All posts in Health & Lifestyle

Meeting Your New Needs While Breastfeeding

New moms wonder how to best adjust their eating habits while breastfeeding in order to optimize their baby’s nutrition, maintain a healthy weight, and navigate the new demands on their bodies. While you don’t have to drastically change the menu of healthy foods that you already enjoy, here are some of the adjustments you’ll likely need to make as a breastfeeding mother.

forkManaging a big appetite: Breastfeeding women will often notice a significant increase in hunger as the result of their increased metabolic rate. It’s important that you nourish and listen to your body. If you fail to give yourself enough nutrients from your diet, your body will draw upon reserves you can’t afford to lose. Eat balanced meals and healthy, portion-controlled snacks to find balance between maintaining a healthy postpartum weight and keeping your energy up.

bathroom scaleChanging your perspective on postpartum weight loss: While your pregnancy weight may fall away quickly, it’s important to have a realistic idea about returning to your pre-pregnancy shape, size and fitness levels. Plan for gradual weight loss, and only diet and exercise with approval from your physician. Instead of being preoccupied with a short-term weight or size goal, focus on eating healthily and keeping your energy high- not only for physical exercise, but also for the demands of new parenting.

Thinking about fat: You’ll want to focus on healthy fats contained in olive oil, avocados, olives, nuts, and fatty fish. While this is always an important dietary concern, you should be particularly mindful to avoid saturated and trans fats while breastfeeding. These can change the composition of your breast milk and have potentially adverse effects on your infant’s health.

Being critical of contaminants: In addition to unhealthy fats, many environmental and food contaminants can find their way into breast milk and negatively affect your baby. Have an understanding of which fruit and vegetables harbour the most pesticides, or choose organic options. Consider buying locally and in-season, in addition to choosing lean meat and filtered water.

Watching for baby’s reaction: While many nursing mothers eat a wide variety of foods and flavours, it’s important to keep an eye out for any patterns between your eating habits and unwanted symptoms your baby experiences. If you notice changes in your infant’s stool or mucous, look for cues in your eating. Sometimes babies have sensitivities to certain components of their breastfeeding mother’s diet.

For more tips about breastfeeding nutrition, check out this neat “A to Z guide to physical and nutritional needs while breastfeeding.” 

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Mat Leave Blues

by Maya Hammer, M.A., Counselling Psychology 

920145_15195860In Canada it is typical for women to take a year-long maternity leave, with some variation amongst those who are self-employed or sharing the leave with a partner. While parental leave is a great opportunity to take a break from your professional life to raise your child, the day-to-day experience of mat leave can be lonely, boring, and exhausting. Being a mother is hard work as you are in high demand and have limited control over your schedule. Feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, irritability, and exhaustion are common, especially for high achieving Type A individuals who adhere to a rigid schedule and time management structure. Spending 10 or more hours on your own, five days a week, is quite removed from traditional ways of raising children in community, extended family households, or tribes.

It is important to find ways to support yourself during this time. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself as you grow into your new role. Take time to identify what you need in order to feel good on a day–to-day basis, specifically addressing times that feel most difficult, such as first thing in the morning or the final hours in the afternoon before your partner comes home from work. Stay connected to your partner, family, and friends while seeking out new mom friends so that you do not feel isolated. Connect with people by phone or online when it is too difficult to leave the house. Use your support network to help with childcare or hire a babysitter for 3-4 hours so you can nap, exercise, do something fun, or catch up on errands and other responsibilities. Involve your partner/spouse as much as possible with care for the baby.

Learning to be flexible, creative, and let go will serve you well on maternity leave. This requires a paradigm shift from being productive, organized, and ambitious- qualities that may have been integral to your life pre-baby. Making the switch from ‘doing’ to ‘being’ is not always easy. In the book Momma Zen, Zen Buddhist priest and mother Karen Maezen Miller describes her relentless path towards letting go of expectations, welcoming mistakes, and reconnecting with her innermost self. Maezen Miller reminds us that being a parent is an excellent opportunity for growth and transformation if you accept what is happening, without judgment, on a moment to moment basis.

