Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Covid-19 Pandemic: Staying Hopeful

I am finding I have less and less to share on this blog. Not because I am any less committed to my own personal health and wellness - I still exercise daily, cook and bake all my food and eat nutritiously, and prioritize sleep and wellness - but sharing health information has become less of a priority for a few reasons.

First, since 2016 it has become clear that the world's terrible lifestyle is not our most imminent threat. Sure, the majority of us will eventually suffer the ill effects of being sedentary, overweight and eating a nutrient poor diet. But the more urgent dangers that have become apparent since the Sociopathic Orange Half Wit that is the current US President came into power are the rise of the alt right and hate mongering, anti-science/anti-vaxx movements, and climate change. I feel like every single day since that vicious, disgusting monster came into power its been just one terrible, tragic news story after another. The current Covid-19 pandemic is absolutely the icing on the cake of the shit show the world has become.

Second, I have recently completed two courses on health psychology/health promotion to update my knowledge base from when I completed my PhD in 2005. What I learned from these courses, along with the additional reading and research I have done on my own paints a pretty grim picture when it comes to health promotion. Education does not work. Simply providing human beings with information about the risks of being sedentary, eating poorly, smoking, drinking, etc. and/or providing information on the benefits of exercise, nutrition, etc., does jack shit. Humans are not rational beings (as evidenced by the recent panic buying of toilet paper). But we are also just mammals and what has happened is, like any other species, we have adapted to our environment. Our brains were designed to keep us alive in an environment when food was scarce and movement was necessary. We now live in an environment where food is plentiful and most movement is unnecessary. Unless our environment changes, there is not much hope for us, and because too many industries are benefiting from the current situation, the odds of large scale change are low.

 It was tough before Covid-19 to be hopeful about the world since even if humans do manage to change our behaviour, it seems like we have already destroyed the planet beyond repair. Now that we are in the midst of a worldwide crises, the outlook certainly can look pretty grim.

While trying to allay the fears of my counselling clients, I am doing my best to manage my own, but I admit it is a struggle. I have had a tension headache for 5 days from clenching my jaw and have not slept well the past 2 nights. I don't even remember the last time I had trouble sleeping!

So I am practicing all the coping strategies I have been sharing with my clients:

1. Make peace with the uncertainty. There is never certainty for any of us no matter what. Try to live with the 'not knowing' and focus on one day at a time.
2. Create emotional distance from the current situation. Think about the present in the context of: "This is the time when...the Covid-19 pandemic threw the world into upheaval..." The objective being that you don't start to believe that things will never get better or that this is a permanent state of affairs.
3. Practice gratitude. Remember all the things you have to be grateful for. Write them down.  Every one of us is being affected in some way by this pandemic but for some, it is truly catastrophic (a loved one has died, a person's livelihood has gone up in smoke and they are penniless, etc.).
4. Try not to ruminate and catastrophize about all the worst case scenarios. It is in no way useful. Remember that humans are incredibly resilient. We have weathered countless catastrophies over the course of our history and we will weather this too!
5. Limit your information consumption. Do not obsessively check media for updates. Even if you only check news 1-2 times a day, you will not likely miss anything. The recommendations in North America will likely be consistent for a long while: stay at home and wash your hands as often as possible!

So stay hopeful folks. Humans may be doomed when it comes to the chronic illness epidemic we created from our shitty lifestyle, but we will get through the Covid-19 pandemic 😉

Monday, March 9, 2020

Honest Medicine: Book Review

When I was sent the request to review Honest Medicine, I did so really because I thought it would make my blood boil and I would enjoy ripping it apart. Thus when the author emailed to thank me directly and wrote a personal note in the book, I maybe did feel a tad lousy. The author, Julia Schopick, is a health blogger who due to personal experience became frustrated with the conventional medical system.

But as you know, I am always completely honest about my opinions on this blog. Fortunately, the book is more benign than I expected. At the very least, it doesn't claim you can cure flesh eating disease with lavender oil or any crazy shit like that.

