Whether it’s the cold, grey sky outside putting us off getting fresh air, or the comfort eating as nights close in earlier and earlier, winter makes all of us sluggish.
We tend to either fully succumb and spend winter hibernating, uninspired and wanting to eat all day (anyone know that feeling?) or we swing the other way, compensating for that tendency by living off bubbles, sugar and lack of sleep during party season. So how can we look after ourselves without feeling rubbish by the time the new year comes round?
According to the Indian holistic practice of Ayurveda, winter is Kapha season: cloudy, slow, wet and heavy. Ayurveda takes a 360-degree approach to health and focuses on a delicate balance between mind, body and spirit. To retain that equilibrium as the cold months draw in, we should balance those sludgy characteristics with their opposites. That means choosing warm, cooked, slightly oily, light foods, with plenty of pungent or astringent tastes, and lots of spices and well-cooked leafy greens. It also means keeping cosy.
The good news is that in winter our digestive fire, referred to in Ayurveda as Agni, is at its strongest. Comfort food is the way to keep that Agni stoked, and the right kind of comfort food supports the body and helps you to sail through the season with much more ease.
Here are the six key ways to do this.
1. Avoid mindless eating
Constantly throwing stuff into our bodies means our digestive system never gets any downtime. If you want to enjoy some winter treats, save them until you’re really hungry or at meal times.
2. Drink hot water
It’s so simple, but hot water keeps our digestive fire ablaze. Cold water and chilled or frozen drinks and food will dampen digestion. And yet, once the cold kicks in we tend to think more about food. To counter this, keep a flask of hot water or herbal tea on your desk and help yourself to some every 30 minutes to keep you hydrated.
3. Opt for soups or stews
Cooked soups and stews are much lighter and easier to digest than the same ingredients in solid (raw, or less thoroughly cooked) form. Sometimes a meal is the only chance you get in a day to turn all the other information off. So make eating a soup or stew a graceful act rather than a quick slurp and go.
4. Avoid raw foods
Without central heating, the thought of eating raw foods wouldn’t even cross your mind in winter. Central heating creates an artificial environment and can prompt us to do things that we normally wouldn’t do in winter, such as eating ice cream. Be aware: eating in accordance with the characteristics of the season means saying no thanks to difficult-to-digest raw food, especially when we’re already feeling lethargic.
5. Dial down the dairy
Ayurveda suggests reducing dairy foods during the winter months, as they have those same heavy, thick, sticky qualities we are trying to counterbalance. However, a well-cooked golden milk — a classic Ayurvedic tonic of milk cooked with spices such as black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger to make it more digestible — is a great ritual as part of your evening wind-down routine for a good night’s sleep without being overly congesting.
6. Go for a sweet starter
Sugar and spice and all things nice are everywhere come winter, but they can wreak havoc on our energy levels. As someone with a sweet tooth, I urge you to try this Ayurvedic idea which works for me: have a bit of sweet whatever-you-fancy before a meal — even better if it’s at lunchtime (12pm is when your digestion is at its peak). That way you can get your sweet fix, move on to the savoury main and finish when you’re done — and feel all the better for it.