It’s easy to hibernate in the winter months and take refuge in comfort foods when it’s cold and miserable outside. Getting through Christmas alone is hard enough when it comes to over eating and there’s nothing worse than that dreadful feeling of ‘here we go again’ when you wake up on January 1st, overweight, overloaded with toxins, sluggish and fed up.
Add to this the additional health risks associated with obesity which in the UK has reached one of the highest levels in Europe and you realise the importance of watching your weight in the winter months.
It’s difficult to resist all the mouth-watering goodies on offer around this time of year. Every shopping aisle you turn down is loaded with foods you might normally avoid, but that little devil is on your shoulder prodding you to pop another super-deluxe salted caramel pudding into your trolley!
It takes an almighty feat of will power to resist the power of the supermarket shelves, plus you’ve had to get through the annual family gatherings, turkey with all the trimmings and usually a series of unavoidable Christmas parties.
You don’t want to miss out completely but something has to give, so what can you do to balance the books and end up a weight loss winner in the New Year?
Here’s our handy guide to bending the rules a little
It is possible to enjoy many of the seasonal foods on offer and throw caution to the wind with a few prosecco’s and delicious nibbles at every social occasion you’re invited to but how do you manage it?
If you haven’t already tried it – alternate day modified fasting (ADMF) could be the answer, you just have to be super organised and plan ahead. ADMF in practise means you have to eat as little as 500 calories on one day (600 if you’re a man), followed by a ‘normal’ day eating pretty much what you like.
If you keep your higher calories days within what is considered normal for an adult around 2,000 calories for a woman and around 2,550 for a man, you will not gain weight in fact according to a wide body of research you will lose weight. Several studies report a weight loss of approximately 6% - 8% over a 12 week period under this type of fasting regime.
How does ADMF work?
During the 500-600 calorie fasting period the body transitions from using glucose as a main source of energy to using fat. Toxins stored in your body’s fats cells are also released, helping to detoxify your system, facilitating significant weight loss as an added bonus!
Studies have demonstrated that this method of eating holds numerous health benefits and is much easier to stick to than a standard restricted calorie diet that has to be followed daily. Recent research has identified that fasting triggers adaptive cellular responses which reduce oxidative damage and inflammation as well as optimizing energy metabolism.
According to animal studies intermittent fasting increases insulin sensitivity protecting against diabetes and may also offer a therapeutic approach against asthma, obesity, high blood pressure, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
It also has the potential to delay ageing by reprogramming metabolic and stress resistance pathways. So, not only will you maintain a healthy weight, improve your energy levels and reduce your risk to disease you could also stay younger for longer! These benefits are thought to be due to changes in the body’s circadian rhythm, metabolic regulation, gut microbiome and sleep patterns.
You can easily plan your up days to fit in with dinner parties and family get-togethers to allow you to join in with all the fun, but where possible keep your up days moderate. It is infinitely more beneficial to fill your up days with nutrient dense foods such as lean meat, fish, fibre and plenty of fruit and vegetables rather than high fat, salty, processed and sugar laden foods.
This is not as hard as you might think. Many people found that on their up days they felt fuller quicker and were not nearly as hungry as they had anticipated finding it much easier to choose healthier food options.
Make sure you eat breakfast
Always find time to eat a hearty breakfast. Grilled bacon, poached or scrambled eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes will really fill you up and leave you less likely to snack on sweet treats mid-morning and of course it’s much easier to say no to well-meaning offers of biscuits and cake when you genuinely feel full.
Be clever with your dinner plate
Fill half your plate with vegetables. Not only are these packed full of health optimising vitamins, mineral, fibre and antioxidants but they will also help to fill you up, and leave less room on the plate for other less healthy foods.
If you find it hard to resist roast or mashed potatoes this time of year try a healthier alternative such as roasted celeriac, roasted butternut squash or pureed cauliflower. These vegetables are less ‘starchy’ and lower in calories especially if you cook them in minimal fat.
For a lighter dessert, satisfy your taste-buds with luxurious poached pears in red wine.
If you shop online for your winter food supplies you are more likely to buy just what you need and not succumb to all that’s on offer this time of year in the supermarkets.
