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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”:

 

 

How To Have A Healthy Summer

healthy summerWow–that was quite a hiatus. I guess I got a little distracted with all the craziness around launching a book…

Anyway, back to business. And in particular: staying healthy this summer. In the summer we get a respite (for the most part) from all those pesky cold and flu bugs…but the season carries its own health challenges and concerns.  

Like mosquitoes! On Yummy Mummy Club last week I wrote about how to tackle this perennial summer issue. Here’s how to win the war against mosquito bites.

And while you’re at it, here are some other summer health posts to check out:

Sun Myths & Facts For The Whole Family

Keeping Kids Healthy This Summer: Poison Ivy

Happy & healthy summer, lovelies!

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

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?

The Flu Shot Debate: Should You Get Yours?

flu-shotThere’s no shortage of opinions on the flu shot out there. Some of them rather loudly voiced. And many of them entirely conflicting. Which, for most of us, can lead to a whole lot of confusion.

On my Yummy Mummy Club blog, I took a deep breath and waded into the debate. If you’re undecided about the flu shot, or have questions you’d like cleared up, head over there and read my article on the myths & facts of the flu shot.

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:

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?

The Happiness Map: Giving Back

Star Christmas Lights Hanging from an EaveThe holidays are the perfect time for charitable acts. And this year, in particular, it feels like exactly the right thing to do.

Whether it’s volunteering, helping, or donating–it just feels good, right? Well, I’d like to draw your attention to a little side benefit of altruism: research is showing that people who help others actually become happier, healthier, and live longer than people who don’t.

Indulge me as I share a personal story.

My husband was in the grocery store a few months ago with both our boys. He did a decent shop; the bill came to well over $100…and then realized he’d left his wallet at home. Ugh.

I mean, if you’ve ever tried to go grocery shopping with two young boys in tow, you know what a huge feat it was that he even made it to the checkout in one piece, without destroying half the canned-goods section or selling one of our children in the process. As he struggled at the counter, searching in vain for his wallet, and then realized he’d have to leave all his hard-won, tidily bagged groceries at the store…the person behind him in line quietly paid for his bill. The whole thing. Without making a big fanfare. When my husband realized what was happening, he was blown over with gratitude, and begged the woman for her contact info so he could send her the payment. But she wouldn’t have it.

Random acts of kindness like that do exist. My husband spent the rest of the day with a completely new feeling about his fellow human beings.

But you know who probably felt better? The woman who’d paid for some poor frazzled dad’s groceries.

Research shows that being altruistic conveys mental health benefits: it reduces depression, it improves happiness and well-being. In fact, giving help is more significantly associated with better mental health than was receiving help.

But volunteering appears to improve physical health and longevity, too. Several studies have demonstrated this. In one study of more than 2000 people, conducted over the course of a decade, the people who volunteered had lower mortality rates, and if they were “high volunteers”–meaning two or more organizations–their mortality rate was reduced by 44% over non-volunteers. This was after controlling for other factors like mobility, chronic conditions, social support. This was a bigger effect than exercising  4 times weekly (which reduced mortality by 30%) and only slightly smaller than the reduction associated with not smoking—49%.

If you’ve ever volunteered or helped a charity, I think you know what I’m talking about when I use the term “helper’s high”. And now there’s research to show that this is a real thing.

And the research is nice. But, truth be told, this is something people have long known.

ebenezer-scrooge

Charles Dickens knew about this in 1843 when he created the character Ebenezer Scrooge. The ultimate reformed curmudgeon who changed his ways…and once he started helping people less fortunate than himself, he became giddy with joy, jumping and feeling younger and more vibrant.

But we can go even further back to see the wisdom of altruism:

If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.

If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.

If you want happiness for a month, get married.

If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.

If you want happiness for a lifetime…help someone else

-Chinese Proverb

There are a plethora of ways to give back this season: what’s your favorite?

Happy Holidays, everyone.

xox

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

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