Category Archives: Health

Mending a Broken Heart

Two years ago, when I had my first episode of psychosis, a mental state I wish upon no one at all, my doctor told me that I needed to take things slowly and not rush the healing process. My mind, after all, had a heart attack. Heart attack victims can’t just get up and go after their heart attack. The same can be said for a “head attack”.

This past summer I had a heart attack of a different matter. I let go of a person I love because our paths are going in different directions. This is not my first time at this particular rodeo, but this may be the hardest I have to live through. But, as my aunt says, somehow we must live through it anyway.

Some days are harder than others. Facebook is a particular minefield that I tread along carefully, but, of course, despite my knowing better that, as Gloria Steinem once said, “There is no there, there,” I still take a look and feel that ache that although is beginning to heal slowly, is still there. Maybe not as acute as it once was, but still definitely there.

About a month ago I hurt my thumb climbing an old foundation in Lublin to take a photo of a castle. As I hopped down, I heard something go in my thumb and for a frightful few hours worried that I had broken it. Turned out to be nothing more than a sprain, but that pain lingered, much like this heart pain lingers. And although I know time will heal this wound as much as it did my psychosis or my thumb sprain, because this particular pain I feel in my heart, my mind, my lips, my eyes, my stomach, my fingertips, it’s much harder to let it go.

It takes time. Time and patience.


10 lessons learned from a registered dietician

I spent 12 weeks participating in a nutritional study this year. It was a great opportunity to speak directly to a registered dietician and ask her questions about superfoods, fad diets, eating habits, physical activity and healthy living.

There is so much (mis)information available online for the average person to try to make sense out of. How do we lead a healthful life when there is no clear consensus? Where do we go for good standards? I like the Dieticians of Canada and Eat Right Ontario as a good source of information. The Canada Food Guide is also a great place to look for ways to improve your eating habits, as well as the Canadian Diabetes Association.

Here are a few things that I learned through the study that I’ll particularly take with me.

  • There is no recommended daily value of sugar but that doesn’t mean that sugar is a bad thing. My knee jerk reaction earlier this year to finding out how much sugar I consume was to stop eating it all together, but I knew that wasn’t a sustainable practice. Through this study I learned that sugar doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but we need to be conscious about how much added sugar is in our foods, especially the processed stuff.
  • Nutrition facts on the side of the boxes/containers of foods are really important! But it’s also important to remember the context in which you’re going to be consuming food. So if you’re looking at a starch for example a good one should have a higher Daily Value percentage of fibre, for instance, cause fibre is good for your body. The higher processed the food the less fibre it has. But, we learned some surprising facts, like the fact that brown rice only has about 1g more of fibre than regular rice. Talk about marketing, right? Makes me feel better about eating just plain rice instead of going for the brown stuff.
  • Also, a good rule for your daily value percentage: 15% and above can be good or bad, depending on what it’s a value of (fibre vs fat, for instance.)
  • Saturated and trans fats are the ones to avoid. Generally speaking we should stick to plant-based fats. Coconut oil, however, is a saturated fat. When I look at oil now I think of it as little Lego blocks of hydrogen that stick to my insides.
  • When creating a meal, you stick to one-third protein, one-third starch and half a plate full of greens/veggies. This was the first thing we learned in the study and it’s stuck with me the whole way through. Eating this way makes me full! It doesn’t matter what those three components are, as long as you stick to them you just end up feeling full at the end of the meal and I don’t get weird cravings afterwards. (Usually for sugar.)
  • Your body doesn’t recognize liquid calories you consume so you may ingest lots through a protein shake or something but you’ll still feel hungry soon after because it’s not a solid. I don’t drink protein shakes at all so I can’t really confirm this. I can confirm it with something simpler like OJ or a can of pop cause I know it happens with that. Can anyone tell me what it’s like drinking a protein shake and why they do it? I’m curious to know!
  • Your body is a detox machine. You don’t need to go on a detox diet to cleanse your system. This is why we have a liver and two kidneys.
  • Understanding and being mindful of nutrition is one of the best components of keeping a healthy mind. When you don’t eat properly your body begins to react to stress and anxiety in a different way than it would if you had eaten properly. You know, like that Mars bar commercial where your friend turns into Joe Pesci because he’s hangry? Yeah, that’s it exactly. Except don’t reach for a Mars bar, for heaven’s sake. Fruit is awesome and more filling and good for you than processed sugar bars. It also has more fibre. (Fibre’s good. Real good.)
  • Our brains love carbohydrates! Food for thought, huh? So if you remove all carbs from your diet and you find yourself feeling sluggish, guess what? It’s because your brain is not getting enough food. Feed it! Alternatively, too many carbs or simple sugars can crash your brain too cause your brain can’t handle too much at once. So be careful about doing that as well. I’m eating a red velvet muffin from Tim Hortons as I write this and I can already feel my brain starting to slow down cause there’s too much sugar going up in there. Maybe I’ll save the rest of that muffin for later…
  • Cholesterol. There is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Bad cholesterol (HDL) creates plaque in your blood stream that can lead to heart attack or stroke. Good cholesterol (LDL) finds the bad cholesterol and removes it from your blood stream, sends it back to the liver to get cleaned out. Smoking causes a build up of both HDL and triglyceride cholesterol, another bad form of it, that can lead to bad heart health.

I know healthy eating is a constant work-in-progress. (I’m looking at your red velvet muffin.) There’s always ways to improve on what’s been done before and different people have different requirements. The most important thing to note is to listen to your body because you’re the only one who can tell what it’s saying.

