By the time the holidays are over, many people are maxed out on booze and ready to commit to Dry January—a month-long hiatus from all alcohol, beer, and wine. And while it’s true that after months of partying and drinking champagne like it's water, you might need to take a little break... is a whole month really necessary? For some, yes, it's the best thing to go cold turkey and not even sniff a martini. But if Dry January is one resolution you can't get behind, we get it.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a month dedicated to your health. Commit to a different challenge this year that might even be more beneficial to you than just giving up adult beverages. Consider one of these healthy alternatives, and come February, you could be feeling like a million bucks—all while enjoying a glass of wine here and there.
1. Sugar: It's Not You, It's Me
If holiday cookies are part of your daily diet, it might be time to break up with sugar in January. We're talking about avoiding the added sweet stuff that, plain and simple, does nothing for your health. You can still enjoy natural sweets like apples and dates, but the processed added sugar crap? Get rid of it (just for a month!).
Start by looking at food labels because you'll be shocked at how often "healthy foods" include sneaky sugars. (Tomato sauce and salad dressing, we’re looking at you.) Then, of course, cut the sodas, the sugary coffee drinks you got addicted to over the holidays, and the piece-of-chocolate nightcaps. "Sugar-free" may sound impossible, but the good news is you can still enjoy whole grains, cheese, and (hallelujah!) certain spirits like tequila when you need to take the edge off. Need some low-sugar recipe inspo? We have tons.
There are plenty of reasons to cut excess sugar, notes Beth Warren, RDN. “Foods with added sugar are typically heavily processed,” she says. “A diet high in heavily processed foods can, over time, contribute to chronic inflammation, which is connected to a slew of health issues like diabetes, cancer, and obesity. Foods with added sugars taste a lot sweeter than foods with natural sugars (duh) so removing them from your diet is a good way to decrease your sweet tooth.”
Basically, the less sweet stuff you eat, the less you're going to want it (eventually). Fill your plate with foods like quinoa, fish, fruits, and vegetables. After a few weeks, you might not miss the sugar at all... and by Valentine’s Day, you'll deserve that chocolate bar, but you might not even want it.
2. Commit to the Whole(30) Shebang
OK, this one is taking Dry January to a new level. Beyond alcohol, the Whole30 requires you to cut all the things: sugar, carbs, dairy, and all processed foods of any kind. If you want to go hard-core on an elimination diet, this plan has promising results.
“Whole30 may help you to lose weight and make you [feel better] if you have been eating a processed diet recently,” says Mary Phelps, CNS. (Yep, all of us after the holidays.) “If you have been consuming a diet high in inflammatory foods, the Whole30 will force you to remove these things from your diet. This will help reduce inflammation and make you feel less puffy and bloated.” (Again, all of us after the holidays.)
Just make sure to plan ahead—if you don’t have your meals and snacks prepped (which can be the hardest but most important aspect of any diet), that's when you’ll really want to cheat and reach for a pizza. Not sure where to get started? We got a beginner's guide just for you.
3. Don't Fear the Fruit
In this keto world we live in, fruit is frowned upon. We know some fruits can be high in sugar, but let's face it, it's natural. So, if you're not on keto, why not enjoy an apple a day? Nutritionist Amy Gorin, RDN, doesn’t like how some diets encourage you to cut out fruit a.k.a. nature’s sugar. In addition to eating a balanced diet, she encourages her clients to get their daily requirement of fruit: That’s two cups of fruit per day for men and women up to age 30, and one-and-a-half cups of fruit daily for men and women ages 31 to 50.
“I’ve seen many people reduce or cut out their intake of fruit when they’re trying to lose weight. But I’d advise against this,” she says. “Fruit offers many nutrients important for overall health, including fiber for healthy digestion and satiation, vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants that may help fight disease.”
Plus, studies show that seasonal winter fruits like citrus are full of antioxidants that may help cut your risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes. If you're wondering which fruits pack the most sugar, refer to this handy chart.
4. Skip the Gym for a Change
Instead of fighting for the next available treadmill at the over-crowded gym during January, spend more time at home to focus on your mental health (not how many calories you're burning). That's right: Commit to a mindfulness challenge.
This can include starting a daily meditation practice where you listen to a guided meditation at the same time every day (can be five minutes or five hours), write in a journal each morning or before bed to jot down intentions for the day ("I will only watch one episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" counts), or simply start paying attention to your breath for a few minutes each day.
“A mindfulness challenge will help you slow down and be in the moment,” says Erin Wathen, a certified life and weight-loss coach and author of Why Can’t I Stick to My Diet? “You may experience physical benefits, too, like lower blood pressure and reduced chronic headaches."
If practicing mindfulness doesn't appeal to you, at the very least, try to get more sleep. Wathen likes the idea of a sleep challenge, especially if you're a chronic yawner throughout the day. “Most people are chronically sleep-deprived, and it impacts our health, longevity, and even productivity at work,” she says. For the best chance at a good night's sleep, stop eating three hours before bedtime, turn off all devices 90 minutes before bed, and develop a nighttime calming routine (warm bath, hot tea, face mask, sex, etc.).
5. Bring Back the Daily Plank Challenge
If you're looking for a more tangible challenge, make it a physical one. We know "the plank challenge" was a hit on social media a few years ago, but a strong core never goes out of style.
Start with a 20-30 second plank and work your way up to a five-minute hold (!!!) by month’s end. You can follow an online calendar or make up your own version. Core strength is helpful for many reasons, including eliminating back pain, improving your balance and stability, and improving posture.
The Bottom Line
It’s easy to get swept up in a month when your feed is constantly reminding you to detox from drinking, lose weight, and go to the gym. But remember, do what feels best for your body and don't overdo it: Moderation is key.
“I would take a pause and evaluate a challenge that sounds extreme before adopting it,” Gorin says. “Even a challenge that involves drinking a lot of water can be dangerous, depending on how much water it’s suggesting. If you’re not sure a challenge is a good idea, run it by a healthcare provider first.”