Stay happy to reduce temptation
Normal levels of Serotonin, (the happy hormone in the brain) promote feelings of wellbeing and calm. Studies show that serotonin levels drop dramatically when dieting and as such are associated with carbohydrate cravings and over-eating.
Clinical trials have demonstrated that increasing serotonin levels through supplementation helps to decrease food intake and to increase weight loss. The herbal remedy St Johns Wort has been found to gently raise serotonin levels. Furthermore results from a trial published in the British Medical Journal suggest that St Johns Wort is as effective as commonly prescribed anti-depressants.
Maintain blood sugar balance
Keeping your blood sugar balanced can help to avoid sweet cravings. The mineral chromium plays an important role in keeping blood sugar on an even keel, with many people reporting that they have less urges for sweet things when they take a chromium supplement. Eating protein at each meal also helps to slow down the release of sugar into the circulation – keeping control of your appetite.
Maintaining your exercise regime throughout the winter season will keep your metabolism up. Go for a brisk walk after lunch to promote digestion and help to burn calories. If you are following the ADMF eating plan an up day is the best time to include exercise. Studies show that the effects of exercise enhances fat burning, particularly low intensity exercise such as walking which also places less stress on the body.
Top up on healthy gut bacteria
Encouraging healthy bacteria in your gut may assist with your digestion, preventing some of the abdominal discomfort such as wind, bloating and constipation that comes with eating too much junk food. Good digestion means optimum absorption which improves metabolism and ultimately weight maintenance.
News from emerging medical research is suggesting that obesity is linked to changes in the trillions of tiny organisms that inhabit the intestines. Studies have found that the gut microbiota play a critical role in regulating weight.
Interestingly researchers have identified that the makeup of gut flora differs between lean and obese people, with overweight and obese people tending to have a less diverse gut flora. Differences in the gut flora of obese individuals appear to affect gut function and the metabolic processes that optimise the release and use of energy (calories), causing obese people to be more likely to store energy increasing body fat.
Probiotics such as those found in yogurt, kefir or multi-species probiotic supplements have been found to promote weight loss and reduce BMI; furthermore an even greater reduction in weight was found in those who took more than one type of probiotic for 8 weeks or more.
- Top 10 Tips on staying healthy this Winter
- 5 Ways to Celebrate the Magic of Winter Solstice
- Winter Wellness
- Top Vitamins And Nutrients For Healthy Skin This Winter
- Roast Vegetables For Winter Goodness
Adams L et al. Dietary Supplements and Weight Control in a Middle-Age Population. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2005; 11(5): 909-915.
Anderson JL, Horne BD & Muhlestein JB. Health effects of intermittent fasting: hormesis or harm? A systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr 2015;102:464–70.
Anson RM, Guo Z, de Cabo R, et al. Intermittent fasting dissociates beneficial effects of dietary restriction on glucose metabolism and neuronal resistance to injury from calorie intake. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2003;100(10):6216-6220.
Brandou F et al. Impact of high– and low–intensity targeted exercise training on the type of substrate utilization in obese boys submitted to a hypocaloric diet. Diabetes Metab. 2005. 31(4 Pt 1):327–35.
Cangiano C et al. Eating behaviour and adherence to dietary prescriptions in obese adult subjects treated with 5–hydroxytryptophan. Am J Clin Nutr. 1992. 56:863–867.
Ceci F et al. The effects of oral 5–hydroxytryptophan administration on feeding behavior in obese adult female subjects. J Neural Transm. 1989; 76:109–117.
Gregory PJ. Probiotics and weight loss. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/882777. [accessed 29.11.17].
Patterson RE & Sears DD. Metabolic Effects of Intermittent Fasting. Annual Review of Nutrition 2017; 37:1, 371-393.
Qingqing Zhang, Yucheng Wu, Xiaoqiang Fei. Effect of probiotics on body weight and body-mass index: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 2016; 67 (5): 57.
Queen Mary University of London. "UK obesity levels among the worst in Europe: Heart disease statistics from more than 45 countries." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 November 2017. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171128092313.htm. [accessed 29.11.17]