Friday, May 29, 2015


Babies are a topic of discussion frequently in my life.  This shouldn't be surprising since at least 80% of my counselling practice clients are infertility/ART patients.

While I am admittedly obsessed with babies, this wasn't always the case.  As a kid I loved them, but then through my 20s I could not have had less interest in babies.  At 30 I decided I was ready to have my own babies, but even then, I wasn't particularly interested in other people's babies.

Now that my kids are bigger (although at 6, Little A is still cuddly and squishy to me!), I have developed an absolute baby obsession. I have finally become one of those people who wants to hold every baby and cuddle and squeeze and kiss them.  Its kind of weird!

Don't get me wrong, I DON'T WANT ANY MORE BABIES OF MY OWN!  But man, I've gone from a cat-obsessed woman to a baby-obsessed woman.  When people post baby pics on Facebook, I'm dying.  And I do sometimes miss the baby cuddles, giggles, etc.

At this week's board meeting for the girls' daycare, one mom had to bring her 9-month-old daughter. I was so distracted the whole 2 hours by this little cutie.  But as the meeting progressed and the baby got more and more tired, she got crankier.  Her poor mom had to go from sitting with her on her lap, to standing, to bouncing and swinging...eventually if she wasn't throwing her up in the air and catching her repeatedly, baby started fussing.  All of a sudden I was brought right back to that place, that combination of boredom, monotony and exhaustion that comes along with caring for an infant and I immediately realized why people always say that being a GRANDPARENT is the best thing in the world.  You enjoy the kisses and cuddles, and then give back the babies as soon as they start fussing.  Ha, my kids are only 6 and 9, and already I am looking forward to being a grandparent!  I guess it really is true, its having grandchildren that is the reward for parenting!
Speaking of parenting, we have an insane weekend.  Tonight is the girls' school spring festival, but it is also the first night of Big A's dance recital.  So  I have to go to the school, get Big A in makeup and costume, and then Adam is going with my mother-in-law to the performance while I stay at the festival with Little A.  Tomorrow the girls have gymnastics and Big A has swim lessons. I work and Little A has a birthday party and then Adam and I attend the second night of Big A's dance recital.  Sunday I teach spin, the girls have Hebrew School, Little A has swimming and then both Adam and I have our book club meetings. Whew!  Monday is almost going to feel like a holiday.

Have a lovely weekend and stay healthy and safe.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Reprogram Your Life: Book Review

Recently I was sent Reprogram Your Life: Bioscience for a Healthier You, by Dr. Steven Willey, MD. What struck me first was just how big the book is.  The hard cover is 293 pages, including the index.  But really, if you are going to reprogram your life, you have to cover a lot of ground.  And cover a lot of ground this book does.

Unlike many of the health books I review that focus exclusively on one thing (fitness, or diet, or stress management, etc.), this one covers it all, and does it very well.

That being said, if you are starting from ground zero, knowing nothing about health and wellness, than I advise you to take your time with this book so you have time to digest it all and not become overwhelmed.  There is a fair amount of science in it, so if you are not interested in the hows or whys, you will probably be tempted to skim parts of it.  But honestly, it seems to me we should all be aware of how our bodies work and the effect our lifestyle choices have on our bodies, don't you think?

Section one generally describes Dr. Willey's approach, the YOU+ Method and how it works.  Section 2 covers nutrition, section 3 focuses on exercise, and section 4 discusses sleep, stress and motivation. 

A central assumption of the YOU+ Method is the importance of insulin control in maintaining health and managing weight.  This is certainly consistent with much of the research I have read recently, and one of the reasons I have cut out sugar and cut down on my carb consumption.  Never worried about heart disease (because of my fitness level and family history), once I started to read about the possible role of insulin in the development of some cancers, I started taking this issue more seriously.

I am impressed that Willey briefly describes how to evaluate the validity of research findings, which is critical for individuals trying to decipher the confusing, and often conflicting headlines about health and nutrition.

Willey's nutrition plan is extremely flexible, which is key for increasing adherence among most individuals.  You can follow the general framework whether you are a carnivore or a vegan. His emphasis on avoiding refined carbs and added sugars, again, is consistent with my own philosophy, based on the research I have read, and unlike many health experts, he also warns about the risks of alcohol consumption, a topic often neglected. 

