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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.

This is how much sugar Coke contains!

 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.

Learn to love water!

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?

 

 

Are you one of the thousands of people who felt fat, bloated and generally rubbish after the excess of the festive season? Did you vow to embark on a detox or weight loss programme that would change your life in the new year? Which option did you choose – juice detox, Atkins, Slimfast, maybe the currently trendy Dukan? If so, how’s that going now we’re halfway through January? Have you discovered yet how hard it is to exist on green sludge or milkshakes in this freezing cold weather? I certainly wouldn’t fancy it!

Err… I’ll have the porridge with maple syrup, thanks!

 At a time when the media bombards us with its glossy promises of ‘new year, new you’ it’s easy to get sucked into the general vortex of dieting and deprivation that marketers convince us is essential in order to lose weight; after all, they want us to buy their product, whether it be a book, foodstuff, supplement or diet plan! The problem is that most of these regimes are very difficult to stick to and so become unsustainable. People fall off the wagon and go straight back to their old eating habits, quickly regaining the few pounds they’ve just lost – and often more besides. Some folk do this every year, leading to a situation where they just keep putting on weight rather than losing it. It happens before the summer holidays too, when we’re all encouraged to get a ‘bikini’ body (whatever that may be!). Sound familiar? Unfortunately there are no short cuts to losing weight and keeping it off – otherwise we’d all be thin, wouldn’t we?

Caution – this will not make you look like Kate Middleton!

The truth is that if you’re overweight you don’t need to go on a crash diet – you just need to change your attitude to food. If you eat healthily and don’t have massive portion sizes, pounds will come off. If you become a bit more active, more pounds will come off! You’ll also feel a lot better and have loads more energy than if you follow a very low-calorie or unnatural exclusion diet. So, bin the faddy diet products, ready meals, sugary treats etc, nourish your body with good, wholesome, healthy fare and see what happens. Eat a good breakfast. Drink more water. Learn to love vegetables. Bad fats and carbs are bad; good fats and carbs are good – simples!

Healthy doesn’t have to be cold and boring!

So don’t deprive yourself of comfort food as the thermometer drops and we face Blue Monday next week. Why not try making some chilli with turkey mince for starters? Serve it with basmati or brown rice rather than garlic bread. It’s tasty, warming and low-fat. You don’t need a whole new you – just a slightly better, healthier version of the old one!

 

That sounds like a not very creative advertising strapline doesn’t it? But British Egg Week seems as good a time as any to blow the nutritional trumpet for eggs, a food I think we often take for granted or overlook. Many people seem to think that eggs are either fattening or bad for you, or both, but nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s put both of those rumours to bed right now, because eggs are fab!

Firstly, eggs are not fattening. A medium egg has less than 100 calories and is very low in fat. A couple of boiled or poached eggs with some wholemeal toast makes a really filling breakfast or lunch – just don’t go mad with the butter! They’re also really good for you, full of B vitamins and essential amino acids, amongst other nutrients. Eggs have developed an unfair reputation for being full of ‘bad’ cholesterol, but it isn’t naturally-occurring cholesterol in food that’s the bad guy in terms of heart disease so much as saturated fat, and eggs are very low in that. I wouldn’t buy battery eggs myself for ethical reasons, but free-range are much more nutritious anyway, organic free-range even better.

 So please don’t feel you have to avoid eggs – they’ve just had poor PR people over recent years! There are loads of great egg recipes on the British Egg Information Service website, and here’s one of my favourites too, for a French pudding called Far Breton. In our house this is always known as Sleepy Pie, as when my husband once ordered it on holiday in France the restaurant owner said “You’ll sleep well after eating that!”. It’s a kind of fruity-eggy-custard thing that goes quite firm once it’s cooled down. The recipe traditionally uses plums or prunes, but I’ve also made it with blueberries and raspberries, or those cartons of frozen forest fruit mixture that you can buy in supermarkets. It’s low in fat, but good enough to serve up if you have people for dinner too – bonus!

Far Breton (Sleepy Pie)

Plums, halved and stoned (or no-soak prunes)

120g plain flour

1 pint whole milk

100g caster sugar

2 eggs, beaten

Spray a large, shallow baking dish with oil.

Spread fruit evenly in the bottom.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (gas 4).

Sift flour into a bowl and make a well.

Add milk gradually, mixing into the flour with a whisk.

Add sugar and eggs – stir to make a smooth batter.

Pour batter over the fruit.

Bake for around 1 ¼ hours until browned on top.

Serve at room temperature, cut into squares – with cream or crème fraiche if you’re feeling naughty.

Enjoy!

An inspiring story in the Yorkshire Post caught my eye last week, and I want to share it with you because it demonstrates beautifully what I believe in; that losing weight isn’t rocket science and doesn’t involve embarking on freaky diets – it’s just a case of making some changes to what you already eat and moving about a bit more.

