It’s December, and if you’re a food lover, you know what that means. Rich roast meats, alcohol-spiked anything, buttery fruit pies and creamy cakes of every description. Who could resist?
While your taste buds may love you after all that feasting, your waistline probably won’t. But who wants to spend the first few months of the new year working off those extra calories, or worse, going on a detox diet to compensate for the over-indulgence?
Here’s the secret: If you don’t want to put on so much weight after the festive season, you can prepare your body a couple of weeks before the feasting begins to get it into serious fat-burning mode. Then, come party season, you can get away with enjoying more of your favourite treats and not worry so much about where those additional calories are going.
Eat to rev up your metabolism
Your metabolism is to your body what an engine is to a car. It converts food into energy, and then uses that energy to power your body. Your goal should be to “fine tune” your metabolism so that it burns its “fuel” more effectively. Certain foods and better eating habits can help you achieve this.
Don’t forget to have breakfast
“Eating first thing in the morning kickstarts your metabolism. Skipping breakfast, on the other hand, decreases your metabolic rate for the rest of the day,” says Jaclyn Reutens, a dietician at Aptima Nutrition & Sports Consultants. What you eat is just as important. Try a high-fibre, low-sugar cereal with skimmed milk or a simple wholemeal cheese sandwich.
Decrease your sugar and fat intake
Jaclyn says that eating a lot of sugary and fatty foods can actually decrease your metabolic rate. She advises you stay away from sweets, cakes, chocolate, deep-fried treats, butter, and foods containing coconut milk.
Eat more superfoods
While there are no foods that can significantly increase your metabolic rate, if you give your body nutritious whole foods, your metabolism will certainly function more effectively.
Pooja Vig, founder of The Nutrition Clinic, suggests including broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Asian greens and seaweed into your daily diet. These foods, she says, deliver plenty of nutrients to the body while encouraging detoxification. Try to eat about five cups a day. If it’s hard for you to eat enough veggies at every meal, make yourself a green juice using leafy greens like spinach and kale.
Load up on high-fibre foods
The best high-fibre foods also have a low glycaemic index – meaning that they are broken down and absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream, so they won’t cause your sugar levels to spike and crash.
Jaclyn says that fibre keeps your digestive tract healthy and is essential for regular bowel movements. “A healthy digestive tract means that your body will not have to deal with toxins that can reduce your metabolism and make you feel sluggish,” she adds. Try oatmeal, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, bran cereal, and beans, legumes and pulses.
Read more: 5 easy tips to add more fibre into your diet
Add high-protein foods to your diet
“The more muscle you build, the higher your resting metabolic rate,” says Jaclyn. “To help you build muscle while you exercise, make sure you consume high-protein foods daily. These include lean chicken, lean beef, lean pork, seafood, tofu, and low-fat dairy products.”
Build muscle to burn fat
Regular cardiovascular exercise is important because it burns fat and improves your circulation. But, on top of this, you should also find time for muscle-building exercises. The stronger your muscles are, the more energy your body uses and the more fat you will end up burning.
Work out with weights
Jaclyn says that weight-bearing exercises are really effective at strengthening and building muscle. Add ankle or hand weights to your regular workouts, or try climbing the stairs or walking outdoors. Resistance training, using free weights or machine-based weights, is also recommended.
Get 150 minutes of exercise a week
Growing up, we were told to exercise two or three times a week, for 20 to 30 minutes each time. But the World Health Organization revised this some years ago to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise per week.
Tan Yen Fang, a physiotherapist at Raffles Rehabilitation Centre, suggests spreading this over 30 minutes a day, five days a week. “Cardio can include activities and sports like brisk walking, cycling, swimming, playing frisbee, soccer, and even household chores,” she points out. “Alternate your cardio workouts with strengthening exercises like squats, push-ups, planking, yoga, pilates, weight training, or tai chi.”
Try interval training
If you already work out fairly regularly, you can rev up your metabolim even more with interval training. This form of exercise involves several minutes of high-intensity exercise followed by a few minutes’ rest. It’s a good workout for your heart and really speeds up your metabolic rate, to the point where your body will continue to burn calories for up to 48 hours after.
Many gyms offer HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) classes. If you prefer interval training on your own, Yen Fang suggests jogging for 400m and then sprinting for 50m. Repeat this routine a few times. Or, for every five minutes of cycling, try pedalling harder for one minute at a higher gear for added resistance.