With Christmas over and ‘dry’ January on the horizon, shedding excess pounds is likely to be on the thoughts of most Britons in the lull before New Year’s Eve.
However, jumping from a diet of mince pies and mulled wine to one far lower in sugar and unhealthy fats can seem daunting.
“Food is there to be enjoyed as much as it is needed for nourishment,” said Lily Soutter, a nutritionist.
“However, for some Christmas can take its toll on their waistline, which can lead to that depressing January diet.”
But Soutter said that by taking some simple steps towards a healthy, balanced diet before January can prevent the need for strict calorie counting in the new year.
Here are five easy diet switches to help you begin trimming down now.
Never skip the first meal of the day, advised Soutter.
“Set yourself up for success by having a healthy but hearty breakfast,” she said. “Research has shown that those who eat breakfast tend to have a more of a balanced diet, are less likely to be overweight, lose weight more successfully and are less likely to snack unnecessarily.
“One study has also shown that participants who consumed good quality protein at breakfast stayed ‘fuller for longer’, which in turn prevented overeating later on in the day.”
She added that you could add protein to breakfast by eating Greek yoghurt with seeds or berries, and boiled eggs on wholegrain toast.
Use up the leftovers
While ploughing through all the leftover turkey from Christmas dinner may seem like a chore, it could help your waistline.
“Turkey may be a perfect festive choice when it comes to weight management,” explained Soutter. “This lean meat is low in calories and is a source of good quality protein.
“Research suggests that protein may help to stave of hunger and maintains that all-important fat burning muscle mass.
“It’s also rich in tryptophan, the precursor to our happy hormone serotonin. The happier we are the more satisfied we tend to feel.
She recommended using it up in salads, burgers, stews and soups.
The same goes for leftover potatoes, which you may be tempted to cook in goose fat, butter, lard and ghee.
“But by swapping saturated fats for monounsaturated fats such as extra-virgin olive oil, you may be one step closer to maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and better heart health,” she explained.
Pile on the winter veg
Salads are understandably the last thing you want to devour when it’s cold outside, but vegetables can be served hot too.
Soutter recommended filling your plate with lots of festive winter vegetables.
“It’s easy to eat a 400-calorie mince pie within seconds, but not so easy to eat 400 calories worth of vegetables quite so quickly – you’d be stuffed,” she said. “Vegetables are a rich source of fibre, which can help to keep hunger at bay.
“Fill at least half of your plate with them and you’ll be guaranteed to have a lower calorie and healthier dish.
“Try rainbow coloured winter veg such as vitamin A rich carrots, vitamin C rich broccoli and antioxidant rich beetroot to support immunity.”
She added cooking them with spices or roasting them with olive oil could give them a twist.
Choose the right carbs
Many people believe January diets mean low or no carbs, but Soutter pointed out that carbohydrates are important to still include in our diet – just make sure they’re the right ones.
“During the winter months, there is a tendency to gravitate towards carb-heavy, high-calorie meals to make us feel warm and cosy,” she explained.
“Filling up on refined carbohydrates such as white rice, bread, pasta, cakes and pastries may reduce fibre intake and lead blood sugar imbalances. Both can set up a cycle, which keeps appetite in motion. But there’s no need to cut carbs during winter, the key is to choose carbs with health benefits.
“Whole grains such as brown rice, bread and pasta are a great source of fibre – an important factor for balancing blood sugar and keeping hunger at bay.
“Whilst root vegetables, beans, lentils and chickpeas are low in calories, nutrient dense and can satisfying those stodgy, carby cravings.”
Don’t go to a New Year’s Eve party hungry
“If you’re worried about your waistline, attending parties starving hungry may be a recipe for disaster,” warned Soutter.
“Whilst there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a canapé or two, it’s important to note that they tend to be high in calories and fat, without being particularly filling.
“Try consuming a small meal or snack before parties to line your stomach.”
If you’d still like to celebrate the beginning of 2018 with an alcoholic beverage just make sure you avoid high-calorie cocktails.
“For a lower calorie beverage try a clear spirit – such as vodka or gin – with a no sugar mixer, like sparkling water, and a squeeze of lemon or lime,” she suggested.
“With only 70 to 90 calories per glass and zero sugar, this is a top choice for those aiming for balance.”