Monday, August 31, 2015

Back to School Jitters

Its the last week of summer here before school starts, and there is a lot of anxiety in this house.  Not from the kids though, from me!

Big A now has the sleep habits of a teen, and its tough to drag her out of bed before 9am.  Mornings with the girls have always been challenging, but now even more so.  School begins before 9am so Big A will have to start setting her alarm and waking up a lot earlier.  Unfortunately, no matter what time she wakes up, she never moves quickly. 

Little A, too, often goofs off and doesn't get her butt in gear, even after I've asked her to get ready a half dozen times.  They often have me losing my shit, particularly if I have a morning client or other commitment.  Getting them out the door in the morning often feels like running through quick sand.

Fortunately, both girls are motivated by food.  So the new rule is that they don't get breakfast before absolutely everything is ready - they are dressed, lunches and bags packed, etc.

I am dreading school starting for several other reasons too.  First off, Little A doesn't like school, so she may kick up a fuss and resist leaving in the mornings.  Second, school lunches.  Hate em.  There is a chance the school will be starting a hot lunch program and my fingers are crossed this goes through.  It would be a blessing!  Third, the girls have a lot of activities.  Fortunately, most (gymnastics, swimming, Hebrew school, Big A's Triple Threat theatre, dance and singing classes) are all on the weekends, but Mondays when they both have Girl Guides and Sparks, at different locations at different times, its going to be super tricky.  Adam and I both often work late so its going to be a juggling act.  And then there are the additional school activities Big A always wants to do (i.e. absolutely every team and club).  Now before you accuse us of over scheduling our kids, keep in mind the demand to do these activities comes from them.  Big A, in particular, loves to be involved in everything.

Oy, my blood pressure is rising just thinking about it all!

Friday, as per our annual tradition, we are taking the girls to the Toronto Ex.  I hate it, but they love it.  I am going to hate it even more this year since the weather forecast for that day is ridiculously hot and humid.  Fuck!

Well, have a lovely Monday, and if you're also in Canada, enjoy the last week of summer 2015!

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Reality of Reality TV

I have admitted my addiction to HGTV home design shows before so you may be surprised to hear that since moving into our home almost 10 years ago, we've done almost no cosmetic work on the interior of the house.

Our home is cosy and comfortable.  Its a 1,300 square feet semi, with 600 square feet of finished basement space.  It works well for us...but it could work better.  Because of the insane cost of real estate in Toronto, its doubtful we will ever move, so utilizing every inch of space efficiently is important, especially because adding an addition really isn't an option. 

Built in 1998, some elements of the house are now starting to look the kitchen.  We've actually done a lot of work, but its mostly been functional/eco-friendly changes (new windows and doors, more efficient toilets, tankless hot water heater, etc.).

While it would be nice to have a more updated kitchen (I don't want to be those people who do nothing to their homes for 50 years until as blue haired folks shuffling around, we live in a place that looks like a museum!), our biggest concern is increasing the functionality of the home. 

The first owners put a wet bar in the basement, in what is Adam's study.  We don't use it, its a waste of space.  The basement carpet is old and gross, and since our gym is down there, Adam and I would like cushioned flooring appropriate for working out.  His study also doesn't have a proper door or wall (we don't know what the former owners were thinking!), and we would love to make it a 'real' room so it could also double as a guest bedroom).

 In the large kitchen, there is a whole empty wall which could have built ins to provide us with more storage.  Built ins in the living/dining room would also give us more storage and allow us to get rid of some of the bulkier furniture pieces.  Since I gave up on refinishing the old dining table we inherited, some new furniture is required too.

I am always trolling the HGTV website for opportunities to get a reno or makeover.  Its not that I want to be on television, its just that you are guaranteed the work will get done quickly, since it has to for the filming of the show, you are guaranteed to get great results, since its televised and they don't want mistakes publicized, and most of them will kick in additional funds to the project on top of what you put in.

So recently I discovered a new show, that I'd not seen, called The Expandables, which seemed like the perfect fit for us.  The show is all about creating more space/efficiency for people who cannot increase square footage.  I sent in an application almost immediately.

The next day I received a phone call that they wanted to 'audition' us for the show.  I was absolutely thrilled for about 2 minutes in to the conversation.  Then I realized what the reality of reality television is...

We had named a budget that they said on their website was the minimum, even though it was actually well beyond what we'd initially ended up spending.  The guy quickly told me they now believe that's not enough and asked how much more we had to spend.  Although he didn't name a number, based on his nonplussed reaction to my initial suggestion, I suspect they were looking for double our original budget at least.  Seriously? 

The other problem was that they'd done a bunch of basements for the series already, so they only wanted to do our kitchen.  I explained that we did want stuff done to the kitchen, but it didn't necessarily need to be dramatic, and he explained that for 'before' and 'after' shots on television, actually, it does.

The final problem was he told me we needed to make a decision immediately.  WTF?

While discussing it with Adam, I realized the whole thing was a terrible idea.  They wanted us to go way, way over budget, but only to make improvements to the kitchen.  We wouldn't get any work done at all on the basement.  The 'reality' is, that - and he even said this - this had nothing to do with what we really wanted or needed, but was all about creating good television.  Who needs it?  I bailed.

Instead, we are going with my sister-in-law's best friend who is a designer who works with a different HGTV show.  She has said she and her construction team can do all the improvements we want for WAY LESS THAN OUR ORIGINAL BUDGET.  Expandables, who needs 'em!

There is nothing real about reality television!

Have a happy, healthy weekend!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Take Magnesium and Potassium...With a Grain of Salt?

One of the many recent media warnings that has caused confusion about nutrition and health, is the issue of salt intake.  We've always known its not great to overdo it, but then the alarm sounded and we were told that North Americans were eating way way more than is safe, and that we can blame this on many of our chronic health issues.

Then we heard that salt isn't actually that bad.

So which is it???

Well, from everything I've read, its the high consumption of salt and low consumption of potassium and magnesium. 

This should come as no surprise since the vast majority of our sodium intake comes through processed foods, not from the salt shaker.  Essentially, those folks with the highest sodium intake are probably eating the most processed foods, and the least amount of fresh fruits and veggies and whole foods, where you find potassium and magnesium.

