Cleansing vs. Fasting


The holidays are a wonderful time. Lots of socialising, lots of merriment, lots of cheer and, of course, lots of nice food and drink! But in the new year, I predict that at least 8 out of 10 of us are going to be looking into a detox, or diet to kickstart a new healthy lifestyle.

But once the hangover has gone – what exactly will this detox mean for you?

Depending on what you read, how determined you are (and how guilty you feel!), you could be embarking on one of a million different detox programs.

If you look at a few detox diet pages on the internet then you will find a huge variety of opinions and methods.

This worries me. Not because I don’t think people should detox, but because some of the advice being dished out is pretty disturbing. And mostly because there seems to be absolutely no real definition of what a detox actually involves, and more worryingly, the terms FAST and CLEANSE are used almost interchangeably.

I see these as two VERY different concepts, and from searching around on the Internet and in magazines, the randomness of the advice given and the calls in some publications for fasting has left me a little concerned.

I have to say – this post has been inspired by a similar misinterpretation on a thread over at where people are emphasising a detox as a fast (most concerning – a ‘water fast’!)

The Difference Between Cleansing & Fasting

Having scoured the web, I am struggling to find a neat single, accepted definition of either cleansing or fasting and both cross over into definitions of detoxing.

Wikipedia defines fasting as:

Fasting is the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food and in some cases drink, for a period of time.

And from the sites I have researched, there is a varying length of time for fasting, ranging from 3-100 days. Some insist on consuming nothing at all, others suggest only water while (most famously) some suggest the lemonade fast (such as the Master Cleanse). In essence, they all emphasise that by ingesting almost nothing, the body will be forced to remove whatever it can from the blood, liver, kidneys, lymph and digestive tract. The result (according to one post at the forum above) will rid your body of toxins and will lead to stools that resemble plastic.

Cleansing, to me, has nothing to do with the above.

In fact, to cleanse the body I believe that we need to give the body MORE nutrients, minerals and energy foods in order to help it to heal and detoxify itself. By this, I mean a whole load of water, fresh vegetable juices and fresh, raw soups.

So whereas fasting is based upon giving the body nothing so that the toxins are forced out, cleansing is based upon feeding the body with the tools to cleanse itself.

Dr Young has provided two of the most powerful metaphors for this process – he describes it as a ‘liquid feast’ and an ‘internal shower’.

So whereas both approaches agree that you should absolutely remove all of the crap from your diet – the key difference is what you put in.

Now, I am not a biologist, a doctor or a qualified nutritionist – so this is not me prescribing that this is definitely the definitive way to go – but it simply makes more sense to me that if I want my body to heal itself and rid itself of toxins I need to give it the tools to do so.

I need to give it plenty of vitamins, minerals and nutrients to repair itself, cleanse the blood and flush the crap out and perhaps most importantly I need to give it fibre to brush the digestive system clean.

Is it just me or does this not make a lot more sense?

I mean, why would you want to starve your body of nutrients during such a vital time? There is a lot of debate as to where your body will derive it’s energy from and whether it really is from unnecessary fat stores or whether it is from muscle – either way I see this as being wholly unhealthy. Wouldn’t you rather infuse your body with goodness rather than trick it into pulling energy from wherever it can?

Personally, I think one of the most scary things about this is that it is almost guaranteed that the vast bulk of people who will try fasting are those that are not doing it for religious or pure health reasons, but because they want to lose weight.

Now if there is one thing that fasting absolutely guarantees it is that your metabolism will slow right down to a snail’s pace.

And once your metabolism slows right down, there is only one thing that is absolutely guaranteed – as soon as you return to normal eating habits your body will pile on fat reserves faster than you can say ‘…but Beyonce said so‘.

Cleanse and Fuel Your Body

See a cleanse as a way to nourish yourself back to your best. To reset and reboot…

It is such a great opportunity to rebuild and replenish and get yourself to your dream health quicker than you could ever imagine.

Fasting and lemon-detoxing just won’t get you there…


p.s. since writing this guide in 2006 intermittent fasting such as the 5:2 Diet have emerged. These are a different kettle of fish. The jury is still out. But it’s not what this article is relating to.

