Detox or Diet? You decide.

In California, detoxes are all the rage. I should know — I just moved to the sunny city of Santa Monica, California a few weeks ago — and it’s been a bit of a culture shock to say the least. It seems like everyone I meet is on a five-day juice fast, and I’ve never met so many kale-loving freaks in my life (mind you, I now count myself one of them).

As a woman with a long history of food and body issues, I usually try to keep as far away from anything labeled “detox” or “cleanse” as possible. I find it difficult to separate concepts like “detoxification” and “diet” in my mind, and I often wonder if all the zeal about juicing and raw food diets in the yoga community is a sort of collective eating disorder dressed in pseudospiritual clothing. It took me years of therapy and cognitive re-training to finally release beliefs like “my body needs to be fixed,” and frankly anytime I find myself immersed in all the fear-mongering about toxins and pollutants ravaging our systems from the inside… it brings all the old crap (pun intended) to the surface.

Photo Credit: Cleveland Groove

So when the first thing out of Seane Corn’s mouth at her Detox Flow intensive Friday morning was, “A detox is not a diet,” I felt myself breathe a sigh of relief.

Often, when we talk about detoxes in our society, what we are actually referring to are very radicalized individual health regimens. It’s the five-day juice cleanse, the wheat grass enemas (yes, you heard me right), or maybe if you’re lucky you’ll actually get to chew your food with a weeklong kitchari diet. For many of us, our desire to detox emerges from a deeper-seated belief that we don’t talk about so often… the notion that we are dirty, contaminated, not okay as we are. If we’re not careful, we can become so obsessed with clearing the toxins (that realistically do exist) from our bodies that programs designed to instill more health and well-being actually become more abusive than the toxic lifestyle we are trying to remedy to begin with.

With all these reservations, you might find it surprising that the first class on my schedule for Yoga Journal’s San Francisco Conference was a six-hour intensive about detoxing. The truth is, as off-putting as I find our cultural obsession with cleansing, I also feel inexplicably drawn to it. There’s a part of me that still feels like, “Well, if I could just eliminate that desire I have for sweet foods…. maybe then I would feel more happy, more vibrant, more nourished by my life.”

But here’s the thing… Seane’s version of detoxification is not your typical let’s-sweat-until-you-smell-like-what-you-ate-last-night kind of class. By the time we made it to the first twist, what I felt seeping from my pores was not the grease from last night’s dinner: it was tightly-wound tendrils of pent-up frustration buried deep inside my muscles. “The biggest cause of dis-ease in our society,” Seane said, “is our lack of self-care, lack of self-worth. If we want to alter the state of the world, we have to start with a revolution within.”

And this, I suppose, is why I find myself coming back to these classes over and over again. “On a deeper level,” Seane reminded Friday’s class, “this is about much more than the health/wellness we create in our individual bodies. This is about how we’re treating our planet on a collective level.”

One of the things I appreciated most about this approach to detoxing was the fact that it really did embrace a holistic perspective. Sure, we talked about how processed foods affect the digestive system and how unexpressed emotion can wreak havoc on the adrenal glands. But the conversation also shifted to the macro-level — to the truly abominable food being shelled out in elementary school cafeterias across the country and how government subsidies for agribusiness make healthy, organic options inaccessible to lower-income families.

My big take away from the class? It’s all about the balance, baby. For me, it’s much more comfortable to talk about the need for detoxification at a collective level… Let’s boycott Tyson! Create alternative fuel services! Get the gunk out of our food! What’s more difficult for me to sit with is the discussion that Seane stuck with for most of the class — the idea that our relationship to food is most often a poignant reflection of our relationship to ourselves. If you find yourself gorging on sweets every time you visit your mother, perhaps it’s worth looking at what gaping hole you’re actually trying to fill. And if you want to enact any type of meaningful, long-standing change on a collective level… well, you’re not going to get anywhere if you’re not taking care of yourself.

I know I wasn’t the only one in that room who had struggled with food/body issues (who hasn’t, right?), and I can only imagine how many readers of this blog have walked a similar path. So, how about it? What’s been your experience with detoxes and cleanses? How do you ensure that your detox isn’t just another self-deprecating diet in disguise?


