As the daylight hours dwindle and the chilly biting weather kicks in, our natural intuitive response is to hide away and go into hibernation mode. This is a really normal compulsion for all creatures, in a bid to rest and restore our bodies for the following season. However, it tends to make staying healthy and fit much more of a challenge.
The Struggle to Stay Healthy in Winter
Our bodies change in winter. We may feel more tired due to a drop in vitamin D levels, or become more prone to colds and infections. Those following a demanding health or fitness plan may find it all the more difficult to stick to it. This leads a lot of people to ask: is it even possible to continue living a healthy lifestyle in winter?
The answer? Of course! It just requires some recognition of our bodies’ changing needs, and responding to them accordingly.
In winter, our bodies’ needs change in more-or-less two ways:
- Our bodies may require or retain more fat to keep us warm
- We may need more complex carbohydrates to keep us going over sustained periods (as opposed to simpler carbs like those from fruit, which we’re much more likely to crave in summer).
You don’t need to feel guilty over craving more carbs or fats – this is your body simply trying to get more of what it needs so that it can avoid frostbite or starvation.
The KEY is to just make sure you get the right fats and carbs in.
Here are some of my own personal tips and essentials for staying fit and healthy in winter, which I really hope will come in useful, even if just a little.
1. Eat more soup
Maintaining, if not increasing your veggie intake is crucial in winter. Soups and stews are a fantastic way to get veggies inside of you when all you really want to eat is bread. Forget salads (unless you’re one of the few people that still enjoy them in cold weather). Your body is more likely to appreciate warmer foods that help it maintain a stable temperature, as well as nourish it from inside.
When making your soups, the thicker and chunkier the better. This will help you feel full and like you’re eating more of a main meal. Be sure to throw in plenty of starchy veg like potatoes, sweet potatoes, beetroot, parsnip, lentils etc. to ramp up that fibre intake. Vegetable curries are also an amazing way to pack in a ton of veg in a warming, comforting way.
When I’m on the go and need a little 4pm pick-me-up, I love to pick up some homemade soup from Liverpool’s The Juicery. When I’m at home, my favourite go-to recipes tend to come from Angela Liddon and Deliciously Ella.
2. Guzzle your greens
Green vegetables in particular pack a ton of antioxidants, iron, folate and vitamins which are essential for keeping your immune system strong. Green smoothies and juices are a great way to sneak in plenty of green veg and fruit, without even really thinking about it! Aim for at least one a day, and remember that homemade is always best.
Smoothies will be better at keeping you full and ensuring you get all the fibre and goodness of the ingredients (unlike juices, where the fibre is removed). Combine leafy greens like spinach, kale and rocket with sweet fruits like apples, berries, bananas, mangoes and even oats or avocados, to make the greens more palatable.
3. Tonics & Elixirs
Homemade ‘tonics’ and ‘elixirs’ are hot drinks that are easily made by combining a few anti-inflammatory power-foods together. They’re great to drink when you’re sick or rundown, helping to ease sore throats ad congestion, or simply chugged in a morning before you’ve eaten any real food.
A few ideas include:
- 1 tsp grated ginger in a mug of hot water, with 1 tsp maple syrup
- 1/2 lemon dissolved in hot water
- Maple syrup, lemon juice and ginger in hot water (or a pinch of cayenne pepper)
- Hot grapefruit or pomegranate juice (juiced at home) with a splash of maple syrup
- Turmeric milk (or ‘golden milk’) – 1 tsp turmeric blended into a mug of hot milk, with 1 tsp maple syrup and a pinch of cinnamon, ginger or nutmeg.
For more inspo, head to my post on homemade tonics and elixirs.
4. Carb up
Complex carbs are essential for maintaining consistent energy levels and focus throughout the day. Your body thrives on glucose and this is only going to be needed more in winter, when your body works harder to stay warm.
Don’t be stingy with the starches – think brown rice, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, quinoa and oats. All of these are delicious and can become the basis of any meal, all for not very many calories. They’ll also provide with you plenty of fibre and protein, too.
5. Fulfil your need for fats
As we know, our bodies need fat to stay warm, and in winter this requirement is accelerated (hence why we often find ourselves craving pastries!).
To keep cravings at bay, ensure you’re giving your body plenty of good fats, such as avocados, tahini and nuts. Make sauces and dressings from cashews and pumpkin seeds, or try adding a tablespoon of chia seeds to your morning smoothie or oats. Stirring coconut milk into a soup, stew or curry is a perfect way to enhance the creaminess of food and sate your cravings with the good stuff.
6. Stay hydrated
It’s so easy to forget to drink water in cold weather – usually because it doesn’t seem as appealing as munching on food!
It’s understandable that sipping cold water on a cold day can seem unbearable. I often mix a bit of cold water with freshly boiled water to make it easier to drink, or add a squeeze of half a lemon to make it more interesting. Green and herbal teas are also great at contributing to your fluid intake.
7. Fudge your fruits
Okay, so here I don’t actually mean smother all your fruit in fudge sauce (though that might not necessarily be a bad thing…). What I’m trying to say is that it’s a common thing to be put off by fruit in the winter and not feel compelled to eat as much of it as we would in summer. This is mostly down to their high water content and our need for more slow-releasing energy, as mentioned before. Nevertheless, it’s still important we pack the fruit into our diets in order to keep up our vitamin intake.
One good way to do this is to cook or bake fruit, either into a pudding or as a jam (chia seed jam is sooo quick and easy to make). One thing I’m obsessed with right now is apple puree – its a great way to use lots of apples at once, acts as a fantastic natural alternative to sugar and takes hardly any time to make. Keep it in the fridge and use to top porridge or pancakes, or bake into cakes and biscuits.
Of course there’s also the classic fruit crumble – a guaranteed winter warmer and brilliant pudding. Mix it up with fruits like apples, plums, blackberries, cherries, figs or pears. I like to make a healthy version using Deliciously Ella’s recipe and eat any leftovers for breakfast!
8. Move your butt
Nobody likes the thought of exercising in winter. We prefer more to curl up on the couch and top up our energy reserves with chocolate and biscuits. Yet movement is so good for the body all times of year, and in winter this is maybe even more important due to the stiffening effect the cold can have on our joints.
Whether its an easy yoga practice in the comfort of your own living room, or a short walk after dinner…getting out an about in the colder season will do wonders for your mood and immune system. Though going outside always sounds unthinkable when the weather is cold, I actually love running in the winter – there’s just something so comforting about getting wrapped up in my scarf and sweats and breathing in the chilly air. The rest of the time I do online classes in the warmth of my apartment, so its whatever works for you.
Most of all, remember winter is about recuperating, refueling and rejuvenating. As long as you’re taking plenty of time out for yourself and feeding your body with as much goodness as you can, you should be well on the way to surviving the winter 😉
Got any more winter-fueling tips? Let me know in the comments below!