Traditionally, December is considered to be the month during which the chasm widens between our attempts to be healthy and our acts of overindulgence — when faced with a stream of Christmas commitments we sacrifice a workout for the work party.
However, a study published this year in the US by the National Institute on Aging has found quite the opposite — that people tend to exercise more on the days that they drink more, presumably in an attempt to maintain their status quo. This blurring of the line between having a healthy lifestyle and a hedonistic one has, according to a new global consumer report by the JWT Innovation Group, led to a third way of living: “healthonism”.
Healthonists do not rely on attempts to cure a hangover with Advil and black coffee, but pre-empt the inevitable by arming themselves with immune-boosting antioxidants. Not for them the syrupy sweet mixers that send blood sugar levels soaring; they sip on low-calorie cocktails made with fruit and vegetable juices. If they are going to indulge, the payoffs are the pre-party yoga class, the morning-after spin session and the daily intake of supplements and freshly squeezed watermelon juice, all carefully scheduled to minimise the side-effects of seasonal hedonism, or, as Lucie Greene, the author of last week’s JWT report, puts it: “To support a lifestyle of mindful partying.”
Several companies have recognised the growth of healthonism, and some have attempted to capitalise on it. This year, for instance, the athletics clothing company Lululemon added a limited-edition lager to its range.
At London’s hippest fitness studios, healthonism is rife. Rhian Stephenson, an instructor at Psycle, a spin studio in central London, says she first noticed a change in attitude towards partying last December. “Until then, people tended to fall off the wagon and you wouldn’t see them as often until the new year,” she says. “But now you spot them carrying their juice bottle and turning up for class even when they’ve been out until the early hours. It’s no longer about either/or; it’s about how to make your social life as healthful as you can.”
Alexus Ruth, a singer and dance teacher whose classes at the Frame gym in Shoreditch in London’s East End attract actors, designers and the fashion pack, has also noticed a new craving to maintain balance. “People now realise they don’t have to give up one aspect of their lifestyle for another,” she says. “They realise that it is mentally and physically important to stay on top of things, to keep the body moving in spite of everything else that’s going on.”
Ruth says that many of her clients “prime themselves for a night out with a tough workout that leaves them feeling cleansed” and will return the next day to sweat off the after-effects. “Psychologically, it is tough to exercise when you are feeling rough,” she says, “but they know the return is better. Sweat is great for undoing any damage.”
Amelia Freer, the celebrity nutritional therapist, says healthonists tend to rein in on dietary excess, instead ramping up the nutrients that will fight a hangover. “Supplements of omega fatty acids are very good at reducing inflammation that is a result of too much alcohol and a poor diet,” Freer says. “A lot of people take turmeric shots or add fresh turmeric root to their food, and glutathione, a plant antioxidant, has a reputation as being a great detoxifier. I take that myself.”
She adds that many alcoholic drinks and cocktails are “an absolute sugar-loaded disaster” because they trigger inflammation. Replacing the refined sugar and copious amounts of fruit many contain can only be a good move, she says, which is why “juicetails” are rising in popularity. At the Westin New York Grand Central, signature cocktails include the green dream, made with organic cucumber vodka and three organic juices. In London, the menu at Marcus Wareing’s restaurant Tredwell’s includes a gin, green tea and lime cocktail called a gunpowder gimlet, while other bars are serving cocktails containing wholesome-sounding ingredients that range from kale and echinacea to wheatgrass and manuka honey. Brands such as Clean Drinking produce all-natural cocktail mixers made from cold-pressed juices with names such as the Hotamelon tequila cleanse and a hangover elixir called the Morningafter Party.
“Fruit and vegetable mixers contain less sugar and more nutrients than traditional syrups, so are better,” Freer says, although she prefers to make her own. “I created one with blood oranges that is delicious.” A favourite of the health-conscious party animal is cold-pressed pear juice, shown in scientific trials this year to contain properties that might combat a hangover. According to Professor Manny Noakes, the lead researcher for CSIRO, the Australian government’s scientific research organisation, a dose of 220ml of a specific variety of the fruit called the Asian pear (available in supermarkets here) before drinking acted on enzymes involved in the metabolism of alcohol to reduce memory loss and sensitivity to light and sound and even slightly decrease alcohol levels in the blood of volunteers. It had no effect when consumed after alcohol.
Among the healthonists I spoke to, most also prepare for a night out with a run or a cycle before carb-loading in a bid to “soak up” the alcohol. Then they will consume their juice and the healthonist’s quota of a litre of water before leaving the house. “My diet goes to pot around Christmas because I am eating at odd times,” says Nicky, 43. “I’m trying to get enough nutrients to avoid the colds and flu bugs without consuming extra calories that are going to make me put on weight, especially with the added alcohol.”
Another told me she survived on “supplements and juice” for almost the entire month. Feeling delicate (but guilty), many opt for Pilates or yoga later the next day. Are they doing the right thing? Laurent Bannock, the performance nutritionist and physiologist who has Sting and Trudie Styler alongside Olympians and elite rugby players on his books, urges caution. “A tough workout can leave you very dehydrated and more prone to the effects of alcohol,” he says. “It’s also a bad idea to carb-load. You’re better off consuming a meal high in protein and fat, which take longer to digest, if you want to slow down the rate at which you get drunk.”
So, how far will damage-limitation really take you? Freer says it’s misleading to suggest you can offset the risks of hedonism altogether. “You can’t protect the liver completely with a few workouts and a healthier diet,” she says. “If you are going to party hard, you will pay the consequences.”
Bannock says his rule to clients at this time of year is to allow themselves one party a week with no guilt. “As a one-off, it’s not going to do much harm. Two heavy nights and I say they need to earn it by paying with a hard workout,” he says. “And if they find themselves partying three times or more they need to stop and take stock.”
All agree, however, that healthonists successfully achieve one thing: a clearer conscience. “We are all likely to drink too much and eat too much in the holiday season,” Ruth says. “It feels better if you are combating it in some way. Even if you’ve barely slept the night before, you are making an effort to feel cleansed. That can only be a good thing.”
How to be a healthonist
1. Stick loosely to your regular workout routine. Don’t skip more than two sessions a week.
2. Take omega and glutathione supplements daily.
3. Consume a turmeric shot each morning (try a tonic from
botanic-lab.co.uk) or add turmeric root to food.
4. Exercise before a night out — but not too hard. And make sure you rehydrate with coconut water or watermelon juice, with their added vitamins and minerals, as well as plain water.
5. Drink a glass of cold-pressed pear juice several hours before you head out.
6. Eat a high-protein snack one to two hours before leaving the house. Scrambled eggs are fine.
7. Swap regular cocktail mixers for vegetable and fruit-based varieties, preferably cold-pressed.
8. Juice up the next morning and try to book in a yoga session around lunchtime.
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