Beat the January blues and eat yourself happy with our healthy, mood-boosting recipes and advice...
Unfortunately, while the first dewy days of January were filled with promise and steadfast determination, the remainder of the month is often a struggle for a few reasons. The Christmas shopping bank-drain is really taking its toll pre-payday, the weather is cold and the days are short while our motivation - our fast-dissipating resolve to maintain those good intentions for the year ahead - is at an all-time low.
All sounding pretty bleak? It doesn't have to be the beginning of the end for your newfound health smugness. Crawl out from under the duvet and try our tips to keep the momentum going and, for possibly the first time ever, beat the late-January blues...
Boost your mood with vitamin D
Studies are constantly reiterating the mood-boosting benefits of this vital vitamin. However, as our skin largely manufactures vitamin D through exposure to sunlight, it's also regularly highlighted that, during the dark winter months, we probably aren't getting our recommended daily dose.
Luckily, we can top up our intake by including a few specific foods in our diet. Fortified breakfast cereals and dairy, eggs and fish such as sardines, herrings and salmon are all good sources. Plus, along with improving your mood, topping up on vitamin D can help strengthen the immune system and keep bones and teeth healthy.
Here are a few recipe ideas that will help you increase your intake:
Salmon & Puy lentil salad with olive dressing
Smoked salmon & lemon scrambled eggs
Open sandwiches - tomato, sardine & rocket
Sardines with chickpeas, lemon & parsley
Grilled herrings with mustard & basil dressing
Mushroom & basil omelette with smashed tomato
There are several reasons we sometimes resort to food for comfort, particularly at this time of year. An exaggerated craving for carbohydrates and stodgy foods in winter can actually be a sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of winter depression that affects one in every 15 people in the UK. If you are concerned you might be suffering from the condition you should speak to your GP.
Overeating in winter may also simply be due to the fact that we're indoors more and we're cold. Understandable, but potentially detrimental to any healthy aspirations you have. Instead of turning to white, high-GI carbohydrates which will only lead to sugar highs, and inevitable lows, make sure you're eating complex carbohydrates, like whole-grains, and build a satisfying yet nutritious daily diet around low-GI foods, which release energy slowly and will keep you feeling fuller for longer. Swap big plates of pasta for healthy one-pots and, if you can't be without your favourite foods, try some of our healthier versions to keep you on track.
Try our pick of healthier classics and warming one-pots when you're in need of a comforting supper:
Good for the heart and also good for the mind - low levels of omega-3 in the body are thought to contribute to low moods, with increased doses even found to potentially help treat some types of depression. Give your motivation a boost by ensuring you're getting enough of the fatty acid - sources include oily fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, soya, rapeseed and flaxseed oil and dark, green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale.
The novelty of your new gym regime is probably wearing off by now. Exercise releases the happy hormone serotonin and, as well as being important for health, regular exercise will boost the positive results of all your healthy eating efforts - so keep going! If your workout is feeling more chore than choice, make sure you're giving your body everything it needs to perform at its best.
Whether you're interested in counting calories or foods to boost performance, our expert tips can help:
Treat don't cheat
If you're starting to feel like virtue isn't worth it and temptation is taking over, give yourself a break. If we never again allowed ourselves to eat the things we loved, life would be pretty boring and we'd probably bore everyone around us. Don't think of it as cheating - instead actively designate days when you'll treat yourself to a piece of cake/portion of chips/bowl of pasta, or have a couple of meals a week when you eat what you like without counting your calories.
Reassess your goals
Finally, if your resolve is starting to wane and no mood-boosting tip or guilt-free treat is doing the trick, you may need to reassess your goals. If you've stuck fast to your new year plan, then introducing a new challenge could give you the boost you need. If, like many, you've slipped a few times during the month, maybe you've set your sights too high. Whatever stage you're at, reminding yourself of your goals and making sure they're realistic will only help you keep up the good work - to the end of January and beyond.
This page was last updated on 24 January 2019 by Nutritionist (MBANT) Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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