As a dietician, obviously I can’t condone excessive eating or binge drinking, but indulging at Christmas is one of life’s great pleasures and a well earned reward to finish off a hard working year. You can apply the 5:2 concept to navigate your way through endless lunches, drinks receptions and parties. For instance, if you find your alcohol consumption increases in the run up to Christmas, aim to have two alcohol free days a week. You can apply the same rule to mince pies, chocolates or any other seasonal treats.
It has been calculated that the average calorie intake over Christmas and Boxing day can reach 6,000-8,000, so a “fast” Day either side can help to offset the excess. However, it is not just these heavy eating days that cause most of the damage. It is likely to be due to the kind of mindless eating many of us fall into when we are at home (or in the office) and there are boxes of chocolates and a myriad of things to nibble on.
Deciding to do a fast day is a great antidote to this. Your body will thank you for the break from more food and you can choose a couple of meals that will help to manage your appetite and make you feel fuller for longer. I would recommend a high protein yogurt with some mixed nuts for breakfast/brunch and a spicy turkey and bean soup for supper.
Another dietary pitfall to watch out for during the Christmas period is going to parties straight from work where drinks and canapés are served. You’re likely to be hungry, the canapés will look tempting and you’ll start washing them down with a few drinks, which you’ll knock back too quickly. The alcohol kicks in and weakens your resolve to drink sensibly, the canapés don’t satisfy you so you end up visiting a fast food place after you leave the party – sound familiar? The way to avoid this scenario is to eat something clever beforehand. By clever I mean something that satisfies your hunger without filling you up too much (nobody wants to arrive at a party feeling sluggish or bloated). A few oatcakes topped with hummus, a slice of rye bread with peanut butter or a few pieces of sushi are good choices. Their high protein content will curb your hunger so you can avoid the canapés and drink slowly.
Once the Christmas and New Year celebrations are over, January can seem quite dull in comparison and even more depressing if you have weight to lose. This is where the 5:2 diet can be really effective. Nobody wants to spend the whole month dieting, but fasting for two days a week is both more attractive and achievable and scientific research has shown that the 5:2 achieves better weight loss results when compared with conventional dieting.
Looking forward into 2014, the 5:2 diet can be a great way of maintaining your weight. You don’t have to do it every week, but it can be a great way to offset periods of food indulgence such as holidays and special celebrations.
■ Plan fasting days carefully. It’s best not to fast on a potentially stressful day or a day where you need to be on the ball.
■ Keep hydrated – we get around 20-30 per cent of the fluid we need from food, so fasting can mean we miss out on this. Ensure you drink plenty of water on your fast days, remembering that black tea, coffee and herbal teas are included in your fluid intake.
■ It can be difficult to get enough of all the nutrients you need on a fast day, this includes vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and fibre. So try to choose nutrient rich foods on your fast days, or you could even consider taking a supplement on these days.
■ It will get easier! Some report to having little appetite the day after a fasting day so use this enhance your weight loss. Choose foods with a high nutrient/low energy density.
■ On your normal eating days, you can include small treats such as a bar of chocolate or the odd glass of wine. But remember that these days are not for binging.