Sick of cleanse and detox bullshit, yes I am

Published on January 23, 2012 by      Print
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By Shana Sturtz

My roots are in Oregon, where the commonalities of my childhood were marijuana growing in my neighbors’ backyards, Rice Dream, and attempts at making tofu as delicious as dead flesh. Having a sweet tooth, my Dad opted for the Sweet-n-Low alternative, swearing this was a healthy option, but for most, sugar — including the artificial sort — was not tolerated. This was the 1970s though, before detox, cleanse, and gluten-free were everyday language. It was also before food alternatives dominated the US consumer market.

There were some preachy diet folk in my neighborhood who restricted their children’s diets to an extreme. This resulted in kids stashing candy under their beds for regular feasting, as well as lifelong food issues and eating disorders. My parents weren’t that restrictive (my mom grew up on things like tongue and salami), and so it wasn’t until I entered the world of yoga teachers and trainings that I became increasingly food-focused and paranoid.

How much diet transformation was enough?

My yoga TT experience was full of people attempting to be raw-foodies, juicing their veggies, and cleansing by ingestion of salts and herbs. And there were glowing reviews of colon cleanses, something my Grandma used to administer to my dad (against his will) in their bathroom, but not something I wanted to pay hundreds of dollars for. I felt some pressure and doubt about my resistance to the world of cleansing. Should I be fasting and only drinking lemon water like my fellow teachers? Did my insides need cleaning? Did I need to do this shit so I could talk about it with my students, or could I admit my true belief — which was to drink water and lay off alcohol, and that would be enough of a cleanse?

A little history: Every year while growing up I was semi-expected to forgo food for Yom Kippur to repent for my sins the previous year. Sure, what sins? I would make it maybe two hours into the day, and then binge on lasagna while standing at the refrigerator. The only year I managed to fast for six hours was after partying late the night before and sleeping through most of Yom Kippur day. My point: I don’t do fasting. I am a hungry person. And as far as mysterious herbs and other flushing mechanisms, I don’t trust them and never felt the need to go there.

But again, I felt a nagging guilt about this in the yoga world. Everyone else seemed to be game and paying the big money for detox programs.

Fast forward to now. I am a yoga teacher living in Guadalajara, Mexico, land of the meat everything, where “vegetarian” means you don’t eat beef, but you still eat pig’s ears; where you are considered a picky eater if you don’t eat tripe. Here, nobody talks about food elimination, and in fact, Mexico may fall as a society if forced to eliminate Coca-Cola. People eat what they like. For my husband, this move was prompted by a job change, but for me it was a welcome escape from what I saw as a competitive and self-indulgent Portland yoga scene. A scene that put too much emphasis on what people should and should not eat, and where anyone could lead their own cleanse, and did.

Living in Mexico, I am struck by peoples’ unadorned, guilt-free pleasure of food. I also love the pride most women seem to have in their bodies. The women rocking it at the gym are strong, muscular, and eat heartily. Nobody talks about cleansing; no one talks about wheat vs. gluten-free. How liberating to see people enjoying food without so much baggage and analysis. I try not to judge the diet here, even though I think most people back home would have considerable difficulty with acceptance.

I am, however, not shielded from the growing cleanse talk in Portland and around the US, especially exploding with popularity in the New Year.

Recently, I attended a yoga gathering in Mexico filled with Americans, and I left even more disillusioned with the US yoga community. The food served at our retreat was healthfully prepared with fresh ingredients that had to be brought in on a boat from Puerto Vallarta, because of our remote location. Preparation of fresh and healthy meals was labor intensive for a variety of reasons. I was overjoyed to eat this kind of food in Mexico, not to mention that the staff was so thoughtful in their preparation. However, some of the group did not share my joy, and continuously asked questions like, “Did this strawberry touch a kiwi?,” and “Did this piece of fish come in contact with a sea turtle?” Even though many people had legitimate food concerns, the requests and pickiness seemed way overdone.

