Dr. Kim Foster

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

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”:

health secrets of GreeceThe people of Greece have figured a lot of things out when it comes to knowing how to live a happy, healthy life. It makes sense–Greece is the birthplace of Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine.

Have you ever been to Greece? My husband and I went many years ago, in the BC years (Before Children, of course). We started in Athens and then spent a week island-hopping. And if you’ve never been–go. It’s absolutely gorgeous: sun-washed, distinctive architecture, sparkling sea, incredibly laid-back culture, fabulous food. If it isn’t paradise…well, it comes pretty close.

That said, if a trip to Greece isn’t on the horizon for you anytime soon, the least you can do is steal their secrets for a life well-lived. (It’s not like we haven’t done it before…read this, and this, and this for previous Passport to Health posts.)

So what are the Greek secrets to a healthy life? Some fairly simple stuff, as it turns out. One of the most interesting is this: napping!

Napping for health

In Greece (like many Mediterranean and warm-weather countries, like Spain, Egypt, and Italy), it’s a common thing to take a mid-afternoon siesta. To their benefit.

Researchers have cottoned on to this health habit. In a study of over 23,000 Greek men & women between ages 20 and 86, over the course of 6 years, they found that people who took a 30-minute siesta at least 3 times a week had a 37% lower risk of heart-related death. Other studies have corroborated this: countries where siestas are common tend to have lower levels of heart disease.

One theory why napping helps keep your heart healthy? A regular nap may help you relax more and have lower stress levels.  Or, perhaps nappers are generally getting more rest, more sleep…and there’s plenty of research to now show that getting sufficient sleep is associated with lowered blood pressure, lower rates of obesity, and improved brain health.

“Let your food be your medicine, and medicine be your food.”

Sounds like a mantra for the explosive trend toward organic food, food cures, and holisitic nutrition, right? But that quote belongs to Hippocrates. 4th century BC, baby. Western medicine, you guys.

The Greeks have long practiced this principle, and now the research in favor of the Mediterranean diet is huge. Much of it surrounds the impressive benefit to our hearts. A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Medicine analyzed the results of several studies that pitted the Mediterranean diet and low-fat diets head-to-head. They found that the Mediterranean diet was more effective for weight loss than a low-fat diet, and brought greater improvements to blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.

The Mediterranean diet has also been shown to protect against the “big C”: many studies have shown the Mediterranean diet to reduce cancer risk.

So what, exactly, do you eat if you’re trying to go Mediterranean? Read this.

Then there’s all that walking…

Like many European cultures, walking is a way of life. When my husband and I visited the island of Santorini, we rented a Vespa one day. (Sidebar–this was so fun, I can’t even tell you. Zipping around a sun-bleached island, making pit stops at little cafes and beaches…). But when we started on the steep hill up to a famous archaeological site, which involved some rather sharp switchbacks…well, people were walking at a faster pace than we were motoring up. They were passing us on the switchbacks. This might have been a little embarrassing. Just maybe.

Anyway, the walking thing is a big deal in Greece. And I think we all know this is a good idea. Here’s how to incorporate more walking in your life.

For more Passport to Health articles, read these next:

Passport to Health: French Paradox

Passport to Slim: Weight Loss Secrets from Around The World

Passport to Health Part Deux

Passport to Health: Norway

child-sleepingIt’s rare for me to meet a parent who is unfamiliar with bedtime battles. This age-old struggle is crazy making, to be sure.

I have known a lot of trying situations in my life, but very little compares to the relentless frustration of trying to wrestle my toddler into bed, night after night.

Can you relate?

So, what if I told you there was something that may actually be at the root of all that irritating sleep trouble for your little one? Something simple, and something that can be corrected. Would you think it sounded too good to be true?

Well, if you’re curious, click over to Yummy Mummy Club and read the post I recently wrote about this. Because this one is not just me, conveying medical information. This is me, describing what was happening in my own family, and how I fixed it. It may not be the answer for you…but on the other hand, it just may be.

We-Want-ItI love dining in restaurants. I mean, delicious food professionally prepared just for me, while I relax and sip my wine…and someone else washes the dishes afterwards? Yes, please.

But…I don’t necessarily love what restaurants do to my waistline. Or my heart health. And a little carrot icon next to a supposedly-healthy menu item is totally not enough for me to make a fully informed decision.

This month–heart month, of course–I’m working together with the Heart & Stroke Foundation to help promote an important initiative, called We Want It, to let restaurants know we want this nutrition information. We’re talking calories, fat, sugar, sodium content–all those key details. Most people want this information, but many restaurants don’t realize it. The Heart and Stroke Foundation has taken this project on, in a big way. With our help they can communicate to restaurants that, although we love to dine out, we also want the ability to make healthy choices.

Are you with me? If you love to eat in restaurants, too, and you want nutrition information to be available in your favourite restaurants, you can join the movement. Visit the Heart & Stroke Foundation site  where you can join the chorus of voices asking for nutrition info. You can tell them in which restaurants you’d love to see nutrition information–and they will communicate with the restaurants on our behalf.

Also, for your viewing pleasure, check out this snazzy video by the We Want It people (FYI, the shot below was filmed in my old neighbourhood in Vancouver down by the waterfront.)

HSF-video

So it gets even better…you can win, too!

As part of this movement, I’m going to give away a $40 gift certificate to The White Spot restaurant (a Western Canada institution, and a yummy place to eat. Tuscan Chicken Pasta…enough said.)

So here’s how to enter the contest. For starters, you need to be 19+ and a BC resident. {Sorry, everyone else, this is a British Columbia movement only. For now, anyway…stay tuned!}.

There are two ways to enter:

  1. Make a comment below (or on my personal blog) to tell me about your favourite restaurant (and if they do a good job of providing healthy choices and nutrition information, all the better!).
  2. Follow me on Twitter @DrKimFoster, and simply RT one of my tweets about this contest and the We Want It movement.

The contest is open now, and will stay open until the last day of February, when I’ll randomly choose a winner from the compiled entries, and mail you your prize!

Also, if you’re not already following me on my Facebook page, you can head over there anytime because I’ll be chatting about this initiative on my wall.

Good luck!

UPDATE (March 1, 2013):

Winner selected: TONY

Thanks to everyone for participating!

valentine's dayWhether you love Valentine’s Day, or whether you loathe it…everyone can appreciate a little health boost now and then, am I right?

Valentine’s Day and chocolate go hand in hand. Feeling a little guilty about your favorite indulgence? Don’t. Here’s why chocolate is good for you. (Yes, you read that right.)

And speaking of pleasurable indulgences…here’s why I prescribe hugs and kisses and squeezes this time of year (and all year-round, to be honest).

Valentine’s Day is also the perfect time to think about your heart. Your real heart, the one beating inside your chest. Heart health is something we all need to think about–not just for ourselves, but for the ones we love, too. Here’s how to keep yours going strong.

Finally, if you’re planning a special dinner this Valentine’s Day, there’s a strong chance your plan might include a nice bottle of wine. Good news there, too. Read all about the health benefits of wine, here

You’re welcome.

Love and hugs, everyone.

Bowl of Fresh Strawberries

A new study was released recently that makes a connection between the regular intake of berries, like strawberries and blueberries, and a reduced risk of heart attacks in women.

The study was big: 93,000 subjects strong. The timeline was long: the women were monitored for a period of 18 years. And the benefit was significant: heart attack risk was reduced by 32% in the women who ate the most berries on a regular basis.

One of the things I like about this study is that they looked at a younger subset of women, ages 25-42. (And yes, dammit, 42 is young.) This is the spirit of preventive health–make lifestyle changes early, so you invest in your health and reap the benefit down the road.

So what’s so awesome about berries? Specifically, anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are antioxidants, and they give berries their red, blue, and purple colors. Antioxidants are important in fending off inflammation, and reversing the kind of damage that’s a precursor to heart disease.

I’m not exactly surprised at the finding that berries are healthy for you, but it is nice to have more scientific evidence for the benefit of this “superfood”.

Also, it’s nice to have more ammo in conversations with my husband, so he doesn’t freak out quite so much when I spend $6 for a teeny-tiny container of raspberries.

What the heck is with the exorbitant price of fruit, these days, anyway? Now that’s something I’d like to understand.

Upper part of a carved wooden figurehead from a Viking ship against a blue background Oslo, NorwPassport To Health is one of my favorite topics…it allows me to talk about two things I love: health and travel. As I’ve said before, we North Americans may be many things, but one thing we’re not? Svelte. Fact is, we can learn a lot from other countries. (And shamelessly steal their health secrets.) Today, let’s look at Norway. 

Norway is the home of the Vikings. Hearty, hale stock to be sure. But the Norwegians retain their reputation as a healthy population in modern times, too. They are much less obese than North Americans and enjoy lower rates of heart disease.  

So what are the Norwegian health secrets that we should all steal? The first one is eating fish.

The Norwegians eat a ton of fish. Norway is a country surrounded by ocean on three sides, so it stands to reason. They enjoy herring, sardines—even for breakfast! The eat trout, and arctic char. Salmon is a trademark dish for them, especially smoked salmon, which is one of my all-time favorite things to eat. So what do all these varieties have in common? They are all cold water, fatty fish. Which is the best dietary source of omega-3. And that’s why this is a health secret.

Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid. It’s considered an essential fatty acid because our bodies don’t manufacture it. And research is piling up on the health benefits of omega-3. Most of the studies surround the heart-health benefits. It’s been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol profile, reduce heart disease risk, reduce stroke. And other, non-heart disease benefits too, like reduced risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s, improving rheumatoid arthritis, reducing ADHD, decrease chronic inflammation, help reduce anxiety and stress.

The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish per week, and I think that’s a great, manageable goal for most of us.

norway

So here’s the other health secret of the Norwegians that we can learn from: their approach to work-life balance. This, of course, is true for other Scandinavian countries, too–it’s not completely unique to Norway. Scandinavians have much more paid vacation time than we do, longer maternity leaves, and generally speaking, while work has its place, it doesn’t take over from the rest of life. Work-life balance is a fiercely guarded issue. From all reports, everyone in Norway clocks off at 5 o’clock. Offices are ghost-towns after that, because that’s when people go home and spend time with their families, preparing meals…and basically, not working.

As for vacation time, the legal minimum paid vacation time in Canada is 10 days. This adds up to 2 weeks, if you’re working full time. In Norway, like most of the Scandinavian countries, the minimum vacation allotment is 25 days. That clocks in at 5 weeks! Statutory holidays are on top of that.

This is all state-supported, and so it’s difficult to fully replicate, here, in our own lives–unless you happen to have some personal pull with the government–but the principle is something we can practice. If you tend toward the workaholic end of the spectrum, if your work-life balance could use a little more, well, balance…why not take a page from the Norwegian book? Make it a priority to take your vacation allowance (unbelievably, every year tons of Canadian vacation time remains unused), spend quality time with your families, and enjoy hobbies and personal pursuits.

Ha det bra!

If you liked this, here are some of my other Passport To Health posts:

Red and golden baublesThere’s nothing quite like illness to wreck your holidays, am I right? Give yourself the gift of health this year. Here are my thoughts on how to stay healthy this holiday season:

Avoid colds & the flu.

Seems like everyone is sniffling, sneezing, or coughing. Viruses are a fact of life in the winter, but does that mean there’s nothing you can do to avoid them? Not at all. Keep yourself healthy with my top tips. LIke zinc. And probiotics. And washing your hands. But…if you do happen to get a cold or the flu (it happens to the best of us)…here are 12 natural remedies for those nasty viruses.

Get some exercise, even if the thermometer suggests otherwise.

I know it’s tempting to hibernate as temperatures drop, but resist this temptation. There are so many benefits to be gained from regular exercise; don’t rip yourself off! Exercise helps with preventing colds, managing stress, improving sleep, and, of course, fending off excess turkey/chocolate/shortbread pounds. The things to keep in mind when it comes to exercising outdoors: dress warmly in LAYERS. Warm up sufficiently. And, because the winter days are so short and you may very well be exercising in the darkness, make sure you are visible (reflective patches, headlamps).

Have a happy holiday by conquering stress.

Stress is rampant at this time of year. But it doesn’t have to be a given. If I had to give just one tip: simplify. (But, lucky for you, I do happen to have several other ideas.) See my recent YMC post, Holiday Stress Survival Toolkit, for 10 ways to kick stress to the curb this Christmas.

And if your merry-making should go a little too far…

Is there any evil quite so perfect as the hangover? It’s such a fun combination of physical misery with the particular misery that comes from knowing it’s your own. damn. fault. Still, we’ve all been there. And, obviously, the best thing is to drink in moderation. But if that doesn’t exactly pan out, here’s your morning-after rescue kit:

  • rehydration (water is best, but sport drinks are fine, too)
  • painkiller of your choice (like Tylenol or Advil)
  • something to settle your stomach (like Tums or Zantac)
  • something to supply a little sugar (like fruit or juice)
  • something to supply a little salt (like saltines or clear soup broth)

Of course, when it comes to hangovers, the only surefire treatment is time. And if you have the luxury of going back to bed, do that. Your body will heal itself with rest.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Is Gluten Bad For You?I’ve been thinking about doing a post about gluten for a long time. Because it’s HUGE. There’s so much hype, so much mis-information, and more than a smidge of controversy when it comes to gluten.

You might have noticed gluten-free *everything* these days. (Even gluten-free cosmetics? Um, what?)

So when my lovely editor at YMC said she was collecting gluten-related posts for a feature, I decided the time was right to throw in my two cents.

In Is Gluten Bad For You? I break it all down: what gluten is, how it can harm you, who should avoid it, and why. If you’re curious or confused about all the fuss over gluten, head over there and check it out.