You see, potassium lowers blood pressure and magnesium lowers risk of Type 2 diabetes.  So the situation is a bit more complex than we initially realized.  It may be easier and more beneficial to actually increase your consumption of foods with magnesium and potassium...and hopefully then you'll have less space in your diet for high sodium processed foods!

But don't just grab a bottle of potassium and magnesium pills from the drug store.  You want to be getting these important nutrients from whole foods.  So where do you find them?  The following charts can get you started...

World's Healthiest Foods rich in

 Pumpkin Seeds18048%


 Swiss Chard3538%


 Sesame Seeds20632%


 Black Beans22730%


 Navy Beans25524%

World's Healthiest Foods rich in

 Beet Greens3937%

 Lima Beans21627%

 Swiss Chard3527%

 Sweet Potato18027%





 Pinto Beans24521%


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Turning Off Breast Cancer & Healing Smoothies: Book Reviews

When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, I freaked out.  I thought it was an inevitable early death sentence for both her and I.  Even before then, cancer was always something I feared.  When I heard the news, it was like my almost phobia was being realized.  I experienced extreme anxiety, as well as anger and resentment.  "Why my mother?" "Why me?" I kept wondering.  Feeling a complete loss of control, I decided to research causes and risk factors to see if there was anything my mom could do to increase her chance of survival and what I could do to reduce my chances of getting breast cancer.  Unfortunately, what I found was that so many things had been linked with breast cancer (some which are definite correlates, others which are urban legends), that I ended up hysterical, feeling like the entire world was toxic and basically breast cancer was almost an inevitability for me, and, actually, for almost every woman on the planet.  I made a number of significant lifestyle changes (cut down on alcohol consumption, eliminated red meat) and started trying to eat things that were supposedly good for prevention.  I was obsessed, and stressed, and miserable.  One day while I tried to gag down a smoothie (remember, I hate smoothies!) full of gritty flax seeds, disgusting greens powder, and a host of other stuff, I realized I'd gone too far.  My efforts to extend my life were taking out all the joy of my life.  I knew I had to find balance.  I still try to limit alcohol and rarely eat red meat, but I have made a conscious effort not to think about it too much.  I eat and extremely healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, sleep well, have never smoked, and exercise a lot.  Those are the most important things you can do in terms of preventing disease and premature death, and I can do all those things while loving every minute and mouthful I take in.

So I was a bit nervous to review nutritionist, Daniella Chace's book Turning Off Breast Cancer. Would this book just re-ignite my fears and create anxiety? Well, the short answer is yes. But after taking a deep breath, I was able to reflect on a lot of what's in the book and take it with a grain of salt.  Her general recommendations are sound: eat unprocessed foods, sleep enough, exercise, maintain a healthy weight, limit alcohol, don't smoke, etc...geez, sounds a lot like what I already do!  Some of her advice, however, is a little far reaching. 

Chace has a huge reference section in the back, so she has clearly researched a lot, and used mostly credible, peer reviewed data, but she makes the leap, that many health experts caution against: since an isolated micronutrient kills cancer cells in a laboratory petrie dish, we can assume that taking supplements will prevent or treat cancer in the human body. 

Some things are a bit ridiculous, like insisting on a vegan diet.  She talks a lot about the growth hormones in dairy, but we don't add them to dairy in Canada, so if you are here, you need not worry about that.  Also, while I agree that there is some pretty compelling evidence about the risks of saturated fat and red meat related to cancer, I don't see why moderate amounts of eggs, poultry and fish are not allowed.

More frightening is the discussion of environmental toxins.  The link between many of these compounds and cancer is still unknown, and often avoidance is difficult or even impossible, which will just create a great deal of anxiety for people.  I'm not saying don't avoid this stuff if you can, but I also don't think people should drive themselves crazy and feel like they have to live inside a bubble.  It also pisses me off that she recommends chelation therapy to remove heavy toxins from your body, since this practice is discredited by most doctors, and can, in fact, be very dangerous.

Now, I do strongly believe that we can influence our personal health through our own action, and this has been backed up by the recent discovery of epigenetics, which Chace discusses.

Epigenetics is how lifestyle (nutrition, exposure to toxins, etc.) and experience can affect gene expression (infographic is from her website:

But we also know that cancer, and even breast cancer, is many different diseases (she discusses the different types and customizes her recommendations accordingly), and often times they occur randomly, and seemingly just due to 'bad luck'. To believe otherwise just becomes a blame-the-victim exercise.

Also, like so many health experts, Chace's perspective is very elitest.  Health is determined to a very large degree, based on socioeconomic status.  Disadvantaged groups usually have poorer health and poorer health care.  Her recommendations assume you have lots of resources for fresh, organic food, expensive supplements and alternative treatments.

In her accompanying book, Healing Smoothies, Chace provides a zillion recipes for smoothies, based on her cancer prevention and recovery principles.

What I like is that there is no added sweetener in any of these (although if you are used to sweet smoothies you may have to add xylitol or stevia), and she suggests using frozen cubes of green tea instead of plain ice cubes, which I think is very clever.  What I don't like is that they all sound a bit too similar...even the 'protein smoothies' use just 2 tbsp. of protein powder, which is the same as all the other smoothies.  But I will admit my biases, that, as I mentioned, I hate smoothies (I prefer to chew my food), and that I rarely use recipes for anything, and certainly don't feel like I need them for smoothies.  But I know most people feel differently. 

I do think smoothies are probably a great option for people going through cancer treatment who may be experiencing nausea and have a loss of appetite.  In fact, my good friend who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year is a big fan of smoothies so I am going to give her this recipe book because I think she'll love it.

So do I recommend this book? I do think people who are healing from breast cancer or at risk may benefit from this book. But just make sure you remember that eating certain foods and taking certain supplements are no guarantee.  I think making higher level lifestyle changes like I mentioned before are more important (quit smoking, exercise, limit alcohol, etc.). Also, be sure to speak with your physician first before taking any supplements, even natural ones!

