What To Do Instead of a Detox: A Gentler Way to Start The Year

We’re just a couple of days into January, and already you are being assailed by messages of diet this and detox that.

And certainly, you will feel the pull. Who wouldn’t? It’s everywhere, and you feel a little food-ed out from the holiday celebrations. But. There is more than one way to handle this feeling, and I’d like to offer an alternative to self-punishment.

Instead of diving head first into group guilt, self-loathing, shame, restrictive eating, imaginative cleanses, and the inevitable backlash they breed, consider directing these vast (VAST!) amounts of time and energy and brain juice toward making peace with food and with your body.

It’s revolutionary.

I don’t believe anyone passionate enough about food to read cooking blogs — or, um, write one — has a perfectly carefree relationship to food and body image. In fact, I’ve long surmised that many of us food bloggers start their blog in part to make sense of that relationship; I know I did.

And it’s no wonder, friends. We live in profoundly body-obsessed societies that hold up impossible standards for us to beat ourselves up over. And French women, with their worldwide reputation of slim figure and effortless elegance, are in no way immune to this. I don’t remember a time, past the age of nine or ten, when I was a-okay with the way my body looked. Do you?

The obsession and its implications come in different flavors depending on the culture, but it is so profound, so internalized that few even question it.

Over the past couple of years, I have become more keenly aware of this: in the way I inhabit my own body, and in my environment, both online and offline. Body positivity and unconditional self-love* are radical ideas, and I am fully on board.

The Illusionists: A documentary about the marketing of unattainable beauty around the world.

The Illusionists: A documentary about the marketing of unattainable beauty around the world.

Instead of a detox, how about this

And in the spirit of being the change I want to see in the world, I offer my thoughts on detoxing, and how to brace yourself against the overwhelming message you will be receiving today, throughout the month, and year-round, that you need to fix yourself. Instead, I say:

YES to acknowledging that the holidays are (also) about the food, and that depending on your social circle and personal history, it’s likely you ate more than you needed or wanted.

YES to being okay with the imperfect choices you made.

YES to listening to your body’s cues after this period of more bountiful meals than you’re used to. YES to eating mindfully (most of the time), honoring your hunger (most of the time) and recognizing your signals of satiety (most of the time).

YES to seeking out the foods that make your tastebuds sing and make you feel full of energy (rather than virtuous or “clean”). For many and for myself, this is typically fresh, colorful, whole foods, cooked simply — i.e. 99% of the recipes around here — but do what feels right for you.

NO to measuring your self-worth by how much kale you’re eating and how many fries you’re not.

YES to finding a practice of self-knowledge that helps you process your emotions. It could be meditation, inspirational podcasts, your faith, good old therapy… the idea is to gain clarity on whatever difficulties you’re experiencing in your life. Food is never the core issue; it’s what it means for you.

Imagine being a-okay with yourself

OKAY to “cleanses” and “nutritional resets” ONLY IF you’re trying to untangle emotional ties to certain foods, identify food sensitivities, or troubleshoot digestive issues. Even then, proceed with caution.

NO if the cleanse or reset is just a covert, socially acceptable(ish) way to restrict your food intake or pay penance for the “bad” choices you made. Only you will know the difference, deep down.

OKAY to searching for “detox” or “clean eating” recipes online to find the kind of produce-centric and wholesome foods that make our mouths water (I’m assuming you’re with me on this, if you read this blog to begin with). NO to clicking on the ones that use images of photoshopped women in fitness wear, or promise you will lose twenty pounds and ten years from drinking that ginger water.

YES to doing a social media detox — unfollowing, unfriending, muting anyone whose highlight reel makes you feel less than, or inadequate in any way. While you’re at it, allow your subscription to lapse for any magazine that celebrates a single body type. Instead, expose yourself to images of normal people in various shapes and colors, and consider supporting such magazines as Bust or Causette.

YES to opting out of diet talk, and withholding judgment on what others eat and look like. (Like magic, you’ll stop judging yourself on what you eat and look like.) You can even form the habit of (privately) noticing something you like in anyone you come across: a scarf, a smile, a stance, a stride. It makes the day so much lovelier.