My one quibble is his section warning about how artificial sweeteners can make you gain weight, based on some studies on diet soda.  This conflicts with the perspective of obesity expert, Yoni Freedhoff, who has extensively reviewed this research and found it all to be highly flawed.  In addition, some of the research he describes indicates a 'theoretical' relationship, not an observed one.  In other words, just because, based on MRI reports, artificial sweeteners don't fully stimulate the reward centre of the brain like real sugar does, does not mean we know anything about how that might affect human behaviour.  Once in a while I will have a diet soda, and I never find that upon finishing it I start binging on sugar because I don't feel adequately 'rewarded'.  I usually have one because I am thirsty and just aren't in the mood for plain water.  Nevertheless, there is no doubt that diet soda is certainly not health food, no matter how you look at it, so limiting intake is probably a good thing.

While Willey emphasizes the importance of limiting carbohydrates, he recognizes - unlike many other authors of diet/health books - that a very low-carb diet is difficult for most people to maintain long-term.  What is very unique about his approach, is that he doesn't restrict veggies and fruits at all!

I was also impressed that Willey not only covers the science behind nutrition and weight loss (genetics, gut bacteria, hormones, etc.), but also addresses the social and cultural pressures we face around food.  This is critical, because what and how much we eat is affected by emotions, social customs and a whole host of other factors that are sometimes out of our control.

So what is his eating plan?  Essentially the framework is to consume a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of protein to starch (depending on your individual needs and goals) at each meal, and as many fruits and veggies as you wish.  Dairy is considered protein.  Although he considers potatoes a starch, corn is considered a veggie on this plan.  He also recommends eating whole, rather than processed foods.  I am pleased that he recommends limiting red meat to 1/3 or less of your total protein intake, although I would reduce it even more.  For vegans, beans and nuts are the recommended protein sources.

What's nice is he encourages flexibility, so if your ratio is off at one meal, balance it out by adjusting the ratio on your next meal, this makes it easier for people to accommodate their lifestyles. 

The only other area I disagree with him on is drinking milk.  He suggests having a glass of milk to bump up your protein at a meal.  I don't like this idea that much because many studies have shown that you don't get much satiation from drinking calories, even if the liquid contains protein.  Besides, if you ask me, drinking milk is disgusting.  And keep in mind the only non-dairy milk that has protein is soy milk, which is even more disgusting to drink.  I would suggest a hard boiled egg instead, or some almonds or tofu if you are vegan.

I concur with his advice to eat 3 square meals, and then try to snack on fruits and veggies and/or protein in between.  Personally, I find that whole eat little snacks all day theory doesn't work for me - I end up hungry and grumpy all day - and research shows it doesn't help most people lose weight either.

Aside from food, Willey also covers supplements and explains why isolating compounds from foods (i.e. Vitamin A, resveratrol, etc.) is not the same as consuming them in food, also consistent with the research I have read.

The fitness section is equally as detailed and comprehensive.  He emphasizes the importance of strength training for both weight and well-being (you know I agree about this!), and explains how to put together a training program, in addition to including a few sample workouts.  There are options for those who have access to a gym and those who do not.  Willey also has a whole section about aerobic exercise and recommends you incorporate some into your routine as well, for the health benefits.  This section covers sports nutrition, including how to time your meals around your workouts, what to eat and supplements to take.  He explains the importance of L-Glutamine for recovery, which I already take, and raves about BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) so much, that I went out and bought a bottle right away.

Although in section 4 he covers sleep, he fails to mention that anxiety disorders and clinical depression are common causes of insomnia (I see this all the time with my counselling clients), but his behavioural therapy suggestions are sound advice for dealing with sleep issues.  That being said, if an anxiety or mood disorder is to blame, counselling may also be required. 

Even more impressive is the fact that he mentions the importance of feeling one's life has meaning or having a sense of purpose.  As a counsellor I can tell you this is extremely important to well-being and I am so glad he addresses it!

If this all seems overwhelming, don't worry, Willey includes an action plan for how to put it all together and implement the reprograming of your life.

Oh, and that's not all...there's an APP for that!  Yep, if you are into devices, than you will love the YOU+ App that has customizable workouts and tutorials providing detailed instruction, as well as shopping lists and a program for tracking food intake.