I felt heartbroken by all the fussiness, all the food sent back, wasted and untouched. I hated the fact that our group was so high maintenance, and that the people who served and cooked for us were working and trying so hard. And so, I guess this is some of the perspective that living away from Oregon has given me: Yogis, try to let go of your control around food just a little bit, especially when you are in another land. And, cleanse if you must, but then just enjoy food for awhile, no strings attached

About Shana Sturtz

Shana Sturtz is a certified yoga teacher and survivor of the exploding Portland, Oregon yoga scene. She currently lives in Guadalajara, Mexico with her husband, Tom. She continues to teach yoga and tutors in English. She has practiced yoga for 15 years, and yes, she is older than most yoga teachers. She is currently looking for more ways to occupy her time in this new land where she hasn’t quite grasped the language, and she is too scared to drive. Coming from Portland, you only learn to ride a bike. While no longer living in Portland (where a new yoga studio opens every hour) she is forced to practice her yoga within the comforts of her home, often with her cat looking on admiringly.


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  1. Jenifer says:

    I’m not calling this an eating disorder, but eating disorders are often about control — or really feeling completely out of control, so you control that one thing.

    I think that many americans feel very, very out of control. And so, they turn to something that they can “control” and that is food. Not that every american has an eating disorder, btu I think it is part of the explanation around why we are so obsessed.

    • T.A.H. says:

      Wish there was a ‘like’ button to press — ‘like’ Jennifer’s comment above. I’ve thought similarly about the whole food/control/abundance/diet-enforced-scarcity issue for a long while.

    • Shana says:

      I agree. Especially when Americans are travelling out of the country, they often feel very out of control in regards to their surroundings, not knowing a language, etc. So it’s not a coincidence that people try to control their food in these situations.

  2. Joslyn Hamilton says:

    So true, Jenifer. I will go a little further and just straight up call it an eating disorder. And as someone who actually HAD a clinically-defined eating disorder growing up, it’s all so familiar. This is part of why I cringe when people try to push their latest cleanse on me. I have spent a lifetime working on being less controlling about food. Meanwhile, the peeps around me seem to be creating their own eating disorders left and right.

  3. Christine says:

    LOVE this!!!!

    Thanks for your honest viewpoint!!

  4. Susanna says:

    so well written shana! I so appreciate your viewpoint…and completely agree!!!

    • Shana says:

      Susanna, Thank you. We really miss you down here in Mexico and I hope your life back in the States is going well. xo

  5. Warriorsaint says:

    I think all this cleanse business is a particular N. American form of self-loathing & prissiness. I saw this first hand when living in Miami Beach when a well known raw foodie yoga teacher literally slapped a Gatorade out of my hand during a class and shrieked “what is this awful poison you’re drinking?” Punk capoeirista (I was at the time-since mellowed) I snatched it back. Food Natzies! WTF. ….a..And don’t get me started on this colonics business!

  6. Justin Cambria says:

    About once or twice a year, I do a cleanse where I cut out animal products, gluten, refined sugars, and caffeine – basically eat fruits, veggies, nuts, beans, lentils, quinoa, and brown rice for a couple of weeks. I feel physically and mentally great when I do it, not to mention the uncommonly amazing function of my digestive tract during these periods. I also feel a sense of accomplishment around denying myself things that I want to eat, because as a somewhat typical American, I indulge what I want most of the time and it is often excessive. We as a society eat too much food. Going to the other extreme as described in this post is surely not the answer, and some annoying yoga people take this way too far, but it is what it is and most of my friends could use a bit of modification around what they eat.

    I am having a hard time counterbalancing my love of foods and the joy I get from it with a more long term sustainable healthy eating regimen. I guess it is a long way of saying that for this gringo at least, the food question is many layered and difficult.

    And I am super happy for you unabashedly enjoying the food in Mexico! Sounds delightful. I’ve always eaten really well down there.

    • Shana says:

      Justin, I do agree with you and also think there are no simple answers with this diet subject. I think a lot of people are really confused about what is best for them, and I actually take these issues pretty seriously. But, I am making light of the subject because I get so frustrated when people don’t eat at all (which I see often) or restrict their diets so much that they are not enjoying food. What you do every year sounds amazing and healthy. I was just disheartened to see so many North Americans down here being so fussy about everything served to them, because it comes off as being unappreciative of everything people were trying to offer.

