Detox-retox: are you yo-yoing between healthy and hedonism?
Toni Jones has learned that swinging from the extremes of healthy living and hedonistic habits can be harsh on the body and mind, so she’s trying to find the balance between her punishment and reward lifestyle
It’s about putting good stuff in, not taking bad stuff out. This is the premise behind a bestselling new book, Retox, by Lauren Imparato.
The 35-year-old yoga guru and wellness expert wrote Retox as an antidote to the self-righteous and strict wellbeing scene she encountered when setting up her first studio, iamyou, in New York in 2009.
She believes that taking healthy to extremes, by cutting out things we love, actually does more harm than good and instead advocates “enjoying life in every way that works for body, mind and soul — whether that’s a solid sweat, a great meal, a song, or some wine with an old friend”.
In my travel and fitness blog detox-retox.co.uk, I have defined the same word, “retox”, as the fun times we allow ourselves after dedicating time and effort to being kind to our bodies and brains.
Both of these definitions, I think, play into a new trend for blending health and hedonism — “healthonism” as the cool hunters have dubbed it — and my friends and I are serious advocates of the movement.
If a client says to me, ‘I eat really healthily and I practise every single morning and night’, I would ask: ‘What are you trying to protect yourself from? What is your secret addiction?’
Essentially, we like working out and we like going out, and we love the fact that the two aren’t mutually exclusive any more. It is now perfectly acceptable, I’ve noticed, to admit to having a hangover in my 6.30am Vinyasa class.
A great day, for me, is being able to squeeze in a mindfulness session between an HIIT (high intensity interval training) class and happy hour.
I love a “sober rave” — early morning exercise clubbing — to wake me up before work, but I also love late-night, not at all sober dancing, on tables at parties or in clubs.
The trips to Ibiza that I’ve been taking for 20 years now include a brain and body detox at Formentera Yoga retreat to offset the wild nights out. The same punishment-reward patterns apply to the digital side of my life, too: although I’m a huge social media fan for both work and play, I try to squeeze in ‘screen-free Sundays’ whenever I can.
I rationalise all this counterbalancing behaviour by telling myself that while I know it’s not particularly healthy to stay out drinking all night, surely my morning-after tonic of choice these days — a Hemsley+Hemsley ‘Pink Liver Cleanse’ smoothie — is better for me than the can of full-fat Coke and bacon butty I used to call a hangover cure?
“Yes!” says nutritionist Libby Limon, who works with brands as varied as Belvedere Vodka and VITL supplements and is a big advocate of the detox-retox way of life.
“If you know what you are doing, you can offset retox habits with good detox habits. I am a big fan of the 80/20 rule: 80pc of the time trying to follow healthy nourishing habits in diet, exercise and sleep, and then 20pc, you are more laissez-faire. This is a more sustainable way to approach healthy living, because it becomes a lifestyle rather than a fad.”
Hilary Gilbert, the model and founder of BoomCycle spinning studios, believes that there is a natural synergy between the ‘fitspo’ crew (who love to show off yoga poses or exercise achievements on social media) and the fun-time Charlies: “You don’t have to be a saint all the time to be healthy, and you don’t have to be a maniac all the time to be a hedonist. The ‘healthy hedonists’ that I know simply have a high threshold for both partying and exercise — and the endurance to pull it all off,” she says.
When you break it down, this concept isn’t groundbreaking. As a nation, we’ve been rewarding ourselves for a week’s hard work by letting loose at the weekend ever since Happy Hour was invented.
Dr Michael Mosley’s wildly popular 5:2 diet advocates two days of extreme calorie counting and normal eating the rest of the time. And how many of us spend most of the year daydreaming about a few weeks of blissed-out beach time to counteract a punishing work life?
So is detox-retox just the latest fad expression of something we’ve all been doing for years?
Perhaps. But Gilbert (35) warns against taking it to extremes: “It’s not a beginner’s game by any means,” she says. “Even a healthy hedonist needs to pick his or her battles. Eroding your body by over-exercising so you can — or because you did — drink loads and stay up too late is twice as hard on your body.”
It’s a good idea to work off the excess, she continues, but it should be less about punishing yourself and more about picking up the healthy lifestyle as soon as you’ve recovered.
“If you feel you are starting to swing between extremes, take a short break from both and reset.”
Some specialists are even less convinced. Psychotherapist Hope Bastine, who founded mindfulness consultancy, Fresh Perception, and works on employee wellbeing with brands such as Pret a Manger, says: “Some people who are extreme in their spiritual and so-called ‘healthy’ practices actually have addictive personalities: they are replacing one addiction with another.
“If a client says to me, ‘I eat really healthily and I practise every single morning and night,’ I would ask: ‘What are you trying to protect yourself from? What is your secret addiction?’ because they are trying to either cover it up or ignore it.
“I have several clients who practise yoga and mindfulness religiously several times a week, but then binge at the weekends on cigarettes, alcohol and/or substances. It’s a punishment thing, a replication of extreme yo-yo dieting, and it’s out of balance.”
Dalton Wong, A-list trainer to the likes of Jennifer Lawrence and author of The Feelgood Plan, agrees that asking your body to do two extreme things means it becomes confused as to where the balance point is.
“The problem is that our bodies aren’t resilient enough to cope with ‘quick-fix’ extremes and so, the results are often detrimental. For women who binge-drink, this may affect hormone levels and compromise fertility later on; for men, this lifestyle may lead to low testosterone levels.
“The reality is you have to be consistent to get results with your health and wellbeing.”
Suddenly, working hard and playing harder doesn’t sound quite so glamorous. I don’t intend to stop enjoying myself, but the trick, it seems, is all in the balance, making the detox bits as fun as the retox ones.
Self-knowledge is also key, Limon says. “Everyone’s tolerance and biochemistry is different. At the end of the day, what makes you happy is the most important thing, and you have to listen to yourself as to how you achieve that. For most people, happiness is found alongside feeling well and vibrant as well as having a social and loving network around you. Stress is a major negative for wellbeing — and that includes stressing about being ‘healthy’.”
HOW TO INCORPORATE SOME DETOX INTO YOUR RETOX
Alcohol increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which encourages your body to store fat. Before you open a bottle, book a yoga class for hte next day. This may cut your craving for unhealthy stress relievers.
Leave your glass on the table as you pour and you'll serve yourself 12% less.
Drink from a heavy glass. We associate them with better quality, so drink more slowly.
If drinking fizz, try Ultra Brut which means 'no added sugar' and will actually help digestion, in small amounts.
Listen to soft music with a slow beat. Fast loud music dulls the taste senses which means you drink more.
Rehydrate on a hangover with detoxifying, alcohol-soaking food - protein and complex carbs, like avocado and smoked salmon on rye toast. Drink coconut water to give you magnesium, salt and electrolytes. Avoid paracetamol or ibuprofen as they are extra toxic loads that your liver will have to process.