Ah, yes, January 2nd. Your gym is ram packed. Your work clothes are suspiciously tight. There’s a special joining rate at Slimming World and Joe Bloody Wicks is EVERYWHERE!!!! It’s the perfect time to embark on a strict low sugar low fat high cardio mindful double whipped nonsense of a total lifestyle change! Isn’t it?
No. I don’t think it is. Because despite these inspiring factors above, it’s cold, it’s dark, you’re skint from Christmas and just settling into the pain of a pretty epic cheese and vodka hangover. The world is quite literally pitched against your mere survival, let alone the prospect of meaningful self improvement. For me, this is the absolutely worst time of year to go extreme with anything other than sale shopping or wardrobe clear outs. A load of forced ‘healthy’ changes can be both physically and emotionally shocking after the (usual) chill and snooze options of the festive season, yet still we all announce and encourage each other in our lofty plans of deprivation in the name of the New Year. It is as though a flip of a calendar page has erased the previous three weeks/months/years of being mere mortals with day jobs and a taste for cocoa solids.
It’s hard to drop eight pounds in a month when the fridge is still full of stilton and your favourite jogging route is too icy to negotiate without a pack of huskies. It’s hard to swap stuffing balls for quinoa salads. It’s hard to get up at 5 for that pre work yoga class when you’ve been flat out cooking for your family, sorting out the recycling and playing with your kids for ten days straight. It’s hard to refuse a cut price mince pie when your commute is suddenly busy again and it took you an hour to get home only to go to a spin class instead of curling up to a netflix splurge and the last of the Quality Street. And the harder it is, the bigger the fail potential, and the deeper the pit than runs along side your waggon for you to tumble into. Because if you have a diet fail day in March, chances are that there isn’t 3/4 of a Christmas cake still on the sideboard for you to console yourself with.
We are such extreme beings, taking an effortless slide from ten days of late nights and strong drinks into an additive free high fibre dry vegan meltdown of purity that we so often fail to look for the successful middle ground where we can have what we want and not ruin ourselves at the same time. But if you must rush headlong into January with plans of mass calorie cutting, quitting smoking, running a sub half hour marathon and writing that children’s novel about the talking fireplace you’ve been thinking of for years, I have one piece of advice: Carry On With Christmas instead.
Sex Up Your Salads.
I spent a full four hours in my kitchen on new years day for the sum total of four salads and a collapsing and sad looking ginger cake for the official End Of Festivities dinner. But those salads, by Jovi they were amazing! Because they are special salads, seasonal salads with posh dressing and pomegranate and all that stuff which is a crapton more appetising than a stack of shredded iceberg and three tomatoes smeared with weight watchers vinaigrette. I have a leftovers lunch for work today, and even with over estimation on my portion sizes I’m pretty sure I haven’t gone over 500 calories on a stonking first desk-lunch of 2018. Research your salads, and make good ones for your diet, put some time and love into them, like you do at Christmas!
Get a bowl and mix shredded red cabbage and grated carrot, dress it with 2 parts light mayo, 1 part fat free greek yoghurt and 1 part white wine vinegar plus lots of pepper. Quick and delicious.
Shred up some brussels sprouts for a nutrient packed salad base that is much more satisfying than more bloody lettuce (Seasons Eatings by Gizzi Erskine has some great variations of these).
Take that leftover cheddar and toss it with celery, tomatoes, cucumber and carrots for a crunchy lunch treat rather than just melting it over a ton of toast and get more fibre and less refined carbs for your efforts while you’re at it.
Turkey breast is one of the leanest meat options available and high in energy boosting B vitamins, you don’t have to give it up after boxing day! If you can’t be doing with roasting a whole bird every week look for it minced in the shops and turn into meatballs or burgers with fewer calories and negligible fat content vs pork or red meat. Turkey is also a great canvas for taking on other flavours so get experimental with some anti oxidant rich chillis and garlic or fresh squeezed lemon juice and green herbs rather than sugary ketchup or mayo.
There’s always a bowl of nuts about over the yuletide, but come January we all seem to be back to shunning these little kernels of goodness because of the potential calorie count. Whilst I won’t advocate a year round diet of chocolate Brazils, there is plenty of room in any diet for some nutty goodness and they may even help your weightloss and fitness goals. Yes, nuts tend to be fatty but these are those famous ‘good fats’ that are satiating and nutritious and contain all manner of mood and immunity boosting components. Chuck some pistachios in that sexed up salad to enjoy extra magnesium, zinc and vitamin E. Grab a handful of almonds in the morning to make porridge less suicidal. Soak some hazelnuts overnight in apple juice and add them to that early morning green smoothie if you must. Nuts are good for you, and nuts are tasty, just watch your portions. Go nuts, but don’t go nuts if you know what I mean.
Pop Your Cork
A glass of champagne has about 95 calories (that’s less than an average banana). A pint of beer more like 180. A medium latte about 130. I’m not saying swap all other fluids for champers, but by all means keep the fizz in your life past New Year! A little treat does you good, it makes you feel special and is actually nowhere near as bad for you as you think, in moderation of course.
Spice It Up!
I must confess I don’t love traditional Christmas spices, but cinnamon is delicious and wonderfully good for you. It is a source of manganese and calcium and has been linked with improvements in blood sugar stability (to stop you craving the Cadbury’s). Its natural sweet flavour makes it a virtually calorie free sweetener for porridge or hot milk and mixed with chilli peppers and cocoa it makes a wonderful base for a rich bean chilli if you are joining the Veganuary hoards. If your newyearnewyou punishment of choice is to cut down on caffeine then cinnamon based teas make a great, warming substitute- I really like the Pukka teas Vanilla Chai which is weirdly more cinnamony than vanilla………
Less daylight, lower temperatures and the associated stress of the festive season can leave you open to all manners of seasonal affective mood issues and emotional burn out through the winter months. Being sad saps your motivation to be good and whilst a quiet night alone on your sofa is probably very appealing a little bit of company for a meal or two can be quite the mood booster too. We all get sick of our family or our inlaws or Karen from accounts sometimes but maybe if we weren’t so antisocial through the year then the Christmas extroversion might not be as painful by comparison.
Host a leftovers party. Take that box of Celebrations into the office so you don’t eat them all yourself (take all the Malteeser ones out first and keep for yourself, obviously). Make some biscuits with all those walnuts that didn’t get eaten and take them round to Mick’s to catch up on the Eastenders special together. Pop in and see your Nan for tea, she might not have any more presents for you but odds on she’d love to see someone and she’s still got a bit of brandy somewhere…..
Get to bed!
Who had a couple of lie ins over the festive period? Ah, that snoozy heaven. And who sneaked off blissfully early to bed one night after a mince pie too far? Wonderful.
Being well rested isn’t just good for your eyebags- sleepy time allows your body to heal and your brain to chill out and process exactly what it was that Auntie Shirl meant about you being ‘the real Christmas cracker’ this year. Getting a full 8 hours a night has also been observed to yield greater fat loss results than those seen in dieters eating the same food but only catching 5-6 hours of zeds. Who doesn’t want to sleep for ages and wake up skinnier?
Sometimes the laziness and the excess are the best bits of Christmas but they really aren’t the aspects you should keep up all year, regardless of you weight loss goals. It doesn’t all have to be a shameful bump back to earth though and you can drag out that Yuletide spirit without buggering your skinny jeans goal completely until the days start to get a little bit longer and that aerobics class and green smoothie bowl make you want to cry a little bit less.