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Total life detox? No thanks, I’ll take ‘kinda’ please.

“In today's crazed world of 24/7 connections, fast food, and endless apps—how can you live a high-quality life that is both professionally rewarding and personally balanced?”

Seizing on the popular notion that life these days is a bit well, too much, Christie Dames, CEO of San Francisco-based TechTalk/Studio proposes a radical overhaul—the mother of all self-help journeys. That her presentation drew a decent crowd amidst a wealth of SXSW offerings speaks to the nascent anxiety many of us harbor: a fear that the world we live in, the products we buy, the air we breathe, the foods we eat, and the people we associate with are harming us in ways we don’t even know.

The total detox takes it all

For a completely detoxed person, Dames was surprisingly un-Zen-like in her appearance and manner. Her point, however, was clear: We’re all overwhelmed with toxins—from metals and microbes, to methylation and memories—

To combat environmental toxins (lead, mercury, cadmium and more) Dames removed every unnatural chemical in her house—including her flame-retardant furniture, synthetic clothing, and chemical-laden make-up and cleaning supplies. She drastically changed her diet to remove gluten, dairy, and chemicals. To wrest back control from the invading creep of technology, Dames keeps her mobile on airplane mode whenever possible, wears red glasses to block out the blue light when she needs to read on a screen, and frequently powers down her house at night so that she has a “quiet and pure space.” Noting the damaging effects of toxic people, Dames advocates seeking out a new tribe, jettisoning narcissists and sustaining only those relationships that are truly fulfilling.

Twenty minutes into Dames’ presentation, a good portion of attendees had drifted from the room. A total detox, it turns out, is not for the faint of heart. It’s an intense process of deleting things from your life to regain a state of balance.

A total detox, it turns out, is not for the faint of heart. It’s an intense process of deleting things from your life to regain a state of balance.

(To be fair, Dames claims to have run out of choices before settling on the total detox. While that may be true, it’s unlikely to be the state of most people.)

Sensing the commitment a total detox requires and the inevitable strain on one’s relationships (not to mention wallet) it’s hard not to wonder if there’s such a thing as ‘kinda detox’—a middle ground somewhere between ‘total detox’ and ‘high freaking toxicity’. Given the exodus from Dames’ SXSW session, it’s the ‘kinda’ that a good number of us are seeking.

Our relationship with our environment: who controls who?

The decision to detox speaks volumes about one’s relationship with one’s environment. Does it control you or do you control it? What kind of boundaries are in place and how well do you push back when something or someone encroaches upon your happiness or health?

As I explored this concept further, discussing with friends and colleagues, I found that while all of us understand the detox appeal, most of us don’t view a complete overhaul of our life as practical, or even desirable. And the fixation with defining ourselves in opposition to so many entities raised flags.

As one–only marginally cynical–friend noted, when it comes to the idea of detox, “just as important (or maybe MORE important) is reframing your reaction to the things you can't control. Suppose you have a terrible boss: sure, you can take some steps like clarifying her expectations or working around her. But if you're not willing to quit, you're going to have to deal. You cannot change another person, only the way you react to him or her. So thinking of her as ‘toxic’ or expecting her to be different is only going to crush you.”

The same applies to illness, or crazy family members, or the night your spouse orders Dominos pizza instead of making you a vegan dinner. You can see it as poisonous, devastating, terrifying. Or you can recognize that the only part you can control is your reaction.

The audience at SXSW may also have been reacting to another truth about self-help: feverish advocates can’t help but sound a bit well, preachy.

How do the detoxed and toxic live in harmony? How do you detox without distancing yourself from everyone around you? How do you detox and still find ways to interact with the inevitably toxic elements of modern life? Because most of us still need to.

Finding harmony

Samantha Hampton, an Integrative Health and Lifestyle Coach, advocates a middle of the road approach to detoxing. “It’s not just about eating organic food and practicing meditation, it’s about looking at your whole life, from your food to your career to your home to your relationships and removing what’s toxic from it.”

Her prescription for a happy, healthy life?

  1. Eat organic, grass-fed, unrefined, non-GMO and as close to whole food as possible

  2. Avoid drugstore beauty products that are loaded with hormone disruptors and toxic chemicals

  3. Reduce sugar, alcohol, and grains

  4. Unfriend toxic relationships

  5. Unplug from social media and devices and interact the good old-fashioned way

Detoxing, especially a total life detox, requires a complete focus on the self. And in our selfie-obsessed society, that may be propelling people even further away from healthy relationships. While it’s good to eat alone sometimes, dining solo in your plastic bubble every night is not.

What should your detox bring? ”A you that is happier, healthier, grounded, and more productive,” says Hampton, “thus creating the ripple effect for everyone in your life.”

What should your detox bring? ”A you that is happier, healthier, grounded, and more productive,” says Hampton, “thus creating the ripple effect for everyone in your life.”

Detoxing is a deeply personal decision, no matter the level in which you choose to take it. While there’s no denying that there are benefits in removing the bad to make a better life, the challenge remains—how far do you take it? That’s the most personal question of all. Bottom line? Do what’s right for you. Do what’s right for you and your relationships; your relationships with food, technology, things, and people. Start with the most toxic and work your way out. Chances are, a little detox will take you a long way. Sometimes,

Laura Shear is a Bay Area-based freelance writer and consultant. She's addicted to home improvement projects and rescue puppies and firmly believes rosé should be enjoyed year-round. Find her on Twitter: @lmshear.

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