When was the last time you cleaned your house? If you’re a college student, the answer is probably the day you moved into your dorm
(or never), if you’re a regular person, it was probably last year during spring-cleaning (and if you’re a type A neat freak like me, it was probably last night when you couldn’t sleep. Hello, Monica Gellar). For most, spring-cleaning is just a way to prevent from becoming a hoarder (though I do have copies of Vogue from 2000 saved up under my bed..) but for some it serves a more emotional purpose. Since I do my ‘spring-cleaning’ in the middle of the winter holiday season, which goes from Thanksgiving to Chinese New Year (born in Asia but raised in America, I try to keep the best of both worlds), the main purpose of this activity becomes less about the piles of magazines and old baby clothes but instead becomes more symbolic: to clear out the old and start the new year on a clean slate.
As a firm believer of Marie Kondo (the Japanese guru on the art of decluttering and the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing), an empty room with empty shelves makes me ecstatic. The empty space seems to promise a clean break from the bad and dreariness of the past year and welcome the upcoming year with open arms
(plus think of all the things I’d have to get to fill it all again!). On top of physically cleaning up my apartment, the winter holiday season is also the time I do a little ‘winter-cleanse’ on my body.
What is a ‘winter-cleanse’ anyway?
Unlike the liquid-fasts that seem to pop up every year
to announce that it’s spring, my ‘winter-cleanse’ takes a less drastic (and non-starving) route. While the food/juice/and whatever else fast trending these days, promotes the detoxification of your body by restricting certain types of food over a short period of time (normally for about a week to two), my cleanse involves simple lifestyle changes (5 to be exact) over the course of 1 month to help my body shed the bad and approach the new year with a clean body.
What are the benefits of this ‘winter-cleanse’?
While the primary purpose of this winter-cleanse is symbolic and psychological, over the years (since I started this practice roughly 5 years ago) I’ve noticed some physical bonuses to the cleanse. Post cleanse, I’ve often experienced better skin conditions, healthier looking hair, and an overall sense of happiness and optimism (which can be tough to come by during this stressful season filled with nosy relatives, and dreary weather).
Why in the middle of winter?
The winter holidays could mean a wide array of things to different people. Food, presents, relatives and more food. ‘Tis a joyous season. ‘Tis also the season that creates more toxins burdening your body due to the high level of stress experienced. From the financial factors of having to purchase presents, food and decorations, the relative factors of having people asking you repeatedly when you’re going to do something you’re probably not really thinking about yet (yes, I’m referring to the dreaded ‘when are you getting married? You’re no spring chicken’ speech), the holiday feast factor of reaching for a fourth serving of something that’s definitely not Brussels Sprouts (ahem, apple pie), to the nature factor, be it cold weather that dries out your skin or simply dark and gloomy skies make you feel like the Grinch, the winter holidays are filled with reasons that can cause a girl to break and break out at the same time. The amount of stress accumulated from the holiday season will affect our bodies internally and externally (as exhibited by that pimple firmly planted in the middle of your forehead).
To add insult to injury, with the elevated levels of stress and, by extension, toxins, affecting our bodies, the human body’s own natural detoxification system becomes a bit sluggish in the sub-zero temperature. While our body normally disposes of toxins via sweat, urine and bowel movements, during the months when we’re cold (hence, not really moving) these toxin elimination systems in our body slow into a sluggish pace. The reason behind such inaction is simple.
Reason One: Less movement.
In the winter, the body is working extra hard to conserve heat and maintain its core body temperature. Therefore, activities that expel heat (ie. sweating) tend to seem less inviting. There are also studies that suggest while we get less exposure to sunlight during the winter, we’re psychologically less willing to venture beyond the comfort of our flannel PJs and the couch. In other words, we’re less likely to want to go outside and sweat during the winter due to the cold and the simple fact that we just don’t feel like it. Such inaction means one less channel to dispose of the internal toxin. The lack of movement and the cold air could also hinder our regular bowel movements, as anyone who’s suffered from mild constipation would know, less activities often comes hand-in-hand with less movement in the bowel, causing the majority of the toxins to remain inside our bodies.
Reason Two: Dehydration.
