It’s that time of year again. Michael Bublé is out collecting nuts and acorns, ready to go back into hibernation until November, the mince pies and family-sized boxes of biscuits are up for grabs in the reduced aisle and we’ve got another 11 months before Home Alone and Love Actually are back on the telly.
The festive bubble has burst, and the corporate powers are pushing us down a different path, one of self-improvement and clean living.
It starts in that weird week in between Christmas and New Year. The odd advert for a new TV programme that pledges to reveal the “truth about food”; new carb-free cookbooks sneaking their way onto the bestsellers lists; exercise bikes being dug out of attics and optimistically placed in front of the TV, and all the while people across the country are making resolutions never to eat a slice of cake ever again, or to fast until they faint.
As is the case every year, it’s been hard to escape from the post-Christmas health push over these past two weeks. Channel 4 show How To Lose Weight Well has tested out the effectiveness of one of the most hideous inventions mankind has ever bestowed upon itself – the cabbage soup diet. The programme also enlisted another poor soul to try out the “potato diet”, which encourages the eating of nothing but spuds for an entire week. Sounds dull.
Newspaper shelves have been stacked with pull-outs of diet plans that promise to help readers shed a stone in a matter of weeks, and social media influencers are flooding their followers’ timelines with “healthy” recipes – the most appalling example I could find of which was bell pepper sandwiches, which are essentially processed turkey breast meat and cheese slices wedged into a green pepper instead of bread. All kinds of wrong.
In previous years I’ve bought into the “new year, new me” hype, but not this year. Our insecurity and annual self-punishment are an industry. There are boardrooms of people who spend their whole year planning how best to make us feel bad about ourselves in order that we might spend the first month of the year sipping laxatives masquerading as detox teas and attempting to stave off hunger with “appetite suppressant lollipops”. No thank you.
We’re conditioned to think January should be a miserable time of year, one of self-denial and no wine. Too many of my friends have pledged to do Dry January this year, despite me trying to corrupt them. My argument, which is based on absolutely zero medical evidence, is one weekend off the booze is ample time to recover from the festive drinkfest. Any longer than that is just unnecessary for those who enjoy the odd tipple in moderation.
Instead of writing down a list of ways we need to improve ourselves, I think we’d all be wise to spend this month noticing how the days are staying lighter for just a little bit longer, and making the most of the fact supermarkets are no longer full of stressed shoppers barging through checkouts with trolleys fit for an apocalypse.
January doesn’t have to be a month where we say no to things we enjoy because the country is on a health kick. How about just continuing as we were, and if we manage to set a few goals on the way, then that’s great too.
Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy