I just attended a Bangkok Expat Healthified group detox theme event. Of course I was a little skeptical; people use that concept in a lot of different ways, many that make no sense. Your liver and kidneys remove toxins from your body, not special teas, vinegar, alkaline foods, or whatever else. Bear with me; it all makes plenty of sense, and the parts that don't work are also interesting. I went in with an open mind, a very practical approach, with this review covering what people said in three separate presentations.
not about those products or marketing (photo credit)
Fair warning: this really isn't about detox tea or slimming tea, or any tea at all, so for the most part outside the scope of this main blog theme (although I do mention how it connects at the end). I just watched a Tea Fix podcast on detox issues related to tea but they were focused more on rejecting the standard claims and those herbal products, and to some extent tea as a miracle health product in general.
Since none of the problematic herb tea themed detox ideas came up, in this or any talks, what was "detoxing," to them? Really three different things in the three talks, which overlapped quite a bit.
I will be critical of parts of what they said and supportive of other parts. The idea isn't to condemn any particular approach or to completely endorse one either. The ideas were interesting to me. A later section here interprets how something more complicated than people passing on good, helpful information mixed with some flaws in background context or conclusions is going on.
Olga Vita on detox
Details about an event coming up on the 26th, with Olga Vita presenting more along the same lines, might work to specify this theme better, or serve as a resource.
the next related longer talk; more details here
Her talk was interesting, and it made some really good points. Not all of it worked for me. One has to be careful with both the bias towards accepting things you want to be true and rejecting those you expect to be false. Maybe no one in that room had issues with the latter, but both throw off clearly considering ideas that you encounter. That's essentially a summary of confirmation bias, a common flaw in reasoning. It really should already be familiar, but here's a good definition just in case:
Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning.
Back to the central theme, the first talk of the three was more a short introduction to a larger set of ideas that weren't covered in detail, but there were some clear themes and distinct ideas.
Detox was presented as a general term for eliminating anything harmful, not even limited to toxins as negative compounds in the body. Processed food or sugar based diets were presented as unhealthy, or use of artificial flavors or scents. That's sort of cheating, narrowing toxins down to known, common sense problems. Using a definition that broad working in an unpleasant work environment could be considered toxic. It definitely is unhealthy.
Olga presented drinking water from a plastic bottle as unhealthy. That could be, and it's not that controversial, since that's been covered in legitimate news for awhile, that traces of that plastic gets in the water. And she raised cell phone EMF output as a risk, which also might be right, or might not be so bad. It would seem odd if no negative health effects are ever connected with all the types of signals that pass through us. It's not natural.
You don't need ancient Chinese medicine and that one crazy footpad nerve-energy pattern model to sort out that walking barefoot is very refreshing; you can just walk around and draw your own conclusions. The same applies to being around plants instead of inside shopping malls or walking on concrete.
She recommended skipping breakfast, the intermittent fasting idea, that eating for 14 hours a day is overdoing it. Again, maybe. How to judge that? Surely different cycles would work best for different people, based on all sorts of inputs. It's pretty far off the track of colon cleansing, a topic that didn't come up until the next presentation.
A recommendation to only use fasting to the extent you are not making too big a shift made good sense. It was easy to miss that this was one of the more practical, positive themes she brought up: you start from where you are. Someone really into a poor diet, processed junk foods and sodas, would shift off that first. Next someone could move on to a temporary raw diet, then later up to juice fast, and after acclimation onto water fasting (not one after the other, as an longer term staged program).
I experimented with periodic juice fasting when I was younger and that seemed fine, not difficult or shocking. I'm not sure if it actually helped but it seemed like a good idea at the time, and I still believe that it's unnatural and even harmful to never let your body get a break from the digestion cycle. I can't justify or explain that; it's just my impression, based on limited personal experience.
A bit on structured water started to go off the rails, per conventional wisdom. Finally, something to criticize.
The idea is that water remembers a form it took in the past, a shape, so specific forms of stirring rearranges it, or certain mineral concentrations set up structural patterns. The basic premise is nonsense but all the same some of the steps taken to "structure" water may still be positive and useful, even if based on theory that's dead wrong. An example: she recommended to drink natural spring water versus treated water, and to select water based on mineral content, or treat it with minerals. All that might work. It's quite possible that water is healthiest if you drink it with certain minerals included, and in general we don't keep track of which are in different versions of water, or at what levels.
yeah, no (credit)
Someone might wonder, how can I be so sure that "structured water" isn't a real thing, that there couldn't be anything to it? It violates the basics of what water or any fluid even is. Anyone who took basic college chem classes would know better; fluids don't have molecular pattern shapes, Brownian motion or movement causes molecules in any liquid to move around quite a bit. Not in the same sense as heat representing a level of carried energy and motion in a solid; all the molecules move in relation to position to each other. It's not simple to look up what any one person is referring to related to that subject, which could vary, but I have ran through background review on this topic before.
