Juice fasts, … detox diets, … juice cleanses … they’re everywhere, and if you read the celeb magazines you’ll see them loosing pounds of flab in next to no time using these diets. You might think “I can do that”, but be warned, not many realise that celebs make money directly out of yo-yo dieting using these stupid diets, and the weight loss they experience comes with side effects and risks.
Certain tragic events in the celebrity world have thrown the spotlight on the very real dangers of extreme diets. One family of these, juice fasts, are gaining popularity in no small part due to their usage in the celeb world.
Here’s why they’re at best ineffective, and at worst life threatening, why celebs use them, and why you don’t have to.
Gain pounds, lose pounds, make ££££’s
In the real world there are two main ways to lose weight:
- One will mess you up and make it harder to keep lean and healthy long term, meaning you get fat again, your health suffers and it is harder the next time to lose the fat.
- The other will lead to lasting change in physique that also improves health at the same time.
Almost all of us feel some amount pressure to look good. In the world of celebrity this is magnified 1000x, and in our celeb crazed culture it turns out this is problem for all of us. Having worked within the celebrity world I have seen first-hand the really moronic things they get up to trying to lose weight. They’re of course not role models for life in general, least of all for health.
On a darker note certain types of celebs actually directly make money out crash dieting. It works like this: first they get fat, then they get photographed, finally they miraculously lose it all. The transformation is all documented and the story sold to red tops and celeb rags… and watch out for the workout DVD in stores for Christmas.
“certain types of celebs actually directly make money out crash dieting”
In fact even the lower status celebs can earn several thousand from a bout of rapid weight loss, and this is before the freebies, the DVD sales and the general boost in profile that leads to more work. It’s a job.
It’s from this desperate, short-termist kind of culture that the more extreme diets are born.
So, what are Juice Fasts/Cleanses/Detoxes?
Loosely – because there’s as many different types as there are juicing gurus – juice fasts are diets where you eat almost nothing save for teas and low calorie vegetable juices. You might do this for four or more days, some fasts can last weeks at a time. In this time you consume very little in the way of nutrients and calories, meaning you deplete the stores of these that you hold in your body. In the case of body fat that might be good, but in the case of proteins and minerals this is a very bad thing.
Keep in mind we’re not talking single day fasts, or just replacing some of your food with juices, but total or almost total food replacement longer term.
They have their route in the more extreme religious practices. Note ‘religious’, not ‘health’. These extreme ascetic types of rituals are usually not meant to be healthy, in many cases they’re a trial to demonstrate piety, strength of faith, or to get you closer to your deity of choice in some other way, the goal is not to improve your heath or body shape.
The Problems with fasting: For your health, for your body shape and goals
In fact these fasting practices have long been known to be dangerous, and there are a variety of changes that happen in the body directly caused by these detox/cleanse type long term fasts, changes that in fact take you further from looking and feeling good. Whilst they are used in some medical settings for very specific reasons, they’re usually a last resort because of the risk to the patient of the types of problems below.
Feeling Good: the risks you face
Bad for the heart
The heart is a precision instrument. To keep us above ground it needs to beat often enough, and in the right way, with all the different parts of the heart working in a coordinated way. Not getting enough electrolytes like calcium and potassium will alter its ability to beat in a regular, controlled fashion.
We know from studies as far back as the 60’s looking at extreme weight loss diets that they greatly increase the rate of heart attacks. We also know that extreme weight loss and low body mass can cause lasting damage to the heart.
In addition it’s well understood that if you have a history of substance usage the chances of acute heart issues whilst long term fasting are much increased.
End of fast complications
The rebound weight gain we’ll cover below, but you also risk ‘refeeding syndrome’, which can have very real implications for brain and body. It is caused by the body’s inability to regulate electrolyte balance in the different fluids as well as the low levels of phosphate in the body caused by long term fasting. Imbalances in minerals in the body can cause swelling of tissues such as the brain, cardiac arrest and even death. All pretty serious stuff.
Bad for the organs
As with the research on the two types of complication above, looking as the work of extreme low calorie diets and anorexia we find that organ damage is common. Depending upon the organ in question and the type of damage it may be reversible but some of it lasting organ damage, that you carry for the remained or your (less comfortable and probably significantly shorter) life.
So not only do you run the risk of damage when fasting, adding the food back can cause problems as well, this is without mentioning the psychology of long term fasting and the problems with food behaviour is can cause. All this is pretty heavy, maybe too extreme to take seriously, well it does happen, but here’s why you’d need not bother anyway.
