Do your thing for a full year and then detox for a week? Unfortunately, that’s not how it works – radar
At the beginning of each year, the algorithms work overtime bombarding you through social media and advertising with detox, juice fasts, and other – preferably as extreme as possible – regimes that will make you glow with health and zest for life. What is the sense and nonsense of the idea of ”detox”? And why are we trying so hard to purify ourselves from within?
“My stomach shrinks when I hear this word,” says Karolien Olaerts when we tell her that we are calling for a piece about detoxification. “Detox is such nonsense that it frustrates me that at the start of the year social and other media are overflowing with remedies and regimens.” Olaerts, a biomedical scientist specializing in nutrition and the driving force behind Karola’s Kitchen, a popular blog and Instagram channel with factual nutrition advice, studies the nutrition industry: a large and powerful institution that costs a lot of money. ‘Supplements, programs, and even detox trips: the spectrum is wide. The weight loss industry is gigantic, but when you talk about detox your target audience is even bigger because then you include people who want healthy lives and who don’t? ‘
“My stomach shrinks when I hear this word,” says Karolien Olaerts when we tell her that we are calling for a piece about detoxification. “Detox is such nonsense that it frustrates me that early in the year social and other media are overflowing with remedies and regimens.” Olaerts, a biomedical scientist specializing in nutrition and the driving force behind Karola’s Kitchen, a popular blog and Instagram channel with factual nutrition advice, studies the nutrition industry: a large and powerful institution that costs a lot of money. ‘Supplements, programs, and even detox trips: the spectrum is wide. The weight loss industry is gigantic, but when you talk about detox your target audience is even bigger because then you include people who want healthy lives and who don’t? ‘The bum? Our fault. “With the holidays behind us, many unfortunately feel guilty for what they ate,” says Karolien. “We’re brainwashed to believe that we need something from the outside to get well: like we’re walking containers of small hazardous waste that urgently needs to be emptied.” Carol is certain: there is no need to detox. Our body is perfectly able to dispose of things that do not belong in our body. “Your liver and kidneys: that’s all you need to detox. These bodies have the specific task of disposing of waste. They also eliminate waste products through the skin and breathing. The human body is an ingenious system that we can rely on. “Just watch out,” says Karolien. “When a nutrition guru recommends a detox, you are never told exactly what toxins are involved. The toxins that really harm our bodies are nicotine, alcohol, and other drugs. Do you want to please your body Then stop smoking and drink as little as possible. But that’s not a popular message. People do their thing for no less than 51 weeks a year in the hope that they can make up for it with a week of detox. That’s not how it works. ‘There is a certain group of toxins that are of concern: dioxins. These substances are produced during combustion both by human actions and by natural phenomena such as forest fires or volcanic eruptions. In terms of nutrition, you can find dioxins mainly in animal products. In small amounts this won’t hurt, but with large doses your body will struggle. Another way to protect your health is to replace animal products with plant-based alternatives more often. “Dioxins are not at all a reason to panic, but they are a reason not to make animal products the basis of your diet,” says Karolien. Carolien rejects any concerns about additives or preservatives. “Clean food is a hype. I’m in favor of making unprocessed foods the norm, but that makes processed foods non-toxic. All additives are absurdly well researched in Europe. We know exactly how all the additives used in your body behave. The fear of E-numbers is very much nourished by nutrition gurus, who then immediately offer you a supplement or a new book on detoxification. Listening to your body is the formula for developing a healthy relationship with food. “But nobody can make money with this news,” laughs Karolien. Overeating during the holidays is common and doesn’t mean you need a detox. Your body will show itself what it needs. You may not be hungry until noon the next day. When you only eat when you need it again, your body is automatically rebalanced. “Just cut it down every now and then” isn’t a sexy slogan: it’s not extreme and there aren’t big promises, but it’s the only thing that works in the long run. “Most treatments, such as vegetable juices, are not physically harmful,” says Karolien. “But mentally it can be difficult. During a regimen, you isolate yourself from your surroundings and are easily irritated because your body goes into a stress mode because it lacks certain nutrients. If you fail to keep up with the strict regime during the course, your internal critic will scold you heavily. It also disrupts your relationship with food. Listening to your own hunger and feeling of satiety is the foundation of a healthy diet. During a detox you learn to ignore your body’s signals. A headache? It’s a sign that everything is going well. Hungry? Wait a little longer. Not so. Such a well-defined treatment, starting on a specific day, often also offers a final dinner effect where you eat a lot more – while you still can – than you normally would. Any form of restriction later leads to overeating – if the weather allows it. “What I would keep away from are shakes and dietary supplements,” advises Karolien. ‘These products can be full of chemical waste and harm your health. And what really scares me is the “clay cleaning”: a detoxification that is widespread and downright dangerous by influencers