Is Caffeine Healthy? Does Caffeine Have Health Risks?

Is Caffeine Healthy? Does Caffeine Have Health Risks?

Victoria BC Dietitian (Dietician Nutritionist) Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD Shares the Science Evidence to Answer Is Caffeine Healthy? Does Caffeine Have Health Risks (Adults, Teens and Kids)

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Eat Vegetables First

eat-vegetables-first

Usually I write my blogs with tips and advice for parents. But I know that there are a lot of Early Childhood Educators, daycare providers, nannies, and other important caregivers in our community. Today’s message is for you.

The other day, I received an email from a parent who has influenced her children to be good eaters by using the techniques that I share here. Her email was simply entitled “rant”. Here’s what this frustrated mama said about her experience with her daughter’s first month in kindergarten:


“Petunia’s* old daycare would always dictate what she was allowed to eat out of her lunch kit and in what order. Fruit/veggies, then sandwich, then yogurt… don’t send cookies.

AND NOW I’M HAVING ISSUES WITH HER AT KINDERGARTEN

So of course, she’s not eating any of her multiple fruit/veggie options. Not even when I cut the peel off the apple and provide caramel (cream cheese) dip for them after she’s agreed that that is how she would like to eat them.

I asked daycare over and over again to stop dictating her lunch choices. Petunia has declared kindergarten awesome because she can eat whatever she wants.”

* Name changed for privacy.


I wish that this was an isolated incident. But it’s by far not the only time that a parent has expressed their frustration with me. I knew that I needed to share it with you, so you could see the unintended consequence of your actions.

It’s only with good intentions that early childhood caregivers ask kids to eat their veggies first. You care about kids – otherwise this wouldn’t be your profession. You want kids to get the nutrition from the veggies.

Unfortunately, you’re having the opposite effect than you intended.

Forcing kids to eat veggies first only reinforces that veggies are something awful. Something that you need to get over with so that you can get to the shiny prize of the treats. The consequence is that when kids no longer have a gatekeeper around, and they can make their own food choices, they go after the forbidden foods and ignore the forced foods.

That’s what’s happening with Petunia now. At Kindergarten there is no adult gatekeeper making her eat her veggies and fruit. So she isn’t.

I know that you’re choosing your actions because you want kids to eat their veggies. But you’re actually teaching them to NOT choose to eat veggies. Oops.

For those of you working in licenced facilities here in BC, I have another reason for you to re-consider your actions. The regulations state:

48. (4) “A licensee must ensure that children are not
(b) forced to consume any food or drink,”

By dictating in what order kids must eat their meal, you are forcing kids; therefore, you are breaking the regulations.

What to do instead?

  • Allow kids to eat whatever they want, in whatever order they want, from the foods that were packed for them.
  • Incorporate vegetables and fruit into your curriculum.
  • Organize activities that involve veggies and fruit.
  • Eat with children at meals and snacks. Role model eating your veggies.

Communicate with parent about what veggies/ fruits were eaten each day so that parents can plan meals and snacks at home to create balanced nutrition throughout the day.

Get more successful tips for teaching kids nutrition. Sign-up for my e-newsletter today.

Should I Take a Probiotic?

should-i-take-a-probiotic

You asked me to cover probiotics. And sure, I know about probiotics. But instead of listening to me, I decided to reach out to a true, leading expert in probiotics. I'm proud to call Desiree Nielsen a friend. And, I can tell you that probiotics and gut health are her jams. She's who I turn to for keeping up on this topic that the scientific community is rapidly learning about. So, I wanted to share her directly with you. Just like me, she gives you the real goods. Enjoy this interview!  And, if you want more of Desiree, check out her show Urban Vegetarian playing on Gusto TV!

Should Parents Be Giving Kids Probiotics?

If a child was born naturally and breastfed, eats a healthy diet and has no health issues, they may not need a probiotic daily. Of course, probiotics are a great choice when the time is right: the literature shows that probiotics may be helpful during cold and flu season to prevent respiratory infection or to prevent traveller’s diarrhea.

In addition, there are certain health concerns that are a clear indication for the use of probiotics daily such as colic, infectious diarrhea or tummy troubles like reflux or irritable bowel syndrome.

Should Us Adults Take Probiotics?

I always tend to err on the light side of supplementation but as adults, there are many reasons why a probiotic may be an excellent idea. Any chronic digestive or inflammatory concern, from IBS to eczema, is worth a three month trial of a clinical strength probiotic to assess improvement. If a probiotic works, you will feel it. I cannot tell you how often I have talked to someone who has been taking a probiotic for years with no result and when they make the right switch, they are shocked by how much better they feel. They can be taken therapeutically and discontinued when you improve…but for those with chronic concerns, I recommend continuing daily as part of lifestyle management.

Probiotics are also helpful on an 'as needed' basis for everything from recovering from food poisoning, prevention of side effects from antibiotics use and as a boost during cold and flu season. They are a great, natural remedy in the wellness toolkit.

