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One Thing You Gets 100% Right: Juice Cleanses are Bad

gabe gives Joe some advice in "You"

Hello, You. I know what you’re feeling this morning. I feel it too. We’re both a little bit hungover, not just from New Year’s Eve but from all the holidays and we’re ready to be cleansed, body and soul. I don’t blame you, I’m right there with you. New Year’s Day is when we start fresh with big resolutions to be healthier and step out of the sugary stupor of endless Christmas cookies and celebratory libations—but I’m here to take care of you and tell you that Netflix’s You has one thing very right: Cleanses are silly and don’t make you healthier.

Cleanses, juice and otherwise, have been around for a while and they rely on a whole bunch of pseudoscience, but also our willingness to buy into anything that promises quick results to make us thinner and healthier (which aren’t the same thing) and, as You so perfectly shows in episode 7, they also promise a kind of enlightenment born of denial and purity. A cleanse won’t just purify your body, it will fix your soul.

The idea of juicing and cleansing relies on the false premise that our body needs help getting rid of “toxins.” No one can really tell you what toxins are but boy howdy will drinking pureed celery get rid of them! This is stupid because our digestive system is built to get all that stuff out. That’s why it’s there.

Sharon Horesh Bergquist, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the Emory School of Medicine, spoke about this to Health.Com and explained: “The reality is that your body is a detoxification machine, fully built with its own elaborate way of ridding toxins and unwanted chemicals.”

Now, there is truth in the idea that there are good and bad things that can go into our body and that we can become too attached to them when we eat too much of them: the main culprit is processed carbs and sugars, not because they are “addictive” per se but because they give us endorphin rushes when we eat them and that makes us want more. To get over this attachment it helps to get that processed (and delicious) sugar and carbs out of our system but … a juice cleanse is the worst way to do that.

Juice is not a healthy way to get your calories: It removes fiber and other nutrients, and juice is high in sugars. Both these things mean that your body will process the sugar fast but won’t have any complex carbs or protein to break down later. Any parent of a small kid knows this: juice is basically sweet, liquid cocaine that produces a big energy high then a huge crash. Juice cleanses make you feel like crap, and that’s the opposite of what a healthy diet should do.

That’s fruit juice though, right? What if you emulate Forty or Joe in You and go for a green juice cleanse or something? Same issues. Juices have lowered nutritional value and starving yourself consuming only celery water will make you sick, and like Joe, you might Exorcist puke on your hot neighbor. Cleanses starve you. That screws up and can slow down your metabolism which is the opposite of what you want when you’re trying to lose weight.

I know the idea of a cleanse is so tempting. It seems so easy and so self-righteous. It puts you in the ranks of those gorgeous Instagram influencers who sip their artisanal green smoothies and look so perfect. But that’s all a show. We don’t know what havoc that’s wrecked on their bodies and those people have armies of personal trainers and makeup artists and stylists behind all that perfection.

The simple truth if you’re looking to get healthier in the new year is that a good diet is the same as it’s always been: lots of fresh veggies, lean protein, keep your carbs complex if you mix them in, drink lots of water instead of juice and be active. It’s boring but it’s going to be much better for your body than juicing your way to a better you.

(image: Beth Dubber/Netflix)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.