I often get questions about the “right” foods to eat for mental illness recovery: What are the best foods to prevent intrusive thoughts? Will eliminating gluten lower my anxiety levels? Can a detox fix the chemical imbalances in my body?
But if you’ve struggled with your mental health, be very careful about searching for a magic solution by drastically restricting or changing your diet, even if it’s temporary. Before you get started on a detox/cleanse, consider these three questions:
1. Why I am doing this?
Mental health challenges are all about avoidance and trying to experiencing things less. We want to avoid anxiety, feel less regret, get rid of an urge, shut up that voice in our heads, be judged less, escape harm, not have a panic attack, etc. The things we do as attempts to avoid those experiences are compulsions. The more we do compulsions to avoid those experiences we don’t like, the more we have those experiences. If you want to do a detox because you hope it’ll help you avoid an experience you don’t like, expect it to create even more of that experience over the long-run. Especially if you’ve dealt with any food or body related anxiety or restrictive compulsions in the past, rationalizing yourself into a juice cleanse or detox should raise red flags.
If you want to drink a lot of juice and poo a rainbow out the other end, more power to you. But you’ll likely find it’s far more beneficial to you if you drink that juice to fuel experiencing more in your life, not less. How will this support doing more of what matters to you? Adding some nutritious juice into a well-balanced diet could supply some extra nutrients to help you recuperate after the gym. Improving endurance and strength at the gym is a much healthier goal than pursuing avoidance of unavoidable feelings.
2. How much will I pay for a placebo?
If a sales person is promising you mental health benefits with a juice cleanse, keep in mind that big pharmaceutical companies are shutting down their psych medication research labs (Novartis to shut brain research facility) because they struggle to beat placebos in controlled studies (Antidepressants give drugmakers the blues). Your average sugar pill (I’m sure they’re made with organic agave nectar) will “help” around 50% of the time. Many people doing juice cleanses will believe they experience some type of psychological effect if that’s what they believe they’re supposed to experience. The packaging looks healthy, the juice colours are ethereal, the ginseng makes your skin tingle–it’s a potent recipe for natural snake oil.
But here’s the thing: placebos work (sorta). You might temporarily perceive yourself as having some type of imagined experience resulting from the ritualized intake of pulverized swiss chard. So can you just buy the cheapest placebo? Not exactly. Research suggests that buying more expensive name brands heightens the placebo effect (The Behavioral Impact of a Higher Price). You might have to buy the most expensive placebo to get your best shot at imaginary benefits. Although I suppose I’ve ruined the placebo effect for you now by explaining it… Sorry.
3. What’s wrong?
Your liver and your kidneys cleanse toxins from your body. Detoxes cleanse money from your wallet. They’re all very effective at what they do. If your internal organs are failing to do their job, you likely need medical attention, not a juice cleanse.
It’s often the case when we go looking for an instant cure that we’re trying to relieve the symptoms of a much more complex systemic issue. Whether you’re looking to a juice cleanse as a way to relieve stress, you’re hoping to rapidly lose a lot of weight, or any other number of reasons that people often go searching for these types of products, there are probably some big changes you need to make in your life. The juice cleanse might seem like a more immediate, direct way out of your problems–no need to get into the messy work of changing your judgments about yourself, or how you relate to others, or dealing with contextual issues around you that impact your health and ability to function. But then you’re only slapping a band-aid on a wound that will continue to fester and grow. So take this opportunity to ask yourself: what’s wrong? That urge to grab the promised benefits of one of these detox products is a welcome bell that can bring your awareness to underlying issues needing attention. What is actually causing the symptoms from which you want relief? Are there more long-term changes you’d like to make but have struggled to stick with consistently? Why have you struggled to make those changes? What supports can you bring into your life on an ongoing basis that could help you live a healthier, happier life?