As the winter season hits peak cheer, households across the U.K. are gearing up for a multitude of winter festivals, whether that be News Year’s Eve, Hanukkah, Chinese New Year, Boxing Day, Christmas or another multinational celebration! Whilst everyone spends the holidays differently, we can all agree that we are all in the thrall of family get togethers, magical light shows, work parties, ice skating, winter wonderlands, the infamous Santa’s grotto, and yes, the novelty Christmas jumper.

This is the season characterised by overabundance of everything, from alcohol, chocolate and party snacks to overspending! Research by Treated shows the average UK Christmas dinner packs a whopping 3289 calories, beaten only by the USA on 3291. This is reflected on our waistlines, with the average Brit gaining around 1lbs across the period. Whilst this overconsumption can be what makes the wintertime so much fun, we can’t deny it takes its toll on our collective health, mentally as well as physically.

It can be tempting to give up on our health in the face of such opposition. So with that in mind, here are some simple tips to help you through the winter in a healthier and happier way! For most people this is not the time for huge and drastic lifestyle changes, but there’s a surprising amount we can do by making small adjustments. So whatever your festive kryptonite, make the most wonderful time of the year that little bit healthier..

  1. Alcohol

Everyone loves a festive tipple – the white wine at the office party, alcoholic hot chocolate, mulled wine, New Year’s champagne, a beer at the end of a long day shopping… We go a little to town on the alcohol during winter, but do any of us actually know how much we are drinking? Guidelines for both men and women suggest we should consume no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, in other words around 5-6 pints of beer/cider or 7 medium glasses of wine. It would be no surprise for any of us to find ourselves over that limit on a regular basis, especially during the holidays. Why not give your liver a break and try switching to a soft drink or water after having a few, or even try alcohol free days. You might find yourself with more energy and a clearer head, and, as a bonus, there’s no need to do an “alcohol detox” in January! Head over to Drinkaware for more information.

2. Keep Hydrated

Drinking isn’t all bad! We need to drink 6-8 cups of fluid every day, but many people fail to achieve this. Dehydration can leave you feeling tired and headachy, and it’s
all too easy to put these symptoms down to being generally stressed and run down. You might think you need to drink less in winter but really your body still needs regular fluids to keep functioning. If cold drinks aren’t doing it for you why not try hot water and lemon, herbal and green tea and even normal tea and coffee.

  1. Watch your Sugar

Festive celebrations are synonymous with sugar. Whether your sweet preference is selection boxes, chocolate tubs, fudge, candy canes, festive lattes, hot chocolates or mince pies, it’s hard to resist the call of the sweet cravings when we are metaphorically and sometimes literally surrounded with sugar! Supermarkets, TV adverts, that colleague plying everyone with cake; it seems as though life is conspiring against us when it comes to our sweet tooth. Added sugar has been in the press a lot in recent months, particularly since new guidelines show we should reduce the amount of added sugar we consume to approximately 30g per day. With that in mind, here are some examples of major culprits look out for:

  • Individual Chocolates: 2 Quality Street contain one third of your daily sugar allowance (10.8g). Just mull over that fact for a second! I don’t know about you but I would struggle to stop after 2 individually wrapped chocolates, in fact, if you want to find me I’ll be the one surrounded with wrappers.
  • Mince Pies: One Mr Kipling Mince Pie contains almost two thirds of your daily sugar allowance (19
    .7g)
  • Festive Drinks: The gingerbread spiced latte with the extra shot and the whipped cream may be what’s calling out to you this season. Unfortunately winter drinks can range from around 4g to 20g of sugar, just in the smallest size! Check out this useful guide by Metro, and be wary, some chains have decided to cut down on sugar so could be significantly better for your health.

Overall, try and stick to the serving sizes and grab some fruit if you have a sweet craving. To arm yourself with the best information about added sugar, why not download the Change4Life Sugar smart app.

  1. Exercise

As it gets colder outside and the mornings and evenings grow darker, exercise can be the last thing anyone wants to think about. Grabbing those extra few minutes sleep or that extra episode on Netflix seems all too appealing. Given that a 60 minute gym session seems out of reach for many of us, why not try shorter and gentler ways to keep moving this winter. Whether it be taking a walk in the park, going ice skating, heading to a winter light show, taking 5, 10 or 20 minute walking breaks or going for a jog in the countryside, find a way that best suits you to get in bursts of activity. Wrap up warm and head outside, you just might find you sleep better, feel more alert and cope better with the winter blues

  1. Load up on Vegetables

If there’s ever a good excuse to eat vegetables, the season of the roast dinner is one. The dizzying area of veg is fantastic for creating tasty hot meals this winter. The NHS Eat Well guide suggests about one third of your plate be vegetables. Experiment with red cabbage, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, fennel, celeriac and if you’re brave, sprouts! Try premade vegetable soups if you’re short of time and want an easy nutritious meal. Head over to BBC Food for some warming recipe ideas.

 

  1. Find time to relax

The festive season is stereotypically a time for family bonding, relaxing in front of the television and taking a well-earned rest. In reality it can easily become an overly frantic, stress inducing time of year, as we rush from event to event, anxiously run round the shops and feel family tensions running high. Celebrations can bring a lot of added pressures and expectations that aren’t entirely welcome. Worryingly 10% of people feel unable to cope at Christmas. We all know that short term stress can cause irritability and fatigue, but chronic stress has a much worse impact on our health. It may be hard but schedule in some time for you this year, even if it’s just a few minutes to take a few deep breaths. If you feel your mental health deteriorating, the charity Mind has some brilliant resources over at their website.

  1. Connect

While you might be feeling as if you’ve had people overload, good relationships are very important for our mental and emotional wellbeing. Whether you’re alone or not this season why not volunteer at a food bank or soup kitchen, or donate to your favourite charity. If you live too far from family why not have an impromptu celebration with friends. Keep your friends and family close this winter, and if you do anything at all for your health, enjoy their company!

From the FoodTalk team and myself, have a very happy winter 

Charlie Rose Howard, Dietetic Student

Charlie is a BSc Nutrition and Dietetics student at King’s College London. She’s interested in all things public health, child health, and evidence based. Tweet her @charlieroseRD2B

 

Foodtalk blog posts are written by a variety of health and care professionals in order to showcase different perspectives in the world of nutrition and health.