Summer is flying by, and we want to take full advantage of it, making time for barbeques and picnics, ballgames and beaches. Personally, I’ve put my yoga studio membership on hold so I can spend my active time outdoors–hiking, doing the Grouse Grind, kayaking, and cycling. So far, I’ve also been to one Vancouver Canadians game and one Whitecaps game. There simply isn’t enough time to do as much as I’d like (which means my blogging has also fallen by the wayside, as this is my first for the month of July).
I love the summer and all it’s glorious fresh food options. My fridge is full of berries. Right now I have strawberries, blueberries, and tayberries (yes, tayberries–I’ll get to that in another blog). Farmer’s markets are in full swing, so you can stock up on watermelon, corn on the cob, peaches, cherries, a wide array of greens, and perhaps some foods you’ve never tried.
But, sometimes I feel like food options are so limited when I head to a ballgame or barbeque. Would you like a burger or hotdog? Vegetarians (sometimes) get the choice of veggie burger or veggie hotdog. I find it a bit crazy that Crohn’s and Colitis Canada is encouraging people to host one of 150 BBQs as a fundraiser this summer. Don’t get me wrong. They do great work to raise awareness and funds for research and treatment, and BBQs are not a bad idea. But their image for it shows foods that would be hard for most IBD sufferers to handle–steak, hotdog, burger, and sausage. What about all the other options for barbequing? Or BBQ side dishes? Haven’t they read the research on cancer as a result of the chemicals produced when meat is cooked at high temperatures, like barbequed meat?
Here are some healthy things you can bring or do at the next BBQ, ballgame, or picnic you attend.
Other BBQable foods
While the charred parts of barbequed foods are delicious to many of us, you really shouldn’t eat too many of those, as those yummy burnt bits may contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). BBQ’d (and cured/smoked) meat is even worse, as it also contains heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Since both PAHs and HCAs can cause changes in your DNA that may result in cancer (not mutant superpowers), you want to avoid those. Or, at the very least, limit them.
If you want to enjoy BBQ food, here are some simple options:
- Don’t overly char any of the following. You can scrape off the bigger burnt bits too.
- Grill skewered veggies (so many choices for grillable veggies, from zucchini, cauliflower, and asparagus to eggplant, squash, and even romaine lettuce). Marinated or not, they are delicious, and you can get just a very light char and still enjoy them.
- Speaking of grilled vegetables, portobello mushrooms make the best burgers! I’ve shared this portobello burger recipe already.
- I like the mushroom burger I just mentioned because it’s super easy. I’m a bit too lazy to make my own veggie burgers, but if you’re a better chef than me (you probably are), here’s a great vegan, gluten-free black bean burger option. Or, try this one even I managed to make awhile back. Or, get creative and give this pumpkin burger a try (let me know what it’s like, if you make this one!).
- Grill fruit. Yup. So many options. Peaches, watermelon, avocado (drooling now), even berries on a skewer.
- Make tin foil packets of fish and veggies to throw on the BBQ.
- Grilled veggies gazpacho. Yes, gazpacho is normally made with raw veggies, but then there’s this. A bit more effort, but yum.
- Salsa is delicious year-round, but the use of fresh seasonal corn makes it that much more scrumptious. Grilled corn salsa, get in my belly!
Potato salad and coleslaw alternatives
Yes, I like both of these. But, no, I don’t like them saturated in mayonnaise. I find I lose the subtle flavours of the fresh produce if someone is overly generous with the mayo. Here are some recipes I found that would make great side (or main) dishes at a picnic or barbeque.
- Cucumber salad is a nice cooling option. This one uses yogurt to add the creaminess. Their bloggers have a (somewhat rude) sense of humour, as you can see from the description below their photo.
- Slaw with more than cabbage and carrots. So many veggies can be added to a slaw, including zucchini, peppers, radish, and squash. Instead of a mayo-based dressing, use extra virgin olive oil with apple cider vinegar.
- Enjoy the creaminess of a potato salad that uses avocado instead of mayo.
- Chickpea fries. Ok, this I gotta try! That, and pretty much every other recipe listed here.
- Shakes/smoothies and juices. Hot weather time is the right time of year to enjoy more raw foods, and I love me a smoothie bowl like this one I shared last month or like the image here, pre-blending.
Snacks to take (sneak) into the ballgame
Ok, so don’t blame me if you get caught carrying in food at a “no outside food allowed” event. But, if you’re allowed (or really good at hiding contraband food), here are some finger foods you can enjoy.
