January is always a popular “detox” month; when we apparently need to rid ourselves of our Christmas excesses by embarking on a regime of juices/no carbs/raw food/etc. I’m not mad keen on this idea of “detoxing”. Yes, I ate more indulgent foods over the holiday period because I was celebrating with family and friends. But it’s not necessary to “purify” yourself after a period like this. Your body is adaptive and resilient, with in-built detoxification mechanisms (your liver and kidneys) working all day, every day to remove toxins and balance your systems.
Rather than subscribe to one of the (usually very expensive) “cleanses” that are always advertised at this time of year, why not think about some sustainable, healthy habits you can start to practice? January is still a great month for starting something; a new year, a new opportunity to put our health first. I understand. But your time is better spent developing long-term initiatives, not buying into a quick fix. Short-term cleanses and detoxes aren’t a magic cure-all. They don’t support your body all year round, or magically protect you the 360 days of the year you’re not “detoxing”.
Here are five healthy habits you can work on instead of a detox. They’re not restrictive one-off or short-term things; they’re little healthy shifts in behaviour, practices you can slip into your day. Subtle, long-term things to nourish and support your body EVERY DAY. You might already be doing some of them occasionally – make a conscious effort to do them routinely and they’ll become a natural healthy habit!
1. Eat a minimum of five serves of vegetables, every day. I love veggies so much and sometimes I just can’t believe people can’t hit 5 serves a day. But statistics show the majority of us don’t get to that target. Don’t be a statistic! Breakfast? Have grilled tomato and mushrooms with eggs. Chuck spinach and cucumber in your smoothie. Lunch? Make a big chopped salad or coleslaw to form the base of your lunches for the week; you can shove it in a sandwich or wrap as well. Dinner? Make stuffed baked sweet potatoes, veggie black bean tacos, a vegetable risotto, homemade minestrone. Snack time? Good old veggie sticks, or try making dips, smoothies or bake something with veggies in it like zucchini bread. The possibilities are endless! You can even make paleo chocolate brownies out of pumpkin – c’mon!
2. Make water and/or herbal tea your go-to, regular beverage. A juice cleanse won’t magically transform your insides; it’s much better to have consistently healthy hydration habits. Making your regular, most often-consumed drinks just good old water and herbal tea will have a more positive and sustained impact on your health. Adequate hydration levels help regulate weight and appetite, and improve concentration and digestion. You’ll also be avoiding liquid “empty calories” from soft drinks, sugary juices, alcohol and other sweetened beverages (I’m looking at you powdered chai lattes). You can still have a glass of wine or two when you’re out to dinner, or enjoy a hot chocolate on a chilly day. Maintaining a healthy mindset and a healthy body involves practising your best habits MOST of the time, not EVERY time.
3. Reduce your reliance on pre-packaged foods. Do you regularly reach for a store-bought granola bar, pasta sauce, or even a good ol’ ready meal? Make this month the one where you start experimenting with cooking more things from scratch. Buy nuts, seeds and dried fruit in bulk to make a trail mix; store it in zip lock bags (that can easily be refilled!) for a portable option. Grab your food processor or blender and make legume-based dips like hummus or maybe this beetroot and lentil dip (use canned beans or go all out and buy the dried ones to soak). Cook soups and sauces in large batches and freeze them for when you need a speedy meal. More natural, additive-free and probably also much lower in sugar/salt for you, and less packaging for the environment as you can reuse containers. Buying in bulk can be more economical, too.
4. Start to incorporate probiotic foods into your regular diet. Research on probiotics is booming and there is increasing evidence our intestinal microbiota play a significant role in relation to our immune system, weight, even our mood. Probiotic rich foods/drinks include yoghurt, kefir, miso paste, tempeh, sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables e.g. kimchi (just make sure you get unpasteurised versions), and kombucha tea. Have yoghurt with your granola for breakfast or make a kefir smoothie (both of these things also make a great snack). Stir some sauerkraut through a salad or add it to a sandwich. Have a tempeh stir fry for dinner occasionally instead of chicken or beef. Maybe even try to make your own kombucha tea. You don’t have to do everything every day. The important thing is to be consistent over time, and nurture your gut at regular intervals.
5. Take up yoga, or walking, or both. Gentle, purposeful, rhythmic movement is both uplifting and calming. It will help clear your mind, lift your mood and may also help improve your digestion as the blood flows around your body. Yoga is like a moving meditation – great if you are not quite ready to sit perfectly still with just a mantra and your mind. Personally, I find yoga really helps me to stop my mind racing and improves my focus after I’ve done it. While I’m in a class I just concentrate on the movements. Then I can apply that technique to other circumstances. No yoga studio and/or no cash? Walking is free and the beautiful rhythm of your feet is just as lovely, and soothing! Get outdoors. Wake up an hour early, block out your lunch break, or arrange to meet a friend after work for a buddied-up stroll. I love walking in the mornings with a chilled out podcast playing.
What healthy habits are you hoping to grow in 2017? Share your ideas by leaving a comment!