Nuffield Health: The Christmas Survival Guide

Christmas is coming, and for many of us, it’s a time to celebrate. However, we’re often so preoccupied over the festive period that it’s easy to forget about our health and wellbeing. Here, the specialists at Nuffield Health Bristol Hospital offer advice on how to enjoy a healthy holiday season.

Festive feasting
In the build up to Christmas, many people worry about the weight they imagine they will gain. Sometimes this makes them want to diet beforehand, and sometimes they will try to ignore it, deciding to refocus in the New Year. Either way, it can keep us on the treadmill of dieting, which we know doesn’t work in the long term.

So this year, how about trying a different approach? Clinical psychologist Dr Vanessa Snowdon-Carr explains: “Have you ever reached the end of a packet of something and not really remembered eating it? It’s usually when we’re watching TV or working at the same time. This can be a busy time of year so we might be more likely to eat mindlessly. Research has found that if we are distracted when eating, we feel less satisfied and are likely to eat more.

“Mindful eating, however, means paying attention to our food, like we would if we were eating a lovely meal out; slow down, savour the taste, chew more and notice how your body is feeling. By eating more mindfully around the Christmas period, we can reduce the extra bits of food that we don’t really want or need, and instead focus on enjoying our favourite food at this time of year.”

Even if weight isn’t a concern for you, the excesses of the festive season can still put a strain on our health, in particular our digestive system. Consultant gastroenterologist Dr Amanda Beale says: “A gut suddenly required to cope with large amounts of Christmas pudding, smothered in brandy cream, can sometimes show the strain. Most of these odd gut symptoms will resolve quickly but, if persistent, can suggest underlying bowel problems.”

Dr Beale continues: “Any variation in bowel habit, new pains, or bloating that is still present in the New Year could indicate an underlying bowel problem. This in turn can cause poor absorption of nutrients, leading to anaemia and significant fatigue. If you have any concerns, seek medical advice.”

Spread Christmas cheer, not germs
Unfortunately, the festive season also falls during the winter flu season, and like flu, COVID-19 cases have also increased this autumn. Both flu and COVID-19 are serious illnesses which can cause death, not only in vulnerable groups, such as older people and those with an underlying medical condition, but also among people who are fit and healthy. Nuffield Health Bristol Hospital’s infection prevention co-ordinator, nurse Janice Bowler explains: “You can have either of these viruses and pass them on to others without displaying any symptoms yourself, so being immunised not only protects you, it protects those around you, including family, friends and work colleagues.”

Janice says: “If you are unfortunate enough to have flu or COVID in the run-up to Christmas, rest up and stay away from work until you’re better – even if that means missing the office party! Your colleagues won’t appreciate catching it from you, and then being struck down over Christmas itself. As well as getting the jab, you can help to reduce the spread of germs by regularly washing your hands, and when coughing or sneezing, do it into a tissue or handkerchief, or if you don’t have one, do it into the crook of your elbow, rather than your hand.” There’s still time to get the flu jab before Christmas – and the COVID-19 booster, if you’re eligible – so speak to your GP or a local pharmacist if you would like more information.

Prepare for a stress-less Christmas
Christmas is usually portrayed as a happy, social, family time, but for many it doesn’t live up to these expectations. Even for those people who enjoy it, Christmas can still be stressful and there’s a price to be paid afterwards for overindulgence. Bristol GP Dr Gill Jenkins tells us: “The main problems GPs see before Christmas revolve around the stress of trying to provide the ‘perfect’ Christmas, or conversely being aware that you will be alone. Fear of getting into debt, not meeting loved ones’ expectations, and feeling lonely all lead to increased self-harming, sleep difficulties and panic attacks. A heightened feeling of loss, anxiety and depression occur and the social media phenomena of competitiveness, one-upmanship and ‘fear of missing out’ add to the stress. After the event we see more problems related to overindulgence of food and drink, including indigestion and a realisation that alcohol use may be a problem, and weight gain that needs addressing. It almost makes you wonder why we do it!”

Dr Jenkins suggests: “Planning is key, with a realisation that Christmas is about sharing time and simple pleasures with the ones you care about. Remember to refresh stocks of simple ‘over the counter’ medicine, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, indigestion or diarrhoea medicines, and ensure you have enough of your regular medicine to last until after New Year. Doctors surgeries and chemists may be closed, but there is always a GP out-of-hours (OOH) service in case anyone does fall ill, or alternatively, call 111 for advice and a GP appointment. Try to avoid A&E, as hospital emergency departments are always overrun at this time of year.”

Nuffield Health Bristol Hospital offers weight loss treatment, gastroenterology clinics, and a private GP service. If you would like to book an appointment with any of our consultants, call 0117 911 5339, or visit the Nuffield website for more information: Nuffield Health Bristol Hospital 3 Clifton Hill, Bristol BS8 1BN |