So do I recommend this book/program? Absolutely.  It covers off the critical aspects of health and wellness and does it in a realistic/flexible way with evidence-based recommendations.  Good job Dr. Willey!

Disclosure: I was sent the book for free but all opinions on this blog are my own.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Healthy Living Exchange in Support of Sick Kids Hospital

Pamper your body, mind and soul while helping the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto!  Wellness spa, Soul 7 is hosting a Healthy Living Exchange on June 6th from 10am to 6pm

Location: 17 Yorkville Avenue, Suite 100.

Events & Activities: Products and services focusing on healthy living, complementary therapies, optimal nutrition, healthy aging, and fitness will be showcased.

Admission is FREE with any donation to the Hospital for Sick Children!

Personally, I can't wait to check out this fantastic event.  For more info, click here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Mighty Greens Superfood Blend: Product Review

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A while back I reviewed a couple of products sent to me by Pines, a company that is dedicated to selling top quality superfoods.  I love throwing a spoonful of their wheatgrass powder or beet juice powder into a recipe and knowing me and my family are getting an awesome nutrition boost.  So I was thrilled when they sent me a sample of their Mighty Greens Superfood Blend and asked me to come up with a recipe idea with it.

This product has just 30 calories in a tablespoon along with 3 grams of fibre, 2 grams of protein and a butt-load of vitamins and minerals. It is organic, non-GMO, gluten-free and raw.  If you are a smoothie person, this is the perfect addition to throw into your blender.  You could also use it in salad dressings, but knowing my crowd, I decided to concoct a dessert with it.  I can't tell you how quickly these disappeared, and my poor kids have no clue just how healthy these treats are! I think this recipe is a definite keeper.  Hop on over to my website to check it out!

If you are looking for great quality products to boost your health, definitely check out the stuff Pines offers.

Disclosure: Pines sent me their product for free, but all opinions on this blog are my own.

I have shared this recipe with Urban Naturale's Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Blog Hop and Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Page Turners

I have a few more books to recommend, thanks to my book club.  Last month we did The Orphan Train, which was really good.


I am just amazed that such a significant piece of American history is so unknown!  Definitely worth the read.

Even more awesome though, is this book we read for our next meeting, All the Light We Cannot See:

All the Light We Cannot See Cover
Honestly, its just a coincidence that so far we seem to be choosing historical novels, but I don't mind.  I am particularly obsessed with World War II history and fiction set during the war.  Most of the stuff I've read is related to the Holocaust and written from the perspective of victims.  This book is from the perspective of Europeans caught up in the war - 2 youth - one German, one French.  Although its entirely fictional, it did still introduce various aspects of the war experience, and places, that I wasn't previously aware of.  Anyways, even if you aren't interested in the history, this is such an amazing book, you definitely have to read it.

 I know I harp about this, but there is even more research I've read about how reading on a device before bed interrupts your sleep.  So please, buy real books!!

Have a wonderful Monday.

Friday, May 22, 2015

You are Not Lazy!

Most people (except my husband who is super-human) avoid certain activities because, they tell themselves and others, they are lazy.

What does it mean to be lazy? Laziness, according to Wikipedia is:

...a disinclination to activity or exertion despite having the ability to do so. It is often used as a pejorative; related terms for a person seen to be lazy include couch potato, slacker, and bludger.

There is no doubt that laziness has negative connotations that are deeply ingrained in our culture.  It is, after all, one of the 7 deadly sins according to the Catholic tradition.  And in our competitive, capitalist society, we are obsessed with 'doing' as opposed to just 'being'. Most of us feel guilt if we are not constantly busy and being productive.

In any case, I often find with my clients that they attribute their refusal to adopt healthy living habits, such as exercise or cooking meals, to laziness, which they seem to assume is a stable personality trait.  Unfortunately, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in that they have convinced themselves they are unable to change and therefore don't.

Self-criticism is never an effective way to motivate yourself to make positive change.  Positive change can only happen with a positive mindset.  If you do not believe you can achieve something than this is most likely true.  So I think we need to stop telling ourselves we are lazy, not only because it is self-destructive, but because most of the time it isn't true.