Disclosure: The publisher sent me these books, but all opinions on this blog are my own.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Watermelon, Cucumber, Black Olive and Feta Salad

As I have gotten older, I have become increasingly smitten with all things vegetable and increasingly picky about fruit. 

Apples are one of my favorite foods of all times, and I like berries and cherries and citrus.  I love plums and peaches if they are cooked, and besides that...meh!

Melons, in particular, which I loved as a kid, just don't float my boat.  The rest of my brood gobbles them down like they are going out of style.

Lately watermelon has emerged as a trendy fruit.  Its turning up in savoury dishes at upscale restaurants.  For some reason, this has intrigued me.  I do like sweet/salty/savoury flavour combos.  I finally decided I had to try it for myself.  After all, is there anything better than a refreshing salad in the dog says of summer?  If nothing else, watermelon is super hydrating!

As it turns out, I really enjoyed this combination.  Its a great balance of flavours.  The dressing was just my own invention and it goes perfectly with the salad ingredients.  The yogurt and feta give the salad protein and calcium and makes it more filling.  I am definitely going to be making this again before the end of the summer!!

Watermelon, Cucumber, Black Olive and Feta Salad


350g box organic mixed greens
1/2 cucumber, sliced
2 cups diced watermelon
2 tbsp. kalamata olives
2 tbsp. crumbled feta

Creamy Vinaigrette Dressing

1 cup plain yogurt
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar

Place greens, cucumber, watermelon in a serving bowl or individual serving dishes.  Combine yogurt, mustard, garlic and salt.  Whisk in vinegar.  Drizzle desired amount over salad and toss.  Sprinkle olives and feta over top.

Dressing will keep in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

I have shared this recipe with Urban Naturale's Healthy, Happy Green & Natural Party Blog Hop and Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday.

Monday, August 24, 2015

CLIF Kid Organic Zbars: Product Review

Well hello and happy Monday morning! How was your weekend?  Ours was lovely and a nice balance of family time, errands and fun. I would have preferred, of course, if it hadn't been so hot!  Summer is close to being over, so already the start of school is looming, which means packing lunches and snacks.  If you are a parent, then you are probably always on the lookout for healthy snacks for your kids.  If so, you may want to check out these Zbars from CLIF.

We've known about these bars for years since we found them in the U.S., but they're new to Canada.  The girls have always loved them, so when they offered to send some samples, I jumped at the opportunity.

We got one of each flavour being offered here: Chocolate Chip, Iced Oatmeal Cookie, and Chocolate Brownie, which was perfect, because the girls hadn't tried these varieties.

Big A's favorite was the Chocolate Brownie, while Little A favoured the Iced Oatmeal Cookie.  Both felt it was hard to detect the chocolate chips in the Chocolate Chip bar, and said it was a bit bland.  Little A thought the Iced Oatmeal Cookie tasted the most like the grown-up kind of CLIF bar.

The bars are 140 calories, with a few grams each of fat, fibre and protein.  I like that they only use whole grains and are organic, but, of course don't love the 12g of sugar that comes from several added sweeteners.  I've noticed that companies are scared to make products for kids with sugar alternatives, even the natural ones like xylitol or stevia, because a lot of parents thing 'natural sugar' is the best option.  Its not, by the way.  Anyhow, even coconut sugar would be preferable in my mind.

Compared to Quaker Chewy Chocolate Chip granola bars, the Zbar is a bit bigger (36g versus 24g), but also is higher in calories (140 versus 100) and sugar (12g versus 7g). The Quaker bars, however, have less fibre, are not organic and contain corn syrup.  So overall, I would chose these over a standard granola bar.

The girls used to have to wait until we travelled to the U.S. to get these, so they are pretty happy they are now in Canada!

Disclosure: We were sent the bars for free, but all opinions on this blog are our own.

Friday, August 21, 2015

More Fitness News

Just a few more things from the fitness conference last weekend.

First, I saw a demo of Piloxing, which, when I'd first heard about it, I wrote off as some gimmicky thing.  A fusion of boxing and Pilates, really?  I couldn't picture it.  Well, once I saw it, I realized it's pretty cool.  It looks like so much fun!  With all the punching and kicking, its not so different from a lot of the workouts I already do, but its also got a dance vibe and is done to upbeat music.  Hmm, I think next time I am in the mood to buy a new exercise DVD, I might give this a try!

I did 2 spinning sessions both focused on interval training, but nothing too new to report there.

For the past few years I have been eying the mini trampolines.  I've used them a wee bit in Pilates classes before, but the folks demonstrating the cardio programs using them at CAN FIT PRO every year, just look like they are having such a great time, I really want to try this.  I just have to convince Adam to let me buy a mini trampoline to fit into our home gym...

Lastly, I did a session with LeBarre, taught by Jen Hall, a former dancer with BeyoncĂ©! She was awesome, and it was awesome! 

Hmm, might also have to convince Adam we can fit an Equalizer in our gym, so that maybe I can get a few of these DVDs too!

I also had a great time at the Trade Show, as always, but for the first time ever (and I've been attending at least since 2000!), I didn't spend a dime.  Nope.  Just snatched up as many free samples as I could ;)

And, so what about all these sports nutrition products, protein powders, etc.?  Well in the case of protein powder, in particular, I would agree that real food is a better choice whenever possible, but if you like protein powder, use them. I find them very convenient especially to get extra protein into my kids.  Nancy Clark's advice, which I think is wise, is that if you are going to use them, buy the more expensive, high quality ones that are not full of crap. 

So this ends my focus on fitness week.  Remember, move it or lose it, so get out there this weekend and shake your bushy tail!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

How to Look Like a Celebrity

Khloe Kardashian Reveals Diet Secrets In People Magazine

Okay, I know you're going to be interested in this post!

I am sure virtually every woman in North America has wondered how Hollywood celebrities achieve such 'perfect' bodies.  Well, at CAN FIT PRO last week, one of Hollywood's top fitness trainers, Eric the Trainer, was there to tell us fitness professionals the secrets!

Eric the Trainer, gave several presentations, and I caught the one on Celebrity Secrets, and it was most interesting!!!  I also found some of what he said rather disturbing.

