Dr. Kim Foster

Have you ever been listening to the radio and the promo jingle for the station comes on, claiming their music selection can “make your workday go faster”? It’s the kind of thing that makes me feel incredibly sad whenever I hear it. Over our lifetimes, we spend a huge proportion of our waking hours at work. Do we really want to simply get through it faster? Grit our teeth and make it end as quickly as possible?

It’s like wishing your own life away.

Truth is, I see so many people who are miserable in their work. Of course they haven’t come to see me—their family doctor—for that issue, per se. Typically, they’ve booked an appointment to talk about their insomnia, depression, anxiety, stress, headaches, or other similar symptom. As we dig deeper, though, the problem so often at the heart of everything is a soul-sucking job.

But not everyone is like that.

Sometimes I meet people who have are different. They are calmer, more confident, more at ease. If they’re sick, they want to get better as quickly as possible—not because the boss is giving them a hard time, or because they’ll be forced to complete a disability form if their illness goes on much longer—but because they love their work. It’s fulfilling. It’s meaningful. It’s what they were called to do.

So what’s the difference? Why are some people fulfilled by their work, happy in their careers, uplifted by their jobs?

There are many possible reasons, of course, but one that commonly stands out for me is this: the fulfilled people are often the ones who are working for themselves, whether they’re freelancers or running their own business.

And this happiness difference is not just my own observation. Growing research has demonstrated the same thing.

SELF-EMPLOYMENT & HAPPINESS

Australian surveys have shown that self-employed people are the happiest, a result replicated by UK studies.

And the World Happiness Report, a comprehensive report presented to the UN every year for the past 5 years had this to say in their most recent report:

“Being self-employed tends to be associated with higher life evaluation and positive affect (as compared to being a full-time employee) across Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and East Asia.”

While they do conclude in this study that people who are self-employed are more satisfied with their lives than people who are traditionally employed, they do mention the downside. They comment that self-employed people report more stress and worry associated with running one’s own business. Which makes sense.

Being your own boss is not for everyone. There’s a dark side, of course, and it basically boils down to the Spiderman mantra: With great power comes great responsibility.

When the buck stops with you…well, there’s a certain stress and pressure that comes with that. Which means it’s important to look at the potential cost and benefit of being self-employed, and whether it works for you. Do the pros outweigh the cons? For many of us, they do. For many of us, self-employment is the true path to happiness and fulfillment. (Even if it’s not always an easy path.)


Click here to download a free copy of my miniguide: HOW TO BECOME A HEALTH COACH 


WHY BEING YOUR OWN BOSS CAN MAKE YOU HAPPY

So what are the reasons self-employed people give for being happier, more fulfilled?

Improved flexibility of schedule

Keen to try that mid-afternoon yoga class or walk your kids to school before starting your workday? You’re in charge of that.

More creative freedom

As a freelancer or entrepreneur, you get to set your own goals and work on the projects that most excite you. No more catering to externally-mandated sales goals or tasks that you loathe.

Being your own boss

A boss you dislike or don’t respect can be a nightmare. One less thing to worry about when you’re self-employed!

Lack of negative office politics

Clashes with co-workers, toxic workplace culture, office drama…no thank you.

Overall greater autonomy

You get to set the priorities, the focus, and the pace. You get to decide when something’s not working. You get to shift a project’s timeline and budget, if you wish. It’s all up to you!

SO HOW ABOUT YOU?

Are you considering making the jump from employed worker to self-employed freelancer or entrepreneur?

If you suspect your route to happiness involves starting your own business and/or working for yourself in some capacity, watch this space. I’m going to be talking much more on this website about job satisfaction, entrepreneurship, happiness, and the intersection of all those things.

AND, if your interest particularly lies in the wellness sphere, you might be interested in reading these next:

And if you’re feeling ready to take the next step, I invite you to downloading my free miniguide: How To Become A Health Coach

 

5 Reasons Stress May Be Causing Your Weight Gain

Angela was desperate to lose weight. Over the past six months she’d noticed her weight going up but couldn’t figure out why. As far as Angela could tell, she was eating the same things she always had. Her activity level hadn’t changed. So she came to see me, her family doctor, asking to get her hormones checked, thinking maybe that was the problem.

I checked her hormones and a few other things besides. Everything came back normal. We began to peel back the layers and talk about what else had been going on over the past six months.

It turned out Angela had been going through a pretty rough time. She’d been given some added responsibilities at work, and she had also been going through a contentious divorce.

“Sure, occasionally I comfort myself, but there’s no way that accounts for all this weight gain”, she said.

“I think you’re probably right,” I said. “But at the same time, I suspect it is the stress that’s contributing to your weight gain. Here’s what I think is happening.” I went on to explain what I meant.

The truth is, stress is clearly linked to weight gain, but there are several different reasons why. If you’re struggling to reach your happy/healthy weight, here’s why stress may be sabotaging your efforts:

1: HORMONES

Our bodies are amazing. Long ago, we evolved to survive various threats: a surge of adrenaline sets off a cascade of physiologic changes that help us get away or defend ourselves. You know, the fight-or-flight response. Then, once the danger is passed, one of the hormones—cortisol—triggers our urge to build up our stores again and eat. So we’ll have the energy for the next threat that attacks.

It’s a good system…when there’s actual physical danger.