Ask Me a Question or Leave a Comment Here - I'd Love to Hear from You


  1. Anna Stelmach Reply

    Hello Ross, I love you blog and all the work you doing for the humanity to give the energy back and life that people need and deserve!!!. I did personally multiple times detox myself with a slow extracted vegetable juicer, but not the way you do. I did a water fast up to 7,5 days multiple times and my body responded great. But I was doing daily enemas and taking white bentonite clay and psyllium husk. Many people don´t do that! I must say my BIGGEST challenge is since childhood I have emotional eating, that I did not overcome yet, but I can regulate and keep the damage to low, through the right food choices in my life, but most difficult I find overcome habits deep in me.
    I did quit gluten :), I did quit diary :), I quit alcohol also I may have 1 glass cider in 3 months if, at all :),
    I nourish myself a lot with oxygen during breathing I´m Breath-Work coach also eat wild leafy greens like nettles, because I feel the power of leafy greens and in general green vegetables.
    But many people who are most challenging are those who, don´t like vegetables, or can’t digest vegetable raw or even cooked, or just in very small amounts. They don´t digest properly vegetables! What to do with these people, I want to help them with my mom, but I can´t :(.
    Does everyone has SIBO today?
    thank you for your help and I thinking to try your quit sugar programme, but I never manage on time.
    I´m sorry for both of us. But is there a book also I could buy that contain all that?
    Thank you
    All the best keep helping all of us 🙂
    I always say that, because the more people are on board the more healthy food and for better prices will be available for all to buy and for better prices 🙂

  2. Pingback: How to do an Alkaline Cleanse - The Complete Quick-Start Guide

  3. C Reply

    Hey there.. I’d like to contribute a few things about my experiences with cleansing and fasting….. Two TOTALLY different concepts all together.
    As a vegan I eat a fairly healthy diet, some fried things, some raw things… in my adventures in exploring veganhood the raw diet came in to the picture for a substantial chunk of time. Yes, I felt GREAT! I was dropping pounds like crazy and eating TOO MUCH TO BE TRUE! It does require preparation to make the super tasty dank stuff, but the amounts you would eat to hit your calorie mark were ridiculous! Raw vegan chocolate cake for breakfast? YES PLEASE!
    I encourage everyone to try it for at least a few weeks in order to really get the feel for it, and I honestly would encourage a few weeks of raw diet as a stepping stone for you hardcore meat eaters out there considering a fast. Not all of you, but most of you meat eaters eat the horomone filled crap to keep the belly full.. which could create a whole ‘nother slew of psychological and physical withdrawls / anxiety while detoxing / fasting. Also, if you do not take baby steps with 1 day fasting here and there, and then step it up to 3 days, etc.. you might find yourself wishing you had prepared come hour 16.. or 48. Your mind is very powerful.. but with any practice, PRACTICE is crucial.
    Cleansing allows the body to soak up GOOD NUTRIENTS, and make the body richer with wholesome nutrition.. Something we all should be doing anyways if you think about it!
    As with anything in life, balance is key.
    Have you ever done an extended fast? The benefits of fasting are entirely different than eating right and paying attention to what we put in our bodies!
    Look at it this way.. you allow your ENTIRE digestive system, organs, etc to sit back and relax! Who doesn’t like a vacation and a few weeks off?! For you hardcore drinkers this is the secret to avoiding organ failure! Don’t quote me but I do find faith in it! 😛
    If you are interested in fasting, do your homework and don’t jump into it blindly. I have passed stored up stool after 25+ days of water fasting. Talk about a cleanse. 😛
    Don’t knock it before you try it.

    • Ross Reply

      Hi C

      Thanks for your detailed and well thought through (and well written) input. I appreciate hearing different perspectives.


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  5. Pingback: How to do an Alkaline Cleanse - The Complete Quick-Start Guide

  6. Annalicia Reply

    With regards to Fasting I completed a full 32 day fast on purified water only to save my life. It was done under medical supervision and was the only thing that could of saved me at the time. I had done two smaller fasts of 8 and then 10 days before going on to do the longer one. Despite eating a semi-raw food diet and supplementing with green powders etc nothing really helped me to improve my health – or what was left of it after 18 years of Medical intervention and some of the most toxic drugs available. I was in a wheelchair for two years and bedridden for 3. After my Fast I had energy, no pain and could walk through the airport unaided. I firmly believe that Fasting is the ‘fastest’ way to clear and heal the body but I also agree that what you do afterwards is even more important. The revitalisation of the body, following a fast is nothing short of a miracle. I have never felt so alive or so intune with my own body and the foods I was putting in it. Food can be the most mind-blowing experience when used in the right way. Fasting should NEVER be used for weight loss but should be used (under supervision) for health issue!

