Ditch the Detox: 10 Realistic Resolutions for a Healthy New Year

The holidays have come and gone. If you’re feeling a little less Merry and Bright, but more Dreary with pants a bit tight … that’s okay! There’s no need to punish yourself with a restrictive detox or cleanse. Below are 10 ways to feel back on track without sacrificing your wallet or your sanity.

(1) Ditch the Detox

Lizzo once saidtruth hurts, needed something more exciting.” The boring truth is that any food, supplement, meal plan or diet labeled “detox” is likely a marketing gimmick. There, I said it.

Before becoming a buzz word, detoxification was solely termed as a medical procedure performed to remove life-threatening toxins (poison, alcohol, drugs). Today, a simple internet search provides thousands of hits promoting ways to “flush your body of toxins,” and “boost health and wellbeing.” Unfortunately, there is little evidence supporting that what we eat removes toxic materials from our body.1-5 Furthermore, detox and cleanse diets are often challenging, unsustainable, promote unnecessary supplements and restrict our bodies from essential nutrients.

But don’t worry friends, our bodies have an impressive detox team hard at work every day: the liver, gastrointestinal tract and kidneys. Our liver filters and converts any suspect substances into compounds that are then excreted by the intestines or kidneys. It’s quite a remarkable process.

Does a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle support the function of these detoxifying organs? Absolutely.5,6 Do you need to fast, juice or guzzle lemon water to reap the benefits? Nope! Save your esophagus from the apple cider vinegar cleanse, let’s talk realistic resolutions …

(2) Clean the Kitchen

Turn on some music, grab the trash can and channel your inner Marie Kondo. A clean and organized kitchen can spark the feeling of a fresh start.

  • Take everything out of your cabinets and fridge
  • Toss (or compost) dated, stale or not-gonna-finish-it food items
  • Pack up remaining holiday baked goods to take into the office or share with neighbors
  • Stock up on the good stuff – fruits and vegetables (frozen works too), dairy, lean proteins, nuts, legumes and whole grains
  • Get organized – a clean look can feel motivating

(3) Back off the Booze

Give your liver a break from working overtime this holiday season. Our livers are very resilient organs, but do need a break to recover. It can help your sleep, skin, wallet, waistline and even those post-holiday Sunday Scaries. In fact, a 2016 study found that folks who did a “Dry January” reaped these benefits and drank less six months later, regardless of their January success.7

(4) Stay Hydrated

Water is the MVP in our body. It’s essential for all our biochemical processes. Water supports digestion, absorption and waste elimination. Therefore, hydration is key for the flushing properties of the gastrointestinal tract and kidneys.8

How much water do you need? Well there’s no perfect answer. It depends on things like your body size, environment, health, and activity levels. According the folks at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, women should aim for 2.7 liters (~90 oz) and men should aim for 3.7 liters (~125 oz).9 This intake should come mostly from water, followed by foods (fruits, vegetables, soups, etc.).

What’s the easiest way to know if your hydrated? Just check out your pee.

(5) Aim for Whole Foods

Making whole foods the foundation of your diet can encourage the good stuff (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and lean proteins), while reducing the not-so-good stuff (added sugars, refined carbs, excess sodium). Foods without an extensive ingredient list are often a safe bet. However, whole foods don’t necessarily exclude all packaged foods. Nutritious packaged options can include frozen/canned fruits and veggies (unsweetened and low-sodium), nuts, legumes, whole grains and plain dairy products.

(6) Focus on Fiber

Fiber does a lot of great things. It lowers cholesterol, feeds healthy gut bacteria and improves blood sugar control.10 Fiber also keeps us regular by eliminating waste – a key part of our natural detoxification process. Incorporate fibrous foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes into each of your meals.

(7) Add More Plants

Americans can eat more plants. The majority of the U.S. does not eat the recommended amount of whole grains (98% of us), vegetables (90% of us) and fruit (80% of us) – yikes!

Plants contain phytochemicals which give food their unique color and taste, and help reduce the risk of many diseases.11 Furthermore, many of these plant-derived compounds act as antioxidants, scavenging dangerous free radicals in our body and supporting the liver with detoxification.5,6  

Make plant-based foods the base of your plate and eat the rainbow. Aim for a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes to reap the benefits of the different nutrients and phytochemicals.

(8) Get Moving

Exercise not only helps with weight management, but improves our cardiovascular health, energy levels, sleep, confidence, sex life and mental health.12,13 No need to sign up for a race (unless you want that motivation), even small steps can go a long way: take the stairs, park in the back of the parking lot, or schedule walking breaks at work. If a gym or fitness class is too costly or intimidating, you can pick from thousands of free exercise videos on YouTube.

