Last night my father approached me (as I am the “eating disorder aficionado” in our family) to ask for my thoughts on the latest fad among teens. “Temimah, what do you know about cleanses?” Cue my confusion. He continued, “Apparently it’s the next big thing and some students are drinking them in school. I’m just curious what you think about it…”

Well, after a whirlwind of thoughts and ideas bouncing back and forth I’ve come up with a response that I believe is fitting not only for my father, but for our society at large.

I am baffled and somewhat angered by cleanses.

I first heard about cleanses on a television show and thought the concept was simply a satire meant to promote humor, mocking the level of ridiculousness of our society…I thought a cleanse was something done when someone went for a colonoscopy, not a new way of life. Well apparently I was wrong. Cleanses are the next big thing in the dieting world, though they weren’t meant to be used to lose weight at all.

Food is meant to be enjoyed…we have taste buds for a reason. When I’m hungry, I reach for whatever it is that I’m craving and this, to me, defines healthy eating: eating when I’m hungry and stopping when I’m full, incorporating a range of food groups and delicacies. Unfortunately there are many un-healthy or disordered eaters within our society. People tend to eat now not to enjoy themselves but instead to provide a means to an end: weight loss. My body wants food so I will consume the least number of calories possible. And then an hour later, these people wonder why they want more and feel angry at themselves for “giving in” to these cravings.

My body needs calories but instead of preparing a hearty meal or enjoying a delicious dish with friends, I will get these calories by consuming juices that will flush out my system! And then they wonder why the weight they may have lost during the cleanse comes right back when they overeat tremendously once they return to solid foods. We are not meant to trick our bodies out of the food it needs. Saying that cleanses still have calories does not take away from the fact that it is another form of disordered eating.

I brought up the topic of cleanses with a friend of mine the other night and he adamantly exclaimed that he had once gone on a cleanse – not to lose weight but to rid his body of the toxins that processed foods may have created. I believe that our bodies can generally get rid of toxins naturally. While I may not agree with my friend’s mentality, it was important to note because I am not addressing this article to people who have a mindset similar to my friend. Rather I am addressing the fact that what most likely started as an innocent health practice has become a diet trend, akin to a laxative, THAT IS NOW SPREADING AMONG HIGH SCHOOLS STUDENTS! I believe I am safe in saying that most individuals on a cleanse – such as these 15 year old girls – were not encouraged to do so by their doctors…So if the doctor didn’t tell our precious youth to only take in cleanses, who did?

The same people who tell us to completely eliminate one of more food groups as part of a diet and who tell us that a size 00 is normal: the industries and the media. While this may sound like a cop-out, I ask you to take a moment to reflect on who sets the weight standard, who tells us the definition of beauty, and who dictates the best way to lose 20 pounds in one month? Beauty should be something we define within ourselves, based not on appearance but on who we are as people. Within the Jewish culture we have the value of one’s soul’s needs being the defining factor of what should be done to the body. And yet, I often see Jewish college students passing by me discussing the food on their mind that they “just can’t eat” holding green juice in one hand and anguish and hunger in the other. We are told what is attractive rather than defining on our own what beauty should be. We are told that we have toxins that we need to cleanse when in reality our bodies know exactly what to do…how many people do you know  whose body’s toxins took over, who regret not ingesting lemon juice for 5 days straight?

We are looked at like consumers and our bodies are the goods. Instead of appreciating the vessel that houses our thoughts, talents, and traits, we look for any way we can to change it to fit some commercial ideal created by people who do not genuinely care for any of our real needs or concerns. I can appreciate healthy diets that exist but I do not find that the diet industry promotes a healthy mindset. We are taught to count and monitor rather than laugh and own what we were given.

In the depth of my eating disorder I despised my body. It could never be small enough and I was angry at the delusional ounces of fat that I claimed to see. I abused my body, eating miniscule amounts and over-exercising. And when I tell this to people they tsk and shake their heads and exclaim how glad they are that I’m doing better. And yet…we fail to tsk and shake our heads at the people who are depriving their bodies of the pleasures of food. Instead our society celebrates these people; they’re the ones who are achieving “success” and able to control their looks and fit into slim-fit clothing. I can safely say that these people are not truly happy. How can one be happy depriving oneself of a natural need, conforming to a definition that ad agencies put forth?

The simple answer is that I do not approve of cleanses. I do not think that anyone, let alone teenagers, should be replacing meals to “purify” their systems. It is an orthorexic tendency and while some people may do it from a healthy place (such as those dieters who are truly dieting and losing weight from a healthy place), I don’t support the behavior.

It is time to create our own definitions of beauty and to stand up against the trends we are told to follow. We must learn to appreciate our bodies and set our own examples of what healthy and happy truly mean.