 

Maya Hammer is a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in women’s mental health, prenatal and postpartum mental health, infertility support, pregnancy loss and infant death, and couples counselling.

www.mayahammer.ca  |  maya@healthpsychologyclinic.ca  |  416.597.0015

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Hormonal Imbalances 101

We often only think about hormones in terms of side effects. Despite their importance to our body’s functioning, they tend to go unacknowledged until they begin to cause us grief.

woman_stock photoHormones are key to the performance of many processes and capabilities of the body, including our fertility, digestion processes, and thyroid function. Since they play such a multi-faceted and important role, a number of unpleasant side effects can present themselves when our hormones fluctuate.

So what causes our hormones to get out of sync or off the charts? Human hormone levels are highly sensitive to a variety of factors. These include oral medications you may be taking, the things you’re eating, and lifestyle factors such as stress. Hormonal imbalances can also result from major physical changes that are facilitated by hormonal releases (such as reproductive process and the onset of puberty). When these factors come into play against your natural hormone levels, eventually your body may struggle with overall hormone regulation and control. At this point, a treatment method is often needed to restore balance.

Symptoms of hormonal imbalances include:

  • Acne
  • Weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Changes in appetite

If you’re consistently experiencing these symptoms, a saliva or blood test can determine whether you have a hormone imbalance and its severity. While many people fear they’ll have to take synthetic hormone doses to treat an imbalance, this isn’t always a necessary or ideal solution, particularly when an imbalance has been triggered by lifestyle factors.

Some of the dietary strategies used to treat hormone imbalances include:

  • Enriching meals with protein, fibre and iron by incorporating more lentils and beans.
  • Eating more foods that contain phytoestrogens, a compound in plants that resembles the human hormone estrogen. Soy and flaxseed are great choices.
  • Increasing soluble fibre intake.
  • Ensuring that you’re getting enough vitamin D and calcium.

If you think you may have a hormonal imbalance, have a consultation to find out if a natural, nutrition-based approach is best for you.

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“Normal” Vs. Nutritious Eating Habits

In her blog post “Why Feed Kids Healthy NOW?” nutritionist Lauren Talbot points out how lucky parents are to have the opportunity to instill good eating habits in their children right from infancy. As she reminds readers- and as we’ve mentioned on our blog before- not only is a baby’s development affected directly by prenatal diet, but newborn infants begin to develop taste preferences from their earliest feedings. From birth, we have a responsibility to guide and direct our children’s diet- this is a big responsibility, but we’re fortunate to have it.

Raising a child from infancy can offer an opportunity to encourage certain tastes, food preferences and understandings of nutrition… but what about when we want to influence eating habits at a later stage in development? Talbot mentions how challenging it can be to break the ingrained eating habits of older children and adolescents, which she’s experienced firsthand as a stepmother. At this point, children have already come to expect and crave certain unhealthy foods because they’re such a regular part of their lifestyle. This doesn’t just apply to particularly lackadaisical families either- let’s face it: most of us have an appetite for foods we could certainly do without. We recall craving unhealthy food as children, as adolescents, and even as nutritionally-minded adults.

in troubleSo how do processed, sugary, high-fat and junky foods sneak into so many children’s diets? A large part of it is our own leniency.  In order to truly adopt the cleanest, most healthful eating habits, Talbot says we need to make a critical shift in our attitudes. She suggests that we redefine how we conceive of “normal” eating, and stop making allowances for unhealthy foods on account of how mainstream they may be. She stresses the importance of adult guidance, reminding us that “it’s okay for children to be different from the norm.”

It’s true that the “norm” is far from optimal. Just think of the many factors that contribute to our conceptions of customary eating behaviours: we see other families eating a typical North American diet; we find the same packaged foods lining our grocery store shelves; we are surrounded by cheap and readily accessible fast food options. These things all shape our views of acceptable eating patterns and make healthy, organic eating seem different, difficult, and deviant.

We need to set a positive example for our children to help make healthy eating habits seem (and in fact become) more common. Let’s strive for a culture in which healthy, whole food choices are what’s normal. In the meantime however, it’s important that we make the choices that are best for our health, regardless of how irregular and inconvenient they may seem in comparison to those around us.

Teach your family to share your priority of clean eating. Teach them to choose fresh, whole foods. Teach them the value of food preparation and empower them with the skills to nourish their bodies. By doing these things, together we can help to create a new “normal.”

