Happy New Year!

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It’s that time of year again. The contrast between the spirit and ethos of the month of December and January is cruelly stark - the former is all about the collective, yet the latter is wholly focused on the individual.  We have cultivated a self-punitive culture: encouraged to binge at Christmas as it ‘doesn’t count’ and then shamed into feeling hideously guilty for over-indulging forcing ourselves to panic detox, diet and self-deny in an annual ritual of January self-persecution.

But instead of being sucked into this social media tornado of regretting ‘letting ourselves go’, why don’t we focus on the newness of the New Year, and not look backwards? If we really are committed to a ‘New Year, New You’ mantra, then why don’t we focus on the new. I firmly believe that at the beginning of a new year we should focus on taking up, rather than giving up.

January weather-wise and work-wise is bleak at the best of times. It’s still freezing; we continue to commute in the dark; we feel like we are drowning in a sea of never-ending bills and unfeasible deadlines. And depsite the obvious need to go easy on ourselves through this grim time, we just pile on the pressure - lose weight, get fitter, do better - ultimately lowering our self-esteem further.

Of course exercise is good for you and of course drinking too much isn’t. But leading a healthy lifestyle needn’t mean depriving yourself or punishing yourself. And, as so many professionals will advise, it’s all always about balance. We should turn our attention to the nutritional value of the food we consume, particularly during these winter months when our immune systems need an extra boost. So don't swap your porridge for a green juice - why not have both? Eat more veggies that you ever think you need. Trust me, your body will thank you for it.

It’d needn’t be rocket science; just work with what makes you feel your best. I was never convinced that I could be vegan, yet over the last few months without really thinking I stopped eating meat and I feel a million times better for it. But that is me. Every single person is completely different. But if you’re curious to see what a plant-powered life is like, why not give #veganuary a go – it’s a great thing to ‘take up’ and could be a real adventure!

After all, as Oscar Wilde wisely said:

‘Self-denial is simply a method by which man arrests his progress.’

Move forwards not backwards – don’t focus on what you ate, and the times you didn’t work out. Focus on the new foods you might incorporate into your diet, and perhaps try a new form of exercise you have always been interested in giving a go.

Instead of convincing yourself that you must diet, why not see the new year as an opportunity to get creative in the kitchen with all the wonderful vegetables grown in January?

Set yourself goals such as ‘eat at least 5 types of veg per day’ or learn a new vegan dish to impress your friends when you next host a dinner party.

Why not wow your friends with a warming parsnip soup? Or if you need to give your digestive system a break from all rich food, then opt for a hearty salad - such as this raw Pad Thai or this kale and avocado salad with lentils for some filling protein.

Or eat sweet treats that are positively GOOD for you – wholesome nutrient-dense desserts and snacks do exist! For example, sweet potato brownies are an absolute winner if you have a sweet tooth – this recipe only contains natural sugars and is 100% plant-based. Or have you ever tried raw carrot cake? I must admit, I think it tastes so much more delicious than the conventional kind. Or why not impress your family with a rose-themed spiced apple tart – perfect with a dollop (love that word!) of Greek or coconut yogurt? 😊

Last thing – in all your culinary pursuits, do make a conscious effort to use up all your leftovers and throw away less food. You’ll be amazed at how satisfying it feels to save your surplus.

January should be a time of excitement for embarking on a new adventure – so let’s focus on the new of this Happy New Year!

By Amelia Stewart of Cook First. For more of Amelia's delightful recipes, please visit www.cookfirst.co.uk/samplerecipes.

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