  7. Lisa says:

    Loved the article.
    May I add that most of us have to work so an effective multi-day cleanse doesn’t work if you need your brain to function whilst starving.

    I think that same grace of appreciating the food that has been prepared for you should apply at your friends and family’s homes as well!

  8. BeaNs says:

    If your liver and kidneys are not adequately detoxifying your body, you’re going to need an organ transplant, not a “detox” diet.

    All of this “detox” business is voodoo doodoo. But mostly doodoo.

    Eat a healthy diet that includes a variety of foods and minimize booze, processed foods and beverages and drink plenty of water. And avoid people who try to sell you voodoo doodoo even if they aren’t trying to make money off of you.

  9. Miriam says:

    I loved reading this. You touch on two if my favorite topics: the eating disorder coming to be known as “orthorexia”, or an unhealthy obsession with healthful eating, and privilege, which we in Seattle and Portland often think we are avoiding because we’re so “open-minded and liberal”. (Those yogi/nis on retreat in Mexico? Wish, the blinding privilege!)

    • GoletaAnnie says:

      I am a nurse working in a crisis psychiatric unit and recently worked with a woman who had orthorexia, ortho- meaning “correct” (as in ‘orthodontia’ and ‘orthotics’), and -rexia, referring to appetite. About 15 years ago, she took a class about eating “naturally” and since that time has eaten basically a raw food diet with some steamed rice and vegetables. She is severely malnourished and has symptoms of paranoia. Though the latter may or may not be a result of her compromised diet, our tissues need essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals not found in the “correct” diet she followed. Orthorexia has only recently been added to eating disorders; I expect it will be seen more frequently – interestingly at a time in history when the choice of foods available to Americans has never been greater.

  10. Miriam says:

    *woah, not wish, DYAC!

  11. Dan says:

    Justin’s detox is more or less the ideal staple diet my doc has recommended…

  12. Kristi says:

    I live in the SF Bay Area where everyone is pushing cleanses, raw foods, etc. I have never done a cleanse, though I do have many foods I avoid due to food sensitivities (another loaded subject), so I have major resistance to eliminating any more food from my diet. I LOVE food. And yes, I’m very attached to it. No argument from me on that. I think this is one area where Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine differ a lot. I know of no legitimate TCM practitioners who would ever suggest those kinds of cleanses. Instead, it would be about eliminating sugar, alcohol, etc. Perhaps it’s a “spiritual” thing. And here it seems very much like an emotional/psychological thing. I mean, think about it. Cleansing is about “detoxifying” and “getting rid of the impurities inside” right? So in our American culture where we’re so freaking down on ourselves, convinced that there is something dreadfully and inherently wrong with us that we need to fix or improve, “removing” bad shit through cleansing sounds like a good thing. Like, “Get it out!! I want to feel clean so that I can feel good about myself again!” And what makes it worse is the media that is totally focused on fear-mongering, convincing us that we’re one step away from cancer, diabetes, etc., and telling us all the things we should NOT eat, should NOT do—so we’re all completely freaked out, stressed out about health, food, etc.. (To which the media responds by telling us all that we need to be meditating to reduce our stress…) THEN we get to deal with all the proselytizers who think that eating animal products is bad for EVERYONE for one reason or another (though they don’t actually do their research on the human digestive system or the fact that plants need animal byproducts in order to grow and be healthy), and they preach their dogma, making everyone feel bad, unhealthy, unspiritual… (Again, back to all the ways we manage to feel bad about ourselves…).

    Well, anyway, I think you can see what my point of view is on this. Most disordered eating isn’t about food, it’s about one’s relationship with oneself and “the parent” (i.e. supplier of resources). Most of this stuff has its roots in early childhood. I imagine those people who actually feel okay about themselves do not have issues with food or cleanses and don’t get so swayed by what other people want them to do. Alas, I am not one of them. But I’m working on it.

