HANDS up if you fall into the same trap year after year.
Your overindulgent Christmas comes to an abrupt end on New Year’s Day with a vow to lose the winter weight.
Eating plans draw us in with promises that we will drop a stone in a week or lose belly fat in days.
But they are completely unsustainable, warns Tamara Willner, nutritionist at Second Nature.
“Statistics show women will go on 55 fad diets in their lifetime,” she explains.
Fab Daily GP Dr Zoe Williams adds: “Fad diets can be popular in January, but they don’t work long-term, are miserable to endure and are the last thing we need to be subjecting ourselves to this year of all years.”
Toni Weeks, of Leighton Buzzard, Beds, had tried restrictive eating plans for years — to no avail.
Then, three years ago, weighing 20st, she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Breakfast typically consisted of fast food, followed by a Subway sandwich for lunch and a greasy burger and chips for dinner.
For years Toni tried fad diet after fad diet, finding them tedious, draining and ineffective.
Desperate for help, the mum of three found the NHS-backed Second Nature 12-week programme to help live a healthier life.
In just 12 weeks, Toni, a technical account manager, dropped from a size 22 to a 16.
Fast forward a year, and in August 2019, Toni’s GP confirmed her type 2 diabetes was in remission.
Now, the 51-year-old weighs 10st 6lb and is a size 12.
“The plan just literally teaches you how to eat,” she says. “It was ridiculously easy, everything just clicked into place.”
She enjoys porridge for breakfast, with leftover dinner for lunch and typically tucks into a homemade chilli or curry each evening.
And she doesn’t hold back.
“Amazingly, I have been on holiday, weekends away, meals out, out for drinks with the girls, you know, carried on living,” she says.
“It’s an absolute treat when we have takeaway once a month.
“When we dine out we no longer have starters, puddings – there is no need – and I still manage a cheeky glass of red (which is thankfully allowed on the programme).
“The difference is the portion size, which will now fit on a tea plate. And I no longer eat snacks.
“To this day, I can’t believe how much food I used to be able to put away.”
And for people who haven’t seen Toni for a while, the difference is shocking.
“People don’t recognise me,” she adds. “They ask where the rest of me has gone.
“I’m now a size 12 and no longer diabetic, it’s incredible. It’s changed my life.”
Second Nature’s Tamara shares five easy dinners and a yummy dessert to help achieve your weight-loss goals.
Monday: Butter Chicken
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large brown onion, diced
- 2 small garlic cloves, finely diced or minced
- 600g chicken breast or thigh, diced
- 4 tbsp tandoori paste
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 400ml chicken stock
- 200ml double cream
- 1 large cauliflower head, cut into florets
- 4 tbsp plain natural or Greek yoghurt
- 100g flaked almonds (optional)
- 2 large handfuls fresh coriander, roughly chopped
- 400g spring greens or preferred green vegetables
- Heat the oil in a lidded frying pan or saucepan, over medium heat. Fry the onion and garlic, until soft. Add the chicken and fry until browned.
- Stir in the tandoori and tomato paste. Pour in the stock and cream, and season with salt and pepper. Stir for 1 to 2 mins.
- Add the cauliflower florets and reduce the heat to simmer, covered with a lid, for 10 minutes.
- Take the lid off and increase the heat for another 10 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender and the sauce has thickened and reduced.
- For a thicker sauce, double the cream to 200ml or use 100ml crème fraîche instead of cream.
- Serve with yoghurt, flaked almonds, coriander, and steamed spring greens.
Tuesday: Creamy Prawn Linguine
- 80g spelt spaghetti pasta, uncooked
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, finely diced or minced
- 1 large red onion, finely sliced
- 330g prawns, uncooked and peeled
- 160ml double cream
- 200g baby button mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 2 large handfuls fresh basil, whole leaves
- 1 large bunch fresh chives, thinly sliced
- 2 medium courgettes, spiralised
- Prepare the spaghetti as per packet instructions.
- Heat the oil in a non stick frying pan, over medium heat, then fry the garlic and onion, until softened.
- Cook the prawns for 2mins or until just coloured, then add the cream, mushrooms, salt and pepper, and cook for a further 2-3mins.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the whole basil leaves and chives.
- Mix the creamy prawns into the spiralised courgette and pasta.
- Serve warm.
Wednesday: Lamb Pitta Pizza
- 4 wholemeal pitta breads
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 shallots, diced
- 500g lamb mince
- 1 garlic clove, finely diced or minced
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 large green pepper, finely sliced
- 100g button mushrooms, finely sliced
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 100g cheddar cheese, grated
- 4 tbsp yoghurt
- 1 large handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
- Preheat the oven to 180C or gas 4.
