The dangers of the “New Year, New Me” mentally
January has long been associated with self-reflection and goal setting. While our New Year resolutions are well intentioned, too often they result in pressure, abandonment, self-criticism, and low self-esteem.
The desire to make a change at the beginning of a new year isn’t an intrinsically bad thing, but the pressure to make a drastic change runs the risk of damaging both our physical and our mental health.
“Change in our life must be sustainable,” says Ruth Micallef, accredited sub-specialised eating disorder counsellor. “More often than not we are encouraged into ‘big bang’ changes at New Year.”
With each new year, the idea of ‘detoxification’ saturates the media and encourages a great number of us to try a ‘detox diet’. This type of dieting aims to rid us of alleged toxins in our bodies that are held responsible for a number of complaints, including bloating, tiredness, headaches, and low moods.
A detox diet typically involves a drastic reduction in calorie intake and increase in water consumption with the intention of ‘cleansing’ our bodies and ‘washing out’ harmful toxins. New Year detox diet narratives are based on making an instant and dramatic lifestyle change, but this mindset is flawed.
“Inevitably, these instant changes lead to quick failure and feelings of shame, which certainly doesn’t help us create and grow healthier habits,” adds Micallef.
The detox myth: why should you not detox your body?
Many different detox diet programmes are advertised around New Year, but they are typically very low-calorie, and often include one or more of the following approaches:
- Eating a narrow range of specified foods.
- Fasting (not eating for an extended period).
- Drinking only juices or similar beverages (‘drink cleanses’).
- Taking commercial dietary supplements.
Our natural detox system
These are significant dietary changes that have a physiological impact, meaning they can interfere with our normal bodily functions. Yet our bodies already have an effective system in place for removing toxins. Micallef explains:
“The liver and the kidneys are incredible natural detoxicants; they break down any harmful substances that we put into our bodies, or by-products that the body creates.”
The liver acts as the body’s main filter, producing proteins (known as metallothioneins) that neutralise harmful toxins, and enzymes that support the metabolism and the body’s defence against toxins. The kidneys filter out unneeded waste products and toxins through urine.
There are also other parts of the body protecting us from harmful substances:
- Immune system – identifies potentially harmful foreign substances (pathogens) and eliminates them.
- Intestines – lymph nodes in the small intestine identify harmful substances and prevent them from being absorbed along with nutrients into the blood.
- Skin – provides a barrier against harmful substances, stopping them from entering.
- Respiratory system – hairs in the nostrils prevent inhalation of large foreign particles. Smaller particles that reach the lungs are removed from the airways via mucus.
Our bodies are highly equipped to remove harmful substances, without us implementing drastic dietary measures.