FESTIVE obligations fulfilled, the chance for a fresh start is here.
Detoxes are the favoured formula for many in the new year. They are seen as a cure for celebratory congestion and act as a quick kick back to bodily balance and health.
A new survey by Hepatitis Australia has found about 70 per cent of people believe a detox diet or product can restore their body and liver's health. This is despite the fact that going on a detox diet "is futile when it comes to liver health".
Instead, it encourages a constant focus on health. "Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will help optimise liver function and prevent liver damage," it says.
A GP, Ginni Mansberg, is also critical of the quick fix of a cleanse. Her main frustration is the "pseudoscience" behind many detoxes and the often epic prices charged for the privilege.
"The concept of a detox is that your body is full of toxins . . . that your body can't [process] on its own. It's complete crap," she says, pointing out that sweat, urine, faeces and the breath all work to rid the body of toxins.
That's not to say cleansing is complete crap. Mansberg says there are three things that "are ubiquitous to detoxes and they're really good".
First, hydration. As little as 2 per cent dehydration is detrimental to our brain function, she says. "So more water is No. 1."
Second is cutting alcohol intake. "Most of us drink too much, particularly in the merry season," she says.
Third is eating fibrous foods, and the benefits that brings. As most detoxes encourage consuming a lot more fruit, vegetables and fibre, "that will have you pooping for Australia and [subsequently] means you have less bowel gas."
Plus, a restart to the system can set you back on the path of relative virtue.
With longer-term lifestyle changes in mind, this is what to expect from three different detoxes:
It ought to be the easiest detox but losing the social lubricant of alcohol in the lead-up to Christmas proves a challenge. Also, a short shock of a detox seems more manageable than something sustained.
But sustainable is indeed the point, so I start an plan, called 10 Days to a Healthier You, created by Kathleen Alleaume, a nutritionist.
It's as simple as it is sensible and she provides an eating plan with recipes including high-fibre fruit smoothies (psyllium husks and chia seeds blended with yoghurt, milk, cinnamon and frozen berries) and harissa lamb with a chickpea salad. It's based on proven weight-loss principles of loading your plate with good greens and combining lean sources of protein with low glycemic index carbohydrates. There are free foods, including green vegetables, cherries and berries, and you can even enjoy a treat twice a week (100 millilitres of wine or a couple of squares of dark chocolate, for instance).
It's helpful getting into the rhythm of portion sizes, which she provides. Alleaume also suggests five daily rituals for feeling healthier: hydrating to quench your thirst; "eating a rainbow" as "each colour carries its own set of unique, disease-fighting chemicals"; exercising for 30 minutes a day; chewing each mouthful 10 to 20 times to improve digestion; and getting eight hours' sleep a night. Quality sleep, she says, resets your metabolism and "is essential for optimising appetite and controlling hormones."
Lucky You juices are apparently Miranda Kerr's tipple when she arrives in Australia. And if it's good enough for Miranda . . .
The idea of a juice fast is to "shake the junk from the trunk", says the founder of Lucky You, Heidy Jameel, who insists the fasts are not about deprivation, but rejuvenation.
The benefits, she says, are giving digestion a rest, rehydrating, alkalising and creating better eating habits. As a virgin cleanser, I start with a three-day program. You can also do five or seven days.
Lucky You delivers cold-pressed juices (which retain more vitamins, minerals and enzymes than other juicing methods) to your door. The array of juices is visually appealing and the different flavours of nutrient-dense juice keep my tastebuds entertained. There's even a sweet, protein-packed nut and date "mylk" to sip on "if you are feeling overly hungry or in need of something sweet".
Chaste as I feel, by the end of day two I'm pretty over it and my colleagues taunt me with solid food. Jameel sends an email to touch base. If you feel "like things are unravelling . . . Don't PANIC. This too is normal," she says. She suggests taking 15 minutes to chill out.
By the time I'm done I do indeed feel cleaner, lighter and happier and continue with a lemon and warm water to start the day as well as vegetable juice later on to amp up my intake of greens.
It is something I'd happily do once or twice a year. While it's on the expensive side, it's a whole lot easier having someone else do the hard work so you can just sit back and . . . have a drink.
I would be lying if I said I wasn't scared about having a plastic tube put up my bum and pumped with 20 to 30 litres of water.
But, when I read in Dr Bernard Jensen's book Dr Jensen's Guide to Better Bowel Care that "the average person may have 10 to 25 pounds of dried fecal matter in their colon," I was terrified.
I turn up not knowing what to expect, but Natalie Purcell, who runs Byron Bay Detox Retreats, makes a daunting process as decorous as possible.
I'm on another three-day juice fast, this time with a daily colonic. As juicing removes the fibre of the fruit and vegetables, making sure you eliminate is important.
She uses the FDA-approved and TGA-recognised open system. This means a smaller tube and gentle flushing rather than the forceful pumping of the "closed system".
One problem with colonics is the removal of beneficial bacteria along with bad from the gut.
With up to 80 per cent of our immune system residing in the gut, a growing body of evidence reveals just how essential good bacteria is for health and metabolism as well as allergy and disease prevention. Purcell addresses this by reinoculating with probiotics.
After three days, I'm hungry but squeaky-clean and ridiculously relaxed. I have sparkly skin, clear eyes and a flat belly.
I'll do it again and have taken much from the three programs on board. But I do have one word of advice. Remember that the purpose is to kick-start a cleaner you. If you're going to bother doing a detox, try to refrain from rocking straight into a retox.