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Warning! Don't Detox

Why you shouldn’t detox in January.

‘Detox’ is a controversial word, loved by some in the wellness world but hated by those in more mainstream medical communities. We should always question any health claim, if someone is making a profit, who is selling you the idea of a detox and who is benefitting from it? Traditionally after Christmas people tended to spend less, maybe even save towards a summer holiday, but the economy needs you to keep spending year-round so it has to constantly present you with new stuff to spend your money on, gym memberships, supplements, juice cleanses…

Being healthy shouldn’t cost you money and is often common sense, looking to nature and the seasons will guide you. We used to live much more in tune with seasonal foods and would have naturally eaten the things we needed at a given time of year, dark berries at the end of summer for immunity, root vegetables dense in energy for the long cold winter. Foods that naturally support the bodies innate detoxification (something which happens daily in order for us to survive) appear in the spring, think leafy greens, salads and herbs all of which support the liver, and according to eastern philosophies shift stagnant energy. Spring is the season of rebirth, not the long cold dark nights of winter. The foods you need to nourish during this time of year are heartier and soothing. Think warming soups and stews that provide sustenance and nurture the soul.

The binge/purge culture of stuffing ourselves senseless in December and then repenting in January is also a narrative sold to us by advertisers, who rely on our obedience. This all or nothing approach is actually more shocking to the systems of the body, who may respond to January’s scarcity by clinging on to more fat, biologically we are designed to store fat as a protection against times of famine. If we give ourselves permission to enjoy some winter feasting, safe in the knowledge that as spring approaches we will naturally move towards a lighter way of eating as the warmer months approach, maybe we won’t be tempted to binge?

Detoxing in January can come with a whole host of nasty side effects, low energy, low blood sugar, muscle aches, fatigue, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, nausea, headaches, mood swings, smelly breath constipation...some may say these are positive signs of ‘toxins’ leaving the body. I disagree, eating well year-round should be the goal, not shocking the body into states of ‘dis-ease’. Another common side effect is lowered immunity as the body may not get enough nutrients to support its defence systems, so far from feeling full of energy and glowing with radiance, you are much more likely to end up in bed with a red nose.

If you have overindulged in December and want to start the new year with good intentions, I advise cultivating some new habits, ways to live that benefit your wellbeing far beyond January and don’t make you miserable in the process. You can create new neural pathways, in as little as 6 weeks, I would advise starting slowly and adding new routines and rituals to your day every few weeks so they become second nature, why not try one of these to start:

  • Sit less, move more- one of the biggest obstacles to any ‘get fit’ plan is decision making, “maybe I’ll go to a class later” “If I go to the gym tomorrow, I can go the pub tonight” “If I finish work early I’ll go for a run”… decision making depletes willpower, so you need to remove the choice, and set a fixed schedule, working out with a friend, signing up to a series of classes, a personal trainer, or simply starting your day with a 20 minute workout, will all help you commit. If your life is less structured simply make a commitment to not let more than two days pass without working up a sweat. Also make sure you enjoy the exercise, it’s a treat not a punishment. You could begin with a friend and chart your progress together, a little bit a praise goes a long way.

  • Dry January, no caffeine, no sugar, no smoking… any of these will be great for your long-term health if you can stick to them, but be aware that a drink at the end of a long day or that first morning coffee are rituals that bring pleasure and relieve stress, so unless you have something to replace them, the urge won’t just disappear. Think of other ways to reward yourself and wind down, replacing that morning coffee with a green tea provides many health benefits, it won’t taste the same but you can still walk down the street holding the cup, and your brain will create the new habit far quicker. Don’t cut everything out all at once, and be aware that we all create our own narratives, and you can re-write yours at any time, you can be the person that says no to the afternoon office cake, it’s within your control. Another tactic that works for some is to have alternate days, or only drink/eat sugar/coffee on a Friday and Saturday. For others, a complete avoidance works best. Really ask yourself what will happen if you don’t have the glass of wine? Most cravings only last 10 minutes so distract yourself and the urge may pass.

The best kind of diet is one you can stick too, and the only type of ‘detox’ that is worthwhile is one that limits processed, high-fat, and sugary foods, and replaces them with more whole foods like fruits and vegetables, in fact the single most beneficial, cheap and scientifically proven thing you can do to support your health in the new year is to eat more fruit and veg, ideally 10 portions a day, it’s so much that you won’t have the time or appetite to eat any junk!

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