This week's column, first published in the Sunday Star Times on 26th January 2014.
Even if you’re back at work, the early weeks of January still feel a bit like holiday time. But now February looms and there’s no denying it: time to get back into our regular routines. Cue a fairly predictable crop of ‘detox’, ‘quick fix’ and ‘re-start’ diets, all designed to get you ‘back on track’. The one doing the rounds on social media lately is Gwyneth Paltrow’s detox, which she claims is ‘filling’, but which seems to me to consist of just one solid meal a day and a lot of tea, soup and broth. Just reading the diet made me feel hungry.
No matter how many times nutritionists say we shouldn’t do drastic detox-style diets, and that our bodies do very well, thank you very much, at detoxing us; there are always people for whom this kind of severe, restrictive diet appeals. I think it is the psychological ‘kick start’ aspect; the idea that if I do this, it will make me lose weight quickly, and then I can (presumably by becoming a different person) keep the weight off.
Of course, the reality is that very few people succeed at keeping the weight off. After a period of severe restriction, we very easily slip back into old habits, go back to ‘regular’ foods and unsurprisingly the weight come back on, often with a bit extra to keep it company.
So what’s a better way to give yourself a healthy start to the year? First of all, don’t buy into anything that calls itself a detox. Just the word implies denial, deprivation and depression. And it’s also temporary. If you truly want to look at yourself at the end of this year and say “Yes, I’m healthier than I was this time last year”, it will take changes that can become a permanent part of your life. So why not make a list of small tweaks you can make to some of your everyday behaviour – things that are not too difficult to maintain, but will add up to long-term benefits?
When it comes to food, these could be things like:
- I will plan my meals for the week before I shop, so I’m prepared for the activities of the week.
- I will pack my drawer at work with healthy snacks, so I don’t get tempted by the vending machine.
- I will have three good handfuls of veges every day (think breakfast, lunch and dinner).
- I will have at least three alcohol-free days (ideally in a row) most weeks.
- I will concentrate on recognising when I am hungry (and eat), and when I am full (and stop eating).
- I will eat fresh, whole, colourful food at every meal.
None of these examples are drastic or particularly difficult, and they’re all things that are easily incorporated into a busy life. They’re slow, steady changes to what we do most of the time. Once you start doing them, it won’t be long before you don’t even think about them any more. The upside: you’ll feel healthier and have some great new lifelong habits.