Is Gwyneth Paltrow seeking help from a new psychic? What a breath of fresh air. Gwyneth Paltrow came clean on the whacky side effects she experienced while doing cleanses in her 20s. Yes, I used the words fresh air and Gwyneth Paltrow in back-to-back sentences, implying that her reveal was refreshing.
Hate on her if you must (it seems to be a new national pastime) but I applaud her. It is encouraging to see a celebrity speak the truth, openly and honestly, about the hardships she has put her body through in order to look a certain way, that being slim, slender, svelte, you name the hot-bod adjective. All the things her younger, 20-something self did that her seasoned, 40-year-old self now regrets having done.
What She Said
In a column she wrote in The Daily Telegraph, a London-based newspaper, on how to create a lean body shape, Paltrow wrote, “I’ve done juice cleanses in the past, and in my twenties I did Master Cleanse which left me hallucinating after 10 days.”
In an online medical dictionary, it reads that “in the final stages of starvation, adult humans experience a variety of neurological and psychiatric symptoms, including hallucinations and convulsions, as well as severe muscle pain and disturbances in heart rhythm.”
Well, look at that.
Unfortunately, Paltrow’s admission wasn’t a shocker to any of us, n’est-ce pas? Instead it was a sad reminder of the pressures put on celebs to look a certain way, no matter the cost to their health and well-being.
But when Paltrow proceeded with a warning, it was a step in the much-needed, right-message direction: “Be aware: a juice detox can crash your metabolism and lead to future weight gain.”
Why This Is Good News
Holla. If I could ship this out to all the young girls (and boys) considering their first cleanse, or if I could thumb-tack this to their bulletin boards and highlight it in pretty colors, and heart-shaped doodles, you know that I would. Down with the cleanse, detox, fast, juice diet, whatever-you-want-to-call-it.
“There is no scientific evidence to indicate that following any type of cleansing diet provides any health benefits,” says Joy Dubost, PhD, RD, an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson and founder of Dubost Food & Nutrition Solutions.
“Cleanses and detox diets are typically done under the premise that your body cannot rid itself of toxins without needed assistance. This is not the case,” says Dr. Dubost. “Your body naturally cleanses itself and has a built-in detox system through the liver, gastrointestinal tract, lungs, and kidneys. I would not recommend following a cleansing or detoxing diet.”
We’ve heard about many celebs cleansing. Years back, Beyoncé Knowles admitted on the Oprah show that she lost 20 pounds on a Master Cleanser to slim-down for her Dreamgirls role. Howard Stern’s sidekick Robin Quivers relayed to People magazine that she shrunk down to 145 from 215 pounds in 2004, when she did the controversial Master Cleanser on three separate occasions.
But rarely do we hear from stars about the grueling realities of what fasting for some 10 days is really like.
How many times have you been at a shindig trying to have a rollicking, good time only to hear about the cleanse Beyoncé did (as if, “Hey, that diva did it so it must be okay”); or worse, seen the jug, that ever present reminder of the struggles women (and sometimes men) face, and lug around with them.
When the downsides are mentioned, such as on blogs, it can seem as if suffering through a cleanse is some sort of a (terribly misplaced) badge of honor. In the name of Thin, I overcame (or just plain ignored) the pain—my body’s cry for tender-loving attention and care.
In a well-reported New York Times article from years back, nutritionist Joy Bauer once estimated that those on the cleanse who guzzled six, eight-ounce glasses of the lemon juice, cayenne pepper, maple syrup, water concoction daily—six to 12 glasses daily are recommended—consumed only 650 calories. (The Master Cleanse also involves drinking a glass of sea-salt-water mixture in the a.m.; and, herbal laxative tea in the p.m. Mmmm, delish!)
“The reality is that any extremely low-calorie plan, such as the Master Cleanse, will cause significant weight loss. Some other juice cleanses/detoxes are even lower in calories. But this is absolutely starving yourself. After just 24 to 48 hours, the body starts to slow down and conserve. The body understands this as starvation,” says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, MS, RD, author of Belly Fat Fix and an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics National Spokesperson.
