How you can beat the bulge this Christmas
A new study has cracked the code for losing weight -- and keeping it off, writes Deirdre Reynolds
Ireland's calorie-counters are being given an early Christmas present -- the elusive secret to lasting weight loss.
While Atkins and the Cabbage Soup diet showed us how to shift flab, the world's largest diet study has revealed how to keep it off.
A ground-breaking study by the University of Copenhagen has cracked the code to beating the bulge -- a high protein/low glycaemic index (GI) diet full of lean meat, beans, low-fat dairy and wholegrain cereals.
And by unlocking the key to weight control, the discovery published in the New England Journal of Medicine could put an end yo-yo dieting forever.
Independent 'Diogenes' (Diet, Obesity, Genes) research tracked the results of five groups of dieters following different plans aimed at keeping the blubber off. But only those who stuck to a high-protein, low-GI diet maintained their new shape over the next six months.
The now infamous GI measures how quickly carbohydrates are converted into glucose in the body -- so the lower the GI, the slower the digestion and longer the feeling of fullness lasts.
Until now, carbolicious foods like white bread, pasta and potatoes have been demonised by many celebrity slimming plans.
But rather than cutting them out, eating 'good' carbs such as wholegrain breads, brown rice and sweet potatoes is crucial to diet success according to the Pan-European study.
"I was one of the enemies of GI," says Professor Arne Astrup, who spearheaded the study. "I expected in this trial it would make no difference.
"It is as important as protein in maintaining weight loss."
While some 'low-carb' diets like Atkins allow 50% of calories from protein and just 10% from carbohydrates, the new Danish diet recommends getting 23% of calories from protein and 45% from carbs.
"This diet is far from Atkins," insists Professor Astrup. "If you choose wholegrain versions of bread, pasta and rice, then you will have a lower GI diet.
"It's simply due to satiety -- of what gives a feeling of more fullness. You simply stop eating after you have consumed fewer calories than with other diets."
The heartening news for dieters is that festive favourites turkey, Brussels sprouts and even chocolate are all low GI.
But is it actually possible to maintain your weight during the season of excess?
"Most people tend to let themselves go over Christmas," says nutritional therapist Lucy Hyland of Foodforliving.ie. "Although it's a time for celebration, by following a few basic principles it is possible to have your Christmas cake and eat it.
"A simple tip is that when you look down, half your plate should be covered with vegetables and the other half with a mixture of meat and potatoes.
"A fibre-rich breakfast, such as porridge with blueberries, will kick-start your metabolism and helps stop you reaching for the mince pies at 11am."
Have a merry Christmas -- just not too merry, adds Lucy: "People tend to drink more over Christmas, so it's essential to stay hydrated by drinking more water and herbal teas.
"Green vegetables such as broccoli, kale and spinach -- which aid liver detox -- can also help with the hangovers."
If the temptation of mince pies and mulled wine is too much, don't wait until the New Year to work them off, advises John Lark of Sphere Fitness Studio in Maynooth.
'Starting your New Year's fitness regime early is a great idea," he says. "There's nothing worse than trying to play catch with any excess weight come January."
And here's a legitimate excuse for a snowball fight -- a study by St Louis University in the US proved that exercising in cold weather boosts calorie-burning and happy hormones.
Working up a sweat during the cold snap can bolster the activity of white blood cells that fight infection.
If you've got just days to squeeze into that LBD, though, Irish weight watchers are taking more drastic action to get fit this Christmas -- colonic irrigation.
"I think people are starting to realise that prevention is better than cure when it comes to weight management," says Niamh Fitzgerald of The Hydro Clinic in Dublin.
"Probably the fastest way to get results is to combine a detox diet with a few colonic irrigation treatments.
"Apart from looking slimmer, cleansing the digestive system increases energy, gives the skin a nice glow and reduces the desire to binge," she explains.
"Most of us are completely unaware of our hand going in and out of the Roses tin as we sit watching TV," says John Lark of Sphere Fitness. "But treats should be just that. Try to eat healthily and exercise over the holidays -- and allow yourself an occasional treat for doing well.
"That way, you'll start the New Year feeling healthy and motivated rather than hungover and sluggish."