- Crispy roasted chickpeas. This site lists a bunch of recipes. Or look for great options of pre-made ones in your local grocery store.
- Your own mixed nuts and seeds or bulk food bin gorp (i.e. trail mix). Mine always has to have just a bit of dark chocolate (unless the temp outside is too hot and melty for the mix), and I also love to add in goji berries.
- Bean chips, rice chips, crispy peas. There are a growing number of choices for healthier (in small amounts still) or bagged snacks.
- Protein balls. This one with a nut butter base or this also modifiable one I’ve made many times over. I usually press them into a square or rectangular pan and then cut them into squares, instead of rolling into balls (takes longer).
- If you can take in a cooler, and if it’s a hot day and you’re craving a freezie, make your own with tea or juice. I made kombucha popsicles.
I get it. Eating healthy can seem complicated, difficult, and time consuming. Or not.
Problem #1: Eating healthy is confusing
Yes, choosing the right foods for you can be confusing. But if you are eating poorly–be honest with yourself, are you eating too much garbage and not enough nutrient-rich food?–there’s so much you can do! Eat more foods that don’t require a label or packaging. Eat regularly until you’re 80% full, not more.
If you generally eat healthy, congratulations, you may find some simple tweaks beneficial. Keep reading for ideas.
If you have food “issues” (allergies, sensitivities, stress about food), speak to a knowledgeable health professional for personalized recommendations.
Problem #2: Eating healthy is difficult
Look, I’m no chef. I’ve messed up the simplest meals. For example, I once forgot to drain the can of tuna when making a tuna salad sandwich. If I can do it, you can too. There are pre-cut food options. There’s frozen veggie and fruit options. There are actually some (you need to get to know how to read labels) healthy packaged food and restaurant options (depending on where you live). Learn a few simple go-to recipes. And read on for more tips.
Problem #3: Eating healthy is time consuming
I’m not a patient person when it comes to food. I won’t line up for a popular restaurant, unless I have no other choice. I don’t pick recipes that require hours of standing in front of a stove. When I want to eat, I want to eat soon. It’s mostly about organization and preparation.
I know it’s tough when you’re busy, but here are some basic, simple recommendations you can start with. If you want, just start with section 1 here for a week or two. Then you can move on to section 2 and so forth, so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
Section 1 for Eating Healthy: Eat mindfully
- Drink between, not with meals. We chew our food better, making digestion easier, if we don’t drink with meals. We have a tendency to swallow bigger chunks of food if we wash our food down with meals.
- Make sure to drink enough fluid. Start the day with a glass of water.
- Chew, chew, chew your food. If you eat quickly, put your utensil down between bites. Or eat with your non-dominant hand.
- Pay attention to your food. Taste it, enjoy it. Food is more than fuel.
- Hara hachi bu–eat until you’re 80% full. Don’t eat until you’re stuffed. Stop when you are about 80% full. Or when you are no longer hungry. You’ll find that “no longer hungry” and “full” are not the same
That’s the basics. If that’s all you do, that can make a difference.
Section 2 to Eating Healthy: How do you feel about food?
Next step is about figuring our your food habits.
- You may find it helpful to keep a food diary for a week to help you figure out what you’re really eating. Sometimes we don’t even notice how much or what we’re consuming throughout our days. Write down what you had, approximately how much, when, and ideally include how you felt before and/or after eating it.
- Even if you don’t keep a food diary for a week, think about your food choices. Do you have cravings? For what? What are your food habits? For example, I have a major sweet tooth. I think I used to have a muffin addiction. I seriously felt like I couldn’t go a day without having a muffin. I thought it was healthy because it was bran or blueberry or blueberry bran, but really, it was a cupcake dressed up as a healthy snack. Those muffins were huge! And full of sugar. Dropped those and my Frutopia or Snapple drink and I dropped about 5 pounds in less than 2 weeks. No other changes. Plus, I got rid of my headaches and hangry tendencies.
- Think about (and perhaps write down) how you feel about food. Do you live to eat or eat to live? Do you love food (best friend), hate food (enemy), or have a love-hate relationship with food (frenemy)? Do you know why you feel this way about food?
- Start to pay attention to the types of hunger you might experience. Is it true hunger for food that has you reaching for something to eat? Is it stress, sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, boredom, or simply habit? Even if you recognize you’re eating out of stress and you still choose to eat, just let yourself recognize that you’re eating to calm your feeling of stress. Don’t self-judge. Just recognize. For now.
