January usually happens like clockwork: a slew of new self-help books, articles and slimming blogs encourage you to ‘be your best self’, often by adopting a radical new diet that promises to blitz those spare inches around your waist for good.
The problem is, many crash diets encourage periods of miserable fasting and cutting out sometimes entire good groups overnight, and demonise food to the point where you’re whole relationship with eating can be under threat.
According to fitness guru Joe Wicks – who has successfully helped thousands of people to lose weight – staying on these restrictive diets for a long period of time is often unrealistic and unhealthy. Even if you do lose weight initially, it’s not unusual to gain it again (plus even more, in some cases) before the spring comes around.
Thankfully, attitudes around diet culture are changing. A new survey commissioned by recipe box company Gousto has found two-thirds (68%) of UK adults believe the one-size-fits-all model just doesn’t work.
So, how can you shed those excess pounds in a safe and effective way? We asked Wicks to give us some quick tips…
Why should people avoid restrictive diets in January?
"It’s the time of year now where everyone wants to make changes to their life, whether that’s with exercise or food, but the last thing you want to do – especially if you’re someone who really loves food – is to go on a low-calorie diet," says Wicks, 33.
"Sure, it will work in the short-term and you’ll probably lose weight on the scales, but emotionally it’s going to absolutely ruin you. You’re going to be so exhausted, you won’t enjoy it and it’s not going to be a sustainable approach.
"Try to think about a long-term vision, as opposed to a quick crash diet. Incorporate it with exercise and cooking with fresh ingredients at home; you’re much more likely to succeed throughout the year."
Why do people fail at New Year’s diets?
"Because they’re awful, aren’t they? Dieting is normally all about how little you can eat and how much exercise you can do. When you combine those two things, it affects your sleep, your mood and your energy levels.
"If I could give you one tip, it’s to focus on getting yourself moving instead. I always tell people to start with 15-20 minutes a day of exercise at home; this will get your energy levels up and your self-esteem boosted. Exercising is going to have a massive effect on your food choices and your ability to go into the kitchen and cook yourself something healthy.
"Trying to do everything all at once is a bit much," he adds. "Focus on fitness first, and the rest will hopefully follow."
What other tips do you have for those looking to lose weight this year?
"Have a look at your portion control. I’m not saying to count calories, but to keep your plate to a healthy size. The good thing about exercise is that it elevates your mental health and your mood so much that you don’t want to go and put junk food in your body afterwards.
"Meal prepping is one of the best things you can do too. If you leave the house without food, you’re going to grab options on-the-go, which will likely be unhealthy convenience food.
"That’s fine to do once or twice a week, but if you’re doing it a lot, you’re never going to truly know exactly how much you’re consuming. The simple act of making some overnight oats for breakfast, or a salad for lunch can make a huge difference over time when it comes to staying lean."
What are you favourite ingredients for healthy eating?
"I really think it’s great to have chopped tomatoes, coconut milk, curry powder, spices and tins of lentils, pulses, grains and beans in your cupboard. With these key ingredients, you can make really amazing veggie curries, or you could throw some chicken in there for some extra protein. Rice is also a great staple for making quick stir-fries after work.
"There’s no magic fat-loss food; it’s all about getting a good balance of everything and getting lots of fruits and veg in your diet.
"It’s good to be a bit intuitive with it – ask yourself what foods make you feel energised and healthy? Don’t think you have to jump onto a certain diet because everyone else is doing it."
Do you follow a flexitarian diet yourself?
"Yes. I eat a lot of veggie meals and with Gousto, I get four recipe boxes delivered per week that I can make at home. Three of those will be vegetarian and one will be meat-based.
"That’s a massive step for me. During the process of researching and writing my veggie cookbook, Veggie Lean in 15, I realised that you can get really amazing food as a vegetarian. I’m still not fully committed to going hardcore vegan though."
Many people feel like they don’t have time to cook healthily, do you think that’s untrue?
"I really think you have to remove that time barrier from your mind. We know full well that we can smash a Netflix series in a couple of days or watch our soaps, so we can all find half an hour to exercise or cook well – if we prioritise it.
"It doesn’t need to be hours in the kitchen either. My whole philosophy with my Lean in 15 series is that you can make a really healthy and nutritious meal in just 15 minutes, and have some leftover for lunch the next day.
"It’s that kind of mentality of prepping in advanced and being organised that works in the long-run."