 

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Massage: the Natural Anti-Inflammatory

Massage is a widely respected and integrated therapy. Its effects have been tested on patients with arthritis, drug addictions, mood disorders, cancer, and more. We’re still learning everything it can do. While we continue to discover more about the physical benefits of massage and its usefulness for a variety of chronic and acute conditions, one major news item was recently discovered: Massage has a proven anti-inflammatory effect on muscles.

A study conducted on the quadriceps muscles of several active participants revealed that the act of massage releases anti-inflammatory signals that improve the ability of muscle cells to make new mitochondria. This converts food into energy and can help speed tissue repair.

An analysis of the muscle tissue of both groups of participants (those who had been massaged and those who had taken no treatment) revealed no discernible differences, further confirming that massage is a safe and effective way to treat muscle pain.

1255004_88259036Massage can do a lot more than help you avoid taking an anti-inflammatory. It’s also a great therapeutic option for those suffering from headaches, insomnia, anxiety and fibromyalgia. In addition to the physical benefits that it offers by improving circulation, helping to facilitate muscle tissue repair and reducing pain, massage is a uniquely therapeutic experience. An hour of massage offers clients a chance to focus on their body’s physical sensations and responses in a way we don’t often have time to do. Massage also triggers the release of mood-elevating endorphins, and encourages meditative practices like closed eyes, deep breathing, and total body relaxation.  All of these factors help to make massage more than a therapy- it’s also an escape, and a mental break that many of us are craving.

With mounting hard evidence of the undeniable benefits of massage therapy, we should encourage a shift in perspective that embraces massage as a critical part of our ongoing health and wellness journey.

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Pillow Posture with Dr. Tanase

People often make reference to their sleeping habits as the culprit for different aches, pains and ailments. Whether it’s a stiff neck, a headache, or back pain, chances are you’ve heard people chalk up various discomforts with a vague, “Oh I must have slept funny.”

So how much truth is there to this widely used explanation? Can the way we sleep noticeably impact our comfort and alignment? And what can we be doing to avoid the pains of “funny” sleeping?

Dr. Adam Tanase, a U.S-based chiropractor and blogger offers some answers. We liked his blog post “How’s Your Pillow Posture?” which does a great job of outlining some of the consequences of poor sleep posture for your spine. The questions addressed in his article are commonly asked by chiropractic patients who suffer chronic back and neck pain. So take note, and if you’re experiencing consistent discomfort when you wake up, consider adjusting your sleep posture.

https://www.google.ca/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&docid=WXMDTTncbnYMlM&tbnid=jHzZvRv6tfT6zM:&ved=0CAMQjhw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.staminafibre.net%2Findex.php%2Fpillows%2Fstaminafibrer-pillows.html&ei=asZuUcycCYSdyQG7sICACw&psig=AFQjCNHSW7iBIJCbSBR3wfGX67dl-NzYdA&ust=1366300616632697How many pillows should I sleep on? The number of pillows isn’t as important as the alignment of your body. Dr. Tanase is right to emphasize the importance of sleeping with your forehead, nose and chin lined up with your spine. Need a visual? He provides a helpful link here.  Usually the optimal neck angle (which is none at all) can be achieved with a single thick pillow.

What’s the best sleep position? Similar to his pillow guidelines, Dr. Tanase stresses the importance of sleeping in a position that supports a straight and balanced spine. Sleeping on your stomach is the worst choice, as it puts stress on the supportive structures of the spine, and forces you to twist your head at an extreme angle in order to sleep and breathe freely.

If you can help it, opt to sleep on your side or your back instead and remember to keep your body as straight as possible.

What damage can I do to my back by sleeping incorrectly? Poor sleep posture can worsen existing irritations and misalignments and can produce noticeable damage over time. Some of the conditions you might suffer include muscle spasm, postural distortion and thinning of your vertebral discs. The side effects will be chronic pain in the back, neck and arms. That sounds like a pretty good reason to adjust your posture to us!

On a grim note, Dr. Tanase reminds us these types of spinal decay are irreversible- so don’t delay. Take sleep posture as seriously as you do office ergonomics- just think of how many hours a week you spend positioned for sleep. This gives you an indication of how seriously sleep posture can impact your chiropractic health.

