Eat, Drink and Be Healthy

Michelle Obama's 'cleanse': Would it work for you?

No matter where in the world she goes, the first lady gets attention for her fashion choices.

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By Jennifer LaRue Huget
Thursday, August 26, 2010

In an interview in September's Ladies' Home Journal, first lady Michelle Obama mentions that she occasionally takes part in a cleanse. She meant, according to her press office, that she eats as much fruit and vegetables as possible and cuts out fats and oils, dairy, meat, caffeine, sugar and starch for a short period of time.

Doing so, she told the magazine, helps "clean out my palate."

Such a cleanse isn't something I considered for my Me Minus 10 weight-loss project, but I wondered whether it could be beneficial to others.

Temporarily restricting one's food can be a useful way to kick off a weight-loss diet or transition to better long-term eating habits, says Jim White, a Virginia Beach-based registered dietitian and spokesman for the American Dietetic Association. Obama's mix of foods, though limited, should provide enough nutrients to maintain her metabolism and blood-sugar levels, at least in the short run, he says.

Keri Gans, also a registered dietitian and ADA spokeswoman, is not a fan, however. "It's setting up that the only way to eat healthy is to restrict," she says. "She should be learning to eat from all food groups correctly."

If you do want to embark on such a cleanse, consider these tips from registered dietitian Sari Greaves, a New York City-based spokeswoman for the ADA:

Focus on portion control, eating smaller amounts of a broad range of foods.

Choose the best foods from each of the food groups; substitute whole-grain items for those made from refined flour, for instance. Include lean protein (meat, fish, legumes and nuts) plus small amounts of healthful fats and plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Recognize that it takes time to get used to eating less salt, especially if you've been brought up consuming a lot.

Change the way you cook. Learn to add sweetness without sugar by experimenting with spices such as cinnamon and ginger.

Finally, remember to keep it short. As Obama told Ladies' Home Journal: "I can't live my life on a cleanse. . . . So maybe I'll do a cleanse for two days. It isn't a way of life, because I like food too much. But it is good to break your mind-set."

A type of cleanse you should avoid is a cleanse diet, also known as detoxifying or detox diets, which involve not just cutting back on food but expelling stuff from your system with an aim to rid your body of impurities.

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