Sunday, June 17, 2018

Should You Detox?

Among the joys of blogging is this: you give yourself permission to write authoritatively about things you know nothing about. It doesn’t happen all the time. It only happens some of the time. Today is one of those days.

The topic is: detoxing. By that I am referring to the now trendy effort to cleanse your body of noxious toxins… through diets and even colonics. As I said, I know nothing about this. It has never registered on my mental radar screen. So I am barely competent to know who is telling the truth.

Yet, I have a nose for scams and de-toxing seems to qualify. Thus, the opening of a recent Slate article—written by someone named Rebecca Onion-- rang true:

Scientifically speaking, “detoxing” isn’t a thing. Your body doesn’t retainso-called toxins ingested via food or drugs or plastic dishes, or breathed in through air. You don’t sweat them out at yoga, get rid of them via special massage, or purge them through colonics. As writer Dara Mohammadi put it in a scorching takedown of the dominant wellness watchword of the past decade: “If toxins did build up in a way that your body couldn’t excrete, you’d likely be dead or in need of serious medical intervention.”

Yes, I am aware of the obvious fact that Ms. Onion’s surname has a marked affinity with a certain satirical publication. Such is life. By all indications, the comparison goes no further.

Dara Mohammadi’s piece appeared in the Guardian.

According to Onion, the New York Times has its very own My Detox column. Thus, it has found a way to appeal to a segment of its readers, even if the medical world thinks that it’s all a scam.

Given that scientists, doctors, and nutritionists have united in rejecting the very idea of a “detox,” it’s a bit head-scratching to read the New York Times’ T Magazine’s My Detox column, featuring attractive “creative people” sharing “the homemade recipes they count on to detox, cleanse—and refresh.” In a recent installment, the model Alek Wek recommends a Sudanese okra stew; she “adds a glass of detoxifying lemon juice” to her recipe when her life is about to get especially busy. In the column before that one, the rapper Junglepussy (Shayna McHayle) describes how she makes a lemon-scented body oil at home. “McHayle is choosy,” the writer Coco Romack notes, “about where she sources her beauty products, which she prefers chemical free.” (“Chemical-free,” like “detoxing,” is not really a thing.)

If you find the topic boring beyond your imagination, console yourself with the knowledge that you just learned that there is a rapper who has named herself Junglepussy.

Does the Times know that its My Detox column is there for amusement, not to save your body and soul? Yes, it does:

“ ‘My Detox’ is a column that is not essentially about science,” Jordan Cohen, a Times spokesman, wrote in an email. “It’s a subjective column meant to introduce T readers to interesting people and the personal stories of their own routines. As the tagline reads, T is simply putting a spotlight on the homemade recipes they count on. ‘My Detox’ pieces are not meant to serve as instructional stories.” (Though, if these “personal stories” are “not intended as instructional stories,” why include recipes?) Cohen added: “The Times’ science and health editors regularly offer guidance on relevant subject matter for sections when necessary.”

Onion continues that it all feels like binging and purging, a decidedly modern habit classified under the rubric of bulimia:

As the Times’ Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote in her great 2017 piece on the shift between an old “diet” paradigm and our “clean eating” world, talk of “cleansing” hides old compulsions in new clothing. In other words, the “detoxing” concept implies that it’s normal to lead a life where your body is “dirty,” then clean; dirty, then clean; over and over again. Boringly, the actual best way to stay healthy is to maintain a Pollan-esque diet, drink enough water, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep—over and over again, forever and ever. “Detoxing” is much more narratively exciting, but it also smacks of bingeing and purging, which isn’t sustainable or healthy.

So, you will wondering, what’s really going on here? Could it be that detoxing is a pseudo-religious ritual, a way to purify your psyche while supposedly purifying your body? In that case it seems to have more to do with mental health and enhanced spirituality than with anything else.

But, why do we feel that we are so corrupt. Why do we feel that we are walking cultures for contaminants? Why are we terrified that these toxic substances are about to kill us all? Is this just environmentalism gone amuck?

And besides, what is the gender breakdown of detoxing? Are men or women more likely to undertake these cleansing rituals?

If we are talking about bulimia, we are dealing mostly with females. There are precious few male bulimics, and precious few males who suffer from eating disorders like anorexia.

So, what are women gaining by detoxifying their bodies? Are they trying to rid their corporeal substance of the consequences of their encounters, casual or not, with toxic masculinity? Perhaps all of that sexual liberation is not quite as salutary as it seems? Perhaps women feel dirty—as well as ashamed-- for having engaged in liberating hookups?

As I said, I am not an expert on detoxing? But I am happy to ask a few questions that might provide a framework for addressing the prevalence of this bizarre quasi-religious ritual.

If you think that this is all crazy speculation, recall that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception involves a retroactive cleansing of a female body. Perhaps the Church-- via Duns Scotus-- was on to something.


Leo G said...

I was thinking more along the lines of original sin. For church goers, there is only one app - baptism. Seems the crunchy-tech crowd needs to continualy need to update their guilt and penance.

Sam L. said...

Forget it, Jake; it's NYT-city. (h/t, Ghinatown.)

Ares Olympus said...

Yes, it is all crazy speculation, but why not? It is certainly feminine issue, and not just for single women with too many hookups, but mothers also who want a pure environment for their children, along with vaccine and GMO fears as Whitney notes. The word "toxic" itself seems to carry trigger emotional charge to manipulate women into spending money and keeping the economy from collapsing into a liquidity crisis.

It would be nice if some brave scientist were to delve into the magical world of detoxing and find a few mostly harmless examples that at least partially work, ideally examples that can't be marketed for $179.99/month ($499.99 retail).

I am inclined to believe the idea that the body stores some potentially toxic chemicals in fat tissue, so when you're losing weight, you're also dosing your body with those released toxins, so you really can get sicker for a while while you're really getting better. So that's another good reason to lose weight slowly. Here's one random site!