London - How to get into shape for Christmas without compromising on the fun? It’s the dilemma of the festive season.
Although many of us want to shift the pounds, diets that ban alcohol are something of a curse in December - the most sociable month of the year.
But raise your glass to the latest one taking New York by storm. The Champagne Diet not only allows alcohol, but actively encourages a daily flute or two as part of a weight-loss plan.
According to Cara Alwill Leyba, 31, who came up with the regime, the Champagne Diet is two parts healthy living, one part fun.
Following the plan, she claims to have transformed herself from someone constantly depressed about her weight to a slimmer woman with more of a lust for life. And, she says, it could work for you.
Cara, who works for MTV in New York, says she battled with the scales for years and was constantly trying new diets, but found nothing that worked.
“You name it, I’d done it,” she says. “Atkins, Weight Watchers, Dukan. I’d been chubby since I was a child and hated it. I constantly felt down about my weight.”
The stress of her job coupled with social obligations meant she was prone to grabbing food on the go and drinking a glass or two of red wine most days.
When a friend suggested Cara should switch to Champagne and simply eat healthily rather than dieting, she was prepared to give it a shot.
“A normal glass of Champagne has just 91 calories per glass,” she says (Laurent Perrier’s Ultra Brut, beloved by Kate Moss, has even fewer at 65 calories). “And because the bubbles reach your bloodstream more quickly, you consume less.”
As Cara felt able to carry on with socialising, the new diet plan felt less of a sacrifice than skimping on fat and calories.
Gradually, the weight dropped off and, a stone-and-a-half lighter, Cara is about to publish a book detailing her “Champagne diaries”.
The premise is simple - there are no forbidden foods but the focus is on eating high-quality, nutrient-dense and tasty things (totalling around 1,200-1,400 calories a day).
“I encourage ‘glamourising’ your meals,” she says. “Don’t order the fatty cheeseburger with fries and cola. Instead, get a smoked salmon bagel with a mixed greens salad and a glass of Champagne. Start putting the best into your body.”
Cara’s theory is that eating “classy” foods makes you value your body more so you are less likely to overeat. It’s a theory that has weight.
“If you eat well, you feel better about yourself,” says Dearbhla McCullough, a psychologist at the University of Roehampton, “and so you’re less likely to choose something fattening.”
But what do nutritionists make of the Champagne Diet? Can the fizzy stuff be part of a successful weight-loss plan?
Elisabeth Weichselbaum, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, says a glass or two of Champagne a day falls within the drinking guidelines put forward by the Department of Health.
“Women should drink no more than three units of alcohol or two small glasses of Champagne in one day and no more than 14 units in a week,” Weichselbaum says.
“But those are upper limits, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone increasing their alcohol intake as part of a diet.”
However, she says allowing yourself occasional indulgences as you attempt to lose weight is a good thing.
Studies have shown that adherence to a diet improves when some of our favourite treat are permitted.
“Most diets ban treats like alcohol and chocolate,” says Weichselbaum.
“There is no need to. It can really have a powerful psychological effect if you know these things aren’t banned completely.”
And it could be that a regular Champagne tipple can benefit your health. Some studies link a regular flute of bubbly to everything from lower rates of heart disease to a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. And researchers at Reading University found that it could help to cut bad cholesterol and prevent strokes.
Weichselbaum says rose Champagne has more polyphenols (antioxidants) than white, but that red wine has the most.
“The daily eating plans for this diet are balanced,” she adds.
“You would get plenty of polyphenols from the wide range of foods it contains and don’t really need Champagne to provide any extra.”
But Cara and the thousands who follow her weight-loss progress on her blog remain undeterred. Indulging in some bubbles everyday could help women feel better about themselves, she believes.
“Champagne is usually reserved for celebrations, but I feel like it should be enjoyed every day,” she says.
Breakfast: Wholegrain bagel with olive oil-based spreadable butter.
Lunch: Flatbread pizza with goats’ cheese, roasted red peppers and mushrooms.
Dinner: Tilapia with mixed vegetables.
Snack: One or two glasses of Champagne. - Daily Mail