With cold temperatures and frost settling in, there’s no mistaking that winter is here. For many, staying warm this season means staying inside. And coming off the holiday months — a time often spent with loved ones, indulging in sweet treats and generations-old recipes — individuals can find it challenging to maintain regular wellness routines.
We spoke with Marion Eckl, MS, RDN, LDN, a senior nutritionist in the Department of Nutrition, to discuss the best ways to manage stress and maintain healthy eating habits over the winter months.
Eckl works with a broad range of patients and clients, including those with cardiovascular disease, gestational diabetes and individuals looking to improve their everyday eating habits.
What are some of the wellness challenges people generally face this time of year, and what strategies do you recommend to combat them?
ME: For many, one of the biggest challenges following the holiday months is that everyday routines get shifted. This shift is usually a good thing because it probably means you got to see friends and family you hadn’t seen in a while and enjoyed delicious holiday foods and warm drinks.
As dieticians, it’s our job to think about food and determine how to fit healthy eating into your schedule. But I think it’s also important to give yourself grace during the holidays and accept that your routine will fluctuate. It’s also essential to recognize that it’s okay to enjoy certain foods outside of your typical diet this time of year.
It’s January, and many people are starting their New Year’s resolutions. How should one go about balancing indulging in holiday foods and taking time to rest with developing those new routines and setting goals?
ME: I think a big issue with New Year’s resolutions is that many people want to make big changes all at once. Often, people try to make these 180-degree changes to their diet or exercise routine or both. And I think that’s where the trouble comes in. We put pressure on ourselves to fit an ideal image, but making changes to one’s lifestyle looks different for everyone. For some people, it might mean eating more fruits and vegetables each week, and for others, it might be something as simple as taking a walk every other day. You also don’t have to wait until January each year to initiate these habits. There are always ways to make small, meaningful lifestyle changes that positively impact your health.
It’s pretty cold in Boston this time of year, which causes people to spend a lot more time inside. Do you have any strategies for people looking to exercise over the winter months and support their mental health?
ME: It is vital to find ways to work movement into your day, particularly during the winter months in New England where the days are shorter and colder. Maybe that’s a short walk with your family after a meal to help with digestion, or perhaps that’s doing your own at-home yoga practice. Any way you can find to move your body and get outside is really beneficial for your physical and mental health.
How can our diets help boost our immune systems?
ME: It’s essential to ensure that you’re maintaining as healthy of a diet as you can. Fruits and vegetables have great vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C, that boost your immune system. It’s also important to make sure that you’re eating adequately in terms of calories and protein. Then consider all the other things that tie into health like exercising, sleeping and reducing stress. All of these strategies keep immune function as optimal as possible.
What are some diet and wellness resources that the Brigham offers that people can use to help implement these strategies?
ME: We have the outpatient clinic here at the Nutrition and Wellness Service and we see patients and clients from many different realms. This includes those with cardiovascular disease and type two diabetes, but also individuals who simply want to talk to us about healthy eating. Some people see us just to learn more about meal planning or general wellness.
Is there anything else that’s important for all of us to remember to stay well this winter?
ME: One thing that the pandemic has helped us all to remember is to slow down. Take mealtime slowly. Instead of rushing to eat as fast as possible or cramming lunch into ten minutes, sit down and enjoy your food. This not only helps with digestion, but gives people a chance to enjoy one another’s company and mentally reset.
The Nutrition and Wellness Service is available in Outpatient Services in the Department of Nutrition. The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) also offers a wide variety of wellness resources available to all Mass General Brigham employees, professional staff, immediate family members and IHP students.