The Dark Side of Detoxing

ON February 6, 2014

by Sadie Chanlett-Avery 

Last week my Facebook newsfeed flooded with updates about detoxing. “Cleanse Day 3: lost 2 lbs., drinking a kale smoothie, and feeling great!”

I admit it: The detox stuff makes me cringe. What makes us feel so filthy that we need to be cleansing? Are we packaging traditional, restrictive, and short-term dieting in New Age jargon?

In my graduate studies in Holistic Health Education I once tried a detox program during a nutrition course. I juiced vegetables twice a day, ate a mineral broth at night, and sipped the Master Cleanse lemonade concoction through the day.  I lost 8 lbs. in that week. The next two weeks I regained that 8lbs.

That week I detached from my fundamental hunger cues and the social connections of sharing food. I felt lonely, hungry, and miserable. My classmates and friends praised my perseverance as an act of asceticism. Why do we consider self-denial so commendable and pious?

Admittedly, not eating whole foods for a week took it a little far. Yet the experiment taught me a lot. Perhaps self-control is the exception in our first-world abundance.

Bombarded with an oversupply of tantalizing food, health information, and dietary instruction,  it’s easily to feel lost and out of control. With a vow not to cross over to the dark side, a cleanse contains you in predetermined choices. Yet depending on the program, the dark side may contain food like yogurt and oatmeal.

Detox protocols are always described by their forbidden list. The diabolical foods often include wheat, dairy, caffeine, alcohol and sugar. With every bite  you can anoint yourself as a saint or a sinner. Good girls eat their chard and quinoa. Succumbing to a pizza craving is bad. “Cleansing” atones for your dietary sins. Doesn’t that thinking perpetuate yo-yo dieting?

How do we evolve beyond this dogma? What builds a more sustainable and stable approach to eating? Most importantly, when are my friends going off their detox so we can go out for dinner?

First, I acknowledge we live in an era of mindless consumption.  Any eating plan offers awareness of the foods and drinks that enter our mouth. A proper elimination diet can successfully identify allergens and food sensitivities that cause chronic health problems. The rigidly of a prescribed diet provides a chance to witness and contend with our addictions and habits.

Ultimately, the program should equip you with enough self-knowledge that you no longer need a program.  The goal of any health plan should be to build a resilient self-concept beyond the doctrines of good and evil. When you trust yourself, ubiquitous temptations no longer haunt like hungry ghosts and continual purging becomes unnecessary. Detox programs can offer a dietary “makeover” but eventually the training wheels need to come off.  Balanced nourishment sustains long-term health and allows for daily, sensual pleasures.

Read more from Sadie on her blog.

Find a class with Sadie at Namaste here.

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