Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Youtheory Supplements: Product Review

Did you notice that since the Covid-19 pandemic started, there are stories about how to boost immunity all over the media plus ads for supplements that are supposed to increase immunity everywhere?

So far, only Vitamin D seems to show any lick of connection with Covid-19 infections, and the very preliminary findings are that there seems to be a link between those who get the most severe cases of Covid and Vitamin D deficiency.

Aside from that, the best way to keep your immune system in good shape is focusing on the macro-level lifestyle variables: don't smoke, limit alcohol, get enough sleep, exercise, and eat lots of plants. All of this also helps with stress management and yes, excess stress can strain your immune system.

Differences in immunity, according to researchers, is, in large part, determined by genetics, so not much we can do about that. As I always tell my counselling clients, focus on what you can control, which is, lifestyle.

In any case, there are other reasons besides immunity to take supplements of various kinds. I take Vitamin D, iron, probiotics, CoQ10, magnesium and B2 daily (the last 2 for control of migraines). Adam takes his own cocktail of supplements and we have our kids take Vitamin D.

Recently, Youtheory sent me their 2 trademark products to try: Collagen vanilla powder, and Turmeric tablets. I have used both collagen and turmeric in the past but not recently. I gave Adam the collagen to take to ward off the wear and tear he gets from his long distance running, and I was happy to try the turmeric.

Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory so the timing is perfect because since the pandemic started, I guess because of stress, I have been breaking out like crazy. I mean like I have never had so much acne in my entire life! It's been very annoying.

Adam has been putting the collagen powder in his smoothies. The bottle says it takes 5 months to work so we can't really give you any data on its efficacy, but he said he does not notice the powder at all so it clearly mixes well. It's very clean with just collagen, vitamin C and biotin plus natural vanilla flavour and silicon dioxide. It is definitely not for vegans as the collagen comes from animals.

The medicinal ingredients in the turmeric pills includes turmeric as well as olive leaf (an antioxidant) and black pepper. I have been taking them for about 3 weeks and my acne has calmed down a bit, though, again, this is not scientific data, but if my acne does continue to improve, I will buy more turmeric once I finish the bottle because I am willing to invest a bit more time in testing its efficacy (I really want my skin to clear up!).

Youtheory is a U.S. company that started with collagen and Turmeric manufacturing. They now sell a wide variety of other supplements too. The prices are reasonable and they are widely available online.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Body FX Fitness: Program Review

There are some silver linings coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic for some fortunate people. One is that those used to ordering in food or going out to restaurants daily have had to learn to cook for themselves (I know not everyone is happy about this...but think of all the money saved!). Also, with gyms and recreation centers closed, people have had to find ways to be active at home. Again, a lot of people are not necessarily seeing this as a good thing, but I do.

I am always encourage my friends and clients to find ways to exercise at home since it is so much more convenient but many people resist, believing that they will get distracted or don't have enough space. Now that everyone has had to do it for several months, a lot of people I know have started to see the benefits of home workouts and have decided they will not return to their gyms.

Nothing has changed for me as we have a lovely home gym and I have been exclusively working out at home for years now. So I was more than happy to try out an online fitness platform called Body FX.

What is Body FX?

Founded in 2017 by James & Janna Kunitz, Body FX is a dynamic fitness experience, offering online workouts through a digital platform and mobile app. In addition to over 100+ hours of energizing fitness videos, Body FX’s users also gain access to daily email coaching, nutritional support, and an active Facebook support group—over 85k strong. From electrifying dance cardio with Figure8 to speedy, hyperfocused exercises with 6-Minute Body, Body FX makes exercise accessible and fun for everyone. Consumers can access Body FX through Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, download the Body FX app, or stream from a desktop at home, all for just $11.99 a month. To learn more about the various Body FX programs please visit

The program includes several distinct types of workouts:

1. Figure 8 Dance workouts taught by Janna - a former professional dancer
2. JNL Fusion Fitness workouts taught by fitness celebrity, Jennifer Nicole Smith
3. 6 Minute Body workouts taught by fitness coach, John Abdo

The first 30 days of the program is free and after that it costs just $11.99/month, which is pretty phenomenal.

Members get daily emails with workout suggestions, motivational stuff, a meal plan and recipes. The focus is heavily on losing weight. If you want to lose weight and are looking for a program that provides a meal plan, workouts and everything else all in one, I suspect it is effective. The meal plans don't provide calorie break downs but it looks like no more than 1,500 cals which is likely to make most people lose weight. Just remember that it is pretty useless to employ any lifestyle changes to lose weight that you cannot sustain your whole life. Diets don't work because few people can stick to them long-term. Furthermore, exercising primarily to lose weight is the least effective way to promote adherence to an exercise program. Instead, focus on the other billion good reasons to exercise daily.

