Every January since 2018 (which feels like about 47 years ago), I have given something up. It started with Dry January. I knew I needed to dial back my drinking, and January seemed like a good time to try a bit of teetotaling. That first year, not drinking meant allowing myself all other kinds of treats to compensate for alcohol-induced hypoglycemia. Gummy worms and caramel popcorn were my best friends.
By 2019, I was ready to take it a bit further, and I went for a full 100 days without alcohol, as well as a little detox diet in January. I cut out sugar, dairy and wheat for a couple of weeks. It didn’t feel great to deprive myself of the things that I went to for comfort, but I did it. I endured it.
The problem with short breaks from less healthy choices is that you don’t really get the experience of being free of, say, sugar until you’ve had time to go through a bit of a detox and adjustment. Going without for a week or two can feel like nothing but deprivation.
My 100 day break from alcohol made me realize something. After the first month or so, I was able to stop enduring and start enjoying what it feels like to be free of alcohol. As I got past the detox and deprivation phase, I started to feel…good. My sleep was better, my mood was lighter, and my anxiety was just plain gone.
Now I make the beginning of the year a time to reset. My alcohol consumption is rare now, but I take the first few months off by default now. This year I won’t drink until I’m in Italy in late May. I’m also doing the Whole30 diet officially this January, though I try to follow Whole30 principles most of the time.
In 2020 I used January as an elimination diet to try to identify food sensitivities. This led to me quitting gluten altogether and looking askance at dairy. Alcohol and gluten were the two factors that had the biggest impact on my overall wellbeing, and I consumed them both frequently in prior years.
I think everyone should take a break from the things that may be harming them from time to time, and from my experience a month is just enough time to start to feel a difference. Here’s how I go about my January reset.
Identify and eliminate your culprits.
We all have our culprits when it comes to healthy eating and living. When I was drinking regularly, it was pretty easy to identify alcohol as a prime suspect for my shaky physical and mental health, so it makes sense that it was the first thing I eliminated.
If you often turn to alcohol, sweets, chips, fast food, baked goods, or anything else that gives you comfort but does not serve your overall health, start there.
Start by eliminating one specific food or category of food for a full month. Notice whether you have cravings or detox symptom. See if you feel better after a couple of weeks. Pay close attention to how you feel if you decide to add it back to your diet. Keeping a diary of symptoms and moods can be useful.
You can start with a full reset, or something like Whole30, but starting with one thing may be psychologically easier. It also gets you used to the practice of stopping a habit that is not serving you. This is not easy, but with just one thing for just one month, you can power through it and build confidence.
Consider letting go of one of these for a month, or pick something that will be most impactful for you:
- Sugar (or one sweet favorite, like soda)
- Grains (or gluten)
- Alcohol (or your drug of choice)
- Animal products (or processed meats)
- Convenience food (or anything packaged or pre-made)
- Salty snacks (or your favorite chips)
Once you pick your culprit, the rest is simple: Just don’t have any for a month. Don’t get too caught up on whether or not you enjoy not having any (spoiler: you probably won’t enjoy it, but you may end up feeling good about it).
Are you addicted, tho?
The reason some of these substances are so hard to quit is that they are addictive. Sugar, carbs, and alcohol can be especially hard to quit cold turkey, because your body has adapted to them. And other things may trigger a psychological addiction. Most processed and packaged foods are designed in a lab to be as addictive as possible. These are things we turn to for comfort, and letting them go can be uncomfortable.
Obviously, if you have a serious physical addiction to alcohol or another drug, you need medical supervision when you quit. If you have any issues with blood sugar regulation or metabolic problems, consult your doctor. I’m not a doctor, and I don’t suggest you do anything that is going to put your health at risk. For most people, though, a temporary break from these substances is nothing worse than uncomfortable.
One way to deal with a mild addiction to something like sugar is to taper. Drink one less can of soda each day until you get to zero, then start your month off. Then maybe consider not starting again, now that you’ve done the hard work.
