1. Think nourishment not punishment. Does the nutrient balance of your meals feel right? Forget about very extreme approaches. The ‘no- carb’ or ‘high protein’ or ‘fat free’ rigid diets are not sustainable. You can tweak your meals to restrict carbohydrates and include smaller amounts of high-fibre wholegrains if that approach suits you best. If hunger is your primary issue a modest increase in lean animal and plant proteins can improve satiety levels. The question is can you see yourself eating this way in ten years’ time? There are no quick fixes.
  1. Download apps. A gradual weight loss requires you to eat less calories than you are using up no matter what approach you take. This might be hard for you to gauge but free smartphone apps such as My Fitness Pal will help you estimate the number of calories you need versus the number you are eating. Adopting a Mediterranean type approach to include more seafood, seasonal vegetables and healthy fats is a long term sustainable and nutritionally balanced approach but too many calories even if they are healthy calories will not facilitate weight loss.
  1. Identify your obstacles. What is keeping you from achieving your health goals? If you work late most evenings, can you exercise three mornings a week before work or take a home cooked dinner from the freezer to work? Do you keep a gear bag in your car boot so you can grab the opportunity to exercise on the way to or the way from work if it arises? If you hate the gym, then lift your own body weight; do planks, jumping jacks and lunges as you watch the News or buy an exercise DVD and use it.
  1. Think differently about housework. It’s exercise too. Mopping your kitchen floor and raking the garden leaves burns calories. The more vigorous the better but don’t overestimate the number of calories exercise burns. One 20 minute walk burns up to 100 calories, so don’t reward yourself with calories when you’re done. The aim is to have a calorie deficit, not to break even!
  1. Check into your head space. Understand your emotional connections to food. Notice the internal barriers that keep you from meeting your weight loss goal. Do you reach for a hug in a wrapper whenever there’s an argument or tension at home or in work? Find a way to work out any emotional stress the right way, rather than through food. Food will never mollify an emotional hunger. It might be a pleasurable distraction but it won’t solve anything.
  1. Remind yourself to slow down. When you eat, make a big effort to savour and enjoy your food at a more relaxed pace. Don’t gobble food. You can only taste food in the mouth. Your stomach doesn’t have taste-buds or teeth, so don’t shovel it through the pleasure zone. Digestion starts in the mouth. It generally takes 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that your stomach is full.
  1. Dump your scales. There is far too much focus on numbers and not enough on your feelings of fitness and resilience as you change your exercise and food patterns. A body composition analysis will demonstrate more about your muscle and fat stores and how they are changing than the bathroom scales. If you really have must weigh yourself, do it once a week in similar clothing and around the same time of day. But find other ways of measuring your success. Use the waist bands of clothes and how snugly they fit as your “scale.” Monitor improvements to your blood pressure and cholesterol levels after a three month period.
  1. Make breakfast a priority. Greek, fruit and natural yoghurts, fruit, oats, seeds and eggs are great foods to kick-start the day. If you find oats boring on their own, try different whole grains like oats with quinoa, millet or bulgur. Add your favourite toppings for extra nutrition: chopped banana, crushed nuts, berries etc.
  1. Double check portion sizes. Use digital scales and look up the nutrition content of the per-serving information. You might be surprised by how many calories your bowl of cereal has if you are too heavy handed. Add more fiber and blend in linseeds to bump up fibre, healthy fats and texture. It will also make it more satisfying so you’re not tempted to snack throughout the morning.
  1. Snack smart. When a sweet craving hits at work distract yourself. It will pass. Head for the water cooler or grab a cup of tea instead. If a piece of fruit just does not hit the mark, chew some sugar free gum or suck a frozen grape (most work mini freezers are un-used). Try a more satisfying protein (as opposed to carbohydrate) rich snack like a small handful of wasabi peas, roasted edamame beans or your favourite unsalted nuts. But control portion size and calories. Buy smaller snack packs or measure out a portion.
  1. Lighten your lunches. Skip creamy salad dressings. Add fresh chunky salsa or Pico de Gallo (tomatoes, onion, jalapeno peppers, lime juice and fresh coriander) to top your prawn or chicken and salad greens. Adding green or red chilies, which contain capsaicin, might not boost the metabolism to any significant extent but more importantly they can add great flavour to a winter salad.
  1. Din Dins. If possible allocate one weekend afternoon to batch cooking healthy eats for the week. This way you can grab and go Monday through Friday. Think bean and lentil veggie soups and protein-rich frittatas. Think Mediterranean too – lots of colour, fresh vegetables, seafood, olive oil and moderate servings of alcohol if any in January. If you stick to oily fish and seafood two nights a week, go for lean meat another two or three evenings – not processed meats with hidden fat such as chorizo, salami etc.
