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Following several weeks of festive indulgence, many of us begin January feeling overweight, sluggish and full of regret. With Christmas forgotten and nothing much to look forward to until summer, it can be tempting to use the start of a new year to reinvent yourself in some way. Of course, there's nothing wrong with making a positive decision to improve your health, whether by changing your diet, exercising more or quitting smoking, as long as you don't fall into the trap of thinking this one change will be the key to your 2016 happiness.
One word that seems to be on everyone's lips once the New Year's hangover has settled is 'detox'. This is often used to mean a kind of physical, even spiritual, cleansing of body and soul. Many people cling to the detox concept to appease their guilt as they drink their bodyweight in mulled cider on Christmas Eve – 'it's alright, I'll do a detox in the New Year.' But what do they mean?
Detox is based on the idea that a poor diet and lifestyle causes toxins to accumulate in the body, leading to poor health, bad skin and flab. Some believe that the body needs to be purified of these toxins on a regular basis in order to maintain optimum health.
Ask a few people about their detox plans and you'll hear about several different methods. Often it involves excluding certain food groups, or even all food, for a certain period of time and consuming only water, juices or some kind of 'nutritional blend'. Many find these restrictions difficult, and going without food leaves them tired, hungry and irritable, to say nothing of the costs of purchasing special detox supplements. But they're willing to endure because it will leave them feeling great afterwards. Or will it?
The fact is, your body comes equipped with it's own detoxification system and, assuming you don't have a condition such as kidney failure, this is perfectly sufficient for getting rid of all the rubbish you ate during December. There is very little clinical evidence that detoxes do you any good at all.
Anything your body doesn't need is processed and excreted in various ways. The skin, kidneys, liver, gall bladder, kidneys, lungs, lymphatic system and intestines all play a part in removing toxins, breaking them down and excreting the waste products as sweat, urine and faeces.
When people talk about toxins, they often mean not just those from food, alcohol and smoking but those from our environment as well. Many people are concerned about chemicals used in drinking water, farming and cosmetics and how these can affect our bodies.
We can't be completely sure that none of these chemicals have the potential to cause us harm, but it is very likely that a weeklong detox won't make a difference. We should also be reassured by the fact that our bodies are processing these chemicals all the time without a problem. Trust your body, it's got everything under control!
So you can stop worrying about those 18 pints you drank on New Year's Eve, they were processed into carbon dioxide and water by your liver and left the scene long ago.
If you really want to improve your health this year, unfortunately there is no short-term fix. Restrictive diets and super intensive irregular gym sessions don't usually work in the long run. You're much more likely to succeed by making long-term healthy food swaps, exploring healthier foods and finding new things you like, and incorporating a realistic exercise regime into your lifestyle. By the way, if you hate the gym, don't go! Save your money and try dancing, football, swimming or yoga instead.