The Christmas festivities are finally over and you have been left with an unwanted gift. Yes, you guessed it: a few extra pounds and you can't even take them back to the store to get a refund or credit note. But that's no problem is it? Just start on one of those trendy celebrity-endorsed diets that guarantee a slender body in no time at all. The one where you semi-starve twice a week sounds just up your street. At least you can eat all your favourite calorific treats on the other five days and still lose weight. Or maybe you have a healthy bank balance and prefer cutting out carbs and filling up on steak and cheese.
But hold your horses. Start slimming down and you feel like you could actually eat the horse. That's only natural; it's your body's way of preventing you from starving to death. The bad news is that according to scientific studies, your appetite does not return to normal until you have maintained your new lower weight for at least six months.
So follow a faddy diet that you can't stick to, and you are highly likely to weigh more than before you started dieting. You may have had your suspicions that yo-yo dieting makes you fatter, and now you know why. By next Christmas you'll be needing a larger belt and that's before you tuck into your Christmas dinner.
No need to panic, there is a solution and it is simpler than you think. Choose a slimming diet that includes plenty of protein, which is good at suppressing appetite so you naturally want to eat less, and allows carbs which prevent the food cravings that sabotage diets.
Start by giving up confectionary, cakes, biscuits, takeaways and fast foods, and ditch the soft drinks including fruit juice. Diet drinks are little better, perpetuating the desire for sweetness in your diet. Stop adding sugar to tea and coffee, you will get used to it I promise. Sugar affects appetite control mechanisms in your brain, making it hard for you to know when you have eaten enough, and fat makes food palatable so that you eat more. You may find it difficult to swallow a tablespoon of pure oil or fat, but mix it with sugar and down the hatch it goes.
Three meals of real food a day and no between-meal snacks or soft drinks is the key to long term weight loss. Unglamorous maybe, but it is an effective way of cutting back on the amount you eat without feeling too hungry. At each meal pick a normal serving of protein - meat, fish, cheese, eggs, pulses, nuts and seeds - and add a mug (250ml) of harder to digest carbs like cooked potatoes, pasta or rice, or two slices of heavy bread.
And yes, you can have chips - a little of what you fancy helps you comply with a diet, and because potatoes contain water they are less fattening than pastry. Eat plenty of vegetables and include a piece of fresh fruit for dessert. If you are overweight, this regime creates an energy deficit and weight reduction soon follows.
But even this realistic and filling diet won't prevent rebound weight gain unless you manage to sustain it. Like any other skill, dieting must be learnt. Overeating is the cause of your weight gain, so begin to get to grips with the concept of eating less. Portion sizes are getting bigger, and you need to cut back if you hope to lose weight and keep it off.
Swap processed packaged foods for real foods; they are much less calorific and more filling. Strategies like studying restaurant menus online before going out, or using a shopping list for your weekly shop help you avoid temptation. Tune into what your body wants you to eat; it knows when it needs food and when to stop, once you recognise the cultural customs that encourage overeating, like leaving your plate clean or always having dessert.
Most important, instead of using fatty snacks or alcohol to cheer you up, find value in all that life throws at you. Begin to like yourself more, and you stop treating yourself like a dustbin to be filled with rubbish. Eat small amounts of real food and before long you'll be able to wear all the clothes in your wardrobe.
In the dieting game, sustainable weight loss is the Holy Grail, not how quickly you shed those excess pounds.