Eating a Hair Shirt

Is anybody ‘doing a cleanse’ this Christmas season? No? Thought not. That hair shirt is for January.

Cleanses are for people who believe their body stores toxins from food. I’m not that person. I subscribe to the liver and kidney theory – that they will clear toxic stuff away. That’s their purpose. Ask anyone who doesn’t have a good one of either.

True, we are asking these organs to perform stellar duty these days. We give them too much processed food, too much alcohol, too much sugar. Especially at Christmastime.

But a cleanse is no way to clean up December’s excesses. How about just ceasing being excessive? It’s too hard to sustain a life of everything all the time, anyway. Besides, not being excessive is what most of us do in January.

Here’s what the Mayo Clinic says about cleanses. The Guardian newspaper has been debunking the cleansing myth for several years. Whether you read these seems to depend on whether you believe. Cleansing proponents believe in cleansing in the same way that anti-vaccers believe their thing, or that the Evil Eye needs to be warded off. Science is never going to win over emotion.

One of the motivations for cleansing is guilt. We have so much food in our culture and other cultures have none. We go ahead and eat too much of the wrong things (the devil’s food – sugar, fat, salt) and ignore the good (halo food – quinoa and kale). We abuse our bodies and our souls so we have to purify them.

He Believes

A Catholic friend I know does a cleanse whenever he feels the awful toxins have taken over. And he plans to do one when the excesses of eating his way through Christmas is over. He will approach it just like confession: do what he pleases and accept that there will be a penance, which (and this is important) will be later.

Cleanses are a way of rectifying the bad, a ‘look at me, I was bad and now I’m good’. Cleanses are the hair shirt of eating.

Nobody, but a scant few like Gwyneth Paltrow, really enjoys a diet of only halo food (a cleanse is only halo food). Everyone knows it is critical that we eat halo food, after all it’s good for us. But do people know it’s also critical that we eat a little of the devil’s food?

My Grandmother Wasn’t Wrong

The problem, as my grandmother would have said (she was born in 189something and so long gone), is that outright feasting on the devil’s food and too much ignoring the halo food is bad. We can’t do that. Okay, she wouldn’t have said it this way. She would have said something about moderation. An out-dated concept. Today it’s everything, then nothing.

My grandmother couldn’t afford much bad food and sugar (the baddest) was scarce for a homesteading Albertan. But bad was never out the scene, just put in it’s place and treated as a treat. Remember the concept of treats?

The Money 

My friend’s particular cleanse means that for ten days he doesn’t drink alcohol and eats a lot of vegetables. He spends $80.00 to be instructed in getting his toxic-free body (there are no potions to mix up). I don’t ask what all the vegetables do because I already know (as do you). The vegetables (and the no alcohol) is the cleanse, which he could do on his own and save dollars.

But anteing up is part of the penance. Just spend $80.00 (or more) and you are on the road to right and righteousness. Also you have paid $80 (or whatever) and for many the spend is the motivator.

Never mind that cleanses are only sold where there is excess. They’re not sold in places where staving off malnutrition and staying alive is the focus. A cleanse company wouldn’t make it in a refugee camp. But they can and do flourish in western culture. The US detox industry is worth billions and billions of dollars (something like 60) and growing. With three times a day, for the length of the cleanse, there is a sizeable opportunity to make people feel inadequate and guilty and therefore cleanse away their shame (and toxins).

Purity or Pleasure?

I get the quest for purity and that guilt is an operational imperative for many. But why food? Just be thankful that we have so much and indulge in it for a short time. Then you can forget the hair shirt and donate your $80+ to someone who really needs it.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.