    I think I’ll go eat something now…

    • Joslyn Hamilton says:

      Well said, Kristi. I too live in the Bay Area where you can’t throw a stick without hitting someone proselytizing their latest fad detox plan. Every time I casually mention that I feel in the slightest bit “off,” one of my friends comes right back at me with “You should never eat after 6 at night” or “My friend so-and-so has subsisted entirely on wheatgrass enemas for the last year and he swears he’s never felt better!” And like you, I have a Chinese Medicine practitioner AND an Ayurvedic consultant — both of whom I really trust — who have told me that, for my constitution, the worst thing I can do is to cleanse. Unfortunately, this was a lesson I had to learn for myself. Without fail, each and every one of the cleanses I’ve tried has made me feel absolutely horrible and sent my blood sugar spiraling out of control. When do I feel best? When I eat 3 square healthy meals a day, maybe indulge a little here and there, and just generally relax around food. And yeah, the people I know who are really happy and satisfied with themselves don’t seem to talk much about food. Guess they have better things!

  13. Xtine says:

    Wasting food is so anti survivalist and first world rich-people-problematic it boggles the mind. I love to eat healthy foods but…whats being described goes completely against the organic natural rhythm of life. Imagine a lion cub rejecting a meal from it’s mother, based on an arbitrary qualification….did this wildebeest touch a zebra? Or a starving African saying “wait, is that ration biscuit VEGAN like for SURE????”

    We are so fortunate to have food, let alone options such as these. Perspective……

    • Shana says:

      I am so interested to hear everyone’s comments and to start a discussion like this. I also feel so discouraged when I see people wasting food, especially stuff that has been thoughtfully prepared. There is not doubt in my mind that the people leaving full plates of food behind (at my yoga retreat) or complaining about every piece of food set in front of them, have serious food issues or have totally lost perspective and appreciation for what they have. Seriously, I just want to tell some of these 100 pound yoga instructors I see to eat, that your body and mind needs food to function properly, build muscle, and create a healthy life. So maybe I am the one who is food obsessed, because I can’t stand it when I have to watch people not eat!

      • Danielle Stimpson says:

        I was teaching a Reiki class this weekend and two of the students-who happen to be Nurses-were discussing over lunch break a new program that has their poorest patients take disposable cameras home with them and take pictures of their homes…so that the Doctors and Clinicians treating them could see what their real problems were…what abject poverty really looks like. All I could do was remark at how this would be so powerful to show my colleagues in the Wellness world.
        I hear all the time about “Can you believe some people think this is real food”? Well, with 1 in 7 American families on Food Stamps, YES I CAN. You know why? They’re hungry!

  14. Katy says:

    A nice sane reminder to appreciate and enjoy food. We are fortunate (or maybe not!!) to have it in abundance and in such amazing variety. In fact, with fewer choices, we’d probably be more reasonable in how we approach food and appreciate the seasonal specialties when they come around.

  15. Michael Satori says:

    great thoughts about eating I lived in Spain where the key was simple
    moderation in everything…seems simple enough and I live by that rule
    everything in moderation…meat, fish, cheese, veg,grains, breads, wine, beer,
    sex ..:)

  16. Danielle Stimpson says:

    Thank you so very much for putting this post together. As a recovering anorexic and recovering yogi, you quite skillfully pointed out the over-obsession with food and detoxing. If it works for ya, knock your socks off. But the “shoulding” of what other people eat has GOT to stop.

    Best wishes in Mexico. And for the record…I eat Tripe.

  17. Sick of cleanse and detox bullsh*t, yes I am. ~ Shana Sturtz | elephant journal says:

    [...] published by our elephriends over at Recovering Yogi on January 23, [...]

  18. mara rose says:

    Well said. I noted what Danielle Stimpson wrote about poverty and food.

    There is the concept of a “food desert”–a poor neighborhood with no good grocery store. And the “desert diet”, referring to people who can only afford cheap, processed junk food, haven’t learned about nutrition, and get their food from 7-11.

    Ironic, when those of us who can afford to eat well act as the food police and send things back over picky stuff.

    I have certain things I don’t like to eat. However, if I am someone’s guest, I eat what they serve me and enjoy their hospitality. Anything less shows a lack of manners and grace.