For those who tend towards an ‘insurance’ mindset in supplementation, a small daily dose of an effective probiotic certainly doesn’t hurt and you may find an improvement in your day-to-day wellbeing.

What is the Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that are part of the natural human microflora…and prebiotics help them thrive. Not too long ago, we would have said that prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates such as inulin. The low FODMAP diet for IBS works by drastically reducing these prebiotic compounds to alter fermentation in the gut.

However, the definition of a prebiotic is changing and it is thought that a whole host of compounds, from plant polyphenols to even the diabetes medication metformin, may help boost the growth of beneficial microbes.

Can We Get Probiotics from Fermented Foods, e.g. Yogurt? Or, Do We Need to Take Them as a Supplement?

Fermented foods are produced thanks to beneficial microbes…but not all fermented foods may contain truly probiotic microbes. This takes a bit of explanation: the definition of a probiotic is ‘a live microorganism, which when administered in adequate amounts, confers a health benefit on the host.”

So the issue with fermented foods is that in the fermentation, many of the microbes may die or there might not be sufficient amounts to actually have an effect. The research on fermented foods is surprisingly spotty, with kimchi and yogurt being two of the standouts. But the average yogurt contains about 1 billion live bacteria at manufacture (which may not be alive when you eat them) whereas most supplemental probiotics are in the tens of billions.

Eat fermented foods daily as part of a healthy diet…take a supplement when you need extra help.

What Should Someone Look for in a Supplement? There Are so Many Available, How Do You Choose?

It’s a tough call; in my mind, the only probiotics that someone should consider are those with high level evidence to support their use. They are very few in number and you can find them on a very helpful website called www.probioticchart.ca - choose one of the brands with level 1 or 2 evidence. Then, the decision becomes a lot easier. We can spend so much money on supplements but if they aren’t effective, we are better off spending our money on healthy food!

In general, good quality probiotics have enteric coated capsules (with a couple of exceptions for fresh or powdered formulas) with a minimum of 10 billion live active cells, guaranteed to a clearly marked expiry date.

Who is Desiree Nielsen? Bio:

Desiree-Nielsen-registered-dietitian

Desiree Nielsen is a dietitian based in Vancouver, Canada. She is the author of Un-Junk Your Diet: How to shop, cook and eat to fight inflammation and feel better, forever! and the host of Urban Vegetarian, a cooking show on Gusto TV. Passionate about integrative therapeutic approaches to nutrition, Desiree maintains a nutrition practice, with a focus on digestive health, plant-based diets and anti-inflammatory nutrition. Her new app, MyHealthyGut is an evidence-based resource for those looking to improve their digestive health.

Should I Take a Multivitamin?

should-i-take-a-multivitamin

I write this blog to be of service to you. So I love it when readers write in with topic ideas. What’s on your mind that I can answer? I want to thank the community member who asked me to address: should I take a multivitamin. Here’s what I think about multivitamins.

First I need to tell you that when it comes to nutrition, one size doesn’t fit all. We each have different nutrition needs – based on our sex, age, physical activity, health concerns, etc. And, our eating habits vary widely. That’s why for my 40 Days to a Happy, Healthy You weight loss program, the first thing I do is a nutrition assessment of you. It’s from the results of my nutrition assessment that I create your individual action plan. So, without doing an individual nutrition assessment, I can’t really answer whether you, specifically as an individual you, should take a multivitamin.

However, I can share my thoughts on multivitamins for adults in general for you to consider.

I do recommend a daily multivitamin if you’re a woman of childbearing age.

Who is that? Girls and women from first period to last period. The reason is that it’s estimated that 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. Also, the risk of spina bifida is greatly reduced (although not 100% preventable) when women take 400 micrograms of folic acid (also called folate) in those first few days of pregnancy (i.e. before most women know that they’re pregnant). An unplanned pregnancy can be stressful enough. An unplanned pregnancy with a child who has a significant medical condition that could have been prevented – significantly more stressful. Even if you don’t ever get pregnant, folate is a B-vitamin that’s good for our own health too.

Sure, you could take folate on it’s own. But multivitamins designed for women under 50 will have 400 micrograms of folic acid in them. Getting some extra vitamins and minerals (e.g. iron, calcium) along with your folic acid is probably a good thing.

I do recommend a daily multivitamin for women and men 50 and up.

Why? For the vitamin B12. At first, low B12 causes you to feel tired, lethargic, dragging. Often people think that they may be feeling this way because they have low iron. But it’s rare for men to have low iron. And, it’s rare for women who aren’t menstruating to have low iron. If your vitamin B12 levels get even lower, it causes permanent cognitive impairment. Let me repeat and clarify that. If your B12 levels get too low, you get memory loss that doesn’t return even if you raise your B12 levels back up again. Yikes! Why the concern after 50 years old? After 50, many of us have a decreased ability to absorb the vitamin B12 that we get through food. This is particularly true if you take medications for acid reflux (heart burn), and is a side-effect of a number of other medications. Getting vitamin B12 in the form of a supplement doesn’t require the same stomach function as vitamin B12 through food. We don’t have recommendations on how much you should get in a supplement. It’s somewhere around 2.4 micrograms daily.