It is really nothing more than a series of testimonials from doctors and their patients for two alternative treatments, Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) and Low-Dose Naltrexone (LDN). There is also a section on the keto diet for pediatric epilepsy.

The claim is that ALA and LDN can treat and/or 'cure' MS, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, diabetes, (and possibly other autoimmune diseases) as well as liver disease and some cancers.

One of the doctors in the book, Dr. Burt Berkson, is an advocate of using ALA and LDN and supposedly cured a man with late stage pancreatic cancer and a woman with liver disease (both also featured in the book).

Well you probably know what I am going to say next. At least I hope you do by now. Case studies are case studies. They are not randomized controlled studies. I did do my own research and found there have been a few studies on each. Apparently for MS, ALA and LDN can reduce pain and improve quality of life for some individuals. When it comes to cancer, there are only a few documented cases - all patients of Dr. Berkson - and one of whom is the patient included in the book.

Since the research on MS is more extensive, I did more digging. This is what the National MS Society has to say about it:

There has been limited clinical study of low-dose naltrexone (LDN) to treat MS. Most of the studies completed have been small non-randomized controlled trials.  Of the studies completed, many show LDN to be safe and easily tolerated but few show improvements to the disease process itself. Some studies have demonstrated an improvement in quality of life, particularly in pain and fatigue management. Because the evidence to support the effectiveness of LDN in treating MS is lacking, it is not considered a disease modifying therapy. If you are interested in taking LDN, it is important for you to have a discussion with your healthcare provider that includes possible effectiveness, side effects and risks.
Now are there problems with the conventional medical system? Of course, everything has problems. I suspect it is far worse in the US than Canada since we have universal health care here and it is not a 'business' in the same way it is there. Yes pharmaceutical companies and medical equipment companies can be shady and unethical, but I don't believe conspiracy theories. Not everything and everyone that is a part of conventional medicine is dishonest and malicious. And certainly some people and companies involved in alternative medicine are dishonest and malicious.

When it comes to the keto diet for epilepsy, that's been a treatment strategy even in conventional medicine for a long time. I know they offer it here in Toronto at the Hospital for Sick Children for kids with epileptic conditions. So I would not really say it's all that 'alternative'.

So is there some compelling stories suggesting we should explore the therapeutic benefits of ALA and LDN here? Absolutely! Certainly if you have something like MS, or Lupus or diabetes and you want to see if these treatments can ameliorate your condition or quality of life, it might be useful to explore it. Both ALA and LDN treatments are offered here in Canada at functional/alternative health clinics.

Now if I was diagnosed with a treatable cancer, would I dismiss my oncologists suggested protocol and do these treatments instead? Fuck no! And if you would, well knock yourself out. You will probably knock yourself out of living but all the power to you. If I was diagnosed with an incurable cancer and the oncologist told me to get ready to kick the bucket, would I try these therapies just to see if they could help? Sure, I guess at that point I would have nothing to lose (though it would also depend on cost since these treatments are not covered by our public health care system).

As I have said before, for me, it is not a matter of whether something is considered conventional or alternative medicine, its about whether it is safe and there is empirical evidence (through randomized controlled research studies) that it is effective. It will be interesting to see what the results of further research are for the therapeutic value of ALA and LDN.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Incrediwear: Product Review

As an active family of four, we produce a ridiculous amount of laundry. We also suffer from the aches and pains that tend to go along with sports and fitness. For Adam and I its our daily workouts (and aging) that all too frequently lead to tendonitis or a muscle tweak. Big A dances for 5+ hours a week and does circus classes and Little A has soccer games and practices 3x a week and they often end up with sore muscles or a sprain. So we are no strangers to sports tape, topical pain creams and various body braces.

Recently, Incrediwear offered to send one of its injury braces for us to try. Since she overdid the trampoline training at circus camp last summer, Big A has had on and off issues with one of her ankles. At the time the pain was so bad, her doctor thought it might be a stress fracture, but it was then determined to be a sprain. Big A now finds if she is not careful, she can easily re-injure the area. So I requested an ankle brace she could try.