- Start to consider what you’re feeding and think about whether there food substitutions that might be better for you. For example, if you’re eating to calm yourself, can you first try doing 5 minutes of breathing exercises and still if you still feel like eating after? If you’re craving ice cream, is it the sweetness, the creaminess, or the memories of childhood that you want? Is there something else that might substitute, e.g. a handful of berries for the sweetness, half an avocado for the creaminess, or make up a silly rhyme (or skip or sing or make a joke!) for the visit to child in you.
That second part can make a huge difference because remember that most of our decisions are based on what we are feeling. And sometimes we don’t pay attention to how we feel, meaning that we could be making poor choices. And eating inappropriate food doesn’t solve the problem.
Section 3 to Eating Healthy: Start adding in healthy foods
Next step is adding in healthy foods. The focus is on good things to add, rather than bad things to avoid.
- If you find that saying “no” to certain foods is really hard, you could start by just adding in healthy foods. This means organizing yourself and having these foods at the ready. If, instead, you hope that you’ll simply find and choose healthy food when you are starving and pop into Starbucks or other such place, good luck.
- Some top foods you might want to add to your routine:
- Hemp seeds, ground flax seeds, chia seeds–add them to smoothies, top them on your oatmeal or cereal, sprinkle them on salads or cooked veggies.
- Buckwheat, quinoa–these are actually seeds–rich in protein, fibre, and good fats–but you prepare them like grains. They are gluten-free.
- Millet, amaranth, rice are all non-gluten grains. Don’t make them the centrepiece of your meal though. Side dish, small servings.
- Add more veggies. Find a vegetable you’ve never used before and add it in. Or simply give veggies more real estate on your plate and eat them first.
- Collect some delicious-looking healthy recipes (choose easy ones with not too many ingredients or steps, if you don’t have much time or are not inclined to spend much time in the kitchen). Pick one day to spend some time making one of those recipes at least a couple of times per month. Invite friends or family to join in on the preparing.
- Make more than you need and freeze portions for later.
- If you don’t like chopping and slicing and peeling and all that jazz (maybe you’re slow at it, as I am), buy the pre-prepped stuff at the grocery store. Yes, you’ll pay more. And yes it’s not as fresh as when you do it yourself. But it’s better than not eating enough vegetables. Frozen fruit and vegetables are also handy.
By adding in healthy foods, you may find you automatically eat less unhealthy foods simply because you’re not hungry.
Section 4 to Eating Healthy: Swap for healthier options
Finally, start dropping out the “bad” foods by substituting in healthier options.
- Go through your pantry, your fridge, your freezer, and any other place you stash food. If it’s junk food or processed food, get rid of it.
- When you shop, shop mostly at the perimeter of the stores, not much in the aisles. Skip the aisles that contain just chips, pop, cookies, and other empty food. If you don’t have it readily handy at home, you won’t have it tempting you continuously. Or go to farmers markets for fresh, local fare.
- Don’t have pop, juice, or sugary cafe drinks like frappuccinos (the venti caramel frappuccino coconut no whip is 340 calories and 75g of sugar; add whip to that and it’s 470 calories and 81g of sugar; even a venti nonfat milk, no whip mocha is 310 calories and 44g of sugar; and the venti iced passion tango tea lemonade though fewer calories at 190, but with 47g of sugar!). Do you have a fave coffee shop drink? Check out your fave drink https://globalassets.starbucks.com/assets/94fbcc2ab1e24359850fa1870fc988bc.pdf Don’t drink your sugar. Drink water, tea, fruit or veg infused waters (e.g. cucumber slices in water or raspberries in water or lemon slices in water). If you have shakes/smoothies or freshly made juices, know what’s in them and have ones with more veg, no artificial sweeteners, and not too much sugar.
- Bring your lunch to work. Or at least do some searching out to find healthy options for when you do eat out.
- Sweet tooth? Tame it by getting your tastebuds to notice the sweetness in things that don’t scream sweet, like yams, sweet potatoes, dates, figs, berries, grapes, melon, even carrots and other root vegetables, especially when they are roasted. Salt craver? Look for naturally salty foods like seaweeds, fermented foods like sauerkraut, and even celery. Perhaps it’s texture you’re after. Try whole foods that provide the textures you crave. Substitute.
- When you start to sub in a healthier food option, you may find it easier to do a blend of healthy and less healthy (or less appropriate for you). e.g. if switching to brown rice from white, mix the two together or when adding in nut milks instead of cow’s milk, alternate them for a bit.