- Brush the pitta breads with one tbsp of the oil and bake in the oven for 2-3mins to crisp slightly, flipping them once or twice, and setting aside. Add the other tbsp of oil to a non-stick frying pan, over a medium heat. Fry the shallots for 3-5mins, or until softened.
- Add the lamb mince, garlic, cumin, and salt and pepper. Fry for 8mins over high heat, or until browned. Add the green pepper and mushrooms to the lamb and fry for 3-5mins, until slightly softened.
- Once cooked, remove excess liquid from the lamb mixture.
- Brush the pitta breads evenly with the tomato paste, before coating the pitta evenly with the cooked lamb and the vegetable mixture, and sprinkle generously with cheese.
- Bake in the oven for 5-8mins, until the cheese is melted and the bread is slightly crisp around the edges (careful not to burn them). Top with one tbsp of yoghurt each and coriander, and serve.
Thursday: Aubergine Bake
- 4 large aubergines
- 3 tbsp extra virgin oil
- 1 large red onion, diced
- 300g spinach
- 500g ricotta
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 large handful fresh basil
- 700g passata
- 50g cheddar cheese
- Preheat the oven to 200C or 180C fan.
- Slice the ends off the aubergines and then thinly lengthways (roughly 0.5cm thick).
- Drizzle aubergines with olive oil and place on 2 large baking trays.
- Bake in the oven for 8-10 mins or until all the flesh isn’t white anymore but more translucent and soft. Place the aubergines carefully on a plate and set aside to roll later.
- In a large non stick saucepan, fry the onion, over medium heat, until softened and browned.
- Add the spinach and wilt. Allow the spinach/onion mixture to cool slightly and drain any excess water.
- Mix in the spinach, ricotta, oregano and fresh basil until all ingredients are combined well.
- Add 1-2 tbsp of the mixture to one end of the aubergine slices and roll into a cylinder.
- Place each roll in a lightly oiled baking dish and pour passata on top of all the rolls when finished.
- Scatter with cheddar cheese and bake for 30mins. Serve warm.
Friday: Chicken Fajita Bake
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 600g chicken breast or thigh, finely sliced
- 2 large onions, sliced
- 3 red peppers, sliced
- 1 tsp chilli powder
- 2 tsp ground paprika
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ¼ tsp ground cayenne pepper
- 80g cheddar cheese, grated
- 2 little gem lettuce heads
- 1 handful fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
- 60ml sour cream
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- Preheat the oven to 200C or gas 6. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a frying pan, over medium heat. Cook the chicken, and set aside.
- Add the remaining 1 tbsp of oil to the same pan, fry the onion and peppers for 6 to 8 mins, until lightly coloured and soft.
- Return the chicken to the pan, add the spices, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir well.
- If your pan is oven-proof, sprinkle the cheese on top and place in the oven.
- Otherwise, transfer the chicken mixture to an oven-proof dish, and sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 10mins.
- Serve in lettuce leaves with sour cream, coriander and lime wedges.
Dessert: Chocolate Mug Cake
- 4 tbsp ground almonds or fine oats
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- 3 tbsp milk or milk alternative
- 1 tsp coconut oil
- 1 egg or chia ‘egg’
- 2 tbsp 70-85 per cent large chocolate chips or 3-4 squares, roughly chopped
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- 100g strawberries, sliced
- Mix the almonds and cocoa powder in a large mug until well combined. Add the rest of the ingredients in order and a tiny pinch of salt, and mix well until smooth.
- Heat in the microwave for 50-60 secs (watching so it doesn’t rise above the lip of the mug).
- Once it starts to rise to the top, pause, let it deflate and continue.
- Heat for a total of 2mins. It should stop rising after the first minute but continue to watch for the final 60 seconds.
How it works
SECOND Nature is a 12-week programme that combines digital tracking and evidence-based support from experts via an app.
The plan recognises there is more to weight loss than diet and that small habits add up to influence our weight over a period of time.
This includes how much sleep you get, stress levels and meal planning, as well as being more active.
It is available on the NHS or costs between £40 and £55 a month if you sign up directly.
Second Nature suggests you eat more at mealtimes to avoid the need to snack and allow yourself the odd treat – be it chocolate, dessert or a glass of wine – at the weekend.
Simple and healthy recipes, including filling curries and fakeaways, make it easy to stick to.
And you can create your own weekly meal plans using the app.
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