It’s really quite tragic that so many simply accept and expect that they’re going to spend much of the winter miserable, depressed and hopped up on NyQuil/DayQuil as they await the return of warmer, sunnier days. While there are a number of factors that contribute to the winter slump so many of us go through, there are a great many things we can do to make it through the winter in great wellness.
The Best Offense is a Good Defense.
Let’s face it. Its well enough seen and understood that late fall-winter is that time of year where people really struggle in their eating. It’s natural but the choices we’re making are far from what should be “normal.” As the weather gets cooler, the body, in the beauty of how God made it, looks to put on that extra winter layer to promote better thermogenics throughout the cold season (especially when those warming dishes are infused with spices). The body is trying to stay warm and the best resource it has for insulation is fat, and not just as insulation but “some fat cells directly sense dropping temperatures and release their energy as heat.”(1) For this, and because of the face-rockin’ pleasure of eating them, our bodies crave rich, hearty foods to chase away the cold. While I would never suggest avoiding a good hearty meal, we should be mindful of what we reach for when these cravings hit.
I simply cannot underscore enough the importance of being mindful of our internal terrain, nurturing health and wellness by implementing wisdom in what we put into (and onto) our bodies, as well as how we use them. An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure!
Avoid Processed and Refined “Foods.”
Processed foods are terrible for the endocrine system (responsible for regulating glucose; maintaining hormonal, thermal, and energy balance)(3), as well as being very hard on the digestive tract, and virtually every other organ and tissue in the body in some form or fashion. If you can’t reasonably reproduce it in your own kitchen in the way you are buying and eating it, if you can’t pronounce the ingredients or have no clue as to what they are, if you couldn’t for the life of you reasonably guess where it came from… YOU SHOULDN’T BE EATING IT!
Make no mistake about it. Our bodies are wonderfully and masterfully made. Even when we can’t tell by any other means, they are capable of discerning between the foods God made for us to eat and adulterated counterfeits we get when man deconstructs, reconstructs or flat attempts to create his own “food-like” substance. The counterfeit will ALWAYS come with a consequence. The question is only of speed and degree.
Eat WHOLE Foods.
We seriously have a terrible habit of WAY OVER-COMPLICATING it! When we eat the foods God created, the way God intended, we stand the best possible chance of living at our best. I know that seems a little cut and dry for some and I get that there are other dietary variables that come into play. Nonetheless, when we get back to this solid, dietary foundation, we have a great place to build from as we get to learn what does and doesn’t work for our bodies. You will have plenty of opportunity to fine tune as you go. Don’t stress or freak out about that.
There is no “perfect” diet. The “perfect” diet for you is the one that most aligns with your health and wellness goals, producing the best possible outcomes considering your bio-individuality. You can’t get that from a textbook. But, I know in my heart of hearts, and from experience, that as you team up with God, going to your maker to lead you in caring for what He has made, and as you are diligent in bringing your best efforts, you will get there.
I know in the transition away from typical American foods, we’re left kindly scratching our heads as to where to even begin here but it really doesn’t have to be that difficult. Try keeping things simple and focusing on perfecting your skill at, say, just one new go-to recipe at a time. Look for things that are easy to prepare and be sure to keep some healthful options on hand that you can make in a pinch.
In the winter, I love to keep things like root crop vegetables (onions, carrots, rutabagas, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, turnips, etc.), garlic, brown rice, quinoa, millet, organic prepared beans and frozen mixed vegetables on hand. I love popping that oven up to 425 degrees and tossing in whatever root crop combo I have, roasting for 25-35 minutes (depending on food and size of the cuts) as an easy, go-to when I want something warm and hearty. The beans and mixed vegetables have me ready to go with a hot and hearty soup at any time. The grains are good to prepare in large batches that can be divided and used in a variety of dishes throughout the week.
The key is finding what (whole and healthy) foods hit the spot for your family and always looking for the upgrade with any dish you prepare.
Avoid/Minimize (Conventional) Desserts.
In such times, desserts are plenty in abundance. They’re loaded with sugar which (temporarily and deceivingly) lifts the mood, and their loaded with fat and carbohydrates. The research now makes very clear the connections between sugar (not from fruit but that refined sugars/carbohydrates) and depression, anxiety, addiction and other psychological woes.(2) These sweets perpetuate the winter blues as they lead to mood crashes on the other side of their highs. They also generate a lot of inflammation in the body, shorten the dendrites to the neurons, compromise the immune system (priming people for the colds and bugs they so easily attribute to the cold season in general), prime the body for disease and make it ever so easy to pack on those winter pounds.
Many people, knowing all of this, still struggle to break away from the sweets. Don’t start with the habit. Start with your thoughts toward the sweets. As your brain veers toward associating these sweets with pleasure, be intentional about reminding yourself of what it really costs and that there is much pleasure to be had in other foods that will love you back.
Enjoy Healthful Sweets.
When you’re really craving something rich and sweet, look to fruits. If you really just want something denser and richer, opt for dates or dried fruits, like organic figs, that have not been treated with sulfites or other preservatives. One of my favorite combos to satisfy cravings for dessert is that of Medjool dates, pitted and stuffed with nut butters (almond butter is my “yummmm”), or chunks of raw nuts like pecans, walnuts or Brazils. Another dessert that’s long been a favorite is my Raw Decadent Chocolate Pudding with Strawberries. It is very rich and a little bit definitely goes a long way.
Physical activity is not only a great way to maintain a healthy weight throughout the season but also does wonders for boosting the mood and the immune system. While I personally love getting into a REALLY intense workout, it doesn’t have to break you to be effective. Look for activities that make fitness fun. This is a great time to hit an indoor track with a friend or break free from all the noise and jam out to your favorite playlist while sweating out the tension and stress that also runs thick at this time of year. Whichever type of fitness be your cup of tea, making intentional movement a priority can work wonders for moving you closer to peak health and wellness.