Since we’re spending the holidays parked on our couch (or bent over a full table of food), we’re less likely to remember to hydrate. Despite of the amount of fluids (namely eggnog, warm spiced wine… etc) that could potentially be passing through our systems, our body could still be dehydrated. The amount of holiday liquor tricks our conscious mind into believing that we’re hydrated when in reality our body isn’t. While at rest (ie, not sweating), we could potentially forget that proper hydration is necessary to keep everything running properly. Dehydration causes the body to activate similar protocols as the one activated when facing starvation, it goes into survival mode and attempts to conserve every last drop of water to maintain basic functions. In other words, it will limit the water used to pump toxin out of your body and focus on keeping your vital organs pumping. Externally, dehydration will result in dry, dull skin, and hair to name a few, making you look tired and aged. Not exactly the image you want to end the year with.
When people talk about cleansing or detoxing, one immediately imagines a woman sitting in the middle of an empty room, sipping begrudgingly a bottle of green juice that looks a little like the pea soup from a famous movie scene, while trying to convince herself that it’s a pumpkin-spiced latte (or is it just me?). Yikes. If you Google the keywords, detox or body cleanse, you tend to find literature on top of literature about things you shouldn’t eat. Almost all kinds of detox/cleanse involves some type of fasting. That, really didn’t work for me. As I’ve learned early on in my life (thanks to the many, many attempts at losing weight as a teenager), depriving my body of food (ie starvation) only makes me want to binge at the end of the day and worse, turns me into a grumpy old man. So instead of fasting, which has been suggested to have more cons than pros, I opt for the milder 5 lifestyle swap to help my body rid of the toxin its been hoarding.
Swap One: Holiday detox water vs. holiday festive drinks.
75% of the body is made up of water (73% of our brain and heart are composed of water, for instance). The body requires it to function properly. It allows our skin to glow and is the fundamental element to maintaining our general health. It is, however, easily overlooked when we’re surrounded by eggnogs and champagne.
The two key components of eggnogs and most holiday drinks are sugar and, of course, alcohol. Sugar in moderation is a source of energy and can help maintain our bodily functions. However, during the holidays when we’re indulging on the numerous servings of glazed hams, turkeys, and oh-so-many pies, the precious balance necessary to keep our bodies functioning regularly gets tossed out of the window. Once an excess amount of sugar (and salt for that matter) enters our bloodstreams, the water in our cells (over 70% of which is composed of water) is prompted to leave the cells and released into our bloodstreams to where the concentration of sugar/salt is the highest. This osmotic shift of water from the intracellular fluid to the extracellular fluid leaves the cells, and by extension your body, dehydrated. On the other hand, alcohol dehydrates your body by decreasing the production of anti-diuretic hormone. The anti-diuretic hormone is used by the body to reabsorb water, without which the body loses its capability to retain water, causing you to run for the bathroom after a round of holiday bubbly.
There is, however, a way to resolve the festive-drink-induced dehydration. It is… are you ready for it? By drinking more water. Ta da! Simple, right? While this is a simple concept, it is often easier said than done. As a person who’s really picky about the way her water tastes and can’t drink room temperature tap water (or Fiji water, Avian…), making the conscious decision to drink water while there’s a mimosa on the table is as trying a challenge as Sophie’s Choice. Therefore, I figured out a way to trick my self into drinking more water. Enter, fruit infused detox water. For every cup of eggnog/glass of champagne consumed, I’d follow up with two glasses of detox water. While the mention of detox water brings to mind little mason jars with beads of perspiration dripping down its sides and the summer, I’ve managed to find recipes perfect for the fall and cold weather.
My favorite recipe remains to be the pear, cinnamon and ginger infused water (get the recipe here). This delicious infused water can be consumed warm and smells like a pear pie which really gets you (.. me anyways) into the holiday spirit. While the pear provides a good source of vitamin B2, C, E, copper, potassium and the water-soluble fiber, pectin, the cinnamon provides a healthy dose of antioxidants. Neither one, though, is probably as surprising as ginger, used for years by the Chinese to ward off chills, detox and get the fishy smell out of seafood. Ginger is found to be rich in anti-inflammatories and antioxidants. In other words, hydrating you while keeping you warm and keeping you young? This is a multi-tasking drink I can get behind.
Swap Two: Green tea instead of lattes.
