With the turn of every New Year comes the inevitable rush to find the quickest way to ditch those festive pounds. Does the answer lie in the protein-rich Paleo Diet, the part-time fasting advocated by the 5:2 or a juice cleanse? Should we try the new regime everyone "swears by" come the first week of January, or is there a way to drop a dress size without having to give up the soothing comfort of winter carbs?
This year, it seems Emma Thompson has found the answer that we are all looking for. The 57-year-old Academy Award-winning actress has reportedly lost around 8kg in six weeks, bidding adieu to what she once described as her “great big zonking bottom”. Previously a UK size 14, she has now gone down two dress sizes to a size 10.
Her secret involves no sign of kale, green smoothies or the gluten and dairy-free "clean eating" that has taken over the food world. Instead, she follows dietitian-to-the-stars Louise Parker’s "anti-diet diet", eating three full meals a day, plus two snacks, and the occasional glass of Picpoul de Pinet.
It is not just about meal plans: Parker takes a holistic approach to weight loss which centres around managing stress, eating high quality ingredients and doing a little exercise each day, even if just for 15 minutes. Her method has been credited with helping the Duchess of Cambridge recover her figure after childbirth, and she counts her devotees at around 11,000.
Her six-week training programme (naturally, she refuses to call it a diet) encourages balance and "lean eating" - opting for high protein, low-GI foods such as nuts and sweet potato. However, “just because a food is whole, raw or organic doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all,” she warns. “I’d skip the gluten-free date bar and save calories for a sticky toffee pudding on Sunday.”
At £4,500, her programme is a pricey investment, but with most of her clients dropping at least one-and-a-half dress sizes, it is no wonder she has a waiting list. She only takes three clients at a time personally, yet her global team of dietitians has devotees in 48 countries, and high-profile figures such as Sandi Toksvig - and now Thompson - swear by her method.
“Louise is the only one out there I trust - she’s not holier than thou, yet somehow miraculously gets my reluctant a**e into gear and sometimes even keeps it there,” Thompson wrote in the foreword to Parker’s book, Lean for Life.
“I love that her method is NOT a diet - and is genuinely sustainable - so I can have my glass of wine and manage to avoid spending the rest of the week eating cheesy Wotsits ... She just gets it.”
Parker’s best-selling tome is half cookbook, half self-help book. “My method is about more than just losing weight,” she writes. “It’s about living a lifestyle that sustains you in optimum health, peak performance and clarity of mind so you are absolutely brimming with vitality. The side-effect of this lifestyle is that your body will transform into one that is exceptionally lean, sculpted, strong and graceful.”
Here are the five secrets to her "anti-diet diet".
1. Eat beautifully
Parker believes that it is important to turn meals into “ceremonies”, with a focus on unprocessed food and good quality ingredients. “Eat fresh food that is balanced, with plenty of metabolism-boosting protein, low-GI carbs and a little fat at each meal,” she explains, as well as stressing the importance of drinking plenty of water rather than sugared drinks.
2. Live well
“Managing stress and sleeping well affect the hormones that support weight loss, so it’s essential that you get these under control,” says Parker. “You’ll replace clutter, chaos and disorganisation with a lifestyle that is prepared, ordered and serene.” She advises a digital detox each night from 9pm, and getting at least seven hours’ sleep. “It’s all boringly simple really, but very do-able.”
3. Work out intelligently
Parker explains that the best way to lose weight is to keep moving every day, whether that is a long walk or just toning in front of the TV. “Weave activity into your everyday with an absolute minimum of 10,000 steps per day,” she urges. “Aim as high as you can.”
4. Think successfully
Much of Parker’s philosophy is around having a positive state of mind, and she recommends having “a clear vision of what you want to achieve”. She encourages clients to see losing and maintaining weight as a dance, where if they go outside for a step or two, they can still jump back in.
5. Keep going
Parker’s method is all about changing lifestyle habits in the long term. “If you’re thinking of going on any kind of eating plan, ask yourself two things: can I see myself doing 80 per cent of this in five years’ time, and would I want my teenage daughter to follow it? If deep down the answer to either is no, don’t even go there.” She also stresses that age should not be a barrier to exercise: “I do not buy into the idea that you have to be fatter at 60 than you are at 20. Yes, it’s fractionally harder to lose weight as you get older, but it will come off.”