Top Tips to Help You Lose The Festive Flab

I’ve kept my weight at a healthy level most of my life. But, over the past year or so – despite my trusty old scales telling me I was a healthy weight with a BMI of just under 25, I noticed my waist and tummy were expanding. The moment of truth came when I bought a set of new digital scales in October 2014 and discovered I was several pounds heftier than I’d thought, with a BMI of over 27. I consider myself a fairly active 56 year old, but I’d spent a lot of time at my desk completing my latest book, and while my diet was basically healthy, my portion sizes – especially of carbs, were gradually getting bigger. I decided it was time to take action, and two months on I’ve managed to lose 9lbs and reduce my BMI to 26. My goal is to lose a further half a stone and have a healthy BMI of less than 25.

I’ve achieved this not by following a strict diet, but simply by eating less in general - in particular fewer carbs - while allowing myself a daily treat of a few squares of dark chocolate and the odd glass of wine. I’ve even managed to lose weight during the Christmas festivities, despite a few extra indulgences. I’ve found that the best way to lose weight is to focus on eating healthily, while allowing yourself a daily treat; if you ban a favourite food, you are almost certain to end up craving it and ending up overindulging in your ‘forbidden’ foods. It’s human nature to want what you tell yourself you can’t have!

If you want to lose weight you don’t have to go on a strict diet and exercise regime – you just need to adopt a more balanced way of eating and better sleep habits, build more exercise into your daily life and control your stress levels. The tips below could help you shed those excess post Christmas pounds – they worked for me.

1. Focus on eating nutrient-dense foods – such as lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, Greek yogurt, oats, wholegrain bread and cereals, fruit and vegetables. These foods provide the proteins, vitamins, minerals, fibre and energy you need to feel satisfied and stay healthy. Studies show that if you eat a poor diet based on processed foods like sugary breakfast cereals, cakes, sweets, biscuits, pastries and chips, you are more likely to feel hungry and overeat, because they are converted into glucose more quickly.

2. Cut down on carbs – even wholegrains are fattening if you eat more than your body needs. If you tend to eat carbs at every meal, try cutting them out once a day. For example, I stopped having bread with my lunch of salad or soup; I now have a small portion of Greek yogurt instead and find I feel fuller for longer. Avoid eating large portions of carbs after 7pm, as you are less likely to burn them off, so your body is more likely to store them as fat.

3. Serve yourself smaller portions – most people find it hard to leave food on their plate, so the bigger your portion the more likely you are to eat more than you need. Use a smaller serving plate and half fill it with vegetables/fruit - the other half should comprise of a quarter protein and no more than a quarter of carbs.

4. Have a treat every day - including a small portion of whatever food you view as a treat be it crisps, pie, chocolate or cake, means you won’t feel deprived and you’re more likely to stick to your weight management plan in the long-term. So long as you eat light, nutritious meals the rest of the day you will lose weight.

5. Move around more – sedentary lifestyles are a major cause of obesity in the UK. You don’t need to be a gym bunny to become more active; huge sums of money are wasted on unused gym memberships each year with people blaming a lack of time and boredom for their non-attendance. The best way to get regular exercise is to build it into your daily routine. Take the stairs rather than the lift. For short trips, such as popping to the corner shop, leave the car and walk. Go for a walk on your lunch break – even fifteen minutes a day will make a difference. If you have a desk-bound job like me get up and walk around every hour or so; moving around for just two minutes each hour will add up to an hour and twenty minutes of activity in a working week.

Don’t be a couch potato – even when you’re watching TV you can get up and walk around during the ad breaks, or tackle a chore like washing up, or emptying the rubbish. In the summer you can make the most of the light nights by going for walk or a bike ride, rather than staying indoors glued to the TV.

6. Get plenty of sleep – numerous studies show that people who get seven to eight hours of sleep are more likely to be slim than those who don’t. This is because sleep deprivation can affect the hormones that control appetite, making you more likely to overeat. Practice good sleep habits - get outdoors during the day to encourage your body to produce the sleep hormone melatonin at night; the exercise will also help you sleep – and lose weight. Avoid using a computer, ipad or mobile phone last thing at night as they can over stimulate your brain, making it harder to drop off; also the light they emit can make it harder for your brain to produce melatonin a night. Dim the lights in the evening for the same reason. Spend an hour or two winding down before bed doing something you find relaxing; watching TV or reading a book is fine, but experts say you shouldn’t watch TV in bed, because it can stop your brain from associating your bed with sleep.

7. Keep a lid on stress – you’re more likely to reach for high-energy, fatty and sugary foods when you feel stressed, as your body seeks to store fat around your middle where it can quickly be converted into energy to fuel the ‘fight or flight response.’ Also, many of us are emotional eaters who turn to the biscuit tin in times of trouble. Cut your stress levels by making time to relax every day – no matter how busy you are. Free up time by delegating tasks to others or saying ‘no’ to non-essential tasks, things you don’t have time to do, or simply don’t want to do. Get outdoors in a green space regularly – it’s been shown to cut stress levels dramatically.

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Last revised: 6 January 2015
Next review: 6 January 2018