Recently my father approached me as I am the “eating disorder aficionado” in our family, to ask for my thoughts on the latest fad among teens. “Temimah, what do you know about cleanses? Apparently it’s the next big thing and some students are drinking them in school. I’m just curious what you think about it…”
At the time I did not understand just what a cleanse was. After researching cleanses and speaking to some peers I have found a response that I feel answers my father’s question as well as addresses our community at large: I am baffled and saddened by cleanses.
My first knowledge of cleanses came after hearing about them on television. In my mind the concept was simply a satire meant to promote humour, mocking the level of “health and weight fanatics” of our society…In my mind a cleanse was equated with a colonoscopy, rather than a new diet trend.
There are numerous cleanses out there, each with their own catchy title. They consist mostly of juices that are meant to replace meals and flush out all the toxins that build up inside the body. Some people have these juices along with meals as they contain many vitamins and natural fruits and vegetables. Individuals who consume juices alongside a meal for nutrients do not baffle me. Rather, it is individuals who replace meals with cleanses and do so for weight loss purposes.
Food is meant to be enjoyable…we have taste buds for a reason. When our bodies are hungry we are meant to choose a meal that will satisfy this hunger and taste delicious! A healthy eater will eat when he is hungry and stop when he is full. Unfortunately our society is riddled with un-healthy eaters, or individuals with disordered eating. People tend to eat now not to enjoy themselves but instead to provide a means to an end. My body wants food so I will consume the least amount of calories possible. And then an hour later, these people wonder why they want more and feel angry at themselves for “giving in” to these cravings.
My body needs calories but instead of preparing a hearty meal or enjoying a delicious dish with friends, I will get these calories buy consuming juices that will flush out my system! And then they wonder why the weight they may have lost during the cleanse comes right back when they over-eat tremendously once they return to solid foods. We are not meant to trick our bodies out of the food it needs. And more importantly, for the most part this is does done from a healthy place.
There is a subtype of Anorexia called “orthorexia” which involves individuals who strictly eat “healthy” foods (organic, vegetarian). They believe that this will help them lose weight and keep their bodies “pure.” I can safely say that most of these people were not told to do so by their doctors. And if they were, the way they practice this behavior is on a level that the doctor did not intend; it becomes obsessive unyielding. Our bodies know how to rid themselves out what can be called “toxins” on their own. The food we eat is not meant to be measured or considered bad. Instead, we should view food as enjoyable and what our bodies need, rather than something to be flushed out.
I brought up the topic of cleanses with a friend of mine the other night and he adamantly exclaimed that he had once gone on a cleanse - not to lose weight but to rid his body of the toxins that processed foods may have created. I believe that our bodies can generally get rid of toxins naturally. While I may not agree with my friend’s mentality, it was important to note because I am not addressing this article to people who have a mindset similar to my friend. Rather I am addressing the fact that what most likely started as an innocent health practice has become a diet trend, akin to a laxative, that is now spreading among high school students! I believe I am safe in saying that most individuals on a cleanse – such as these 15 year old girls – were not encouraged to do so by their doctors…So if the doctor didn’t tell our precious youth to only take in cleanses, who did? If the doctors do not prescribe cleanses, then who does?
The same people who tell us to completely eliminate one or more food groups as part of a diet and who tell us that a size 00 is normal: the industries and the media. Take a moment to reflect on who sets the weight standard, who tells us the definition of beauty, and who dictates the best way to lose 20 pounds in one month? Beauty should be something we define within ourselves, based not on appearance but on who we are as people. Within the Jewish culture we have the value of one’s soul’s needs being the defining factor of what should be done to the body. And yet, I often see Jewish college students passing by me discussing the food on their mind that they “just can’t eat” holding green juice in one hand and anguish and hunger in the other. We are told what is attractive rather than defining on our own what beauty should be.
We are looked at like consumers and our bodies are the goods. Instead of appreciating the vessel that houses our thoughts, talents, and traits, we look for any way we can to change it to fit some commercial ideal created by people who do not genuinely care for any of our real needs or concerns.. I can appreciate healthy diets that exist but I do not find that the diet industry promotes a healthy mindset. We are taught to count and monitor rather than laugh and own what we were given.
In the depth of my eating disorder I despised my body. I abused my body, eating miniscule amounts and over-exercising. And when I tell this to people they “tsk” and shake their heads and exclaim how glad they are that I’m doing better. And yet…we fail to “tsk” and shake our heads at the people who are depriving their bodies of the pleasures of food. Instead our society celebrates these people; they’re the ones who are achieving “success” and able to control their looks and fit into slim-fit clothing. I can safely say that these people are not truly happy. How can one be happy depriving oneself of a natural need, conforming to a definition that capitalists put forth?
The simple answer is that I do not approve of cleanses. I do not think that anyone, let alone teenagers, should be replacing meals to “purify” their systems. It is time to create our own definitions of beauty and to stand up against the trends we are told to follow. We must learn to appreciate our bodies and set our own examples of what healthy and happy truly mean.
To find out about Temimah’s personal thoughts on cleanses, visit her Time’s of Israel blog.
By Temimah Zucker