First off, he was very upfront about the fact that celebrities come to him for improve their appearance.  Not to improve their health or athletic performance.  To look their best.  He admitted that his approach then, is entirely dedicated to that end.

Male and female celebrities are trained in completely different ways because Hollywood wants women to be lithe and thin and in his words, "look like they dropped out of heaven looking this way without every having stepped in to a gym", while they want men to look fit and strong. 

Not that this is surprising, but it frankly pisses me off.  This attitude almost seems misogynistic to me, to want women weak, thin and helpless and men big and what? So we can be dominated? Controlled? Please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Most celebrities are already pretty lean, but Eric said often the women want to improve a particular area, and the men have to get bigger/more muscular in a particular area for a role they are doing.  Results have to be achieved very quickly because they have hard time lines to begin shooting films. 

Anyways, this means that the following is the general protocol for women:

  • High repetition body weight exercises that get the heart rate up (no weights, resistance bands or endurance cardio)
  • Strict diet of veggies, berries, egg whites, chicken, turkey and fish, absolutely no grains, dairy, corn, potatoes or bananas.
  • A lot of sleep to keep metabolism going and get adequate recovery.
For men:
  • Strength training using the JET strategy (keeping muscles under tension throughout exercise to maximize results in minimum amount of time).
  • Diet similar to women only some grains like rice are permitted and red meat and pork is permitted (he doesn't want women consuming red meat because of the creatine which can make muscles look 'pumped').
  • A lot of sleep to keep metabolism going and get adequate recovery.
While most of us in the fitness/weight-loss industry say that managing your weight is probably close to 80% diet-related and the rest fitness and sleep, Eric the Trainer believes its 33% for each.  Well, what he's overlooking is that this depends on the individual.  His clients are genetically gifted celebs who may be trying to 'tone up' an area of their body or lose 10 lbs at most.  They are most likely already eating a high quality diet and exercising to some extent.  So yes, in this case, he's probably right. Its about making small changes to each of these key areas.  But for some of my clients, for example, its a very different situation.  Someone who is obese and eating fast food and processed foods daily, improving their diet will have a much bigger impact on their weight than will a few low intensity workouts a week (which is usually the most they can handle if they are currently sedentary).  The sleep is definitely important, but again, if they are consuming too many calories every day, getting more sleep won't have a huge impact on their weight.

Eric also said a few things which I think are total bullshit.  He said ice cream and peanut butter are the absolute worst foods in terms of their impact on your appearance.    Okay, no one would claim ice cream is health food, but this seems kind of arbitrary.  And peanut butter? When probed by all the stunned fitness professionals in the audience, he said he thinks all nut butters, and even the all natural ones are just as bad, but admitted that they may be healthy (just not conducive to looking good).  Okay, that's garbage! I am going to guess that the issue is really that nut butters are a food that people tend to over eat.  How many people do you know who eat it straight out of the jar?  A 'serving' is 2 tbsp. and although I probably consume some sort of nut or seed butter almost every day, I am always careful to stick to a serving.  I don't see how eating it in moderation is going to negatively affect your appearance when its full of nutrition and healthy fats. 

The other thing he said which is total bull is he claims that drinking carbonated beverages of any kind, even calorie free ones, cause cellulite.  I looked into this and THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE THAT THIS IS TRUE.

Oh, and his take on protein powder and protein shakes, etc.? NO WAY!  He doesn't feel that the body processes them as well as protein from real food, so he forbids his clients from consuming them.  This may be true, and certainly is consistent with what Nancy Clark believes (although she thinks nuts and nut butters are excellent foods for health, performance and weight maintenance!).

So there you have it, that's what the A-list does to keep themselves in Hollywood shape.  What does that mean for you and I?  Nothing.  Sure, diet, exercise and sleep are just important for us, in terms of both health and appearance, but few of us are going to live such a restrictive lifestyle.  Why? Well, first of all, our jobs don't usually depend on it.  Keep in mind, as Eric the Trainer pointed out, that they are under a lot of pressure to look a certain way.  He said a female actress basically can't be in front of the camera if she doesn't have a flat stomach. WTF? There are a lot of women who will never achieve a flat stomach simply because of genetics!!  This is such a narrow and unrealistic standard of beauty.

Olympic gold medalist Rosie MacLennan, whom I met the other day, doesn't look like a supermodel or celebrity, but she's got a gorgeous, strong, muscular toned body that is capable of performing amazing feats!  Dietician, Nancy Clark said one of the biggest mistakes many of her female athletes make, is that they should look like models.  None of us 'should' look like them, unless we are born that way.

Now you might wonder at how these folks maintain the motivation to keep themselves looking so 'perfect'?  I might just be game to try it if there was $10 million on the line!  Remember, these people could lose a role in a blockbuster movie if they don't.  These celebs also have teams of people to help them out, prepare their meals, etc.  This isn't real life folks!

So what's the bottom line? Don't use Hollywood as your yardstick for your lifestyle or appearance.  We 'regular' folk should not be comparing ourselves to them. 

Beauty is not the same as health or fitness.  Health is how you feel and function, fitness is about what you do.  Beauty, in my opinion, is who you are on the inside! 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Health is Beautiful but Beauty isn't Always Healthy

Good morning and happy hump day!

Before I post more about the CAN FIT PRO conference, I have one of my wonderful rants for you, but I promise its relevant to what I'll be sharing with you tomorrow.

I detest fashion and beauty magazines.  They are incredibly heavy on advertisements and the articles they contain couldn't be more boring, in my opinion.  I care not one bit about fashion shows, new designers, the latest makeup trends, etc.  But, hey, if you are into this stuff that's awesome.

My problem is that I am interested in health.  Yet virtually any health or fitness magazine I pick up is also dominated by ads and articles devoted to beauty.  What is that doing in my magazines?  And the women featured on the cover are generally models and celebrities.  Why not ordinary fit women? Why not female athletes?