YES to moving your body in whatever way feels good and joyful (not punishing).

YES to showing up as yourself, unapologetically, unashamedly, because you are enough.

None of this is easy. Being absolutely okay with yourself is so counter-cultural! It takes time and deliberate daily efforts to undo decades of conditioning, especially when more and more of it is hammered into you every day. But it’s completely doable, and then it’s like a switch you can’t unflick. Not that you would want to: the light in here is beautiful! And we breathe so much easier!

Sharing, reading, listening

If this resonates with you, please share this post with a friend who you think would benefit.

And if you’d like more resources, I recommend:

* If you understand the term “self-love” as romantic love, as in “Oh, I’m so passionately in love with my body”, that may feel weird, narcissistic, or unattainable. That’s not it, though. The love we’re talking about here is more like the love you have for your child, a dear friend, a sibling: profound, tender, and more important, unconditional.

Permission to opt out

This post was first published in January 2017 and updated in January 2018.

  • Michelle Vitt

    Thank goodness ou for this lovely post- so encouraging and illuminating! Please know that you blog inspires and reassures. Plus the perfect roasted potatoes were a huge hit for Christmas brunch!

  • This is amazing! Thank you for spreading this message. More of this is needed. xo

    • Thank you Karlie! And sometimes I feel like it’s a bit of an elephant in the room in the food blog world — is that your feeling also?

  • msvitamin

    Thank you, Clotilde!

  • Jamie

    This is precisely what I needed and wanted to see more of this year. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Clotilde!

    • My pleasure Jamie! I wasn’t sure about posting this, but seeing your reaction validates my intention.

  • Brett Emerson

    Thank you, Clotilde. Such an important message. I just read Ruby Tandoh’s piece in Vice UK that gave a similar sentiment. Happy New Year to you, Maxence and the kids!

    • Thank you so much for pointing me to this piece, Brett. For those wanting to read it, it’s this article. Amazingly eloquent. Required reading for all!

      And thank you so much for your kind words. I’m sending my warmest wishes to you, E., and T.! ❤️

  • victoria

    Hi Clotilde,
    What a great and inspiring message. Resolutions usually don’t last past the first three months because we set such big goal and forget about the little steps like the ones you discussed. I absolutely love your message, especially the “yes to a social media detox”. We can all use that from time to time. Happy New Year and wonderful blog.

  • Melissa Pletscher-Nizinsky

    Hi Clotilde!
    This post resonant with me so much! It’s so exhausting that every, single January we have to go through this whole dieting nonsense (in whatever form it currently presents itself as). I’ve vowed to not let myself be sucked into it this year and love all your suggestions. Enjoying food (the buying, preparing, sharing and consuming of it) is such an integral part of my day-to-day life and brings such joy not only to myself but to some many people around me that I can’t imagine viewing it as something negative in my life. I’m ready to make January about so much more than focusing on what we need to “fix” about ourselves personally. Thank you! Happy New Year and here’s to a year of joy!

    • Yes! 100%! I realized upon reading your comment that I did not make enough room in my post for celebrating the many joys of food and cooking. So simple, so powerful.

  • Rebeca

    I found mysel nodding my head at everything you wrote, so very well said! We’re only 5 days into January, but I’ve already unfollowed a few pages on Facebook which were promoting crazy cleanses. We live in a crazy, ridiculous world – those of us who are lucky enough to have plenty of food at our disposal spend our time thinking about juice cleanses and ways to detox… It’s everywhere, so it’s normal, right? If only we spent that time trying to cultivate a healthier relationship with food and our bodies. I come from a past of disordered eating, so I’m well aware of how hard that can be, and I don’t think many of the current trends help at all.
    Thank you for sharing a sensible and smart approach, I really appreciate it!

    • Thank you Rebeca! I agree with you on the painful contrast between those who don’t have enough to eat, and those who do but still have reasons to torture themselves over it. Crazy ridiculous world indeed.