  19. Rinda Londstadt says:

    If one really wants to OWN their diet then they should prepare all their meals at home but I suppose its more fun for them to go out and loudly complain about things not being “truly organic or vegan”. I once saw a lady storm out of the local coop because they were out of her favorite brand of wheat germ ! The kicker was that she then went across the street to Wendy’s, bought a double burger, which she brought back to her car and gorged on it as if it were a valid substitute. This is what some people drive themselves to. While I don’t advocate Wendy’s (or any fast food) if an occasional BacoNator is gonna make you feel good then why the hell not go for it without putting on an act ?

  20. Heather says:

    Wow, so encouraging to see such a wonderful article and smart comments section…even from people who are in the yoga community? Probably the worst thing is the bragging. I don’t care if you want to live on juice for a few weeks out of your life. As if that’ll make a difference in the long run. Look we all have a hearse or an ambulance with our name on it. Better to enjoy life and not be totally neurotic about food…plus it only annoys normal people.
    And yeah, quinoa is quite the ‘cleanser’ so I’m told.
    Eat what makes you drool — in moderation. I try to round things out with as much fruit and veggies as possible (to stay fit), make a mean smoothie and get on with my life.
    No one is so precious they can’t eat a berry that touched a kiwi.

  21. Claude William Genest says:

    Rawligious fanaticism is doing a lot of damage to be sure. A friend just returned from the Hippocrates Instittute where she was apparently taught the evils of ….. Fruit.

    Meanwhile, a Psychology Today article reports that 75% of Vegetarians return to eating meat after an average of 9 years usually for health reasons.

    It is not for lack of experience and knowledge that no indigenous culture ever independently evolved a vegetarian diet and that Indian culture itself evolved Ayurvedic Dosha types that include dairy and meat

    The best nutrition advice I ever heard was John Robbins quoting his Grandmother in his seminal work “Diet for a New America”:
    “It is better to eat beer and franks with cheer and thanks than bread and sprouts with dread and doubts”.

  22. cate - yogahealer says:

    Hi Shana,

    I agree- any lack of consciousness of of nourishment from earth to table is reprehensible.

    Yet, I sense in your accolades e a lack of appreciation for a positive perspective of what is happening in yoga culture.

    Yogis have been opening their subtle energetic channels (nadis/srotas/etc.). Basically, the more you do yoga, the more easily your subtle channels clog (because the more channels are actually open in the first place).

    By eating “foods” furthest from fruit and vegetable plants, yogis will feel sick.

    This is actually quite fantastic. When eating more plants yogis feel better. Eating more green plants, locally especially, the yogi wakes up to eating their ecosystem.

    When we point this out, we become part of a major grassroots personal and planetary health recovery.

    Let’s not forget statistically that Mexicans have the highest obesity rates in the world, “According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 69.5% of the Mexican population aged 15 and older is overweight or obese. This is the highest rate in the world, even higher than in the United States — which historically had the highest rate — and the United Kingdom, which has the highest in Europe.”

    But, like I said, any lack of consciousness of of nourishment from earth to table is reprehensible. I hope you helped invoke more consciousness and gratitude at the table at the retreat.

    founder of

    • Richard Hudak says:

      Beautifully put, Cate, I think it is important to be clear about what are the statistically significant public health hazards around food. The Standard American Diet is making us sick, and wise departure from that can only help. Some people are malnourished even as they are obese because they are eating the wrong things.

      I came to cleansing because even though I have been a vegetarian for over 30 years, I wanted to eat better to sustain my yoga practice. Well, the proof is in the (chia seed) pudding. I am 30 lbs lighter and have access to things I didn’t used to in my practice.

      I think it is possible to get hung up on the word “control” as I and some fellow yogis did when we read together certain parts of the Bhagavad Gita. It turns out that the word in Sanskrit is “tapas,” discipline or effort. When in the context of the Yoga Sutras we balance that with “study,” and releasing control to the flow of nature, good things can and do result. I think there is a caricature of cleansing, and I think there is a reality of it.

  23. What I’m Reading, Sunday, September 22, 2013 | The Human Body Garage says:

    [...] Sick of cleanse and detox bullshit, yes I am | RecoveringYogi [...]

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