My beef (or kale, if you prefer), is that beauty is not the same as health.  Sure, you could argue that if clothes and makeup help you feel beautiful and feeling beautiful contributes to happiness and wellbeing, than ultimately it contributes to health.  But let's get real!   Many beauty trends are downright UNHEALTHY.  Elective cosmetic surgery has significant risks, many cosmetics and beauty products contain harmful ingredients, high heels are bad for your feet, tanning can cause skin cancer, tooth whitening can erode enamel, control undergarments and super skinny jeans can cause nerve damage, and on and on.

Sure, certain 'beauty' products fall under the category of personal hygiene, which is definitely an element of health, but only the odd article is actually about, say, which deodorant has the healthiest ingredients.  Most are about which creams are best for reducing wrinkles or which hair products are best for frizz, or the lipstick that provides the best pout. 

The problem is our society is way too focused on beauty and the unfortunate blurring of the lines between beauty and health has become a deterrent for many people in adopting healthier lifestyle habits.

Let me explain.  In my counselling practice I see clients who want to lose weight.  Some have moderate weight to lose.  Others have a whole lot to lose, if they want to improve their health.  While they all are somewhat concerned about the health risks of being overweight, the biggest issue for all of them is lack of body confidence and concerns about how they are perceived by others.  What always trips them up in terms of committing to lasting lifestyle change, is the resentment they feel over being negatively judged because of their appearance.  They cannot separate this issue from their goal of being healthy, and eventually rebel by returning to their old habits. 

I get it. Its not fair to be judged harshly because of your weight and there is no way to deny that we are a seriously fat-phobic society.  Fat is considered ugly and we tend to view fat people as stupid, lazy, and self-indulgent.  These assumptions are so deeply ingrained in our culture that overweight people themselves also believe it.  And this, once again, leads to self-sabotage.

But here's the thing.  You cannot always tell by someone's body shape or weight whether or not they are healthy.  At a gym where I used to teach fitness classes, there was a middle aged mom with super huge thighs - that definitely did not fit the 'ideal' we have for women.  But this amazing woman and her powerful thighs ran marathons, on top of being a mom and holding down a full-time job.  She was super fit and strong!  At this same gym there was a lovely looking, very slender, 20 something woman who ran on the treadmill for a super long time every day.  She eventually developed such a severe stress fracture she had to quit.  She admitted to me that she had very disordered eating.  Not healthy!  At the CAN FIT PRO conference last week, there was an obese, pregnant woman in both the spinning sessions I attended. She was so obese I never would have guessed she was pregnant except I heard her tell one of the session presenters.  Well, ya know what? She kept up better than a lot of the skinny fit 'looking' women there!

A client of mine recently confessed her frustration because her wife, who suffers from a chronic, autoimmune disorder and doesn't take care of herself, is so out of shape, she can barely walk up a flight of stairs.  But when her wife ever admits she should start doing more physical activity, my client told me that people always say to her, "No way, you're so skinny, you don't need to exercise."

Grrr!  This irritates me so much!  I often see people, particularly women, who do not have a weight problem, or are naturally lean, think that they do not need to exercise or eat healthfully.  This is not true! You may conform to society's prescribed body ideal, but that doesn't mean you are not putting yourself at risk of illness!  Even slim people can be at risk for metabolic disorder and heart disease if they are not eating well and keeping active.  Being sedentary also ups your risk of osteoporosis, cancer and Alzheimer's regardless of your weight status (in fact thin folks are at GREATER risk of osteoporosis!).  Everyone should exercise and should be active EVERY DAY in order to be healthy and maintain quality of life.  Forget about what it does for your physique!!

If we could all just focus on the fundamentals of healthy living and not on achieving some extreme esthetic ideal that is so unrealistic the vast majority of us will fail, than we'd all be a lot better off.  It always comes back to the same principles:

1. Don't smoke
2. Be active
3. Eat real food (unprocessed, appropriate amount for your energy needs, etc.)
4. Limit alcohol
5. Get enough sleep and manage stress

Follow these guidelines and you will be your personal best.  And that's beautiful.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Wisdom from a Sport Nutrition Expert

Last Thursday I did a full-day intensive seminar with Registered Dietician and sports nutrition expert, Nancy Clark

She's been a top name in the field for a long time, and I've had one of her books on my shelf for years, so I was very excited about getting a spot.  Although she has many 'regular folk' like you and I who see her, she also has a lot of clients who are elite athletes.  Currently, she is the dietician for the Boston Red Sox.

The session didn't turn out to be quite what I expected, but that's because, as she explained, neither has her career.  She said that when she entered the field of sports nutrition, she didn't expect to spend so much of her time dealing with disordered eating and clinical eating disorders, but, unfortunately, this is the reality.

So much of the discussion and info she shared was about weight loss strategies and disordered eating, but that is actually more applicable to my counselling practice, so I wasn't disappointed.

One of the most common mistakes she sees among women in her practice (and some men), whether they are athletes or not, is that to lose weight they cut calories by under eating during the day and then in the evening, feeling tired, starving and deprived, they lose control and binge eat.  Then they compensate by under eating the next day and the cycle continues.  I see this in my practice all the time!

Hunger always wins, is Clark's saying, which is essentially what I always tell my clients: you are fighting biology!

The key is to never let yourself get too hungry, and for that reason, Clark recommends that everyone, again, regardless of whether or not you are an athlete, eat 4 meals a day, 4 hours a part.  She says if you aren't hungry for 4 meals, skip the last one of the day, but never skip the others.  I couldn't agree more!!

Basically, you figure out your optimal calorie intake (whether you are trying to gain weight, lose weight or improve athletic performance, this strategy can work), and then divide it between 4 meals.

She encourages her clients to include their favorite foods, even if that's donuts, ice cream, etc., so these foods lose psychological power.  For many folks, after even a few days of including these foods in their meals, they actually get sick of them, or a the very least, realize they're not as yummy as they thought, or they don't feel as good when they eat them and eventually they voluntarily cut down on how frequently they eat them without feeling deprived.

Her take on carbs is that they are absolutely essential for active people, but that sedentary people need far less.  You should, of course, eat the good ones (whole grains, potatoes, etc.).

