Are Short-Term Cleanses Okay For Your Teenagers?

Jannine Myers

Several weeks ago I saw a brief news clip about a group of moms and young teens participating in a 2-week cleanse. The objective was to see if they could tolerate a mostly raw-food diet, and also observe any noticeable differences in the way they felt.

I have written below a summary of that news clip, as I think it’s important for mothers to understand what they might be getting into by jumping on board with these types of short-term cleanses.

Girls having salad

 

Rainbeau Mars, creator of the 21-Day Superstar Cleanse, recently challenged moms and kids from her daughter’s school to participate in a 2-week cleanse. The challenge evolved after some of the moms expressed doubt that their children would eat the vegetable soup that Mars and her daughter had previously prepared at the school.

For two weeks, the kids and moms who had agreed to participate in the cleanse had to eat an all-raw, vegan diet that included things like kale salads, vegan pastas, and fruit smoothies. The idea, said Mars, was to show these kids and their moms that eating clean and healthy is not difficult and that the key is to just “keep it simple.”

Juice cleanse

Some nutrition and medical experts were quick however, to criticize the challenge. Rachel Beller (Nutritionist, M.S., R.D.), was adamant that it’s not a short-term cleanse that kids need, but a “clean-up act.” Beller explained that a permanent reduction in processed and sugary foods would be a far more suitable solution.

Dr. Richard Besser, a pediatrician and ABC News Chief Medical Editor, also had some concerns about the 2-week cleanse. “This is wrong in so many ways,” he said, and he gave three reasons why:

  1. Short-term cleanses teach people that they can eat lousy, or follow a fad diet, and if necessary resort to a short detox or cleanse to “fix” the undesirable results of their poor eating habits.
  2. From a scientific perspective, a short-term cleanse can falsely educate kids by convincing them that detox diets are more effective than the natural cleansing ability of their kidneys and liver.
  3. These kids are being introduced to a very “casual” approach to veganism. If they decide to pursue a vegan lifestyle as a result of participating in the cleanse, they run the risk of unintentionally malnourishing themselves.

Besser also warned that kids who try short-term cleanses could potentially seek out more restrictive diets if one of the outcomes of the cleanse is weight loss. Girls in particular, may be motivated to try and continue losing weight by either prolonging the duration of the cleanse or by adding further restrictions to an already limited diet.

teens-and-eating-disorders_2012_7

Mars insisted that the cleanse is not about weight loss, but about the health benefits of clean-eating, and also about igniting an awareness in kids of where exactly their food is coming from and what they are putting into their bodies.

Despite Mars’ well-meaning intentions, Besser suggests that there is a better way to teach kids how to enjoy healthier eating habits. It’s all about making nutrition a part of their lives, he says, and parents need to model the behavior they hope their children will adopt.

A good place to start is by turning nutrition into a family project where once a week, moms and kids shop together and buy local and seasonal produce (a good idea is to choose one or two vegetables that haven’t been tried before). The next step would be to choose a healthy recipe that utilizes the bought produce, and then cook a family meal together.

A family project which involves a regular commitment to learning and doing together, is a much more effective way to teach kids good nutritional habits that will lead to long-term change. “A 2-week cleanse,”says Besser, “simply won’t do that.”

That’s the summary of the news clip I saw, and as much as I admire Mars’ intentions I’m more inclined to agree with Registered Dietitian Rachel Beller, and Dr. Richard Besser. Having two daughters of my own, I’d rather model daily dietary and lifestyle habits that will hopefully make such an impression on them that it would eventually seem “normal” to them to go for healthier foods versus not-so-healthy foods. I want them to understand that their food choices will determine their long-term health and therefore overall quality of life – they won’t learn that in two weeks.

Furthermore, in a follow-on interview with one of the girls who participated in the cleanse, the interviewer was impressed when the girl said that she was so hungry that she’d gladly eat a kale salad. The interviewer thought it was a great thing that the girl said she’d “gladly” eat a kale salad, but for me her response set off alarm bells. The girl was STARVING!

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