A Cleanse Warning from a Certified Nutrition Educator and Intuitive Eating Advocate

Guest post by Virginia Watkins

Here’s the thing about elimination diets, cleanses, and wellness plans: If you have a history of calorie restriction and disordered eating, make sure you have recovered before signing up.

How will you know if you’re far enough along in your recovery process? If you have a therapist, discuss it with them first. I also encourage you to think about these questions:

  • Will the program help you think less about food, your weight, and body size?
  • Are you looking to expand the types of foods in your diet?
  • If you want to eat foods not on the cleanse, can you trust that voice and know it’s taking care of you?

I hope you answered “yes” to these questions. If not, trust your inner guide that a cleanse is not going to serve you at this moment.

Diet culture pervades our society and often our own families. Did you grow up with fatphobia? Did a parent ever “gently” body shame you at the dinner table or when shopping for clothes? Did the media’s focus on obesity as a “disease” “to fight like terrorism” influence your own attitudes toward larger bodies?

Here’s a fact: Some people are born into larger-sized bodies and others are born into smaller ones. Our bodies have a weight set point which is why 95% of diets may take off weight initially but cause weight gain over time, and often at a higher set point.

Our bodies have a built-in protection plan. They say, “Don’t starve me. I want to take care of you.” So when we restrict calories, our metabolism slows down to conserve energy and our minds start thinking about food, a lot.

Check-in: If being on a cleanse causes you to obsess over food, take a break.

As a nutrition educator, I recommend that clients give their bodies mostly unprocessed, nourishing foods, but for people with a history of restrictive and disordered eating, a cleanse or wellness plan may take someone who is still healing down the default path of denial and restrictiveness.

My history with fatphobia and calorie restriction began when I was in third grade; that year I wanted to lose five pounds. In middle school, I went on “health kicks” with my best friends, and in high school I became a vegetarian. When I was fifteen, I still wasn’t menstruating, so an endocrinologist recommended that I take the birth control pill to facilitate a period, albeit without ovulation.

At twenty-seven years old – still no period. When I met my husband-to-be, I told him on our second date that I probably couldn’t have kids. All the while, no family member, friend, or medical professional had suggested that I may need to eat more or exercise less. I was born into a smaller-sized body, and since fatphobia reigns, no one suspected my efforts to starve myself – just a little bit – because I looked like a healthy “thin ideal.”

For people without a history of food restriction and disordered eating and for those who’ve healed with the help of a medical professional, here’s what I recommend: If you go on a cleanse or wellness plan, pay attention to the foods you eat and how they make you feel; let that guide your food choices and the amounts you eat. Isn’t that the goal, to feel good in our bodies and to enjoy life more without obsessing about what we eat?

Virginia Watkins, Certified Nutrition Educator and Intuitive Eating Advocate, studied English and French at Duke University. After college, Virginia moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to work in the food and wine industry. In addition to working in marketing and sales for leading natural food companies, she has spent eight years as a certified nutrition educator. A lover of creative and gentle movement, she regularly practices yoga and can be found at Lynn’s live-streamed classes most Wednesdays. She’s also the mom of two well-fed boys, ages 14 and 11.

Download Your Free Ebook “3-Minute Meditations for Each Enneagram Type"

Get your guide to the 9 Enneagram types with a different Kundalini Yoga meditation for each type. These meditations are designed to relax your habit of attention and build self awareness - starting in as little as 3 minutes a day.