by Min Kwon, RDN + Blog Mom of MJ and Hungryman

For your chance to win three consultation sessions (30-45 minutes each) with Min, please comment on your health goals for 2016 in the comments section below or on the social post. We’ll choose the best comment on February 19th.

Every year around this time, detox or cleanse diets are all the rage. The premise behind such diets is the necessity for us to “flush out” unwanted toxins, such as food chemicals, pesticide residue, and environmental toxins, from our bodies. Some popular methods include juicing, colon cleanse, fasting, and one-food diets. After all the holiday eating and drinking, the desire for a “fresh” start is quite understandable. However, before you try and assume full control, it’s important to recognize our body’s highly efficient and natural detoxifying ability and that our immune system and our organs, like our liver, kidneys, and GI tract, are fully capable of handling such cleansing processes.

Now this doesn’t mean that you can just take a backseat and place all the responsibility on your body. Rather, focus on ways you can SUPPORT your body in removing and neutralizing toxic substances.

What is the proper way to detox?

Balance. By recognizing your body’s incredible ability to cleanse itself, you don’t have to take the extreme measures that popular detox diets propose. These quick-fix, fad diets are often low in calories, protein, and other vital nutrients. Not to mention, longer duration or frequent use of these cleanses can lead to a weakened immune system and nutritional deficiencies. Instead, SUPPORT your body’s natural detoxifying ability by consuming a well-balanced diet that involves mostly wholesome, real foods. That includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean sources of animal or plant-based protein, and plenty of water. Many studies are also finding specific nutrients in foods (e.g. turmeric, broccoli, and ginger) that can assist the body’s detoxification processes. It could be as simple as adding fresh ginger slices to your water or tea or grating some into your meals, like this kiwi ginger smoothie bowl. It’s amazing how much of a flavor punch the therapeutic spices can impart.

Additionally, a proper detox extends beyond diet alone. It includes lifestyle changes as well. Therefore, aim to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, get plenty of sleep, and manage stress by engaging in something that you enjoy and find relaxing, such as practicing yoga, cozying up with a book, or cooking. Eating a snack mindfully, focusing and relishing its texture, flavor, and smell can also calm the mind.

You might be thinking, “All this sounds great, but I don’t _____ or I can’t _____.” There are many obstacles to adopting an effective stress management practice, including time restraints, money, and lack of accountability. Fortunately, there are many tools and apps to help you overcome these barriers. Don’t know how to cultivate mindfulness into your life? Check out apps like Headspace and Stop, Breathe & Think. Need soothing music to help you relax, breathe deeply, or assist with sleep? Relax Melodies and Deep Calm will help you do just that.

Some may argue that following popular detox diets results in increased energy, an overall sense of well-being, improved digestion, enhanced mental alertness, and so on. However, such positive results can be attributed mostly to changes in lifestyle, such as cutting back on processed food and sugar and exercising, rather than the actual removal of toxins.

Are there any benefits to detox?

Absolutely! That is when you begin to approach detox as a lifestyle change rather than a diet. As a certified mindful eating counselor, I refrain from using the word “diet” because it’s often associated with deprivation. Once you tell yourself you can’t have certain foods, it leads to intense cravings/obsession that will lead to binging, followed by an overwhelming sense of guilt, feelings of failure, and a loss of self-esteem. Trust me, as someone with a history of chronic dieting, I’m all too familiar with this destructive pattern.

Diets also have a beginning and an end in which you try them for the allotted time, and once it’s over, you simply revert to your old habits. The result? You may have temporarily lost the weight you wanted, but you’ll eventually find yourself right back where you started. Unfortunately, with every attempt at dieting, more and more harm is done physically, as well as emotionally, such as decreased metabolism, weight gain, and loss of self-trust.

So ditch the diet mentality this year! Instead, I encourage you to approach your health goals as a journey in which there’s no end. There may be some setbacks and challenges you encounter along the way, but the key is to remain steadfast in your life-long commitment to taking charge of your own health. Consider all the bumps in the road as learning experiences and aim for progress, not perfection. That means it’s ok not to eat a perfectly healthy diet all the time (if that even exists). Instead, strive for balance. Focus on developing habits that make healthy eating effortless.

How do you develop healthy habits?

Start off by setting goals for yourself. I suggest starting with one or two per week. These goals must be SMART

S=Specific

M=Measurable

A= Achievable

R= Realistic

T= Time-specific

For instance, rather than saying “I’ll eat more vegetables,” tell yourself “I’ll eat a serving of green leafy vegetables for lunch.” Over time, with repetition, these goals will turn into habits that no longer involve your will-power. They will happen automatically. You’ll find yourself gravitating towards healthier foods, not because you think it’s the right thing to do but because you want to.

Never say never.

That’s what you do when you are on a diet. Instead, aim for balance. No food should be off limits. After all, life is too short to deprive yourself of the foods you desire. If you had that piece of cake at work, don’t feel guilty and consider that day as a failure, binging or starving the rest of the day, vowing to follow the diet perfectly the next day.  On the contrary, be kind to yourself and aim to make healthful choices for the rest of the day. Once you develop healthy eating habits, you may find that you no longer feel powerless when you encounter donuts, ice cream, or whatever foods you had on your “bad foods” list.

Inspired by her vacation to New Zealand, Min also wrote an amazing post with this genius smoothie bowl recipe! Check it out here.