And, of course, if you’re confused or need help, just ask! I love helping people make healthier foods choices.
Do you have your own tips and ways to make healthier choices for your food? Share it here!
Many foodies are keen on splurging on the most recently “discovered” superfood, from achacha to zucchini flowers. Jicama salads, coconut aminos, and turmeric milk tea are all healthy foods. But you can’t grow their ingredients in Canada–they need warmer climates. I don’t call myself a foodie. I’ve yet to try achacha, jicama, or turmeric milk. I won’t line up for the next hot restaurant. And, I won’t spend half my paycheck on a meal. But I do consider myself food-focused, food-enthralled, and even a food-fiend. And so it is that I thought to write about some of the many wonderful local superfoods available in BC.
Local Superfoods BC
As a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) student, I spent 3 months in China doing internship in 2 different hospitals. One thing I noticed was that most of the TCM doctors drank hot water with goji berries (I know them as an herb called gou qi zi). As the weather got hotter, they added in chrysanthemum flowers. But the goji berries seemed a staple.
Most of the world’s commercial goji berries are grown in China, but luckily we do actually have a local goji farm! Gojoy (great name!) is in Aldergrove. A nice local superfoods option, and you can u-pick starting soon! I’m going!
Many other superfood berries are also locally grown, including blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, boysenberries, blackberries, and so on and so on. Berries are a great source of fibre, potassium, folate, vitamins C, K, and an assortment of Bs. They are also one of the best sources of antioxidants (including resveratrol–not just in red wine!), helping stave off a wide range of diseases. They may help with fighting off, treating, or managing Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.
Want to know a secret? Mushrooms. Okay, maybe it’s not an actual secret–you know about mushrooms. But do you know that mushrooms sit atop the list of some of TCM’s most revered herbs? Reishi, shiitake, maitake, cordyceps, turkey tail, and lion’s mane are just some of the most wonderful and wondrous of the medicinal fungi we can eat.
Researchers are expanding their study of the powerful compounds contained in these sometimes odd-looking edibles. Many of them have shown a remarkable ability to help boost immunity when we need to fight off a virus, bacteria, or cancerous cell, while also calming an overactive immune system when it comes to allergies and autoimmune disorders. Depending on the mushroom, they can also support the health of many other body systems, including brain, heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.
Even the lowly button mushroom has been shown to support many of our systems. Portobello mushrooms make a great vegan alternative for a burger. They are the right size and have a meaty consistency and taste. Which reminds me, I need to make this grilled portobello recipe soon.
At Christmastime I bought myself this bag of mixed dried BC mushrooms from West Coast Wild Foods and enjoyed every precious bite, including in this recipe for sauteed mushrooms (atop mashed sweet potatoes).
“Eat your veggies,” said King Triton to his daughter Ariel. Or, at least I imagine he might have told her that, as she probably didn’t want to eat her friends Sebastien (the crab) or Flounder (the fish). What veggies would he be referring to? Sea vegetables, of course, including kelp, kombu, dulse, and wakame.
Seaweed is a particularly rich source of calcium, but also magnesium, chromium, iodine, iron, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamins A, Bs, C, E, and K. As it additionally contains a good amount of fibre, it has also been identified as a food that can reduce the incidence of colon cancer, decrease intestinal inflammatory diseases, support intestinal probiotics, and help regulate blood sugars.
For many, the only thought about eating seaweed is when you enjoy a California roll or other sushi. But did you know that you can crumble dried seaweed onto your rice or cooked vegetables, add it to soups or stews, or soak it and toss it on a salad.
Like quinoa, buckwheat is actually a seed that is thought of as a grain. So, yes, it is gluten-free–don’t let the fact that the name contains the word “wheat” fool you. Unlike quinoa, buckwheat can be grown locally in BC.
Buckwheat offers an excellent source of protein, fibre, antioxidants, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, phosphorus, B vitamins, and folate. It has been shown to help lower elevated blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, improve digestion, and help balance blood sugar.
I know people love their quinoa. It seems like healthy restaurant menus contain quinoa in everything. Personally, I find this a real challenge because quinoa causes me stomach pain that radiates into my back. I’d love to love quinoa. But it doesn’t love me back. That’s because the seed and its coating contain the compound saponin, which causes allergies with symptoms like stomach pain, hives, and itchy skin. Some find that soaking quinoa before cooking removes enough saponin to make it easy to enjoy. Doesn’t work for me. So, instead…I get to have a local superfood (even better!) called buckwheat.