Hidden Sugar

Source: Pinterest

Source: Pinterest

Over the last month I’ve been tracking food with an app in an effort to identify key areas I need to improve on my nutrition. My first observation – I’m eating too much sugar and fat.

This is by no means a surprise for me. I have a typical North American diet – meat, carbs and some veg. But I’m putting effort into eating “clean”, non-processed foods. So when I think I’m eating better and I still see the sugar warning pop up I have to wonder why. Now I’m reading nutrition labels and I’m startled to find that nutritious food can also contain sugar.

For instance, the yogurt I eat in the morning with my granola is artificially sweetened. Given that I already add fresh fruit to it, I’ve now switched to plain yogurt. The granola itself is also full of sugar, so my next step is to make my own granola, which is very easy to make according to Pinterest.

Not surprisingly the Internet has a lot of other suggestions on how to avoid or reduce your sugar intake. Several claim that you should quit cold turkey, while others say that you should reduce your sugar intake gradually.

Sounds like kicking an addiction, doesn’t it? There’s debate over whether it is an addictive substance, but from the anecdotal evidence and my own experience in my diet, I lean towards the notion that it is addictive.

While I like the idea of quitting cold turkey, I don’t think it’s a sustainable practice. I know my body is not going to enjoy the first few days of being sugar free and I’m concerned that I won’t be able to make it over that initial hump. Plus, my track record of making a drastic change to my habits is poor. (RIP Spring Streak.) But I know that I am capable of making small incremental steps towards a goal, so I think my best option would be to go that route.

Maybe this is a conversation I should have with my doctor. At least one (only one?) blog post suggests speaking to a professional.

Springstreak! Or, My Health Manifesto

This year I’ve been setting a series of challenges for myself. It’s been a wonderfully successful experiment in learning how much I can take on. For instance, in January, I challenged myself to write 100 days of gratitude in my journal. I’m about to complete those 100 days and I can’t tell you how beneficial it has been to write these things down. Now my journal become a depository for the wonderful things in my life, as opposed to my woes, which it was before. Some entries are as brief as a sentence, but others are two or three pages long. And almost all of them have been about the people in my life–not the things. Isn’t that funny?

After that became a habit in my life, I challenged myself to give up chocolate for Lent. I’ve never successfully given anything up for the 40 days and nights before Easter, partly because I never set the challenge for myself, and partly because the one time I did it quickly fell apart. Not this time. I last 40 days and nights! In fact, I lasted 41 days and nights because I didn’t realize that Lent was over the Thursday before the Easter weekend and I ended up caving on Saturday (after checking when Lent was over!) The reason it worked was because I told people about it and they kept me honest!

Now that I know I can deal with both self-denial in small form and creating a habit, I challenged myself to a spring runstreak. I tried it in early winter when a friend introduced me to the concept, but I quickly lost momentum when the weather got too cold and I wasn’t able to transition to a gym or get warmer clothing, so I decided I needed to try again in the spring when things began to warm up.

So here I am. I’ve challenged myself to run at least 1 mile per day. However, the challenge has somewhat morphed since I made it. Some days I just can’t get a full run in because I don’t have the time. Also, my body is not used to this much exercise and I don’t want to injure myself. So I’ve given myself permission to include other forms of exercises into the challenge. This is why it’s called a “Springstreak” now instead of a run streak. The goal is still 1 mile a day, but if I can do something else I’ll do that as well. So far I’ve incorporated long distance walks and yoga into the mix.

The goal here is not to say I ran the mile. The goal is to get my body moving again. If I were a more analytical person I would say the goal is to run the mile so I can track the time, the calories burned and the speed. Which I do. But it’s not the only thing that’s important to me.

The first week was difficult. I spent the entire week in pain. But this week I’ve woken up with fresh muscles that are not in pain. Which means the hard part is over and now I can actually concentrate on getting better at exercising. The initial go of it is always difficult because your body is not used to the movement and it protests the sudden activity. Or rather it tells you that it’s not used to the movement and tells you what parts have recently been put into action.

And as I’ve begun doing this I’ve developed a few more goals for myself to help me move past the initial 30 days (which ends on the May 2-4 weekend. See, I plan these things very well.)

Lose Weight

I’d like to lose thirty pounds this year. It’s a big number, but I’m giving myself until November, which is about when I’ll stop running outside. So when I break that down it becomes four pounds per month. A little more reasonable, right? And, again, I’m not being a fascist about this. This is a goal I’m working towards.

Gain Flexibility

The reason I’ve incorporated yoga as well is because I’m stiff. I need stretching out and yoga is the best practice for it. Luckily, I found a very good class in my neighborhood that I’m actually looking forward to taking! So that will help me in the long run as well.

Maintain My Health

My father’s illness and death last year made me take a really long, hard look at how I was treating my body and how I could do a better job of it. I spent the last two years largely ignoring huge swaths of my life trying to maintain my sanity and when even that went out the window I knew that this was because I wasn’t taking care of myself as a whole. So now I pay more attention to these things and I know part of what becoming a more active person means is that I will stay healthier for longer. My dad died way too young and that’s not a fate I wish to go through, so this is me saying my health is important to me.

A study published by Dr. Gail Matthews of the Dominican University of California confirmed that when you write down your goals and you share them with your friends you are more likely to accomplish them than if you were to just think about them. So I’m sharing these with you, friends. Got any goals you wish to share with me?