New Year’s Resolutions: Quitting Bad Habits
Around 7 million of us will make New Year’s resolutions this month, hoping to improve some aspect of our health. Giving up common vices, such as alcohol, caffeine and sugar can have tremendous health benefits. Unfortunately only 8% of us manage to keep our resolutions. Read on for tips on how to boost your chances of success for a healthy and happy 2017.
Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world. The reason drinking anything caffeinated feels so good is because caffeine triggers the release of dopamine, our brain’s ‘reward’ hormone.
In moderation, coffee actually has some health benefits, including some protective effects for the liver. However, if you’re relying on caffeine to give you an energy blast or a mood boost, or if you’re having any sleep problems, then it’s time to reduce your caffeine intake.
The problem with quitting caffeine ‘cold turkey’ is because the effects of caffeine withdrawal can be miserable. Headaches, mood changes and tiredness are common. Other symptoms such as constipation can arise in the absence of caffeine’s stimulating effects on the bowel.
Quick Quit Tips
Don’t go cold turkey. Instead try to reduce slowly over the course of a week. For example, replace one of your regular coffees with a decaf, and then switch another high-caffeine drink to a cup of black tea.
Find another way to boost your dopamine levels. Exercise boosts feel-good dopamine and serotonin. Exercise doesn’t need to be gruelling – a simple brisk walk is sufficient. Supplements such as tyrosine, theanine and rhodiola can also support dopamine levels (1,2).
Guard your energy reserves by balancing your blood sugar levels. Follow a low GI diet with snacks such as fruit and nuts rather than your usual coffee fix. Consider taking supplements designed to support blood sugar and energy levels containing chromium, magnesium and B vitamins.
Binge-drinking over the Christmas period is common, and the effects include unwanted weight gain, poor quality sleep and low mood. For women, more than 6 units of alcohol is defined as binge drinking. Pub serving sizes can be large – a 250ml glass of wine contains almost four units, and so it is easy to overindulge (3).
Giving up alcohol is a popular way to ‘detox’ and to lose weight after the Christmas period. The health benefits of giving up alcohol, even just for a month, are considerable. A recent study found that committing to a ‘dry January’ resulted in a 15% decrease in fatty liver, a 5% decrease in cholesterol and a 16% decrease in blood glucose levels. Those who managed a full month without drinking also tended to drink less often and have fewer drinks in one sitting six months later (4).
Quick Quit Tips
Try changing your environment to avoid temptation. Rather than visiting your local pub, have a film night, book some theatre tickets or meet in a cafe.
Try out some non-alcoholic tipples. Refreshing, low sugar options include pink grapefruit juice, sparkling water, slimline tonic, fresh mint and lemon. Herbal teas and fruit teas can also work well – simply brew the tea and then keep it chilled in the fridge.
Enhance the positive impact of abstinence on your liver, with some liver-supportive nutrients. Silymarin (milk thistle), a herb with strong antioxidant properties, is commonly used as a natural liver-supportive supplement. N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), another powerful antioxidant, has been found to improve liver function in those with fatty liver disease (5).
In the UK we eat the equivalent of 26 teaspoons of sugar each day, contributing to widespread obesity, as well as digestive and blood sugar problems. Like alcohol, certain types of sugar have also been found to put pressure on the liver. High fructose corn syrup, found in all kinds of processed foods, has been found to cause damage to the liver over time.
Giving up sugar can feel like quite a task, especially as sugar is added to many processed foods from breakfast cereals to pasta sauces. Those who have relied on sugary snacks for regular energy boosts throughout the day can experience strong cravings and might struggle without a careful strategy to reduce their intake. It is worth persevering however, as the benefits of giving up added sugars are huge. As well as weight loss and improved energy levels, a reduced sugar intake is linked with lower rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Quick Quit Tips
Those with a sweet tooth can still include sweet foods in their whole food form. Snack on naturally sweet bananas, grapes and pineapple. These whole foods are naturally high in antioxidants, fibre and prebiotics, supporting the liver and digestive system. Simply pair with a protein such as nuts or natural yoghurt to control the effect on your blood sugar level.
Include protein with your breakfast and switch to a low GI diet to help control sugar cravings. Eggs, fish, yoghurt or a protein shake with fruit make excellent breakfast foods, while nuts, seeds and oatcakes are handy for snacks.
Natural sweeteners such as xylitol and stevia can be added to sweeten foods for a lesser impact on blood sugar. Sweetening with a little chopped fruit, and using seasoning such as cinnamon or nutmeg are other good options.
Supplements designed to support healthy blood sugar regulation should contain nutrients such as chromium, magnesium, and B vitamins. Cinnamon is also known to help maintain normal blood glucose levels. Try adding a spoonful to your porridge in the morning. If you don’t like the taste, then cinnamon can be taken in supplement form.
Sticking to your New Year’s resolutions may seem tough at times, but the benefits could be huge. Let us know how you’re getting on with your New Year’s resolutions on Twitter or Facebook.
1. Phytother Res. 2007. Jan 21(1):37-43
2. Neuropharmacology 2012 Jun. 62(7):2320-7
3. Unit and Calorie Calculator. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/understand-your-drinking/unit-calculator?gclid=CPTr-IOvo9ECFUqdGwodf-sAIA.
4. de Visser et al (2016) Voluntary abstinence from alcohol during ‘Dry January’ and subsequent alcohol use. Health Psychology. 35(3) 281-289
5. Khoshbaten et al (2010) N-acetlycystein improves liver function in patients withnon-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Hepat Mon 10(1):12-16
6. Kavanagh K, Wylie T, Tucker K, et al. Dietary fructose induces endotoxemia and hepatic injury in calorically controlled primates. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013.