Clark doesn't believe in sports nutrition products like protein powders, stimulants, etc. and prefers her clients to eat real food.  In terms of hydration, water is just fine, and even Gatorate type things are unnecessary, except for extreme endurance training. She doesn't recommend any restrictive diets including Paleo, etc. but believes a balanced vegetarian or vegan diet is absolutely possible and just fine, even for elite athletes.

The mistake a lot of athletes make, even male ones, is that they think losing weight will help their performance. This isn't always the case.  She said their attempts to do so, particularly if they drastically cut calories, often backfires, not only in terms of weight-loss, but in terms of performance. 

Admittedly, I didn't learn all that much that I didn't already know, but it is good to know that I know my stuff and am steering my clients in the right direction. 

No surprises here, right? Eat real food, eat at regular intervals, and eat the appropriate amount of calories to support your goals and activity levels.  Duh!

So why am I writing about all this if its nothing really new? Well, first you may notice it seems contradictory with my experience the day before with an NHL coach developing a whole line of protein powders and sports nutrition products for his athletes!  We're going to discuss contradictions and confusion about nutrition later on...stay tuned!!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Working out with Elite

Good morning! Its ass-frying hot here today. Boo!

Okay, I am really behind in my posts because I have so much info to share from all my fitness activities last week, but I'll go in chronological order.

On Wednesday, as 'media' I was invited to attend an event sponsored by BioSteel and Under Armour.

Aside from getting a kick-butt workout, we were spoiled rotten!

I brought along my friend Nat, a fellow fitness freak, and all of us got a swag bag of goodies.  The photo above is the group of us.  I am the brunette with the big-ass sunglasses protecting my very sensitive eyes from the sun on the right.

From Under Armour, we got a gym bag, 2 brand new pairs of running shoes, leggings, 4 pack of socks, shorts, 2 sports bras, 2 tank tops, 1 t-shirt and sweatshirt.  Seriously!!  From BioSteel we got a whole slew of supplements.

First, Matt Nichol, who developed the BioSteel products and founded the company, gave a talk about how this came about.  He said he realized that his professional athletes he trained were jacking themselves up on sugar, caffeine and energy drinks to get through their games, but then couldn't sleep.  This meant they weren't getting adequate recovery which was hurting their performance and leading to injuries. They were also using all sorts of sports nutrition products that had junk in them that concerned him, both for the sake of their health and because athletes have to be careful that they don't consume any banned substances.

The BioSteel products are all natural and are approved by Health Canada and the NSF.  Their signature product is a rehydrator, much like Gatorade and that type of thing, only there is no sugar and nothing artificial.  It actually tastes good too.  We were guzzling it during our workout as it was outside and very hot and sunny!

Canadian Gold Medal Olympian in trampoline, Rosie MacLennan, is a spokesperson for BioSteel because she loves their products.

After he spoke, the folks from Under Armour told us all about their new sports bra line.

Then it was time!  On this massive football field at a private school, conveniently close to home, he put us through an awesome bootcamp workout.  It was really fun!! He promised it was very similar to the training he does with his athletes.  Guess who kept up with the Olympian??? Yep, 40-year-old me!

Since I usually train myself alone, I rarely have a frame of reference for my fitness level.  I think I'm fit, but since I don't use any gadgets, not even a heart rate monitor anymore, sometimes I wonder.  My participants tell me my spinning class is tough, and when I lift weights beforehand I often get asked what I'm training for (life!), but again, it was nice to see that at my 'advanced age' as Adam and the girls tease me ALL THE TIME, I can still crush it. Ha!

Afterwards, they treated us to a lovely catered lunch with healthy food.  Like actually healthy, not pseudo healthy like you get at most events (even marathons, etc.!).

So that's it, it was pretty sweet and now I have a whole slew of awesome Under Armour fitness gear and BioSteel products.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Spicy Thai Hummus


How is this for a cultural mish-mash?  Regardless of what you want to call it (Fusion?), its delicious.   It can also be used in a number of ways by subtly adjusting the consistency, as a dip, spread or even sauce.  If you aren't a fan of heat, just make it a Not-Spicy Thai Hummus.  It will still be fantastic!  The bonus is its also quick and easy since all you do is throw everything in your food processor or blender.

Shown in the pic is whole grain pita slathered in it and topped with pea sprouts.  Yum!

Spicy Thai Hummus

1 (14oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas)
2 tbsp. peanut butter
2 tbsp. fish sauce (or Asian plum vinegar for vegan)
4 tbsp. Unseasoned rice vinegar
1 bunch green onions (or to taste), ends trimmed
1 chunk fresh ginger, peeled
1 clove garlic
Crushed hot chili flakes (or Siracha), to taste (optional)
Optional: handful fresh cilantro

Throw everything in blender and puree until smooth.  Adjust seasoning to taste.  Keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. 

Note: To thin it out to use as a sauce, just add water, 1 tbsp. at a time until it reaches the desired consistency.

Well folks, the next few days are crazy busy and start early, so this will be my last post for the week.  Stay healthy!

I have shared this recipe with Urban Naturale's Plant-Based Pot Luck Party.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Training with the Pros

As I write this post I have my Omron Electrotherapy device massaging my pecs/delts (get your mind out of the gutter, I don't have it on my boobs!).  I did some different exercises for back and chest at the gym on Sunday, and even though I didn't go lift any heavier, just mixing it up activated the muscles in a different way and I'm sore as heck.

I better loosen up soon though, because its the CAN FIT PRO conference this week!  But even before that, I've got a super special event going on tomorrow.  I was invited to a workout sponsored by BioSteel featuring NHL trainer, Matt Nichols and Canadian Olympic medalist in trampoline, Rosie MacLennon. I am bringing along my fellow fitness fanatic friend, Nat, and I can't wait, it should be a blast.  We also get amazing swag bags full of all sorts of fitness there anything better than free stuff?

Thursday I am attending a full day seminar on sports nutrition, with registered dietician and author Nancy Clark.  Friday I am doing conference sessions on spinning and strength training, and, of course, going to the trade show (i.e. fitness lover's shopping heaven!).  I decided to do the Thursday seminar and not to go on Saturday this year, so I can see clients in the morning as usual and have time with the kids in the afternoon on the weekend.  I am so glad for this change as I find 2 days of fitness seminars more than is necessary.