Again there might be more going on than the description being wrong; in some rare cases useful conclusions could be masked by completely wrong explanations. It seems like in most cases dissolved levels of gasses in water could be adjusted by physical manipulation that's described as giving the water structure. In this case it's unlikely that would be helpful though, since we have another organ that's much better at taking in and removing gasses than our digestive system, in the form of our lungs. Drinking water that's not contaminated by traces of unhealthy substances seems a much more important concern than all the rest.
I'll say more about a general impression at the end, but I liked the content, in general. And Olga seemed genuine and nice enough, which helps.
Second speaker: Rasayana retreat (a spa, really)
This speaker also seemed nice enough (I lost track of her name, and it's not in notices and such), and for the most part the content was clear and grounded. Again it seems odd to specify that eating a lot of raw foods or drinking juices, or just drinking plenty of water, is really "detoxing." You sort of expect more from the theme. It's as if someone was going to pass on a special method to have more energy and then told you to get enough consistent sleep at night. That would help, by the way.
The second speaker stuck mostly to some plain common sense ideas, with that bit about colonics mixed in but played down (about getting enemas). She offered retreat services, endorsing outings based on eating healthy foods, including a lot of raw foods and juices, and getting massages, etc.
I'd skip all of it myself, given the colonics tie-in, but who knows, some people are into that. Two of my good friends were back in the 90s, but it's my impression that the trend either came and went or never really did resonate with many.
I'm mostly cutting out a detailed account of the rest she talked about because Olga went a little further with interesting ideas. The theme of doing a spa retreat, getting massages, eating healthy foods, and probably getting some advise about lifestyle revisions seems sound enough. As for colonics, maybe not. I'd rather drink that senna infusion, a powerful laxative, which I also wouldn't do; just eating more fiber and drinking more water would be fine.
Their Facebook page talks a lot more about raw foods workshops and events, really downplaying the standard spa theme (massage, etc.). It's good they branch out and explore different directions. My wife loves massages so we're always doing that on vacation, less so related to the Thai version where they bend you around and use pressure points, more the typical oil type. She trained to do Thai massage--she's crazy; she learns all sorts of things she doesn't need to know, like studying Mandarin--so once in awhile she will do my forearms and hands, or touch up a "monkey fist" in my back.
about 100 photos down their FB section standard spa themes come up (credit)
Digital Detox Asia
The last section was on digital detox, putting your electronic devices away for set periods. Again that's cheating, isn't it, shifting detox to mean something so practical and common sense related as putting the phone down once in awhile? It wasn't quite that simple.
Again an upcoming event notice (for a yoga retreat Sept. 28-30) might help lead to more on who this is and what they're about.
yoga; that's pretty the theme (different version of their next event notice)
They were selling something (they all were, really), in their case yoga retreats. That probably would be nice, but you don't need to go on a yoga retreat to turn your phone off for a weekend. Someone mentioned that you can still buy a "feature phone," Nokias and such. Apparently that's going to be a new thing now, "digital detox" and buying a non-smart phone. After that maybe getting land lines will make a comeback, or it will become fashionable to talk to people face to face, or use paper again. Nah.
Of course the main point works. We all intuitively know that everyone walking around like zombies staring at small screens is horrible, but it hooks you. One of the guys recommended not checking messages until lunch. He definitely doesn't work in IT, or any corporate job.
This is where some of the ideas break down; the personal rules and standard practices should be different for a yoga instructor versus a desk bound employee. The same applies to someone running a spa, or charging what a Bangkok English teacher might earn in a week for a two hour alternative practices health consultation. Some of all that would relate to healthier, more natural living, to practices people should consider and adapt, and some might just relate to those people not experiencing typical daily demands.
Everyone would live a more natural, balanced life without working a 9 hour work-day with 3 hours of commuting tacked on (the standard Bangkok work-day; unfortunately not a worst case). Add a couple showers and meals to that and you can either experience normal sleep or time to spend on whatever work-life balance you might achieve, as long as you bang that out.
On the way home I couldn't help but consider, what did I learn? Stop eating sugar and processed food, eat raw fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of water, pay attention to the source of water, take breaks from smart phones, spend some time in nature, do yoga, and skip breakfast. I do eat a really light breakfast, fruit and just enough starch to allow fruit and tea to digest better, and on the weekends eat breakfast later because that cycle feels more natural. I was already ok with very limited forms of fasting. I used to do yoga; it was good for centering for snowboarding.
I suppose it was better than I expected. Very little actually conflicted with common sense and next to none seemed wrong. At the short talk summary level all the next level of detail was hard to evaluate. I suppose longer versions may have offered more details, some probably helpful and useful, and maybe some a bit out there.
