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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”:

 

 

Passport to Health: Greece

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

The Surprising Reason Why Your Kid May Have Trouble Sleeping

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.

Do You Want It? Heart Month Contest & Giveaway!

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!

The Three Spheres Of Stress Detox

Hammock on BeachI’m preparing a workshop called Stress Detox that I’m giving next week, so I’ve been thinking about stress a lot lately. It’s a topic I’ve written about many times in the past…but looking back on my old posts, I think I’ve neglected to give an overall view of my approach to stress management.

In the past few years, after much reading and real-life experience helping patients, I’ve come to feel that there are three major spheres when it comes to dealing with your stress. Three types of approaches–and, ideally, you want to work on all three.

1. Cultivate The Skills Of Short-Term Stress Busting.

No matter how you’ve structured your life, you’re always going to encounter stress. Life is unpredictable. And, some situations can’t be changed (see #2). But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer when stressful stuff happens. Short term stress-busters are skills that you can learn. These are things that you can do, in the immediate moment, to help cope with your stress reaction. Here are some of those coping strategies. And here. And here.

2. Change Stressful Situations.

If your stress is out of control, there’s a good chance something’s gotta change. Maybe you’re overcommitted. Or trapped in a bad relationship. Struggling in a toxic workplace. These sorts of external stressors need to be changed, because no matter how many yoga classes and breathing exercises you do, you’re not going to be able to fully manage your stress until you make some changes. Of course, easier said than done. If you’re feeling stuck, you may need to talk it out with a counsellor. Sometimes, of course, things can’t be changed. Your situation is what it is, and you simply have to deal with it. That’s when you really need to work on #1 and #3.

3. Create A Stress-Resilient Lifestyle.

Here, I’m talking about your long-term strategy. Because, let’s face it, shit is always going to happen. And it’s not good enough to just cope with stress when it hits you in the face. Better, is to give yourself some resilience, some stress hardiness. How do you protect yourself from having a meltdown with every little blip? You shore up your reserves. With sufficient sleep, regular exercise, a healthy diet. Here are some other ways to build a stress-resilient lifestyle. And here.

So, how about you? What do you find helps the most with your stress? What are your coping strategies?

Berries For A Healthy Heart?

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.

Passport To Health: Norway

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:

Should You Go Gluten-Free?

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.

Chewing The Fat

(One of my favorite old posts…please indulge me in this re-boot, as I’m busy writing like mad, lost in fictional worlds…)

Used to be, all fats were considered bad. We gobbled down low-fat versions of everything, assuming this was the path to true health. This was not a good time in dietary history, as far as I’m concerned. Three words:

Low. Fat. Cheese.

Ugh.

Thankfully, we now know that dietary fat is not nutritionally black and white. (Just like we know that not all carbs are the devil). Truth is, fat tastes good. The trick is to choose healthy fats, and shun the unhealthy ones.

Good fats are healthy because they reduce our LDL (“bad” cholesterol), increase our HDL (“good” cholesterol) and reduce our risk of heart disease. Healthy fats come in two varieties: polyunsaturated (especially omega-3) and monounsaturated fats. Sources of these fats are:

  • olive oil
  • nuts
  • canola oil
  • avocados
  • cold water fish (like tuna, salmon, mackerel)
  • flaxseed

You want to include more of these in your diet. At the same time, you need to nix the bad stuff. Namely, saturated fat, and especially trans fatty acids. Why? They’re inflammatory. They’re artery-clogging. They give you a muffin-top.

Bad fats? Here’s your list to avoid:

  • hydrogenated oils (margarine, shortening)
  • baked goods made with hydrogenated oils (eg. cookies, crackers)
  • deep-fried food
  • movie popcorn (I have to admit, this one makes me cry)
  • chicken wings
  • french fries
  • full-fat dairy products
  • potato chips

 You get the idea, yes?

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.)

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.