The woman at the health store had the patience of a saint. I’d been rummaging around the place for almost an hour, perplexed by the array of homeopathic remedies that were as foreign to me as the lower half of the periodic table. She’d made the mistake of asking me if I needed assistance, and I’d responded by peppering her with questions. Can this stuff really detox my liver? Will this interact with my blood pressure medication? How can something give you more energy and help you sleep? What’s your return policy?

She answered my questions with confidence and authority. But while she happened to be wearing a white smock, the same type worn by doctors and dentists, any suggestion of medical expertise was belied by her nose ring and the ash blonde dreadlocks that fell from her head like coils of old rope hanging off the side of a barge. In the end I fell prey to her optimistic charm and left the store with enough maca root powder, liquid chlorophyll, turmeric, lion’s mane extract, and milk thistle to open a booth at Burning Man.

A visit to the health store is an annual pilgrimage I make toward the end of each year. Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I take a long, honest look in the mirror and assess the damage I’ve done to myself over the previous eleven months. Maybe it’s the cooler temperatures or the shorter days, but winter always makes me feel like the party is winding down and the grim reaper is an irritable taxi driver waiting for me by the curb: “The meter’s tickin’ buddy.” It’s a time when I stop justifying my indulgences and make bold promises for the future. No more drinking. No more processed foods. More exercise and fresh air and less marathon sessions on the couch streaming reruns of Frasier. Full of enthusiasm, I vow that on January 1, I’ll become a new man.

Even with the calories of Christmas and the elevated liver enzymes of New Year’s Eve still flowing through my system, I awake on January 1 full of good intentions. I drag myself to the kitchen and fill the blender with greens and herbal powders, and am soon choking down a concoction that tastes like the drippings from a lawnmower bag. I take a half-mile jog around the neighborhood, eat a salad for lunch, and when happy hour rolls around I pour myself a few fingers of herbal tea. The angel on my shoulder applauds my dedication while the devil on the other rolls his eyes and mutters, “Here we go again.”

Of course by mid-January the blender will once again be collecting dust under the sink and the herbal supplements will be hidden behind fresh bags of sesame sticks, rice crackers, and gummy bears. The wilted spinach will have been tossed to make room for wedges of cheese and an assortment of cured meats, and the running shoes will have yet to be fully broken in. Around this time, I’ll mix the first martini of the year and toast the days of sacrifices I’ve endured in the name of good health. The angel will shake his head and lament another missed opportunity for lasting change. The devil, however, will give a knowing wink and raise his glass, satisfied the natural order has been restored.