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April 26, 2013

Cleansing's Dirty Secret


Photo Credit: James Wojcik

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THERE'S NOTHING WRONG with juice cleanses, of course. But when coming off the plans, some women cut out entire groups of foods and develop aversions: no bread, no meat. Juice companies sell the idea that certain meals are bad; some even condemn healthy snacks like sugary fruits. And clients are buying in, nudged along by online sales and incentives. Chicago-based company JuiceRx brags online that many customers cleanse twice a month. Catalyst, which ships to customers across the U.S., calls clients who commit to 30, 45, or 60 days' worth of juice Rockstars and gives them discounts. But for women who are genetically predisposed to eating disorders, Johanna Kandel, founder of the Florida-based Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, says cleanses can be dangerous. One girl she worked with, who had a family history of eating issues, left for college healthy. She tried a juice cleanse and wound up in treatment. "It wasn't the cause, but it was the drop that made the cup overflow," says Kandel, who is peppered with cleanse questions—how often to do one, or how to tell if a roommate does too many—from college women. "Cleanses bring food and ritualistic behavior into focus."

Tim Martin, founder and CEO of Los Angeles–based iZO Cleanse, concedes that "cleanses can turn into an eating disorder if they're used as an excuse to binge afterward," behavior he dubs "macrobulimia." IZO Cleanse asks clients to confirm that they don't have eating disorders and to commit to a balanced post-cleanse diet; Yvette Rose, founder of Joulebody, gives customers post-cleanse dietary guidelines. Asked for comment, a few of the companies mentioned in this story acknowledged that juicing could exacerbate unhealthy eating habits. "We try very hard to discourage misuse of the cleanse," says Alexis Schulze, cofounder of Nékter Juice Bar. Others, like JuiceLand's Shook, were less attuned to the potential issues. "We make no claims to diagnose or treat psychological disorders," he says.

Of most concern? For women already in the throes of anorexia or bulimia, juice fasts provide a great cover. Kari Adams, 42, a blogger in Princeton, New Jersey, had been bingeing and purging for years when she tried a juice fast more than two years ago. Her yoga instructor was offering one to clients, and Adams knew "it would make me thinner," she says. After three weeks of juicing, she was sicker and frailer than ever. Her family intervened and checked her into a treatment center for five months. "I was like an addict who'd found a new drug," says Adams, who got positive reactions from friends during her juice fast. "People said, 'Oh, good for you. That's so healthy.' It's society's most accepted form of eating disorder."

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