Cleansing diets: stupid

Modern day hipsters, particularly hipsters really into trendy hipster things like veganism and "raw foods", are all about "cleansing" diets. Okay, it's not just hipsters; you can see all kinds of cleansing diets in books and health-oriented magazines, particularly ones targeted at women because apparently men want their steak and that's that.

There isn't really any scientific consensus on what a "cleansing diet" actually is – probably because it's not a scientific concept – but the conventional wisdom (if you can call it that) goes something like this: the foods you eat are filled with preservatives, toxins, and other yucky things that adversely affect your health. So, to prevent yourself from getting weighed down – possibly to the point of spontaneous combustion – with all these bad yucky things, you should get on a cleansing diet for a while to flush all that gunk out of your system. What follows is usually some regimen that consists of eating a very small amount of food, usually plant-based and often prepared in a blender, and drinking a lot of purified water.

As both a fitness professional and a skeptic, I'm really pretty baffled at why people get so fired up about these things. Because in case you skipped high school anatomy, which apparently a lot of those damn hipsters did, your body already has mechanisms in place for getting rid of gunk. And if you're not satisfied with the frequency, quantity and/or consistency of your poop, you can help your body expel more gunk by eating more fiber (particularly soluble fiber, like in oatmeal) and drinking a lot of water. And it doesn't have to be purified water; contrary to what the people at Brita and bottled-water companies would have you believe, the minerals present in tap water are indeed good for you.

If you starve yourself by eating a sparse diet of plant-based foods, you are going to feel much better as you begin eating normally again. If you overeat, you might even feel better – at least for a while – on the "cleansing" diet. But see, you should be eating lots of plant-based foods anyway. And people seem to be confusing having a "clean" system with having an empty one. You need lots of nutritious healthy foods to fuel vigorous exercise, which by the way also helps you poop. The ultra-low-calorie nature of cleansing diets is detrimental to athletic performance.

I wouldn't sacrifice the ten minutes it takes to write this blog just to gripe about people doing something stupid and pointless that makes them feel better. The real problem is that people peddling cleansing diets make all kinds of ridiculous, unsubstantiated claims about what these diets actually do. I've heard everything from curing acne to putting cancer into remission. As with any pseudoscience, there isn't actually any medical basis for such claims, nor is there even any scientifically established physiological basis for using any cleansing diet for any purpose. So at best you have a waste of time, and at worst you have false hopes of treating serious medical conditions. If you eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly, your body will cleanse itself just fine.

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