Now, the danger tends to be less often mortal danger of a predator…and more often a stack of bills that need to be paid. But our systems still function the same. Even once the immediate threat is resolved, there’s still a cascade of responses that happen. Particularly if the stress is sustained.

One of the hormones released in response to stress and danger is cortisol. And cortisol is an interesting beast—it has a few beneficial effects, but many downsides. One is that it triggers our urge to build up our stores again. Assuming we’ve just had to spend a bunch of valuable energy in fighting off a bear, we need to replenish that energy, so cortisol triggers an urge to eat. Helpful when there actually was a bear…less so when it was simply a triggering meeting at work.

And cortisol has other, shall we say, undesirable effects that are even longer-lasting than the urge to inhale an entire buffet. But that leads us to…

2: BELLY FAT

Among other things, cortisol sends signals to our metabolism that we’re going to need to store some of our incoming energy as belly fat. Belly fat, historically and evolutionary-wise, was an excellent adaptation that ensured our survival. A highly resilient way of storing excess energy, it could help us survive a long winter, a famine, a siege from a neighboring village…whatever.

Of course now when fewer sieges happen, it’s less beneficial. Trouble is, it’s what our bodies want to do: evolution selected for those belly fat genes. In days long past, the guy with the most resilient belly fat was the last guy to starve and die when a famine hit. That guy went on to be your ancestor….because all the other potential ancestors died before they could procreate. You got the resistant belly fat genes.

Lucky you, yes?

3: EMOTIONAL EATING

This one is more of a behavioral thing than strict physiology. Anxiety and stress tend to trigger emotional eating and this is a particular problem given our constant and excessive access to food of all types. In previous epochs, stress eating might have looked like you scarfing down an extra handful of nuts and seeds while sitting around the fire, listening to stories. Now, stress eating looks like you taking a sharp left into the Dairy Queen drive thru on your way home from work.

To make things worse, we’re hard-wired to want the worst stuff. High-sugar, high-fat food gives us a dopamine hit: the “feel good” neurotransmitter. It’s rewarding and soothing—at least temporarily. Until the inevitable guilt spiral of shame and self-blame begins.


Click here to download a free 2-page PDF checklist of my Top 10 Stress Detox Tools.


4: MINDLESS EATING

Stress and worry are highly distracting. Which means they are contributors to another related, yet distinct, eating problem: mindless eating. This is when we are eating without awareness, like an automaton. When we’re too busy in our own heads, tending to those spinning thoughts, we often don’t even notice that our arm keeps raising the fork to our mouth. Ten minutes later we hit bare plate and realize we’ve hardly tasted—let alone enjoyed—a single bite.

5: SLEEP DEPRIVATION

Sleep disruption and insomnia are common, but even more so when we’re stressed. Anxiety disrupts our sleep-wake cycle and messes with our sleep rhythms. As a result, we wake feeling exhausted and beat a straight path to the coffee maker—which can interfere with our sleep the next night, too.

The question is: how is that connected with weight?

It revolves around a pair of neurochemicals, called ghrelin and leptin, that control appetite. Essentially, ghrelin is your hunger hormone. Released by the lining of your stomach, it sends signals to your brain that it’s time to eat. Leptin basically does the opposite by sending a “full” signal.

It turns out lack of sleep disrupts the normal functioning of ghrelin and leptin. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation is associated with higher levels of ghrelin, more hunger, and more cravings—especially for carbs. We have more difficulty resisting temptation and sticking to our healthy eating resolve.

There’s a lot more to it, but the research has clearly demonstrated that when you’re sleep deprived, it’s more difficult to lose weight.

But let’s go back to Angela. After unpacking all the stressors in her life and the effect they were having, it was clear that when it came to her weight loss efforts, she would be fighting an uphill battle until she got a handle on her stress.

And maybe you’re in a similar situation. If you think stress is sabotaging your weight loss plans, what can you do about it?

Truth is, there is a lot you can do about stress. I have much more to say about this—stress is one of my favorite topics—but I’ll save the details for future posts.

In the meantime, if you want to get started on managing stress, you can download (for free!) a 2-page PDF checklist with my Top 10 Stress Detox Tools. Just click here to grab it!

Grab My Top 10 Stress Detox Tools

 


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The charts stretched along the counter in a seemingly endless line. It was the queue of patients who had checked in and were waiting to be seen at the walk-in clinic where I was working that day, and there were more continuing to flow through the door. I was the solo doctor on duty. The waiting room was packed with people of all ages: coughing, sneezing, pacing because of back pain, scratching rashes, and everything in between. My assistant estimated our wait time was about 3.5 hours, and that’s if I was fast. Really fast. Five-minutes-a-patient kind of fast. If I went to the restroom or took a brief break to gobble down some food, that would only prolong the wait. My encounters with patients were brief, perfunctory, and focused on finding a solution as quickly as possible. The worst part? This wasn’t an unusual situation. It was like this every time I did a shift there.

Needless to say, it was not a place I enjoyed working. I didn’t stay there long.

During my career as a family doctor, I have worked at many different practices and clinics, in many different cities, within three different provinces (Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia). The clinic I just described in small-town Ontario was particularly extreme, but many regular family practices carry the same flavor: hurry up, churn through a long list, do what you can to deal with people’s concerns as efficiently as possible, then move on to the next room.

It’s a “sick care” model, sadly. I’m hardly the first to make that observation, but I certainly feel the effects.