Sure, you could take vitamin B12 on it’s own. Some people choose to get vitamin B12 shots (injections). But multivitamins designed for adults 50+ have vitamin B12 in them. Getting some extra vitamins and minerals (e.g. calcium) along with your vitamin B12 is probably a good thing.

What if I’m not in those two groups?

Then I don’t have strong feelings either way about whether you should take a multivitamin.

Want to know more about what vitamins you, as an individual, should take? Check out my Individual Nutritional Assessment Service (including individual action plan) today.

Don't Monitor Your Body

dont-monitor-your-body

Ok, I admit that I’ve been procrastinating on writing this post for a couple of weeks now. I feel compelled to address this topic. Because it’s absolutely fundamental to being healthy. To having a healthy relationship with food, a healthy relationship with your body, being a healthy eater.

It’s something that I know as truth. But I’m struggling to articulate the concept clearly. I’ve been procrastinating until I have the perfect words to express it. Did you notice that I didn’t send you a message last week? Yup, I was deep in procrastination.

Why am I procrastinating so badly? Because it’s such an important concept that I want to communicate it clearly and you’ll understand completely.

The perfect words have not revealed themselves to me. Yet. However, I feel compelled to act. I can no longer keep this concept to myself. Or, shall I more accurately say, keep this concept between myself and the clients who work with me one-to-one in my 40 Days to a Happy, Healthy You program.

So here I go with my attempt to communicate this truth with you. And what I’ve decided to do is share with you, each Friday on Facebook, others who I see are walking on this path too. For clarification. For inspiration. Because maybe I don’t have the perfect words to express this to you. Maybe one of these other folks will create the “ah-ha” moment for you.

So what’s this concept that has me so worked up that my perfectionistic tendencies have me paralyzed?

Experience your body. Don’t observe it.

As women in our culture, we’re so disconnected from our bodies. We’re taught that our bodies are something to observe, to monitor, to control. How do we know what our bodies are doing? We weigh ourselves on a scale. We look at ourselves in a mirror. We read the labels on our clothes to see what the size is. We write down what we eat (on paper or in an app). We wear trackers to count our steps, to record our heart rate.

NO! Our bodies are our selves. They aren’t something separate from us. They ARE us. Mind-BODY-soul, that’s what makes a human being. Okay, you may not believe in souls, but the mind and body are still there. How can we know what our bodies are doing? We’re aware while we’re doing it. We feel emotions. We feel sensations. The concept of mindfulness captures this, except it’s named badly. Because I want you to get out of your mind and connect with your body. Perhaps it should be called “experience-fulness”.

Want to see “experience-fulness” in action? Watch a baby dance to music. They aren’t thinking “step left, step right, I know my body will look attractive if I bend in this direction”. They aren’t thinking at all. They’re feeling the music, experiencing the music, enjoying the music, and their body responds.

Consider the flip-side that I see so often when working with women.

When I’m working with women, the hardest things for them to do is to stop weighing themselves every day and stop writing down what they eat every day. They hold on to these so tightly because how else will they know if they’re being “good”, doing the “right” thing? The answer is so obvious, yet so different from what we’ve been trained to do. Take the actions that I’ve given them in their action plan. If they did them (i.e. experienced it), then they’ll know that they were “good”, did the “right” thing. The action-taking, the experience, is the proof – not some monitor.

Or, take for example the phrase that I hear women say so often: “I forgot to eat today.” NO! Eating isn’t a cognitive thing. Remembering to pick up the dry cleaning is a cognitive thing. You can forget to pick up the dry cleaning. You body sends you the feeling of being hungry to stimulate you to eat. You can’t forget to eat. You can disconnect yourself from your body’s sensations and not eat.

Liberate yourself from the shackles of monitoring your body to experience the joy of health.

P.S. Join me in Facebook for inspiration.

Remove this Sentence to Keep Away Your Diet Self-Saboteur

keep away your diet self-saboteur

Okay, fair warning. It’s rant time. I’ve got something stuck in my craw again and I’m throwing off my sunshine & rainbows positivity hat and going deep.

There’s a sentence that I hear people say when they’re talking about food. People say it all the time. But just because people say it frequently, it doesn’t mean that it’s true.

So, what’s this phrase that has me all hot and bothered?

“I can’t have that.”

Unless you have a serious food allergy and will go in to analphyactic shock, you can eat a food. But you may choose not to eat it.