 Sixteen months ago 42 year old Donna Barras from Wakefield weighed more than 16 stones. She now weighs just over 12 stones. How did she manage this? Not by drinking protein shakes, excluding carbs or fasting on maple syrup. She made small changes to her diet such as eating more vegetables and swapping white bread for wholemeal, then stuck with them. She also took up running and now she’s taking part in the Jane Tomlinson Run For All in Leeds next month. Good for Donna! It must have taken a lot of determination and persistence to get to that point from where she started. What motivated her? Having an overweight mother with heart problems, Donna was rightly concerned about her own health, saying to herself “You really do need to sort yourself out”.

 Have you ever heard that same voice in your head but thought that the task of ‘sorting yourself out’ just seems too huge and pointless? It really isn’t. You don’t have to live on lettuce or go to bootcamp. You just need to make a start. Signing up for this year’s Run For All is maybe a bit unrealistic if you’ve never run before, but why not take a look at the Look Good, Feel Good tips I’ve been giving out every day this month and just adopt a couple at a time? That’s a start. Then you can just keep going until you get there. The results won’t be instant, but they will come, and the more you try the better you’ll look and feel.

 The alternative is doing nothing, then wishing you had in a few years time. If Donna can do it, why can’t you? Just give me a shout if you need any help!

It’s that time of year again! Summer holidays are fast approaching and every women’s magazine has a feature on how to get the perfect ‘bikini body’. You know the kind of thing… we’re all supposed to be able to look like this in about a week:

Basically they’re preying on the fear 99.9% of women feel about appearing practically naked in a public place in glaringly unflattering sunlight – which is completely understandable! It isn’t helped by the fact that we’re always being told by the media which celebrities are currently too fat/too thin in their bikinis at any particular time. In a world where nobody’s perfect it’s enough to make any normal woman paranoid! A recent feature expressed amazement that Julia Roberts felt able to play on the beach with her kids in a bikini, even though her stomach isn’t as flat as it used to be – for heaven’s sake, the woman’s over 40 and has had twins, give her a break!

So, the media is full of advice on how to get that bikini body in a week/10 days/a month. Take your pick of these programmes – none of them will work. The way to get a body you’re happy with is to look after it properly all the time, not just crash diet or go to boot camp for a fortnight before you hit the beach. A healthy weight, toned muscles and good skin come as a result of eating well and exercising regularly as a matter of course.

Whenever I go on holiday to France I’m always struck by how few fat people there are on the beach (and how much browner than me they are – but that’s another story!). This is because, in general, the French eat far better than we do. You won’t find many ready meals or massive aisles of snacks in French supermarkets. Meals tends to be prepared from scratch with fresh ingredients, and French people don’t usually snack between meals. They drink regularly but not heavily. Advice we could all do well to follow. You only get one body, so please treat it well! xx

Last night I watched the first in a new series on Channel 4 called Will My Crash Diet Kill Me. It annoyed me so much I felt I had to have a bit of a rant about it today! For those of you who didn’t see the programme, three overweight women were put onto well-known very low calorie diets – the Cambridge, the Cabbage Soup and the Maple Syrup – and their weight loss monitored over a period of weeks. The programme appeared to conclude that crash dieting was an effective way to lose weight, which I thought was irresponsible at best and downright dangerous at worst.

Most nutritionists believe that crash dieting is a really unhealthy way to lose weight. Apart from their extremely low calorie content, which leaves people lacking in energy, crash diets tend to exclude important food groups such as carbohydrates, fats and dairy which are all vital to good health. Granted, most people who follow a crash diet will lose weight fairly quickly, but in nearly all cases the weight creeps back on as soon as they come off the diet and return to their previous bad habits; so after a while they’ll probably crash diet again. This so-called ‘yo-yo’ dieting carries serious health risks such as liver problems, muscle loss and compromised immune function, to name but a few. Many yo-yo dieters ultimately end up more overweight than they were in the first place. I thought it was quite telling that Angelica, who was following the Cabbage Soup Diet on the programme, drank a whole bottle of wine on the first day she came off her diet. I’m guessing she could probably lose weight just by giving up the booze for a while!

The best way to slim down is to follow a sensible, healthy eating plan that includes all food groups. A good rate at which to lose weight that stays off is around two pounds a week. Exercising will help you to achieve your goal more quickly. Deep down we all know that weight loss is simply a case of using up more calories than we take in, but many people are always looking for a miracle quick-fix. Guess what? They don’t exist. Even people who have gastric bands fitted often end up putting weight back on after a while. If you are overweight you need to change your eating habits for life. Simples!

What really annoyed me more than anything was the content of the Cambridge Weight Loss plan, which can be as little as 415 calories a day. This is madness! On the programme a lovely girl called Nicola was put onto this regime. It soon became apparent that her diet ‘counsellor’ hadn’t warned her before starting the plan that she’d have no energy to exercise (which Nicola loved to do) and that other possible side effects might include hair loss, nausea, dizziness and feeling cold!

Will crash dieting kill you? Not in the same way as being run over by a bus. But it is really bad for your health, so don’t do it. Oh, and don’t get me started on ITV’s The Biggest Loser! More on that next week…