And the real frustration comes from knowing that so much illness could be prevented if I had more time with people.

Weight issues, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, insomnia, hypertension, anxiety, autoimmune disease, liver disease, osteoporosis: so many of these (and more) are lifestyle-preventable issues. But lifestyle change isn’t easy.

Unfortunately, our system is not set up for a family doctor to spend a lot of time with every patient, guiding them through the complex process of changing their lifestyle, mindset, behavior, habits, and as a result, health and well-being. The infrastructure is just not there to support people through the lifestyle changes that would help prevent and reverse disease.

But there is a solution, and I believe it has a ton of potential: health and wellness coaching.

THE COACH APPROACH

A health coach works closely with clients to support them in achieving their health goals—whether those goals are to lose weight, manage stress, tame a digestive issue, or any other client-directed health goal. A health coach takes a holistic approach with her clients. She mentors, inspires, supports, and connects with her clients on multiple levels. She collaborates with them to set goals, and then coaches them through the barriers, habit, and mindset issues that prevent significant lifestyle change.

She works with clients to peel back the layers of habit and blocking mindsets that are preventing a person from making significant lifestyle change. A health coach can take a doctor’s recommendation for what a person needs to do, a client’s motivation to change, and help catalyze some major life changes. It takes time and it takes skill. But done well, it can be incredibly effective.

WHY DOES THE WORLD NEED HEALTH COACHES?

It’s no secret that chronic illnesses are a modern epidemic, and it’s also no secret that a lot of them are preventable through lifestyle.

Many people have been advised by their doctors to make changes: lose weight, get more exercise, quit smoking…but most of us need more specific guidance and support than that. Making change is difficult. Even when you’re motivated.

Prescribing change is not enough.

I learned this early on: it doesn’t work to scold people. To command people to lose weight and get in shape, or to simply provide information about what to eat and what not to eat. People are not lacking in the knowledge about what to do. Bookstore shelves positively groan under the weight of health and nutrition books. There are TV shows, magazine articles, blog posts.

It’s not that people don’t want to get healthy—they do.

But wanting to do something doesn’t always translate into action. It’s much more complex than that.

There’s an enormous gap between knowing what needs to happen, and manifesting that change—which is exactly where a health coach comes in.

And, for what it’s worth, this is not simply my opinion on the subject of health coaches. There’s research to back me up.

A study published in the Annals of Family Medicine showed the effectiveness of health coaching as a complementary tool to help patients self-manage their health. They demonstrated that when health coaches were an integrated member of a primary care team, patients experienced significant improvements in their cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes control. The authors had this to say:

“Health coaching, provided by a member of a primary care team trained to support patient engagement in chronic disease self-management, is a promising intervention that helps offset the heavy workload placed on primary care providers for chronic disease management.”*

I’ve experienced the power of coaching myself, for my own health. When I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes in my second pregnancy, my maternity doctor referred me to a multidisciplinary diabetes clinic. There, I was taken into the fold, spending an entire morning working one-on-one with a nurse and then a dietitian who both functioned very much like a coach. I felt supported and empowered; I learned how to manage my situation and make the changes I needed. There was no rush, I had lots of time, and there was plenty of follow-up. I think I was the healthiest I’ve ever been during that pregnancy.

HOW DOES A HEALTH COACH FUNCTION?

The coach approach is unique. Coaching is not counseling. It’s not advising, and it’s certainly not preaching. A health coach starts where the client is, and goes from there. A health coach considers each client as a whole being, and looks at all aspects of a person’s life. Working together, a coach and client create goals and objectives, and the coach supports the client through the whole process of working toward those goals.

Everyone has barriers. Everyone has personal challenges and issues that stop them from doing the things that would help them improve their health. And a coach, working one on one with people can address those challenges to help people achieve true and lasting health.

MY DREAM OUTCOME

I believe in the role of health and wellness coaching. I think it could make a massive difference. In my fantasies, I would love for a health coach to be attached to every family practice, and a health coaching department in every hospital or health center.

I want this for all the thousands of patients I have seen over the years who could have deeply used this approach. I want this for all the people whose health could benefit in years to come, and for all the potential health coaches out there who are ready to change their own lives forever and make a meaningful impact.

If you’re one of those people—someone with an interest in wellness, perhaps, who is intrigued by the idea of the health coaching field, but not sure where to start—I’d love for you to download my free mini-guide: How To Become A Health Coach.

*American Academy of Family Physicians

My family thinks I’m obsessed. And maybe I am, but it comes from something I experience on a daily basis at work. Young women often come to see me with a particular constellation of symptoms: poor concentration, fatigue, hair loss, plus generally low mood and irritability. So I send them for investigations, and what comes back? Low iron levels.

Every. Damn. Day.

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency out there, and it causes a lot of trouble for women in particular, although I’m always surprised at how little press it receives. Maybe because it’s not the fashionable new thing?

The world may not be obsessed with iron, but I am. My kids joke that I love my cast iron pan more than anything else. They’re not entirely wrong. My twelve-year-old thinks the primary benefit of my skillet is for defence against zombies when the inevitable apocalypse comes (naturally), which is hard to deny…however I’m a fan for a different reason. But I’ll get to that.

WHY IS LOW IRON A PROBLEM?

