Don’t squirrel yourself away come autumn

BEIRUT: Now that September is nearly over, Lebanon’s long, hot summer always seems to be on its final legs.

For many of us, this cooling off is a welcome period, but for those sun-worshippers, the transition to fall, and then to winter, can be an acutely depressing period. Ward off those autumn blues with some simple changes to your diet, exercise routine and everyday thinking. Rana Jaroudi, a clinical psychologist, says that having to dust off your umbrella and pack away the beach towel can manifest itself as a genuine feeling of loss.

“You’re losing the summer season, the long days and the fun and going back to a routine. You’re losing something and we’re not good with loss,” she says.

This adaptation period, “symbolically means that people are hibernating again.”

After a summer of long, lazy evenings spent at the beach or on the balcony, the shorter days and colder weather mean people are forced to spend more time at home. “For the majority of people, it’s not very easy to cope,” Jaroudi adds.

Jaroudi recommends that rather than jumping straight into the routine of autumn, we should, “Go at it slowly and implement small changes, bit by bit. Don’t make harsh or sudden changes. “

Key to getting through this period, Jaroudi says, is to recognize that it will take a while to adapt, but that this is natural, and to be expected.

“They should understand that it takes a while to adapt, but that it will be pass and that things will be okay again. You just need a period to settle in and to reorganize the dynamics of everyday life.”

In terms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, whereby sufferers experience low moods due to the reduced sunlight, it is also important to “know that this is just a phase, and that it will go away,” Jaroudi says.

“We’re blessed to be in a part of the world where we have more sunlight, but people who are really suffering can get help,” she adds, whether that be lightboxes, hormones or other forms of treatment.

In terms of exercise, Hiba Safieddine, who runs the Trainstation fitness center in Ashrafieh, after a summer potentially lived to excess, with little attention paid to exercise, it is crucial to take the journey back to the gym one step at a time.

“I think the mistake people usually make is that they stop exercising during the summer,” Safieddine says. On top of that, often people exercise even more when they normally would ahead of summer, to get ready for the beach season.

“So they go to extremes, and then they stop knowing that they will stop for the summer. But actually that’s very wrong because your body adapts to something,” she says.

Also, as the summer season naturally encourages many people to stay out longer, eat and drink more, and have late nights, getting back into an exercise routine come the fall can be difficult.

“Do it slowly, gradually. People don’t realize that if they have stopped exercising for three months, this is a long time. You feel a difference when you stop for two weeks so imagine three months.”

It’s vital not to expect to immediately reach the levels you were at before the summer, Safieddine warns. “Expect to be not as good as before, that’s the first thing. And sustain a rhythm.”

It is also crucial not to set impossible standards for your exercise routine, she adds. “Don’t set unrealistic targets, don’t say to yourself, ‘Well I used to go every day, so I should be able to do that again.’”

Start slowly, exercising once or twice a week, she says. “And then reach the goal you want. But if you know that you cannot do it three times a week, every week, vow to do it twice, and actually do it.”

“If you have extra time, sure, go a third time, because maybe the next week you can only go once.”

Safieddine, who is also a clinical dietician, says that if it has been a summer of excess, now might be a good time to adopt some healthier habits.

“If you feel you have been drinking a lot, then this could be a good time to detox the body and try not to go out as much, drink less, and eat fresh food and cook at home more,” she says.

However, she warns, the ideal is to sustain an equilibrium all year round, rather than abusing and then detoxing the body.

“Don’t go to extremes, this is what I think tires the body: phases of abuse, and then you don’t go out or eat, you tell yourself you’re isolating yourself for a month as you’ve been going out too much. No, live! Go out, have fun, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, as this affects you emotionally. You should always feel good about yourself and your body.”

Women’s magazines cautioning of the urgent need to diet and detox come January, or to get that dream body ahead of summer, are dangerous, she adds. “This puts pressure on people: You shouldn’t put goals into specific timeframes. Do whatever you want, whatever time of the year. And your body will adapt to this.”

In terms of autumn eating habits, registered dietician Nicole Maftoum says that although some fresh fruits and vegetables – including cherries, watermelons, melons, peaches, nectarines, grapes, figs, apricots, plums, pears, green beans, okra and pistachios – will be disappearing from the shelves, due to Lebanon’s climate there is still a lot to look forward to at the local greengrocers.

“We live in a country where we are really fortunate to have an availability of fruits and vegetables throughout the whole year and when compared to other countries we have a self sufficiency of local fruits and vegetables production,” she says.

Now the weather is getting cooler, look out for oranges, clementines, kaki, sweetsop (ashta), bananas, dandelion greens and Swiss chard.

Once the weather gets even colder, it can be tempting to opt for comforting fried foods or buttery dishes, but these only offer the illusion of having a warming effect.

“Fried foods and buttery dishes are a great source of calories, saturated fats, trans fats and thus harm our bodies, put our health at risk and increase our waistline without even warming us,” Maftoum says.

Instead, cook with root vegetables such as radishes, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets and leeks, “As these vegetables require more energy than other vegetables to be digested in our systems, therefore, during their digestion our body produces lots of energy that will help keep us warm.”

Spices, such as chili peppers and Tabasco, are also good at keeping us warm, Maftoum adds. “Hot chili peppers are known to increase our metabolism by 10 percent when consumed on a daily basis and thus by increasing our metabolism they will help keep us warm,” she explains. (However, spicy foods should be avoided by people who suffer from ulcers, reflux or other gastrointestinal diseases, she cautions.)

Hot dishes such as stews and soups provide a temporary relief from the cold, Maftoum says, and green tea also has a big role to play during colder weather.

“Drinking four cups of green tea per day helps increase your metabolism and helps you burn an additional 70 calories and thus warms you up more than black tea,” she adds.

Avoiding, or reducing, alcohol consumption, also will help you stay warm, Maftoum says.

“Alcoholic drinks only heat up the skin but then cool down the rest of the body – consume only the recommended intake of alcohol per day which is one glass for women and two glasses for men.”

Aside from that, Maftoum says it is important to maintain a balanced diet, including lots of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains (brown bread, brown rice, oats), grains (beans, lentils, chickpeas, soy beans, quinoa), nuts, milk, fish around three times a week, and poultry and meat not more than once a week each.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 24, 2012, on page 2.




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