Why You May Want to Rethink Your New Year’s Resolution

A registered dietitian explains why clean eating, detoxing, and cleansing may not be so healthy.


Juice photo via istock.com/merc67

Right now, your social media feeds are no doubt clogged with well-intentioned resolutioners documenting their efforts to eat clean, ditch alcohol, and skip sugar. While those promises sound great on paper—who among us couldn’t stand to eat a few more veggies and a couple fewer fries?—they may be more damaging than you think.

Marci Evans, a local registered dietitian and eating disorder expert, says harmful language often lurks behind seemingly virtuous eating plans. Concepts like “clean eating,” “detoxing,” and “cleansing,” she says, can bring resolutions into dangerous territory.

“When food is an overly moralistic choice,”—seen in terms of detoxing or re-toxing your body, for example—“what starts to get bred is shame,” Evans says. “We have a lot of research that shows shame is a really big predictor of negative health outcomes. The more shame a person feels, the less likely they are to make positive, sustaining, healthful choices.”

It’s not that the principles behind all of these plans are inherently bad, Evans says. Clean eating, for example, is not supposed to be seen as a diet; it’s typically described as an effort to eat nutritious, minimally processed foods. “I think [that’s] wonderful, in theory,” Evans says. “The problem is that our eating habits are really tied to the way that we feel about ourselves as people, and this really moralistic way of thinking of food: ‘If I eat clean, I am clean.'”

In other words, assigning too much value to what you eat may encourage harmful behavior, and even make it harder to make rational, holistically healthy choices. Evans says she sees many cleansers and detoxers fall into the either-or trap: either they’re eating extremely carefully, or they descend into weeks or months of nutrition mayhem.

“People live between these two extremes without being able to settle into something that is a little bit less prescriptive and less extreme, but is far more sustainable,” Evans explains. “[Ideas like clean eating] are awfully appealing, but don’t necessarily translate to anything that’s meaningful in a long-term sort of way.”

A better method, she says, is making small swaps that can be sustained forever—even if they’re not as sexy as Dry January or Whole30. Instead of deciding to eat clean or go on a juice cleanse, Evans suggests resolving to eat three servings of seasonal produce per day, sleep at least seven hours per night, or meditate before bed, even if such changes seem “so minor.” It’s also key, she says, to build reevaluation and goal adjustment into your resolution.

“Let’s get off the hamster wheel and start moving along in a forward trajectory,” Evans says. “Slow and steady really does win the race.”