Monday, August 10, 2015

XBX 12-Minute Fitness Plan for Women: Book Review

I love working out...although I am paying the price this morning for the kick-ass workout I did yesterday...ow, to my pecs and lats ever ache!!!  But I know most people are not quite as enthusiastic about exercise.  If that's you, then you might be interested in this program which requires very little time and cost nothing.

Fitness trends come and go.  Sometimes its nice to see them go, but sometimes good ones get thrown out for no good reason, in favour of the supposed next best thing.  But effective workouts need not be novel, flashy or trendy.  If you do the same basic stuff that was done decades ago (say, bench press and squats, for example) you can still get awesome results.

Apparently, one of the current top trends is shorter, high intensity workouts (i.e. HIIT, Tabata, etc.).  And for good reason, one of the most common excuses people have for not exercising, is lack of time.

That being said, I am always skeptical of fitness programs that promise major transformations in just minutes a day.  You have to take into account the FITT principle (i.e. Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type) in order to determine how long and how often you should be doing a particular activity.  Obviously, the more intense the activity, the less time you need to spend doing it, and the less frequently you need to do it.  The problem is, if you want to just do 10 minute workouts, you'll have to be working ridiculously intensely for 10 minutes, probably more intensely than is even possible.  And you certainly won't build significant endurance that way.  So when I was asked to review the XBX 12-Minute Fitness Plan for Women, I figured it would be nonsense. 

But when the book arrived, I realized what it actually is: The famous fitness plan developed for none other than the Royal Canadian Air Force! The military means business you know!!

What your exercise routine should look like depends, of course on your goals.  I will start by saying that if you want to look like a fitness model, or are even fixated mostly on making aesthetic changes to your body, this is not going to be your best option.  It may have a positive effect on how your body looks, but it won't likely produce dramatic changes.

If, however, you are looking to improve your strength, posture, balance and flexibility, this will do all those things.  It is designed to be progressive, and is adaptable to various populations making it appropriate for even sedentary children, seniors, and obese individuals (just make sure you consult a doctor first to make sure its safe for you to exercise!).

The routine requires no equipment and can be done anywhere (in your cubicle at work, living room, outdoors, etc.).

Except for the minute or so of 3 minutes of running on the spot and hops at the end, the exercises remind me of sort of a Pilates/Essentrics hybrid.  So if you've ever done Pilates before you will get a sense of the progression and how things can start relatively easy (lift shoulders and head off the ground to work abs) to extremely difficult (full roll up to sitting position with legs extended straight).

My biggest complaint is that the charts provided to guide you through the various stages of the program are confusing.  And until your memorize which number is associated with which exercise, you will have to keep flipping back and forth through the book.  There are also different numbers of reps for each exercise, which adds to the complexity of figuring things out.

So can this program get you fit?  Yes, to some extent.  If you are currently sedentary and very out of shape, you will see a huge improvement in your general fitness if you do this program regularly (I would say daily), and follow the progressions of increasing difficulty.  But eventually you will plateau unless you start to increase reps or the frequency of how often you do the routine.  Frankly, at only 12 minutes, I'd say you can do it twice at least!

Another thing to remember is that if you work in a sedentary job and sit all day, even if you were to do a 1 hour, intense workout in the morning, or evening, you are still at increased risk for chronic illness, just from the long periods of sitting.  So I would recommend doing this workout a few times a day with at least once being in the middle of the day to break up the time you are sedentary.

So do I recommend this?  Sure! If you are sedentary and want to improve your fitness but don't want to join a gym, buy equipment or spend too much time working out, this is a great option for you.

Disclosure:  I was sent a review copy of this book but all opinions on this blog are my own.

Friday, August 7, 2015

What I'm Lovin' This Summer

This makes my already scrumptious Coffee Frappes even more awesome...

NOW Stevia Liquid Extract French Vanilla 2 fl.oz
This makes the most amazing, creamy peanut butter frosting, and is also great added to baked goods.  I don't like it as a spread, however, I'll stick with regular nut and seed butter for sandwiches.

     BETTY LOU'S Just Great Stuff - Powdered Organic Peanut Butter Protein Plus 180 grams
Live Clean's Keratin Oil shampoo and conditioner is helping to keep my hair from being a frizzy freak show...
The following shows we've been watching in re-run are making us laugh:
  • Brooklyn 99
  • Modern Family
  • Blackish
  • Schitt's Creek (we're actually still on the fence about this one, but we always give Canadian shows more of a chance)
There was an Essentrics sale a few weeks ago, so I grabbed another DVD set for myself, and one for my mom too.  This program is the best for keeping me pain and injury free so I can stay fit until I'm 98! This one is a bit different from my other set (Season 9) format-wise.  Each session is entirely mat, standing or bar, instead of a combination.  Either way, I love having variety as I try to do it every day after my workout, or when I have 20 minutes to fit it in.

Classical Stretch Season 10

Yes, my obsession with cats has returned.  Adam may be allergic, but that doesn't have to stop my from gushing over adorable kitties (and the girls love this too!)...check out The Cats of Instagram:
Its the little things, ya know?  Have a happy, healthy weekend!!

On a more somber note, I have to mention the tragic death of Canadian television personality, Chris Hyndman.  He was found death beneath his apartment Monday night and it sounds like it was a tragic accident.  I often watched the Steven & Chris show, and have even been to see it live twice (I found the pic below on my phone from the last time).

I never actually met him, but by all accounts he was an incredibly nice, down-to-earth, and funny guy, exactly like he appears on television.  My condolences to his partner Steven Sabatos and to their families, what a terrible loss!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

derma e: Product Review

Nowadays people are becoming conscious of not only what they put IN their bodies, but what they put ON them.