  • Everything you right is so on the mark!! Could a lot of it be that we don’t sit down and actually enjoy what we’re eating? We’re wolfing it down on the run and we don’t even realize we ate anything. I refuse to drink my meals!! I will savor each bite and chew slowly! I will not look at model thin people and try to emulate them. And really, I hate the word detox unless you are an addict to something. Food is supposed to be consumed for nutrition but also enjoyment. Guzzling down a smoothie as my entire meal doesn’t do anything for my enjoyment.

    • Yes to eating mindfully! It’s not easy but it’s so important. Sitting down is a very good first step. o_O

  • Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes! The world needs more of these messages. I grieve for the time and energy I put into dieting and pursuing “weight loss” for so many years. I love Isabel Foxen Duke, Jes Baker and Summer Innannen too. Big thumbs up to those ladies and their work! Have you listened to Food Psych podcast with Christy Harrison? It is fantastic, and it has helped SO VERY much with my healing and understanding diet culture. She has interviewed Isabel a couple times (WELL worth a listen – google it!) and Summer too. Thanks for putting this out there! XO

    • Thank you Marjorie, I will look it up! The podcast is such a powerful format to deliver those messages I think. Very intimate and relatable.

  • SanityNow1

    this was posted by the wrong person. sorry.

  • Shari Broder

    This is a wonderful piece, exactly the kind of things I tell my weight coaching clients. I posted links to this article on my Weight Loss for Foodies Facebook page, in my Facebook group Ditch the Diet Tribe, AND on Twitter. Plus I love seeing your mention of Brooke Castillo’s podcast. I am a Life Coach School certified coach, and Brooke’s podcast is my favorite. I love chocolate and zucchini, too. You rock1

  • Elayne Daniels

    Our body already knows how to cleanse. And it does it on its own. That is why we have a liver and kidneys! The inundation of offers to purchase products in order to cleanse is driving me nuts. The only thing we are cleansing by using these products is our wallet..as in emptying it!

    • Exactly! If your liver and your kidneys no longer detox your body, you will know very very fast, and it will take a nice vacation in the hospital to fix the problem.

      And you are also absolutely right that the problem is compounded when people feel pressure not just to make green juices and kale salads at home, but when they also burn good chunks of their income on magic powders and snake oil.

      • Elayne Daniels

        Right on Sister!

  • Adrienne Uphoff

    Thank you for avoiding the value-judgment-laden “clean eating” terminology.

    • One of my favorite cartoons these days explains that clean eating = eating snacks in the shower. :D

  • William Main

    there is no such thing as detoxing anyway.

  • rachelsloan79

    Thank you so much for posting this. I find the clean eating trend of the last few years deeply worrying, both because it is so moralistic (Puritanism by another name!) and because the ‘science’ behind it (if you could even call it that) is far from sound. It’s really refreshing to see such a sensible and measured response to this nonsense!

    • Thank you Rachel! It means a lot to me that you relate and support. The trend is huge in the UK as well! Have you read this article that Brett recommended? So eloquent.

  • Clotilde, this is such a fantastic and valuable post! As a dietitian, I attempt to gently nudge my clients in this direction towards self-love and making food choices from that place. It is such a light and wonderful place to be. Thank you for this! x

    • Thank you Heidi. I appreciate the dietitian’s perspective. If that’s your value system, I’m sure it must be a challenge to try and draw clients into it when all they are coming for originally is to lose the weight — not necessarily challenge societal standards and prejudices. :)

  • Jane Joseph

    Thanks for this important post, Clotilde. Another book you might want to add is Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat by Michelle May, MD. She has a program called Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Program that is taught internationally. I teach the program. Mindfulness is all about non-judgment, self compassion and acceptance and is so helpful to shift one’s relationship with food. Also check out the Center for Mindful Eating online. Jane

  • Clinton Davidson

    A more vitriolic take on the whole detox business: https://theoutline.com/post/350/the-sickening-business-of-wellness

  • jill

    You are absolutely right, it has been a long time since I tried to murder myself by starvation and have to say I look better than ever. Of course it might be nice of there were not three or four adds for detox products in between your comments…:)

    • Ugh, the ultimate irony! Sorry about that.
      I have opted out of weight loss-related ads with my ad network, but this doesn’t exclude “clean/healthy eating” products.

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