I started by trying a variety of the dance workouts (Samba, merengue, hip hop, etc.). Dance is definitely outside of my comfort zone. I tried Zumba while we were at Club Med in Florida and thought it was kinda fun...but not something I would normally do. Nevertheless, I like trying new things and I especially like trying new things in the comfort of my own home where no one can see how silly I look. I have to say, I did enjoy the dance workouts! My children were not impressed...I was able to follow the steps but I definitely not a gifted dancer, they were both amused and horrified watching me. They are good workouts that will get you sweaty, yet mostly low impact and easy enough for even a dufus like myself to follow. Anyone who hates 'fitness' activities will really enjoy these workouts. You can pretend you are dancing at a club or taking a dance class instead.

The JNL Fusion workouts are fitness workouts will the usual suspects (burpees, lunges, squats, plyo, etc.). The are good HIIT workouts but JNL's schtick makes me cringy. Lots of talk about 'ugly fat' and use of the 'kiss my abs' and 'strong is the new skinny' BS. Not the type of language I think fitness instructors should use. Still too much focus on physique despite people thinking 'strong is the new skinny' is better. Studies show that this type of 'fitspo' language is just as harmful to body image as 'thinso' statements.

Abdo's 6 minute exercise segments are straightforward and perfect for people who dread long exercise sessions. They are also ideal for fitness 'snacks' which most people can really use right now. A great way to combat the tightness and fatigue we get from sitting for hours every day and rarely leaving our homes is to take small little breaks to do some activity.

Altogether, Body FX provides a diverse variety of fitness options that can accommodate a household of people with different preferences. Personally, though the JNL Fusion workouts are most like what I typically do for workouts, I most enjoyed the Figure 8 Dance workouts. It was fun to challenge my body and brain in new ways. Nevertheless, I will be sticking with my usual workouts, though it has expanded my mind to considering dance as an activity I could add to my repertoire.

I am not a big fan of diet/weight-loss plans since few people stick to them long-term, but there are some people who like being told what to do when they want to make a lifestyle change. This program does offer coaching, exercise programming, motivation, meal plans, and recipes. I always tell clients to figure out what healthy changes they can make that they will be able to maintain forever. It has to be customized to you individually, but anyone can certainly draw inspiration and ideas from the meal plan and recipes.

Rather than focusing on your weight, the best thing you can do for your health is to just start moving your body as much as possible, and if these workout options seem appealing to you, than this platform is a great choice.

Disclosure: I was asked to review this product but all opinions on this blog are my own.

Monday, May 25, 2020

One Good Reason: Book Review

It seems that since the Covid-19 pandemic began, people have been joking about binging on food and drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Not really that funny, I am afraid. As a registered psychotherapist, I don't find substance abuse or addition funny.

I treat many people with binge eating and emotional eating. I do not treat alcohol or drug addiction in my practice, but since I work in mental health, it fascinates me. I think even if you have never struggled with an addiction or know someone who has, you can probably relate to an addict to some extent. Most of us tend to use some sort of behaviour to numb or distract ourselves from emotional pain. Maybe its just being a workoholic, or exercise, or shopping or something else that seems relatively benign. But avoiding processing pain will never make it go away, you have to face it.

Recently, Sean McCann, founder of Great Big Sea, published a memoir about his experience of being sexually abused as a teen and his alcoholism that began soon after. In case you are not familiar with Great Big Sea, it is an iconic folk/rock band from Newfoundland.

The book is written by McCann and his wife, Andrea Aragon, alternating some chapters telling McCann's point of view, and others, Aragon's.

The first chapters by McCann are riveting. He is a good writer and he describes his childhood growing up in a very religious Catholic family in rural Newfoundland. It is fascinating to me because, though we were both born and raised in Canada, our experiences could not have been more different. I grew up in an Ontario city in a family of agnostic, intellectual Jews. While faith was everything in his family and you didn't dare question the church, I do not recall anyone ever telling me what to believe. In fact, being Jewish to me, has always been more about community and culture than religion.

I did not love the first chapter written by Aragon, describing her childhood in the U.S. It is written in a way that seems to casual unsophisticated, but I enjoyed her contributions throughout the rest of the book.

McCann's story is, unfortunately, all too common. Of course, we have all heard the stores of sexual abuse in the Catholic church, but childhood sexual abuse in general, is far more common than most people realize. In Canada, surveys have shown that 30% of individuals over age 15 report having been sexually abused. The actual incidence rate is probably higher. Since I do trauma counselling, I see it in my counselling practice all the time.

Fortunately for McCann, he was able to recover from his alcohol addiction and deal with his trauma. He is now an advocate for mental health and addiction issues and uses music for therapy.

I burned through this book quickly because I found the story very compelling. I did not actually know much about Great Big Sea, so I enjoyed learning more about the band too.

McCann and Aragon now live outside of Ottawa with their 2 sons. I am thankful to people like him who are willing to speak out about their abuse and trauma. It is something we need to start talking about now. The shame and stigma is partly what keeps people from reaching out for help.

If you are a Great Big Sea fan than of course you will want to read that book. But even if you are not, I am sure you will enjoy it.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Spring 2020 Favorites: Pandemic Edition

I hope none of my future posts involve global health are a few things making social isolation suck less.

All of us have been washing our hands more frequently than usual for the past 6 weeks or so and many people are experiencing irritation because of it. I cannot recommend this cream enough! Eczederm Protectant cream.

My eye doctor actually told me about it because my left eye tends to water a lot in cold weather and causes a lot of irritation at the outer corner of my eye. I needed a water resistant moisturizer and this fit the bill. It's been very effective for me whenever I have a skin irritation like that and is perfect for over-washed hands. Just note that in my experience, you won't always find it on pharmacy shelves as it is sometimes kept behind the counter so you may have to ask your pharmacist if they stock it.

I have curly hair which is naturally drier than straight hair and as I get older it has gotten drier, so I am always on the lookout for shampoo and conditioner that can help. Surprisingly this Herbal Essences Hello Hydration variety is one of the best I have found:

I say surprisingly because hair dressers always encourage you to try the super expensive salon brands. I never do because I am pretty cheap when it comes to such things. It just so happens that this is just an everyday grocery store variety but it works really well, leaving my hair noticeably softer and shinier, and it smells really good.

One thing I have been panic buying is books. The idea of running out of things to read instills extreme anxiety in me. At first I ordered a few from Indigo, but new books are so expensive. Then I discovered

Oh mama, it has saved me! I have a HUGE order coming my way thanks to their low prices and free shipping on orders over $45.

If you like social and political satire, than you have to start following The Out and Abouter on Facebook. I swear this guy lives inside my brain and totally gets my sense of humour.

Finally, I have also been really appreciating daily walks with Adam and Little A (Big A refuses to join us). Prior to the pandemic the only time I walked anywhere was to catch up with friends, otherwise it just seemed like a waste of time. Riding my bike is so much faster as a form of transportation and usually I am all about efficiency. But now that we have more time, I have come to appreciate the value of talking a walk in the middle of the day with my family. As they say, people are just plants with anxiety - we too need sunshine and water to thrive. I think it is so important to get out and get some fresh air. And besides, when else in our lives will we have this opportunity to spend this much time with family?

Stay home and stay safe!

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Create-Your-Plate Diabetes Cookbook: Book Review

Food has become a popular topic of conversation during this pandemic. Panic buying, changing habits (everyone is now baking their own bread?), food delivery, grocery store line-ups, shuttered restaurants, restaurants transitioning to delivery and take out only...and then you have all the memes poking fun at people suddenly becoming gourmet chefs for a few days until their resolve crumbles and they start eating cereal for every meal and everyone complaining they are gaining weight due to less activity and closer proximity to the fridge.

Unfortunately, the situation has been tough for a lot of my counselling clients struggling with disordered eating, whether its restriction and dieting or binging.

As I have stated many times, I am not a fan of diets and restrictive eating. That being said if you love being keto or whatever, you are healthy and not oscillating between restriction and binging - which is what happens to most people who try restrictive diets - than knock yourself out. Really, the point is that whatever way you eat should be sustainable and enjoyable.

If you want a simple way to determine a nutritious way to eat, fill half of your plate at every meal with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter with a complex carb (brown rice, sweet potato, etc.) and a quarter with a protein.

Unfortunately, most North Americans eat too few veggies and too much of everything else. Veggies are high in nutrients and fibre and fill you up with minimal calories. Part of the problem is that so few people actually prepare meals at home anymore and most restaurant meals and take out is not portioned the proper way. Typically starches are cheapest so you get the most of that.

But even if you don't want to cook fancy meals, the plate strategy is pretty easy. Just buy a damn rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, a bag of salad and a sweet potato and away you go.