If you’re a menstruating female, you’re losing blood every month. Your body seeks to make new red blood cells to replace the ones lost, but needs the building block of iron to create hemoglobin—the molecule that carries oxygen. Your only source of new iron is through your gut (either diet or supplements), but the trouble is, our GI tract doesn’t like to absorb iron. It’s difficult to get enough. Hence the common entity of iron deficiency among otherwise healthy women. Animal sources (heme) are the best sources of iron, so if you eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, you have even less iron coming in.

The symptoms of low iron?

  • fatigue
  • poor concentration
  • insomnia
  • weakness
  • headache
  • irritability
  • depression
  • exercise intolerance
  • dizziness
  • restless legs syndrome
  • hair falling out
  • brittle nails
  • cracking at the corners of the mouth
  • pale complexion
  • dry skin
  • pica

This last one is an interesting symptom. Pica refers to a desire to eat non-food substances, like clay, dirt, paper, or ice. Have you ever had a craving for any of these things? You might have thought you were losing your mind—but perhaps it was just iron deficiency. Don’t be ashamed. Talk to your doctor about it.

HOW TO PREVENT & CORRECT LOW IRON

So what can you do about iron deficiency?

First, get tested. It’s important to bear in mind, however, that testing may not accurately reflect what’s happening. For example, it’s possible to have a normal hemoglobin level (meaning you don’t meet the actual definition of “anemia”) but have critically low stores of iron (revealed through other tests, like serum ferritin).

Staying on top of your iron levels and ensuring you get enough is particularly important if you are a menstruating female, a vegetarian/vegan, or a growing kid—whether you’re looking to treat a deficiency you have, or prevent deficiency from developing.

What are the benefits to improving your iron level?

  • improved energy
  • hair and nail growth
  • better appetite
  • better sleep
  • mood
  • concentration

There are three things I advise all my patients with low iron:

  1. Increase your intake of iron-rich food.
    2. Buy a cast iron pan and cook with it as much as you can.
    3. Consider supplements if your level is particularly low.

Supplements can be tricky and very individual, so I’ll save that for a future post. In the meantime, talk to your doctor if you want specific advice on iron supplements.

But if you’re looking to work on the first two points—diet and cooking tips—read on!

YOUR IRON-RICH GROCERY LIST

First up, you need to ensure you’re getting enough iron-rich food.

There are two forms of dietary iron: heme and non-heme. Heme is the most complete iron source (derived from hemoglobin) and the source most readily absorbed by our bodies, but it is only found in animal foods.

An iron-rich grocery list:

Tofu
Lentils
Breakfast Cereal (many are enriched with iron)
Green leafy vegetables (eg. spinach, kale, broccoli)
Beef
Shellfish (especially clams and mussels)
Mussels
Chicken liver
Beans (eg. lima beans, red kidney beans, chickpeas)
Pumpkin seeds
Canned Sardines
Dried fruit (eg. dried apricots, raisins)
Grains (eg. bulgur, wheat germ)
Blackstrap molasses
Fish (eg. halibut, haddock, perch, salmon, or tuna)


Click here to download a printable PDF with a detailed listing of iron-rich foods, both heme and non-heme.


To improve absorption, avoid coffee or tea with your iron-rich food. Calcium can also inhibit the absorption of iron by as much as 60 percent. On the other hand, Vitamin C can maximize absorption, so pair your iron-rich meal with some strawberries or a glass of orange juice.

AN OLD-FASHIONED KITCHEN TOOL

Cast iron is a chef favorite because of its heat-retaining properties—it’s absolutely beautiful to cook with. But I love it because every time you cook something in a cast-iron pan, a little extra iron seeps into your food. This is particularly true if the food is somewhat acidic, as with lemon or tomato-based sauces. I’ve read that the increase in iron deficiency among developed countries has been linked with a decline in cooking with cast iron pans (which started when everyone began cooking with Teflon-coated pans in the 80s).

Granted, a cast-iron pan is heavy. But think of it as an upper body workout when you’re lifting it into the sink to wash it!

And…don’t forget all the zombies you’ll be able to take down when the apocalypse comes.

Click the image below to download a free PDF of Iron-Rich Foods!


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If you’re a health coach or any other self-employed wellness professional, you’ve probably heard this advice before: you need to have a niche. But sometimes this is easier said than done. A lot of coaches worry that choosing a specific niche means they won’t be able to serve enough people. That they’ll be alienating most of the market. That they won’t have a sufficient client roster.

But in fact, the opposite is true.

WHY IS A NICHE IMPORTANT?

As a wellness professional, you want to help people—as many as possible, right? You went into this business to make a difference. Trouble is, when your business messaging is nonspecific, it’s not going to truly speak to anyone in particular. Ideally, you want to have people see your stuff and think: “YES. That’s exactly for me.” In contrast, if your brand and services come across as vague and generic, it won’t really resonate with anyone.

The good news is that even when you do choose a niche, you are not locking yourself down forever, which is another thing many coaches worry about. Think of your initial niche as your foothold in the market. Once you gain some traction, get some early success, start working with more clients, you could then expand your offerings or pivot toward a secondary niche. But first things first. Starting with one target niche that will give you initial success to build upon.

The question is: how do you choose?

5 STEPS TO CHOOSING YOUR NICHE

Step 1: Brainstorm & mind-map
Make yourself a cup of tea, pull out your journal and sit down for a stretch of time to free-form write about what you love about the wellness field. Who are the type of people you love to work with? What topics do you love to talk about? What experiences and training do you already possess?

