What my detox diet taught me about my privilege

I am not the type of person to go on a fad diet. In fact, I have never been on any kind of diet. I usually just watch what I eat, exercise, and call it a day. And yet here I am, latching onto the fad of the Whole30, which challenges participants to eat cleaner by cutting out processed foods, sugar, dairy, legumes, and gluten. More and more lately I’ve been thinking about how I eat and what I eat. I’ve been paying closer attention as of late to where the food that I love comes from and to what is in those foods, especially when it comes to added sugar and what that can do to your body. The Whole30 has given me the kick I need to really want to start getting healthy. But it’s also given me a new understanding of what detoxing means, and who has the privilege to do actually DO a detox. I’ll give you a hint: not everyone does.

I will be the first to admit that I’m probably a little bit of a hypochondriac. The first sign of a headache and I’m Googling “signs you have a brain tumor.” But then I remember that I’ve been staring at a computer screen for the past 6 hours and it’s more likely that I just need a better glasses prescription. When it comes to the sugar thing, I started paying attention to how much I was putting in my body. I have a major sweet tooth, and if offered both a cookie and an apple would just about always take the cookie. However, I’ve been trying to eat sweets in moderation. What was starting to gnaw at me was all the sugar I kept seeing added to things like bread, pasta, cereal, granola, yogurt, protein drinks, energy bars, and so much more. All this added sugar couldn’t be good for me. I started to do things like make my own bread and granola bars, but that sugar still found its way into my diet. And with a full time job I don’t always have a lot of downtime for baking. Something had to change.

That’s why I embarked on the Whole30. I meal planned and grocery shopped, and still worried I wouldn’t be able to give up the sweet stuff. But as day 10 has come and gone I’ve found myself realizing that this “diet” isn’t really all that hard. Yes, I had to watch all my co-workers go to Ben and Jerry’s on free cone day, and yes, I did slice the tip of my finger off in an attempt to make sweet potato noodles. But those are the very few causalities in this journey. In fact, last week as I was working my part time job at the yoga studio, I started talking to others who work there about just how much fun it is to detox. They had done the Whole 30 before and we swapped recipes and talked about how “it’s really not that hard to give all that stuff up.” I said things like, “I’m really not having as many cravings as I thought I might.” We talked about how good it makes the body feel to eat so many whole foods and how really, “it’s what everyone should be putting in their bodies…” It went on and on.

Somewhere in the conversation it dawned on me just how privileged we sounded. Here we were, three middle class white women talking about how good it is for us to detox from all the bad stuff we previously chose to put in our bodies. I’ve never lacked the resources to feed myself. In fact, as evidenced by this detox, it’s always been just the opposite. I’ve always had more than enough food. There were always snacks (both healthy and unhealthy) in my house growing up. I always carried my lunch to school as a kid and in college I had more than enough access to food through the school cafeterias and money I made from my part time job. I’ve never gone hungry and I’ve always had a choice in what I eat. If I choose to eat unhealthy processed foods, that is on me. I’m not supporting a family, I have a relatively good income and I have access to transportation that can take me to grocery stores where all of these healthy options are available. So for me to detox from the “bad” foods is a privilege. I have access that so many others do not.

As I stood in the yoga studio, I started thinking about the previous Saturday. About how I had driven to the farmer’s market to do some of my shopping, and then gotten in my car and driven back across town to the grocery store that I like the best to finish my shopping. I realized how lucky I am to own a car in a city where there is no good mass transit. I can drive wherever I want to go buy groceries. I don’t have to wait for a bus that’s usually 30 minutes late and takes 2 hours to make a drive that I could do in 15 minutes. I’m lucky that even if I work late into the night or on the weekend I can still get to the store before it closes because I have my own transportation. I don’t have to wait for a bus or have to rely on friends and family to drive me.

It’s easy to forget how lucky I am when going about my everyday life. It’s easy to forget that food insecurity really does exist. It’s easy to forget that some people don’t know if they will have lunch or dinner or breakfast today. Some people don’t know if they will eat at all today. It’s easy to forget that there are parts of my own city where there are no grocery stores within walking distance. Where the closest thing available are mini marts and gas station convenience stores. And we all know that there is little to no fresh food available in those places. When processed foods are so readily available and cheap and when grocery store chains choose not to build in more low-income neighborhoods, is it any wonder our society looks like it does? Is it any wonder that those of us who are choosing fresh foods and making healthier choices are the ones who have better access? It’s so easy to forget. Or maybe it’s just easy not to see…

I’m enjoying this Whole30. I’m enjoying the changes its creating in my body to make me feel like a healthier, more alive version of myself. But as I’m enjoying it, I’m thinking really hard about what it looks like to just have access to healthy food. For parents to be able to buy fresh fruits and vegetable for their children without it being a challenge. I’m not sure what a solution will look like, but I do know one thing — awareness is power and sending this post out into the world might be a first step.

Julia Nusbaum has a Bachelor of Arts in History and Religion from Augustana College and a Master of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt University Divinity School. She currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee where she works for the Global United Methodist Church as an event planner. Julia is also the founder and curator of the blog HerStory, a storytelling blog created to empower women. In her free time Julia can be found doing hot yoga, going for bike rides, reading, and collecting vintage Pyrex bowls. You can follow Julia on Instagram or check out her blog.

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