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Top Tips for getting back into shape after Christmas

It's easy to put on weight over Christmas without noticing quite how it happened; the mulled wine, the mince pies, the cake and chocolate. If you're finding it hard to squeeze into your jeans, you may have made a New Year's Resolution to diet, but it's hardly the most cheerful way to begin a year. You start out full of resolve to stick to a strict regime of cabbage soup or grapefruit (or whatever diet you've chosen), and after a few miserable days you end up succumbing to a chocolate binge and feel so guilty that you give up entirely!
Most experts believe that the best way to lose weight successfully is to do it slowly and steadily, and that it doesn't have to involve feeling starving hungry or miserable. We've compiled some top tips on ways to lose weight and keep it off - making small changes to your lifestyle and eating habits can make a real difference if you give it time.
  • Keep a food diary. Many of us have a tendency to think that we eat more healthily than we do. It's easy to forget the small snacks you consume during the day, and if you write down everything you eat for a few days, you may be surprised. The quick trip to the cafe after dropping your toddler off at nursery, the biscuits at the mother and baby group, the leftovers at teatime and the wine with your supper are all easily overlooked when you think about your diet if you aren't keeping a record.
  • Don't crash diet. A crash diet can be tempting - just a short period of pain for a big gain in terms of lost weight. The problem with losing weight too quickly is that your body compensates for the lack of food by starting to burn calories more slowly. This is why people often get caught in a yo-yo pattern of losing weight and then gaining it all again.
  • Don't skip meals. The first thing many of us do when we decide we need to lose weight is to cut out breakfast. Doing this can you feeling hungrier later on, and more inclined to grab an unhealthy snack. Not eating regularly can affect your metabolism, making it more difficult for you to lose weight in the long run.
  • Exercise makes all the difference. Not everyone wants to go to the gym and if it isn't your thing, try to find a form of exercise that you will be able to enjoy. Could you join a dance class, or start going for bike rides? Just walking when you can instead of using the car will make a difference. If you increase your exercise levels and burn up more calories, you will start to lose weight.
  • Eat when you feel hungry and stop when you feel full. It sounds stupid, but in fact we often eat when we aren't hungry and don't always stop eating when we should. Try to think about this a bit more - you may realise that reaching for the biscuits with your cup of tea is a matter of habit rather than hunger.
  • Make sure you are drinking enough water. We're always being told that we're meant to drink about eight glasses of water a day, and it may help you feel more full up if you can manage this. Apparently sometimes when we think we feel hungry we're actually getting a bit dehydrated and drinking a glass of water may help.
  • Make sure you are getting enough protein. Eating protein will leave you feeling fuller for longer. It doesn't mean you have to eat loads of meat. Fish, pulses and dairy foods contain protein, too.
  • Eat from a smaller plate. It's a psychological thing, but a small plate full of food makes you feel as if you are eating more. You're less likely to eat too much with a small plate than with a larger plate which you may be tempted to fill up.
  • Watch out for sugary drinks. When we think about dieting, we focus on what we eat and can forget that drinks contain calories, too. Try to drink water rather than fizzy drinks, squash or even fruit juice. If you use full-fat milk in your tea or coffee, change to skimmed.
  • Cut your alcohol consumption. It not only contains lots of calories, but after a few glasses of wine, that packet of crisps can suddenly seem far more attractive!
  • Be careful with coffee. It's not the coffee itself that can make you gain weight, but the milk. If you're drinking a coffee-shop cafe latte every day, that's around 200 calories that you are consuming each time. If you go for the added syrup and cream variety, you'll be well over the 300 calorie mark just for one drink.
  • Get your five a day. You should always have at least five portions of fruit and veg every day, and if you try to replace sugary or fatty snacks with fruit or vegetables, it will make a difference to your daily calorie consumption.
  • Eat more slowly. It's easy for busy mums to rush their meals when they've got small children to look after, but if you eat more slowly you may find that you feel more full up.
  • Don't eat in front of the TV. If you're not concentrating on eating, you tend not to realise quite how much you are putting in your mouth and it is far easier to overeat.
  • Make a list when you go shopping. That way you are more likely to buy what you need, and less likely to come home with too much food. Be careful with two for the price of one offers - will you just end up eating twice as much of whatever it is in one sitting?
  • Don't buy things you don't want to eat. We often tell ourselves that we have biscuits or cake in the house for our children, or for guests. The children don't need biscuits and your guests are not going to leave if you don't offer them a slice of cake with their coffee. If you don't have these things in the house, it's far easier not to eat them!
  • Eat lots of vegetables. Vegetables are great. Most are low in calories, they fill you up and they are a good source of vitamins and minerals.
  • Take your own packed lunch to work or on days out with the children. Lots of the sandwiches you can buy out are high in calories and heavy with full-fat mayonnaise, butter or margarine. If you make your own lunch, you can choose a healthier option.
  • Allow yourself an occasional treat. If you love chocolate and cut it out of your diet entirely, you will probably find that you start to crave it. Allowing yourself a small amount now and again will make it far easier to stick to your healthy eating plan.
  • Don't eat the children's leftovers. It's easily done, especially if you've spent ages cooking something only to watch them eating a couple of mouthfuls before leaving the rest on their plates. If you get rid of leftovers right away, you can avoid temptation.
  • Try to keep some healthy snacks at hand. If you have some ready-chopped carrots, cucumber or celery in the fridge, you are more likely to resist the custard creams. Mums often remember to take some healthy snacks out with them for their children, but most of us don't think about taking something for ourselves, too.
  • You don't necessarily need to eat LESS if you can eat DIFFERENTLY. Swapping any fatty or sugary foods you usually consumer for something lighter and healthier will mean you don't need to feel hungry. There's an interesting healthy food swaps page on the NHS website that illustrates how replacing your meals and snacks with similar but healthier options can make a real difference to your daily calorie consumption.
  • Don't make your life miserable. If you're trying to lose weight, that doesn't mean you have to be consciously dieting every minute of every day. Sometimes, you will be invited out for a meal, or to a party, and you won't be able to follow all your rules. Allow yourself a night off now and again.
  • Don't keep weighing yourself. Try to do this just once a week if you can - it will give you a better idea of whether you are losing or gaining weight than weighing yourself twice a day!
  • Don't give up if you slip up. Don't be disheartened if you slip into your old ways now and again. An occasional blip won't make a real difference if you are trying to eat well most of the time.
  • Be realistic. Don't set yourself unachievable goals as to how much weight you are going to lose and expect to achieve your target in a matter of weeks. If you concentrate on trying to eat healthily rather than dieting, you will get there in the end.

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