Step 2: Journal about your own story
Explore your *why* by writing about your own story. Here, it’s time to dig a bit deeper and think about what brought you to the wellness field? What struggles have you dealt with? Have you had a journey to healing? What have you overcome? What are the most authentic health issues for you, personally?

Step 3: Analyze
Look back over all your pages. What stands out? Are there recurring themes? Generate a shortlist of potential niches. Start to analyze how you feel about each of them. At this point you may want to get specific about your analysis by writing out a list of pros and cons. Explore your thoughts about each of your top options.

Step 4: Synthesize & formulate your niche
You may discover a niche has risen to the top. If it feels right, get clear and specific on this niche. You may want to formulate a short sentence or mission statement for your business, your services, or your offer. Now, nail down the specifics of your target market with this statement:

I am a health coach who helps [ideal clients—be as specific as possible] who are struggling with [specific issue] to [the service you provide] so they can [the benefit to your clients].

For example: I am a health coach who helps new mothers who are struggling with emotional eating to create healthy eating habits and patterns so they can get back to their pre-baby weight and feel great.

Another example: I am a health coach who helps female university students who are struggling with chronic digestive complaints to clean up their diet and cultivate healthy habits so they can feel comfortable in their day-to-day and get on with life.

Step 5: test it out
Talk to a confidante, try out your new mission statement, and see how it lands. Does it feel authentic for you? Does it feel good? What kind of feedback did you get? When you’re talking about it, do you get excited about future prospects? If yes—you’re on the right track. Of course you may need to tweak your niche statement, narrow it further, or make other changes, but you’ve got your feet on the right path.

On the other hand, if things still don’t feel right, that’s okay! Head back to the drawing board and repeat the steps as often as you need to.

FREE BONUS: To help you further, I’ve created a free 2-page worksheet that will guide you through this 5-step process of finding your niche. To download the PDF, click the button below.

Grab My Copy

When I was a new mom—sleep-deprived and struggling under the overwhelm of first-time motherhood—I would go on a daily walk, pushing my stroller to the closest Starbucks. After a short, numb stroll that I barely remembered I would shuffle up to the counter and order a venti macchiato with caramel drizzle and lots of foam. I’d then point to an overlarge muffin with chocolate chunks or streusel topping or whatever looked good that day. At home, later in the afternoon when my son was napping, I’d bake cookies and brownies galore.

This was something I’d never done before. At the time I said to my own mother: if I have to be stuck at home, I’m going to be the best damn stay-at-home mom there ever was. This included competitive baking, apparently. (I was not in a good emotional place.) To make matters worse, my son was barely on solid food at this stage, and my husband has never had much of a baked-goods tooth, so the only person eating all those cookies? Me.

After many months like this, I noticed my weight pushing north as I slowly regained everything I’d lost after childbirth. But I didn’t change my eating habits. Didn’t stop indulging in my daily Starbucks fix, didn’t stop gobbling down the treats. I had these thoughts: I deserve it. I need this. Life is hard enough; the least I can do is treat myself to one little comfort.

And the truth is, those treats did make me feel a little better—temporarily. I wasn’t actually dealing with my issues, but I had a sense I was doing something positive by pampering myself.

I was wrong.

THE TROUBLE WITH EMOTIONAL EATING

Julia was a patient of mine at my previous family practice in Vancouver. She was a 32-year-old single woman in a stressful job, struggling her way through a challenging dating market. Every disappointing date or rough day at work found her ordering a pizza, grabbing takeout, or eating a pan of brownies.
Of course, every time she did that, she wasn’t really dealing with the deeper issues, and she ended up in a downward spiral of guilt, shame, and self-blame.

Emotional eating can sabotage the best-laid plans for healthy lifestyle change and weight loss. It’s commonly defined as the act of turning to food for stress relief, comfort, or as a reward—not as a means to satisfy hunger.

The occasional use of food as celebration or comfort isn’t a problem. But when we use food as our main coping strategy it can lead to trouble. For some people, the immediate reaction to any negative emotion (anger, loneliness, anxiety, sadness, boredom, fatigue) is to go to fridge. Not only is this an unhealthy way of eating and using food—and can lead to significant weight issues—it also means that the underlying problem and negative feelings aren’t actually being addressed. When we eat to fill an emotional need, rather than to fuel our bodies, we often end up feeling worse—both in the short term (immediate guilt) and by compounding the real problem through avoidance.

With my patient, Julia, we started to talk about strategies around eating, but also about the deeper issues. We discussed her dissatisfaction at work, and she began looking into career change opportunities. We also explored her frustration in the dating market. Ultimately, she decided to spend some time focusing on herself instead of investing so much energy in finding a mate—for the time being. Which meant signing up for belly dancing classes she’d always wanted to take, and pursuing her interest in interior design. She found these changes empowering, and her self-esteem climbed as a result.

Moreover, I worked with Julia to help her develop a strategy for dealing with emotional cravings. She started tracking her eating habits and how they connected with her emotions by using a Food & Mood Journal (click here for a free downloadable version). She began studying mindfulness, took a 6-week course on mindfulness meditation, and became much more self-aware as a result. She began cultivating the ability to pause when her emotional hunger hit, to recognize the cravings for what they were, and to substitute a much better activity, like going out for a brisk walk or calling a friend.