Incrediwear is distinguished from its competitors because it does not use compression but instead uses a fabric embedded with germanium and carbonized charcoal that is supposed to have therapeutic properties to help relieve pain and speed up injury recovery.

The key to Incrediwear's effectiveness is its ability to increase blood flow to the injured area:

"...Our technology incorporates semiconductor elements within our fabric that releases negative ions when stimulated by body heat. These negative ions activate cellular vibrations that increase blood flow and speed. Increasing circulation helps bring more oxygen and nutrients to the target area, which optimizes the body's natural healing process and accelerates recovery."

Now the website has lots of testimonials as does the material they sent me, but I was unable to find peer-reviewed scientific research on the products, but that's not surprise. Nevertheless, it is true that blood flow is essential for tissue repair and recovery.

Big A has been wearing the ankle brace for her dance classes for the past few weeks. What does she think? She loves it. She said it offers a lot of support while not feeling at all bulky. Her only complaint was the fluorescent orange logo on it...she doesn't like the colour 😀😀

So, do I recommend Incrediwear? Sure, why not? Anything that can help keep you active is worth it in my book. Looking through their product catalog, I am curious about their performance pants and circulation socks. I may just have to give them a try!

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook

If you do not know how to cook and would like to learn how to simple, health meals, thank look no further.

The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook may be intended to help people cook diabetic-friendly meals, but really the book is good for anyone with little cooking experience who wants a step-by-step guide for creating nutritious recipes.

Published by the American Diabetes Association, and written by Dietitian, Jackie Newgent, the book is chock-full, not only of easy-to-prepare, tasty recipes, but also everything you need to know to get you started in the kitchen if you do not already have the basic knowledge and skills.

The chapter on a diabetes-friendly lifestyle provides advice some specific advice for diabetes but also some that really applies to everyone: exercise, choose whole grains, eat healthy fats, reduce sodium, and avoid sugary beverages.

There is a step-by-step guide on diabetic-friendly cooking, which, again, can really be utilized by anyone looking for a starting point for cooking healthy meals. It provides detailed information on stocking your fridge, pantry and freezer and which kitchen tools to have available. There is even a section on the proper way to cut garlic, onions, bell peppers, etc. and how to prepare hard boiled and fried eggs.

The first recipe section is 25 3-ingredient recipes for very simple snacks and meals. It includes things like Apple Stacks (apple, peanut butter and granola), Avocado & Hummus Toast, and Cheesy Sweet Potato Fries.

Newgent includes a section with advice on meal prepping. Do not underestimate the importance of this! One of the number one reasons my clients say they do not cook is they get home from work and are too tired, and/or unprepared. If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

There is also 2 weeks of menus for a family of 4. I love this because most books do meal plans for one person since it is usually a 'diet'. It is so much more realistic to give people a plan that can include the whole family. Nevertheless, there is also 2 weeks of menus for a single person as well.

In terms of recipe chapters, this book has all your bases covered:

  • Appetizers and Snacks
  • One-dish Meals
  • Breakfasts
  • Plant-Based Mains
  • Fish & Shellfish Mains
  • Chicken & Turkey Mains
  • Side Salads
  • Savory Sides
  • Soups & Stews
  • Desserts & Drinks
Not all recipes have photos but there are several sections of photos in the book where certain ones are pictured.

Each recipe includes ingredients, required kitchen tools, directions, tips, swaps, and nutritional information.

The recipes are definitely my jam. Healthy, simple, and flavourful. Pretty much how I mostly cook. Some examples are Ginger, Tempeh & Snow Pea Stir Fry,  Spice-Rubbed Salmon, Pan-Seared Tilapia, Black Beans & Mango Salad, Baja Turkey Burgers, Seasonal Mediterranean Farro Salad, Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes, Tex-Mex Tortilla Soup, Peppermint Chocolate "Nice" Cream, Sweet Cherry Milkshake, and Blueberry Chia Smoothie.