I just wish the local restaurants would catch up and make the switch.
A slew more local superfoods
While I do occasionally enjoy tropical fruits and I love coconut oil and avocados, it’s definitely a good idea to try to emphasize local superfoods over exotic ones that have to travel a long way to make it to your plate. The good thing is that here, in BC, we have a lot of options.
Just because these foods might be common, doesn’t mean they should be downplayed. We should really celebrate their availability, flavour, and health benefits.
For example, many of us health nuts are nuts over almonds. But almonds are grown largely in California, and they require a lot of water for their growth. Note that California has had some major droughts. Instead, you might consider hazelnuts. These beauties, full of fibre, essential fatty acids, vitamins E and the Bs, folate, copper, and manganese, are grown in the Fraser Valley.
Other wonderful local foods include west coast wild salmon, apples, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, and pumpkin.
I don’t have a green thumb or the space to keep a garden, but if you do, growing your own local superfoods is perhaps the best way to save money, de-stress, and get and stay healthy.
What local BC superfoods are your favourite?
“I don’t think I was asleep, but I don’t feel like I was ‘here’,” he said when I came back into the treatment room. This is a common theme for people getting acupuncture—though they do often sleep too. So, “where” was he? In a meditative zone.
That’s right. You can cheat your way into meditation with acupuncture! In fact, studies using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine to measure the activity level of different areas of the brain during acupuncture have found that “acupuncture needle manipulation modulates the activity of the limbic system and subcortical structures.” What does that mean, you ask?
These areas contain structures that help you experience and respond to emotions and potential threats, attention, memory, and more. One of these areas—the amygdala—triggers feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress. Studies on meditation show a decrease in brain cell volume in this structure after just a couple of months of regular meditation. A common description by people after both acupuncture and meditation is that they feel calmer and more relaxed.
I know many of you say that you can’t meditate. I get it. It can be difficult. But meditation, like everything, takes practice. Here are some tips on meditation.
I made a commitment to just one minute daily. That’s a stupid small number, but I chose it because it would be ridiculous for me to say I don’t have time. Sixty seconds is simple. I always choose more than one minute, but I know that I can still be successful with just that tiny bit of time.
Find Mindfulness in the Mundane
One of my patients gave me a copy of an article about practicing mindfulness while peeling a mandarin orange. This small task takes two hands and involves the sensations of sight, touch, smell, and eventually—once you’ve unpeeled it—taste. Even the citrus smell itself is mood lifting aromatherapy.
You can practice mindfulness while brushing your teeth, walking your dog, or even just waiting for the bus. It’s true–you can put down your phone and just be.
Tune Out to Tune In
Have you ever tried a float? No, not a root beer float. What I mean is the now popular sensory deprivation float tanks. Because it’s completely dark, you wear earplugs, and you are floating in body temperature water, you get to experience nothing. When I’ve done it, I’ve sometimes felt my mind firing up, trying to make up for the lack of other sensory stimulus. But eventually, my mind got bored and I “disappeared.” One time I even felt very clearly like I was floating in space, tiny in a vast void. It was liberating.
The key to the benefits of meditation is regular practice. Once a week for 20 minutes is not as good as 5 minutes every day. Consistency, habits, routines–that’s what prevails.
Find Meditation with Acupuncture
Another of my patients pays specific attention to how she feels when she gets acupuncture. She focuses on the sensations, pays mind to where and how she feels relaxed, and then makes sure to store that in her body memory so she can recall it later. She told me that she can even “experience acupuncture” when she’s sitting on a busy bus.
Our minds are designed to more easily recall the things we pay attention to. Perhaps you are like me, thinking you don’t have a good memory for names. But what happens when you are introduced? When your new friend told you their name, were you really listening or were you thinking about what you were going to respond? Problems with memory are often actually problems of attention.
So, the next time you get acupuncture, pay attention to how it feels to relax when I leave the room. Pay attention to that feeling of calm as you get off the table. Then practice recalling those sensations later on. ‘Cause, guess what?
Acupuncture can help you cheat your way into meditation.
Here I’m going to start with the bad, so I can illustrate the power of something you could call a natural medicine. A study in the 1950s by Dr. Carl Richter involved taking rats and putting them through a forced swim test. Rats can swim, and the rats they used were, as far as they could tell, equally healthy. The rats gave up swimming and sunk (we’ll pretend they ended up ok), fairly quickly–some in mere minutes, some up to 15 minutes. But, if they were removed from the water for a short amount of time before that, and allowed a brief rest while they were held, they could then be put back in the water and swim for up to 60 hours! From 15 minutes max to 60 HOURS!