Maintain Your Arsenal.
Any true and seasoned “winter wellness warrior” could tell you there’s much to be said for being prepared. Whether it be the possibility of snow or other lack of accessibility, we don’t want to be caught stuck at the house or running late for work, feeling a cold coming on with no defense on hand.
While we can’t always be prepared for every eventuality, there are some things we strive to keep on hand. These may include:
Colloidal silver is often used for its antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory properties for a variety of issues relating to wound care/skin health, pink eye, ear infections, sinus infections/sinusitis, colds and flu. (4)
Many essential oils are chock full of medicinal properties. A personal favorite of mine to keep on hand is oregano oil which is incredible for dealing with all sorts of infections. (Will give warning there. Be sure to be mindful of proper dilutions as this oil can get HOT). Others we love this time of year include:
Peppermint– Beyond the beautiful smell, it is good for the digestive system;
Frankincense– used for respiratory benefits;
Hyssop– also used for respiratory infections;
Clove– antibacterial, analgesic and anti-inflammatory; and
Lavender– antibacterial, antidepressant and anti-inflammatory effects.
…just to name a few.
The classic form for elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is a tasty syrup: European studies have shown it to be helpful for seasonal flus (talk to your doctor before using it for H1N1, or swine flu).
A go-to herb for colds, this plant (Echinacea purpurea and E. angustifolia) may help support your immune system to fight viruses. The root, leaves, and flowers are all medicinal.
For short-term use only, goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) can help to clear up bacterial infections and restore the respiratory system lining after a bad cold.
A cup of tea made with ginger (Zingiber officinale) can help ease congestion and warm the body, which helps your system fight infection. Its anti-inflammatory properties make it a good sore-throat remedy, too.
A sore-throat soother extraordinaire, slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) products are high in “mucilage,” a substance that coats the throat and helps relieve coughs.
Believed to boost overall health, tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) — also known as holy basil — contains antiviral and antibacterial compounds. It may help prevent illness when used over time.
Loaded with antibacterial compounds, fresh or dried thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a cold-season powerhouse.
With antibacterial and expectorant properties, eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) can loosen congestion and help you breathe easier.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has immune-boosting and throat-soothing properties that make it an excellent addition to cough and cold formulas. Licorice root is also known to be wonderful for aiding with heartburn and acid reflux, leaky gut, muscle cramping, and for feeding the adrenals (which tend to really take a beating as cold weather and fatigue make coffee all the more enjoyable). It is not recommended that Licorice be used for longer than 4 week periods and may not be suitable for people who struggle with high blood pressure. (5)
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) has expectorant and soothing properties that make it a cough treatment supreme.
Common culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) can help to ease sore throats and dry up sinuses. Not recommended for nursing mothers.
Source Naturals Wellness Formula
This blend is one of my favorites for giving the immune system a great boost when I can feel the funk coming on. When taken at the first sign of systems, I bounce right back, ready to take on the rest of the day.
Kick the Winter Blues.
In addition to coming from a nutritional perspective, getting the best quality foods possible, avoiding/minimizing processed foods and sweets, there are a number of things you can do to support a brighter mood during what tends to be the most sullen months of the year. You don’t have to emerge from the season as a “survivor.” Learn to implement plans that help to keep you stirred and engaged with those around you. This will do wonders for helping you to be ready to take on the day with a smile and solid footing.
Read the Word & Enjoy Some Worship.
Creating an atmosphere of praise is a quick way to change the tone of any room/household. Shut it all down and check out in a peaceful, quiet time of bible study or break out the Bose and rock out to some praise and worship right there in your kitchen. “Ain’t no party like a Holy Ghost party…Heeeyyyy!!!” Seriously though, its really hard to stay in the slumps when we can take our focus off ourselves and focus on God and His goodness. Keep a journal of thanks and praise reports. Ask God to meet you where you’re at.
Enjoy time with friends.
This one should go without saying. If you’re down in the dumps, you don’t need more facebook or social media (I get wanting to just check out sometimes but the nature of the stimuli can really just make it all worse). Give a friend a call and head out for tea or coffee. Make it your aim to see how they’re doing and maybe be just what they need in this season too. If you don’t really have any friends or they’re all tied up, don’t be afraid to bust out your calendar and schedule some time with people you’d like to get to know a little more. You never know where a simple conversation may lead.
A common remedy for self-loathing and misery is to get eyes and thoughts off of self by looking to how we can meet the needs of others. There are PLENTY of them around so you should have no trouble finding a place to be active. Whether its serving in a soup kitchen, driving around town giving gloves and socks to the homeless or helping an elderly neighbor with some chores around their home, there is always something we can do to bring value to the lives of others around us. Look to who you may need, want or feel led to bring some joy too and take action!
Get Some Sun.
I know the cold winter wind is enough to prompt most people to seal the house off and not come out until spring flowers and birds beckon them to do so. Still, humans need exposure to sunlight; not a lamp or fluorescent fixture; real sunlight. While we may not be able to throw on that tankini and hit the poolside, we can get next to a bright window or go for a sunny drive. If you live in an area where good sun exposure is hard to come by, you may check your local health food store for a high quality Vitamin D supplement.
Regardless of your region or season, there is always much to be grateful and much wellness to be enjoyed. Winter can be a challenging season for some but I have really come to appreciate it as a great season of restoration as my body cycles through, getting itself ready for the hustle’n’bustle to come in Spring.
How about you? What are your favorite winter wellness tips? What wisdom could you pass on to those looking to make the most and be their mightiest this winter season?