May 11, 2020

3 Things to Consider before Cleansing during a Pandemic.

Read: Check out Elephant’s Continually-updating Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon


As soon as the lockdown began, like many other Americans, I went on a shopping spree and purchased a bunch of processed and frozen foods so I could avoid the supermarkets as much as possible.

I also jumped on a soapbox about how we shouldn’t stress about dieting or reaching our exercise goals, especially while so many people are losing their jobs and dealing with food insecurity in the United States. Yet here I am, three days into a green smoothie cleanse, and I continue to wonder whether or not it is even appropriate to be on one.

As an anthropologist who studies the social context of dietary patterns, I am sensitive about the cultural meanings of food and the disparities that exist in food choice. We must realize that even our own healthful choices might remind others of their own or a loved one’s food scarcity at this time.

I am aware of my privilege to cleanse, and share this information with that awareness.

Here’s why I decided to cleanse:

After 30 or so days of eating frozen pizzas, cookies and cream ice cream, the same granola and oat milk combo, and my chocolate stash, I was feeling the overwhelming sugar and carbohydrate overload that was slowly accumulating in my body.

I found myself reaching for “one more piece” of chocolate and “one more scoop” of ice cream all too frequently. This led me to feeling exhausted around the clock, grumpy, bloated, and more depressed about the state of the world. I had to force myself to sit in front of my computer and try to squeeze out a few hours of work. Although I could finish my required tasks, I had zero energy for sustained creative thought.

As a professor, I am officially on break and have the time to decompress with a cleanse. For me, a cleanse is a subtle shock to my system which helps me to slow down and evaluate my stress levels and current health status.

Three days into the cleanse, I am reaping all the benefits—more energy, fewer cravings, and feeling better rested.

From a social standpoint, though, is cleansing appropriate during a pandemic? Many of us are grieving, stressed about income, or simply agitated from being stuck inside.

As previously expressed, cleansing is admittedly an indicator of privilege—especially right now. However, perhaps we should be indulging in these healthy behaviors if we can when our country is bursting at the seams with sickness, sadness, and despair.

Here are a few things to consider before going on your own cleanse during the pandemic:

1. If you can afford to cleanse right now, then I think a three-day cleanse is better than seven or ten.

We don’t want to increase others’ risk of exposure making unnecessary runs to the grocery store mid-week to stock up on more fruits and veggies. A three-day cleanse will allow for a mini health boost while also respecting social distancing guidelines.

2. Cleansing and dieting to gain self-control or to punish unwanted eating habits is always a bad idea.

This is especially true right now, when our normal pleasures are reduced so greatly.

For me, my underlying intention for going on a cleanse is based on self-compassion. I fully realize that I will likely go back to my chocolate habit when this is over, and that’s okay. But feeling bad because I’ve eaten so much processed food when I don’t have to is also the opposite of self-care.

3. If we have the capacity and desire right now to care for ourselves and others, then go for it.

I am currently teaching yoga to raise money for Feeding America, because I wish everyone could have the freedom of choice to decide what, how much, and how often to eat.

Do I think everyone should turn their virtual yoga classes into a fundraiser? No. (Being able to teach yoga is a skill that should be compensated and teachers need that recognition right now.)

In an ideal world, I wish we could (at the very least) have the option to cleanse or not. But we also need to balance our personal needs and care for our bodies so that we may better care for others to our greatest capacity.

If you choose to cleanse, do so with awareness.

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