    If I had not gone through this experience I would not have the understanding as to how it works. Both cleansing and fasting have a place and can work together – with Knowledge and guidance from a TRUE professional – to combat all areas of ill-health and wellbeing.

    As for Metabolism, like all energies in the body, when you fast it slows done and in this less enervated state the body can and does heal. Sure I had to rebuild slowly but my metabolism was fine and I kept of the 5 stone weight loss (side benefit) for over two years.

    I so thank you Ross and everyone at Energise for keeping us motivated, informed and cared about

    Love You – Annalicia

  7. Pingback: Cleansing vs. Fasting » Energise Blog: Health, Nutrition & Wellbeing | Weight Loss Blog

  8. Pingback: Water Fasting - Page 12

  9. Ross Reply

    As a follow up, many thanks to Merritt ( who have now edited their page. I had expressed that they were more than welcome to use my copy if they were willing to credit my site by linking to me as a reference, however they have a policy of not linking to other sites which I totally understand.

    The guys at Merritt are very friendly and are doing some excellent work which I wholeheartedly recommend.



  10. Ross Reply

    very good ‘wow’, but that page has used some of MY content.

    Those views that are copied are clearly mine and if you look at the words that have been lifted there is simply no way I could have entwined the plagarised copy into my article so neatly! These views are also expressed (that cleansing is about putting goodness IN, and not starving your body) throughout many pages of this blog and the website as a whole: (an article I wrote when the site kicked off in 2004) (from 2005) (from early 2006) (from last year)

    I could go on, but you will see various expressions of these points throughout my website, and you can clearly see that they are all using the same tone and writing style – mine.

    However, thanks for pointing this out to me. The authors at Merritt Accupuncture probably noticed that the content of this website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – NonCommercial – NoDerivs 2.0 License and may have misunderstood that you cannot use this content for any commercial purpose.

    I will get in touch with them and let them know.

    Kind regards

  11. WOW Reply

    wow, you TOTALLY plagiarized this website:

  12. JP Richards Reply

    Isn’t fasting about starving yourself?

    I believe, cleansing is about purifying from toxins, and great cleansing will replenishing your nutrients as you cleanse.


    JP Richards

  13. christa Reply

    i LOVED the master cleanse mainly because the energy i had was unreal… so great! i liked having those vivid dreams too. i didn’t even get on a scale because i knew it wasn’t for the weight management. no WAY i was going to get skinny on something like that.

    i DID start doing about 45 minutes of low-intensity cardio for maybe 3-4 times a week. i also tracked the food i was eating on and it really helped. after taking measurments i realized i had lost over 5 pounds of pure fat. in a month! you can totally tell when you look at me and i feel SO GOOD! to me, exercise is the best way. detox is good but ya…. not for weight loss.

  14. Amit Reply

    Hey Ross, Happy new year!!

    I’ve seen people try and use fasting for loosing weight and that is so dangerous especially over long periods as the metabolism can drop very low. This can be counteracted by drinking lots of water but either way it’s still not a good reason to fast.

    It’s a great article and it truly has got me thinking about one vs the other, maybe it’s time for an experiment…or maybe we should ask Stevie P to do one of his infamous 30 trials to let us know! 😛

    All the best.

  15. des merrion Reply

    I am going to get stuck in and get my excess weight off, starting 2nd January.
    I am using the traditional method, exercise, combined with healthy eating.
    Can you recommend any foods that can help me with my AS arthritis, I have had it in my lower back for years now and I need to keep on top of it.
    Des Merrion.

  16. Neelima Reply


    I’ve been curious about fasting too. Why do most religions and cultures encourage fasting at various levels? Is it the more spiritual connection between deprivation and spiritual growth or is it because fasting once in a while is necessary?