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Sit Up and Take Notice: Workplace Posture

Improving your posture and office ergonomics isn’t difficult. With a few minor adjustments and daily habits, you can prevent regular, ongoing mild to severe back pain and muscle strain. Since these are such seemingly minor tweaks to our routine though, often we underestimate their significance and the positive effect they can have on our health.  Dr. Sara Solomon’s blog does a good job of quickly summarizing the importance of making posture a priority in the workplace, emphasizing that when sitting at a desk for several hours a day, you should pay special attention to your lumbar lordosis.

Your what?

 Lumbar lordosis is a fancy word for the small of your back. You may have heard the term “lumbar support” before, particularly when shopping for a desk chair. Your lumbar lordosis naturally curves inward, unless you’re sitting and slouched forward –in which case that curve is lost. As Dr. Solomon advises, it’s important that you sit up straight to maintain the curve of your lumbar lordosis and avoid lower back pain. Supporting your lower back with the right chair or pillow can help you stay upright and comfortable without much conscious effort.

When we slouch –especially for long, uninterrupted work days- it increases the work that our muscles are doing while we’re relatively immobile. Slouching puts a much higher strain on the joints, discs and muscles of the upper body. So when you pull your shoulders forward and move away from the upright support that the lumbar lordosis requires, remember that those lower back muscles are using up more energy to take on the work of supporting themselves. In other words: sore muscles aren’t only a pain; they’re also a drain on your much-needed energy supply.

Here’s what you can do to support your lumbar lordosis and avoid lower back pain.

  • Check out Dr. Solomon’s posture correction guideline.
  • Adjust your backrest so that it cradles your lower back.
  • Purchase a lumbar roll or use a rolled towel to offer additional support.
  • Exercise your core to strengthen the muscles of your back.
  • Stretch muscles that get tight, cramped or sore throughout the day.
  • Have a chiropractic assessment to ensure that there are no mechanical issues with your spine that may be contributing to poor posture.

As we always advise, remember to take frequent short breaks to stand up, stretch and move around. When you pair poor posture with immobility you’re almost guaranteeing yourself back pain. With these small changes implemented in your daily work life, you can keep yourself upright, supported and content. And remember- a more comfortable employee is a more productive one!

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Meditation for the Skeptics!

To some, the word “meditation” connotes relaxation, calm, and introspection. For many others however, the practice falls outside their comfort zone. You may feel confused or awkward, or simply unfamiliar with taking time out for yourself on a regular basis. In truth however, meditation is a fairly flexible practice –it truly is whatever you make of it. Plus it’s one of the most widely accessible and completely free therapeutic activities you can do. Without the necessities of equipment, money, or even very much spare time, excuses for not trying meditation are slim!

Still skeptical? Skim this list of 100 benefits of meditation until one jumps out at you. While all of these are not expected or typical outcomes, the potential exists for meditation to impact many areas of your well-being, whether as a mood stabilizer, a heart rate slower, or an emotional outlet. And if a simple practice can yield so many different psychological, physical and spiritual benefits, it’s definitely worth a try.

While many of us think of meditating as a stress buster, research conducted by Harvard Medical School suggests that the health benefits of meditation may be greater than anyone initially conceived of. In a study, participants who regularly practiced relaxation techniques like meditation were found to have more active disease-fighting genes than those who’d never tried any such thing. It turns out our genes are very responsible to our behaviours and environment. When we create the optimal conditions by relaxing and meditating, many of these genes activate over time.

Since these types of genes are responsible for fighting inflammation and killing diseased cells, it would seem that meditation has the potential power to boost your immune system. The tangible health perks don’t end there. Medical studies have demonstrated that meditating has the potential to boost fertility, ease irritable bowel syndrome, help with chronic pain management, and lower blood pressure.

The scientific support for these important health benefits has begun to inch meditation into mainstream health practiced. Don’t be afraid to join the trend. The key is to redefine meditation so that it means something accessible, uplifting and useful to you personally. Your meditation practice could be as simple as taking time out to stretch, breathe deeply and sit silently for a few minutes when you get home from work. It could be ten minutes spent sitting with your eyes closed in the sun, or a deeply spiritual practice that you conduct with your family and peers. You might also try a group yoga class which can be a rewarding opportunity to try meditative practices with group support.

