Happy New Year, my dears!
As the brightness of the holidays fades into the dark belly of Winter, I’m reflecting on all that’s changed for me in the past year
and planning what I’d like to create in the year ahead. Taking stock is a meaningful part of New Year’s celebrations for many and you may find yourself considering goals & dreams you have for the year ahead in many areas of your life, including your health. The newness of the year might be pushing you on toward a new regimen or a renewed commitment to your well-being. This can be a lovely and useful thing if it’s coming from a place of self-love and self-awareness.
There’s a tempting pitfall that can trip up even highly intelligent, informed health seekers like you, and I’m so sick of seeing people get hurt with this stuff that I’m taking the gloves off and writing this to you today straight from my gut.
The potential trap to watch out for? It’s detox.
Detox programs come in every form you can imagine—fasts, sweats, laxative herbs, colonics & enemas, certain forms of massage, potions & pills—all of these things can be combined into various programs & protocols to create the latest detox fad. These programs range from mild to extreme and often have just enough of a basis in fact & wholesomeness to sound reasonable–but it’s not your intellectual self that they really appeal to. They pull on your emotions and on deep desires that you might not even be able to put into words.
There’s an aesthetic to “cleansing.” There’s a seductive promise that on the other side of a detox you’ll be cleaner inside and out with glowing skin, a slimmer figure, clearer mind… on some level, they seem to conjure up images of a cleaner spirit, too. Trouble is, no amount of deprivation or medication (herbal or otherwise) can heal your heart or satisfy this longing. In fact, most detoxes don’t deliver on their more superficial promises, either. What they do—and quite reliably—is set the seeker up for a potentially miserable cycle of restricting and bingeing. Massive servings of guilt and shame can follow, along with a desire to return to the physical and mental high experienced on the detox. The cycle can repeat again and again until the seeker finds a way to nourish herself both with food and life experiences that can satisfy her longings in a way that strict detoxing never will.
Cleansing & detoxification programs are a valued part of many herbal medicine traditions and have a valid place in supporting health for some people, under specific circumstances. What makes me want to scream from the rooftops this time of year (and year-round in some alternative health circles) is the constant harping on detoxification as the ONLY strategy to restore health, “toxins” as the root of all disease & dysfunction, and the promotion of programs that are damaging to people’s physical & mental health. Detoxification is not a panacea. A lot of what passes for “detox” these days is downright dangerous—even for healthy people. For people who have challenges with their physical and mental health, “detox” and the mentality that accompanies it can become deadly.
Ideas about health and healing are cultural. It’s no accident that a focus on purging & cleansing arose in Western medical history around the time of the Inquisition. That was a time in Western history when the body (especially the female body) was equated with sinfulness and filth. One of my teachers is so emphatic about the damage done by all of this “cleansing” we do to our bodies (which are naturally self-cleaning, thanks to Mother Nature) that she draws a parallel between excessive detoxification and the horrors of ethnic cleansing and eugenics. The comparison is extreme; she argues that a similar kind of disdain for life in all of its diversity & complexity is at the root of both.
Your body is not dirty.
You don’t need to atone for anything by mortification of the flesh.
Nourishment, not cleansing, lays the foundation for health.
Questions to Ask
If you ever find yourself considering a detox, get a pad and paper and get fiercely honest with yourself as you write the answers to these questions. This is a way of giving yourself the space to get to the deeper pull of what’s drawing you to the idea of detoxing in the first place.
Then, give yourself some time away from your answers. Look at them after a day or two and see what emerges. You might find that you’re feeling hopeless about your health and looking for a way to take dramatic action on your own behalf. You might find that you’re struggling in another area of your life and the rigor of a detox would provide a distraction from that pain. Or, you might feel like your intuition is telling you that something isn’t right with your health and you need to get the support of proper health care.
1. What are my big dreams and goals? Am I taking action on them in some way? Or am I feeling stuck and unsure about how to move forward with them?
2. Am I feeling shame about my body, my emotions, or my Self?
3. Have I consulted with my doctor or health care team about my plans? If not, why not?
4. Do I have any history of disordered eating, whether it was diagnosed as a clinical eating disorder or not? How might a detox affect my relationship with food & nourishment?
5. Why do I want to embark on a detox? What do I imagine I’ll get out of it?
6. Is there any part of me that thinks this isn’t a good idea? What arguments does that part of me make against doing this detox? What plan of action would that part suggest instead?
7. End by writing about anything else that comes up for you. Leave your answers for awhile and re-read them in a day or so. See what you notice.
My dear reader, I hope that you’ll come back to this post anytime that you need to hear these words. I hope that you’ll use the urge to detox as a kind of inner alert system signalling you that there are parts of your life & health that want your attention. I hope that you’ll make an appointment with me if you need help sorting through the information out there and if you decide that you’d benefit from my individualized approach to natural health. And most of all, I hope that you’ll have a happy, healthy, and well-nourished start to your New Year.