’Tis the season to be jolly, but it doesn’t also have to be unhealthy. Nuffield Health Bristol Hospital tells you how.

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

One of the biggest health worries for many of us this month is the impact festive merry-making might have on our weight. We’re currently in the pre-Christmas season of trying to lose weight, 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. Weight loss 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 this year 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, could indicate underlying bowel issues.”

Dr Beale continues: “Any variation in bowel habit, new abdominal pain, or bloating that is still present in the New Year may signal there is a 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 flu

Unfortunately, the festive season also falls during the winter flu season. 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 coordinator, nurse Janice Bowler explains: “You can have the virus and pass it on to others without displaying any symptoms yourself, so being immunised against flu not only protects you, it protects those around you, including family, friends and works colleagues.”

Janice says: “If you are unfortunate enough to have flu 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 flu from you, and then being struck down over Christmas itself. As well as getting the jab, you can help to reduce the spread of flu 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, 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 the overindulgence of food and drink, including indigestion and weight gain that needs addressing, or a realisation that alcohol use may be a problem. It almost makes you wonder why we do it!”

Dr Jenkins suggests: “Planning is key, and appreciating 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.”

For more information, call 0117 911 5339 or visit nuffieldhealth.com/hospitals/bristol