The Science Behind Cleansing
Cleansing, or intermittent fasting, doesn’t always have the best reputation. Some researchers have suggested that cleansing is dangerous, as it increases the probability of dangerous behaviours, such as starvation diets and bingeing. However, some new research shows that when done properly, cleansing can be a beneficial part of a sensible diet plan.
What is cleansing?
A lot of people call cleansing a diet, but that is a misnomer. Diets tend to focus on temporary changes and restrictions. Cleansing, on the other hand, is a complete change in the patterns of your eating. After performing intermittent fasting for a while, you will completely change the way that you eat.
The idea is simple: at certain times of the day, you eat. At other times, you don’t.
Now, it is important that both your eating days and your fasting days are done in moderation. If you fast for too long, it can be dangerous for your health. In addition, you must keep in mind that fasting is not an excuse to over-indulge on the days when you do eat. When performed sensibly, cleansing will give you amazing results.
What happens in your body?
There are a lot of things that happen in your body during a cleanse, some at a cellular level. For example, because it can’t depend as much on recently consumed calories for energy, your body will change its hormone levels so that your stored fat becomes easier to use. When fat is metabolized to be used as energy, fatty acids called ketones are released into the body. This may sound familiar to anyone who has heard of the “ketosis” diet. Intermittent fasting is one of the best ways to place your body in ketosis.
Cleansing will also increase the amount of human growth hormone (the hormone that is largely responsible for fat loss and muscle gain) and the fat burning hormone norepinephrine that your body produces.
All of these changes result in a drastic improvement in your metabolism, leading to weight loss and other important health benefits.
Why does cleansing work?
Cleansing is an easy method for decreasing your caloric intake. Cleansing also impacts your body on a cellular level in such a way that you see a massive difference in the number of calories that your body is able to burn. These two factors combined create an ideal method for shedding weight quickly.
When we eat, we typically take in more calories than our body can use right away. Excess carbohydrates can be stored safely in the liver and muscles until needed, but the space our bodies have is finite. Once that space is filled up, the energy we eat has to get stored in fat. Intermittent fasting reverses this process. Once the body uses up all the readily available energy, it has to start burning stored fat if no more food is forthcoming. This means that cleansing is a great way to specifically target the body’s stored fat.
What are the benefits of cleansing?
The main reason that people start a cleansing plan is to lose weight. Studies have shown that incorporating intermittent fasting into your eating plan can increase the amount of weight that you lose as it provides an easy way to decrease your calorie intake. One study determined that cleansing allowed participants to lose 3–8% of their body weight and 4–7% of their waist circumference over 3–24 weeks.
Weight loss is not the only reason that cleansing is an effective eating plan. Here are some other important benefits:
- lowered insulin resistance
- extended lifespan
- reduction in inflammation
- improved brain health
- lowered cholesterol and blood pressure and overall improvement in heart health
- increased energy
Who should try it?
Cleansing is a great eating plan, but it isn’t right for everyone. If you are underweight or have a history of eating disorders, intermittent fasting could be dangerous for you. In addition, if you are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or nursing, fasting is probably a bad idea.
If you have diabetes or other blood sugar issues or are taking medication, it is still possible to include cleansing in your eating plan. However, you should speak with your doctor before beginning to assess any potential risks.
How do you do a cleanse?
There are a few different methods that you can use. Some require longer periods of fasting than others. Some allow you to eat at least a little bit every day. Choose a method that works best for your lifestyle and needs.
The 16/8 Method requires you to break up your day into two periods: 8 hours in which you can eat and 16 hours in which you can’t. 16 hours without eating may seem like a long stretch, but because you are asleep for 8 of those hours, it is a completely realistic plan. This is the most popular method for cleansing as it is easy to follow. You can choose any 8-hour period for your eating, which makes this plan highly adaptable.
Another plan is the Eat-Stop-Eat Method. This plan focuses on an entire week as opposed to individual days. On most days, you will eat normally. However, on 1 or 2 days each week, you will fast for 24 hours. Many people choose to stop eating after dinner and fast for the next 24 hours after. This is the method that Isagenix uses.
Some cleansers prefer the 5:2 Method. This method places its focus on calories and doesn’t actually involve any days with zero food. With this plan, you eat normally for 5 days each week. On the other 2 days (which should be nonconsecutive) you will consume 500-600 calories.
What foods can you eat while fasting?
On the days when you do eat, it is important to avoid overcompensating for the fast days. You should be careful not to overeat and to only eat healthful, whole foods. Many are tempting to binge on days when they eat, but this can derail your efforts on fast days.
- lean, unprocessed meats
- green vegetables
- nuts such as pecans or Brazil nuts
Can you exercise while cleansing?
You can certainly continue to exercise while cleansing. Engaging in physical activities on fast days is actually a great way to burn off even more stored fat. Your body will target your fat stores to get you the energy that you need to get through your workout.
However, you may want to limit exercise when first beginning a cleansing plan, as your body will need time to adjust to the new eating schedule. If you try too much too fast, you may find yourself feeling dizzy or fatigued. In addition, remember that it is important to maintain hydration during your workouts.
We recommend only light exericse while cleansing, such as brisk walking.
It is also important to note that if you are an athlete, abstaining from food before a workout may negatively impact your performance.
What are some good tips for starting?
The premise of intermittent fasting may be a simple one, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to jump right in. At first, many people struggle with cleanse days and with moderating their food on the days when they do eat.
Here is some advice for making cleansing work for you:
- Do smaller “trial” fasts first to learn to manage hunger.
- Clearly identify the goals you wish to achieve and choose a plan that matches them.
- Remember that hunger comes in waves. You may be hungry right now, but in an hour, you could feel fine. Don’t imagine that you’ll get increasingly hungry through every minute of your fast because that will not be the case!
- Studies show that over time, fasting will actually decrease your appetite. Try to remember that the longer you stick with it, the less hungry you’ll feel.
- If hunger starts to get to you, try drinking a glass of water. Dehydration is often mistaken for hunger. At a minimum, it will make your stomach feel full for a while.
- Keep yourself busy. If you think too much about hunger, it only gets worse.
- On the days when you eat, choose low-carb foods. These foods are broken down more slowly, keeping your blood sugar steady, which makes fasting easier.
- Make your calories count. If you’re only going to have a limited number of calories, make them go as far as possible by choosing foods that will give you steady energy and all the nutrients that you need.
Are there any risks?
While there are possible risks associated with cleansing, human evolution is in your corner. For much of history, humans have had to work hard to feed themselves. Sometimes, such as during long winters, food was scarce. Our bodies had to adapt to make it possible for us to go long stretches without food. Even though times have changed, your body still has this trait.
The main side effects that people notice while cleansing are hunger, weakness, and fogginess. This is a natural reaction to a sudden change in eating. As you get used to the new eating schedule, these side effects should taper off.
Some people who have engaged in cleansing have also reported constipation as a side effect. This is understandable; if you eat less, you have less waste to get rid of. This isn’t necessarily a sign of a problem, but if it gets uncomfortable, try an over-the-counter laxative.