A juice cleanse can really sound like an easy weight-loss trick to shed some extra pounds right before (or after the holidays). If you live near a city, like me, so many ads targeted at women pop up for the fad diet right around now. While there isn’t anything innately wrong with juice, as someone on the road to recovery from Anorexia Nervosa, the idea of having only juice for an extended period of time doesn’t sit right with me. It aligns with my disordered restrictive dietary patterns, mainly extreme caloric restriction. 

Basic caloric need

While every person is different, the average woman needs about 2000 calories a day to maintain their weight. Sometimes, they need even more if they are active. The United Kingdom’s NHS supports this caloric need, as well as numerous other countries’ dietetics and health departments. In order to lose weight, there obviously needs to be a lesser caloric intake than the maintenance level, but only by a slight amount. It is only considered safe for the average person to lose about 1-2lbs per week; it is considered unsafe to have less than 1200 calories at the absolute minimum. So, why am I telling you about calories? 

The average juice cleanse is severely underfueling. 

How many calories are in a juice cleanse?

I compared a couple of popular juice cleanses: one from a chain found in larger cities and one from an online grocery retailer. The findings were horrifying. The most popular cleanse from the first chain only contained about 1100 calories per day (100 less than the absolute minimum you should have daily). The second retailer provided less than 500 calories per day. The brochure allowed for “optional” snacks, all with minimum caloric intake. But, this still doesn’t even get close to a standard caloric range. How can these be healthy? 

Do cleanses affect mental health?

From a mental health standpoint, they have the potential for causing damage. According to Oliver-Pyatt Centers, an eating disorder facility in Florida, the behaviors of an eating disorder are often close to tricks used by fad-dieters. It’s truly hard to discern what stems from what. Specifically, their site explains that “When not properly practiced or controlled, these diets can have a lasting negative impact on psychological and physical health.” With some of Anorexia Nervosa’s hallmarks being weight loss, caloric restriction, and fatigue, they align too much with symptoms of juice cleansing. Some people have even coined the juice cleanse induced disordered eating as Juicerexia.

Juicerexia has also been talked about by other treatment centers such as the Center for Discovery (CFD), a national chain of residential facilities. CFD cites juicing as a gateway to multiple “full-blown” eating disorders, expanding beyond Anorexia Nervosa. One of their nutritionists, Jennifer Barr, continues to explain that the restriction can trigger binge urges due to denying yourself certain foods. This is a real phenomenon outside of juicing, so it makes sense that it translates into diets that confine you to only one food group. Fruits and vegetables are not bad for you, but when you are only eating them, it leaves gaping holes in your diet. 

Regardless of the cause, CFD says it leads to “weight cycling” or “yo-yo dieting”. Both of those relate to the concept of starting and stopping diets only to gain and lose the same weight. This can throw off the body overall. Speaking from personal experience, it can also alter the mood. When your weight goes down, it results in a euphoric and proud feeling. Inevitably, the weight trends back up when you incorporate more solid food, which can trigger the urge to diet again. This is a clearly unsustainable dieting activity, whether it includes juice or not.

Debunking the biggest myth of juice cleanses

The most important takeaway from learning about juice cleanses is that the idea of “detoxing” by only consuming juice is a total myth. Eating Disorder Hope, an organization driven by the purpose of educating those about eating disorders, elaborates on this. 

“…The human body is designed to rid itself of toxins naturally. This is largely what the liver, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract are for…”

Eating Disorder Hope

It can’t get any more simple than that: our healthy bodies literally detox for us. This is just another instance of diet-culture profiting off of falsehoods that can be easily debunked. We don’t need a juice cleanse or crazy diet to detox; we just need to eat a normal and balanced diet. 

Seek guidance before starting a diet

At the end of the day, sometimes people have a need to or decide to lose weight. While I have my own qualms about the need for weight loss as a prescription (look into HAES if you want to learn more), the most important thing is to reduce harm in those who turn to dieting. The best course of action is to speak with a professional, ideally in the dietetics field. Every person has their own unique body; there is no universal way to lose weight. Fad diets, like juice cleanses, are utter nonsense. Denying your body essential nutrients can just create psychological complications in their absence. Let’s stop juice cleansing and learn to nourish our bodies instead.

This article should not replace the advice of a registered dietitian, doctor, or other medical professionals. Please refer to your own medical team before making drastic dietary changes. If you believe that you or a loved one might be struggling with an eating disorder, please visit the National Eating Disorders Association’s website for resources on how to get help. Recovery is attainable for everyone.

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