  1. Meatless Mondays. Go veggie for one main meal a week if possible. This helps support the planet, your waist line and even your bank account. Plant proteins such as peas, beans and lentils offer great fibre, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals while containing fewer calories. Use plenty of fresh herbs and spices with vegetarian dishes and you won’t feel like you are missing out.
  2. Add green power to your plate. Aim to eat one green vegetable a day. Toss spinach, kale or leafy greens into your salad for a flavour and nutrition punch. The mustardy peppery flavour of leafy greens can spice up a boring sandwich too. Eating too many cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower) when you are not used to them can cause excess wind. An average serving is 80g.
  3. Good things come in small packs. And on smaller plates, slimmer taller glasses and petite cereal bowls. Scientists have also found certain colours, like blue, suppress the appetite. As few foods in nature are physically blue, our brains turn off the signal to eat. Would a smaller blue plate work for you? Try whatever you like.
  1. Experiment while cooking. Buy a good recipe book this January not a fad diet book. Cutting even one tablespoon of oil from a recipe can save you 120 calories. Cutting a tablespoon of sugar from a recipe can save you approx. 60 calories. Adapt recipes. They are usually versatile.
  1. Cook smart. The idea is that for every main meal that you cook, you will get a smart leftover meal from it the following day, saving you preparation and cooking time and expense.  Store the extra leftover as your lunch or second dinner straight away so that it does not tempt you to ‘seconds’ on the same evening.
  1. Use your extras. Roast lamb with rosemary and garlic can become a leftover lamb and couscous salad. Oven roasted whole chicken with garlic, orange and rosemary can transform into an oven baked chicken and broccoli casserole. Extra roast vegetables and boiled potato from Sunday’s dinner can be reinvigorated in an eggy frittata the following day.
  2. Manage your freezer. After a thorough clear out but some freezer labels and bags for storing those extra meals cooked on batch day. Fill the rest of your freezer space with frozen berries, pure fruit ice lollies, fish and seafood, meat, bread, frozen yoghurt and any suitable freezer food. You can even freeze grapes and energy balls for snacks.
  3. Have a Blood Test now in January. Many hundreds of Irish people have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes but are unaware they have these conditions. It is recommended in some countries that everyone over the age of 40 be tested for diabetes every three years. If you experience symptoms such as excessive thirst and urination, weakness and fatigue, blurred vision or foot numbness, get a blood test now.
  1. Hit the Hay. Try going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day, even on weekends. Your body likes routine, so you’re likely to get a better night’s sleep. This is the time when the body repairs and regenerates tissues. Sleep is important for the immune system. Research shows that poor long-term sleeping patterns are associated with increased risk of weight gain and obesity.
  1. Connect with friends. Make these non-food and alcohol social occasions over the week-end, if that helps. Commit to meeting friends for walks and hikes and bike rides followed by a cup of coffee, rather than meeting them at the local. If you are going to the cinema, bring your own coffee or sugar free mints.
  1. Choose a vice. When you are making so many great changes allow yourself one small taste of wickedness. Maybe it is one glass of wine or two large squares of dark chocolate on Saturday and Sunday evening. The important thing here is that you don’t need to completely deprive yourself of everything you love in order to be a more comfortable weight for your height. So find one thing that will be weekend indulgence, and really relish it.
  1. Don’t forget liquid calories. Start a fluids diary. List everything you drink for seven days. Remember to record everything from your morning smoothie to that café mocha grande at eleven. How many soft drinks and juice creep in over the week Make changes if you need to after evaluating your drinking pattern. Juice has no fibre and you are better to eat the entire fruit if possible. The machine does the work of your body when you make a smoothie. They can be a good way to include greens but be aware of the calories in these drinks.
  1. Drink enough water. If you are partially dehydrated you won’t be able to concentrate or work to the best of your ability. Increase your water intake so that the colour of your urine is very pale in colour. Add slices of lemon or fresh cucumber cubes and sprigs of fresh mint to water for a cool and refreshing twist. Too much alcohol can dehydrate us. It contains a substantial number of calories too. A small 125ml glass of red wine has about 95 calories and white wine 85. Excess alcohol can cause high blood pressure, irritation of the gastrointestinal lining, depression and anxiety, and more. Maybe ask yourself could you do without it for the first few weeks of the New Year?