Posted by:

- who has written 43 posts on Yoga Modern.

Chelsea Roff is a writer by day and yoga teacher by night, a weaver of words as well as of asanas. She is Managing Editor at, and her writing has been featured by Yoga Journal, Elephant Journal, Wanderlust Festival and the Hanuman Festival. Chelsea is passionate about using online media to inspire action that serves a greater cause -- whether it be the expansion of knowledge, support of our global community, or improvement of planetary and personal health. She travels the country teaching yoga in the most non-traditional of spaces, from cocktail parties to public protests to centers for at-risk youth. In Dallas, Chelsea helped start a yoga service organization that brings yoga classes to people in homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, and prisons. Chelsea currently lives in Santa Monica, CA, where she can be found cartwheeling across the beach, hiking in the mountains, and practicing yoga poses on her little pink scooter.

12 Responses

  • taylor white says:

    you are always asking the right questions chels. As someone who just finished a cleanse I noted that the detox for me was not necessarily physical but emotional. Noticing my attachments (coffee, wine, carbs, what have you!) and then asking my mine to "detox" it's fixation, it's grasping, it's longing and just lie still, knowing I was going without for a brief period. You MAY lose weight, you MAY clean your body but I often find when people ask me my thoughts about cleanses (which I have no expertise in besides personal practice) I often reply with "What are you wanting?" Because if you want to lose weight, change your habits, or eat better –I don't know a cleanse that offers that. THose are long term big picture goals. Cleanses (in my humble opinion) are short term experiences like a yoga class where you let go of what you THINK about food and you speak from the seat of what am i FEELING/EXPERIENCING right now about food.

    having returned to typical eating last night, I found a new appreciation–in enjoyment, taste, texture, flavor, savor, pace, etc..SImply put–a cleanse offers me a pause in my habits which creates increased awareness. That's why I find occasional cleansing helpful. keep us posted what you experience chels. xxoo

    • Chelsea says:

      Thank you, Taylor. I resonate so much with what you say here. Part of my process at Friday's class was starting too look at what was behind these sudden urges I'd had to cleanse/detox, and when I looked at it honestly my motivations weren't coming from a space of benevolence. And I think that's the key… what is our intention going into a cleanse? Are we open to the emotional and even spiritual process that making big changes in our food regimen can evoke, or are we going in with a slegehammer to try to to fix everything that already feels so broken? Thank you for sharing your experience…it reminds me that it really is all about the balance.

  • jewelinthelotus says:

    Lovely timing! I am not sure I do distinguish them well. I think it is more about control. Cleanses bring a certain amount of rigidity to my eating that I seem to lack when I am not on a cleanse. AND THAT is what I need to look at. I am on a cleanse now that is kicking my butt emotionally so your post was perfect timing!

    • Chelsea says:

      Glad I'm not the only one! And really happy to hear this article came to you in the right moment. I hope you're able to find exactly what you're needing with this cleanse… physically and emotionally.

  • AmyH says:

    Beautiful article Chelsea. Thank you… I feel the same about our yoga culture's current cleanse fad. LOVE!

  • Laurie LaCour says:

    Beautiful article Chelsea! Thank you! Love and light! xoxo

  • As Seane says, " it's not what you're eating, it's what's eating you." I have suffered from eating disorders for more than half of my life. I, too, have troubles with the whole detox as diet in disguise craze. Thanks for the article. xo, Amanda

  • Chelsea says:

    I heard Seane say that phrase several times during that class, and each time it seemed to land a little bit deeper for me. It never ceases to amaze me just how many of us have struggled with eating disorders, Amanda. It's rampant…truly rampant… and I'm so grateful for the community that emerges both online and through yoga, because for me it's a great comfort to know that we're not alone. When I look at you and the other women who have struggled with these issues throughout their lives, I'm just so amazed/inspired by the beauty that's arisen from the ashes of those fires. Keep shining, lady! You're lighting the rest of us up. :)

  • Terri Cooper says:


    Thanks for this amazing read. It breaks my heart because I often see body image issues as the main cause of people “detoxing”. Your authentic connection to the story is evident in your words, and I’ll be pondering this for some time yet.