If you are interested in learning how to cook and how to eat using the plate system, than The Create-Your-Plate Diabetes Cookbook, by dietitian, Toby Amidor, is a great resource. Just like the last diabetes cookbook I reviewed, it is a good book for anyone looking to eat better, not just those with have diabetes.

The first part of the book is chock full of information on nutrition and how to create your healthy plate. The third chapter of the book contains meal plans and tips on creating meal plates from breakfast through to dinner, as well as including snacks. All the recipes are contained in the book.

The recipe chapters include:

  • Breakfasts
  • Snacks
  • Appetizers
  • Smoothies and low calorie beverages
  • Soups & main salads
  • Main dishes
  • Side dishes
  • Dips, condiments & salad dressings
The recipes are mostly savory as you can see there is no dessert section, but there are some sweet recipes in the breakfast and snack chapters. I love that none of the recipes contain sugar. Amidor uses mostly stevia instead. If you are anti-stevia, you could substitute with monk fruit.

Each recipe has lots of detailed instructions, tips, nutrition information, and recommendations for what to pair it with to complete your plate.

There are some vegetarian and vegan mains, but most are not, though most of the side dishes are vegan or can be easily made vegan.  Not all recipes are pictured, but many are.

If you are sick and tired of trying all the latest fad diets and falling off them because they are too restrictive, this is a great alternative way to make sure you are eating in a healthy way. You never want to diet, because they really never work. You want to find a way of life that promotes your health and well being but is also enjoyable and sustainable.

Do I recommend this book? Yes, absolutely, it is a great way to learn a healthy approach to eating and contains a wide variety of healthy recipes that sound yummy and simple to make.

Disclosure: I was sent this book to review, but all opinions on this blog are my own.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Complete Calisthenics, 2nd Edition: Book Review

How is your pandemic going?  Are you bored yet? Or too anxious to be bored?

I am sure you have seen enough of people's online workouts and tips for keeping fit while stuck at home (but for the record, try out for free workout videos that are great!).

Perhaps fitness videos or apps are not your thing. Can I interest you in a fitness book? You know what books are right, those things made from paper...with a spine...and a cover...and you need to hold it in your hands and it has no battery or buttons?

If books do appeal to you, than I suggest checking out Complete Calisthenics, by writer and personal trainer, Ashley Kalym.

What are calisthenics? Bodyweight exercises such as planks, push ups, sit ups, pull ups, handstands, etc.

You should know that THESE EXERCISES ARE HARD! They all start with basic versions for beginners, but as a personal trainer myself, I can tell you right now, a lot of people will not even be capable of the beginner version. For push-ups, for example, he does not seem to allow push ups from the knees. His beginner version is just elevating the hands. My advice is to start with a goal of 1 repetition and build it up from there. Even if you only do 1 rep, you will still be getting stronger if you are consistent. As soon as possible add a rep and keep adding.

The exercises in the book are not equipment-free. You need a pull up bar, but these are inexpensive:
This is the one we have in our home and it has lasted for years.

A plyometric box is also useful, though you could also use a step platform in a pinch. You also need parallettes, though Kalym provides instructions on how to make them yourself. But you can easily find various kinds online such as these:
Big A and I are discussing ordering some. Big A has been very into circus training and acrobatics for a while now, so these are something we may both use for training.

Part I of the book starts with a definition of calisthenics and  goes through the risks and benefits plus required equipment.

Part II is about nutrition, rest and recovery.

Part III includes warm up and mobility exercises for every part of the body with extensive written instruction and photos.

The chapters in Part IV are the exercises, also very detailed in instruction and with photos and including:

  • Push ups
  • Pull ups
  • Dips
  • Handstands
  • Levers
  • Floor core exercises
  • Leg raises
  • Lower body (squats, curls, etc.)
  • Conditioning (i.e. cardio)
Part V is putting it all together into training programs.

I definitely am impressed with this book. Normally, I find it hard to 'read' to learn physical tasks but there is so much detail in the straightforward instruction and teaching points as well as photos with each exercise, that it even works for someone like me.

So yes, I recommend this book. If the idea of something like a fitness class or video or lifting weights bores you to tears, but you want to get strong and fit, than this may be the book for you. You can work through it at your own pace (hey if it takes you the whole damn pandemic to do 1 real push up, so be it!), but if you do start consistently doing these exercises, believe you me, you will be a ninja!

I actually think I may go through the book myself and see how many I can master. Why the fuck not, there is not much else to do right now!

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

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 😉