Harriet Walker: 'February is the best month to detox'


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The Independent Online

If you're a normal person, and I like to think that most of our readers are (although I can vouch for a few of you not being, I must say – Man Who Once Sent Me a Lewd Cartoon, I'm looking at you here), then you've probably reached the point in the year when your good post-Christmas intentions have melted away and faded to nothing, just as the brandy butter did when you slathered it over your steaming-hot pudding all those many weeks ago.

Personally, I like to eat brandy butter straight from the tub off a fork. So mine never melts and neither do my good intentions – they both just sit there, furring my arteries, while I get on with being inactive and think no more of it. Basically, what I'm trying to say here is that not only am I a glutton, I am also not a person who regularly puts good intentions into action.

I find the month of January simply too bleak to really enact anything at all, let alone a health kick, which runs so contrary to my sacredly held beliefs. The tripartite godhead of sofa, tea and chocolate abides too strongly in me. No, I think February is a better time to start punishing yourself for having relaxed and eaten some cake – and here's why.

Mornings and afternoons are (a little bit) lighter, and February itself is also very short, so you can tell yourself you'll eat healthily for a whole month and then legitimately kick the habit after only 28 days. This year, of course, you'll get 29 but that's the date women are supposed to propose to their menfolk, so we'll be too nervous to eat at all on that day.

February is also notoriously, of course, the month in which we all get fed up about our relationships, if we are in one, or being single, if we are not. Because come Valentine's Day, you can guarantee you'll get either nothing, or something you didn't really want. Or, if you get some kind of hideously tiny lingerie set, something you'll have to go to the trouble of taking back and swapping for an enormous alternative in homely white cotton.

So it makes perfect sense to make February your time to shine. By swearing off treats and doing more exercise, you will have furnished yourself with the perfect Valentine's avoidance tactic.

"Oh, I'd love to go for dinner and eat a hastily assembled, heart-shaped set menu in a room crammed so full with couples it's like sitting my GCSEs in the gymnasium all over again," you can say.

Or: "I wish I could make it to the cinema to see that film you'd never even contemplate going to see if you hadn't been convinced by the adverts that they're all adorable and that, as a couple, we should be more like them."

"Sorry," you can say, "but I'm not eating meat, carbs, wheat, dairy, beer or delicious, greasy American food at the moment. And, whaddaya know, I'll be in the gym from sundown until midnight."

It not only spares you and your beloved the gruesome scenes described above, it also puts you on the sort of higher moral plane that the martyrish stoics we must endure in modern life can only aspire to.

This is yet another reason why February should and must be your detox month: because everybody else has fallen off the wagon. They're not to know that you've only just fixed the wheels on yours and hitched the pony to it. They'll assume – and why bother correcting them? – that you've been on your wagon, like them, since the credits on the New Year's Day episode of Sherlock rolled up the screen.

No doubt the health freaks among you will point out that resolutions are not just for New Year, and should not be taken quite so cynically. Well, celery-crunchers, I say this: do what you feel you need to, for just as long as you feel the need to do it. Chances are, the more you do it, the better you'll feel anyway. (Obviously, this slogan does not apply to bad stuff like alcoholism or scratching an infected wound.)

If you make some meaningful effort, however small, effected by your own incandescent and impotent rage at the wintry, sluggish body attached to your quick-fire, razor-sharp mind, it will do far more good than joining the cult of January for five days simply because an advert or an idiot on an advert told you to.

February has nothing else going for it, so you might as well give it a go. The gym will be less busy, because everyone else will have already given up and rued the day they forked out for a year's membership.

By the time March comes, and with it, beautiful consignments of new clothes for spring, you might even fit into them. And if you don't, then at least you will have skipped Valentine's Day and (technically but not really) a whole month of dreary grey rubbishness. Good luck!