Do you tend to fall prey to emotional eating? Do you eat to numb the pain, to avoid bad feelings, or as a reward?

Let’s examine some common traps and triggers for emotional eating:

EMOTIONAL EATING TRIGGERS

Boredom

There’s a void. You have a vague feeling of restlessness or purposelessness…so you fill up that void with food. Sound familiar?

Procrastination

You know you have to do something, you’re not looking forward to it, or not sure where to start…so instead you go to the kitchen to fix yourself a snack.

Social influence

Family dinners often mean being surrounded by well-meaning people who love you but insist you have another helping, finish off the last bite, take a little more. Or maybe it’s a social setting, you’re feeling uncomfortable…so you head straight for the food table and busy your hands with food.

Habits from childhood

When you were a child, you were rewarded with food. Ice cream for a good report card, perhaps? Or you were soothed with food—remember those brownies after a bad day at school?

Stress

You’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed…so you head straight to the freezer and grab the first pint of ice cream you see. Sound familiar? High levels of stress triggers cortisol release—one of our stress hormones–and cortisol triggers a desire for sweet, fatty, salty food.

Uncomfortable emotion

You’re feeling lonely, or sad, or angry at something that happened. But rather than truly feel those feelings, which are uncomfortable, you dive into a bag of chips and numb yourself with food.

Reflex, habit, or association

Do you have dessert because you think it’s supposed to happen? Is it hard for you to enjoy your afternoon tea without some kind of sweet treat? Do you believe you enjoy a movie more with a giant tub of popcorn on your lap?

Fatigue

You’re feeling tired and sluggish, so you reach for a sweet treat or a sugar-laden caffeine drink with whip cream on top to give you that boost or hit of sugar and calories. Sound familiar?

So tell me: did any of those resonate with you? If they did, you may have an emotional eating issue to tackle. It was something I realized about myself during those early months of motherhood.

So what did I do about my budding emotional eating problem?

I saw a counselor and started talking about my postpartum struggles. Instead of feeding my emotions with brownies, I started taking an honest look at what I wanted to be doing in life. Together with my therapist, I began tackling the bigger issues. It wasn’t easy, but it was the process that helped me realize I needed new direction. That direction took me toward writing, back into a part-time medical practice, and ultimately toward a career that blended my passions in the most wonderful, authentic way.

I found other ways to embrace my season as a stay at home mom—besides baking muffins like I was running a bakery—and I started exercising again, doing more yoga, and finding other ways to relax and cope with the trials of new motherhood.

The good news: my weight stabilized and I started feeling much healthier. I found I didn’t have quite so much need for all those goodies. Now, I actually see my brief stint with emotional eating as a positive, because it helped illuminate the things that weren’t working in my life. It started me on a journey toward the life I truly wanted.

That baby whose stroller I used to push to Starbucks? He’s now 12 years old. His brother is about to turn 7. And they have a much happier, more balanced mother who—while she certainly loves her morning coffee—doesn’t need heaps of unhealthy goodies to feel complete.

FREE BONUS: If you struggle with emotional eating (or you’re a health coach who works with clients on this), one of the best ways of tuning into your habits is by keeping a food & mood journal. I’ve created a free, downloadable PDF to help you do just that! Click the button below to grab your copy.

Download my printable Food & Mood Journal PDF

When I was sixteen, I was obsessed with nutrition. It was the 80s, and nutrition at that time was all about the evils of cholesterol. I recall stirring a pot of oatmeal (made from real oats!) for the boys I was babysitting, preaching to them about the dangers of cholesterol and what it did to your arteries, informing them that oat bran had recently been shown to lower cholesterol.

They were 5 and 3.

There’s a chance I overshot my audience.

But I wasn’t discouraged. Being the 80s, it was also fitness boom time. My mom had an 8-track of the Jane Fonda workout (yes, I am *that* old) so I would pull on my tights and legwarmers and get to work. The 20-Minute Workout was my daily afterschool routine. (Remember that? Three more, two more…)

I was fairly rubbish at most team sports, but a pretty good swimmer, so I became a lifeguard. In lifeguard training I learned all about CPR and hypothermia and the physiology of heart attacks. In my spare time, I continued to learn everything I could about nutrition. I spent a lot of energy trying to convince the rest of my family to stop eating cookies and french fries.

Looking back, it seems somewhat inevitable that I went into medicine.

Maybe you share my obsession? But perhaps, for various reasons, you didn’t follow a similar path to med school or other traditional health care field. Or maybe your interest came at a later life stage, once you already had an established career—after a health scare, perhaps? Maybe you’ve always been enthusiastic about health and wellness but were never sure how to make a living out of it.

Whatever the factors that shaped your path to this stage, the point is: you’re here now.

CHARTING YOUR COURSE

If you’re reading this post, I’m guessing you’re at least intrigued by the idea of turning your interest into something more. Maybe you’re in a soul-sucking office job. Maybe you’ve fantasized about ditching that job and pursuing your passion—truly pursuing it—all the way to a meaningful, satisfying (and profitable!) career in the booming wellness space.

Not sure which pathway to follow within the wellness industry? No problem. I’ve got a bunch of ideas for you.

There are the traditional routes, of course—like doctor, nurse, physiotherapist—but even if those don’t resonate with you, there are almost limitless possibilities otherwise. Wellness may be the perfect field for a creative career approach—you can create a “portfolio career” that combines any and all of your passions.

