Your two-week summer shape-up

GABRIELA PEACOCK is the top nutritionist the A-list turn to when they need to get their glow back. So what’s her secret? Five simple lifestyle tweaks that guarantee body-boosting results – fast! PHOTOGRAPHS: KATE MARTIN

I don’t believe in always watching what you eat. There’s too much fun to be had to live like that and, after all, none of us is perfect.

Over the long, dark winter months we’ve probably all got stuck into the roast dinners and the extra helpings over Christmas. Most of us will have overindulged during a night on the martinis, or by finishing off the kids’ Easter eggs. Someone has to, right?

But sometimes we all need a bit of a reboot. With summer on the horizon, we all deserve to feel great about ourselves.

That’s why my two-week reset is the perfect way to get yourself back on track, nourishing not just your body but making you feel more energetic, positive and alive.

summer shape up

This isn’t a detox. I’m really not a fan of the word as your body is already very good at getting rid of toxins all by itself. It’s about taking you back to basics: eating well (without denying yourself the things that make you happy) and retuning your body so it becomes a more efficient version of itself. Think of it like an MOT. By tinkering with the important bits, the whole system will run more smoothly.

In two weeks, you can strengthen your immunity, boost your liver function and stabilise your blood sugar levels.

You’ll sleep better, your skin will glow and even your hair and nails will have more va-va-voom.

You’ll have increased energy to face the day. You might even lose some weight– although that’s not the goal. It’s not about looking good in a bikini but about feeling great whatever you’re wearing.

Two weeks is the sweet spot for making positive changes: it’s sustainable and easily slots into anyone’s lifestyle.

These are small tweaks everyone can achieve. They can even be incorporated into your everyday life moving forwards, making a return to the plan easy when you fancy another reset.

The aim here is not perfection and you can take it as far as you like – all roads lead to improvement. Just have fun along the way. All you need to do is follow my five simple rules…

1. SET AN ‘EATING WINDOW’

No one is going to starve, no one is calorie counting and no foods are banned. How? By following a 16:8 model of intermittent fasting. This isn’t as scary as it sounds – plus decades of scientific evidence shows it’s one of the most effective ways to deliver quick results.

Pick an eight-hour window (say, 10am until 6pm, but it can be whatever suits you) in which to eat all meals and snacks. For the remaining 16 hours, which also includes sleeping time, you’ll only drink water or herbal tea.

The evidence overwhelmingly shows that giving your body this long break from digestion is very good for you. It balances out the amount of sugar circulating in your bloodstream, which means your body turns to the complex carbohydrate glycogen stored in your liver then to your fat for energy – that’s how you lose weight.

This process reduces inflammation throughout the body and is particularly beneficial for anyone at risk of heart disease or diabetes. It’ll sharpen your memory and improve your mood. And, in the longer term, these anti-inflammatory effects help protect against cancer, arthritis and dementia.

The most extraordinary effect, though, is in stimulating a process called autophagy – literally ‘self-devouring’. Before you have nightmares, it’s a good thing. The body goes into reset mode, getting rid of clutter– old or dying cells which area drain on energy – and regenerating new cells. The body emerges as a more youthful, better version of itself.

Turbo-boost this process further by eating well, cutting back on refined or processed foods and focusing on some basic principles. Firstly, include protein with every meal or snack to slow your digestion, make you feel fuller for longer and stop your blood sugar from spiking. Get your protein from lean meats, fish, tofu, eggs, nuts and yogurt.

Pick high-fibre carbohydrates from wholegrains, such as oats, brown rice, quinoa or freekeh (made from durum wheat).

And a variety of healthy fats is vital, including essential fatty acids from oily fish, olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.

Make sure you’re ‘eating a rainbow’. If there are lots of colours on your plate, you’re getting a broad spectrum of phytonutrients, which can reduce inflammation and help the liver get rid of toxins. And don’t forget to hydrate, ideally with water and herbal tea. If you fancy a glass of wine, go ahead – just make sure you drink it within your eight-hour window. Make it red to add more antioxidants to your daily tally.

2. BOOST ENERGY LEVELS

Wake up with a cold shower. Take a sauna. Go wild swimming. It might sound surprising, but exposing the body to extreme heat or cold will kick-start the same cellular processes which boost your energy levels.

What you eat and how you eat is equally important, and can make the difference between feeling sluggish or full of spark.

Different foods contain different levels of sugars, and these are all absorbed into our body at different rates. Something high in carbohydrates– such as bread, rice or even fruit – will cause sugar to surge into the bloodstream. It’ll be a wild ride, you’ll feel amazing for 20 minutes, then your energy levels will crash and you’ll crave more carbs or something sweet.

To avoid this, aim for a slow-release of energy by choosing balanced meals. This is where proteins and fats come in. They are digested more slowly and if you eat them alongside carbs, it’ll calm everything down.

The same logic applies to snacks, of which I’m a big fan. I think they are more important than meals because if you eat when you’re peckish, not starving, you’ll make healthier choices and not be tempted to binge. Enjoy fruit with a handful of nuts, or chop it up into some Greek yogurt. Nuts also contain omega fatty acids and B vitamins, which are great for energy production.

I believe in convenience – if it’s easy, you’re more likely to stick to it – so have healthy food ready to eat. Keep hard-boiled eggs in the fridge, try hummus and pre-chopped veg sticks or oatcakes and lean ham.

