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The Right Way to Detox

Here’s how to segue a short-term cleanse into long-term moderation.

January 2017

It wouldn’t have been a successful holiday season if there weren’t some indulgences to atone for, right? Channeling all that guilt into some serious New Year’s resolutions always seems like such a good idea—notice how crowded the gym always is on Jan. 2? On the other hand, according to the number crunchers at the Statistic Brain Research Institute, only 8 percent of people are actually successful in achieving their resolutions, with top-ranking goals including losing weight, staying fit and quitting smoking.

Aiming high is a good thing, of course, but finding a more moderate way to change your habits is likely to bring longer-term success. Here are a few popular promises, and manageable ways to alter them to work for you.

Resolution: Diet Detox

“Detoxing” has got to be one of the most popular “clickbait” promises on the Internet, and for good reason: Every purveyor of popular (and usually expensive) diets and teas has taken to decrying the toxins that urban living, processed foods, alcohol, sugar and a host of other ills have implanted in your body. What those specific “toxins” are is usually unclear. The problem with cleanses and detox diets—most of which are temporary and harsh (we’re looking at you, lemonade and cayenne pepper)—is that they’re unsustainable in the long term and could prompt a post-detox binge. Your liver, kidneys and intestines are the best filters your body can employ. Still, people often do say they feel better during these cleanses: That’s generally because they cut the processed foods, sugar and alcohol out of your diet.

An easier way to get healthy is to try a few easy challenges, such as the Mayo Clinic’s Sugar Challenge. Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., of the Mayo Clinic explains that sugar hides in a lot of places—energy drinks, cocktails, flavored waters, yogurt—and challenges people to choose foods that have 5 grams of sugar or less per serving; limit sweeteners (even the ones you think are healthy, like agave) to 5 grams of sugar or less per serving; avoid artificial sweeteners; and use fruits to add flavor and nutrition. You’ll likely find that your palate adjusts to a less sugary level over those two weeks. Now consider doing the same, limited-time elimination of other things, like alcohol, processed foods and caffeine.

Don’t forget these tips: Drinking lots of water is the cheapest and best way to detox, since water helps the kidneys flush waste out of the system. Try to avoid teas marketed as weight loss or detox teas, which generally contain laxatives and can end up dehydrating you (compromising that crucial kidney function).

Finally, consider using that old standby—the food diary—which will keep you accountable. And don’t keep food that you don’t want to eat in the house. Keep healthy snacks on hand so you won’t get ravenous. And all those leftover cookies and holiday candies? Purge them from your kitchen. A change in environment can be the most powerful help you can give yourself this year.

Resolution: Digital Detox

Ditching technology is not an option for most of us, but how many times does picking up your smartphone lead to falling down an Instagram rabbit hole? In fact, lots of studies show that blue lights from your devices can disrupt the sleep hormone melatonin, which can contribute to weight gain and cardiovascular disease. Taking a break from social media can be a great way to (gasp!) talk to people in real life, get back in touch with your physical reality and even feel better about yourself (since checking out others’ idealized social media posts has been shown to cause feelings of depression and isolation).

Ease yourself gently out of technology addiction by making small adjustments such as charging your phone away from your bed, turning on the do not disturb or airplane mode overnight, and using a radio alarm clock instead of waking up to your screen. Also, customize the push notifications, so you’re not always getting drawn into the latest sample sale/game update/Facebook birthdays, etc. Clean up the subscription emails you don’t use by signing on to free service Unroll.me. Need serious help? Yes, technology can help you. You can set a timer to block apps—and invite friends to do the same—using ShutApp – Digital Detox.

Resolution: Drinking Detox

There’s no shame in not partaking, particularly if your liver took a beating over the holidays. And there are many Hollywood celebs who don’t touch alcohol, since they recognize the weight loss, skin clarity and debloating benefits of quitting. But if you’re a moderate drinker, or if happy hour or cocktails are part of your work culture, swearing off alcohol may be easier said than done. As with a short-term elimination diet, make it a challenge. Dry January, a 5-year-old campaign that began in England, lets you calculate the financial and caloric impact of quitting drinking for a month, raise funds and donate both to Alcohol Concern (the organization that started Dry January) or to charities of your choice, and even use crowdfunding to raise money for awareness and assistance for people with alcohol consumption problems. The benefits when you stop drinking alcohol? You’ll sleep better, according to a study in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, which found that while alcohol may help you pass out more quickly, it increases alpha wave patterns in the brain, which disrupts the deep, restful sleep patterns you need. You’ll likely lose weight, since researchers have found that drinking is likely to prompt people to eat more. (Plus, a single margarita can contain more than 300 calories—mostly from sugar.) Because alcohol is a diuretic, quitting it will help your body stay hydrated, and conditions like eczema and rosacea may be relieved. The trick to making these resolutions work for you? Make realistic, short-term goals and be mindful of how you feel as you go along. You might just end up as one of the 8 percent of resolution-makers who’ll have succeeded when 2018 rolls around.