If you are so attached to your daily cookie that you think you will simply die without it…you’re probably overestimating the importance of a cookie. Every time I quit something that feels impossible to live without, I am surprised to find that it’s actually easy to live without. It just takes commitment and a willingness to let cravings pass.
The January Reset
I use January to hit reset on my diet and lifestyle choices. It’s a convenient time, usually free of big celebrations and travel. Plus, everyone else is doing Dry January or starting their new diet, so it’s easy to blend in. Here are a few tips for planning a January reset for your health and habits.
Get with a program.
There are a slew of January reset plans that you can pay for if you prefer clear and detailed guidelines. Whole30 is a straightforward elimination of several common culprits, without many other bells or whistles. You just quit a few food categories (grains, dairy, sugar, alcohol, etc.) and reintroduce them one at a time after the month ends, to reveal any reactions or sensitivities.
This year, I did Whole30 officially for the first time, though it is pretty much the same elimination diet I did back in 2020 when I discovered my gluten sensitivity. I was surprised by how terrible I felt when I ate gluten after a month without it. It was a whole day of stomach pain, nausea and reflux, just from eating a sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner.
Whole30 is no longer much of a challenge for me because it is so close to how I normally eat, but there a few things with added sugar or other sweeteners that I had to remove from my pantry. My paleo dark chocolate bars are patiently awaiting February.
If you are a regular drinker of alcohol, I highly recommend Annie Grace’s 30 day Alcohol Experiment. It’s designed to help you examine your relationship with alcohol, and make some decisions about what role you want it to have in your life. The goal is not total abstinence, unless that’s what you decide to pursue.
I went through the 30 day experiment when I did my 100 days of teetotaling back in 2019. I really appreciated the focus on mindfulness and daily journal prompts to help uncover what alcohol really does (and doesn’t do) for me. There’s also an online community where you can get support from others doing the experiment.
Consider a cleanse.
When detoxing from any substance, a gentle cleanse can help remove any buildup from your body. I recommend working with a medical professional if you plan to cleanse as part of your reset (a naturopath or functional medicine doctor), but there are also plenty of over the counter options for herbal and fiber cleanses. Just make sure you also let your doctor know if you plan to do a cleanse on your own, especially if you are on any medications.
Typically, a good cleanse contains binding agents that will attach to heavy metals in your blood and allow them to be eliminated. They also typically involve an herbal laxative and maybe some fiber to help the body expel things efficiently. The cleansing process definitely helps you feel better faster if you are carrying around a toxic load.
My naturopath put me on a detox protocol after I got through cancer treatments. One of the things I learned from genetic counseling is that I have a gene snip that indicates my methylation and detox system may be less efficient. To compensate, I take a methylation support supplement and also do a cleanse about once per year.
Do a digital detox.
This is extra credit, but if you are addicted to TikTok or Netflix, your reset might be a good time to let go of your digital consumption habits for a month.
Our mental health can be seriously impacted by how we consume the internet and media, and you will find that if you go offline for even a day or two you will feel much more calm and able to be present in your own life.
Read a paper book. Play a board game. Take a walk and leave your phone at home. Start or increase a meditation habit. Journal. Make art. There are a lot of positive ways you can fill the time occupied by digital consumption.
I’m not very good at this one, but I am also fine when I’m in airplane mode or out of range for a day or more. An ability to disconnect is something most of us need to cultivate, and taking a break from some of your digital habits is a way to reset your mind.
Write down your plan for your month-long reset, and then tell everyone you live with what your plan is. Ask them to help keep you on track. If you live alone, reach out to a friend and promise them a weekly update, or join an online group focused on healthy habits and report your progress regularly.
Most importantly, be accountable to yourself. Fully commit to the full month. Make a plan for what you’ll do when cravings come up or you want to quit. Stock your pantry with what you plan to eat, and throw out what you’re avoiding (or hide it, if it’s something you want to add back).
Remember, it’s only a month. It goes by fast, and you are stronger than you think.