We have all been there: eaten too much, drank too much and done practically no exercise over Christmas.
Hopefully you took some of my pre-Christmas tips on board and managed the excess of food and drink better than other years.
Over the past week you will have seen numerous articles in the media about "detoxing your body" and how to "cleanse" your system to repair the damage of the Christmas madness.
"Detox" and "juice diets" seem to becoming more and more common with the list of suggested benefits almost limitless. Sadly, however, the health benefits of "doing a detox" are exaggerated and not supported by science.
For example, the rapid weight loss often reported as one of the main benefits occurs largely from a loss of water weight and carbohydrate stores, but importantly, almost no body fat is lost. The reality is that this new "weight loss" is usually replaced within a couple of days of returning to regular eating.
Despite the benefits of detox diets being exaggerated, a short-term detox is unlikely to do you any harm, so, if you feel better for doing it, there is no reason to stop.
The reality is that "detox" and "cleanse" diets are just that: short-term approaches.
When setting new targets this January aim to do something that is sustainable for you. We have all heard the statistics about how people fall off their "diet" and are back to bad habits by the end of January, and that is exactly what you want to avoid.
Instead, think about it as lifestyle choices rather than a diet, so let's look at a sensible and sustainable approach to your health goals this new year.
THE DOWNSIDE OF CHRISTMAS
What have you done to yourself? Besides the increase in body fat, there are other potential health implications of over-consumption of alcohol, processed foods, pies, cakes and other unhealthy treats. Look at this list: energy fluctuations, fatigue, moodiness, reduced metabolic rate, increased stress hormones, increased triglyceride (fats in blood) levels, increased insulin resistance and increased VLDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol).
Additionally, if you haven't been exercising, the enzymes in muscles that burn fats as a source of energy are lowered, which means you are more likely to store body fat.
If you have partied particularly hard this Christmas, you may have also done some damage to your liver. Drinking excessively results in inflammatory responses and production of molecules known as free radicals, which results in liver cell damage causing a sort of scarring.
It doesn't stop there, in relation to excessive food intake something called "fatty liver" can occur if your Christmas binge has lasted weeks rather than days.
Fatty liver can occur when we eat to excess and compound this with excess alcohol intake -- the liver struggles to process fats efficiently and instead stores them as fat in the liver.
Thankfully, your liver can repair itself with the right approach and many of the other adverse health effects can also be put right with sustained healthy eating and regular exercise.
WHERE TO START -- YOUR MINDSET!
Good nutrition can only be accomplished by consistently applying the right dietary habits.
The most important aspects in approaching your dietary "reset" is to be doing it for the right reasons and being consistent.
Doing something as a token gesture as a short-term attempt of being healthy will offer little benefit to you in the long-term. Make a plan to make the process of eating healthy easier and set some realistic targets.
Simple targets like drinking green tea twice per day, eating three portions of green vegetables per day, not eating late in the evening and so forth can work well. Other practical suggestions include designing a food shopping list specific to you, buying a healthy recipe book, and setting some weekly exercise targets.
RESETTING YOUR DIETARY HABITS
What should you do to "fix" or "reset" your diet anytime you feel like you have gone off track? Below are some basic principles you can use to get back on:
CUTTING BACK ON YOUR CARBS
Over the past few weeks, you are likely to have consumed huge amounts of carbohydrate foods, both good and bad.
In the absence of regular exercise, this will mean that your carbohydrate stores (glycogen) will be saturated, which is partly responsible for a state of insulin resistance that predisposes you to then store energy as fat.
In order to restore insulin sensitivity by reducing these energy stores, you can deplete them by a combination of moderate-to-high intensity exercise and a reduction in your intake of carbohydrates.
Aim to consume more foods with lower carbohydrate content such as fresh berries, leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Once you are happy with your progress and feel you are achieving your body composition and fitness goals, you can re-introduce some slow-digesting carbohydrate foods on intense training days.
TAKING A HOLISTIC APPROACH
If you are looking to really get back on track then devise a clear plan based around your personal nutritional needs. Basing your food choices around minimally processed, whole and natural foods will go a long way to making you feel and look better.
Your mind: Do you eat oily fish? It has repeatedly been shown to benefit the brain in terms of mood and function, so aim to consume some oily fish three times per week. If you struggle to eat oily fish, then it is worth considering taking an omega-3 oil supplement.
Your gut: With the increasing evidence regarding the health benefits of probiotics including better immune function and reduced incidence of respiratory illness and gastrointestinal infections, a course of probiotics may be a worthwhile strategy for two weeks in order to re-establish the healthy bacteria population in your gut.
Your general health: Every time that you put something in your mouth, it has the potential to have a positive or negative impact on your body. Aim for these responses to be predominantly positive by eating the right foods.
Sleep: Get back into a regular sleep pattern, ie start going to bed and getting up at the same time each day. More and more research is showing the benefits of sufficient sleep like improved immune function, reduced stress hormones, better mood and better appetite control.
Your approach and mindset to your post-Christmas nutrition is as important as the foods you decide to eat.
Set realistic goals that you can stick to in the long-term rather than trying to do extreme short-term fads that offer limited healthy benefits.
Eating foods that are nutrient- and fibre-rich like fresh vegetables and fruits must always be at the core of each of your meals. If you make predominantly good food choices, you never need to try the short-term approach because your body will be in a constant cycle of "detox" and repair.
Given the right tools, our bodies are extremely capable of removing toxins, fighting off infections and sustaining good health, so what we need to do is limit the amount of damage we do by eating processed foods and support it by eating the right foods that provide benefits in the long-term.