If you’re vegan, you choose not to eat animal products because of your ethics. If you are Jewish, you may choose to eat kosher because of your faith. If you have food sensitivities, you choose to avoid eating those foods because you are choosing to avoid the symptoms that they cause. If you are on a diet/cleanse/meal plan that doesn’t allow certain foods, you are choosing to follow that diet/cleanse/meal plan.

Why am I going on and on about something that just seems like minor semantics? Because the way we think about food, also called our relationship with food, can either help us be healthy or it can work against us. Changing “can’t” into “choose” is one path to creating a healthy relationship with food.

There are two reasons why saying “I can’t have that” works against you:

  1. We’re all rebels. Making something taboo, off limits, a ‘can’t-have’ naturally drives us towards it. There’s nothing to make you want to eat ice cream more than to say that you’ll never eat it again. Saying, “no thank you, I don’t choose to have ice cream today” doesn’t trigger your inner self-saboteur in the same way.
  2. Be active in your life. “I choose” is active language. It’s empowering – you’ve made a choice. It re-confirms a commitment that you’ve made. In contrast, “I can’t” is victim language. Something is being done to you. As an adult, you have the power to choose what you eat and when you eat it. Don’t give away your power. You can turn to experts to give you advice on what to eat, but the ultimate choice, responsibility, power, remains with you. Foster this power. Each time you say “I choose _______” you are reinforcing your power.

With your newly opened eyes (and ears), read the two responses in the following scenario. Even better, read them aloud. Can you hear the difference? Can you feel the difference?

Scenario: Someone offers you a tray of cookies.

You respond: “No thank you. I’m choosing to eat less sugar.”

versus

“I’d love a cookie but I can’t have one.”

Keep away your diet self-saboteur – remove “I can’t” from your lexicon.

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Choose Food for What IS in It

choose food for what is in it

Choosing food for what isn’t in it has been the gateway to a whole lot of ridiculous food trends. I’m old enough to remember when everyone was talking about avoiding eating cholesterol. Like weeds, up sprung “cholesterol-free” labels on all sorts of foods in the grocery store. Highly processed foods like cookies, crackers, sugary breakfast cereals all had “cholesterol-free” emblazoned across them. People heard that cholesterol meant heart attacks so choosing low-cholesterol foods must be healthy choices. Right? Boy were people wrong. These foods were just as unhealthy as they were before they were marked with “cholesterol-free”. What’s worse, is that many people were happily scarfing down huge portions of these foods because they were cholesterol-free.

An example of this type of thinking/ behaviour: before, I might have had a couple of handfuls of potato chips but now I can eat an entire large bag because they’re cholesterol-free.

It sounds ridiculous when I break it down this way but it was happening. A lot. A particularly amusing label that I remember was bananas sporting “cholesterol-free” stickers. Why is this amusing? Because cholesterol is a fat made by some animals. That’s why it’s found in red meat…and us. Bananas, are a fruit (not an animal). They never did contain cholesterol. Bananas hadn’t changed. But here they were now labeled “cholesterol-free” and people were flocking to them.

I’m seeing this now with the gluten-free trend. “Gluten-free” is announced across all sorts of foods. Many of which never contained any gluten in the first place (thus, like bananas and cholesterol). These foods range from healthy choices to unhealthy choices. People are choosing them because “gluten-free” now equals “healthy” in many people’s minds. But the presence or absence of gluten has nothing to do with it. A chocolate cupcake isn’t a healthy choice suddenly because it’s gluten-free. It’s still a treat to be enjoyed once in a while – not by the dozen.

I’m not commenting on whether eating cholesterol was healthy or unhealthy. Nor whether people should eat or avoid gluten. That’s completely beside that point. What I want to draw your attention to is that when you choose foods for what isn’t in them, you leave yourself at risk for falling for these marketing traps.

Instead I want you to turn it completely upside down. Choose food for what IS in it. Your body needs to be nourished. You need to fuel it with good food and all the vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants, energy and other nutrients that it needs. Make most of what you eat be foods close to the way that Mother Nature made them (i.e. minimally processed) where all the good stuff hasn’t been removed through processing. Sometimes enjoy foods that you eat solely for pleasure.

Respect food for what it can offer. Respect your body and feed it well. Yes, in a world where we’re almost constantly told to hate our bodies, this act of choosing to nourish yourself can feel like a small act of rebellion. And so, I say it again:

Choose food for what IS in it. You’re worth it.

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Why I Don’t Believe in Cheat Days

Why-I-Dont-Believe-in-Cheat-Days

If we’ve been connected for a while, you’ll know that I prefer to be positive. I talk about the things I want you to do more of, eat more of, instead of the things I want you to cut out of your diet. But every once in a while something gets stuck in my craw and I feel the need to speak out about it. Loudly. Rant-style. The ubiquitous concept of cheat days is one of these things that cause me to want to scream from the rooftops. So here I go…

I’m completely against cheat days. Let me repeat that because I feel so strongly about it. Completely. Against. Cheat days. Cheat days set us up to have a negative relationship with food. I’ve found that the secret to achieving, and keeping, your happy weight is to first create a healthy relationship with food. Then the weight loss will follow. Cheat days take you further away from your goal of a healthy weight and feeling happy about your body.

