Interview With Sophia Ruan Gushee About Her New Book A to Z of D-Toxing

DR L:  A to Z of D-Toxing is a reference guide for people to reduce their toxic exposures from consumer products. It’s comprehensive in scope and detail; yet, it’s very readable and user-friendly. And you created this while expanding your family from one child to three children. What inspired you to pursue this ambitious project during such a busy time?

SOPHIA:  First, I must admit that I was never interested in protecting the environment or concerned about toxic exposures before I became a mother. Because I had always been very healthy—rarely got sick—the environment and toxic exposures seemed irrelevant to me. Becoming a mother changed my perspective profoundly, however. While my children were healthy, their biological fragility was obvious to me.

After I had my first born, I skimmed several childcare books at night. Since having a child doesn’t come with a manual, I was seeking basic information, like how to nourish my daughter with a healthy diet and nurture healthy sleep patterns. Because I had a full-time job outside the home, I could review these materials only at night. I would then accidentally encounter alarming claims as I was supposed to be soothing myself to sleep: claims like popular baby products containing carcinogens, endocrine disrupting chemicals, neurotoxicants, and reproductive toxicants. I really disliked that I had no control over when and how I was learning this information. Since I often wished for an informed, wise source to give me an overview of what I should know and what I could buy/do, I decided to create what I wish I could have given my younger self.

DR L:  Your new book is incredibly detailed, yet fairly easy to comprehend. How did you drill down and what was your threshold in labeling a particular item as a “no” vs. a “yes”?

SOPHIA:  My children inspired the details in the book: My purchasing activity ramped up significantly as a mother, and my curiosity about the ingredients and materials in everything I buy grew as I learned that many of these ingredients end up in our bodies and threaten our health. Plus, healthier options can be more expensive so I wanted to understand what I was really getting for my money. For example, mattresses and carpets can be expensive. New, or imminent, parents often make these purchases for a new child. With many options that span a wide range of prices, I wanted to understand the benefits and “risks” at each price point that I could afford. I knew that I would eventually learn about risks in my household products (whether I wanted to or not) and I wanted to try to make purchases that I wouldn’t regret later. So, the details in my book are a result of me trying to figure out a high impact strategy to prioritize my efforts and budget.

In practice, it’s really hard to take an extreme stance on particular items. Instead, I think it’s important for people to be aware of risks and then do what is reasonable and practical for them. There are some convenient traits and practical considerations that make risks worthwhile. For example, carpets in my children’s bedrooms are more pure than carpets in our family room, which experiences traffic from many young children and pets who have frequent accidents!

I’m also more strict about food and beverage containers that I buy since they can provide chronic exposure of chemicals from their materials. However, that doesn’t mean we avoid drinking from plastic water bottles completely: we drink from plastic water bottles when that’s the only option and we need water. We just do what we reasonably can to avoid needing to drink from plastic water bottles.

DR L:  What are some of your detoxing rituals, if any? (Is it truly possible to be fully detox’d?

SOPHIA:  It’s impossible to be fully detox’d. However, it’s easy to reduce many toxic exposures, which alleviates our bodies of unnecessary burdens. This then liberates our bodies’ resources to detox, heal, and restore.

My rituals include eating a plant-based, mindful diet as much as I can (however, I also honor my body’s cravings, which doesn’t normally crave junk food, but meat and fish at times), drinking lots of water, exercise/yoga when I can, opening windows when the outdoor air quality is better, vacuuming often, requesting that shoes be removed before entering our home, and washing hands before meals. An important ritual that has a lot of room for improvement is sleep. I need to sleep more, which is essential for good health.

While I enjoy being as healthy as possible, I also think it’s important to let go sometimes and enjoy celebratory moments. For my family, when we know there’s a party that we’ll be hosting or attending, we try to eat really healthy before (fill up the kids’ bellies with nourishing foods), and then enjoy whatever is offered at the parties.

DR L:  What advice would you give to heads of household about the importance of detoxifying the home? Do you have any tips to stay ahead?

SOPHIA:  I would say that it’s worthwhile to start becoming aware of your toxic, or potentially toxic, exposures. However, it’s very important to avoid striving for perfection. Don’t overwhelm yourself.

As you can see in my book, there are so many opportunities to reduce our toxic exposures. So pick one healthy change that is achievable for you, that you won’t miss, and that won’t diminish joy. Start small. It might include even just reading one page, or a chapter, of my book. Feel proud each time you make a healthier choice.

When you feel ready for another change, then pick another achievable change to incorporate. Commit to the marathon. Don’t make yourself miserable for a sprint. That’s just not sustainable for meaningful change.

DR L:  What do you hope readers will gain from A to Z of D-Toxing?

SOPHIA: We have many tools from various toolboxes that we can use to optimize our health. For example, well known toolboxes include exercise, diet, stress management, and sleep. A to Z of D-Toxing aggregates tools for the less familiar toolbox of toxic exposures. I hope readers will view it as a “toolbox” of information and tips; I hope readers find it empowering in managing their education and change at their own pace.

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