Wellness has long been confused with diet culture. Masked behind promises of feeling good in our bodies is often the insidious message that we—women in particular—are meant to be thinner. As a wellness writer, I’ve seen the ebbs and flows of the body positivity movement, the resurgence of a thin-bodied standard dominating the zeitgeist, and the constant shifting between accepting ourselves as we are and wanting to change.
I’m happy we’ve collectively moved past the mid-aughts fervor for juicing cleanses. At the time, detoxes were no better (and potentially worse) than diets, synonymous with the concept of starving ourselves until—grumpy and irritated—we binged the very things we spent so much effort denying. For years, diets, cleanses, and detoxes were starvation and malnutrition masquerading as “health,” and always used as a means to make women feel like they were not good enough.
In 2023, we know better than to fall for juice cleanses of the past, and (thank god) we now know that diet culture is actually not wellness; true wellness is living as your happiest, most authentic self, in the body that feels as clear, energized, and vivacious as possible. But many brands centered around nutrient-rich food and products (like Sakara and Kroma Wellness) are reclaiming the words “cleanse,” “reset,” and “detox” to be much less restrictive and much more holistic than what the word conjured up 10 years ago. According to Lisa Odenweller, CEO and Founder of Kroma Wellness, “Toxic cleanse culture is dead.” Kroma is just one cleanse-focused brand that has emerged as one of the reset giants, with wellness celebs like Melissa Wood-Tepperberg and Dr. Will Cole signing on.
So what does a cleanse look like in 2023? Should detox and cleanses still raise antiquated diet-culture red flags, or can it be a beneficial part of a health routine, since–after all–detoxification is a crucial system and job of the body? We investigated the new wave of cleanses, and whether or not doing a cleanse genuinely healthy.
What is a “cleanse” in 2023?
“Cleanse” is a largely vague term. Be warned: There are still many companies selling diet pills, detox teas, and juice cleanses promising to “cleanse” that are taking advantage of insecurities that diet culture ingrained in us, and may even be dangerous to the body. However, other health-focused brands are providing cleanses in the form of all-natural herbs and supplements to healthily support the body’s natural detoxification system, or nutrient-rich foods and programs to provide the body with all the nutrients it needs (think: superfoods, adaptogens, vitamins, minerals, clean proteins, lots of fruits and veggies) while gently encouraging a pause on foods that may be adding to symptoms (think: processed foods, caffeine, added toxins, alcohol).
The biggest difference is that rather than encouraging users to restrict, these new cleanses focus on providing users with essential nutrients. It’s a “thrive not deprive” mentality that centers itself on nourishment, not depletion. Odenweller is optimistic about how the cleansing space is evolving, but she recognizes that many are still after a quick fix. Healthy cleanses are meant to kickstart a healthy lifestyle to feel better in your body, rather than a lose-weight-fast approach before a big event or vacation. However, parallel to this desire for rapid transformation is an increased awareness of the foods we’re consuming. As she notes, cleanses of the future focus on quality ingredients, responsible sourcing, and ultimately, how these foods make us feel.
What are the benefits of going on a cleanse?
In the past, many looked to cleanses as a pseudo-wellness solution to fad or crash diets, often pursuing the same goal: weight loss. But as many of us want to move away from this obsession with body size and shape, we’re instead after goals that support how we feel. Odenweller shares the benefits one can expect from doing a reset:
Rather than consuming caffeinated beverages that most of us lean on in our day-to-day, prioritizing foods that optimize blood sugar levels (think: high fiber plants, healthy fats, and clean proteins) fuels our bodies for sustained energy throughout the day and prevents energy crashes that come with caffeine or simple carbohydrates. You can also look to the addition of superfoods (such as high-quality matcha in Kroma’s 5 Day Reset or chlorophyll drops in Sakara’s Fresh Start Cleanse) for additional energy.
One of the many wellness topics dominating the space today, inflammation can result from many causes, and it’s important to know that inflammation isn’t inherently bad. But chronic, disease-driving inflammation is what many people want to address when starting a cleanse, since chronic inflammation can be related to everything such as bad periods, poor sleep, or brain fog. Your diet can either increase or decrease inflammation in the body. By “cleansing” with probiotic-rich foods, healthy fats, nuts, antioxidant-driven foods like berries, green tea, and dark chocolate you can effectively lower inflammation. Of course, your diet needs to change long-term in order to keep inflammation lowered sustainably, but many people find cleanses beneficial in easing inflammation-related symptoms to kick off healthier lifestyle habits.
Create new healthy habits
My personal favorite benefit: A cleanse can also provide an opportunity for self-exploration and reflection. “It helps you listen to your body and tune into its cues,” says Odenweller. Giving yourself the time to reset creates space to explore the reasons behind your habits and behaviors, as well as learn what foods help you feel your best. And if weight loss is your goal? The good news is that sustained, healthy weight loss can be an additional impact of a cleanse. Temporarily picking up certain habits can help you identify what foods do and don’t make your body feel amazing to adjust how you nourish yourself every day, and can help create new habits you want to keep long-term. With that in mind, a good rule of thumb is to never do any “cleanse” that cannot turn into a lifestyle, as it probably is not the healthiest option.
Who is and isn’t a candidate for a cleanse?
