Come January every year, without fail, the media go crazy for the big New Year Detox. It's understandable really, after the excesses of the festive period - whether you indulged in too much booze, food or sweet stuff, the body naturally cries out for a bit of cleansing.
I feel it's important for people's health to address a couple of issues that crop up around this. Firstly the concept of what detox actually means, and finally why winter is, contrary to popular belief, not actually the best time to do a hardcore detox.
What do I mean by hardcore Detox. When I talk about detox here I'm referring to cleanses that involve fasting, or making an extreme adjustment to your diet, perhaps only eating one type of food.
This is especially true for when people deprive themselves of food and call it a detox. Not only does your body need to be supported by getting the nutrients it needs to bring about a cellular detox and repair cells damaged by an overload of toxins, but starving is also the least effective way to lose weight. (Thank you to Karina Stewart, detox expert and co-founder of Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary in Koh Samui for teaching me this).
I'm also a great believer in the ancient and holistic schools of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. Emma Cannon, a TCM expert who deftly bridges the gap between eastern and western philosophies explains that "the idea of detox and cleansing is not an idea that is central to Chinese medicine; it is an idea that has come out of Western naturopathy." As Emma explained to me, Chinese medicine is all about achieving balance and moderation in all aspects of life - that and assessing if a treatment is appropriate to the individual and if the time is right.
I've personally found it's a similar story with Ayurveda, India's ancient health care system. Ayurveda stipulates that a detox/cleanse done in the wrong season can push the toxins deeper into the system and ultimately create imbalances within the body.
Both Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine advocate the importance of working with the seasons, your particular body type or constitution, and always with your current state of wellbeing in mind.
To me this makes complete sense. Energetically January is the worst time of year to choose to detox. The body is tired and cold and needs to be warm, nurtured and rested. The wave of detox diets that come out in January invariably focus on raw foods, juice fasts and mono diets which can create cold and damp within the body. Late winter as a season is cold, windy and rough on the system, and your body natural seeks nourishment, warmth, grounding and support from the food it eats and the environment it finds itself in.
But before you stop any good work and reach for the biscuits I'm not advocating sitting about and eating badly! Better to adopt a few healthy habits that you can bring about to nurture and restore yourself at this time of year, and save the more full-on cleansing till spring when you're more energetically able to cope with it.
Here are my 5 healthy habits to incorporate at this time of year
• Eat Plenty of Nourishing Foods - In Winter it's important that the body is not underfed so it doesn't become depleted. Think root vegetables, healthy oils, nuts & seeds, meats, nourishing whole grains, food like that. Also season with ginger, chilli, garlic and cinnamon, to combat the cold, boost circulation, improve immunity, and help break down large meals.
• Give up Sugar - Think about cutting out sugar in the New Year. Too much sugar exhausts then adrenals and lowers immunity. In Chinese medicine it weakens the Spleen and therefore dampness and heat are accumulated.
• Regular Massage - Incorporate regular nurturing, gentle massages, such as Ayurvedic Abhyanga massages with herbal oils to soften and restore the glow to your skin.
• Don't let Yourself Stagnate - Do restorative yoga or fitness practices but stay away from a gym workout that's too strenuous. Yoga will help draw you inside to a better place, while working up a mild sweat and stretching will help release toxins from your body.
• Tune in to your Mind - Reflective, inward practices are best suited for the middle of winter so consider learning meditation or mindfulness. Use these short days and dark nights to nourish yourself from the inside both emotionally and physically.