The truth about quick-fix cleansers

When it comes to healthy nutritional practices, the messages that dancers believe and follow greatly affect their health. Even when armed with positive and reliable information, it can be a challenge to make smart choices that will help them maintain a healthy performance weight. This is particularly the case when it comes to new diet trends like cleansing detoxes.

The allure of these diets is their claim to increase energy and quickly result in sleek, lithe bodies. The regimens range from a one-day to a three-week duration, from a liquid-only to a fruit, vegetable, legume and nut plan, and they claim to cleanse the body of toxins from smoke, alcohol, pollution, caffeine, pesticides and processed foods. The danger is that the low-calorie content of these regimens does not provide dancers with the energy and nutrients needed for a demanding dance schedule. And if practiced over a long period of time, detox diets can lead to major problems for dancers: injury, vitamin/nutritional deficiency, decreased immunity, and digestive difficulties. Here is what you should know about the most common cleanses—and their side effects.

Most Popular Cleanses

Master Cleanse: This diet suggests a minimum of 10 days during which you consume a mixture of distilled, purified or spring water, fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup. The resultant weight loss is due mostly to water loss, which is surely to be gained again, and since it includes no protein, muscle tissue can waste away.

Juice Fast: Often encouraged for three days, these types of diets have specially designed blends of fruit, vegetable and nut combinations. Juice fasts often claim to replenish cells and support health. However, they don’t contain enough vital nutrients required by dancers to live up to that promise, because these fasts are very low in calories, protein and fiber. Plus, plans ordered online can be pricey—$60 or more a day. (Imagine how much fresh, nutritional food could be purchased!) As with the Master Cleanse, the weight lost is easily regained.

Food Cleanse: On this type of three- to five-day cleanse, eating “clean” and simple is encouraged by eliminating alcohol, caffeine, sugar, meats and dairy. Humans can live without alcohol, caffeine and even refined sugars, but a dancer’s body needs appropriate protein. A plus is that since whole food is consumed in this diet, the digestive process should not be adversely affected.

Side Effects

*Headaches and fatigue can occur from low blood sugar caused by the lack of food intake. This can impair a dancer’s ability to concentrate and her sense of timing.

*Eating so little for a short time may decrease bloating and cause a temporary sense of emptiness. However, in the long term, this action can actually increase bloating, as stomach motility slows down.

*Constipation and dehydration occur when sufficient calories and fiber are not ingested, whereas a laxative solution flush on a liquid fast can deplete the “friendly” intestinal bacteria, putting the immune system at risk.

*Eating too little protein and calories weakens the body’s muscle-repairing abilities, which increases the risk of injury. Inadequate carbohydrate intake makes muscles unable to restore used energy, and dancers can become overly sore after dancing.

*Metabolism regulates downward with low-calorie dieting, so over time, muscle mass and neurological function can deteriorate.

*The most dangerous side effect is becoming addicted to cleansing as a way to purge.

A Safer Approach

Dancers can try a few days of eating whole foods (fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, low-fat dairy, nuts, seeds and legumes), avoiding sugar, alcohol and caffeine and drinking more water. This will help them return to more mindful eating without subjecting themselves to the dangers of a detox cleanse. Getting in the habit of eating smaller portions several times a day will better distribute nutrients and caloric intake, and it will provide dancers with a healthy nutrition practice and weight-management control for life. DT

Heidi Skolnik is president of Nutrition Conditioning, Inc., and oversees the nutrition program at several performing arts schools. She is the author of Nutrient Timing for Peak Performance.

(Photo ©iStockphoto.com/Brian Balster)

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