I think it’s no accident that the end-of-the-year holiday season is so focused on giving. After a busy year of planning, doing, hustling and bustling , it feels great to take a step back and appreciate the ones we love. We don’t think twice about taking a moment to pamper our spouses, our children, our family and friends. It seems natural. This holiday season, though, I want to remind you of someone else who could use a bit of TLC, someone who works hard for you every day and who could really benefit from a break. I’m talking about your body.

In a perfect world, everything would run smoothly. Imagine it: no morning traffic, supermarket shelves empty of junk food, children who would spend their time reading and playing outside and volunteering for charity work on weekends with never a word about video games and Twinkies. Our bodies would always function at optimal efficiency, eliminating toxins and leaving us feeling happy, energetic ready for anything.

Back here on Earth, though, it’s not so easy. Our bodies face a constant barrage of toxins – air pollution, chemicals leaked from food packaging, heavy metals in the water supply, stress and even, yes, holiday overindulgence all take their toll. The good news is that we’re built to deal with it. Your liver, kidneys, lymphatic system and even your skin are all working hard every day to get rid of those toxins.

And that’s really the point – your body is working on overdrive every day to keep you clean. All it asks in return is food, water, sunlight and exercise. What a cleanse does is give your body’s natural defenses a break. Think of it as a holiday for your liver. A 14-day period in which you minimize the intake of toxins and purge your system gives your body a chance to rest, regenerate and perhaps get rid of the traces of toxins that it never manages to get to while it’s dealing with its daily workload.

The benefits of a cleanse go well beyond a little gastrointestinal housekeeping. While your GI tract is enjoying a well-deserved holiday, you’re also giving yourself a chance break any bad eating habits and start the new year afresh. Having made a clean break from your normal eating routine, you’ll give yourself a chance to restart with the right habits that, long term, are the key to getting and staying healthy. You’re likely to find after a cleanse that you have more energy, and you’ll probably sleep better, think better and feel better all around. You’ll feel empowered, too. A sensible cleanse means 14-days of being in total control of what you’re eating, and the psychological boost from proving to yourself that you are in charge is enormous. When you feel like that, I assure you, saying no to that chocolate muffin becomes a lot easier.

If you’re going to do a cleanse, though, do it the right way and for the right reasons. You can probably lose weight if you only drink lemon juice for a few days, but you’ll gain it back and won’t have done any lasting good. And, let’s face, you’ll be miserable. A true cleanse, one that can really boost your energy levels and help you stay on course for long term weight loss and health benefits, needs to be well planned to ensure balanced nutrition throughout the process. There are pitfalls to avoid; for example, without proper supplements a cleanse diet can partially detoxify substances into even more harmful compounds and then dump them back into the bloodstream. That’s the last thing you’d want, and it’s just one reason why you should avoid extreme fad diets you hear about on the internet or celebrity talk shows.

With so much bad advice out there, how do you choose a cleanse that’s right for you? An intelligent cleanse will be balanced, will have a real food component and will be accompanied by a range of supplements. Avoid any cleanse regime that involves only drinking fruit juice, or only drinking shakes, or really any advice that has you eating only one specific food or beverage. Likewise, be wary of unrealistic claims. There is no hassle-free-three-day-chocolate-chunk-muffin-cleanse, nor one that can make you thin and healthy as if by magic. It takes some effort on your part, and some good professional advice, but it’s worth it.

Under the guidance of a certified nutritionist, and after consulting a doctor if you’re on any medication or suffer from a medical condition, a thorough cleanse is a great way to end the old year and begin the new one on a positive note. And that amazing feeling of vitality you’ll experience afterwards… that’s your body saying “Thank you!”

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