In fact, I know many people who have done just that.

A LITTLE INSPIRATION

Annabel is a very good friend who has been a long-time yoga instructor and author, who has also carved out a niche for herself speaking and writing about wellness, facilitating retreats and workshops…in addition to being a playwright whose musical is performing in several cities right now.

Deb is a journalist by training who, together with her entrepreneur husband, created a highly successful line of vitamins and supplements, then sold that business, and has recently launched Boomer Nutrition.

Susan, another good friend and fellow family doctor, after growing disillusioned with traditional practice shed her white coat and stethoscope and followed a path into life coaching, writing, and speaking. Oh, and professional flamenco dancing.

Lianne is a woman I know who trained as a nutritionist and then started a company called Sprout Right after her first daughter was born in 2003. She now works as a consultant and coach, specializing in infant and toddler nutrition, teaching Mommy Chef classes, and making media appearances as an expert in her field.

Alanna created her company, Good Night Sleep Site, after going through sleep struggles with her first child. She started by doing her own research but ultimately became a certified sleep consultant, and now consults and coaches parents and families on her area of expertise: healthy sleep!

Instead of following the typical path for dietitians (ie. working in a hospital or a clinic), Sarah, a Registered Dietitian, became a coach and consultant in the field of pediatric nutrition. She’s also a writer, speaker, blogger, and makes media appearances on the topic.

Casey, one of my oldest friends from high school, trained in chiropractic. Again, instead of merely practicing as a chiropractor, has opened a multidisciplinary wellness center, but she also teaches boot camps and fitness classes.

You’ll notice some of these career trajectories required formal education and training. But many didn’t. Have I got you thinking outside the box yet? Here, let me give you some more ideas.

In fairly random order, here are 50 possible careers in the health & wellness field:

  • Yoga Instructor
  • Acupuncturist
  • Social Worker
  • Registered Dietitian
  • Spa owner/operator
  • Freelance Health Writer
  • Physician (M.D.)
  • Juice Bar Owner/Operator
  • Personal Trainer
  • Health Coach
  • Nurse
  • Ayurvedic Practitioner
  • Kinesiologist
  • Hypnotherapist
  • TCM practitioner
  • Corporate wellness consultant
  • Doula
  • Chiropractor
  • Entrepreneur: creator of a health food line
  • Holistic Nutritionist
  • Make a line of vitamins/supplements
  • Physiotherapist
  • Naturopathic Doctor (N.D.)
  • Digestive coach
  • Pharmacist
  • Registered Massage Therapist
  • Meditation coach
  • Aromatherapist
  • Wellness speaker
  • Designer of a line of yoga/fitness clothing
  • Clinical Psychologist
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Health blogger
  • Entrepreneur: healthy meal prep/delivery service
  • Wellness Retreat Coordinator
  • Personal trainer
  • Life coach
  • Sleep coach
  • Art Therapist
  • Midwife
  • Stress coach
  • Sport nutritionist
  • Holistic nutritionist
  • Child & family nutritionist
  • Personal chef
  • Mindfulness Teacher
  • Homeopath
  • Herbalist
  • Counselor
  • Pilates Instructor

In truth, there are way more options than I’ve listed here. But I’m hoping this list, and my stories, have got your juices flowing! (And please feel free to add any others in the comments below!)

If you enjoyed this article, and would love to learn more about the pathway to becoming a health coach…head over here next.

 

How To Cultivate Mindfulness In Your Everyday Life


When I was a medical student, I loved surgery. The operating room experience is like nothing else, and there’s something deeply satisfying about solving a problem so definitively. Tumor? You cut it out. Infection? You drain it. Voila. Problem solved.

Also, there’s the ritual of the OR: the washing of hands, the donning of sterile gown and gloves, the counting of instruments…always performed in the same unhurried, systematic rhythm. There’s a mental centering that happens while the physical preparation is underway. Then, in the operating room itself, there is an unmistakable immediacy—a total immersion in the moment. When the surgery is underway, there is no option but to be completely present. Someone’s life depends on it. You’re all in. It’s not a place where your mind can drift—to what you’re making for dinner later, or that funny bit in the movie you saw last night—it’s all about what’s happening here and now.

Does that sound…familiar?

Many people have heard the term “mindfulness”. It’s become a hot topic. Maybe you’ve noticed this and you’ve been wondering: what is it all about?

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

~Buddha

THE BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS

In a sense, we all walk around with a veil over our eyes, existing too much in our own heads. What proportion of your time do you spend thinking about the past: replaying previous events, ruminating over what happened yesterday, last week, five minutes ago? And how much of your time do you spend thinking of the future: planning your next steps, running through your to-do list, anticipating future events?

In contrast, when you fully live in the present moment, truly experiencing the now, that’s mindfulness.

What the ancients have long known about the benefits of mindfulness we are now beginning to prove scientifically.

Research has shown a multitude of benefits:

  • reduced stress
  • enhanced focus
  • improved working memory
  • decreased emotional reactivity
  • reduced rumination
  • improved relationship satisfaction
  • reduced anxiety
  • improved mood

As great as all that sounds, it’s not always easy to practice mindfulness. Our brains are designed to think, to learn, to plan. Those are the qualities that gave us our earth-shaking evolutionary advantage. We could strategize. We discovered we could plant crops and later harvest them for food. We learned from mistakes and adjusted our methods. All those capabilities are housed in our prefrontal cortex—the sophisticated part of our brains that makes us uniquely human. We hardly want to dispense with that part of our cognitive function.

