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Nuffield Health: The Christmas Survival Guide

Christmas is coming, and for many of us, this year will be a chance to make up for the somewhat restricted festive period of 2020. However, it’s possible to be so preoccupied by the celebrations 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
If we struggle with how we feel about our body, we can worry about the impact that festive merry-making could have on our weight. We might still be thinking about our lockdown weight gain, and are trying to shed a few pounds before Christmas, either to fit into a party outfit or so we can give ourselves permission to eat whatever we like from Christmas Eve until New Year. Clinical psychologist Dr Vanessa Snowdon-Carr explains: “This is part of a familiar ‘lose it, gain it’ cycle, because by the time we get to Christmas, we’re so fed up with the diet that we then go overboard. While we may eat a bigger meal than usual on Christmas Day, it is the additional food and alcohol throughout December that adds to weight gain. We can tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter because we’ll refocus in January, but is that how we want to start the new year, feeling horrible about our body?

“So, how about deciding which are the meals you really want to be able to indulge in, and which are the little extras through December that you could do without? And when you do eat Christmas food, use some of the mindful eating principles: make sure you slow down, savour it and enjoy every mouthful!”

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.”

Share the love, not the germs
We should not forget the potential threat COVID-19 could pose in upsetting our plans to have a happy family Christmas this year, but we should also remember that the festive season falls during the winter flu season. Like COVID-19, flu is a serious illness 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.”

“Planning is key, with a realisation that Christmas is about sharing time and simple pleasures with the ones you care about”

Janice says: “If you are unfortunate enough to have flu or COVID-19 in the run-up to Christmas, rest up, and self-isolate until you’re better. Your friends and loved ones won’t appreciate catching the infection from you, and then being struck down over Christmas itself. As well as getting the vaccine, you can help to reduce the spread of germs by regularly washing or sanitising your hands, and continuing to wear a face covering in enclosed spaces, for example, while doing your Christmas shopping.” There’s still time to get the flu jab before Christmas, so speak to your GP surgery 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 traditionally 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 nuffieldhealth.com/hospitals/bristol for more information.