on social media. You drink a glass of water in which clay has dissolved every day. This would absorb and eliminate all toxins from your body. First, clay is often full of heavy metals and not suitable for consumption. It is also known that clay can absorb substances. However, clay does not differentiate between the substances it absorbs, so all vitamins and minerals are removed from your food, which can quickly lead to shortages. You are literally malnourished. ‘Karolia already mentions it: having a slender demigod showing off on social media drinking a cup of clay water every day is a strong incentive to try it yourself. “Everyone is sensitive to it,” says Karolien. “You see a good looking person with a lot of energy who gives you what seems like an easy way to live the same kind of life. Nobody cares. And that is precisely why such messages should be regulated much more strictly. There is no legislation restricting the advertising of diet and detox products on social media. Instagram is the Wild West in that regard. ‘Accepting that we don’t feel fresh and fruity every day is an important step. “Your energy is not always 100%, you don’t have to find a solution.” On the impact of Instagram on our food choices, British nutritionist and science communicator Pixie Turner wrote The Insta-Food Diet. A miracle berry, herbal additive or a green powder that suddenly makes us healthy is the perfect material for an Instagram post. “But food is not medicine. And influencers aren’t doctors. ‘Despite the fact that the food information posted on Instagram is often misleading, it seems that many people use social media as the primary source of information about food and health. An American poll by the Pew Research Center found that 90% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 trust medical information they find on social media. This is a problem as there is no control over who publishes what information through these platforms. Only 1% of doctors and other medical professionals use social media to communicate reliable scientific research results. That means that most of what you see sharing your feed is unsubstantiated advice. ‘Pixie explains why Instagram is such a powerful channel: “As humans, we are more drawn to stories than numbers. Anecdotes stay and are easier to remember than statistics. ‘When someone records a video saying that their daily dose of celery juice increases their energy levels, it appeals to us more than a study that nuancedly explains that celery juice is not a panacea, just water with some vitamins that You can also get by eating the recommended daily serving of fruits and vegetables. Instagram is a medium widely used for personal nutrition and health stories, but what works for one person can be dangerous for another. In addition, the food manufacturers also know how to play these channels. “Via influencers, companies can send messages to the world that they are not allowed to put on their packaging. Certain claims that they cannot be scientifically founded and are therefore prohibited by law from proclaiming in black and white. Working with influencers is a sneaky way of getting around this, ”writes Pixie. But why do we as human beings long for times of scarcity and purification? To find out the philosophical reasons for our urge to detox, we call Marli Huijer, Professor of Public Philosophy at the University of Rotterdam and former “Thinker Prize Winner” of the Netherlands. She wrote the book Discipline about living in a world where there is never a shortage. “A large proportion of the people who introduce a period of scarcity do so for religious reasons,” says Huijer. “By freeing themselves from human desires, they want to overcome earthly existence and come into contact with the divine.” Another part of the people who are drawn to it do so from a health perspective. “The idea that you get the demonic with food can already be seen among the ancient Greeks. At that time, too, there was talk of detoxification. There is no scientific evidence that such periods of abstinence lead to better health, but they are deeply ingrained in our culture. ‘The idea of abstinence persists later in the story. “The severe periods we see in premodern societies received a religious explanation, but above all were a way to keep supplies going for an entire winter. The spiritual leader proclaimed a time of scarcity for the community to survive until spring. To make it easier, rituals were attached to it. After the harvest, a big harvest festival followed: a moment of plenty. Then the time of austerity began. The origin of fasting is therefore also the search for a way of coping with times when less food is available. “In our day and age there is always plenty of food and we are no longer forced into hard times. “We are not well equipped for this state of constant abundance,” says Huijer. “We need to use our thinking, reason, and discipline to control our pursuit of constant satisfaction. We have already seen with the Stoics that this takes practice: they trained to make themselves immune to worldly temptations. They set a table full of goodies and sat in front of it without touching anything. ‘Building up a well-thought-out period of consciousness every now and then isn’t a bad idea, Huijer thinks. “Remember, there are so many options. There is no way to include sobriety and food awareness, there are many. “There is nothing wrong with having good intentions or thinking about your diet,” agrees Karolien. Her advice: keep the bar low! Start eating a little more vegetables. Do not take it extreme; start small, for example by not eating meat one day a week. Thinking in black and white won’t help you. It’s much more sustainable to take small steps that you can take effectively over a long period of time. That way, you can truly make permanent lifestyle changes that will benefit your health in the long run. Don’t look for the quick fix as it doesn’t exist. ‘