(9) Take a Breath

Scheduling time to meditate or disconnect can go a long way. Mindful meditation has been linked to decreased stress, increased emotional intelligence, and improved mental health.14 Practicing meditation may also support self-control efforts – an extra benefit for folks with New Year’s resolutions.15

There’s no need to pose in a cross-legged position. Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated. Schedule an alarm to step away from work for a moment of peace, use apps like Headspace, Calm, or Simple Habit for guidance, start your day with intentions, and/or finish your day with gratitude.

(10) Be SMART about your Goals

Setting goals is a great way to foster direction, purpose, and motivation towards a targeted behavior.16,17 However, for many of us, these intentions remain in our head and become an afterthought by February. Reflect on what’s important to you and why, and write down your goals in the SMART way:

  • SpecificI will practice meditation
  • Measurable3 times a week
  • AttainableI have the Headspace app
  • RelevantI’m working on stress-reduction techniques
  • Time-basedFor the next month (then I’ll try 4 times a week)

Share your goals with loved ones, revisit them on a regular basis, and stick with it! It often takes more than two months to form a habit, and even slip-ups here and there won’t kill your efforts.18

Conclusion

While these 10 tips aim to support sustainable healthy habits, do what works best for you and fits into your lifestyle.

For some folks, committing to a New Year’s diet or challenge is a necessary kick-in-a$$ way to get back on track. If that’s the case for you, go for it! Aim for plans that incorporate all food groups (sadly donuts don’t count), focus on nourishment and not restriction, and encourage lifelong habits.

Wishing you all a Happy and Healthy New Year

Cheers, Megan

References:

  1. Klein AV, Kiat H. Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: a critical review of the evidence. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. 2015;28(6):675-686.
  2. Sears ME, Genuis SJ. Environmental Determinants of Chronic Disease and Medical Approaches: Recognition, Avoidance, Supportive Therapy, and Detoxification. Journal of Environmental and Public Health. 2012;2012:15.
  3. Heaner, M. Detox Diets: Myths vs. Reality. Idea Health and Fitness Association. 2013. Accessed from https://www.ideafit.com/personal-training/detox-diets-myths-vs-reality/
  4. Harvard Women’s Health Watch. The dubious practice of detox. Harvard Health Publishing. 2008. Accessed from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-dubious-practice-of-detox
  5. Schaeffer, J. Diet and Detoxification. Today’s Dietitian. 2014; 16(3).
  6. Cline, John C, MD,B.Sc, I.F.M.C.P. Nutritional aspects of detoxification in clinical practice. Altern Ther Health Med. 2015;21(3):54-62. https://search-proquest-com.ccmain.ohionet.org/docview/1696478074?accountid=50452.
  7. de Visser RO, Robinson E, Bond R. Voluntary temporary abstinence from alcohol during “Dry January” and subsequent alcohol use. Health Psychology. 2016;35(3):281-289.
  8. Popkin BM, D’Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition Reviews. 2010;68(8):439-458.
  9. Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2005. https://doi.org/10.17226/10925.
  10. Mudgil D, Barak S. Composition, properties and health benefits of indigestible carbohydrate polymers as dietary fiber: A review. International Journal of Biological Macromolecules. 2013;61:1-6.
  11. Zhang YJ, Gan RY, Li S, et al. Antioxidant Phytochemicals for the Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Diseases. Molecules. 2015;20(12):21138-21156.
  12. Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for Mental Health. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry8(2), 106.
  13. Guszkowska, M. (2004). [Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood]. Psychiatr Pol, 38(4), 611-620.
  14. Chu L-C. The benefits of meditation vis-à-vis emotional intelligence, perceived stress and negative mental health. Stress and Health. 2010;26(2):169-180.
  15. Friese M, Messner C, Schaffner Y. Mindfulness meditation counteracts self-control depletion. Consciousness and Cognition. 2012;21(2):1016-1022.
  16. Pearson ES. Goal setting as a health behavior change strategy in overweight and obese adults: A systematic literature review examining intervention components. Patient Education and Counseling. 2012;87(1):32-42.
  17. Cullen KW, Baranowski TOM, Smith SP. Using goal setting as a strategy for dietary behavior change. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2001;101(5):562-566.
  18. Lally P, van Jaarsveld CHM, Potts HWW, Wardle J. How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology. 2010;40(6):998-1009.

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