Supplements can also help to reduce fatigue. Everyone should take a good quality multi-vitamin, but try adding vitamin B complex (it’s like Red Bull) and iron if you’re vegetarian. Asian herbal remedy ashwagandha has treated fatigue for thousands of years, while superfood powders which contain vitamins A and C, iron, zinc and magnesium all help maintain energy levels.

summer shape up

3. LEARN TO SLEEP WELL

The body is very busy while we’re asleep. It repairs damaged tissue, reboots the brain, grows muscle and produces hormones which support the heart and our metabolism. Poor sleep means our concentration, memory and mood is affected. So resetting our natural sleep patterns is a big part of our wellbeing.

Key to this is managing stress well. Stress releases cortisol, a hormone which keeps us focused and alert to danger, but that  prevents the sleep hormone melatonin from winding us down. Poor sleep means more stress and the cycle continues.

Tired bodies also gain weight. Those who sleep badly consume up to 300 more calories in a day and twice as much fat as someone who gets eight hours. They crave sugar for quick energy boosts – but the body struggles to deal with sugar spikes when it’s tired so it releases more cortisol and adrenaline, another stress hormone, to stay awake.

If your last meal is several hours before you go to bed and is light on carbs your body will wind down more easily as it won’t be dealing with digestion or blood sugar spikes. But including foods rich in tryptophan, magnesium and L-theanine will boost this further. Tryptophan – found in cheese, turkey, pumpkin or sesame seeds, eggs and peanuts – increases the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter which promotes happiness and helps you fall and stay asleep. Magnesium is nature’s relaxant and contained in dark leafy greens, seeds, nuts, legumes and dark chocolate. Take it mid-afternoon as a supplement or buy magnesium bath flakes for a relaxing soak. Finally, amino acid L-theanine also boosts sleepy neurotransmitters and reduces anxiety and stress, but it’s best taken as a supplement because it’s found in tea leaves, which contain caffeine.

You’ll need to break bad bedtime habits, too. Avoid looking at screens for at least an hour before bed as the blue light stops the body producing melatonin. Keep a notebook by your bed to write down any worries, rather than ruminate on them.

And look after yourself – whether it’s five minutes of listening to music or a brisk walk every day.

4. RESET YOUR HORMONES

Hormones affect almost every process in the body. When one is out of whack, it has a knock-on effect on everything else. This includes our digestion and if that isn’t functioning properly we can’t extract and absorb nutrients effectively, which will affect the immune system, brain function and pretty much every other organ.

One way to reset hormone levels is by making sure our gut bacteria are healthy. Some of these intestinal microbiota have a role in producing hormones themselves, but they also tell glands around the body how much of a hormone is needed and when to release it. Including some fermented foods every day will naturally increase healthy bacteria in the intestine. Live yogurt, miso, sauerkraut and kombucha are all delicious ways to do this. A good quality broad-spectrum probiotic supplement also works. Essential fatty acids are also fantastic for rebooting hormones, particularly omega-3s. They help our cells communicate and have an anti-inflammatory effect. They reduce menopausal symptoms, address thyroid function problems and soothe overworked adrenal glands.

I’d throw a fish at you, if I had to, to get the point across. As I can’t, I’ll recommend upping your intake of oily fish, and keeping a jar of seeds on your kitchen counter for an easy snack or to sprinkle over meals.

Stress also impacts hormones and digestion. It prompts the adrenal gland to release cortisol, a process which uses up a lot of B vitamins and forces the body to prioritise our fight or flight response over digestion.

Try boosting your gut’s natural enzymes by eating a handful of rocket or chicory before a meal, or adding pineapple or papaya.

5. GET GLOWING

Your body doesn’t consider your hair, skin or nails a priority. If your system isn’t nourished, they will look dull, dry or brittle, so they’re a good mirror for what is going on inside.

Some nutrients are key. The best way to support the skin, especially as it begins to age, is by eating foods rich in collagen – the main structural protein in skin and connective tissue – and foods that support the body’s own collagen production.

Include more fish, eggs and bone broth, and add vitamin C (from citrus fruit, leafy veg and berries) along with minerals zinc and copper from seafood, seeds, nuts and mushrooms. The latter will also reduce acne breakouts and, as a bonus, strengthen weak hair and nails.

Anti-inflammatory nutrients will calm skin conditions such as rosacea, psoriasis and eczema, while also supporting the skin against premature ageing. Omega-3 in oily fish and nuts, vitamin D from sunlight, egg yolks and mushrooms and curcumin in turmeric will work as all-round superheroes for nails, skin and hair, and will even nourish new hair follicles.

Finally, spirulina, an algae-based superfood, contains very concentrated nutrients and protein, too– you can sprinkle it on whatever you’re eating.

Always consult your doctor before starting a healthy eating plan, especially if you are taking medication or have a chronic health condition. Gabriela’s book Two Weeks to Feeling Great is published by Kyle Books, price £20*

*TO ORDER A COPY FOR £17 UNTIL 10 MAY, GO TO MAILSHOP.CO.UK/BOOKS OR CALL 020 3176 2937. FREE UK DELIVERY ON ORDERS OVER £20. AS TOLD TO JO MACFARLANE