After a season rife with cookies and cakes and candies and chips, it’s perfectly reasonable to want to hit a reset button on your health—and it doesn’t have to be hard or restrictive. Instead of going on a juice cleanse or attempting the latest fad diet, consider making one simple switch: Cut out processed foods.
“Eliminating processed foods from our diet removes a key source of internal inflammation and is one of the most important and vital parts of detoxification,” says functional medicine expert Dr. Lisa Ballehr. They typically contain artificial preservatives, additives, refined sugars, and (if they’re not organic) residual pesticides, she explains. If you’re not interested in a full-on detox (giving up things like sugar, gluten, and the like), this simple change is a good first step to take to feel your best. And in just 24 hours, you’ll see benefits emerge.
After One Day
Skipped that afternoon treat of Doritos? Opted for a bowl of oatmeal instead of your usual grab-and-go muffin for breakfast? Expect to feel focused and more energetic throughout the day. As Ballehr explains, refined sugars can cause peaks and valleys in blood glucose, which basically results in energy spikes and crashes—not helpful.
You should still be prepared for some negative effects, though. “Some people will experience withdrawal symptoms within the first day and for up to a week, which may include mood swings, cravings, anxiety, headaches, and poor sleep,” says registered dietitian and nutritionist Shena Jaramillo. However, if you’re someone who gets frequent abdominal pain or suffers from bloating, you might also see those symptoms decrease.
After One Week
Now that you’ve got the hang of things, get ready for your digestion to improve. Jaramillo notes that gut issues (like constipation, bloating, diarrhea, and gas) are less likely to occur after avoiding processed foods for seven days. Plus, you’ll probably experience a whole bevy of other benefits: increased mental clarity, better sleep, and fewer headaches.
Since many of these foods can create an inflammatory response in the body, Ballehr adds that avoiding them will also help ease aches, pains, and muscle tension, no massage necessary.
After One Month
Gluten, wheat, dairy, corn, eggs, and soy are common allergens—and they also happen to be in a lot of processed foods. Essentially, when you remove the latter from your diet, you might unexpectedly remove ingredients that you didn’t even realize were making you feel less than your best. “This is about the time people will notice more significant benefits to overall well-being,” says Ballehr.
The benefits that you felt after a week will be even more present after a full month: Anticipate a better mood, more energy, and less muscle fatigue, according to Ballehr and Jaramillo.
After Six Months
Here’s when the real change starts. “People find it easier to lose stubborn weight that they’ve gained. Diabetics see much better blood sugar control. Patients with inflammatory conditions may reduce medications due to decrease in pain,” says Ballehr.
Triglycerides and hemoglobin A1c—both found in your blood—also decrease at this point, which will reduce your blood sugar, putting you less at risk for developing type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease, according to Ballehr. And when you replace those processed snacks with healthy, whole foods instead, your liver and kidney function will improve, too, adds Jaramillo. An apple a day—when swapped with, say, a bag of potato chips—really does keep the doctor away.