The summer holidays are a great time to ‘live-a-little’ and spoil yourself. However, soon after stepping off that plane the signs of over-indulgence may start to show. Sugary cocktails and mid-afternoon snacks by the pool sound familiar? It’s time to get back on the bandwagon and re-prioritise your healthy habits!
It’s important not to dwell too much on the unhealthy choices you might have made on holiday and instead look forward to organising your food and exercise regime.
For a lot of people, the first thing that comes to mind after a hectic holiday period is a quick fix, which can lead people to pursuing a ‘detox’. If you only remember one thing from this article then this is your takeaway message: “detoxes” don’t work and are potentially a big waste of money.
The human body is awesome and perfectly self sufficient. It has its own built in detoxing system which comes in the form of your liver and kidneys. The multi-million pound detox industry makes bold claims about their products, with very limited evidence to back them up. They are either glorified fasting diets, a concoction of questionable supplements, or well-disguised laxatives. You don’t need a branded tea or a pretty packaged shake to get you back to full health.
So if a detox isn’t the answer, how do you start to get things back on track? Instead of thinking of a short-term quick fix, focus on long-term behavioural changes that are realistic and maintainable. Start with a small change and once that has become a habit, make another change. Trying to change too many things at once is difficult and can lead to failure. The old saying ‘slow and steady wins the race’ has never been more true.
Here are my top tips for getting back on track:
Increase water intake
Water plays a key role in a variety of bodily processes. Your kidneys are responsible for flushing toxins from your body. In order for your kidneys to function effectively they need to be adequately hydrated. The European Food Safety Authority recommends that men consume 2.5 litres of water a day whilst women should aim for 2 litres. If you are exercising regularly, then this requirement increases. Water is needed to break down fat deposits, so if you are looking to drop body fat, your requirement increases even more. Eating a higher protein diet? Your requirement increases. You get the point. Make sure you always have a bottle of water to hand and drink plenty with every meal. Water is vital to long-term health, so what are you waiting for? Drink up.
If shifting a few holiday pounds is your goal then cutting out alcohol will help you reach your goal more quickly. When you consume alcohol, your body prioritises it and halts the breakdown of fat. The fat will sit in your liver until all alcohol has been processed. If you are going to drink, little and often is preferable over binging.
Along with the alcohol content, don’t forget that most alcoholic drinks contain a vast number of calories. A pint of beer can contain the same amount of calories as a large slice of pizza. A drinking session has the potential to leave you with a large surplus of calories. The result is weight gain. If you find cutting alcohol out of your diet a struggle, opt for spirits with low calorie mixers. Gin and slim tonic or vodka and soda are good examples.
Some may think a food diary is a lot of effort but tracking apps, such as ‘MyFitnessPal’, make it easier with their extensive catalogue of foods and barcode scanner. It doesn’t need to be something you do long-term, but it can be a great starting point to get you used to how many calories are actually in your food and drinks. Write down everything you consume for one week and be honest with yourself. No one might have seen you scoffing that chocolate bar on the drive home from work but your body certainly felt the calorie hit. How many portions of fruit and veg are you eating every day? How many sugars have been added to your tea in the past week? A food diary can be a great way to see where you can make easy improvements to your diet.
Increase protein consumption
Beneficial for weightloss and weight maintenance, protein is primarily used for growth and repair. It increases satiety, filling you up more than the other macronutrients. Your body uses more calories to break down protein and it helps balance blood sugar levels. This should stop you reaching for a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack to keep you going. Aim for every meal to have around 20 grams of protein, such as one salmon fillet, one chicken breast, a can of tuna or two to three large eggs. If you are vegetarian or vegan, aim for a mixture of vegetable protein sources to ensure that you are getting all the essential amino acids your body needs to function optimally. Meat-free meals may contain a mixture of rice and beans, quinoa salad with beans, humous with pitta bread or tofu with rice.
A balanced plate
A well-balanced diet should contain all three macronutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrate. Fat does not make you fat and carbohydrates certainly aren’t the bad guys. Completely cutting out one of these groups isn’t necessary or healthy. Weighing out food portions is a very accurate way of monitoring food intake, but here is a quick reference guide for how your plate should look for each meal:
- Protein – a palm sized portion for women, two palm sized portions for men.
- Carbohydrate – two servings of vegetables with every meal with a fist-sized portion of another carbohydrate e.g. rice or quinoa.
- Fats – a thumb sized serving.
We aren’t often on the lookout for charging elephants or attacking sabre-tooth tigers. If we go back to a time when these scenarios could have occurred, stress was a rather handy response. In modern society stress can negatively affect our health. When we are stressed, our body releases fat into the bloodstream as an energy source, expecting us to fight or run away (fight of flight). When this fat is not used up, as the body intended, it has a tendency to be deposited around our tummies. This is linked to higher risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, to name but a few. Meet with friends. Take a hot bath with some scented candles. Get a massage. Whatever it is that relaxes you, go for it! Make time for you.
Here are few healthy meal ideas to add to your repertoire:
1) Salmon and mixed vegetables for two:
-Pre-heat oven to maximum temperature.
-Par-boil some broccoli and green beans for two minutes.
-Toss the green veg and a handful each of cherry tomatoes and green pitted olives in a little olive oil and season well.
-Tip onto a foil-lined baking tray.
-Coat two salmon fillets with olive oil and seasoning and place on the baking tray with the veg.
-Place baking tray in the oven and cook for 10 minutes.
-Finish with a squeeze of lemon
2) High Protein Chicken Soup
-Heat oil in a pan. Add onions and gently fry for five minutes.
-Add garlic, ginger and chillies. Cook for a further 10 minutes.
-Add chicken stock and bring to the boil.
-Place chicken breast in pan and poach until cooked through.
-Once cooked, shred chicken and return to the pan.
-Add rice noodles and cook for three to seven minutes, until noodles are soft through.
3) Healthy Humous Dip
Add the following ingredients to a food processor. Whilst the food processor is on, slowly drizzle in three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
-One 400g can of chickpeas
-Half a teaspoon of crushed sea salt
-One crushed garlic clove
-Two tablespoons of tahini
- Two tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice