• Christmas indulgence can contribute to weight gain, not to mention plenty of other metabolic damage
• Rather than looking for quick fixes and detoxes, start with an appropriate mind-set, a targeted lifestyle approach this new year will be of greater benefit both in the short- and long-term
• Targets of eating predominantly foods that are whole and minimally-processed or ‘unadulterated’, and engaging in some form of exercise on at least three occasions per week is a good starting point
• The key element is that these targets are personal, realistic and sustainable, and small incremental changes will be more effective than big gestures that really only set you up to fail
• Read below for some simple tips to reboot your lifestyle this year
You know the worst case scenario over the Christmas period: eaten too much, drank too much and done practically no exercise over Christmas (well, unless you read our pre-Christmas tips and managed the excess of food and drink better than other years!). What have you done to yourself?! Besides an increase in body fat (the “Christmas bulge”), there are other potential health implications of over-consumption of alcohol, and heavily processed foods, be that sugary or fried food, or both – that’s a lot of unhealthy treats. Associated issues with this indulgence are energy fluctuations, fatigue, moodiness, elevated stress hormones, elevated triglyceride levels (fats in blood), elevated VLDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol), and elevated insulin resistance; not to mention poor quality sleep and damage to your gut health. Additionally, if you haven’t been exercising, the enzymes in muscle that burn fat as a source of energy are lowered, which means you are more likely to store body fat rather than burn it.
Fortunately, our bodies are very adaptable and just as this damage can be done in the short-term, with the right approach, many of these adverse health effects can also be put right with a consistent lifestyle that incorporates healthy eating and exercise habits. We have all heard the statistics about how many people fall off their “diet” and are back to their bad habits by the end of January, and that is exactly what you want to avoid. Instead, think about it as lifestyle choices rather than a diet, so let’s look at a sensible and sustainable approach to your health goals this New Year.
Where to start: your mind–set!
A healthy lifestyle, and any goal around body fat/appearance can only be accomplished by consistently applying appropriate eating habits. Whether starting afresh with a new lifestyle, or if you’ve just gone off track temporarily, the most important aspects in your dietary “reboot” is to be doing it for the right reasons or motivation, and then being consistent. These are both a question of mind-set. Doing something as a token gesture as a short-term attempt of being healthy will offer little benefit to you in the long-term. Make plans to make the process of eating healthy easier and set some realistic targets.
Simple targets like to drink green tea twice per day, or to eat three portions of green vegetables per day, or to not eat late in the evening unless recovering from training, and so forth can work well. Other practical suggestions include designing a food shopping list specific to you, buying a healthy recipe book, and setting some weekly exercise targets.
The key element is that these targets are personal, realistic and sustainable, and small incremental changes will be more effective than big gestures that really only set you up to fail. For example, if you do not currently exercise regularly, starting out with three, half hour sessions per week is a lot more likely to be maintained than telling yourself that you are suddenly going to do six, hour long sessions per week from January 1st. The same logic should be applied to changes in your eating habits.
The detox and quick fix approaches
Around this time of year, you will see numerous articles about “detoxing your body” and how to “cleanse” your system to repair the damage of the Christmas madness. “Detox” and “juice diets” are ubiquitous on social media, and the list of suggested benefits almost limitless. Sadly however, the health benefits of “doing a detox” are greatly exaggerated, and not currently supported by scientific evidence. For example, the rapid weight loss often reported as one of the main benefits occurs largely from a loss of water weight and effects of a low residue diet, but importantly, almost no body fat is lost. The reality is that this new “weight loss” is usually replaced within a couple of days of returning to regular eating habits.
Despite the benefits of detox diets being exaggerated, a short-term detox like a three day juice detox is unlikely to do you any major harm (except to your pocket), so if you feel better for doing it, go ahead. The reality is that “detox” and “cleanse” diets are just that: short-term approaches, and we know that short-term approaches to lifestyle and health offer little in the way of long-term benefits.
• A protein-rich breakfast is a good start to the day
• Eat predominantly foods that are whole and minimally-processed or ‘unadulterated’
• Eat more vegetables and less of sugary carbohydrate foods
• Incorporate more fresh herbs and spices into meals
• If you look at a food ingredients label and it reads like a chemical list, then don’t eat it
• Avoid drinking calories e.g. sugary and alcoholic drinks; water, herbal teas, and black coffee as your only fluid sources
Over the past few weeks, you are likely to have consumed huge amounts of carbohydrate foods through both good and bad choices. While not inherently “bad” for you, and their role in weight gain somewhat exaggerated in recent years, nevertheless in the absence of regular exercise, this will mean that your carbohydrate stores (glycogen) will be saturated, which is partly responsible for a state of insulin resistance that predisposes you to then store energy from food and drink as fat.
In order to restore insulin sensitivity by reducing these energy stores, you can deplete them by a combination of moderate-to-high intensity exercise and a reduction in your intake of carbohydrate, particularly from the carbohydrate-rich foods that make up the bulk of the Western diet like cereals, bread, rice, pasta, wraps and potatoes. Aim to replace these staples with larger servings of foods with lower carbohydrate content such as fresh berries, leafy green and non-root vegetables. These foods have the added advantage of being rich in nutrients that you may have been lacking if you have been eating a lot of processed foods recently. This approach can also subconsciously reduce your overall energy intake, which will assist a weight loss goal if that is your priority. Once you are happy with your progress and feel you are achieving your body composition and fitness goals, you can re-introduce some slow-digesting starchy carbohydrate foods around training sessions on so-called training days.
Taking a holistic approach
Your general health: Every time that you put something in your mouth, it has the potential to improve or impair your health, recovery and performance. Aim for these responses to be predominantly positive by eating the right foods.
Your mind: Do you eat oily fish? Oily fish has repeatedly been shown to benefit the brain in terms of mood and function, so aim to consume some oily fish three times per week. If you struggle to eat oily fish, then it is worth considering taking an omega-3 oil supplement.
Your gut: With the increasing evidence of health benefits of probiotics including better immune function and reduced incidence of respiratory illness and gastrointestinal infections, a course of probiotics may be a worthwhile strategy for two weeks in order to re-establish the healthy bacteria population in your gut.
Sleep: Get back into a regular sleep pattern, i.e. start going to bed and getting up at the same time each day. More and more research is showing the benefits of sufficient sleep like improved immune function, reduced stress hormones, better mood and, maybe most interestingly, better appetite control, which means you are less likely to make unhealthy food choices.