Ask the Doctor: My daughter does a cleanse recommended by her personal trainer. I have no idea what his qualifications are – should I be worried?

Question: My 25-year-old daughter does a cleanse — which involves not eating for seven days and drinking only one vegan protein shake. Apparently she will gradually introduce foods after that and monitor her reactions to see which foods to avoid. She goes to a personal trainer and I have no idea what his qualifications are – but I’m sure he’s not qualified to prescribe something like that. She won’t listen to me, but she might listen to you. Is this safe and does it make sense to you?

dr Grant replies: I think you are right to be alarmed. This type of “cleansing” is certainly not recommended by any medical professional, registered dietitian, or personal trainer I’ve ever met. It can even be dangerous, as it can lead to malnutrition, extreme fatigue, dehydration, muscle wasting and, in the worst cases, an eating disorder.

An unhealthy preoccupation with food, body weight, and shape can potentially lead to one of the most common types of eating disorders known as Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). An adult with ARFID does not consume enough calories to sustain basic bodily functions and exhibits three main characteristics:

Avoidance due to the sensory properties of foods (sensory food aversions).

Lack of interest in eating or eating (food avoidance).

Concern about the consequences of eating (phobia affecting eating).

What is your daughter’s motivation for pursuing such an extremely restrictive diet? I can only assume that it is about losing weight. I wonder exactly how overweight she is. I assume that as part of their initial assessment, the trainer estimated their muscle mass and body fat percentage and set some achievable goals over a defined period of time. What is your basic fitness like? Has she been active in club sports, the gym, personal training programs in the past? Has your daughter ever suffered from mental disorders such as depression or anxiety? Does she have a history of substance abuse?

As you can see, there is a lot more to controlled weight loss under expert guidance. Like all experts, you need to check their credentials before falling into the marketing trap of believing their often-false promises. Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. No one should be denied that luxury, and certainly not to go on a week’s worth of protein shakes to “cleanse.” It doesn’t matter whether the protein shake is vegan or whey protein (more commonly used). You can get results from both (build muscle and burn fat). Whey protein is derived from milk that has been processed to make it low in calories, lactose, carbohydrates and fat.

That brings me to another question. Is your daughter trying to become vegan and what are her motivations? Once again, when done for the right reasons, under the right conditions, with appropriate supplements, and coupled with a healthy lifestyle, going vegan can provide additional health benefits.

Finally, her comment about her plan to then slowly reintroduce certain types of food and “monitor her reactions to see which foods to avoid” made me wonder if she had concerns about a food intolerance or a possible underlying Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS ) Has. Both of these conditions really require the expertise of a registered dietician who can also decide whether to consult your GP or a gastroenterologist.

dr Jennifer Grant is a GP at Beacon HealthCheck Ask the Doctor: My daughter does a cleanse recommended by her personal trainer. I have no idea what his qualifications are – should I be worried?

Fry Electronics Team

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