Since healthy cleanses are focused on nutrient-rich foods and do not lead to restriction or starvation, most anyone can benefit from a cleanse (with a few exceptions–more on that below). Odenweller notes that the signs you could be in need of a cleanse include:
- Weight gain or overall puffiness/bloating
- Noticeable inflammation in the face or body
- Inflammation in the joints
- Slowed digestion or difficulty going to the bathroom
- Exhaustion, brain fog, and the inability to focus
- Restless sleep
- Lack of motivation (to start healthy habits or stop unhealthy habits)
But more than that, alongside the healthy habits you can expect to develop from a cleanse, it allows you to recalibrate emotionally. “We live in such a fast-paced world, we often forget to stop and be grateful or present,” Odenweller explained. A cleanse can be an opportunity to take a pause and check in with yourself. By being more present in your body, you have the chance to ask yourself: How do I feel? Am I actually hungry or filling a different need?
As for who shouldn’t consider a cleanse, while the tide is shifting in terms of the language and messaging surrounding cleanses, if you have or are currently experiencing an eating disorder, it’s recommended that you shouldn’t pursue a cleanse. Other people who aren’t candidates for a cleanse include those with diabetes, heart disease, who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or on medication. It’s important to always speak with your doctor or medical provider before undergoing a cleanse or changing your diet plan in any way.
Can I exercise while doing a cleanse?
As the detox programs of yore were designed to be highly restrictive, exercise was an unsafe addition. Fast-forward to 2023, and cleanses are designed specifically so that users can—and are encouraged to—incorporate exercise into the program. Thankfully, cleanses today take lifestyle into account. But it all comes down to checking in with yourself and taking stock of how you feel. If you naturally gravitate toward an active lifestyle, make sure you’re getting in foods such as lean proteins and healthy fats to support your physical activity (BTW, if a cleanse does not guide you through adding in more protein and fats to support your body through physical activity, or recommends staying away from physical activity altogether…red flag).
How can I do a cleanse on my own?
Not all cleanse programs are accessible to everyone, and the options that are more nutrient-rich (AKA the ones worth doing) tend to be on the pricier side. If you’re wondering how to design a reset experience to give you similar benefits without the price tag, you can “mimic” a cleanse on your own.
Use food as medicine
Prioritize a wide range of fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and healthy fats to fill your body with the nutrients you need. Also, add in more foods that support your body’s detoxification system like high-fiber foods (to keep bowel movements consistent), cruciferous vegetables (which help rid the body of excess hormones), and green or dandelion leaf tea that can support the liver. Experiment with superfoods like this list that can help boost energy, heal symptoms, and help your body feel its best.
Avoid triggering foods, but don’t restrict or deprive
Also, try to avoid triggering foods such as processed foods, alcohol, added sugar, and potentially caffeine. If you’re working on eliminating symptoms, you may also want to experiment with cutting out dairy or gluten (temporarily) to identify any potential food sensitivities that may be contributing. However, it’s important to never restrict or deprive. Nutrition is about nourishing your body, not starving it. If you deplete your body of the nutrients it needs, you’ll see more negative effects than you do positive ones. Always honor your hunger, because hunger is the way your body is communicating to you that it needs something.
Turn it into a lifestyle
Lastly, turn “cleansing” into a lifestyle, meaning fill your diet with foods that support the body in feeling its best, but don’t be afraid to have an extra glass of champagne over the weekend or a piece of chocolate cake for dessert. Pleasure is a crucial part of well-being, and the point of loading your body with nutrients most of the time is that some alcohol or added sugar here and there won’t matter. It’s never too late to start, reset, or continue your wellness journey, no matter what that looks like.
How should I safely and effectively transition out of a cleanse?
After completing a cleanse, it’s important to be gentle with yourself. Odenweller recommends slowly reintroducing foods you weren’t eating during the cleanse—perhaps dairy, gluten, sugar, alcohol, and coffee–to avoid any negative symptoms (you might experience more severe energy crashes, sensitive stomach, etc.). As always, be mindful, noting how consuming these foods again makes you feel. “In the days immediately following your reset, start with foods that are easy to digest and filled with natural enzymes,” Odenweller recommended. Think: fresh fruit, smoothies, bone broth, salads, and gluten-free grains. To manage cravings effectively, healthy fat sources (avocados, nuts, olive oil, and coconut) are key.
On a final note: the most important takeaway of a cleanse is a shifted mindset. Odenweller notes that, rather than trying to reach a certain goal or weight, embrace the understanding that food can be a way to honor your body. “You are going to naturally make better choices that are in alignment with your health and wellbeing,” she said. And contrary to past detoxes and crash diets, you’re better able to develop habits that support a healthy, happy, and full life.
Shop our favorite cleansing programs and products :
The 5-Day Reset
Each day consists of 9 nutrient-rich, deliciously satiating meals and beverages that arrive to your door in convenient packets. Just add fruit/veggies of choice, protein, and water for soups and smoothies, and plant-based nut milks for morning and afternoon lattes. You’ll also get magnesium, hydrating elixir, and a supergreens elixir to drink every day, and a jar of their viral “cookie butter.”
The Fresh Start Cleanse
You’ll get complete nutrient-rich meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus tahini vanilla bars made with spirulina (a powerful algae that supports body’s detoxification), daily supplement packet with 5+ essential vitamins, magnesium for night, and chlorophyll water drops.
Organic Cleanse Program
Combining wisdom from Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and Chronobiology, this cleanse is full of smoothies, broths, and elixirs for either a 4-day, 6-day, or 8-day program.
A blend of herbs that encourage the body’s natural detoxification processes in order to support skin, energy and hormone health.
Feel Good Detoxy
A gentle, natural detoxification and non habit-forming cleanse in the form of a supplement you can take every night.
This product helps cleanse environmental toxins from your body. It is beneficial for alleviating gastrointestinal issues, candida overgrowth, exposure to mold, pesticides, or pharmaceutical residues.