Have you all been enjoying banana ice cream? I hope so! If not, get thee to thy food processors!
So did anyone happen to catch this article in the latest issue of Self Magazine? It’s called “The Dangers of Detox Diets,” and it addresses the rising trend of popular cleanses and detox protocols in Hollywood. My buddy Kath blogged about it today, and I’ve been meaning to mention it here for obvious reasons: my blog is devoted primarily to raw foods, but it’s also a vehicle for sharing responsible information about my personal experiences with cleansing and detoxification. The keyword there is, of course, responsible; I applaud Janelle Brown’s article for shedding light on the misinformation and falsely articulated motives that so often accompany so-called “detox diets.” At the same time, I take issue with some of the article’s oversights and generalizations, and I think it’s worth laying out my two cents about the article’s strengths and weaknesses.
The basic premise of the article is this: it’s no longer acceptable—in Hollywood or elsewhere—to openly say that one is dieting (or, as is often the tragic case, starving). To be on a “diet” makes one look bitchy, disordered, or, worst of all, naturally inclined to be heavy. But to be on a “cleanse”? Different story: this looks noble, spiritual, green. It looks cool. At best, of course, this is nothing more than superficiality masquerading as depth; at worst, it’s a way of masking disordered eating—consciously or unconsciously—as a healthy regimen.
For the most part, I agree that this is real and very dangerous phenomenon. In fact, nothing annoys me more than the following statements:
“I’m trying a detox.”
“I’m doing this cleanse…”
“I’m on a detox diet.”
Why? As with so many matters in my life (I’m an editor, after all), it’s an issue of grammar. My friend Gil is always reminding clients and audiences that “detox” and “cleanse” should not be preceded by articles: we don’t do “a cleanse;” we cleanse. We don’t perform “a detox”; we detoxify. When people talk about “a detox” or “a cleanse,” they’re most likely referring to a program that transpires over the course of days or weeks, or (worse) an herbal protocol or “flush” that is supposed to magically rid the body of poisons overnight. I take serious issue with all of these measures. For one thing, they’re often ill-advised: I’ve looked at the ingredient labels on some of the herbal “cleanses” out there, and they’re pretty freaky. Furthermore, I don’t believe that these products do much to cleanse the bowel or the body; for the most part, they’re nothing more than overpriced laxatives.
But it’s the notion of short-term success that really bothers me. Real cleansing—that is, really ridding the body of many years’ worth of accumulated toxins—is a process that should be undertaken carefully, consciously, and slowly. It should progress gradually, and it should take a long time. It isn’t as simple as picking up a book or drinking some vegetable juice. It involves gradual dietary change and long-term dedication. It means the slow and steady incorporation of alkaline foods into the body and the encouraging of healthy digestion and elimination to release old waste. Anything less—especially sudden extremes—is most likely a diet in disguise.
I cannot tell you how often I get asked whether there’s a book or plan that I recommend for detox. And my answer is always no. There are books I recommend for their recipes, and there are books I recommend because they contain some useful information. But there is no single resource that I recommend as a guide for detox. Why? First, because each body is different. And because any kind of “plan” tends to reinforce guilt about obeying or breaking rules. A few of you have picked up The Raw Food Detox Diet. This is great: the book contains plenty of tasty recipes and knowledge (and an interview with Gil). But I don’t recommend it—or any other book—as a specific protocol. Any long-term shift towards healthier eating involves individualization; it is contingent on one’s specific needs, goals, emotional history with food, and lifestyle. Books can’t account for these factors, because they’re written for wide swaths of people. They can offer useful information, of course, but that’s all they can do: they can’t serve as specific guides. And oftentimes, healthy eating plans—even those aimed at detoxification—can reinforce the very perfectionism, guilt, or food fixation that readers are looking to escape. If you’re looking to eat more raw, try small, feasible, everyday steps that work for your body, such as starting with one raw meal a day, and see if you can personalize your journey.
Plans and “detoxes” also tend to suggest that if you eat a certain way for a few days or weeks, you’ll suddenly be clean for life. If only it were so easy! Detoxification isn’t a quickie process; it’s a journey that can, and should, take a long time. Any effort to speed the process overnight is bound to fail. If you’re seriously intent on detoxification or cleansing, you should be prepared to move slowly and devote a solid chunk of your life to the process. If you’re impatient—if you’re looking for a quick fix—it’s wise to examine your motives.
Another frequent question I receive is whether or not I endorse popular three-day juice fasts (like Blueprint) or the master cleanse (a protocol that gets a lot of heat in the article) as a means of kick-starting detox. No, I don’t. You all know that I’m in favor of incorporating juices into a healthy diet. But I believe that juice fasting should only be undertaken on top of a very clean and alkaline diet, and (ideally) with the supervision of a colonic hydrotherapist. Otherwise, you run the risk of drudging up too many toxins too quickly, of shocking your system with the sudden absence of food, and of reabsorbing toxins that have been awakened in the process.
More fundamentally, I don’t believe that trendy juice deliveries or fasts do much to teach the real life skills of detoxification: learning how to eat healing foods each and every day; learning how to make juice, rather than waiting for it to be magically delivered in a box. Anyone who’s done a short fast can probably attest to the fact that fasting for a day or a few is actually a lot simpler than eating healthy on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, many people who go from unhealthy diets to short-term fasts end up going right back to old habits when they finish. Which is why I’m often suspicious of women who claim to be fasting for a few days in order to “detoxify”—since it’s nearly impossible to detoxify in a lasting or meaningful way from a single fast, it seems to me that weight loss is the more likely motive.
