The Tonic Guide to Vices in 2017
What you need to make it through another year.
Join a gym, eat less pork fried rice, whatever, sure, go for it. But as we've explained before, it's really not worth treating the new year like some grand excuse to wipe your slate clean of indulgences.
For one thing, science has already shown that's a surefire recipe for failure—one of the many reasons only 8 percent of people who make resolutions ever hit their goals, according to one study. "The greatest challenge I have with my patients this time of year is reeling them back from the black hole of overambitious resolutions," says Paul Hokemeyer, a New York City therapist who specializes in addiction treatment. "Too many people view January 1 as some magical date from which they can become pure as snow. That's delusional thinking."
For another thing, we all need a little vice in our lives. Fucking up—and getting fucked up, within reason—can be just as refreshing as whatever week-long moon juice spa cleanse BS your latest fitspo idol is touting. "Perfect people are annoying and off-putting," Hokemeyer says. "We connect with people through their cracks. It's what makes them human and, ultimately, attractive. This certainly isn't to condone vices that cause destruction, but a little dirt in the corners can be fun and exciting."
In 2017, embrace the dirt in the corners. Here are some of the vices we're standing by, and science's logic for why you should too.
Drinking (mostly red)
Once the bastion of barstool medicine, the notion that red wine is good for you has been downgraded from "definitely true" to "ehh, true enough" by the Mayo Clinic, which recently provided a cautionary synopsis of what science does and doesn't know about wine and heart health. The Clinic says the key ingredient is probably resveratol, which "helps prevent damage to blood cells, reduces low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the 'bad' cholesterol), and prevents blood clots." Spanish researchers also support this idea: They found that moderate consumption of red wine and beer (but especially red wine) provided more cardiovascular protection than liquor, an effect they also attributed to resveratol. Neither the Spanish researchers nor the Mayo Clinic are telling people who aren't already imbibers to start, we'll add. But it's as good an excuse as any to feel a little better about splitting a bottle after a long day.
Last November, California, Nevada, and Massachusetts joined Colorado in passing recreational use ballot measures, which could mean weed is on the brink of going mainstream. The idea that marijuana can lead to psychiatric disorders is specious, according to a 2016 longitudinal study. And while we all pretty much already knew what Vanderbilt researchers recently suggested—that weed fights feelings of anxiety by activating cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which also help regulate appetite, pain sensation, and mood—other researchers have proposed that the occasional toke could be useful in a more longterm way for fighting symptoms of depression and chronic stress by stimulating those same receptors. "Using compounds derived from cannabis to restore normal endocannabinoid function [in the brain] could potentially help stabilize moods and ease depression," the study's lead author, Samir Haj-Dahmane, said in a press release.
If it's anything like 2016—and for the love of all that is good in the universe, we pray it's not—the new year is bound to knock you down eventually. Fight the urge to power through and call out "sick" for a day or two. It's important to set clear, enforceable boundaries between your work and personal life, Hokemeyer says. "Taking a sick day is entirely appropriate to reclaim balance and equanimity in your psyche. We forget that our emotional well-being is directly connected to our physical health. Don't wait until you've been knocked to the curb—if you're feeling overwhelmed, be proactive and call a time out." Just think of it as a mental health day or a mini-vacation. When Dutch researchers interviewed 974 vacationers, they found that people who reported low stress levels during their trip were happier upon return to daily life. Similarly, Swedish researchers who studied antidepressant use among retirees found that people who vacationed more often took fewer pills. The key here is to keep your "sick day" as low-key as possible: In the Dutch study, vacationers who reported high stress levels—due to overbooking themselves and being as touristy as possible—were no happier upon their return to work than they were when they left. In other words, consider a Netflix binge instead. You didn't give up that for New Year's, did you?
Eating more cheese
A raft of new evidence suggests that fat was never the bogeyman it was probably made out to be when you were growing up. Take it from Aseem Malhotra, a British cardiologist who consulted on a blistering report from the UK's National Obesity Forum: "The change in dietary advice to promote low-fat foods is perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history," he wrote. As Tonic reported a few months ago, rates of obesity have also skyrocketed since people fled from full-fat foods, and swapped in carb and sugar-heavy replacements. Full-fat foods actually do a better job of making you feel satiated after you eat, which means you're less inclined to supplement those meals with snacks. One way to do that: cheese. One Danish study found that regular cheese consumption had zero effect on raising levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol. Another study—thought it was a small one and was partly funded by the dairy industry—found that cheese could also have a positive effect on your gut bacteria. Take it with a grain of salt. Or a hunk of Irish cheddar.
Usually when people talk about quitting coffee, they're really talking about quitting caffeine, which can leave you jittery and irritable if you overdo it. But the minor shock to your system that coffee delivers isn't without upside. A longitudinal study in the Journal of Nutrition found an increase in cognition, verbal memory, and even attention among people who regularly consume caffeine. The FDA estimates the average American drinks around 300 milligrams of caffeine per day—which actually should be just fine, since 500 milligrams is the threshold where problems like insomnia and restlessness settle in, according to the Mayo Clinic. (If that's you, here's some insight into what's going on.) Worried you're taking in too much? Try downshifting by a cup or two—or switch to decaf. That way, you'll still potentially lower your risk of stroke and diabetes and cancer, as well as gastrointestinal conditions and various neurological disorders, all while maybe improving your metabolic health, and—still listening? Okay, whatever you do, just promise you won't switch to one of those giant radioactive-orange energy drinks.
The stigmas around self-pleasure have always led people to concoct bizarre mental blocks around why they might not want to do it, says Debby Herbenick, associate professor at Indiana University and author of The Coregasm Workout. "Various religions and cultures have created taboos around masturbation, leaving many people still feeling guilt, shame, or fear about one of the most common sexual behaviors," she says, "even though there's no evidence that it leads to STIs or pregnancy or fertility problems." There are plenty of other medically sound reasons to play a solo match before bed, too. Orgasms release key chemicals in the brain like dopamine, oxytocin, and prolactin. Study after study for more than 20 years has linked dopamine release to feelings of happiness. Frequent ejaculations—among men, at least—have also been inversely related to the chances of getting prostate cancer, say Harvard researchers. "And for women, vaginal penetration helps maintain a flexible, healthy vagina," Herbenick says, "while the release of prolactin and oxytocin helps relieve stress, fall asleep more easily, and just plain feel good."