Looking good: Why you don’t need to run the risks
So, two questions here: is juice fasting an effective way to lose fat and keep the fat off, and will you feel better for it?
No, and no.
Juice fasting is usually an all or nothing affair. You fast, you go hard, then you go back to eating as you did before. If you fast for say 4 days you may lose a few pounds of fat, and you’ll look and lot lighter – but it’s a mirage.
You look much lighter because your stomach and intestines are empty and your muscles have lost significant amounts of water and thus have reduced volume. In fact you didn’t lose that much fat, but you might have lost weight, weight that you can mostly put back on in a few days.
It’s worth going back and reading that. If you fast for a week you can easily put that weight back on in another week.
“you may lose a few pounds of fat, and you’ll look and lot lighter – but it’s a mirage”
Remember, no matter your goal of you want to ‘lose weight’ you actually want to do two or three things,
1) Lose weight effectively
2) Look good, and usually,
3) Keep the weight off
Here juice fasting isn’t going to help you. Here’s why:
Poor quality weight loss
When you lose weight you want to lose fat weight. There’s a number of reasons for this. Muscle allows you to move about and move other things about, this supports your everyday activity and exercise as well. It also keeps you metabolically healthy, sucking sugar out of the blood and so on. In short it helps you burn the fat, and keep it off.
On long terms fasts, as opposed to short intermittent type fasts, you lose a ton of muscle. In fact where in proper DODO type dieting you can actually keep all your muscle, or even put it on whilst losing fat on juice type fasts you’ll lose huge amounts of it as you lose fat. And remember it is easier to gain the fat back than the muscle.
This brings us onto our next point:
There’s a term called ‘reverse dieting’ where, if you have been on a long term diet and you’re returning to a more normal and higher calorie/nutrient intake you want to avoid fat gain from those extra calories. There’s two groups of factors that let you do this:
1) things that let you use more calories and
2) things that let you store the remaining extra calories as lean mass – so not as fat mass
Both are knocked off the rails by extreme diets
Hormonal control of metabolism, muscle mass and your ability to train will all help you use up calories, your hormones and again the amount and health of your lean mass help you soak up extra calories in the lean mass, helping to keep you leaner more easily.
Long term fasts shift your body away the state where it can easily burn a lot of calories and store the extra as lean mass. And with every subsequent cleanse/detox it gets worse …
The yo-yo cycle and the inevitable results
You look like shit
OK, this is highly subjective, but attractive people are generally healthy looking people. When asked to respond about which are the most attractive athletes people of all sexes and persuasions usually gravitate towards the more medium build, not the very skinny, not the very well built.
Vitality, energy and health is sexy, being overly skinny whilst still maintaining a relatively high percentage of body fat is not sexy. These ‘skinny-fat’ people have a certain soft, ill look, and it is just this look that dieting poorly, allied with minimal exercise gives you.
Added to this anecdotal evidence from juice fasting people includes reports side effects such as poor teeth, hair loss and a host of other very unglamorous things.
The face of ‘skinny-fat’.
So what is the alternative?
Long term behaviour change is the foundation to long term success when it comes to losing weight, keeping it off and feeling good. It’s why I structured The DODO Diet as I did, the first half, tailored fasting to rapidly improve health and body composition; the second, food coaching to keep you there.
The downside? This change in behaviours takes a little time and effort.
The upside? It will keep the weight off, improve health and really it is a lot less effort than doing long fasts every few months.
The Bottom Line
Long terms fasts should only be done under supervision, whilst they might not land you in hospital – although they can – they will in the long run take you further away from looking and feeling good. Remember:
- Crash diets in any form are a bad idea
- Juice fasts – long term very low calorie diets, despite the health-washing are not different
- Long term they cause real damage
- Short term they don’t get you to your real goals
- Long term low body fat is about long term day in day out behaviours
References and further reading
Spencer, Herta, et al. “Changes in metabolism in obese persons during starvation.” The American journal of medicine 40.1 (1966): 27-37.
Drenick, Ernst J., et al. “Prolonged starvation as treatment for severe obesity.”JAMA 187.2 (1964): 100-105.
Weinsier, Roland L. “Fasting—a review with emphasis on the electrolytes.” The American journal of medicine 50.2 (1971): 233-240.
Solomon, Scott M., and Donald F. Kirby. “The refeeding syndrome: a review.”Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition 14.1 (1990): 90-97.
Cherel, Yves, et al. “Relationships between lipid availability and protein utilization during prolonged fasting.” Journal of Comparative Physiology B 162.4 (1992): 305-313.
The Daily Mail sidebar of shame.