First, let’s look at the term ‘cheat days’. ‘Cheat’ implies that you’ve done something wrong. Cheating on a test is wrong. Cheating on your spouse is wrong. Who, or what, are you cheating on when having a ‘cheat’ day? On your diet? A diet’s purpose is to serve you – not for you be loyal to it.

Most people go on a diet to be healthy. I’ve got some excellent news for you – to be healthy we don’t need to follow a diet where every single morsel of food serves only to supply essential nutrients to your body. True health means having a healthy mind and a healthy body. A truly healthy diet meets your body’s need for nutrients AND you enjoy the pleasure that food can provide AND you feel connected to family and culture. Each of these three factors is equally important. To eat in a way that promotes a healthy mind and body, you need to be able to balance these three factors. That balance will look different from one day to the next. Some days you’ll put more focus on giving your body healthy fuel. Some days you’ll put more focus on enjoying food for pleasure. You could say that this looks like cheat days. What you eat may look the same. But the psychology behind it is completely different.

That psychological difference is really important. True health means having a healthy body and a healthy mind. It’s simply not healthy if you eat in a way that supports your body to be healthy but you’re filled with thoughts about self-deprivation regarding food followed by guilt and shame when you eat something for pleasure. I was very happy when the medical world recognized the extreme end of this as an eating disorder and called it orthorexia. However, research shows that this is a continuum. And, most women in North America are somewhere along the unhealthy end of the continuum. And just because it’s ‘normal’ to have a complicated, negative relationship with food and your body, it doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. Nor, that life has to be this way.

In summary, don’t have cheat days. Instead, on some days, choose food for pleasure and connection to family and culture instead of its nutrients. Ditch the guilt and negativity associated with “cheating”. Heal your relationship with food, and your weight loss will follow.

Start Your Day by Setting an Intention

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In a podcast that I was listening to recently, the speaker suggested starting each day by setting an intention for the day. I’ve been doing it myself and LOVING it. The rest of the day, when I’m making choices about what I get up to, I think back on my intention and decide if my action would fit with that day’s intention or go against my intention.

This idea is amazingly simple and easy to do. When your alarm rings in the morning, before you get out of bed, before you check your phone, or check on your kids, or whatever else you do, take a moment to set an intention for the day. Complete this statement: My intention for today is _______________________.

Here’s why I’m recommending it to you. Most of our day is spent racing from activity to activity. Especially us women. We spend the entire day taking care of others. Being a mother, sister, friend, employee, boss, volunteer, etc. It’s incredibly valuable to have the very first thing you do in a day be something you do for you. You’re signalling to yourself that you’re putting ‘you’ on the agenda. The chronic stress that is our modern reality runs havoc on our hormones, leading to cravings and weight gain. Taking this brief moment is a powerful way to wait a beat before that stressful day starts.

To combat the chronic stress (and the impact on their hormones), I always ask clients who participate in my 40 Days to a Happy Healthy You program, to integrate brief mindfulness practices into their day – a brief daily practice and evening practice. I’ll be adding a morning intention-setting practice to their action plans from now on so that they can get the benefits. Why not start your intention-setting practice tomorrow so that you can start experiencing the benefits?

Do You Feel Uncomfortable Just Eating?

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Does it happen to you that, every once in a while, you hear a sentence that causes you to have a big AH-HA moment? Well, it happened to me last week. 1300 dietitians and I were attending the International Congress of Dietetics. In one session the presenter asked us in the audience: “Do you feel uncomfortable just eating?” Of all the hours of presentations that I heard last week, it is this question, this sentence, which is stuck in my head.

In the moment that the presenter asked me the question, I gave the knee-jerk response of “no”. Now upon further reflection I realize that I wasn’t telling myself the truth. It was my knee-jerk response because it was the ‘right’ answer. The socially-acceptable answer, at least in the social context of a group of 1300 dietitians.

But upon further reflection, I realize that my real answer is “yes”. If I am eating alone, I do feel uncomfortable ‘just’ eating. As in, eating without doing anything else simultaneously. I’ve long been a believer in stopping work to take a meal break. As a rule I don’t work on my computer while eating. And, I love to entertain. While some find a dinner party to be a source of stress, I truly love feeding people. The trouble comes when I’m alone. I’ve been divorced for over 5 years now. For the first few years, I filled the lonely silence at meals with the TV (well, Netflix on my laptop to be precise). More recently I’ve weaned myself off of the TV at breakfast and lunch. But I do usually read something while I eat dinner – magazines, novels, research articles, etc. and occasionally I watch Netflix. Something to distract myself from being totally mindful when eating.