The calorie intake required for a person’s optimal health depends on factors such as height, weight, age, activity level, and body composition. “The general rule of thumb in the professional nutrition world is a minimum 1,200 to 1,400 calories for women to maintain a healthy body weight; and, for men, a minimum of 1,400 to 1,600 calories. More often, most people need more calories,” says Cohn. (As you’ll see here, USDA’s estimated calorie intakes based on gender and activity level are substantially higher.)
Additional characteristic symptoms of starvation include diminished sex drive (hello, weak and grumpy vixen); and, more dangerously, shrinkage of the heart, lungs, ovaries; lower body temperature and sensitivity to cold; anemia; irritability; difficulty concentrating. The list goes on, but I’ll stop there. The point is starvation is bad. Very bad. In fact, starvation can lead to death.
Even after all that bulge battling, guess what? “The weight doesn’t stay off,” says Cohn. “Because once one starts eating again, the metabolism is compromised and burning less calories. The deprivation of all food one endures on a cleanse sets him or her up to want to eat all those foods they’ve been denying themselves after it’s over. Plus, the body is craving calories/sugar to replace glycogen in the muscles. Combine this desire for food with the body’s real need to have it, and this is absolutely a set-up for disaster, in the form of binge-eating.”
When is the last time you read a celeb cover story that was truly interesting? Actually showed you a glimpse of who the star was as a person—hurdles, struggles, warts and all?
Nowadays, producing a celebrity cover story involves a heckuva rigamarole. The gate-keeper publicist keeps close tabs on what is published. Often, the publicist approves much of the information that appears in a cover story before it goes to print. If something unflattering (read authentic) does make it through the cracks, all hail the wrath. Calls will be made. The relationship between the magazine and the publicist can falter; and, access to the celeb can subsequently be denied, unless the unspoken rules are obeyed.
Another likely scenario: Even when access is granted; interviews can take the form of piddly, 20-minute phone calls. A friend of mine recently filled me in that she was charged with writing a thousand-words-long cover story having been granted 20 minutes of phone-time with the celeb (pssst, a big reason why professional writers should consider investing in LexisNexis research accounts). Even if celebs want to get real with it; it can be hard for them to get their message out if it differs from the message others want them to give.
The History of Cleansing
Everybody has heard of the The Master Cleanse (also called the lemonade diet), which is the brain child of Stanley Burroughs. It dates back to the 1940s, when he first presented it as a way to treat ulcers and other internal maladies. The natural-health enthusiast then published it as a book in the 70s, and The Master Cleanser, was an overnight success. Initially, people who were already rather healthy looked at it as a way to banish impurities and toxins (think additives and insecticides) from their bodies. It’s still a money-making franchise that offers books and master-cleanse kits for sale. It has been touted in magazines and websites as recently as 2012.
Young Girls Dream (Not So) Big
Why does it matter? People are curious about celebs. They read about celebs; they mirror celebs’ actions. They even listen to celebs’ advice more closely than that of practicing nutritionists, dieticians, and doctors. And get this: Celebrity magazines sell more copies than the total sales of magazines in the food, games, health, automotive, home, lifestyle and teen categories combined, according to a presentation by Gil Brechtel, president and CEO of the Magazine Information Network (MagNet), at the MPA/PBAA Retail Marketplace conference in June 2013.
A friend of mine who works at a magazine where the reader demographic is young women in their teens and 20s recently told me that when asked about their career aspirations and hopes for the future, the vast majority of responses from the young, female readers expressed a desire for fame. Only that. Being famous. These are the reasons why Gwyneth Paltrow’s warning against cleansing was a good deed. Pure and simple. (Now, her admission to smoking on Saturdays? Not so good. But, hey, at least it was honest.)
A good dietary approach, and one that will not negatively affect your metabolism, is to follow a life-long eating pattern of healthy eating, meaning fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein. Eliminating any of these food groups, says Dr. Dubost, can potentially set you up for a deficiency of essential nutrients.
“Master Cleanse and other such products and plans can be dangerous because they eliminate essential nutrients. One can feel weak, irritable, constipated, and lack energy.”
And then there are those hallucination spells. Damn it.