Belfast Telegraph

How to shape up for Christmas

By Chrissie Russell

It's Christmas time, there's no need to be afraid . . . or is there? For many body-conscious ladies (and gents) the holiday season creates an awkward dilemma.

On one hand it's the time of year when we want to be trim enough to squeeze into our festive best. Unfortunately it's also the season of temptation, with an endless conveyor belt of work parties, Christmas drinks and selection boxes.

But don't despair. Two separate studies carried out in the US and UK concluded the same thing: that Weight Watchers is the eating plan most likely to produce results.

As its 40,000 Irish members will know, the plan is simple. Each food is allocated a certain amount of points (or ProPoints as of last year) in accordance with its calorific and nutritional content.

Members are allowed a certain number of daily points, based on their sex, age and weight as well as a weekly allowance of additional Propoints for treats ,with exercise building up yet more ProPoints in reserve.

The real reason why Weight Watchers works, especially at Christmas, is that it allows for real life. No food group is banned. Try navigating a table of canapés, mince pies and punch on the Dukan Diet or serving up a Raw Food diet Christmas dinner and you'll understand how important this little point is.

"Nothing is banned so it's completely possible to 'do' Christmas with just a few compromises, twists and wise choices," explains 2010 leader of the year Assumpta Dunne.

She's seen memberships rise in her classes across Killiney, Sandyford and Stillorgan recently, as hopeful slimmers sign up ahead of the holidays.

"It really is all about making good choices," explains Assumpta. "Just make one trip to the buffet table and opt for choices like smoked salmon on brown bread or crudités over high-pointed options like quiche, sausage rolls, crisps or nuts."

Simple measures also help. If you can't trust your willpower around a table of treats, then don't go to a party hungry, fill up beforehand on vegetable soup.

Booze is empty calories and it wracks havoc with your blood-sugar levels making you more likely to reach for fatty foods, so Assumpta's advice is to alternate alcoholic drinks with water and opt for white-wine spritzers made with diet 7UP or spirits with low-calorie mixers.

It's even simpler to fake throwing caution to the wind at home. "If you're entertaining it's easier to use effective substitutes like half-fat cheese, mayonnaise and cream instead of full fat," says Assumpta.

Even Christmas dinner can be dished up guilt-free by using vegetable oil instead of goose-fat, serving prunes wrapped in bacon over chipolatas, and steaming carrots and cabbage rather than drowning them in butter.

If you need further persuading: a turkey dinner made Weight Watchers-style amounts to 16 points per serving compared to 53 ProPoints for a feast of stuffed bird, brussel-sprout gratin, butter-glazed carrots and goose-fat roasties.

"It's completely possible to get through Christmas without going completely off the rails," says Assumpta. "But even if you do suffer a few slip-ups, don't give up entirely. Draw a line under it and get back on track the next day. Don't just decide to give up completely."

Five diets that get the experts' thumbs down

If Weight Watchers is top of the class, then this recently released study by leading health group, the British Dietetic Association, reveals the diets at the other end of the scale. In fifth place it's the . . .

5. Baby Food Diet

WHAT IS IT? Like its name suggests, the diet revolves around eating some 14 jars of baby food or puréed food a day. A less intensive version is to eat mostly baby food and then have one adult meal or to eat baby food instead of your daily snacks.

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: This is portion control taken to an extreme. It also reduces calories, fibre and, because you're not chewing, you'll not feel full. Leave baby food to babies.

CELEB FANS: Lady Gaga and Jennifer Aniston are rumoured to have given it a try.

4. Raw Food Diet

WHAT IS IT? Only eating raw food or food heated below 47C so as not to kill its enzymes -- not getting enough enzymes is associated with weight gain. Avoid all preservatives, additives and food grown with pesticides. Oh and anything cooked.

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Whilst it can be low in fat and calories, the diet can also be low in calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc and protein. It also excludes a lot of foods -- potatoes, pasta and bread to name but a few-- that need cooking.

CELEB FANS: Demi Moore and Natalie Portman are reported to be fans.

3 Blood Group Diet

WHAT IS IT? It claims nutrients are broken down differently according to blood type. So to stay slim, Blood group A folk, for example, shouldn't eat dairy or meat.

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: This is pseudo-science and again, cutting out any food groups is unhealthy.

CELEB FANS: Cheryl Cole and Courteney Cox Arquette are reportedly fans.

2. Drunkorexic Diet

WHAT IS IT? Shunning food during the week to bank your week's calorie allocation and blow it on a boozy drinks binge.

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Madness. You're starving your body of vital vitamins and nutrients and could end up with alcohol poisoning.

CELEB FANS: No-one who will admit it.

1 DUKAN Diet

WHAT IS IT? French-devised no-carbs diet -- cutting out bread, pasta etc.

What the experts say: The BDA rates it the top one to avoid.

Celeb fan: Kate Middleton's mum.

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