My own experience recently illustrates why this is the case.  I used to ride my bike everywhere all the time whenever possible.  Basically only significant amounts of snow and ice would stop me.  But over the past several years I have been relying more and more on other less active modes of transportation like driving or taking the subway or bus.  I started getting really down on myself, accusing myself of becoming lazy.  "Why am I not motivated to ride my bike as much as I used to?" I kept asking myself, "What's wrong with me, I have become so lazy."  But laziness didn't make sense.  I am still very active and fit, I still love exercising and moving my body every day, so based on the strict definition of laziness, this wasn't true.  So what was really going on?  After thinking about it, I realized the reasons I don't bicycle as much as I used to are:
  • I am increasingly fearful about my safety due to the dangers riding in this busy city;
  • I have less tolerance for the extreme cold in winter and extreme heat in summer;
  • I am sick of destroying my bicycles by riding them in bad weather;
  • Riding in this city is getting more and more unpleasant due to the aggressive drivers;
  • The condition of many of the streets are so bad it is annoying (I am jostled so much by all the potholes I feel like I am going to cough up and ovary one day!);
  • I actually enjoy being able to read a book and/or eat a snack on my commute via subway/bus, which I can't do while riding;
Really, its not laziness at all, but specific - and I would say valid - factors about riding that have made me simply enjoy it less.

Lack of enjoyment is generally behind people's refusal to adopt healthy habits too.  But most of these can be overcome!  For example, I know a woman who detests sweating, yet she is extremely fit.  She goes for a rigorous swim at the JCC every day and, now in her 60s, is fitter than most 20 year olds.  There are so many types of exercise, there is going to have to be one you enjoy!  Likewise, if you think you don't like vegetables, you just haven't tried them prepared in a way you enjoy them yet.  With so many veggies and so many methods of preparation and recipes out there, its impossible to hate them all!  Cooking too, can be organized in a way that minimizes the stuff you dislike.  Hate cutting? Nowadays fruits, veggies and herbs all come precut.  Batch cooking can help you cook once while making food for multiple meals.

Before you berate yourself for being lazy, think about what it is you are avoiding doing and spend some time really thinking about why.  I'll bet its not because you are lazy but because it is simply something you don't enjoy.  And, hey, that's natural, after all, we are hedonistic creatures!  So do some problem solving and come up with ways to make the activity more enjoyable for you.

As for me, I think I am going to at least invest in a basket, and panniers so I don't have to lug a heavy back pack while riding, and a water bottle holder so I can have a cold drink for my rides in hot weather.  That will help overcome some of the things holding me back, but you know, I think I am done with winter riding.  Its just too unpleasant and too dangerous.  And I've made peace with that.  Its not laziness. Its wisdom!

Okay, I'm off to work now...on my bike!  Have a lovely, healthy, active weekend.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

CLIF Organic Trail Mix Bars: Product Review

Adam is a classic nosher. He loves to nibble all day, especially when he is at the office.  He tries to eat as healthy as possible and indulge his sweet cravings with things that are somewhat nutritious.  So when a generous selection of CLIF's new Organic Trail Mix Bars were sent to us, I knew he was the one to give them a try.  That being said, the kids whined about not being able to get in on the fun.  But Adam usually keeps several boxes of snack bars handy at his desk, so he could compare them to the others he usually buys.

We got one of each of their dark chocolate varieties, as well as a coconut almond peanut flavour.  Adam found them filling, thanks to the fibre, and taste-wise, he liked the dark chocolate cherry almond kind best, as he found it sweetest (he has a big sweet tooth).  His only complaint is that they are pretty hard when cold, but when warm they get sticky (he hates getting his fingers sticky when working on the computer).

Basically, if you are looking for a not-to-sweet snack bar with a bit of protein and fibre (and don't mind sticky hands!), this is a good bet.  Personally, I am not a fan of all the added sugars (tapioca syrup, cane syrup, etc.), nor of the fact that the fibre comes from inulin.  That being said, the total sugar count is 13g per bar, which isn't bad compared to other comparable bars.  In fact, they have half the sugar of regular CLIF bars.  They are also gluten-free, which is great for those who have to avoid it.  Good job CLIF!

Disclosure: We were sent a selection of CLIF Organic Trail Mix Bars for free but all of our opinions are our own.