New Year, a New More Responsible Approach

Sports and Clinical Dietitian Renee McGregor shares her suggested approach to dieting this January. 

We’ve said goodbye to 2023 and are now all moving towards settling into 2024. January is a hard month; this is a fact. The festivities are behind us and there is still a little while before the days become lighter for longer and encourage us to look forward. 

If this was not bad enough, a New Year also means we are inundated with messages and headlines of the latest food and wellness trends, all promising how we can be the fittest, healthiest, and happiest version of ourselves. 

Is January the best time for a fresh start?

In all honesty, though, do we need a “fresh start” every January? Is this even the most sensible time; just because it’s the start of the year, why does it automatically translate to being the peak of our motivation? Or is this just something we are sold every year so that the multi-million wellness industry can profit? 

In my opinion, January is usually the worst time to start anything drastic. Let’s face it, the holiday festivities have probably left most of us feeling a little off kilter; eating and drinking a little more than usual, or at least differently, a lack of work routine, potentially resulting in reduced productivity and the dark nights and wet skies may have impacted our normal exercise and training routines. 

That said, it’s an opportunity to stop, take stock and create happy memories and associations with family and friends. Thus, the festive season is an important aspect for a balanced life, but perhaps not the optimal precursor to embracing a strict new diet and fitness regimen. stormy-skies-over-iceland

One of the key problems about taking drastic action in the NEW Year is that the behaviours involved are outcome and achievement-focused. They suggest that if we pursue the goal, somehow this will transform us for the better in every way possible.

“How to lose 10lbs in 10 weeks?” 

“Top five tips for glowing skin and glossy hair!”

“How to achieve the ultimate abs of steel?”

Do we really need this type of messaging in our life ever, let alone at the start of a New Year, when most of us are struggling to remember what day or date it is. And do we all really need to change? 


Anecdotal advice vs. Nutritional Science

One of the key issues is that everyone has an opinion about nutrition – why shouldn’t they? After all we all need food to survive. However, there is a difference between anecdotal nutrition advice and actual nutritional science. On social media we are exposed to the former a lot more than the latter. The issue with this is that what works for one person in a sample of n=1, is unlikely to work for another. 

Nutritional science and particularly sports specific, is actually quite complex. While many simply look at the impact of one particular nutrient or process on performance, this completely ignores the fact that the human body is run on an intricate system of endocrine, biochemical, immunological, physiological, and psychological pathways that all work collectively. The harmony and balance is needed to be maintained in order to stay optimal. 


Debunking the Diet Myths

Let’s look at the example of a low-carbohydrate diet. Recently, due to the number of high-profile individuals promoting continuous glucose monitoring, many people have once again become fearful of consuming carbohydrates due to concerns about glucose and thus insulin spiking. However, the human body is much more complex than this and actually in many scenarios, an increase in insulin is beneficial not detrimental to health, especially in those who are physically very active. 

In amongst all the scaremongering, another key consideration that is often overlooked by the health influencers promoting this so-called “health tech”, is that IT’S NOT JUST FOOD THAT CAUSES GLUCOSE FLUCTUATIONS. In fact, we know that stress, illness, menstrual cycle, dehydration, and movement all contribute. Indeed, several case studies have shown that even when individuals eat the exact same food daily for a week, their blood glucose fluctuates significantly. As food is controlled here, it demonstrates how blood glucose is not just as simple as what we eat. 

Similarly, just the other day I was on a group chat where someone very boldly stated that their new Vegan regime was the cause of their newly found energy and improved recovery. However, this was based on subjective information, which they had collected over a few weeks - is this science? No, this is one individual’s personal experience with no information of what her diet had been like previously or even if any other aspect of her life had also changed which may have resulted in how she was feeling. Presently there is no scientific evidence to suggest that a plant based diet can improve an individual’s performance; in fact if anything, there is more evidence pointing at the opposite, that a plant-based diet, if not managed well,  can be lacking in sufficient energy and also specific nutrients needed to improve performance. 

I guess my main concern about all the new trends and fads that come out at this time of year is that they all suggest a false gold - somehow if you do this, your life is going to be transformed and yet, with a lot of them being based on some form of restriction, the question I would ask yourself is, is this really relevant to me and my lifestyle?

Let's take sugar as an example. 

With so much negativity around sugar, it is hardly surprising that many of us who are physically active, are equally concerned about our intake. While I would never advocate a high-sugar diet, there are times during training and competing, when sugar is the only option. During endurance events, the body will need an easily digestible source of carbohydrates to keep stores topped up so that the intensity of effort can be maintained beyond 60-90 minutes. Gels, jelly babies, and sports drinks are all suitable options and they all contain sugar. So in this case, sugar enables and potentially enhances your performance. 


#TeamMontane's Victoria Thompson refuels on sweets during the Montane Lakeland 50.

So, what is the right approach?

Aim to be a little more realistic and compassionate with your approach. For example, if you are someone who drinks most nights, the post-festive season can be a good time to cut this down – I’m not talking about “dry January” which potentially sets you up to fail with its very hard and harsh rules but set more realistic goals, such as, I will only have 2 drinks a night, 4 nights a week, as a starting point. Once you have achieved this, it is then easier to take the next step. 

So this year, why not focus on embracing sustainable and realistic behaviour changes that will lead to long-term positive health consequences, rather than trying to find a quick fix which is unlikely to end positively. 

This article was written by #TeamMontane Sports and Clinical Dietitian Renee McGregor. For more expert advice from Renee discover 6 Ways to Boost Your Winter Immunity