Calories seem to be very popular these days with food labelling everywhere boasting the number. Calorie counting seems to be a love it or hate it type weight loss program with some people swearing by it whilst others condemn it as the most evil punishment anyone could behold.
I like to count calories from time to time to figure out how I’m doing with my diet overall and where I could do better with my eating habits. I was preparing to undergo a juice cleanse a few weeks ago and realised I’d never really considered how many calories are actually in a juice cleanse?
Despite being a liquid diet, the average juice cleanse has you consuming 800-1000 calories per day but they do vary a bit. The average juice cleanse lasts for 1 day to 1 week and normally consists of 6 fresh juices per day.
WHAT IS A JUICE CLEANSE
To start with let’s quickly go over what IS a juice cleanse! Juice cleansing is the process where you don’t eat solid foods for a period of time and instead of food you consume cold, fresh juices. Fruit juices, vegetable juices and smoothies are often consumed and you can buy these ready made or make them at home if you have a juicer.
This detox diet is normally carried out over a one day, three day or seven day juice cleanse period but can go on longer. The high concentration of vitamins and other nutrients flushes your body with goodness whilst depriving it of the usual fatty, sugary treats.
Juicing is said to flush out toxins (detox), boost your immune system and promote good digestive system health although scientific evidence to support these claims is still somewhat lacking. Anecdotally, people report feeling revitalised, refreshed and full of energy following a juice cleanse.
WHAT IS A CALORIE?
Now onto calories. This word gets thrown around a lot when it comes to health and fitness and you’ll probably be familiar with the concept. Food labelling these days often has calorie intake listed alongside nutritional value of the product but what actually is a calorie?
Well, a calorie is a unit used to measure energy. The energy you’ll absorb when you digest the food. For the sciency people out there, 1 calorie is how much of the food is needed to heat 1 cubic centimeter of water by 1 degree celsius when combusted.
When you eat food you use these units of energy in many ways from heat production, movement of muscles, growth and repair of tissues, and the list goes on. Without calories your body won’t be able to function properly and will eventually give up.
HOW MANY CALORIES DO YOU NEED?
There’s a lot of different ways of looking at calorie requirements and it can get a bit confusing. I’ll try to simplify it here.
We’ll start with the BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). This measures how many calories you need if you were just lying in bed all day and doing nothing else. It’s the basic amount of calories your body needs to support and repair itself. This value does not take into account calories burned by eating so if you get out of bed and chew some breakfast you’re immediately going to need a few extra calories on top of this value.
BMR is calculated using your body weight, height and age. For a 40 year old woman who’s 5ft 6 and weighs 160 pounds then her BMR is 1,444 calories per day.
For a man of the same age and size this would be 1,610 calories per day.
So that’s the baseline. Getting out of bed, walking, eating, thinking and every other normal thing you do in your daily routine burns some calories.
If the same woman mentioned above just went about her day, leading a very sedentary life with no exercise at all then she would still need to up that amount to 1,733 calories per day to maintain her body.
If she decided to exercise (even just a walk 3x times a week) then immediately she could go up to 1,986 calories per day.
Your body has a lot of work to do even whilst sitting still so you still need to eat enough to stay healthy.
If you eat more calories than your body needs then it stores the excess energy (ready to be used if needed later) as fat.
If you eat less calories than you need then your body is forced to burn up the stored calories in the fat and you lose weight.
WHY DOES THIS VARY SO MUCH?
Unfortunately, nothing in life is simple and many factors affect how many calories you need to eat. Your height, weight, body fat percentage, muscle mass, metabolic rate, general health (and any existing medical conditions), age and sex are just a few to mention.
Lifestyle choices also affect how much you need to eat alongside how active you are day to day. This means that it can be quite tricky to figure out exactly how many calories you actually need to be eaten and that is why calories should be used as a guide for your diet, not counted obsessively.
CALORIES AND CLEANSING
On a juice cleanse you are quite severely cutting your calories below your BMR levels. A typical juice diet will measure in at 800-1000 calories per day. The issue with this is you’re only eating around half the energy your body needs each day. This can lead to side effects like blood sugar levels spikes and drops between juices and can make you feel quite unwell.
Juice cleansing for an extended period can also end up affecting your metabolic rate. When the body is kept on restricted calories for too long it enters what’s called “starvation mode”. This is where it assumes food is scarce and it shifts towards energy conservation. So when you do start eating again the body quickly stores as much fat as possible to protect you from any future starvation that may happen.
This is often why juice fasts fail as people eat loads after to compensate. Eating extra, alongside this shift in metabolism will lead to weight gain, quickly replacing any that had been lost.
To avoid this, make sure you eat a healthy balanced diet before and after the cleanse and gradually increase your food intake afterwards. Avoid long cleanses if you’re not used to it and don’t do them too often.
WHAT IS A BALANCED DIET
All nutritionists recommend that the best way to maintain good health and support weight loss is to eat a balanced diet. Balanced can mean different things for different individuals so there’s no one size fits all. The general rules are you want to eat fresh, whole foods and avoid processed foods and very sugary ingredients. Make sure you’re getting plenty of fruit, veggies, healthy fats and complete protein and ensure the calorie count isn’t too far above or below what you need.
This is the term used to describe the three basic building blocks of our diets. The three macros are protein, fats and carbohydrates. All of these are needed to make up a balanced diet but the exact proportion depends on the individual. An average macro split is 45–65% of your daily calories from carbs, 20–35% from fats and 10–35% from protein.
Micronutrients are the part of your diet that you need less of compared to macros but are just as important for overall health. Vitamins and minerals fall under the micronutrient category and there are too many needed to list here. To really understand what makes up a balanced diet for you as an individual it’s best to consult a dietitian or your physician for advice.
Juice cleansing restricts your daily calorie intake down to almost half what you need. Doing this short-term, maybe just a day cleanse, may have some health benefits (such as detoxification) but it’s not a substitute for a healthy balanced diet long term.