

This is also super common.

This is also common.

 

How about we all eat food?

Food is awesome! I’m namely talking about whole foods our bodies are designed to eat, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, though less-healthy fare is perfectly fine in moderation. If you really want to cleanse, eat only whole foods for awhile. Stay moderately active, well-rested and hydrated. Aim to eat mindfully, slowly and with awareness. Rather than avoid food, rid your life of toxic influences—people in your life who make you feel inadequate, the job you hate, diet trends intended to fatten makers’ wallets while your health suffers. Increase the good in your life, and fitness of all kinds will follow. I truly believe that.

For more in-depth information on detox and cleansing plans, read my article published by DAME Magazine: Toxic Cleanse: Debunking Detox Diet Myths.

detox diet article

That’s my two-cents! How do you feel about cleansing? Do you think children, or anyone, should cleanse? Any questions for me while I still have my nutritionist cap secured? ;) I love hearing from you!

Leave a comment

29 Comments

  1. Eat less do more!

    Reply
    • Practical advice! I also suggest eating more nutritious food (rather than focusing on avoidance) and seeking out activity we enjoy. A positive mindset goes a long way. :)

      Reply
  2. Thanks for this, April! I’ve never done a cleanse because I’d always suspected they weren’t a good idea. But you’re right that with so much misinformation out there, it’s hard for people to research and know for sure. Thanks for inserting some sanity into the debate!

    Reply
  3. Excellent post. While short periods of fasting may have many benefits, these cleanses are rarely based on good science. Not only that, but your body needs certain nutrients in order to detox. On top of it all, severely restricting calories will most likely result in muscle loss not fat loss, and since most of our bodies toxins are stored in fat cells, we’re not even getting the results we seek.

    You’re spot on when you say eat real food and let your body do what it does so well.

    On a side note, Stanley Burroughs’ granddaughter wrote a fascinating book about growing up under his care. The man was insane. Her childhood can only be described as one of physical, sexual and psychological torture. Difficult book to read, but fascinating. It’s called Turning Inside Out by Phyllis Lily Jules.

    Reply
    • I’ll have to check that book out! Thanks for weighing in, Leo. Some people do find fasting to provide spiritual or emotional benefits — but they’ve definitely become an unhealthy diet trend, focused on the wrong goal.

      Reply
  4. Honestly I think there’s something to it. I do water fasting one day a week and helps my digestion so much. I’ve suffered from such severe digestive issues (and on a side note, since this is your Girlboner blog, it took two years of sexual development from me because I was bloated and feeling icky all the time) and no doctors could (would) help me.
    Now I can eat anything but grain products as long as I listen to my body, go to fruits and veggies when digestion gets tough and do that one day of water fasting.

    Reply
  5. Thanks for being a voice of reason, August. As someone who suffered as you did with disordered eating early in my life, I’m so thankful to have come to a place where I can enjoy food. It’s amazing how our mothers/grandmothers were so right with their “all things in moderation” advice. A cleanse definitely does NOT sound like moderation in practice.

    Reply
    • That means a lot, Audrey. Thank you! I’m grateful beyond measure to enjoy food again, too. :) “All thing in moderation” may not be trendy or marketable, but it works!

      Reply
  6. I tried a cleanse. It was interesting. Food left my body pretty much as quickly as I could ingest it. Yes I lost weight, but if you add in 50 minutes of treadmill time a week, three thirty minute work-outs with my trainer. The weight had to drop. The only cleans or detox I do now is sauna time to sweat out the odd bits that kind of hang around. Great post

    Reply
  7. Great post! And needs to be said. I’ve found all this ‘detox’ hyintriguing from the scientific perspective: humans have been living perfectly well without ‘detox’ and ‘cleansing’ for their entire existence. Suddenly, in the last generation, we supposedly need to ‘detox’ to be healthy. Never mind that, from the medical perspective, you lose more toxins when urinating for the first time after a night’s sleep.

    It is an indictment, I think, of a wider issue: what we regard as ‘normal’ or ‘true’ is often a cultural expectation we’ve been conditioned into by marketing. When that’s wrapped into body image or personal health and made into a device for validating self-worth, it becomes a sure-fire mechanism for selling. Unfortunately.

    I like to think people are more sensible generally…here in NZ a (female) announcer declared, last week, that all women over 70 kg were ‘lardos’ and ‘heifers’. It was broadcast via accidental ‘hot mike’, but there has been an absolute scream and the announcer had to make a (tearful) apology on air. The scale of response – I hope – indicates that despite the commercialisation of distorted body images, sense prevails. Here’s a typical response:

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff-nation/assignments/are-kiwi-women-a-bunch-of-lardos/9900742/Proud-of-my-body-still-not-a-heifer

    Reply
    • Excellent points! It saddens me how much money and energy is invested into misleading people for the sake of a dollar (or many billions of them ;)). The fact that poor body image and dieting are the modern day norm says a lot.

