Every year, healthy eating, dieting and exercise make it to the top of many people’s new year’s resolutions. Whether you want to shed a few pounds, train for a marathon or reboot your system with a detox, setting health goals is one of the best resolutions you can make for yourself.
However, each year without fail, many people make the critical mistake of rushing into change and try in vain to make dramatic changes over night. On top of that, some go out with a bang, and over-indulge, even binge, on junk food and comfort food before they start their New Year’s resolution, like one last hurrah to decadence and life as you knew it. You see photos of ginormous pieces of chocolate cake and rounds of cocktails plastered across social media, usually with captions that read something like, “Diet starts tomorrow! Going out with a bang!”
Let me tell you friends: this is the worst way to get in shape for change, especially physical and dietary change.
July 4, 2013 was my last day of indulgence before my seven-day detox was set to begin on Friday the 5th. I Instagrammed a photo of an overflowing plate, piled high with two pieces of cake, chocolate-covered strawberries, and in the background, a couple of Shock Tops to wash it all down. The caption read, “Going out in a freaking blaze of glory. Detox starts tomorrow!” The next day, I woke up with the worst food and sugar hangover you could imagine, and all I wanted was coffee and some bacon to settle my stomach down. But no caffeine for me, and a tall glass of green juice was all I had to look forward to. I was angry, bitter, miserable, and my head was swimming in the cloud of a mean sugar crash. My day of indulgence had put me in the worst possible position to begin my detox. I can guarantee that if I hadn’t had to stop because I realized my milk supply could be affected, I would have surely given up within 48 hours.
I was mentally and physically weak, and I was in no shape to start a seven-day detox, which is as much a game of physical strength as it is a game of mental stamina and willpower.
Instead, to prime your body for change, you need to work up to it and first get yourself relatively in shape. This doesn’t have to mean weeks upon weeks of preparation, but usually just a few days of slowly switching over a couple of your usual habits. On top of that, fueling up on nutrient dense food can help you begin your dietary changes in a better physical and mental state.
High-caloric foods with little nutritional value like cookies and cakes, french fries and cocktails may fill you up, but they’ll literally starve your body of vital nutrients. These are nutrients that you especially need if you’re preparing to overhaul your diet. In addition, foods high in fat, sugar and animal products require much more to fill you up, versus lots of good plant and whole grain-based foods, which are not only lower in calories, but require less to leave you feeling full and satisfied.
So would you rather start a new dietary routine feeling full, clear-headed and with a lot less shock to your system? Or would you rather start off cranky, resentful and with a feeling of dread and deprivation?
I realized my own detox misstep this past week, as my husband and I have been strictly drinking green juices for breakfast, and yet I feel full and satisfied until my mid-morning snack. I distinctly recall the day my last detox began, feeling nothing but hunger pains and watching the clock till I could have my mid-morning snack. I did a quick survey of what was different, and this past week, I’ve been eating really well throughout the day, versus my day of binging before. My body was thriving off of nutrient-dense food, leaving me feeling satisfied, even on just a green juice versus being in a state of a toxic sugar crash, feeling like I couldn’t eat enough food.
Like I said, you don’t have to prime your body for months or even weeks before you start an overhaul, but a few days of thoughtful eating will help get you in shape to start your new challenge. Here are 7 ways to get yourself in shape — both physically and mentally — before you make a simple or drastic dietary change. And remember, if you’re considering a drastic change in the way you normally eat, or if you’re trying a big detox, consult a physician or medical professional first.
1. Eat Nutrient-Dense Foods
Instead of going for one last In N Out run before your overhaul begins, eat really well for a day or two before. Think of it as carb-loading before you compete in a big race. Eating nutrient-dense foods, like earthy grains, nuts and seeds, and dark green veggies, will pack your body with vital nutrients and minerals, and leave you feeling full. You’re literally making every calorie consumed count and work for you, as opposed to filling up on empty junk foods.
2. Don’t Binge on Sweets
Refined sugars and processed sweets are literally empty calories that do nothing to prepare you for what may be a challenging road ahead. Yes, they may taste wonderful for the moment, but the next day you’ll most likely end up feeling empty, literally, and may even suffer sugar withdrawals, including headaches and fogginess. So toss out the leftover holiday cookies, and get started on the right foot. There will be plenty of time to partake in your favorite sweets after you’ve accomplished your goals.
3. Don’t Over-Drink
Consuming alcohol can have the same sugar-crashing effects as a piece of chocolate cake and then some. Nausea, fogginess, headaches and dizziness are typical hangover symptoms, and put you in a terrible mental and physical state to start off a dietary switch. Even just one or two drinks can dehydrate you and leave you feeling the strong urge to snack the night away. So taper off of alcohol for a day or two before you begin, and stick with water and even better, a green juice or two.
4. Drink Lots of Water
Fuel your body with the liquid it really needs before you begin a diet overhaul: water. The power of water is impressive as it doesn’t just hydrate you. It helps increase the flow of oxygen through your bloodstream, improve mental and physical clarity, and help curb your appetite.
5. Get Enough Sleep
Get yourself in bed early the day or two before you start your overhaul. Sleep improves your mood and is the best way to metabolize the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. In fact, not getting enough sleep can actually sabotage your dietary goals alone, and cause you to gain up to 2 lbs! So turn off the TV and your iPhone, snuggle up with a good book, and settle in for a good, sound sleep the day before you start your detox or dietary overhaul.
6. Consider Tapering Off
Many detox and dietary overhaul plans involve eliminating caffeine and/or alcohol. Instead of going cold turkey, consider cutting back, say from 3 cups of coffee a day to just 1. If you’re a tea drinker, consider switching to the black variety, which has less caffeine than coffee. And take your nightly glass of wine down to half a glass, and then switch to water right before you begin. This tapering-off method will prep you for the total elimination to come and won’t leave you feeling deprived.
7. Stay Active, But Don’t Overdo It
At least for the first few days of a new eating plan or detox, take a walk outside, but try not to go hardcore at the gym. If you’re eliminating foods your body is used to and changing your caloric intake, a workout that’s too intense may leave you feeling fatigued. But a brisk walk or a gentle swim can get your blood pumping and lift your mood, providing the perfect distraction to any feelings of deprivation.