What?! How could they somehow bring about a Herculean effort to keep swimming for 240 times longer when they would otherwise have given up?
A Natural Medicine
They had hope that they might again be rescued. Hope is a powerful natural medicine. It helps us try more, push harder, and persist longer. And, often, eventually succeed.
So, when I hear from patients that they’ve been told there’s nothing further that can be done–to manage their pain, help them sleep, improve or cure their illness, or simply function and feel better–I’m disturbed by that. Why
That’s why I love Traditional Chinese Medicine and most natural medicine practices. The goal is to discover what combination of imbalances have lead to the health issue at hand, and to help strengthen the body, and thus allow healing. There isn’t always cure. There isn’t always a fast fix. But improvement is possible. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told that I’m someone’s last resort. At the very least, I aim to offer hope and support while the body begins the process of healing.
I recently wrote an article, Sweet in the Modern World (pages 7-9), for Medicinal Roots Magazine. As a result, Michael Max, an acupuncturist in the US, contacted me to ask me to join him to talk about sugar’s health effects on his podcast channel, Everyday Acupuncture.
In this podcast, Michael and I discuss a number of issues that come up with sugar.
Show highlights on sugar’s health effects
2:27 How I discovered sugar was affecting my health
5:24 Sugar’s health effects: health issues that may be caused by or aggravated by too much sugar
8:06 Planning ahead helps you manage your sugar cravings
10:42 Your taste buds can change to become more sensitive to smaller amounts of sweet
14:46 Be mindful about your food choices
19:50 Is it stomach hunger or are your bored, lonely, or other?
20:27 Traditional Chinese Medicine can help you get off sugar
26:20 Some simple tips to reduce sugar intake
29:48 Your menstrual cycle and sugar cravings
31:22 What else can you eat that’s healthier and still tasty?
37:43 Have you considered a food diary?
41:35 Quick tips to get your own attention around food and eating
Here’s the podcast:
Check out more of Everyday Acupuncture podcasts by clicking on the image below.
Pain, fatigue, depression, anxiety, disabilities, injuries, and chronic illness. Every day I work with people who are suffering. And the question that sometimes comes up is, “Will I get better?”
I believe that our bodies are designed to heal, so yes, I do reply that things will get better. Does that mean 100%? Sometimes, against all odds, yes. Sometimes not 100%, but better.
Courage to Come Back
I was recently honoured to get to watch someone I know well received a prestigious award, the Courage to Come Back Award. Tom is a man who doesn’t do things for awards or accolades. In fact, in this video, you can see that he says he doesn’t know if he was a good social worker (I’m sure he was!), but that he felt he could do his best to do little things to help others.
He has many major health challenges—legally blind, kidney transplant (twice), chronic pain, and more—but despite them, is one of the more active people I know. He curls, does yoga, and walks everywhere. He travels, he volunteers, he writes articles, he advocates for people in need, and his home is a regular gathering place for parties.
So, what does Tom have to say about overcoming and dealing with challenges? I interviewed him for his perspective a week after receiving the Courage to Come Back Award.
Support of others
Tom was born with severe vision problems. Nearly blind, he could see the blackboard at school, but couldn’t see the words on it. He asked his teachers to read aloud what they wrote on the board. In university, his friends read his textbooks to him.
So, it’s no surprise that when I asked Tom to name some of the things that have helped him through his life, despite his health challenges, he said that support is the most important. Find people you trust, respect, and can rely upon. And know that it’s a two-way street, so be trustworthy, respectful, and reliable to them.
But then I asked him how to ask for help. Because sometimes it’s hard to ask. He said that his experience is that most people want to help. And that when people care for you, they don’t want to worry about you. It’s more of an impediment to worry than to be able to help. And sometimes people don’t simply offer to help without you asking because they don’t want to intrude.
Sometimes pain continues. Sometimes things don’t get better or more challenges arise. So, how do you manage? What do you do?
Tom’s suggestions? “Pain is something you may not always be able to get rid of, but you can work on reducing it. Your body and mind can adjust to pain. If you can just get better bit by bit, even chronic pain can feel less painful. And remember, it usually took a long time to get to where you are now, so it takes effort, commitment, conviction, and hope to make changes for the better.”