      I agree (and hope!) that sense often prevails when it comes down to it. Sadly, many people learn what sensible is by harming themselves through tactics of this nature.

      That’s some story you shared! The one positive thing about such events is the discussion they stir, and those sensible truths prevail — much like that thoughtful post.

      Reply
  8. I honestly don’t think how people can do cleanses like this. I’ve been trying short term fasting, and I just can’t do it! My body needs to be fed, and I’ll mimic what the majority of people are saying here: better food, not less food! It’s amazing how being conscious of what you eat can make a huge difference, and the body can tell. I had a week of relatively poor eating recently while visiting relatives and not having my usual resources, and I was feeling pretty rough by the end of it. Now I’m back to more natural eating again, and the difference is incredible.

    It’s not as convenient, that’s true, but we should really be taking time when it comes to something as important as our sustenance.

    Reply
    • It really is incredible how powerful fueling ourselves with a balanced diet is—it’s the gas to our tanks, after all! I’m so glad you’ve learned and embraced that.

      Many people are desperate for a quick fix, and are falsely led to believe that starvation and pills will facilitate it, and that the more extreme the measures, the more positive the results. Breaks my heart, really.

      Reply
  9. I cannot imagine putting a young child on a fast. Unless of course this was done under the direction of a doctor for some medical reason. Interestingly enough hubby just came off the Master Cleanse fast a couple of weeks ago. He’s done the fast numerous times over the years and has had very positive results in return. His blood test results always show so much improvement. And yes, he also loses weight as a extra benefit. Which is not the reason that he does the cleanse. He just feels so much better afterwards. But as you know, hubby and I are very health conscience and eat a balanced organic diet and grass feed foods. I think because of our environment we are all just struggling to stay vertical. In a healthy kind of way. And balance is key along with a positive attitude. What a thought provoking post August. :)

    Reply
  10. Kelly Byrne

     /  April 4, 2014

    Great post, August.

    I’m an erstwhile nutrition specialist and personal trainer and I never recommended any lengthy fasting. But Gry brought up a good point, which is that everyone is different. We all have a different system and what works for one person might send another over the edge.

    Your point that we have to listen to our body to know what it needs is SO true.

    Going blindly into a fad because it’s what Jennifer Aniston, or your best friend are doing is not helpful or healthy.

    I would agree, that, in general, fasting is not a great choice because the body is pretty miraculous on its own given the right tools (ie. healthy, whole foods) but if it’s something that aids your system in digestion (giving your digestive tract a bit of a rest) and you feel better for it, then sally forth, but be careful and wise and short in your execution.

    Good discussion, thanks August!

    Reply
    • I agree, Kelly! There are definitely cases, such as when a person with digestive condition causes diarrhea, in which temporary fasting (letting the digestive tract) can help, and what works for most folks doesn’t make a dietary practice ideal for everyone. I do think understanding the risks of fasting, which I only touched on here, are pretty vital regardless.

      Thanks for chiming in! You and Gry both made terrific points.

      Reply
  11. Great post August! Too many people will believe something is healthy without every consulting a doctor or medical professional. I’m always scared when people tell me about the side effects of these cleanses.

    Reply
  12. JCC

     /  April 7, 2014

    THANK YOU for this very important post! I couldn’t agree more! Because the physiological and genetic basis for eating disorders is better understood now, I am more aware of the threats to my children. One innocent “cleanse” and they could be on the road to destruction (one that nearly cost me my life!). I only hope more people read this and the word gets out!!

    Reply
    • I’m so glad you found it helpful! Kudos for turning your life around and providing such a wonderful role model for your little ones. :)

      Reply
  13. Love this post, August. I tried the fat flush detox drink of lemon juice and cayenne pepper and maple syrup and it made me sick for a month afterwards. After losing more than a hundred pounds I fully promote a healthy diet of moderation and exercise. It’s good to see there are others out there that don’t buy into the billion dollar dietary business. ;)

    Reply
  14. I love this. Thank you. :) Not enough people talk out about this.

    Reply
  15. Thank you so much for sharing this information. I was just considering doing another cleanse (haven’t done one since 2010) and now I’m excited I don’t have to. haha! Cutting down to whole, real foods makes far more sense and is far more doable. Thanks girl!

    Reply

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