So obviously, I’m very much in agreement with some of the Self article. I dislike the false designation of magic plans as “detoxification,” and I’m even more unnerved by the dissonance between people’s stated motives and true intentions.
The article goes on to detail some of the wackier and more extreme cleanses on the market: the master cleanse (which I disavow except as a pleasantly spicy lemonade recipe), various herbal tinctures, powders, which I also think are nuts (there’s not a single powder mix that I recommend—sorry guys, this includes the popular Amazing Grass), and diets that eliminate all sugar. I’m glad it does this: I think that all of the regimens above are highly inadvisable and impermanent—not to mention opportunistic marketing ploys.
The article attacks colonics, making the mainstream claim that they wash out healthy gut flora and cause dependence; here I disagree firmly. Gravity-administered colonics, performed by an ethical hydrotherapist, are specifically intended to restore colon health and gut flora, and to stimulate peristalysis that’s been impaired by digestive distress or disorder. The article also takes a little stab at raw foods, with its description of Aimie Popovitch, a “39-year-old Los Angeles homemaker and mother who went on a raw-food diet, eating only uncooked fruit, vegetables and nuts and started drinking a lot of water.” Aimie felt great until the day she was hospitalized for malnourishment, electrolyte imbalance and kidney failure caused by hyponatremia (over-hydration). (In fairness, the article goes on to say that Aimie still eats a mostly raw diet and feels great.)
What it doesn’t say—and what I wish it would—is that Aimie was clearly following a raw diet incorrectly. If nothing else, she was over-hydrating, which any practiced raw foodist will warn you NOT to do: in fact, raw foods are so hydrating that it’s often wise to decrease water intake as one begins a high-raw meal plan. Perhaps if Aimie had sought the guidance of a counselor—or at least researched enough to know that the hydrating foods on a raw diet provide quite a bit of water themselves—she could have avoided the frightening scenario.
And herein lies the article’s big weakness. In criticizing the pitfalls of detox plans gone awry, it fails to address the realities of detoxing and cleansing done right. And the implicit suggestion—the suggestion of omission—is that true detoxification doesn’t really exist: if someone says they want to detoxify, they must be disordered or looking to lose weight.
Naturally, I disagree with this implication. It may be true that there are countless ill-advised and dishonest “detox” plans out there. But that does not mean that there isn’t such a thing as detoxification. Anyone who has embarked on a conscientious and well informed detoxification journey can attest to its realities; it’s an incredible and health-altering process. But it must be done carefully, patiently, and mindfully. The goal shouldn’t be four-week transformation, but rather a lifetime of improvement. The steps shouldn’t be radical regimes or painful restriction, but rather manageable steps towards overall improvement. And it should be undertaken in an educated manner, or with the guidance of someone who is disinterested—not, in other words, someone who’s marketing a special elixir or powder.
In choosing not to address the possibility of this kind of detoxification, and choosing not to incorporate the perspective of anyone who’s lived through an entirely health-enforcing detoxification journey—let alone a health practitioner with a knowledge of raw foods or detox—the article errs, I think, on the side of bias. I can’t convince anyone that there is such a thing as detoxification done right—either you’ve studied this topic, and you believe in cleansing (and hopefully, if you read my blog, you do), or you don’t. We’re all entitled to either perspective. But the best magazine-length journalism incorporates varied perspectives, pro and con—even if the ultimate thrust is a sharply definitive one. And in this regard, I think that Janelle Brown fails.
The article also fails to call attention to personal responsibility. It vilifies fad diets and radical detox plans; this isn’t a bad thing, of course. Those protocols deserve every bit of criticism they get. But those wild plans exist because people support them, often under false pretenses. And no matter how pressured those people been by the media or society to lose weight, it’s ultimately their choice to endorse the craziness. At the end of the day, we can all abuse various methodologies for self-destructive purposes. I see plenty of women abuse exercise–especially distance running–for the calorie burn. This saddens me, but it is hardly the fault of exercise; in the same way, the abuse of a practice like juice fasting, which serves a purpose when undertaken mindfully and carefully, is not the fault of vegetable juice.
At the end of the day, we’re all accountable for both the dietary choices we make and the rubric under which we make them—true or untrue. Raw foods and cleansing are certainly vulnerable to abuse and misuse, but in that regards the lifestyle is no different than any other; I think it’s safe to say that just as many women abuse conventional diet plans under the guise of “healthy eating” as they do detoxification.
What ultimately differentiates “a cleanse” from “cleansing” are one’s personal incentives. I encourage all of you who are interested in raw foods to examine your motives: if you’re thinking about detoxification because you want to drop pounds fast, look great in a bikini, or maintain an inadvisably low body weight while all the while appearing “healthy,” I gently urge you to take stock of your feelings towards your body. No way of living, not even a whole foods and plant-based diet, can bestow good health on the body if a truly unhealthy mindset is in place.
If you’re suffering from ill health, low energy, or digestive distress; if you feel that a cleaner and greener diet might benefit your lifestyle; if you want to make more plant-based and whole foods upgrades to your way of living, then I encourage you—now and always!—to explore raw foods and cleansing. I can attest–as can many others–to the joy of this way of living. But as always, I encourage you to do it intelligently.
True detoxification—the kind that nourishes and heals—is a process that demands patience, a well-informed perspective, and—most of all—an immense respect for one’s body. This kind of detoxification can’t be had in quickie cleanses or in a tub of powder. It’s not that simple, and it’s not that shallow. But it’s out there!
Be careful, everyone, and follow your own best and most honest intentions.