Spa Wellness: Juice Cleanses

“A path to total wellness”… “a dangerous practice”… “an unnecessary exercise”… what will you tell your clients about juice cleanses?

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Every few years, new diets and diet philosophies emerge that promise to help people lose weight, increase their energy, avoid disease and drink from the fountain of youth. Liquid (and partial liquid) diets are back in fashion, encompassing everything from juices to smoothies, protein drinks, teas and herbal concoctions. The “juice cleanse” has become especially de rigueur, striking the fancies of certain celebrities whose enviable complexions, bodies and lifestyles have generated publicity for the phenomenon. Because the nature of spa is to enhance total well-being, clients may seek advice from you on diets in general, and juicing in particular. Do you know what to tell them?

Your advice isn’t to be given lightly. Juicing simply isn’t a “one size fits all” proposition, and clients who try it without clearance from a trusted physician or primary care provider may be taking a risk, especially if they have a medical condition such as heart disease or diabetes. The bottom line is, whether your core wellness philosophy embraces juice cleanses or not, it’s essential that you’re able to provide clients with reliable information on the topic.

Giving It Juice

Many cultures around the world have historically used fasting for purification, as a devotional or as a conduit to spiritual enlightenment. In these instances, no nutrition is taken in. Juicing for the purposes of weight loss, improved energy, cleansing the body of toxins or cravings, and even to address allergies, skin conditions or other illness, does supply some nutritional fortification. It’s what it doesn’t supply—the so-called toxins regularly ingested by the average consumer—that makes all the difference, say proponents.

“Substances are absorbed by the body that are not of value,” explains Susana Belen, co-owner at We Care Spa, in Desert Hot Springs, California, which offers juice cleansing in a resort-style environment to optimize the experience and the results. The spa supplies guests with its own proprietary powders, supplements and teas, and uses fresh juices and soups. It also provides activities designed to help rebalance the organs of elimination: colon, kidneys, liver, lungs and skin. Colonics, massages, skin brushing, wraps, specialized movement therapy and yoga classes are part of the spa’s comprehensive cleansing program. “Food we cannot process, chemicals in the air, even stress, can make our bodies not work as they should,” says Belen, an avid juicer. “Every cell in our body needs periodic cleansing.”

Advocates like Belen say that juicing is a way to let the body rest and recover while it’s being nourished. “Food gives us energy but it also gives us a lot of work to do,” she says. “Thousands of chemical processes are required for the body just to convert a tiny piece of apple into energy.” She stresses that juicing to cleanse and juicing to lose weight are two separate endeavors, but adds, “If the body is filled with chemicals and toxins, they will attach to the fat cells. That causes water retention. The body can’t lose weight until it detoxifies.”

Nutritionist Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RD, CDN, and founder of Middleberg Nutrition in New York City, sees clients with a variety of needs. She agrees that juicing can provide a necessary detox for the body. “A healthy gut equals a healthy immune system, which leads to increased energy and enhanced mood,” Middleberg asserts. What makes juice cleanses effective for weight loss, she says, is that they are pre-made and pre-portioned so that the calorie intake is “true.”

But can’t this be done with the right foods? “You can absolutely detox with food, but for many people it requires more work and is tougher to stick with,” replies Middleberg. “We often under-report when we journal our own foods, so that a thousand calories may be closer to 1,200 or 1,400. Also, when you take away food options and even chewing, there are fewer triggers, and you inevitably ingest fewer calories than you would potentially with food.

“A juice fast is great as a catalyst to get your diet back in shape and cut cravings, but it’s not a permanent weight-loss fix,” continues Middleberg, who doesn’t have a favorite juice cleanse but prefers “those that use organic ingredients in addition to the cold-pressed method of juicing, because nutrients and enzymes are better preserved—plus they tend to have a better taste.”

A juice fast is great as a catalyst to get your diet back in shape and cut cravings, but it’s not a permanent weight-loss fix

Seeds of Doubt

Plenty of controversy surrounds juice cleanses. Opponents say that human organs of elimination are perfectly able to process toxins without the practice of juicing. They also point out that juicing fruits and vegetables removes their fiber—fiber that can in itself cleanse the body, as well as prevent hunger, as calories are forced to metabolize more slowly.

“There’s little evidence that detox diets actually remove toxins from the body,” states Katherine Zeratsky, a registered and licensed dietician at the Mayo Clinic. “The kidneys and liver effectively filter and eliminate most ingested toxins. The benefits from a detox diet may actually come from avoiding highly processed foods that have solid fats and added sugar.”

Tracy Whynot, LAc, co-owner of Place 360 Health+Spa in Del Mar, California, and DAYSPA advisory board member, agrees, and adds that the body is naturally able to rid itself of toxins within a 24-hour period. “Toxins don’t store up,” Whynot insists. “It’s the repetition of bad habits, not toxic buildup, that makes the body feel bad.” She worries that juice cleanses can cause a spike in blood glucose, and that without protein, muscle mass will starve.

However, the sensations that some juicers experience don’t seem to indicate distress—in fact, many report feelings of high energy and euphoria, and this, says Whynot, can be misleading. “Those feelings occur because the body has gone into starvation mode,” she explains, adding, “My views come from Traditional Chinese Medicine [TCM] teachings that anything taken to extreme or excess is very damaging to the body.”

What is extreme to some, however, may not be to others, and Whynot concedes that a liquid cleanse of three or fewer days might work to help “jump start and motivate” people for a future, ongoing lifestyle change. She believes that, in accordance with TCM, such a cleanse should take place only in the spring or in September, which she says are natural times for cleansing. She also advises clients to juice on a weekend or during a vacation, so “they don’t have a real-life day filled with normal activities.”

Zeratsky urges those considering detox diets to get their doctors’ blessings first. “It’s also important to consider possible side effects,” she says. “Detox diets that severely limit protein or that require fasting, for example, can result in fatigue. Long-term fasting can result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Colon cleansing, which is often recommended as part of a detox plan, can cause cramping, bloating, nausea and vomiting. Dehydration also can be a concern.”

Like side effects, results of juicing vary, but for those seeking weight loss, lasting success seems unlikely, as most people regain the weight they lose with juice cleansing (or through any other type of rapid loss, for that matter). Whynot suggests an alternative: a detoxification or weight loss plan based around the elimination of sugar and alcohol; eating food in season; avoiding pesticides; and eating non-meat protein. “In the end, it’s only the long-term changes that are going to matter,” Whynot concludes.

Belen subscribes to a long-term measure that actually includes juicing. “I’ve been taking only liquids one day a week for the past 30 years,” she states. “I’m about to be 75 and I don’t take any medication. I don’t have any pain. I’ve never even had a headache. I can dance for three hours and go to work every day like I was 20. I nourish my body by cleansing.”