March 22, 2011

Is Cleansing the New Bulimia? ~ Carmel Hagen

We’re a few days in, and we’re starting to get comfortable. 500 tandem chaturangas have made allies of us all, hazing our shoulders to a point of appreciative oneness and priming our puckers to speak openly about anything. At least, this is my best guess for why so many Wanderlusters are talking about poop.

I’m sitting in a room of thirty or so women, facing the Dr. Paul Gannon, The Standard hotels resident Naturopathic physician (and Miami Beach’s major cleansing crush). The title of the lecture is Your Abdomen: The Gateway to Health, a headline that’s seemingly been interpreted as a free-for-all discussion on crapping yourself to the perfect body. Soothing supplement concerns and smoothing food allergy feathers, Dr. Paul is answering questions rapid fire.  Will water make me poop? Will charcoal soak up toxins? Is eating sushi really like eating a Snickers Bar?


Charcoal—in India.


The entire room blindly grasps for the ever present bottle of Smartwater and starts chugging.

For brief periods, Paul is allowed to return to the lecture’s stated purpose, and his well-respected area of expertise. He speaks to the true purpose of the cleanse, to detoxify the liver. He also speaks about it very sanely, preaching purity in process over purging. But as thirty something women obsessively steer the conversation back to the pure process of elimination, I have to wonder: Is cleansing the new Bulimia?

Before I break this down, let it be known that when it comes to cleansing, I’m a believer. Green tea, Master Cleanse, Bikram, whatever—if it promises to make my insides a shinier example of what I’m aiming for on the outside (full transparency: a radiant streak of light in a hot pink flight suit with superpowers to spare), I’ve done it. But I’ve also spent some significant time—like most women I know—with a handful of less beautifully packaged eating disorders. For this reason, I wave a red flag when my motivations for cleansing seem to stem from a fear of food instead of respect for my insides.

Photo: daniellehelm

That’s the flag I’m raising now.

As I look into this pool of knitted brows and ‘sensitive’ stomachs, I start to spot wisps of my old demons. It’s in the way we’re phrasing the questions (anti-food); it’s in our readiness to remove (deprivation); it’s in the unbalanced urgency with which we seek an immediate answer (impulsiveness, purging).

We’re not here because we think of our tummies as “The Gateway to Health.” We’re here because we’re still afraid of food.

If eating is yoga—and one of the best daily reminders to be grateful we’ve got—then the point of a cleanse should be to better understand and appreciate the role of food in our bodies and in our lives; it’s not to find a better way to get rid of it.

Yes, poop is important. And if you cleanse, you will poop. But ladies (and gents), if your gratitude radiates only from your perch on a toilet, you’re doing it all wrong.

For deeper insight into what makes a cleanse worth the cleansing, The Yoga of Eating is a heavily recommended place to start. For those seeking a more two-way discussion, check in with Dr. Paul. Above all else, don’t let this lifestyle-perfect eating disorder sabotage your practice.


Carmel Hagen does things with words, the internet, and words for the internet. After six years of online journalism, advertising and internet startup experience, she came to yoga seeking to extend the benefits of mindfulness, limitlessness and balance to the innately joyful—though sometimes all-consuming—process of creativity. So far, it’s working. Find her online or on twitter.

Bonus: relephant update:

This year introduced a new, risible entry to the cultural lexicon: “The Coachella Diet.”

“There’s more competition style-wise now,” 22-year-old Kyla Rae, who will be headed to the fest for her seventh time, told the health blog Well + Good. “The number of Coachella virgins increases every year, and, if anything, they’re really into the image aspect.”

Indeed, in order to squeeze into the midriff-baring, boho-chic outfits (bikini top, denim/khaki booty shorts, floral headdress optional) favored by female Coachella attendees, many young, image-conscious women have taken to juicing, crash-dieting, or drastically increasing their workout regimens in the days leading up to the party in the desert. The Coachella Diet even has its ownTwitter handle, and just this year, Kirsten Potenza and Cristina Peerenboom, creators of the Pound Rockout Workout, introduced “Cut By Coachella,” a 30-day workout calendar for people headed to the fest with prizes for participants.

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