They were all selling things, so the next concern might be if those things were really of good value, or if alternatives would provide better options. Spas and yoga retreats are around. I'm kind of skeptical of personal counseling about "progressive" health issues and approaches. For someone on that page, why not.
It would seem easy for people with strong biases on either side to come to the other two opposing conclusions, that beyond the familiar ideas it was all nonsense best avoided, or all clearly useful, practical input that should be embraced. Without either bias half just seemed like common sense, some interesting ideas came up, and there were only a few gaps.
Thinking it through a little more, about subculture
After giving it more thought it's probably not the right question "which parts of the subject of "detox" are real and useful?" It's almost not about that. That's what people are looking for in going to an event like that, on the surface, but underlying that something entirely different seems to be going on. A story is going to help explain what I mean.
A friend in Thailand is into some of that New Age scope, but selectively so. He's into yoga, travelling in India, "metaphysics," or at least parts of what people would consider that, and is open to all sorts of ideas that some would consider marginal (aliens are in continual contact with us; that sort of thing). And running; that kind of fits but kind of doesn't. I''m not sure he looks the part; his short hair could fit in anywhere, and he doesn't wear clothes that look Indian, as far as I know. And he's not a vegan.
What difference, one might wonder, if he doesn't make the choice to not eat meat, dairy, or eggs? According to him that's seen as a critical component of that general lifestyle in the circles he might otherwise be a part of. To some extent he is completely excluded for that.
The deeper question beyond if detox works or not, the parts of related ideas, is what kind of social sub-group people are really trying to be a part of, and what kinds of buy-in are required for that to happen.
yoga retreats are not an uncommon theme in Thailand (photo credit)
As far as that group goes the most superficial level one could sort through just by looking around. A lot of people's clothes did look a bit Indian, but most wouldn't stand out anywhere. Some had evident tattoos (in that picture above a tribal tattoo would seem to work as in-group marker). Some guys had beards, and wearing sandals fit the general look. Most could've passed for any working Thai professional. Doing yoga really would be central, but you can't necessarily see that in an external image.
these cultures would not overlap (credit Little Bangkok meditation group)
I'm approaching all that from a completely different perspective, considering whether I really would want to be any part of all that, not sorting out a form of participation that would be agreeable. Given how constrained my lifestyle is for the most part it's just not an option; I spend time on kids, not other things. Tea works as a hobby interest because I can narrow it into where it fits, or drop it for a week, beyond having the beverage with meals.
It makes me think back to what I embraced or didn't embrace when I was in my 20s, and how that played out. I wasn't joining any groups, or following any teachers; none of it. Then again I was a stoner into outdoor sports, doing some yoga and being a vegetarian. Doing the occasional juice fast wasn't a lifestyle choice relating to joining any subculture; back in the 90s people just did all that.
Tea isn't part of what I was doing then (although I was into tisanes, herb teas). I suppose some people in that event would drink tea, but it seemed to clearly not be a central theme. Do they tend to drink vegetable juice, as we did back then? Probably, or maybe not.
This leads to considering how much would be central as adopted practices, to joining social groups related to yoga, natural lifestyle, vegetarian diet, and so on. What would be mandatory, and what optional? That must vary. One branch probably makes it mostly about religion, with others not even touching on that. The clothing makes for an interesting consideration and marker, and tattoos.
taken far enough any subculture can seem like a caricature (credit)
All of this isn't heading towards any tidy conclusion. As an expat (foreigner) I tend to explicitly consider how cultures and subcultures work. Really simple themes tend not to emerge; lots of broad patterns play out in different ways. It's interesting living in a relatively international version of a large city to have access to a higher count of those subcultures, but still I'm too busy for much exploration, and certainly for joining in.
Back to the detox idea, what it's basically about, the strength and weakness in the implied definition is that it's about anything that's bad for you. Even something good for you, like drinking plenty of water, or getting exercise, would be bad for you in the wrong amount. McDonald's food and potato chips make for the low hanging fruit; of course heavily processed, chemical laden foods aren't generally positive.
Back to the subject of tea (finally), millions of people in Bangkok are drinking RTD (bottled) or powdered, artificially flavored teas every day, not that far off the problematic practice of eating meals out of a 7/11. Brewing whole-leaf teas with nothing added to them doesn't cost more; quite a bit less instead. Those are likely to be lower in contaminants, with a potential long list of real health benefits resulting from consuming them. That short summary raises a lot of issues that are impossible to confirm (the risks and benefits parts), but it's clearly a case of swapping out chemicals for natural food versions.
I don't talk a lot about health issues in this blog because there isn't much to say. Tea is probably healthy, but mapping that out in detail is problematic. Even research study evidence tends to vary, and there's a risk of biases initiated by funding for studies affecting the outcomes. It was interesting to consider some health issues related to the event, and the detox theme, and to think through how it applies to social themes, even though I won't be changing much about my life based on that input.
focusing on that one long term project these days, raising kids