All posts in Health & Lifestyle

Junk Food as a “Legal Addiction”

Embracing Health produced an interesting blog post titled “Deadly Legal Addictions,” discussing a recent publicized death that occurred as the result of an extremely unhealthy diet.  It raises an interesting suggestion that instead of thinking of unhealthy foods and habits as indulgences, we should take them to be much more serious and dangerous dependencies that have real consequences for our long-term health.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile you may not be surprised by the culprit soft drink named in the article, the characterization of familiar vices like Coca Cola as “addictions” is perhaps jarring. Yet to a large degree, that’s what they are. In fact, a recent study mentioned in Time suggests that as we increase our consumption of unhealthy, high-fat, high-sugar foods, our “reward-threshold” decreases. Much like the pattern we see among drug users, repeated ingestion of these substances makes it more difficult to get the same satisfaction that the “user” or consumer initially enjoyed. In other words: over time, eating addictive, unhealthy foods becomes similar to chasing a high.

Our consciousness regarding portion size or guilt can be affected in a similar way as well. While we may initially feel like a small serving of a “cheat food” is a luxury, treat, or even something to feel guilty about, eventually those sensibilities erode. If we don’t feel the same rush or satiety that junk food once brought us, it’s easy to lose sight of how much of it we’re consuming. Eventually a large allowance for junk food begins to feel like the new “normal.”

candyIt’s certainly a dangerous trajectory. One way to address common food “addictions” mentioned by Embracing Health is to include warning labels on certain junk foods. Ultimately however, resistance to food addiction and its prevention have much more to do with a holistic dialogue with our bodies. The article stresses the importance of listening to our physiological messages by paying close attention to how we feel, look, and react to our diet. The body gives so many signs when something is wrong that there’s no reason to leave them ignored.

If your diet is leaving you with constant cravings for sugar and salt, uncontrollable appetite, or physical symptoms like headaches and nausea, it’s time to tune in more closely. A health care practitioner can help you refine your diet and avoid experiencing that all-too-common cycle of a diminishing reward threshold. Food should always be satisfying, rewarding and nourishing!

What do you think: Should warning labels be printed on certain unhealthy foods?

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The Best Natural Anti-Inflammatories

There are many reasons to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Chronic inflammation has been identified as a contributing factor for a number of diseases, as well as chronic pain. Additionally, the most inflammatory foods are those that carry the highest risk for allergic reactions. So how can you reduce inflammation without reaching for over-the-counter medications? A preventative diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods is a start.

The Conscious Life offers a great list of top anti-inflammatory foods. Here are some of the best natural ingredients for your diet:

Seaweed: Kelp is rich in the complex-carbohydrate fucoidan. Fucoidan has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It’s also high in fibre, meaning that seaweed can help optimize digestion and fat absorption for the maintenance of a healthy weight.

Rose colored fish, summer food with lemon wine marinadeWild salmon: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA, salmon is an anti-inflammatory and may also prevent heart disease and certain cancers. Studies suggest omega-3’s may also reduce symptoms of autoimmune disease. This is a definite powerhouse food, so try to include salmon in your weekly meal plan. If you find it too “fishy” try dressing it up with powerful flavours like lemon and dill.

Green tea: Choc-full of anti-inflammatory flavonoids, green tea is great for reducing risk of heart disease and cancer. It’s also the perfect guilt-free hot beverage if you’re trying to lose weight, because the polyphenol found in green tea helps to boost metabolism and fat oxidation.

broccoliBroccoli: This green veggie contains the phytonutrient sulforaphane, which helps the body kick potentially cancer-causing compounds. Broccoli is also rich in magnesium and calcium to regulate blood pressure, and its high potassium content helps maintain the functioning of a healthy nervous system.

Sweet potato: This is a powerful potato! Versatile and mild-flavoured, sweet potatoes are becoming a nutritious favourite with many people. They contain a whole host of nutrients, including fibre, vitamin C and B6, and beta-carotene. Together, all of these powerful components work to reduce inflammation and purify the body.

While there are many anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant foods, without thoughtful meal planning you’d be surprised at how easy they are to overlook. Challenge yourself by including one anti-inflammatory food in all of your major meals!

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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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