January, the start of a brand new year... the exciting opportunity to reinvent yourself into the 'New You' that you have always wanted to be but never got round to being. This 'New You' that is now being lauded to us in the media, usually means shedding half your body weight and giving up all the 'bad' things in life in order to be a healthier, happier person by the end of the month.
To me, it all seems a bit unfair and unrealistic.
After all, we have just spent the past month being encouraged to eat and drink as much as we like, what with TV advertisements showcasing tempting mince pies and tiny sausages wrapped in bacon (drool) at glamorous cocktail parties. And now we are suddenly encouraged to move our hands away from the biscuit tin and reach for the celery stick instead. Humph.
The media is filled with endless new diet crazes, which normally make incredible claims, such as losing 7lbs in 7 days. I also love the diets that claim you can still eat chocolate and ice cream, and still lose weight. Hey, sign me up!
As someone who has lost over 8 stone, and who knows just how hard it is to lose weight, I feel the pressure we are under at this time of year is only setting people up for a fall. And that fall can do plenty of damage to our self-esteem and confidence, which will only send us running back to the biscuit tin.
My weight loss didn't happen in a month, in six months or even a year. It took time, hard work and plenty of will power over a number of years. There was no magic diet. In my experience, they just don't work. These diets are usually not sustainable in the long run, and once you have fallen off the bandwagon, the weight will inevitably creep back on.
So how did I do it?
I initially adopted the 'move more, eat less' philosophy and gradually created a realistic lifestyle that suited me.
Before I became the gym bunny I am today, I was once too afraid to get on a treadmill in fear of what others would think of me. So I simply started to walk to and from work at a good fast pace, which added an hour's exercise to my daily routine. The fresh air and endorphins also got my brain and mind into gear, making it a healthy start to my working day.
I started to look at my daily diet and made small changes but I still ensured I enjoyed my food and was never left hungry. Instead of a jacket potato, cheese and beans for lunch, I would have a big, leafy salad filled with chicken, vegetables, nuts and eggs. I started to fuel my body for my lifestyle rather than just eating anything that I fancied.
I cut down on processed foods that are filled with hidden ingredients, white carbohydrates, cheese, red meat, sugar, alcohol and fizzy drinks. And I drank lots more water.
As time went on, I started to love learning about nutrition and I now have a healthy relationship with food. I don't see food negatively, which I believe many diets will make you do.
I also learnt to be kinder to myself and reward my hard work and will power with treats. A little bit of what you fancy won't kill you and won't make you pile the pounds back on. I am a chocoholic, so you can imagine my cravings are tough to ignore. I now treat myself to a couple of squares of dark, raw chocolate when I crave a sweet fix. You should try it!
How about putting some focus back onto exercise as well as food? Think about the fun, sporty activities you could take up to get the much-needed endorphins pumping round our bodies during this miserable time of year. Your mental health, along with your physical health, will thank you for it!
With the dark nights and an empty bank account, it can be far too easy to slump in front of the TV at this time of year. However, being active doesn't have to be expensive. Get some friends together and go out running and do some boot camp style exercises in the park together - 'Give me 50 squats!' - You get the idea. Get your bike out and go for a cycle or go out for a power walk first thing in the morning. If you do have money to spare, sign up to a gym and join some classes where you will be motivated by others.
A healthy lifestyle doesn't have to feel like a prison sentence. Mine has given me a new lease of life where I am left feeling confident, strong, and, most importantly, healthier in mind and body. It isn't about desperately shrinking yourself down a dress size or two, but finding what works for you and sticking with it. And if you slip up? Don't be too hard on yourself, we all make mistakes. It's time we were all a little kinder to ourselves, don't you think?