Reports of various carcinogens being put into commercial makeup and hygiene products is scaring folks and leading them to look for alternatives that are better for us and for the environment.

derma e is one of the companies that offer healthier alternatives.  Here is some info on derma e:

Keeping It Real

derma e® was founded in 1984 by David Stearn and Dr. Linda Miles, D.O.M. with the humble commitment of offering skin-friendly, earth-friendly, highly effective skincare. This commitment still guides everything derma e® does today.
derma e® now offers over 80 unique face care, body care and treatment items enriched with healthy vitamins and antioxidants to address various skin types and concerns. Each item is still hand-formulated by Dr. Linda herself and is produced in David Stearn’s family-owned, small-batch manufacturing facility in Southern California, USA. Yep, you could say that we're pretty down to earth.

Driven by Results

As a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Dr. Linda ascribes to the antioxidant theory of aging. She designed the derma e® line to quench the environmental oxidative stress that ages and debilitates the skin. Hence, derma e® facial skincare products are formulated with active levels of scientifically proven antioxidants such as Astaxanthin, Pycnogenol®, C-Ester and Vitamin E. And derma e® Therapeutic Topicals utilize vitamins and botanicals to address a wide variety of skin conditions and physical ailments such as blemishes, age spots, scars and aching extremities.

Driven by Beliefs

derma e® is passionate about a future with healthier skin, a healthier environment and a healthier world.
  • To respect our skin, every derma e® formula is paraben-free, phthalate-free, GMO-free, gluten-free, sodium lauryl sulfate-free, petrolatum-free, mineral oil-free and dye-free.
  • To respect our animal friends, every derma e® formula is 100% vegan and cruelty-free. Finished formulas are never tested on animals.
  • To respect our environment, derma e® products are made with recyclable material, and we offset 100% of our electrical usage with wind energy certificates.
  • To respect our world, derma e® actively volunteers and supports the humanitarian organizations, animal welfare and land conservation programs that are near and dear to our hearts, including Special Olympics, Meet Each Need with Dignity (MEND), the World Wildlife Fund and Polaris Project. A percentage of all our product sales is donated to The Paraguay Project, a non-profit program we established to aid the disadvantaged people, rainforest and land of Paraguay.
The company sent me 2 products from their Purifying line, their 2-in-1 Carcoal Mask:

Product Image

And their Purifying Youth Serum:

Product Image

I was a bit concerned about the mask as I have very dry skin and I thought it might just dry out my skin more, but, in fact, it didn't at all.  I haven't done a 'mud' mask in a million years, so it brought back memories, ha!  The kids were hysterical seeing me walk around for the 5 minutes while it dried with a blue face.  Yes, it actually dries to a beautiful robin's egg blue!  I traded in my usual nighttime facial moisturizer for the Youth Serum, again, wondering if my skin would feel parched.  Nope!  Skin felt smooth and adequately hydrated.  Even better though, is my sensitive skin didn't react to them.  Its always a crap-shoot for me since my skin will often react to new products, even if they are unscented and hypoallergenic.  I can assure you I will be using these products throughout the sweaty summer, especially since my skin seems particularly prone to breakouts over the past few years.

The products are, of course, more costly than a lot of the generic drug-store stuff, but obviously safer, more ethical and better quality.  You can find them in stores across the U.S. and Canada, and purchase them online. 

Disclosure: I was sent some complimentary products from derma e, but all the opinions on this blog are my own.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Lemon Dill Tuna Slaw (Vegan option)

I am obsessed with this salad recipe.  Its quick and easy, so yummy, and very satisfying.  It can be a main course salad because it is packed with protein.  And fear not plant-eaters, a few modifications and it can be made vegan too!

Lemon Dill Tuna Slaw

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (vegan or regular)
2 tbsp. mayo (vegan or regular)
Juice and zest of a lemon
2 tbsp. white vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped pickles
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp dried dill
1 can tuna packed in water (or skinless, boneless salmon), or 1 can chickpeas, drained, rinsed and mashed
14oz bag cole slaw mix

In a large bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients, and then stir in tuna. Add cole slaw to bowl and toss everything until well mixed.

I brought this recipe to this week's Plant-Based Pot Luck Party Link-Up on Urban Naturale and Gluten-Free Friday on Vegetarian Mamma.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Going Nowhere Fast...

I know I promised to write a post about what makes Toronto such an awesome city...but unfortunately, first I have another bitch post.

The biggest issue here is transportation.  It sucks.  Compared to other cities our size and/or stature, we have a pathetic and outdated public transportation system.

Right now, living in or around the city is a pain because of the constant congestion on the roads and the subpar transit well as the fact that drivers, cyclists and even some pedestrians lack patience, empathy and manners and are distracted (i.e. still using devices even though its illegal!!).

This was the blight on what would have otherwise been an amazing long weekend.

I had to work Friday night, but Saturday I booked off because we had tickets to take the girls, along with my in-laws to this play at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Its called Peter and the Starcatcher, and it was AWESOME!  Its written as the prequel to Peter Pan, and it was so clever and funny, we all loved it.  Niagara-on-the-Lake, of course, is an absolutely gorgeous little town and we had so much fun cruising up and down the main street.

What was not fun at all was the trip there and back.  From Toronto to St. Catharines, about 70 miles, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic.  What should have been a 1 hour and 40 minute trip was almost 3 hours.  On the way home, it was smooth sailing all the way to Toronto and we were so relieved because it was late, we were all tired and Big A had to pee.  Then we hit the Gardiner Expressway, which we discovered had no west end exits open because of the Caribana festival, so it was back to barely moving for so long I was ready to jump off the bridge. The first open exit was way east of our house, in the middle of the city, in the middle of city traffic, and we then had to back track west to get home.  Grrrr! Its so frustrating!!

Sunday was relatively quiet.  I taught spinning while Adam took the girls to Costco (yes, its a favorite family activity) and then he took them swimming while I caught up on all the laundry and housework we didn't do Saturday.  Yesterday, we spent the morning at the waterfront with my brother and his family and my parents, who were visiting, at the Boulevard Club.  In the afternoon, both girls had playdates.

I'll try to be positive and say that overall it was a lovely weekend, but man, getting anywhere is such a royal pain in the butt!!!  I really thought by now, we'd have invented those transporters they had on Star Trek so we could just say, "Beam me up Scotty!"