This admission is a little bit risky because I teach mindfulness with my clients. But if you’ve been with me for a while, you know that I believe in being transparent. So I felt compelled to share my experience with you. Perhaps it is this very incongruence that made the question stick in my mind. I know that you don’t expect me to be perfect. But I really should practice what I preach. When the presenter asked the question, she shone a spotlight on my blind spot.

If I get nothing else out of the International Congress, I will consider it a week well spent. Why? Because I am taking the next two weeks of my trip to implement this change; I am committing to 'just' eating.

Now it’s my turn to ask you:

Do you feel uncomfortable ‘just’ eating?

If so, I encourage you to join me in closing the book, turning off the screen, and tuning in to your food. Eat mindfully. Become comfortable ‘just’ eating.

Your Health is like a Bank Account

piggy bank

Today’s post is inspired by a conversation that I had with a client over the weekend. It’s a conversation that I have with most clients. We women tend to hold ourselves to a very high standard. There can be a good side of this; it helps us strive towards excellence. And, there can be a downside of this; being very hard on ourselves when we don’t live up to our expectations.

When applied to our relationship with food, I call it the dieting mentality. Going on a diet means that starting XX day, I’ll eat “perfectly” according to [insert name of plan]. I’ll never again eat sugar, highly processed foods, caffeine, [insert “bad” food]. Which sounds good. Except that life gets in the way. We get busy. We get stressed out. We get invited to a party. The holiday season arrives. Inevitably we eat the “bad” food. And, we slip back into our old habits. What follows? Our negative self-talk. We scold ourselves for misbehaving. We blame ourselves for not having the strength to stick to our new diet.

If this sounds familiar, I have some very, very good news for you. Being healthy doesn’t require us to eat “perfectly”. This dieting mentality has got it all wrong. Our bodies are amazing. They’re designed to be forgiving; to operate well even without the perfect fuel every day.

Here’s the analogy that I like to use to explain this phenomenon:

Our health is like a bank account. Every healthy meal and snack that we eat is like depositing money in a bank account. The more healthy choices you make, the more your bank balance increases.

There will also be days and weeks where you don’t make healthy choices – where you make withdrawals. If your typical eating habits are healthy, you have a big balance and it’s okay to take some withdrawals because your bank balance can take it. When life returns back to normal, you can start depositing money back into your account and build your bank balance back up again.

But, if your daily eating habits aren’t healthy, then your bank balance is near zero. When the crazy stressful times come, you don’t have much to draw from and soon you’ll be in overdraft. You’ll experience negative health consequences. You’ll be running on empty.

I hope that you can see how different this concept of healthy eating is versus the dieting mentality. The bank account mentality assumes that you’ll have times when you’ll eat unhealthy. Eating unhealthy isn’t “failure”; it’s a normal part of life. As such, there’s no need to be hard on yourself, to feel shame, to feel guilt. Instead, it’s an opportunity to be grateful – to recognize and congratulate yourself for building up your bank account to carry you through the stressful time. And, to be amazed at how resilient our bodies are.

Free yourself from the perfectionistic fear of food. Enjoy the journey of making deposits and withdrawals from your health bank account.

NGC*: Sleep

sleep

Today I’m coming to you with some news that I know you’ll like. Which is a treat for me because usually I’m the bearer of bad news – telling you to eat less sugar, drink less alcohol, etc. Today I’m not telling you to do less of something enjoyable. I’m telling you to do more of something enjoyable.

I want you to get more sleep.

The old advice in the weight loss world was no pain no gain. Get up earlier or stay up later so that you could hit the gym.

That old advice jut doesn’t hold up anymore. There is an ever-growing body of research that shows how important adequate sleep is for a healthy weight. Or, to be more accurate, the research is showing that chronic sleep deprivation contributes to weight gain.

So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. We brag about being tired and wear being “busy” as a badge of honour. I believe this needs to stop.

Chronic sleep deprivation means getting less than 7-8 hours of good-quality sleep for at least a few days in a row. Note that there are a few important points in my last sentence. First: the amount of sleep, 7-8 hours. Second: that it takes only a few days in a row to be considered sleep deprived (not the weeks, months, years that I know many of you experience). Third: the quality of sleep is as important as the number of hours.

What affects quality of sleep? Two things that often are overlooked are alcohol and sleep apnea. Yes, it’s true that having a couple of drinks can help you fall asleep. But alcohol interferes with the natural brain patterns during sleep. The result is poor quality sleep. Want to wake up feeling refreshed? Skip the alcohol the night before.

Sleep apnea negatively impacts the quality of your sleep. Sleep apnea and weight have a vicious cycle. Being overweight increases sleep apnea and sleep apnea increases weight gain. I always look for any suspicion of sleep apnea when starting with a client because I know that if there is unaddressed sleep apnea, we can change the client’s eating all we want and we won’t see much change in weight.

