If, like me, you’re feeling the effects of Christmas overindulgence – seeing in the New Year with 10 extra pounds, a wardrobe that no longer fits and a severe lack of energy – it can be tempting to resort to extreme measures in a bid to jump-start a healthy regime.
But before you reach for the laxative tea or initiate a juice cleanse… STOP.
According to research, "cleansing" and restrictive diets are counterproductive at best and, at worst, dangerous. Only last January, doctors were forced to issue a warning about the potential harm of embarking on a radical detox, after a woman who followed such a regime ended up in intensive care.
So if you want to make some changes this January, instead of hitting the juice, aim to develop sustainable, healthier habits, such as the following.
Cut down on processed foods
Rather than boycotting entire food groups, simply set yourself a goal of eating fewer foods that have been heavily processed. According to the NHS, processed foods are more likely to include hidden sugar, salt and fat, and to be higher in calories.
Instead, focus on eating a rainbow of real, whole foods that have been "messed with" as little as possible.
Drink more water
Staying hydrated is essential for your body to work properly. According to NHS guidelines, six-to-eight glasses of water a day will do the job. Moreover, studies have shown that drinking water before a meal will can cause you to feel fuller sooner, meaning that you’re less likely to overindulge.
Eat consciously and slowly
We’re all guilty of wolfing down our food at times, especially when we let ourselves get too hungry or when we’re distracted by something else, like the TV. Learning to slow down your eating and taking the time to really savour your food, without distractions, will allow you to actually listen to your body; to feel when you’re full, rather than just cleaning your plate.
It also won’t hurt to have a healthy snack on hand to avoid those really severe hunger pangs that so often lead to convenient but unhealthy choices.
Try ‘urge surfing’ to combat cravings
If the strength of your willpower just doesn’t stand up to the might of your cravings, this mindfulness-based technique might be just what you need. In essence, urge surfing is about "surfing" the waves of physical sensation in your body when a craving or urge begins to kick in. Rather than fighting the urge, or giving in to it, the idea is that you stay with the feelings in your body, noticing them with curiosity – while also paying attention to your breath – until they subside.
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
According to sleep expert Professor Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep: Unlocking the power of sleep and dreams, most people need between seven and nine hours of sleep per day for their bodies and brains to perform at optimum levels.
When you’re sleep deprived, your body produces more of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to increased appetite (and reduced willpower). It also means that when you are actually exercising, you lose more weight from your muscle mass, rather than losing fat.
So while getting to bed early might not seem very rock ‘n’ roll, if you want to look, think and feel like a rock star, you need to be in bed by 10.
Jo Steer is a teacher and experienced leader of SEND interventions and wellbeing strategies