Hands up who’s feeling a bit rubbish after the festive break? I certainly am. I like to think I’m a pretty healthy eater most of the time, but the Christmas holidays are a hard test of anyone’s resolve! Christmas dinner itself isn’t really the problem; at the end of the day that’s just a roast dinner with a few pigs in blankets on the side. It’s all the other food that causes the problem… and the booze, of course! You could just say no to all of it, and I’m sure a few very disciplined people do; but everywhere you go at Christmas and New Year people want to feed you, and it’s usually hard to refuse! Things I’ve indulged in include mince pies, After Eights, trifle, Bailey’s, Pringles and wine. Plus I’ve been for a couple of meals at people’s houses where they’ve been to a lot of trouble and it would be rude to say no. I’m sure most of you will have had a similar couple of weeks. The only thing that’s counted in my favour is that I haven’t stopped runnning – even with a bit of a hangover on a couple of occasions!
The question is, what do we do to get rid of this horrible, bloaty feeling and lose the couple of pounds we’ve all probably put on? The media are currently full of the usual ‘new year, new you’ stuff they always pump out just after Christmas. This mostly seems to focus on articles about radical, expensive detoxes and abstaining from everything. ‘Give yourself a good purge and you will magically become a bright, shiny, thin new person’ is the general message. There will also be a mad rush of people joining gyms in January, planning to go five times a week for ever. But the reality is that most people will only stick to their new regimes for a couple of weeks – or maybe even a month – before they revert to their old ways. The change is just too radical to be sustainable. The truth is that a few simple changes will soon have you feeling a lot better – and you’ll save a lot of money too! You don’t need to be a whole new you, just a slightly better version of the current you. So here’s what I recommend for a ‘New Year, Slightly Better You’ approach.
· First thing, there’s no need to ‘detox’ with special powders, juices or pills. Your liver and kidneys are fantastic organs and can actually cope with an awful lot. Unless you’ve been drinking a bottle of vodka a day they’ll deal with your festive excess just fine. Having said that, there’s no harm in giving them a bit of a rest from processing huge amounts of booze and rich food for a little while.
· Stop eating junk now. You may have leftover goodies or foodie gifts such as Christmas cake/boxes of chocolates and biscuits/cheese footballs lying around the house. Put them away somewhere out of sight, take them into work, offer them to visitors or give them away to thin friends. Most chocolates have really long use-by dates, so you could always regift them at some point! Some things, like cheese, freeze really well too. Don’t feel you have to eat all the bad things in the house before you can start being good.
· Focus on eating simple, healthy, unprocessed foods. Things like chicken, fish, pulses, vegetables and Greek yoghurt. Snack on fruit and nuts instead of biscuits and crisps. You know the score here really, so I won’t ramble on about it today.
· Drink lots of water. You may well be quite dehyrated after two weeks of boozing and scoffing sugary/salty foods. If you don’t normally drink plenty of water you’ll be surprised what a difference this makes to how good you feel.
· Do some exercise. If you usually do exercise, get back on it after the Christmas break. If you don’t, start now but be kind to yourself. No need to crush it in the gym. Go for a long walk on a lovely sunny, frosty day. Have a kickabout in the park with your kids. Go to a yoga or Pilates class. Get that bike out of the garage and have a gentle pedal for half an hour. The more of this kind of thing you do, the more you’ll want to do, I promise.
· Get plenty of sleep. Most of us don’t get enough. Go to bed a bit earlier than usual. Your body will repair and restore itself while you snooze.
That’s all you need to do. That’s what I’ll be doing. In a couple of weeks we’ll all be feeling much better and I’ll have to run the Brass Monkey half marathon – eek! And if you really want to go to the gym, wait until February – it’ll be a lot quieter then.
You may have seen in the news earlier this week that the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which represents most doctors in the UK, has advised that a 20% tax should be introduced on sugary drinks. This is supposed to make people drink less of them and is just one of a series of recommendations made with a view to tackling the UK’s growing obesity crisis. Well it’s good to see that doctors are finally taking an interest in doing something about obesity; but will taxing these drinks really work? In my local supermarket you can buy two 2 litre bottles of cheap pop for a pound. A 20% increase applied to that will bring the price up to £1.20. Is that really enough to put off those who simply can’t get through the day without their regular sugar fix? I don’t think so. And why pick on the manufacturers of these products in particular? People eat and drink plenty of other things that are bad for them. What about cheap booze, doughnuts and ready meals?! In my view it would be far more effective to educate people about why very sugary drinks are unhealthy so that they can make their own informed choice to avoid them.
So why are these drinks so bad for us? Well, basically because consuming large quantities of them puts you on the fast track to obesity. Sodas contain large amounts of high fructose corn syrup that spikes your blood sugar, adds inches to your waistline and could in time can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes; although of course sugary drinks are by no means the only cause of this. I truly believe that most people, especially young ones, have no idea what a serious condition type 2 diabetes is and simply don’t realise how much damage they’re storing up by drinking large amounts of sugar, for example thinking nothing of supersizing their McDonalds meal with a large Coke.
Of course you could just switch to diet versions of fizzy drinks, which contain no sugar; but these are harmful in a different way – full of artificial sweeteners plus scary cocktails of colouring and flavouring chemicals. I believe that one of the single most positive things you can do to help yourself become more healthy is to replace fizzy drinks and squashes with plain water – and it doesn’t have to be the pricey bottled stuff. I meet so many people who consume frightening amounts of sugary drinks, people who would never dream of turning on the tap and having a drink of what my Nana used to call ‘Corporation Pop’. Only this week I watched an episode of Supersize vs Superskinny featuring a woman who drank at least a pint of cola with every meal – sometimes two – and wondered why she weighed over 20 stone! I can guarantee that if you drink vast amounts of pop every day you’ll feel miles better if you simply replace it with water; less tired and headachy, more energetic.
Of course some people say they need sugary drinks and (even more worryingly) energy drinks such as Red Bull to get them through the day and stop them feeling tired. If this is the case you need to look at what you’re eating too. Junk food won’t give you the energy you need to sustain a busy lifestyle – good nutrition will.
Rather than taking a reactive, negative stance on obesity by simply taxing everything that’s bad for us, the government should be doing more to educate people on how to make positive choices about what they consume and why they should do that – not just children in schools, but adults too. What do you think?