Warm Up to Winter

Combat seasonal ailments, banish the blues, squelch stress and give your energy levels a boost.

Warm Up to Winter
Pin it Dominick Guillemot

Make some qi soup A thousand years ago, the Chinese started their tradition of eating a festive soup on the eighth day of the last lunar month (known as la ba) to bring about winter wellness. They believe that winter is the time for the body to store nutrients and that eating well will bring improved health for the upcoming year. La Ba Rice Soup usually includes rice, red beans, soybeans, peanuts, walnuts, chestnuts, red dates or lotus seeds. In Chinese medical theory, these ingredients are potent anti-aging foods. red dates, chestnuts and lotus seeds tonify qi, the vital energy of the human body. To make the soup:
1. Choose any combination of the ingredients mentioned above.
2. Place two-thirds rice and one-third nuts, beans, dates and/or seeds in a saucepan.
3. Add enough water to cover all the ingredients, then soak overnight.
4. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer until the beans and rice are very soft.
5. Have a serving (about one small bowl) every day. — Lihua Wang, L.Ac., practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Portland, Ore., and author of Chinese Home Remedies: Harnessing Ancient Wisdom for Self-Healing (New Page Books)

Elevate the conversation Chitchat and gossip can be energy-draining and unhealthy. Go to holiday parties ready to discuss a cause important to you and turn any meaningless or mean chatter in a positive direction. This can change the energy in the room and create community long after the season is over. — Holly Lucille, N.D., R.N., a naturopathic doctor in West Hollywood, Calif.

Maximize your minerals Keep the holiday stress—as well as unwanted pounds—at bay by adding supplemental magnesium, Natural Calm (, to your holiday regimen. Magnesium goes into the cells to turn off your fight-or-flight response— and if your holidays literally include a flight, as in travel, you will want to make sure to pack this. Yes, we can get magnesium from food—especially vegetables, legumes and whole grains—but we often need extra to help get the calming effect as the stress heats up, as well as to combat our making perhaps less nutritious (and as a result, less magnesium-containing) food choices (baked goods, anyone?). — Ashley Koff, R.D., Los Angeles-based dietitian and author of Mom Energy (Hay House)

Get your D and omega-3s Winter blues may be an indicator that you’re not getting enough omega-3s in your diet, so I suggest eating several servings a week of salmon or sardines. I love the salmon burgers and salmon sausages from Vital Choice Wild Seafood & Organics ( You can also sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons of flaxseed and 10 walnuts per day in salads for extra omega-3s. Vitamin D is also important for keeping mood elevated; I recommend sitting in the sun for 15 minutes every day without sunscreen for increased vitamin D absorption (so now would be a great time for that winter beach vacation!). If you can’t get into the sun or don’t eat fish, consider taking an omega-3 supplement and an active vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) supplement; have your doctor test your levels to determine how many milligrams you need. — Erica Kasulli, M.S., R.D., New York City-based integrative dietitian

Be progressive A simple technique called progressive muscle relaxation can help you to sleep and reduce your stress levels. Here’s how it’s done:
1. Sit or lie in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and take several deep breaths, allowing your belly to expand as you inhale.
2. Tense all the muscles in your face. Close your eyes tightly, clench your teeth and make a grimace. Hold this expression as you inhale deeply.
3. Exhale and relax your facial muscles completely. Let go of all the tension in that area, physically and mentally. Enjoy feeling the tension leave your face.
4. Continue down your body, repeating the procedure with your neck and shoulders (lift your shoulders), arms and hands (make fists), abdomen and chest, and buttocks, legs and feet.
5. If there are places that are still holding tension, return to those areas. When you feel completely relaxed, slowly bring your attention to the present. — Cathy Wong, N.D., C.N.S., Boston-based naturopath and author of The Inside-Out Diet (Wiley)

Get moving In the winter, when it gets dark at 4 p.m., it’s harder to motivate yourself to go outside and exercise. Make a pact with a friend that you’ll take a walk every day. A winter walk, even at night, can be rejuvenating and wonderful. Make it your reward to come home to a nice fire. Winter is also the time when many new dance classes start. Sign up for a tango or salsa class—or just dance around your house for fun. It’s festive, and it can help lighten your mood and provide a good opportunity for socializing. — Christiane Northrup, M.D., obstetrician-gynecologist in Yarmouth, Maine, and author of The Wisdom of Menopause (Bantam)