But at the same time, all that thinking and reflecting and planning without pause is just…too much. The cost? Never living in the moment. Never living in the now.

How often do you forget if you locked your front door? When you go back to check, it’s done. Just like usual. Did I turn off the oven? Did I put the milk away? We do these tasks on autopilot, thinking about something else, not really paying attention to what we’re doing. That’s the opposite of mindfulness. And it leads to a life only partly lived. Food barely tasted, conversations barely attended to, pleasures barely savored. In contrast, there is an incredible liberty and sweet peace that comes from being fully present in the moment.

FULL IMMERSION IN THE MOMENT

One of my main passions in life is travel, and I think mindfulness has a lot to do with why. When you’re traveling, you’re seeing everything with eyes wide open. You’re totally immersed with all senses, savoring every drop of the experience.

When I backpacked through Thailand many years ago, one of the places I visited was the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple in Chiang Mai. I can still vividly recall the experience: the 309-step climb to the temple at the top of a mountain, the sunlit courtyard, the smell of incense and flowers, the sounds of hushed praying and chanting, the coolness of the tile floor on my bare feet as I slowly explored the temple. Without fully realizing it I was practicing mindfulness—something I think a lot of us do naturally when traveling. It’s what makes travel such a heightened experience.

But what if we could have the same caliber of experience during our daily lives?

“The real meditation is how you live your life.”

~Jon Kabat-Zinn

MINDFULNESS IN EVERYDAY MOMENTS

It’s no secret we live in stressful times. Everyone seems to be rushed, “crazy busy”, and anxiety-ridden. Technology plays a role in this, to be sure. We have a lot more stuff constantly pulling at our attention. Now more than ever, cultivating mindfulness is critical.

There are two key ways mindfulness can be integrated into your life. One is through formal meditation practice—which I’m not going to address here, specifically. It’s an important topic, and I do plan to delve into it in future posts, but for today we’re going to talk about another facet of mindfulness: the everyday, simple, moment-by-moment practice.

It’s the sort of practice that doesn’t require a gong, a meditation cushion, or any other setup. It can happen anywhere, while you’re doing anything. Washing the dishes. Eating. Drinking tea.

Let’s take the tea example: next time you’re drinking tea (or your hot beverage of choice), instead of mindlessly sipping and thinking of what you need to do later in the day, attend to the warmth of the mug in your hand. Focus on the smell of the tea as you raise it to your mouth. Concentrate on the tea’s taste, the warmth as you swallow, the feeling of comfort that follows.

Ideally, you want to find many opportunities throughout the day to check in and practice mindfulness, and you might want to consider some tools to help you in this pursuit. There are high-tech tools (apps on your phone), and low tech tools (a piece of string tied around your wrist). Some people simply make a habit of creating mindfulness triggers for themselves, like every time they cross a threshold, every time they open a door, or another similar everyday moment. One of the cleverest tips I’ve heard recently was this mindfulness trigger: every time you hear someone’s smartphone make a sound (a call, a notification), take that opportunity to do a brief mindfulness check-in, and take three deep breaths.

“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

CULTIVATING MINDFULNESS FOR A LIFE WELL-LIVED

I now know the pleasure of mindfulness does not require a plane ticket to Thailand or a surgical rotation as a medical student. Mindfulness can be found in everyday moments, too. It just takes a little practice.

Part of me wonders what life would have been like had I selected surgery as a career path instead of family medicine (as I was strongly tempted to do). I do miss the operating room atmosphere. But I have found so many other ways to introduce mindfulness into my life—which I think is the actual legacy my surgical rotations provided.

And proves that some of the best lessons I learned in med school had nothing to do with anatomy or physiology.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to hear more about how you can improve your own health and pursue your passion for wellness….I’ve created something for you.
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I know it’s been quiet around here lately, but there are some changes afoot.

Behind the scenes over the past several months I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching, dreaming, and planning…and I’ve finally got some things figured out. When I started writing this blog back in 2011 I was simply doing it for fun, and because it seemed the perfect marriage of two things I love: health and writing.

In the beginning I didn’t have a lot of direction, however. I had no real goals. But over the years, and especially recently, I’ve become clearer on a few things. I have a much better understanding of myself, my interests, and my role in the wellness space at large. So I’m ready to pivot. I’m ready to dust off this website and get a fresh start. Very soon, I’ll be ready to re-launch this blog *plus* some new, exciting things I’ve been wanting to do for a long, long time.

If you’re as passionate about wellness as I am (and, so you know, some of my favorite things to talk about are: nutrition, happiness, yoga, running, sleep, clean eating, health coaching, meditation, achieving a healthy weight, mindfulness…and so much more!), then you may be interested in what’s coming down the pipeline. Watch this space for some good, juicy stuff–just around the corner.

(And if you’re curious and don’t want to miss out, I’d be happy to add you to my list of people who will be the first to hear about everything I’m cooking up!)

Keep Me In The Loop

A Sneaky Trick For Dealing With Cravings

popcorn

I love collecting tricks and tips to help people stay healthy and maintain a happy weight. Click through to read one of my all-time faves: a very easy trick (…and fashionable, to boot).

Here are some other posts that I put in the category of “weight loss ninja”: