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New Year’s Resolutions For People Who Despise New Year’s Resolutions

Starting BlockMaybe you don’t like the word “resolution”. Lots of people don’t. And, of course, we all know the failure rates of New Year’s resolutions. It’s a running joke, right?

But you can’t deny that January has a whole fresh-start vibe. Is there a way to take advantage of that without doing the old-school resolution thing?

I must admit, It’s a fascinating area for me–the intersect between knowing what we should do, what we want to do, and what we actually do. Essentially, we all know what the right thing is (and it does not look anything like a fried-egg-cheeseburger, for example), so what stops us from doing that thing? 

I think this is the spirit of Resolutions. They’re supposed to be a tool to help us keep our actions in line with our wishes. But Resolutions, in their traditional form, don’t work for everyone. 

If you’re loathe to just roll out the same old list (“lose 10 pounds”, “floss every day”), but still want to set yourself up for your Best Year Ever, try these alternative ideas:

Set Intentions instead of Resolutions.

I’m borrowing this from the yoga zeitgeist. The difference between intention and resolution may be a subtle one, but I think it’s an important one. And I think it’s more than just semantics. Resolution, for many of us, suggests a determination to do something that goes against your nature: cut something out of your life, restrict something, stop doing some bad habit. Intention, on the other hand, feels more positive. It suggests a guiding principle, a tool that helps you keep your compass pointing in the direction you wish.

Choose a word for the year.

This has the advantage of being very easy to remember, and can infuse your whole philosophy, and your decisions, all year long. For inspiration, check out what my friends Sharon DeVellis and Katja Wulfers chose as each of theirs. Or, if you find one word too limiting, why not try three? Like another friend of mine (and fab YA author) Eileen Cook.

Create a Monthly Resolution Subscription.

Setting monster goals is a classic setup for failure. Overwhelm sets in, roughly around the second week of January. So here’s an idea my sister told me about: set a year’s worth of resolutions up front. But you’re not attempting them all at the same time. It’s like this: in January, you work on walking daily, for example. And February is about getting together with friends once a week. March, you’re eating salad four times a week. Set it all up at the beginning of the year, create some kind of system to remind yourself of your plan at the beginning of each month. By the end of the year, you’ve tackled (and conquered) 12 positive changes in your life. The idea being, of course, that by the time each month is up, that new habit is well and truly entrenched (most of us have heard that it takes about 21 days for a new habit to solidify, yes?) 

So, after all that…you might be wondering: do I make resolutions? Yes, in fact I do. I have categories. They may or may not be color-coded. Judge if you will. Although, I’m not sure they’re exactly “resolutions” in the traditional sense. My list is a little looser than that–more like goals, plans, strategies, and dreams.

And I have another New Year’s habit. Besides making resolutions, I also like to review my year. I find it anchoring to look back and see what I accomplished in the year prior. I often forget stuff (big and small) by the time the year closes, and it’s nice to see it all laid out. It also helps me chart my path for the year to come. Curious what went down for me in 2012? You can read it here. (It was, arguably, my best year ever.)

So how about you? Do you make resolutions, or some variation? Or resolutely resist the whole idea?

9 Natural Ways To Extinguish Heartburn

You may know that I’m busy writing away in the wee hours of the morning (in fact, I just got the go-ahead from my publisher, Kensington, to reveal the title of my first novel! Too fun.). As a result, however, I’ve been drinking just a *tad* more coffee than usual.

Can you say: heartburn?

Which, of course, has provided the inspiration for this post.

Do you suffer heartburn? Technically called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), it’s that burning feeling in the center of your chest caused by a backwards flow of stomach acid into your esophagus. Yes, it’s not nice, and it really freaking hurts sometimes. So what can you do to extinguish the fire of heartburn?

There are medications, of course, both prescription and over-the-counter options. But what about non-pharmaceutical remedies?

Here are nine drug-free ways to go:

1. Don’t eat late at night.

And don’t lie down for a nap right after eating, either. Filling your stomach right before lying down worsens that backwards flow of stomach acid. Your stomach needs a chance to empty first.

2. Avoid spicy foods.

Chili peppers, hot sauces, garlic, onions, wasabi….all of these worsen heartburn.

3. Sleep on an incline.

This is simply a gravitational thing. If you properly elevate the head of your bed (with blocks under the upper end of your bedframe–not just propping yourself up with a bunch of pillows) you’ll minimize the amount of backwards flow of acid.

4. Avoid acidic foods.

Tomatoes (and any tomato-based foods like pasta sauce) and citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, lemon) are the big culprits here, as well as vinegar in salad dressings.

5. Quit smoking.

There’s a sphincter muscle at the base of your esophagus that helps to prevent that backwards flow of stomach acid into your esophagus. Tobacco lowers the tone of that muscle, making it looser, and allowing that acid into the place where it shouldn’t be.

6. Eat smaller, more frequent meals.

Big meals put more pressure on your stomach (and the lower esophageal sphincter I was just talking about), making reflux much more likely. Eating smaller meals frequently spaced through the day can reduce reflux (and may also help that waistline, too).

7. Avoid fatty foods.

Deep-fried foods and foods high in saturated fat tend to hang around in the stomach longer. And they also relax the lower esophageal sphincter muscle (sensing a trend, here?). Plus, they will, of course, make you chubbier. And a heavier weight, overall, is a contributing factor for reflux and heartburn.

8. Avoid certain beverages.

Yes, this is where I’m talking about coffee. My beloved coffee. Other liquid culprits? Acidic juices (like OJ) and soda, which is a particular heartburn demon: sugary, acidic, and gassy.

9. Embrace the slow food movement.

Yes, we’re all busy. But all that rushing around, grabbing food on the go, and gobbling it down, is a recipe for poor digestion and heartburn. Slow down. Enjoy your food and eat slowly. And read this about mindful eating.

(Curious about all this writing and novel talk from me? Check out my personal blog. Or find me on my Facebook Page.)

The Health Benefits of Writing

First, an announcement: I recently started a new blog…over at kimfosterwrites.com. And the main reason for that: I have a book deal!

 *pops champagne*

For a long time I’ve been a closet novelist. I’m talking years of scribbling away and inhabiting the imaginary worlds of my brain. At long last, just this past July, my agent landed me a 3-book deal with Kensington Books in New York, and my first novel is due out in May 2013.

But this all leads me to my topic today, which is: the health benefits of writing.

It’s a niche research topic, to be sure, but studies have shown that creative and expressive writing can be a therapeutic exercise. Writing helps reduce anxiety, provides an emotional outlet, and can guide people through traumatic life events such as bereavement and coping with serious illness.

But there’s more to writing than stress reduction and emotional support. Turns out there’s physiologic benefit too.

Here’s what some of the research has shown. Regular writing can:

  • sharpen your memory
  • improve your sleep
  • boost immune cell activity
  • speed healing after surgery
  • improve well-being (mental and physical) in cancer patients

Studies have shown benefit from all manner of writing styles: expressive writing, journalling, formal writing therapy, poetry, and even blogging (which is, in its purest sense, a form of expressive writing).

One of my fave bloggers (and my editor at Yummy Mummy Club, as it happens…), the super-clever Ali Martell, calls her blog Cheaper Than Therapy. And she is oh-so-right.

The therapeutic value of writing is certainly something writers have long known. I know I’m not the only writer who reports feeling a tad grouchy if I don’t get my regular writing time. And, as long as you don’t go all Hemingway and drink yourself into a self-destructive spiral, there is health benefit to be had. (Also, as long as you stand up and walk away from the computer from time to time, yes?)

So how about you? Do you write? Is it therapeutic for you? Are you a healthier, happier person for it?

My Recent TV Interview Re Safe Sun Habits

Yesterday I was on Breakfast Television Vancouver again, this time chating with the lovely Jody Vance about keeping your skin healthy in the sun (in spite of the pouring rain in Vancouver yesterday!). You can see the clip here (and watch me squeeze sunscreen into a shot glass…)

When This Doctor Became A Patient

It was exactly a year ago when everything changed for me. On May 10, 2011 I logged on to check my bloodwork results. I scrolled down, and stared at the screen. And the floor dropped out from under me.

I had a positive result. Which, in the medical world, is a very big negative. I had a positive ANA. Which is a screening test for lupus.

But let’s back up a little. It all started a few weeks prior, with a little aching in my right elbow. I didn’t think much of it. Too much time on my laptop, maybe. And then, a few days later, I started to feel a little soreness in my right knee. Then my left knee.

Things were not trending in the right direction.

More joints became involved, until I could ignore it no longer. I had distinct pain, and stiffness, in both elbows and wrists, both ankles, knees, and hips. Then, a little redness about my elbows and ankles. And definite, visible swelling.

It was time to see my doctor. I booked an appointment for three days’ time. And during those three days, my symptoms became even worse. I was trying not to freak out. Trying very hard, but not particularly succeeding.

The problem, of course, with having a career in medicine is the knowledge. All the scary possibilities reared up in my imagination. Rheumatoid arthritis. MS. Lupus. Various other connective tissue disorders…

When I finally saw her, my doctor shared my concern. Which was both relieving and worrisome at the same time. I wasn’t imagining it. Also? I wasn’t imagining it.

So we did some tests. X-rays and bloodwork. The x-rays came back normal. Good. The initial bloodwork results came trickling in. Thyroid somewhat off, thyroid antibodies elevated. Low iron. Low vitamin D. It was strange to see my own bloodwork coming back abnormal, I’d always been generally healthy. But none of that stuff was alarming. None of it was stuff I couldn’t deal with.

A few days later I got the result I most definitely could not deal with.

That positive ANA.

I remember staring at the screen. My husband and my dad were making lunch and chatting in the kitchen. My dad was visiting to help us out because I was, at that point, entirely unable to do anything for myself or my children.

I started to cry. The crying got worse, and louder, as that result began to sink in. Me? Lupus? Suddenly, everything I knew about life had changed. My whole life would now be measured in two segments, before lupus, and with lupus. Nothing would ever be the same.

Again, I was simultaneously thankful for, and cursing, my knowledge base. I’d seen people with lupus, watched them deteriorate before my eyes. Lupus was a nasty disease, I knew that. It was a forever diagnosis, but unpredictably waxing and waning. It could affect every aspect of life and function. Cause end-organ damage at a whim. Force the use of potent medication that caused side effects almost as bad as the disease.

It was a terrifying moment.

But shortly after that initial terror, a few things crystallized for me. Life was going to take on a new shape. First, I was not going to do shit I did not want to do anymore. Also? I was going to do shit I did want to do.

Over the subsequent weeks, I saw two rheumatologists and an endocrinologist. There were few answers forthcoming. But one thing they hesitantly agreed on? This was not, in fact, lupus. They weren’t impressed at my antibody numbers. Said my results weren’t specific enough.

A huge relief. For the time being. Because then I entered a different world…the world in which I embraced the unknown.

I had more x-rays taken. Much more bloodwork. My doctor (bless her) called me regularly to check on me. For a while, things continued to worsen for me, physically. My joints became enormous, swollen and painful. Sleeping was very difficult. And the red welt-like lumps grew over my ankles, legs, and elbows. Erythema Nodosum, I thought, looking at the welts and nodding. I went to see my doctor. Erythema Nodosum, she said, on sight, also nodding. Not a diagnosis, per se, just a symptom that was all part of my nonspecific inflammatory flare.

I developed an annoying cough. A dry, irritating cough that seemed to correlate with worsening joint pain. I lived on anti-inflammatories. And, like the bad patient that all good doctors are, I resisted taking the prescribed prednisone. It was a line I was not ready to cross.

My mother wanted answers. “If we could just get a diagnosis, find out what it is…then we’ll know how to treat it.”

I nodded, but I knew the naiveté of this statement. Autoimmune diseases are multitude. There are endless categories and labels, and lots of ‘not otherwise specified’ tags on the ends of otherwise specified names. I knew that many people go years without a firm diagnosis. “I was misdiagnosed for a long time,” they say, clenching their teeth at the conspiracy.

But I know that “misdiagnosis” is really only a relevant term when you’re talking about stuff that’s black and white. And that medicine, the human body, is the exact opposite of black and white. Stuff evolves. Stuff changes. Stuff becomes more obvious, and then we’re in a position to pin down a diagnosis. There are no perfect tests, rarely any textbook cases. Often, the only time we know for sure what happened in someone’s body is when we cut it open at autopsy. And even then, there’s a whole lot of deductive work that goes on. This is all especially true when it comes to autoimmune disease, which shapeshifts to its heart’s desire.

So I prepared for a long period of not exactly “knowing”. But, just because I didn’t have an exact name for the maelstrom that had taken over my body, didn’t mean there was nothing I could do.

I knew that my immune system was freaking out. I knew that my body was going on inflammatory overdrive. And I knew I could do something about that.

So I started taking care of myself, I mean really taking care of myself. I knew about the physical stuff I could do. I needed to get more sleep. I needed to start eating more veggies, more fruit, more whole grains, more superfoods. I started taking vitamin D, and omega-3. And selenium. Incidentally, I suddenly understood the desperate patient’s plight oh-so-well, in a way I’d never experienced before. The urge to take supplements. The urge to do something—anything—to grasp on and hope that I’d discovered the thing that would make me better. I was grappling for the reins of control. Just as I’d seen so many patients do, sitting across from me, sitting in the cheap examination room chair while I sat in the comfy, expensive desk chair. And now I was in that cheap chair.

I couldn’t exercise. I was getting passed by the octogenarians who live in my neighborhood as we walked the snail’s race to the village. I’m not kidding. Literally, I was lapped by seniors with walkers. But I started doing yoga. I could barely do any of the poses at first, could barely move, really, but I still managed to spend a couple of minutes doing deep breathing, meditating, and very gentle stretches.

Significantly, I started exploring the less tangible aspects of health. Mostly, stress. I had been under a lot of stress. New baby, living through major house renovations, putting tons of pressure on myself to work and be a great mom and wife…plus my own writing aspirations. It was too much.

I started reading a lot about stress, which led me to reading about happiness. And that has revolutionized my life.

And then…as the weeks went by, things peaked and began, ever so gradually, to improve. About three months after things started, I was mostly back to normal. Physically, anyway. Psychologically, I would never be the same. In a good way.

I don’t know what improved things for me. Was it the omega-3? Was it the yoga? Or was it just the natural course of things; would I have gotten better on my own?

The rheumatologists, at last, agreed on a diagnosis. Most likely, I’d been battling a thing called Lofgren’s Syndrome. A rare form of a rare disease called sarcoidosis. Which is classified as an idiopathic autoimmune disorder. Idiopathic, here, meaning: no identifiable cause. Read: we have no freaking idea why it happens.

In me, maybe stress triggered it. Maybe not. You know what? It doesn’t matter. I knew I was too stressed. And whether the stress caused it, contributed to it, or was merely an innocent bystander…I knew I had to do something about it.

I wrote a bucket list. I’ve got a very specific stress management plan now. I figured out some priorities. Happiness has become a cornerstone goal for me.

One year later, is everything exactly as I want it? Nope. I’ve been symptom free since everything settled in the summer. Am I stress free? Not exactly. Am I blissfully happy? Ummm, not quite. But you know what? It’s pretty damn close. Do I have a perfect lifestyle?

Well…it’s getting there. And that’s okay, because it’s a work in progress. A healthy lifestyle isn’t something you just turn on overnight. You work at it. I’m working at it.

A big milestone for me? I started running. At first I wasn’t sure this was a good idea. My husband was nervous for me, didn’t want me to do anything that would stress my joints, for fear of things coming back. But…so far, so awesome.

And I embrace the uncertainty every day. Because although the rheumatologists believe Lofgren’s syndrome to be the most likely diagnosis, there’s still a chance it could have been—could be—something else. Something that could come back. Like lupus. See, I read their consultation letters. There was lots of room for reassessment should my symptoms recur.

To be honest, it’s hard not to freak out every time I get a little twang in a joint, now and then. But, in a way, it’s a good thing. It certainly keeps me from taking my health for granted. Those little twangs serve as momentary reminders.

Health can be snatched away, even one evening while you’re sitting there on Twitter and your elbow starts to ache a little. Taking your health for granted is a mistake we all make. But I’m working on correcting that, and enjoying my good health every day.

Just the other day I jogged swiftly past a pair of seniors ambling along with their walkers. And my heart soared. Of course, I know I’ll be just like them one day.

But not yet. Not just yet.

My Recent TV Appearance About Cancer Prevention

Yesterday was Daffodil Day–which means it was the big day for cancer awareness in Canada, as designated by the Canadian Cancer Society. I was honoured to be invited, for the occasion, to appear on Breakfast Television Vancouver to talk about cancer. Specifically, we focused on ways you can protect yourself from cancer. Click this link to watch the segment. And if you’d like to read a little more, here are my most recent posts on cancer prevention:

7 Cancer Fighting Foods

10 Tips to Prevent Cancer

How Aspirin May Help Protect You From Cancer

The Conversion of a Non-Runner

I was not what you would call “a runner”.

It’s not that I hadn’t tried. At various points in my life (usually after a spell of too much lasagne/baked-brie-with-cranberries/caramel macchiatos…), I tried running. But it was always like banging my head against a brick wall–it only felt good when it stopped.

I would always give up after a few weeks. My knees ached. And…it was just so damn boring.

So I resigned myself to being a non-runner.

I only run if I’m being chased, I would say.

However, I’ve long known that running is a great form of exercise, and most importantly, an efficient way to exercise. And that’s valuable to me. Life is pretty full right now, with working at two different clinics, being a wife and mom of two young boys, blogging/writing/speaking…

And then there’s that aging thing. My metabolism, to my supreme irritation, is not what it was. I like to walk and LOVE yoga, but I began to realize that I needed some more serious cardio exercise–because I want a healthy heart, because I want to feel young & strong for a long time, and because I’d like to keep my shape.

So…I decided to try again.

This time, my sister suggested I look into Couch to 5K-type programs. So, I did.

The idea, here, is a program that takes you from a total couch potato to someone who can run a 5K. I checked out a few and then downloaded 5K 101 by Running Mate, from iTunes (for free, I might add). Right off the bat, I liked the philosphy: supaah slow and gradual, they ease you into a running routine. Interval training to start (beginning with only 1 minute of running at a time–I mean, how easy is that?). And then they gradually increase the lengths of the intervals. Also? I don’t have to think about a thing–just listen to my iPod as I run, do whatever my new friend Todd tells me to do (1 minute left of your warmup…2 minutes to go and then you get a break…) and enjoy the scenery as I go. No excessive focus on how tired I’m getting…can I make it to that next lamppost?…that sort of thing.

Now, several weeks into the program, I think I’m starting to consider myself a runner. Bit by bit, my endurance has improved. And the other day–I definitely noticed some muscle tone in my legs that had NOT been there before. And if that isn’t motivating, I don’t know what is.  

I think I even experienced “runner’s high” the other day (which I had previously chalked up to total bogus-ness).

In previous running attempts, my knees often started to twang after a couple of weeks…but not so far, not this time around. I attribute that to the gradual nature of this program.

Squeezing exercise into a busy life is a challenge (especially for moms), that’s for sure. Running is one of the best ways–it’s cheap, quick, and works around your schedule.

So far…looks like this non-runner is becoming a bit of a runner.

However, I want to be clear: under no circumstances will you ever see me in horrid running shorts. Never. Ever. Issue closed.

How to Stay Healthy While Traveling

Yesterday I had the big-fun experience of being interviewed on TV. It was for Breakfast Television in Vancouver (the morning show on CityTV) and I chatted with the charming Riaz Meghji about how to stay healthy on a trip.

Click on the picture to follow the link to that video clip.

And click here to read my page on healthy travel, with lots of tips and links.

Happy traveling!

How to Lose Weight Without Dieting

So first, a little news: I’ve recently been invited to join the amazing team of bloggers over on Yummy Mummy Club, the awesome website and brainchild of Erica Ehm. I will still be keeping up my own blog, Savvy Health, right here, but now you can also find me over on YMC.

And my latest post over there is one you’ll want to check: Sneaky Ways To Lose Weight.

In the article I detail 9 tricks you can use to drop a few pounds…without even trying.

Might come in handy after the holidays.

Just saying.

 

 

My Gestational Diabetes

My first pregnancy was picture-perfect. Right up until the emergency C-section, that is. (But that’s another story…)

My second pregnancy, five years later, was not so perfect.

About halfway through I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Surprise!

This came entirely out of left field for me, with no risk factors and no family history. And suddenly it was: doctor becomes patient.

Of course, I had a family physician’s knowledge of gestational diabetes. Which was decent, enough, from a medical point of view. But not nearly detailed enough for a living-it-day-to-day point of view. I suddenly found myself on a very steep learning curve, learning about gestational diabetes from the inside.

And it was fascinating.

I was referred to the diabetes education center and a dietitian who specialized in gestational diabetes. I picked her brain something fierce, in my quest for more info.

I made rapid changes to my diet. (And this is the thing about gestational diabetes, you have to figure it out and make the changes fast. You’ve only got a few weeks to get it right. But the motivation is great: it’s for your unborn baby!) And I gotta say, I have never felt so healthy and energetic. I was eating a lot of food: frequent meals and snacks. I never felt hungry. I felt way less bloated than I had been feeling earlier in my pregnancy. And, get this: although I was pregnant, I started losing a little weight! Which is not exactly what I wanted to do, in pregnancy, but it made me think about the effect this diet was having on my metabolism.

The most interesting thing was monitoring my blood sugar. I got immediate feedback about how healthy my food choices were, every time I had a meal.

So here were the things I did:

I ate smaller meals, and included snacks between meals and at bedtime. This is how you keep a nice even blood sugar level throughout the day. I did everything I could to not skip meals or snacks, because I found that if I was really late for a meal, after I eventually ate my blood sugar went crazy high.

I tried to include protein with most meals and snacks.

I became a Glycemic Index guru, and swapped all my high-GI carbs for low-GI carbs.

I avoided excess sugar. I cut out juice and pop and other forms of liquid sugar.

I (somewhat reluctantly) used Splenda in my coffee.

I ate lots of fiber-rich foods and lots of veggies.

I kept a detailed food diary (including my blood sugar recordings).

And…wait for it…

I cheated sometimes! Which is okay!! Cheating is normal, human, and helps stave off feelings of resentment and deprivation. As long as you don’t beat yourself up, and you get right back on that horse (and as long as you don’t cheat too often)…I say no problemo.

Dr. Kim Foster, MD. (photo credit: Tamea Burd Photography)

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The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat disease. It is not a substitute for seeking medical advice or counseling. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. You should seek medical attention before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health program described on this website.