    An interesting post…gives fad dieters something to think about.

  17. marcel ikelaar Reply

    Hi Ross, a yoghateacher I know, his age is 60, is now on day 27 of a waterfast. He still gives yogha more than 40 hours a week (maybe even 50). How about that? But I can’t say he looks more healthy than before the fast, it’s more the opposite.

    Long live the green cleanse!

    kind regards, marcel

  18. Ross Reply

    Hi Jon

    Interesting points. I think that your concern about cleansing and detoxing being a new form of fad diet depends upon the cleanse or detox philosophy.

    If the information you read is framed by weight loss – then it probably is.

    But I believe that a cleanse should be a short (3-7 days) kickstart – not a cureall. During a cleanse you should also be consuming adequate amounts of essential fatty acids, meaning that your body will have good fats to use for energy, and will also give your body a useful amount of calories.

    Ultimately, a cleanse should not compromise the metabolism, especially as light aerobic exercise is also recommended (such as walking, running, rebounding, swimming or cycling). In fact, as the maximum length of the cleanse is 5-7 days I do not think that there will be significant reduction of metabolism – especially as you will actually be consuming more food than normal.

    And besides, I 110% agree with your comment ‘Reducing your metabolism is the last thing you want to do if you plan to reduce your weight’ – however, cleansing in my mind is NOT about weight loss, it is about health.

    I would be interested to hear your comments!


  19. Jon Reply

    I believe that cleansing an detox are really just new forms of diets fads. Our bodies are very capable of cleaning without having to radically change our diet. What we need to do after a period of binging is to eat healthily and sensibly and take some exercise. Reducing your metabolism is the last thing you want to do if you plan to reduce your weight. Get active and eat healthy and your body will look after itself!



  20. marcel ikelaar Reply

    Hi Ross, I did do a fast with a some fruit (and lemon !) but this was due to circumstances. (I still didn’t buy the equipments) My conclusion, after much reading and talking with people, is the same as yours: a cleanse with quick digestible vegetables (juicing and blending) is the best possible way
    By the way: maybe nice to know for you that I don’t get answers from the rawfoodworld on the following: 1) from fruitarians, that the fruit nowadays is much sweeter than it used to be (so less suitable for eating in large quantities) and 2) the mono-eaters are not answering to my remarks that they miss the synergy of simultanously eaten nutrients

    (for example: avocado with tomato = much stronger than each eaten solo, because the carontenoids influence
    eachothers force by many times)
    k regards, Marcel

  21. Ross Reply

    Hi Marcel

    Great comments and great questions.

    I agree wholeheartedly with you when you say how important it is for us not to expend energy digesting whilst we are trying to heal our bodies, and this is the premise around cleansing with only raw soups, fresh vegetable juice and water (with lemon or lime squeezed in of course!). By sticking with these foods and drinks VERY little energy is required for digestion, and the body can assimilate the nutrients extremely quickly with almost no energy required.

    It is for this reason that I think that a cleanse will yield better results than a fast.

    However, I am not a biology expert so I cannot predict for sure – this is just common sense for me.

    Feed the body with nutrient dense foods which require little to no effort to break down and you will see better results than feeding it with nothing at all.

    What did you consume on your fast? Was it just water?

    By the way, great to hear from you buddy,

  22. marcel ikelaar Reply

    Hi Ross, interesting Topic ( I fasted for about 10 days, some months ago, and learned a lot).

    * I agree with you that using fasting as a method for losing weight is a huge error and a way of mis-using.

    * The most important aspect of fasting is, that by saving energy we normally use for digestion, which can be 30% of all the energy we use, this surplus of energy can be used for healing, removing weak tissues etc…
    Most people are so busy digesting that they will never have the free energy for this healing purposes.

    * The BIG question is: can cleansing, in the way you describe it, reach as far as fasting, on the points that I describe
    above? Will we not miss, while cleansing, this enormous extra energyshot?
    What is your opinion? Why not first cleansing and then fasting (so in this way our body is fully supplied with nutrients,
    and we will not be short of them while fasting). Is that a solution? One of the biggest errors is beginning fasting when not enough saturated with all kinds of nutrients.

    Thanks for opening this subject, Marcel (lightlover)