If you've uttered the words “I'm never eating again” while clutching your bloated, about-to-burst belly at past Thanksgiving dinners, you may think literally quitting solid foods cold turkey after your turkey feast is a good idea. After all, a juice cleanse offers a much-desired break from chewing and digestion, and comes with rave endorsements from slim celebrities plus alluring health and weight-loss claims from popular juice companies.
But before you order that six-pack of greens to “detox” your body, it's important to understand the hard-to-swallow truth about juicing, especially right after your biggest gorge-fest of the year.
Not So Fast
Despite glowing reviews from diehard juiceheads, there's no science to support that juice cleanses actually live up to their promises. In fact, many doctors think of these as bottles of B.S.
“This feast-or-famine approach to eating is not healthy,” says Lynn Allen, M.D., an endocrinologist from the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital. Having a free-for-all and eating double or triple your normal amount (the average American consumes more than 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving, according to the Calorie Control Council) will send your body into overdrive to get rid of the huge food load it's not used to. As your internal sewage team struggles with the unexpected extra labor, you’ll struggle with some room-clearing flatulence and overall discomfort. “When you're stuffed, you build up inflammation in your body, which can result in swollen ankles and indigestion,” Allen says.
You should feel fine the day after, though. “Your body will completely process all of those extra calories within 24 hours, and the inflammation will go down,” Allen says. [Tweet this fact!] That’s right, you don’t need any juices to flush out toxins, says Christopher Ochner, Ph.D., a research associate at New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center. Your liver and intestines have got you covered—after all, it’s their job to keep your digestion on track all the time.
And although your stomach expanded to accommodate those second heapings—er, helpings—of candied potatoes and pumpkin pie, you can safely put away your stretchy pants. The extra give is only temporary, as long as you don't continue overeating, Ochner says. However, no matter the size of your gut, juices will not be enough to sustain you for very long because most of these meal plans contain minimal fiber and protein, plus liquids alone just don’t satisfy. Several studies have found that beverages leave you apt to feel hungrier sooner and more likely to consume more at your next meal than solid foods do.
The severe caloric restriction of cleanses may backfire in other ways. “When you're on a limited diet of 800 to 1,200 calories, your body will start feeding off fat and muscle tissue,” Allen says. “This is why you may feel better after a while and may even lose weight, but you'll gain it all back or more.”
Still, drinking the veggie-laced Kool-Aid may have some benefits—just psychological ones rather than physical ones. Women who do cleanses gain confidence in their willpower, says Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., an L.A.-based licensed clinical psychologist and author of You Are Why You Eat. “A strict juice cleanse can help women feel in control of their food and weight,” she explains. [Tweet this!] This sentiment is even more essential after you've seemingly relinquished all control on Thanksgiving (and who can blame you, this yummy holiday only comes once a year!).
For some, the cleanse becomes an excuse to jump-start healthier habits, such as consuming more fruits and vegetables daily and cutting back on booze and caffeine. For others, it's just a fleeting fix, though not that much of one. “Cleanses are really good for cleaning out your wallet, and that's about it,” Ochner says.
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Chew on This
You can bypass (or at least lessen) the bloat, discomfort, and guilt by eating smarter on Thanksgiving. First, gorge on turkey or ham—seriously, pile your plate and go for it! The lean protein will fill you up faster and keep you satiated longer so you'll have less room for carb-heaving stuffing, rolls, and desserts. Round out your plate with cranberry sauce and greens, and because you know you won't be able to resist that homemade pumpkin pie, eat it slowly or just take a small sliver and call it a night, Ochner advises. Taking it easy will help you savor the special moment more, which is the whole point after all.
No matter how you end up eating on Thursday, come Friday you should jump right back to your normal diet—and you don’t need a cleanse to do that. Though food may be the last thing on your mind on Black Friday (you'll likely be indulging in killer sales instead), it's fine to fast a little—as in wait until you're truly hungry (perhaps by early or mid-afternoon) before you have a meal. Skip the leftovers (other than the protein and non-starchy vegetables) and simply eat the balanced, healthy way you typically do.