It’s all very well to eat, drink and be merry over Christmas - but you could have a heavy price to pay in the New Year.
It’s estimated that the average person consumes an extra 500 calories per day over the festive period, equating to a possible 5lb weight gain.
The British Dietetic Association (BDA) is keen to help people avoid the unhealthy repercussions of Christmas excess.
“Christmas is, of course, a time for lots of fun and special foods,” says Sian Porter, consultant dietician and BDA spokesperson. “The aim isn’t to make people feel guilty about indulging at this time of year, it’s merely to outline the amount of calories that can get consumed and share a few tips people may want to take up, to temper their Christmas eating and drinking.
“This time of year, it’s so easy to unwittingly consume a lot more calories than normal,” she adds. “Make plans to get yourself and the family active - dancing, shopping and post-meal walks all will help to burn off some calories so you can have a very happy and healthy Christmas.”
Sensible steps like these are far more achievable - and usually far better for us - than many of the more extreme fad diets doing the rounds.
Porter says the BDA’s received numerous enquiries about different diets this year, ranging from the weird to the dangerous - such as the ‘Breatharian Diet’, which asks people to live on fresh air and sunlight alone!
“It seems we’re constantly on the search for that magic bullet approach to losing weight, wanting a quick-fix to give us the bodies we so often see on TV, in magazines and adorning billboards,” she says. “Quite often, the fad diets come at a price.”
That’s the potential cost to your health, for starters, but often there’s a financial cost too, from the accompanying books, products, paid-for memberships or online services.
“The truth is, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Porter warns.
Permanent, sensible changes are what the experts advise, if you want to lose weight and keep it off, and not quick-fixes or extreme short-term plans.
“An eating pattern for life should be one you can stick to, and include enjoyment, a rich variety of foods in appropriate portion sizes, and moderation. Go for the marathon approach rather than the sprint finish,” Porter advises.
“Many people will be making New Year resolutions to lose weight. Make the difference this time by losing it in a safe, robust and sustainable way.”
DITCH THE FADS
Here are four trendy diets the BDA says people should avoid:
:: The Paleo Diet
Miley Cyrus and Matthew McConaughey have reportedly tried the paleo plan, also known as the Paleolithic, Caveman and Stone Age Diet. Only foods thought to be available to Neanderthals in the prehistoric era are allowed, and all other foods - like dairy products, grains, sugar, legumes, processed oils, salt, and drinks like coffee and alcohol - are excluded.
However, the BDA says that while eating fewer processed foods and less sugar and salt is a good idea, there’s no need to cut any food group out of your diet entirely, unless advised to do so for medical reasons. In fact, cutting dairy completely without very careful substitution, the experts warn, could compromise bone health.
“An unbalanced, time-consuming, socially isolating diet, which this could easily be, is a sure-fire way to develop nutrient deficiencies which can compromise health and your relationship with food,” stresses Porter.
:: The Sugar-free Diet
As well as banishing the white stuff from the menu, sugar-free diets - reportedly tried by the likes of Tom Hanks and Alec Baldwin - often ban carbohydrates too, as these are turned into glucose in the body.
But although the BDA encourages reducing added sugar, and sugar-loaded processed foods and desserts, it points out that some versions of this diet demand followers cut out all sugar, which is extremely limiting and, potentially, unhealthy.
“This is not only almost impossible,” says Porter, “but would mean cutting out foods like vegetables, fruit, dairy products and nuts - not exactly a healthy, balanced diet.”
Also, substitutes some sugar-free diet plans recommend, such as agave, palm sugar or honey, are actually just sugar in another form, and therefore using them is “a huge contradiction”.
:: The VB6 Diet
Beyonce has reportedly tried this diet, so-named because it’s about being vegan before 6pm. But after 6pm, nothing, within reason, is off limits.
The BDA says that while it’s good that VB6 dieters eat less processed food, and more plant-based foods like beans, pulses, wholegrains, nuts, fruit and vegetables, being vegan doesn’t automatically translate into eating healthily.
Porter says: “The danger is that post-6pm becomes a window of opportunity to hoover up a myriad of foods high in calories, saturated fat and packed with added salt and sugar, undoing your earlier healthier choices.
“The reality is, eating different food groups at different times of the day doesn’t matter - in terms of your health, it’s nutritional balance that’s important.”
:: The Clay Cleanse Diet
This diet claims a spoon of clay a day will remove toxins and negative isotopes from the body, helping you cleanse and stay in shape. Actress Zoe Kravitz has reportedly tried it.
However, stay away from the clay, is the advice of the BDA, who point out that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) issued a warning about the dangers of consuming clay, particularly for pregnant women, after high levels of lead and arsenic were discovered in some products. In fact, the whole idea of detox is “nonsense”, and the body has its own built-in mechanisms to remove waste and toxins.
TOP TIPS FOR BEATING THE FESTIVE BULGE
Want to keep your weight in check the sensible way? The BDA suggests:
:: Before you go food shopping, make a list and stick to it, and buy healthier festive snacks like plain popcorn, pretzels, and vegetable crudites with a low-fat dip.
:: As most of the fat in a cooked turkey is in the skin, take the skin off before you tuck in.
:: Try dry-roasting potatoes on a non-stick baking sheet, or use an oil spray instead of smothering them in fat. Make gravy using vegetable stock instead of meat juices, accompanied by a fruit-based stuffing.
:: If you’re dining out, eat smaller meals beforehand and cut out treats. Visit buffet tables only once, using a smaller dessert-sized plate and avoiding high saturated fat offerings, like sausage rolls and quiche, in favour of fruit, skinless chicken and vegetable crudites.
:: Take festive fruit like satsumas into work, so you can fill yourself with healthy food and avoid the office communal chocolate/mince pies.
:: Festive boozing can really tot up the calories, so avoid sweet cocktails and creamy liqueurs, and alternate alcoholic drinks with water or other calorie-free drinks.
:: The average mince pie can contain about 250 calories even before it’s covered in cream or brandy butter. Remove the lid to cut calories.