How does inadequate (either not enough or poor quality) sleep cause weight gain? There are several ways that the research is finding:

  • Opportunity to Eat. When you are awake longer, you have more time to eat. This is especially impactful if you get the evening munchies. Staying up later means more opportunity to munch away.
  • Craving Pleasure. Sleep deprivation lowers the chemicals in our brain’s pleasure centre. Our brain sends us strong signals to raise these chemicals back up again. The foods that raise these chemicals? Highly processed high sugar, high fat, high salt foods – i.e. “junk food”.
  • Slower Metabolism. There is evidence that being sleep deprived slows down our metabolism. So even if we were eating the same amount of food as if we were well-slept, we’d still get weight gain.
  • Recently a study caught my eye. Now this involved only a small handful of people. So I’d call it preliminary – not enough evidence that I’d put a lot of trust in it yet. But it was interesting nevertheless. In this study they found that having only 4.5 hours of sleep for several nights in a row stimulated the same chemical pathway in the subjects’ brains as is stimulated when you smoke marijuana. Yes, being sleep deprived gave these study participants the munchies.

So what to do? Make getting 7 – 8 hours of sleep a priority. What can you let go of to make this happen? Perhaps it’s turning off that evening Netflix. Maybe it’s hiring a house cleaner or gardener so you have fewer chores. And, if you routinely get 7 – 8 hours of sleep but you still wake up feeling exhausted, skip the daily glass (or two) of wine or ask your doctor for a referral for sleep apnea screening.

*A Nutrition Game Changer (NGC) is a food or habit that has made a big impact on the nutritional health of clients I’ve worked with. And, in my life too. Some may call these nutrition hacks. But I'm not a fan of that phrase. I share one NGC each month.

3 Simple Steps to Make Healthy Eating Your Reality

make healthy eating your reality

In our super-busy lives, eating can be way off our radar. You eat on the run, grabbing whatever, whenever and shoving it in your face as you answer emails, drive, work at your computer, etc. Does this sound familiar? Have you been trying to eat better but can’t seem to make it happen? It’s time to make eating a priority. Or, as Ellyn Satter (a dietitian whose work forms the foundation of my own) says:

Make Healthy Eating Your Reality: “Feed yourself faithfully.

This, I agree with Ellyn, is step #1 to healthy eating. Before you change a single thing that you put in your mouth, the first thing that you need to do is make feeding yourself a priority. It’s only by fluke that we achieve anything that we don’t make a priority.

If you want to make healthy eating your reality, day-to-day, , and not just a fluke, here are the 3 simple steps to take:

  1. Break out your calendar. Schedule in time to eat 3 meals and an afternoon snack. Schedule it every single day. Yes, actually book the time in your calendar.
  2. Schedule in time for grocery shopping and meal prep. Want to be an “A” student? Schedule a time for weekly meal planning.
  3. This is the tricky step. The step that is key to making healthy eating your reality. Don’t schedule other activities during your eating times. If you regularly bump eating for other priorities, you’ll end up in the frustration of eating well for a few days and then slipping back into unhealthy habits.

What if you can’t avoid occasionally breaking the rule in step #3? Make it a true double-booking (and not a substitution). Make that meeting a lunch date and choose a restaurant with healthy menu choices. Have a weekly mid-afternoon staff meeting? Propose that team members take turns bringing a healthy snack for everyone. Is your morning commute lengthy? Schedule time on the weekend to shop for and prep ingredients for healthy smoothies. Portion ingredients into individual baggies and freeze. Or, the night before, prepare overnight oats and enjoy your breakfast when you arrive at your desk.

Feeding yourself faithfully is the key to making healthy eating your reality. Your calendar is an essential tool to make it happen.

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Join Me in Trying Something New

bamboo

Today’s post is inspired by my experience with a dietetic intern last week. A little background: to become a dietitian, you get an undergraduate degree in dietetics and do a 1-year internship where you shadow dietitians in the many places that we work. I’m always excited when interns ask if they can spend time with me. I’m happy to share my perspective with them, and I always learn something from them in return. The intern who shadowed me last week is from Saskatchewan. She has only visited the coast briefly before but she wants to move here. So, in addition to sharing my perspective on our profession, I was sharing aspects of our west coast culture with her. Including food.

The fantastic news is that she jumped right in to the experience and tried all sorts of new foods. Foods that I take for granted but were new to her. What did she try? Oysters, candied salmon, tempeh, deep fried pickles, and several dishes at a raw food restaurant. Okay, maybe the deep fried pickles aren’t a part of my repertoire. But the rest are my regular fare.

Her enthusiasm made me look in my own fridge and cupboards. When was the last time that I tried a new food? I honestly can’t remember. Oops, looks like I’ve been stuck in a rut.

Now, it’s your turn. When was the last time that you tried a new food?

