Waaaaaah. February is here. How the heck did that happen? It seems like only yesterday I was dipping cold roast potatoes in gravy… As the olds used to say, ‘doesn’t time fly when you’re…’
For others however, February couldn’t come quicker, as this little 28 day month marks the end of their January detox. Among my circle of friends, The Dukan, The Cave Man, The Zero Alcohol, Zero Narcotics, The No Carb, Low Calorie and the No Dairy diets have all been talking points.
Over dinners out, Vietnamese Pho has been ordered sans noodles, wine has been swapped for sparkling water and late nights have been traded for early morning dips in the Lido. Even my most hardcore of chums – the ones I can count on for a Monday night moan and a bottle of wine – have stayed firmly on the wagon. Their commitment has been admirable, but what were their motivations? Have the experiences been worthwhile? And is a months abstinence really worth it?
CASE STUDY – Carrie, 30, Management Consultant.
What is the diet in a nutshell?
It’s about going back to basics and eating the foods our ancestors would have served up, removing all refined, processed, stimulant-based foods from your diet for 30 days. That includes no alcohol, caffeine or cigarettes.
What are your reasons for detoxing?
I wanted to see if I could complete the challenge of a 30 day detox, I wanted to see first hand the benefits that can be achieved and also lose some weight.
Yes, there were a couple… I enjoyed a lovely meal & glass of wine at Hawksmoor on my 1 year anniversary with my boyfriend. It took major will power to continue on the diet the following week. I’ve also been tempted by chocolate so have recently started making wheat free, low-fat baked fruit bars to satisfy my sweet tooth.
What have you found most difficult?
I would say the most difficult aspect of the diet is not eating cakes, chocolate and all things sweet. I have become quite inventive, cooking treats that satisfy my sweet tooth. I have also been converting my friends to such delights, although they often sample them in between a mouthful of dairy milk, or whilst scoffing down a pudding and custard! I have some mean friends!
What have you enjoyed?
Surprisingly, I have enjoyed many alcohol free nights out with friends and have liked the fact that my focus is on them rather than on getting drunk! I haven’t even thought about a cigarette, which I think is largely due to not drinking, but it’s been 4 weeks now and I don’t intend to start again. There’s also a sense of achievement that comes with completing the challenge and also a slight smugness, mostly the morning after, when my friends are nursing hangovers and I am getting up for a run!
What changes have you noticed?
I am more awake, alert and now don’t need to rely on a sugar or caffeine pick me up in the afternoon. I think I am sleeping better, as a result of not drinking alcohol, which means I can rise earlier and I definitely get more done at the weekend.
I have now lost 8lbs and I can fit into jeans that I bought in 2005 (and have never been able to wear)! I also think my skin looks fresher. I am generally a happy person, but I certainly feel better about myself on the inside, which I think is the result of feeling more confident about my body and appearance.
What have you learnt?
I have learnt that detoxing really does work and can result in speedy changes to your body and behaviour. I have also learnt that I don’t always need to have a drink to have fun with friends, I think I am actually more attentive and interesting when sober.
Lastly, I have learnt that if you do have a craving for a beer or glass of wine, there are some excellent non alcoholic products on the market – it’s just a shame that they aren’t generally stocked in bars and restaurants, just in the supermarkets. Mint, lime and soda water is a great substitute for a mojito.
When I was training for the marathon I reduced my alcohol intake to almost zero for around 8 weeks. Like Carrie, I would go to social gatherings and nurse a long vodka and tonic. Hang around until the chat started to slur then slink off home for a mid-night feast and an early night. I didn’t find that I had bags more energy and in fact I would occasionally wake up with the same ‘hung-over’ feelings that we attribute to having drunk too much. I was simply tired and dehydrated. I also discovered that I am actually quite fun. I missed the loose-tongued chat between girl-friends that happens best after a few large glasses of vino – but if you can only have ‘meaningful’ chats with friends once well lubricated, that’s a whole other issue that’s needs addressing.
Rather than being the bright-skinned, bushy-tailed athlete I’d dreamt of, I found the most profound consequence of not drinking was how those 8 weeks re-set my attitude towards alcohol and social situations. Before, I would enter a bar and immediately make a beeline for the cocktail menu, now I remember why I’m actually there – to see my friends. I’ll chat and catch up and the drinking bit is a secondary bonus. I’ve also mastered the art of saying no. Of pacing. This may sound like the talk of an alcoholic, but actually it’s the talk of a people pleaser. I’d feel guilty if I wasn’t drinking and a friend wanted me to, or feel bullied into staying for one more to serve the needs of a friend rather than switching to water once I knew I’d had enough. Now I realise that if someone takes a negative stance to your drinking habits, be it when you’ve made the choice to cut back, then their horror/anger/cold shoulder says more about them than it does you.
But it’s worth bearing in mind, if you’re not drinking, you have to bring something extra to the party. People are wary of the non-drinker: the one who will remember if you snog the DJ or throw-up in a cab. If you’re not drinking, you’d better have some good chat and some wild dance moves just to make clear that even though you’re not getting inebriated you are certainly not uptight and you are definitely not boring.
So in conclusion. Personally I just can’t see the logic in bingeing through December only to purge in early 2011. I don’t think any sort of extreme dieting is healthy for mind, body or soul. And I’m of the opinion that if you want to make positive changes they need to be long-term, not short quick fixes and certainly shouldn’t be motivated by the guilt of over-indulging. However, taking time out to re-address ones eating and drinking habits can be totally worthwhile and sometimes we need to make a marked change in our current habits for this to be possible.
While detoxing, you should be taking stock of how the avoidance of food and drink types affects you emotionally and physically and intend to continue patterns that have had a positive effect on behavioral patterns long past January 31. A healthy and considered 2011? I think we can all drink to that.