Though this phrase may not work for all, Tom remembers with a chuckle, a time that he was really struggling and a friend said to him, “It’s better to be above ground than below.” For him, that was motivation to push forward.
If you get to meet Tom, you’ll find out he has a great sense of humour. He says he’s always perceived things in a “zany way,” and that has helped.
One of the main messages he’d like to share is that it takes courage. It’s no surprise that the award is called Courage to Come Back. “Everyone suffers some type of adversity, struggles in their life. And the most important thing is to take steps forward, one at a time, and keep trying. Don’t give up. Stay positive, even when it’s hard.”
What you can do to help someone in need
What if you’re on the other side of the equation? You may know someone with chronic health issues, and perhaps you want to help, but you don’t want to mistakenly offend. Tom told me that a simple question to ask is, “Can I help?” That way a person can say yes or no to assistance.
Also, try to avoid saying, “you should…” as that can come across as overbearing. But, Tom says that it’s important for all of us to remember not to take things too personally. Most of us are well-meaning and are just trying to help.
Additionally, sometimes it’s better to just listen instead of offering soothing words, suggestions, or a pep talk. “Silence is very important. It shows you are listening and thinking,” Tom says.
And, when you do talk, Tom told me of advice he received from one of his mentors, “It’s not always what you say, but how you say it.”
One more quote
One more bit from Tom, “Healing is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.” And he would know. Tom has been beating the odds for more than 70 years.
For more about the winners of the Courage to Come Back Award, check out their site here.
Perhaps you’ve been told to cut back on salt, to limit your intake of saturated fats, and to eat more fibre. But, I think that the most common dietary mistake in our modern world is, for many of us, too much sugar. The problem is that we’re designed to like the sweet stuff–wired to like it. Many of my patients ask me, “is sugar bad for me?”
In a recent article I wrote for my TCM colleagues, I talk about the history of sugar, how it affects our brains, the problem with too much (especially processed sugars), and how Traditional Chinese Medicine addresses sugar and the sweet flavour.
Is Sugar Bad For Me?
Maybe not. Not if you don’t have too much. It’s necessary. But, I can tell you, no one has health problems from a lack of cookies, cream puffs, or pop. Check out my article on sugar here: Sugar article in Medicinal Roots Magazine. There’s a discount code there if you’d like to take my short online course on sugar, if you want to learn more. You may also want to check out the whole TCM magazine: Medicinal Roots Spring 2016.
This is a leap year, so February 29th is kind of like a bonus day.
Do you often think that you don’t have enough time to do the things you need to do or want to do? Well, this year you have an extra 24 hours, so what will you do? Here are some healthy things to do in Vancouver on “bonus day” (or any day, if today’s already booked up).
5 Healthy Things to Do in Vancouver
Take a hike. Sometimes when we’re stressed to the point of wanting to tell someone to “take a hike,” the best thing we can do is take our own advice and take that hike ourselves. Of course Vancouver is close to many wonderful hikes, including those on Cypress, Seymour, and Grouse mountains. If those seem too challenging or you just don’t have the time for those ones, there are several more local (and flatter) walking options, including of course the Stanley Park seawall, Pacific Spirit Park, Lighthouse Park, Burnaby Mountain trails, and one of my fave nearby ones, the False Creek seawall. Some of those are also great cycling options.
Shop for healthy ingredients. If you want to be healthy–and really, why wouldn’t you want that–then you’ll need to make some healthy food choices. First, you’ll need to figure out what you want to make. For some healthy recipes, check out my blog (search “recipe” when you go to my blog) or recipe page, my chef friend’s blog Cooking Journeys, web search what type of nutritious food you’d like to make, or dig out your recipe books or magazines. Right now I love my slow cooker. Doesn’t take too long to make delicious food, and I usually have lots of leftovers. We have so many places in Vancouver to buy healthy food, from Choices and Whole Foods to small markets and local stores like Greens Market and Pomme Market. Even our big chain grocery stores are recognizing our wish for organic, local, and healthy food options. And then there are the farmers markets–gotta love those!
Eat out right. Don’t have time to make a healthy meal? No problem, there are a ton of healthy eat-out food options. I don’t eat out much, so perhaps you can chime in via the comments section to list your faves. I like Heirloom, Nuba, and The Naam. I also like to get a pick-me-up from The Juicery Co.