Why do I care? Because variety is more than the spice of life. It’s a key to healthy eating. We human beings aren’t pandas – existing solely on bamboo shoots. No single food provides all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that we need. We need a wide variety of foods. The wider the better.

This month I’m going to try new things. Maybe new foods. Maybe new dishes whose ingredients are familiar to me. It’s time to get out of my rut.

Are you with me?

P.S. Would you like a little inspiration? Each week on Facebook I do “What’s This Wednesday” where I post a veggie or fruit and start a conversation on favourite ways to prepare/ eat it. I also post a recipe board on Pinterest with all sorts of ideas.

NGC: No Sugar at Breakfast

no sugar at breakfast

This month’s nutrition game changer (NGC)* relates to breakfast. While I may not agree with the common sentiment that breakfast is the most important meal of the day (they’re all equally important), I have found that getting breakfast right can set you up for good energy all day. On the flip side, a couple of commonly-made breakfast mistakes can set you up for a day of cravings.

I’ve found that having a sugary breakfast can set you up to ride the blood sugar roller coaster all day long. By blood sugar roller coaster, I mean having your blood sugar spike after breakfast to subsequently cash making you crave sugar. After you eat the mid-morning donuts your blood sugar will spike and then crash again by lunch. And, again and again all day long.

I learned this one personally. While I always ate breakfast, for many years my breakfast of choice was toast with butter and jam and some fruit. I craved those donuts mid-morning, and other sugary treats all day long. I simply blamed it on my sweet tooth. When I switched up my breakfast to some plain yogurt with fruit, I noticed that I my sugar cravings decreased the whole day. I’ve continued to evolve my breakfast to be overnight oats, topped with nuts or seeds and fruit and I have fantastic energy all day long. Sure, I still enjoy something sweet most days. But it’s by choice. I’m not feeling controlled by my cravings.

Subsequently, I’ve found that I’m not the only one for whom this is an effective strategy. Decreasing the sugar (with a goal of completely removing the added sugar) at breakfast is something that I recommend for almost all of my clients. It consistently results in reduced cravings all day long.

To clarify, I’m talking about added sugars – not the natural sugar found in fruit. Added sugar is found in many seemingly-healthy breakfast cereals, in jam, in “fruit” yogurt, and when you add it to your coffee or tea.

Now if we’ve been connected for a while you’ll know that I’m not an anti-sugar hardliner (check out my “Why I’m Anti-Anti-Sugar” post). Healthy eating certainly can include the pleasure of sweets. I recommend enjoying them later in the day so that they don’t cause you day-long cravings.

*A Nutrition Game Changer (NGC) is a food or habit that has made a big impact on the nutritional health of clients I’ve worked with. And, in my life too. Some may call these nutrition hacks. But I'm not a fan of that phrase. I share one NGC each month.

Curious about how I can help you achieve your health and nutrition goals? Schedule a (free) call to find out.

It's Nutrition Month! Take a 100 Meal Journey.

NMimage

Happy Nutrition Month! Yes, March is Nutrition Month. Nutrition Month was created many years ago by Dietitians of Canada to encourage Canadians to eat more healthfully. While it’s easy to get cynical about it because nutrition month been co-opted by all sorts of dubious food companies and self-defined nutrition experts, I choose to stay optimistic. Nutrition Month is a great time to be inspired to make changes to eat more healthfully.

This year’s theme is “Take a 100 Meal Journey”.

It’s about the fact that big, sweeping changes don’t stick. Instead, focus on making a small, lasting change and stick with it... one meal at a time. Commit to your small change for each meal over 1 month (i.e. 100 meals).

Yes, I know that we’re almost at the end of March so it may seem strange that I’m reaching out to you today. But Spring came on the weekend. It’s the time of year that many people think of spring cleaning their eating habits. Instead of cleansing or going on a detox (which can’t really undo a lifetime of unhealthy eating habits), I’m encouraging you to make 1 small lifetime-long change.

What should you change? Here are some small ideas that can make a big difference:

  • Turn off the screen when eating (eat mindfully).
  • Fill your plate with 1 more serving of vegetables.
  • Choose real whole grain instead of white bread (or brown rice instead of white).
  • Drink enough water. Keep a reusable water bottle on your desk and in your car so it’s ready for sipping.
  • Put a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter. Keep all other food in the fridge or cupboards.
  • Snack healthier. Store nourishing snacks, like cut up veggies, handy at eye level in your fridge. Put tempting treats at the back of the cupboard.
  • Keep nourishing snacks, like fruit and nuts, pre-portioned in small packages for grab ’n’ go snacking.
  • Put a bowl of apples by the front door so you can grab a healthy snack on the way out.
  • Keep snacks off your workspace if you find you eat them even when you’re not hungry.

Want extra accountability? Tell your family and friends about your small change. Or, head on over to take the pledge publicly at NutritionMonth2016.ca