I, like every other person in this Starbucks controlled world, can’t function in the morning without coffee/caffeine in my system. It all started innocently enough when I read about drinking a cup of joe an hour before the gym would increase your metabolism during your workout. 3 years and a gazillion lattes later, I was on a 2 lattes a day diet. Needless to say, that was neither healthy nor financially sound. While I prefer my coffee without sugar, the fat (and calorie intake) packed in those little cups (Grande) of Starbucks lattes (HOT!) is still higher than necessary. Furthermore, if coffee already gives you ‘the runs,’ adding dairy into the mix could exacerbate that.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t get ‘the runs’ post-caffeinated, caffeine may still dehydrate you by acting as a diuretic. It will make your body dispose of the water stored (which is why black coffee in the mornings is the preferred method for de-bloating of many in Asian countries). While it’s super difficult to get off the caffeinated train, every winter-cleanse I substitute it with another that has lower caffeine level but higher in other health benefits, green tea (which is 70% lower in caffeine as compared to coffee). There have been many researches completed regarding the health benefits of green tea, including but not limited to: lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, maintaining blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.. to name a few. What is remarkable about green tea is that it’s rich in antioxidant, catechins (furthermore, ingesting catechin-rich teas could also help with your weight loss in the future. Not definitive but a bonus nonetheless).
Swap Three: Bath instead of a shower.
For some, taking a bath is a luxury available only when you’re at a spa or simply have the time. If you’re lucky enough to live in a home with a bathtub, you’re in luck this winter. As someone whose work schedule only gets more hectic by the minute (#entrepreneurlife), and doesn’t really have the patience to soak for an hour, I try to schedule a bath date with myself every week during the ‘winter-cleanse.’ While it may seem like romantic hokum, taking a bath actually has a lot of health benefits.
First, immersing yourself in hot water allows your muscles to relax with the heat. Like placing heating pads all over your body, the heat from the water soothes your muscle tension and aches from shoveling snow or holding your cousin’s baby for too long. Second, it causes you to sweat, which expels the internal toxins. Third, it relaxes you, mentally. Submerged in a tub of hot water with essential oils not only reduces the physical tension in your muscles, it also relaxes you psychologically. As heat is often associated with comfort and reassurance, laying in a tub of heated water can simulate what it felt like when we were submerged in our mothers’ wombs, causing us to relax and de-stress. Forth, it helps you sleep. Since your body temperature naturally start dipping around 2 hours before we hit the sack, taking a hot bath that dramatically raises your body temperature allows you to simulate that condition when your body experience a drastic temperature decrease when you get out of the tub, making you sleepy. Along with the bath, water, I add a few drops of essential oils (I know most people use lavender, but I prefer rose which has anti-aging properties) and dim the lights forcing myself to be submerged in hot water in darkness.
Swap Four: Sheet mask instead of cream.
Asians are obsessed with sheet masks (or at least I am). While the sheet mask phenomenon is just starting to trend in western countries, it’s been a crowd favorite since the early 2000s in Asian countries like Taiwan, China, Japan, Korea.. etc. Its easy application, and instantaneous results makes it the perfect weapon to fight off the dryness brought on by standing in the blazing winter wind. Under normal circumstances, I use one sheet mask a week to retain moisture in my face, for winter-cleanse however, I use one every other day to lock in the moisture. My favorite time to mask-on is during the weekly hot bath. While my pores are open due to the heat, the nutrients from the mask can easily pass through the pores and get absorbed. Taking cue from one of my favorite Asian actresses, Fan Bing Bing, whose been photographed to be sheet-masking all the time (even signing for packages and riding elevators), there’s no shortcut to beautiful, ageless skin, only a long trail of sheet masks.
Swap Five: Stand instead of sit.
The winter is when most mammals hibernate. Hibernation (or in human’s case, inactivity) in animals means sleeping to maintain bodily functions. As humans, we have the same instinct to hibernate especially when it’s freezing out and you’ve just finished half of a 15 lbs turkey. Resisting the instinct to become a permanent fixture on your couch is imperative for your physical health. When a body is inactive, its circulation slows, hindering the body’s capabilities to move toxins. Alas, if you’re not a winter-sport person (or if you’re like me and defines skiing as sitting in front of a roaring fire, sipping hot cocoa) there are still ways to keep your body moving during the holidays. One, help with the cooking. Slicing and dicing is a lot of work. It requires you to concentrate (You want fingers with your salad?) and dexterity while standing for a considerable amount of time. Just make sure you don’t sit on a stool while you’re playing Master Sous Chef. Two, babysit. Chasing your little cousins around for an hour makes a great game for them and a great exercise for you. Plus you get the added bonus of your aunts and uncles eternal gratefulness for taking them off their hands for an hour. Three, take a roll in the sack. What better way to increase your heart-rate and work up an appetite with a little sweat session with your bae? Lock your door and let’s get the horizontal dance on!
Have you ever tried a winter-cleanse/detox? What is your favorite recipe? What do you do to stay optimistic in the dead of winter? Leave me a message and happy holidays!