Do something helpful. If you’ve volunteered for a worthy cause, you know that you feel good about it. But did you know that the benefits may go beyond a simple temporary “I done good” sensation? Studies have shown that donating our time through volunteering helps us ward off loneliness and depression, allowing us to feel more socially connected. Another potential benefit is a lower likelihood of having high blood pressure. That’s huge because hypertension contribute to heart disease, stroke, and premature death. So, giving your time away actually may help you have more time! There are many worthy causes in Vancouver and surrounding areas. I love animals, so I volunteer for Furbearer Defenders. I’ve worked with my friend’s wonderful organization, Beauty Night. And, I’ve done talks for the David Suzuki Foundation. If you’re not sure what you would like to do or how to find out how you can help, check out this online resource Go Volunteer.
Treat yourself well. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on the foundation of wellness care and illness prevention. If you are not well, it’s important to address those aspects of your health to get to the source, not just mask them with medications or ignore them. If you are well, it’s important to do what you can to stay well. I recommend seasonal tune-up treatments or monthly treatments (depending on your particular needs) to help you limit the amount of time you spend in pain, tired, depressed or anxious, bloated, or struggling with other health issues. Come in for a TCM and acupuncture tune-up!
What do you recommend for healthy things to do in Vancouver (or anywhere, for that matter)?
Healthy Habits Instead of New Year’s Resolutions
I find that there’s an aversion to the idea of New Year’s resolutions. It seems that the thought of failure is linked with resolutions like peanut butter is to jam or like healthy eating is to bland foods. Of course, sometimes those things are linked. But sometimes they aren’t. I prefer almond butter with jam. And of course I know and enjoy lots of healthy foods that are delicious too!
What I prefer to think of, however, are long term healthy habits. A habit is something you do without having to think much about it–“something that a person does in a regular and repeated way.” And, because of that, bad habits are hard to kick. But good, healthy habits can also be hard to kick, making us more successful at achieving our goals.
Have you tried something before without success? Why not try again, maybe with a slightly different approach.
Try Something Different
Every January, I get a bit restless. Throughout the year I intersperse hiking, cycling, snow shoeing, and SUP yoga into my routine. But I often feel like “kicking it up a notch” when the year’s number changes. In other Januaries I tried Crossfit, training for Tough Mudder, bootcamps, and return to step classes (my old fave). I liked some things about those activities, but I always feel a pull to return to my yoga practice.
This year I decided to see if any new healthy habits for exercise would stick. First I tried working with a trainer one-on-one. On the first workout she. Kicked. My. Butt. Can’t say I liked it. But the 2nd and 3rd sessions I felt stronger. It’s good to have someone help you evaluate what you’re doing, and I’ve recognized some areas of weaknesses that I can continue to build up.
The other thing I tried was a Moksha hot yoga class. I’ve tried Moksha before, as well as Bikram’s. I didn’t much like them then, but I thought I’d try it again. Nope. Too hot. Too stuffy in the room. Too hard to breathe, as a result. But the first 15 minutes (I went early) of lying in the heated room did loosen up my muscles from the trainer’s workout.
Though I likely won’t continue with these two particular healthy habits for 2016, it was well worth giving them another shot. For one, I re-iterated in my mind that I really like my usual form of fitness (body and mind) through yoga. I was restless. I am at peace again.
For another, it’s good to challenge oneself. Not that yoga doesn’t challenge me. It does. But doing something different brings another kind of challenge.
Tweak What You’ve Tried in the Past
And, here’s the last reason why trying something again can be beneficial. Maybe this time it works.
My friend was advised to do a nasal saline rinse. He told me that he had a horrible experience with that in the past. He had used a neti pot to pour water into one nostril. It didn’t come out the other nostril. It stayed stuck somewhere in his sinuses, he told me, leaving him with a horrendous headache. I suggested he try a “nasal irrigator” called Nasaline–what looks like a big syringe with a silicone tip at the end. Because the device allows you to push the fluid in a manner you control, instead of relying on gravity, I find it is stronger in its effect.
It worked! Had he avoided trying it again–same basic premise with a different approach–because of a past bad experience, he never would benefited from this easy solution.
What Healthy Habits Can You Try Anew?
Maybe you go to the gym, do yoga, eat lots of veggies, meditate, go for a daily walk, or come in for acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine tune-ups regularly (you should, you know). Or maybe you just make sure to brush your teeth after meals. Regardless, pat yourself on the back because you have some healthy habits you have maintained.
Now, are there some areas that could be improved upon?
If you are having trouble finding ways to make your healthy habits stick, ask me. I may know a technique, a person, a device, a simple tweak that will work better for you.