She contends the goal was to rid her body of toxins built up from excess consumption of junk food and alcohol. "I'd been partying for a month, and stuff needed to get sorted, stuff I wouldn't have lost through working out alone," she says. "It was more about cleansing and being healthy." That said, she's not complaining that she lost 10 pounds. And she repeated the fast this past spring.
In a way, this new health rhetoric is a backlash against the more obviously unhealthy weight loss routes that were popular in the past two decades, including misuse of prescription drugs such as fen-phen (now banned), Clenbuterol (not approved by the FDA for use in humans) and Adderall (a medication typically used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) as well as surgical procedures such as liposuction -- the potential dangers of which have been well documented.
The movement is also a reprieve from wading through the media minefield of ever-changing "good" and "bad" foods because. As dietitian Beth Reardon, the integrative nutritionist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, puts it, "It simplifies the confusing diet world down to one thing: Just drink this. If it's only juice, it has to be good for you!"
But cleanses, detoxes and fasts can lead to some very real physical hazards, especially because they're often done without the supervision of a doctor. "They can really dehydrate you or rob your body of potassium and other electrolytes," says Registered Dietitian Julie Eltman, of Los Angeles. Over time, or even within minutes, electrolyte imbalance can cause heart problems, organ damage and more. Another potential danger: colonics -- enemas intended to "wash out" the intestines -- which frequently go hand in hand with fasting.
Performed regularly, colonics can kill the good bacteria in your intestinal tract that are supposed to protect against infection, compromising your immune system; they also can disrupt nerve and muscle function in the bowel. "I see some people who get their colon cleansed every week and can't go to the bathroom without it," Eltman says.
Potential enema dependence, a weakened immune system, organ failure -- these are high prices to pay for what amounts to only fleeting weight loss, says Reardon, who stresses that however many pounds you lose during a fast or cleanse, they're almost guaranteed to return rapidly. "You initially lose only water weight, then you start breaking down muscle protein," Reardon explains. "It's minimal fat loss." And frequent fasting can slow your metabolism, making it easier to put on pounds later. Ultimately, those who repeatedly fast and cleanse set themselves up for a life of yo-yo dieting, weight regain and the health problems that can come with it, such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
At some point, even the most abstemious will need to swap her juices for solid food, a shift that will signal her body to cling to the sudden influx of calories, setting the stage for weight regain. Reinstating solids doesn't mean she'll eat much, though. In fact, many of the most popular Hollywood diets entail food-restriction guidelines that can seem almost as severe as eating nothing at all.