Have you heard of the word Hygge yet? Pronounced “HUE-gah” (It’s a tricky one to say, I still cannot pronounce it properly!). It is the Danish name for everything cozy, comforting and pleasurable. Think woolly jumpers, knitted blankets, cashmere socks, cups of tea, curling up under the duvet reading a new book, candlelit dinners with friends and family, hot chocolate in front of the fire, fairy lights, having a warm bath, savouring a glass of good quality red wine (not downing a whole bottle!) or lounging about on weekends in your PJ’s all morning with absolutely no agenda. Simply, hygge is embracing the little pleasures in life, and making ordinary things more meaningful, beautiful or special.
I have known about Hygge for a very long time. I never knew the word Hygge but have understood the concept and its powerful benefits to our wellbeing. I have always tried to instil this into my clients as for me it’s one of the cheapest and best forms of medicine. The best way to fight a cold – drink a cup of mama’s hot chicken soup, curl up under a duvet and slow down. The best way to aid sleep – relax in a hot bath, switching off any distractions. The best way to feel good – surround yourself with loved ones. The best way to lose weight – don’t go on another diet but reassess your lifestyle. For some this may be investing more time in making home-cooked meals than eating out; or waking up a little earlier to exercise, or for others going to bed earlier to get more hours sleep. Small, manageable changes never taken to the extreme.
To me hygge is the antithesis to this clean eating phenomenon. The wellness industry (and social media) has boomed in the last few years. Anyone can start a blog, create a following and write a health book and preach their way of eating to the masses without having any qualification in health or nutrition. Has this made anyone any healthier? I don’t think so. Has this made people more confused about what to eat? Absolutely. And sadly, I’m seeing more and more clients with the likes of orthorexia (an unhealthy obsession with healthy food), disordered eating, anxiety around food (is this clean enough?), and social isolation (skipping meals out with friends incase they ruin their new found diet). People may unintentionally or intentionally restrict calories when they try and go ‘healthier’ and this long-term is so damaging especially to a woman’s hormonal system.
As a nutritionist I recommend my clients to eat real, quality food. No food group is off limits but always choosing the best quality where possible. The problem I have with the “clean eating” lifestyle is whenever you unnecessarily ban a food group be it gluten, sugar, fat, dairy or meat, or most dangerous of all – labeling a certain food as “bad” – if you do succumb and eat it, you feel guilty. Self-sabotage usually follows with people bingeing and overindulging or restriction persists and they under-eat (hello yo-yo dieting). In contrast, the Danes don’t have this guilt. If they fancy a piece of cake, they eat it, enjoy it and move on. They’re not spending the rest of the day feeling ashamed about it and punishing themselves. The same goes for exercise – it is to be enjoyed and part of a healthy lifestyle (not slogging away at the gym for hours).
Also, health is more than food and no matter how clean your diet is, it will not determine how healthy you are. We are a society that rushes here and there and are always on the go. Downtime and rest is so important – switching off work emails and annoying distractions (especially around meal times!) is vital to one’s wellbeing. Making sure you get adequate sleep and recovery from exercise is also important. You can also make your house more hygge with lots of throws and burning candles, fresh flowers, putting up fairy lights or lighting a fire. It’s these little touches that can boost your morale. When we were renovating our house last year, I was so drawn to the Scandi-way of living: clean white walls, de-clutter, earthy materials, and greenery. My house now feels so calm, perfect for relaxing in and just enjoying being (even with two boys running about!).
But ultimately, health is listening to your own body, ditching the dietary dogma, slowing down, and revelling in the joy of life. It’s about shunning the latest raw juice cleanse this New Year and embracing hygge! And now with the darker evenings and colder nights drawing in, it is the perfect time to bring more Hygge into your life. Hot chocolate anyone?