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Christmas Weight Loss Tips

Dietitian Juliette Kellow kicks off with a series of top hints and tips to get you healthier and slimmer for the Christmas party season.

Christmas Challenge Weight Loss Tips: Week 4

Hope you're still going well on the WLR Christmas Challenge. By now you've probably really started to notice a difference in the way you look and how you feel.

With the weather getting colder and the nights drawing in, how do you stop the winter blues from getting the better of you and leaving you reaching for comfort food? This week, I've put together some top tips to help you stick to your healthy eating plan as the winter months approach.

1. Don't skip meals

OK, you've heard it a hundred times before, but you're less likely to crave comfort foods if your blood sugar levels are regularly topped up.

Skipping meals will send blood sugar levels crashing with the result that you'll soon be reaching for your favourite foods - and while you might love a nutritious plate of cottage pie, chances are you'll be too hungry to prepare and cook it, and instead fill up on a king-size bar of chocolate.

The key is to eat regularly (including breakfast) and to make sure each meal contains carbs that release sugar into the blood slowly and steadily. Good choices include wholegrain bread, brown rice, wholewheat pasta and oats.

2. Go for a walk at lunchtime

Believe it or not, a quick 15-minute walk during your lunch hour may actually help to control the urge to fill up on comfort food. That's because daylight triggers the brain to produce a mood-boosting chemical called serotonin, which promotes feelings of relaxation and happiness. Unfortunately, a lack of light - as is the case in the winter - lowers levels of serotonin with the result that depression, tiredness and an increased appetite are far more common.

While a sunny winter break is guaranteed to help, a quick trot around the shops at lunchtime is a more practical and affordable way to get some daylight and top up serotonin levels as a result! And of course, all that walking will help to burn calories and tone up leg muscles.

3. Pack in the protein

Eating plenty of foods rich in the amino acid tryptophan may help to curb cravings for comfort foods. This is because tryptophan (a building block for protein) is used to make serotonin.

Bottom line: the more tryptophan in our diets, the more serotonin we make, the happier we feel and the less likely we are to constantly feel hungry and crave comfort food.

Rich sources of tryptophan include red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, cheese, nuts and seeds. But to avoid breaking the calorie bank, opt for lean meat, skinless chicken, reduced-fat cheeses and avoid frying.

4. Fill up on healthy carbs

Ever wondered why you crave carb-laden, stodgy food in the winter but are happy with a salad in the summer? Many experts believe that as well as giving blood sugar levels a temporary boost, filling up on carbohydrate-rich foods like biscuits, doughnuts, chocolate and piles of toast with butter and jam also boosts serotonin levels - and this can make us feel instantly happier, particularly in winter when levels of feel-good serotonin are at a low.

The way carbs help to boost serotonin is complicated, but ultimately, they trigger the release of the hormone insulin, which helps tryptophan enter the brain, where it's used to make serotonin.

The key is to swap sugary carbs for those that are higher in fibre and other nutrients, for example, swapping chocolate-coated cereal for porridge, white bread and jam for wholegrain toast and peanut butter, and white rice for brown rice.

5. Identify your favourite comfort foods

Recognising the foods you usually reach for when you need cheering up means you'll be able to plan ahead so that you can incorporate them into your daily diet plan.

Interestingly, a study carried out at the University of Illinois found that men and women tend to opt for different comfort foods. The researchers found that men were far more likely to find comfort in foods traditionally prepared by their mothers such as mashed potato, pasta, meat dishes and soup. In contrast, women were far more likely to go for foods that required little preparation such as chocolate and sweets. Nevertheless, the study found that ice cream is the favourite comfort food of both men and women. That's good news considering there are now plenty of low-fat varieties of ice cream available - and you can double the comfort factor by serving it with stewed apple or a sliced banana!

6. Don't deny yourself

Tying to avoid certain foods means you'll almost certainly end up over- indulging in them at some point. Instead, enjoy some of your favourite comfort foods from time to time - after all, many typical comfort foods aren't even 'unhealthy'!

Stews, soups, meat dishes and pasta dishes, for example, can form the basis of a healthy, balanced meal - and it's usually quite easy to adapt the ingredients or cook them in a different way to lower fat and calorie contents.

Take a look below at how some of your favourite comfort foods can be adapted:

  • Macaroni cheese - use wholewheat macaroni (or another pasta) and make the cheese sauce using low-fat spread, skimmed milk and reduced-fat Cheddar cheese
     
  • Stews and casseroles - cut all visible fat off meat and remove skin from chicken. Use a little less meat but add loads of extra vegetables. Or why not add a handful of barley, lentils or beans to really up the comfort factor?
     
  • Soups - opt for lower-fat soups such as vegetable, carrot and minestrone, rather than creamy varieties. Or make your own soup by liquidising a serving of your favourite stew or casserole. Simply serve with crusty Granary bread for a delicious meal
     
  • Sausage and mash - choose low-fat sausages and grill them rather than frying; add a little skimmed milk and low-fat spread to mash, rather than cream and butter; and serve with garden beans or baked beans to boost fibre intakes
     
  • Cottage pie - dry fry extra-lean minced beef and add loads of mushrooms and carrots to make it even more filling. Don't forget to use low-fat spread and skimmed milk in the mash to cut fat and calories
     
  • Fish and chips - if you're making this meal at home, grill or bake the fish rather than frying it and choose low-fat oven chips. If you can't resist the local chippie, ask for the smallest piece of fish available - and share the chips!
     
  • Traditional fry up - ditch the frying pan and instead grill low-fat sausages, lean bacon and fresh tomatoes. Poach or bake a handful of mushrooms, scramble eggs and add a tablespoon of baked beans. Serve with a slice of wholegrain toast and low-fat spread
     
  • Apple pie/crumble/strudel and custard - have a baked apple stuffed with delicious juicy sultanas and opt for ready-made reduced-fat custard or make your own custard using skimmed milk and sweetener
     
  • Toast and jam - use wholegrain bread, low-fat spread and just a thin spread of jam
     
  • Porridge - make it with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and sweeten with artificial sweetener. Add a handful of raisins or a sliced banana for an extra sweet boost

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Start a Free Trial Today

Take a 24 hour free trial and join the Challenge by posting news of your progress, advice and tips on the Christmas Challenge Message Board. Share in the fun, support and camaraderie of a WLR Challenge. Try it free for 24 hours.

Take our FREE trial »

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