In the cold, dark days of winter, it’s easy to slip into some less-than-healthy habits. You’re more likely to curl up on the couch than go for a run in the fresh (frigid!) air, and you might be curing the winter blues with a good dose of comfort foods. Those carbo-licious treats aren’t doing anything for your overall health or energy levels, though.
Thankfully, with spring comes longer days and warmer weather, so it’s the perfect time of year to shed your winter habits to start the season off on a lighter, healthier note. We’re definitely not recommending anything crazy — you won’t find any hard-core grapefruit diets here. A good spring cleanse is more like a spring cleaning for your lifestyle: Do it right, and you’ll have freshened up and organized your eating, sleeping and exercise habits. You’re sprucing up your metaphorical pantry, not burning it down with a fad cleanse that doesn’t provide all the nutrients your body actually needs.
Try our three-pronged approach to build some healthy new habits, and you’ll dive into spring with more energy and a better outlook on life than ever before:
Step 1: Transform Your Diet
There’s no magic bullet for a diet that’s going to solve the world’s health problems, no matter how many books you read on the subject. The best spring cleanse for your diet isn’t about living on fruit or kale — it’s about eliminating the foods that are bad for you. So what’s the worst thing for you?
Our spring diet cleanse focuses on the long haul, and it’s designed to help you kick the junk food habit and replace it with healthier foods. Here’s how:
- Week 1: Cut out fast food. Replace fast food with home cooking or pre-made items from the grocery store if you’re really in a hurry (think salads, not pizza!) – just remember to check the ingredients on the labels. Cutting out fast food will force you to do a little more cooking, which is much healthier because you can control portion sizes and limit artificial ingredients – not to mention it’s cost-effective!
- Week 2: Cut out daily sweets. Instead of having a treat every day, save dessert time for Sunday dinner. You can bake a cake or buy a carton of ice cream, but when it’s gone, desserts are done for the week. This will turn dessert into a treat rather than an expectation, and cutting sugar helps you avoid the emotional roller coaster of the dreaded sugar crash.
- Week 3: Embrace Meatless Mondays. Cutting meat out of your diet (just a little!) is a healthy habit that will allow you room for more veggies in your life. It will cut saturated fats from your diet for a more heart-healthy lifestyle. The American Heart Association has great recipes to get you started, like this Couscous-Stuffed Acorn Squash.
- Week 4: Cook with Herbs and Spices: Once you embrace cooking more at home, seek out recipes that include lots of herbs and spices. They’re so flavorful that you won’t need to use too much salt, and they’re packed with vitamins, antioxidants and often have medicinal properties that keep your system running strong.
After a month of cleaning up your eating habits, you should feel more energetic and lighter on your feet, which means you’re ready to hit the ground running for our next step of the cleanse:
Step 2: Get a Daily Dose of Activity
Longer days and better weather mean that you don’t have any excuses to avoid exercise once springtime rolls around! Our spring cleanse doesn’t require a gym membership or any crazy regimens. You just have to commit to getting a little more activity each day, no matter what. This cleanse honors the mind-body connection by making your exercises about you, not about burning calories or running a marathon.
- Week 5: 20 Minutes of Sunshine. Whether you choose to walk, run, bike or do some medium-impact gardening, pick an outdoor activity you love and commit to doing it for just 20 minutes each day during the first week. Getting outside in the fresh air is good for your immune system and your emotional state, and because it’s intrinsically rewarding to enjoy some time in nature, it’s a habit you’re more likely to keep — or even increase. Once you’ve developed the habit, you may find that a walk in the rain isn’t so bad, either!
- Week 6: Practice Evening Yoga. Flexibility is an oft-ignored aspect of overall fitness, and daily yoga practice can help you work out the kinks from your office chair or your long commute. Taking a class will help you soak in the more meditative aspects of yoga, but you can also practice on your own for free with some great apps. Yoga’s focus on breathing adds a relaxing, meditative component to the exercises that reduces stress and induces a sense of overall well-being. Just 15 to 20 minutes of yoga before bed is enough to make a difference, but consider a longer session if your daily dose of sunshine gets rained out.
Step 3: Develop Healthy Sleep Habits
With healthier diet and exercise habits in place, your body is primed and ready for a good night’s sleep. After all, you’re no longer riding that sugar rollercoaster, and regular exercise has been proven to help people get a good night’s sleep. Still, adjusting your sleep habits can help you get better rest.
- Week 7: Reset Your Sleep Patterns. First, take a minute to figure out whether you’re a morning lark or a night owl. What would your ideal bedtime be? Try an online sleep quiz to find out, and then do your best to match the suggested hours of sleep to your personal circadian rhythms. Next, commit to going to bed at the same time each night, and try waking up without your alarm clock. By the third day (a long weekend is ideal for this!), your body should have normalized, and you can count the number of hours you slept. This is your ideal amount of sleep, so make sure your bedtime is early enough to get you what you need — and stick with it!
- Week 8: Cut Back Your Screen Time. The blue light from your laptop, TV and smartphone are probably ruining your sleep patterns, as they interrupt your natural circadian rhythms. In the hour before your newly optimized bedtime, commit to shutting down your electronics. This is the perfect time to do your yoga, chat with a friend or read a good book. These activities are also more calming, and you won’t be tempted to carry the contents of your work emails or the nightly news in your mind when you hit the sack.
Our spring cleanse takes a while to complete, but that’s because new habits take time. Once you’ve built them, though, you’ll find that this spring cleaning of your body and mind has lasting benefits that go way beyond a weekend of deprivation that you get from some other trendy cleanse. Get started, and embrace a healthier new you this spring!