The seduction of the January detox

You’re feeling stuffed to the brim with mince pies, turkey and Quality Street and you want speedy results, to reverse this indulgence. And you’re not short of a choice of tempting wellness plans and detox diets scattered across your social media feed at every scroll. You’ve done them all before at various points on your weight loss journey and they’ve become like comforting, old friends weaved into the fabric of your life.


The first few weeks of the January diet always go superbly well, with the hope and promise of a shiny New Year and all its expectations. But quickly, the dark nights and freezing cold, plus throw in a global pandemic this year, and the motivation and resolve wear extremely thin.  

February arrives as the ‘backlash month’, where all foods deprived are welcomed with open arms and devoured with carefree abandon. Valentine’s Day signifies the day, where the diet is completely dead and buried beyond recognition, under a box of your favourite chocolates.

Wearily, you sigh as you reflect on previous January efforts. You don’t want to repeat old patterns. You want to find a happy and sustainable way to eat, where weight is stable, and food is nourishment. However, dieting just feels so right and is seductively calling you back. Why is this?

Why does dieting appeal so much?

Let's look at three key reasons:

1. Your purpose and identity

For as long as you can remember, you’ve either been on or off a diet, or plotting and planning your next one. Although this has been an uncomfortable mood rollercoaster of sorts, giving catastrophic lows, with intermittent fleeting highs, this way of living has defined you. 

It’s offered a structure and purpose to the fabric of daily life and has become a way of bonding with others. You might be known as the ‘one that’s weird with food’, ‘the one that doesn’t eat cake in the office’ or ‘the one that’s the fit gym bunny’. 

Although a part of you loathes these pigeonholing labels, they have also become a part of you and your identity. Who am I without scale hopping or calorie counting or food obsessing you wonder? Being anti-diet feels wishy-washy and less defined. 

Women chatting around the dinner table

2. The mindset hangover

When food has been associated with skyrocketing levels of guilt, it’s pretty darn hard to shake this off quickly. The black and white diet thinking: ‘I’m a greedy person for eating this’, ‘I’m a saint for drinking my green juice’, ‘I’m so good at keeping to this diet’ or ‘I’ve completely fallen off the wagon and failed, as a human being’.  

These thought patterns will be wired strongly in your brain, having built up with years of repetition. Not surprisingly, dichotomous thinking patterns will take significant time to blur towards helpful shades of grey. And you will likely need to proactively practise the mindset work to find this grey in the first place.

3. Time

It probably took you several months (likely years) to immerse yourself in the grimy depths of diet culture. You were unconsciously and consistently reinforcing the beliefs, behaviours and thinking that saw dieting as ‘good’. Alas, this cannot be reversed immediately. Instead, expect it to be a plodding marathon rather than a dashing sprint. If you can lower your expectations and engage with the long game, this will massively help.

It takes time to move away from diet culture and establish a healthy relationship with food. Don’t give up on pursuing this though, as the long-term benefits are absolutely worth the investment. 

Remember to be kind and compassionate with yourself in this process as one step forward and two steps backwards is the norm. Do seek out support through other people on the same journey, as you might need it.

Read self-help books on Intuitive Eating and follow blogs and accounts that remind you of why you’ve turned your back on dieting. You will get there with consistency and a commitment, but it will be a gradual dilution of symptoms, rather than an overnight transformation. 

The magic happens with the baby steps and the long game. Stay with it!

This article was written by Harriet Frew.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Cambridge, CB1
Written by Harriet Frew, MSc; MBACP Accred
Cambridge, CB1

Harriet Frew is a counsellor specialising in eating disorders and body image. She has worked in the NHS and private practice since 2003, and is passionate about supporting and educating others through therapy, writing and social media.
Instagram: @the_eating_disorder_therapist; Podcast - The Eating Disorder Therapist

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