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Sneaking Nutrients Into Your Picky Eater’s Diet

If your child is a fussy eater with a limited palate, it can be tough to tell if they’re getting the nutrients they need. While children’s vitamins are a common choice for parents with picky eaters, there are also plenty of creative ways to sneak nutritious foods into tasty, kid-friendly foods. Here are some tricks that might work for you:

Tasting plate: Chop foods into tasty bite-size portions and put them into a bento box or a partitioned plate. This gives the meal variety and colour while making the foods less overwhelming. This type of meal also encourages healthy food play. If your child gets tired of munching on one item, it’s easy to move to the next section, or to combine flavors, textures and tastes.

Smoothies: These are a big hit with many children, and a great way to sneak in lots of fruit and veggies. Try blending spinach, avocado, beets or carrot juice with your child’s favourite fruits and some yogurt. This will produce a tasty and hearty smoothie with lots of hidden nutrition. Try to mix fun colours and experiment with different ingredients and thicknesses to find what works for your family.

Sauces: Another great hiding spot for healthy foods! Puree vegetables right into your sauces so that they can’t be picked out by little fingers. Add some spinach, squash, carrots, pumpkin or nutritional yeast to the blend.

Modified sweet treats: Find a recipe that offers a healthier take on a treat your kids love. If you know they’ll be biased, don’t bother telling them what’s inside! Here are three recipes that people swear by:

Instead of chocolate pudding try avocado chocolate pudding
Instead of ice cream try banana soft serve
Instead of cake try sweet potato brownies
For a frozen treat try these peanut butter, jam, banana popsicles

Give them a try! Last but not least- check out our Picky Eater Workshop, led by the newest member of the Thrive Health team, Nutritionist Aviva Allen! Details below:

Picky Eater Workshop with Aviva Allen:

Date: Thursday April 25
Time:
7:15pm
Location:
Thrive Health
110 Eglinton Avenue East
Suite 502
Toronto, ON
M4P 2Y1

Join Nutritionist Aviva Allen as she discusses how to best support your picky eater(s): learn how to support them to try new foods, avoid conflict and stress at the table, incorporate more nutrients into their diet and choose appropriate supplementation. Cost is $30.00. To register call Thrive Health at 647.352.7911 or visit www.avivaallen.com   

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Chiropractic Care for the Elderly

In a recent blog post, Chiropractic Wellness Care pointed out that even though older adults and seniors are likely to experience back pain, they are less likely to seek chiropractic care than younger adults. This means that older generations are resigning themselves to chronic discomfort and pain that could be gently and effectively treated.

So what’s preventing older adults from seeking treatment? We have a few ideas.

Fear of the unknown: Since therapies such as massage and chiropractic have grown in popularity and become more mainstream relatively recently, elderly patients may not be familiar with these treatments at all. Even if they’ve heard of chiropractic, they may simply not think it’s appropriate for them, or may have some distrust for a treatment that sounds too new or experimental for their taste. In truth, chiropractic is a great option for older adults, as it optimizes the immune system and can help to ward off illness, in addition to soothing and realigning the spine and other joints.

Skepticism about chiropractic’s effectiveness: As the article points out, to optimize the results of chiropractic, regular adjustments should be paired with healthy lifestyle habits. For some seniors, nutrition and moderate exercise are not the priority that they should be. With a holistic approach to health, older patients can see improvements not only in their pain levels, but also in their gait, posture and balance. All of these factors can help improve their mobility and comfort, and by extension, their quality of life.

Failure to see chiropractic as a treatment for various conditions: Many may not realize the breadth of health conditions that chiropractic targets. The article makes a point of noting chiropractic’s effectiveness at improving symptoms of many conditions suffered by aging patients. These include osteoarthritis, a weakened immune system, and spinal degeneration. As we’ve mentioned on the blog before, many acute conditions can be improved by chiropractic as well- including headaches and dizziness.

Fear that adjustments will be too rough: Older and more fragile patients have a common fear that chiropractic will hurt or even harm them. In fact every gentle adjustment is tailored to the patient’s needs and current physical state. A good chiropractor will also talk in detail with a patient and address any concerns prior to manual adjustments, so there is always time and willingness to put any lingering fears at rest.

One of chiropractic’s major goals is to optimize wellness and help patients simply feel better on a daily basis. In advanced age, this is particularly important for enhancing quality of life and helping senior patients to stay active and well. Although this article begins by mentioning back pain, in truth chiropractic can help to improve everything from energy to mobility to sleep quality. And above all –the overall health goals of chiropractic care do not discriminate based on age!

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