Here’s a healthy tip for the new year – ignore the deluge of food advice from self-appointed experts
As it’s January, I have been considering a detox diet. Which one should I go on?
All media, all western countries
Ahh, don’t you love January? The dead Christmas trees rolling in the street, the black nights that start at 4pm, and all the newspapers, magazines and lifestyle websites bellowing about how you need to TOTALLY CHANGE YOURSELVES ENTIRELY BECAUSE IT’S JANUARY SO YEAH THANK YOU FOR YOUR CUSTOM!
Attention has been drawn to something describing itself as “The Red Carpet Detox Diet”, which is being heavily plugged by a certain national newspaper supplement. “But wait!” you cry. “Didn’t this column end last year criticising this same supplement magazine for promoting crackpot faddy diets coined by people with no dietetic training?” To which the answer is, yes, yes it did. But what can I say, I’m a maverick who sticks their thumb in the eye of the “New Year? New You!” maxim advocated by the rest of the media. Also, there is more to say on this trying subject.
The Red Carpet Detox Diet adheres so closely to all the usual detox cliches that I’m tempted to suspect it was invented by a robot: it advocates excluding entire food groups; it name-drops all manner of random celebrities; it pretends it’s about more than losing weight while simultaneously elevating weight loss to a moral achievement. The journalist describes those who ascribe to this eating plan as “tribes of self-possessed twentysomething women who know how to do non-wobbly eyeliner as well as what they want for lunch and why. ‘I know, they’re amazing, aren’t they?’ says [the creator of the diet.]”
Women who know how to order food and put on makeup? And these creatures move among us, you say? Oh blessed, blessed times in which we live! But perhaps it’s not such a surprise that a coiner of another detox should have such low expectations of women, considering these diets are predicated on the belief that women are so daft they’ll follow the frankly loopy guidance of a person who has never had any professional training, just because they drop some celebrities’ names.
Or maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way round: maybe it’s the creators of the detoxes who are lacking in mental faculties because what they are actually detoxing is their own brain cells. This would explain the nutritional suggestions advocated by Gwyneth Paltrow. Paltrow, as is her wont, has published yet another January detox diet on her website goop.com, which has yet to be proven to be anything other than a delightful Chris Morris satire on celebrity narcissism in the modern era. This year, Gwynnie excitedly assures her faithful readers that it is “possible during our annual cleanse to not only drop some accumulated weight, but to get rid of some of the heavy metals, fire retardants, and pesticides in our systems, too”. How proud the science department at Spence – the private school in Manhattan where she was at least nominally educated – must be to have produced the American Gillian McKeith, one who frets about “the heavy metals and fire retardants” in her bowels.
Most of us know that these kinds of detoxes are more full of crap than your plumbing will be after a yummy breakfast of wheatbran and fibre steeped in almond milk. But the reason I keep returning to this subject is because it is downright enraging that national newspapers promote these kinds of irresponsible, pointless and quite possibly dangerous diets, thought up by people without a smidgeon of medical or nutritional qualification.
Eating is more than a physical necessity – it’s a life skill and quite a few of us do it pretty poorly, myself very much included. Sometimes it’s because we’re short of time, money, choice or energy, and sometimes it’s for more complicated reasons. These latter issues, although as varied in motivation as they are in manifestation, often stem from two specific factors: ignorance of nutrition and how our bodies actually work, and a conflicted relationship with our bodies and food due to all too obvious social factors.
It is remarkable how obsessed the western media is with food, and how much it fetishises both the eating of it (endless coverage of recipes, restaurants, etc) and the avoidance of it (diets, detoxes, diets and more detoxes). It’s not original to point out the correlation of the near blanket coverage of food in the media and the rising rates of obesity and eating disorders in the west, but it is, nonetheless, pertinent. How you eat, according to these stupid articles, now defines you as a person, whether you know what the new hot hipster restaurant is or if you subsist on avocado on brown rice cakes. Detoxes, above all, are fashionable, which is why they are covered so extensively in the fashion press. Eating is not just eating any more – it’s a statement of one’s lifestyle. No wonder people get confused about how, exactly, to eat, and no wonder so many people express their emotions through food.
Most people, thank heavens, will never suffer from an eating disorder, but plenty will go though at least a period of disordered eating, which encompasses everything from obsessive calorie counting, emotional overeating to starving and bingeing. These kinds of detox diets are similarly disordered: they do not teach healthy eating – they advocate obsessive and unrealistic eating and therefore contribute to the problem. They combine nutritional ignorance with weight obsession and are therefore morally repellant. Any diet that suggests cutting out food groups or components of food – such as gluten or actual solids – for the purpose of losing weight is, unless prescribed by an actual doctor, absolute nonsense. It does no one any favours other than food manufacturers who happily charge more for gluten-free products. Eat healthily, by all means, but you know what would make everyone feel a lot better? If detoxes were detoxed from our world.
Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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