Great question. First of all, your insides aren’t dirty, and they don’t need to be cleansed!

The human body already has systems, like the liver, kidneys, and gut, which are devoted to eliminating environmental toxins. Taking a break from fast food is a good goal, but doing so through a less-extreme move towards plant-based and protein-rich foods is much healthier and more sustainable.

Cleanses that promise purification and even rapid weight loss can certainly be alluring for those seeking a quick fix to a fast food habit. The word “cleanse” has been used to refer to a wide range of diets, from cutting out sugar to subsisting solely on lemon-cayenne water for weeks at a time. Most of the language around these diet plans is intentionally vague about what exactly is being “cleansed” or “detoxed”, which illuminates their lack of scientific backing. A cleanse is really just a fad diet spackled with a veneer of health, and they can often be unsafe both mentally and physically.

Especially for teens, who may still be developing, adequate caloric intake is important. Eating a variety of different foods to meet your nutritional needs is essential, and cleanses restrict your options. If weight loss is your goal, a cleanse is not the right path; weight lost rapidly through cleanses is mostly water weight, and will be regained quickly with a return to normal eating patterns. If your objective is to break the fast food habit, try experimenting with some new veggie-heavy recipes at home. Whatever your aims, chat with a medical provider or nutritionist to make sure that you’re going about it in a moderate and sensible way.

Cleanses can promote an unhealthy relationship with food, and a flirtation with the dangerous extremes of binging and self-denial. No foods are inherently “clean,” “dirty,” “good,” or “bad”, and resisting assigning moral values to foods is critical to a healthy relationship with eating and your body. It’s better for your body and mind to work towards intuitive eating that makes you feel good, which can certainly include the occasional treat. If you’re spending a lot of time feeling preoccupied about food and your body, talk with a medical provider. The goal is balance, and if you’re having trouble achieving this on your own, reach out for help.