Health: New beginnings
Most Christmas Day diets weigh heavily on the excess baggage scales, and when you multiply that by the number of parties you attend over the festive period, it's not hard to see why your body will be in serious need of a detox.
Of course, the temptation at this time of year is simply to slob out in your jammies until spring. But clean up your act on the inside and your body will thank you with brighter skin, shinier hair and more energy than you ever thought possible.
While there are many products on the market that claim to have detoxing qualities – from teas and tinctures to tablets and uncomfortable health treatments featuring tubes and taps – some scientists say the best way to flush out all the bad stuff you've been ingesting over the past couple of weeks is no more complicated than a dose of good old-fashioned fresh air, plenty of water and a couple of early nights.
Alistair Bell, a fitness instructor and nutritionist from Edinburgh, says too many people get hung up on the concept of detoxing at this time of year. "The whole thing is slightly misleading because the body hasn't actually become toxic," he says. "It's more about excess. People just go a bit crazy for three or four weeks, consuming far too many calories and drinking far too much alcohol. By the time January arrives, we feel guilty about overdoing it."
So don't think in terms of detox, he advises, think in terms of rebalancing. "Most of us have a perfectly good liver, which is the body's natural detoxifying organ, and there are ways we can help the liver do a better job."
Step one is to have a couple of days of 'normality'. That means getting off the booze, cutting back on caffeine, smoking fewer cigarettes and generally looking after yourself a bit better. "Make sure you are well hydrated," he says. "If you want to look and feel better, hydrating is something you can do easily, and it's free. Don't go out and buy expensive bottles of water; good old Scottish tap water will work perfectly well. It will help your liver to flush out some of the toxins."
Six to eight glasses sipped gradually throughout the course of the day should do the trick. "A lot of people start off well in the morning, forget about it in the afternoon, then when they get home in the evening they realise they still have a litre to drink so they knock it back in one," he says. "All that happens is that they end up going to the bathroom all night."
Bell adds that there isn't any need to embark on a veg-only fast for a week. "There is no scientific evidence to support the notion that if you eat carrots all day you'll feel better. Until somebody proves that, I would recommend a good healthy breakfast, a balanced lunch and a decent dinner. You can even snack if you need to – but nothing crazy.
"It's a good time of the year to aim for more than your five a day, stocking up on fruit and vegetables. And I don't mean supplements – I'm talking about eating good-quality foods. Kiwis, broccoli, red peppers, walnuts and brazil nuts will give you some excellent oils and nutrients to push out the toxins."
One supplement he does recommend is a dose of milk thistle, to give the liver a helping hand. "It has been proven to speed up the replacement of liver cells, but it also helps protect against future alcohol damage and brings down cholesterol levels."
And since the body does most of its best work while we're in our beds, get a good night's kip. "Research has shown that different people need different amounts of sleep," says Bell. "So aim to get back to a normal pattern. If you would usually sleep for eight hours but have only been managing three because you've been partying and napping throughout the day, do your best to return to the way you were before the holidays."
The final piece of the jigsaw is to head outdoors for a healthy dose of fresh air to get the heart pumping. "In order to improve your circulatory system, getting your lungs working and pumping the blood around the body is key," says Bell. "Go for a nice long walk. The fresh air will make your skin glow and help you sleep. Even better, take the kids on their new bikes, or bring a football for a kick-about in the park."
All of that sounds an awful lot more pleasant than a month-long course of colonic irrigation and a diet of cucumber and wheatgrass smoothies.
• Alistair Bell can be contacted through www.eh3club.com
Squeaky clean from the inside out
A refreshing tea that tastes of mint and basil, the Shiso Detox Infusion is made using shiso leaves (a powerful antioxidant famed in the Far East for its cleansing and purifying properties) and is designed to promote healthy, glowing skin. The bags are very pretty too. (Zelens Skin Science Shiso Detox Infusion, 30 for 20 bags, from Space NK or www.zelens.com)
Hotchpotch Containing a mixture of milk thistle, dandelion, peppermint, silver birch, meadowsweet, gentian and ginger, this little bottle is reputed to be particularly beneficial for gin lovers or those who overdo their beer rations. (Hangover Hotchpotch, 6.25 for 50ml, Napiers, www.napiers.net)
Stick the Nightly Detox patches on the soles of your feet, under a pair of socks, and let them suck out the badness as you sleep. Containing ingredients such as oak vinegar, tourmaline bio stone and vitamin C, the patches allow toxins to be naturally expelled through the body's normal metabolic activity. Just be prepared for wet, slimy socks the morning after. (Nightly Detox patches, 5.99 for one night, 22.95 for five, www.nutricentre.com)
Detox Machine Sit with your feet in what looks like a foot spa while a flow of electrons encourages the elimination of toxins through the soles of the feet. Watch the water turn a satisfying shade of sludge brown in the process. (Body Detox Machine, 40 for one session, Medicalternative, www.medicalternative.com)