Do I recommend this cookbook? Absolutely! This is a great resource for anyone with diabetes or a loved one with diabetes. It is also perfect for anyone wanting a detailed guide to getting started with healthy cooking.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Tel Aviv Market Salad

I named this salad the Tel Aviv Salad because it is inspired by a dish I had while we were in Israel (at a restaurant in the Tel Aviv Carmel Market).

The dish was roasted cauliflower with raisins in a beet tahini sauce...and there might have been some other things in it I am forgetting.

I have incorporated roasted cauliflower, beets and tahini, but also added a whole bunch of other middle eastern flavours too. It is absolutely delicious and you can eat it warm or cold.

Tel Aviv Market Salad


1 large bunch kale, chopped
4 beets, diced and roasted
2 heads cauliflower cut into florets and roasted
6-8 dried permimmons, diced (or 1/4 cup raisins)
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1 can chickpeas, drained


1/2 cup tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp ground cumin
Season, to taste

Whisk together dressing and set aside.

Combine salad ingredients in a large serving bowl. Drizzle dressing over top, toss and serve.

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Little Book of Game Changers

Feeling stressed? Too busy, spread to thin? Isn't everybody? Or do you suffer from anxiety. Always worrying, having difficulty concentrating, sleeping, relaxing.

As a psychotherapist I find the most common presenting issue my clients have is anxiety. Occasionally it's stress from some life circumstances. Stress and anxiety are not the same thing, but I will get to that later.

If you are looking for tips on managing stress and/or anxiety, than this little book may be helpful. The Little Book of Game Changers, written by Jessica Cording, is a straightforward guide to making small changes to your thinking and lifestyle that can assist with stress management and reducing anxiety.

Cording, a registered dietitian and health coach, has sections on mind, body and spirit. Chapters include topics ranging from self-reflection, to money management, to morning routines, to nutrition, to loneliness and food guilt.

Stress is a response to a 'threat' and anxiety is a reaction to stress.

The information is sound and Cording sights peer-reviewed research studies in her end notes. I particularly appreciate her mention of our tendency to use food and other external rewards far too often. We have moved from having cake once a year on our birthdays to every evening as a reward for just getting through the day (or wine, or chocolate, or whatever). Cording provides a number of other ways to truly reward ourselves in ways that nourish the mind, body and/or soul without having a negative impact on our health.

Cording's chapter on motivation has some interesting and creative ideas for how to boost it. I was very surprised and pleased that she includes a whole chapter on sunscreen! I'm obsessive about sun safety but most neglect it terribly. It's very important folks! I have had several friends who have had skin cancers already.

So do I recommend this book? I absolutely recommend it for someone who simply feels overwhelmed by their life. If, however, you are dealing with an anxiety disorder (generalized anxiety, panic, OCD, etc.) than this book may be useful for you, but it will not be the total solution to your problem. Those conditions can be quite serious and debilitating and usually requires intense therapy and/or medication.

Monday, January 6, 2020

No Resolutions for 2020

As a therapist and personal trainer, my advice to you is to never set new year's resolutions. I never do.

Why? Because it is not an effective way to make changes in your life. For anyone. Most of the time resolutions fail, and then people blame themselves and assume its because they are lazy, lack self-discipline, are worthless, etc. Then people have even less confidence the next time, which pretty much sets anyone up for failure before they even start.

The problem is people usually make resolutions around things they believe they 'should' do. But 'shoulding' is not usually a driver of action. Even if you really want a particular outcome (lose weight, spend less, etc.), unless you are 100% committed to the process required to achieve that outcome, you are never going to see it through to fruition. I see this all the time with clients of mine who say they want to see a change in themselves of their life, but really are unwilling to make the behavioural or perspective changes that are necessary to make it happen.

Listen, if you are really committed to pursuing some goal, you won't wait until January 1st to take action. So get off the resolution bandwagon. We could all make improvements to ourselves, and our lives, but don't set some sort of goal because you believe you 'should', you are enough as you are. We humans are all flawed but that does not mean we lack worth. So if you set an intention for 2020, make sure you want to embark on the journey and not just miraculously end up at the destination without putting in the work. If you don't want to put in the work, don't bother and simply accept yourself for making this decision.