Friday, June 27, 2014

Happy Birthday Canada

Its Friday and sorta a long weekend.  Canada Day is actually next Tuesday but lots of people are taking Monday off, and even today off to make it a long weekend.  So I am going to take a little break from blogging until next Wednesday, to give myself a little extra time to get some other stuff done.  I am thrilled to have tomorrow off...I work most Saturdays, but I do have clients to see on Monday.

Today is the girls' last day of school and Little A, who hates school for some reason which she can't explain and which shocks her teachers who say she is so happy and doing so well there in every way, couldn't be more thrilled.

The girls will continue to attend daycare all summer, which transitions into summer camp mode, except for the second week in July when they are going to Pedalheads camp again.  They adore that camp!!

This weekend we are taking the kids to the Pride family events tomorrow, hopefully on bike, and then having dinner with friends.  Sunday is my nephew's 2nd birthday party.  Monday Little A is going to daycare camp, but Adam is taking Big A to Canada's Wonderland (he took Little A a few weeks ago).

I am feeling grumpy just looking at the weather report though...its supposed to be even hotter than this week.  Blech!

Well have a fabulous long weekend...or normal weekend, and I'll be back next Wednesday.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Elimination Diet Workbook: Book Review


Admittedly, when I was asked if I could review this book, I rolled my eyes.  Don't get me wrong, food allergies are a serious issue...even in my family!  My mom and brother are allergic to shellfish and Adam is allergic to marlin fish.  But it seems to me, these days people blame absolutely everything on 'food intolerances', which are not even widely recognized as a real phenomenon.  Again, don't get me wrong, some intolerances are very real, like lactose intolerance, or gluten-intolerance if you are a celiac, but I find that pretty much every naturopath or other alternative health practitioner will tell you to eliminate dairy, wheat and gluten from your diet no matter what.  Even though there is absolutely no evidence to support these substances are linked to your symptoms.

But there are definitely circumstances when one may want to experiment with an elimination diet if you are feeling unwell and there is reason to believe it is due to what you are eating.  If that's the case, this book may be very helpful.

Part One explains why you might benefit from trying an elimination diet.  Part Two defines food allergies and distinguishes them from intolerances, lists the most common food allergens and intolerances and common conditions linked with diet.  Part Three gives you all the specific information you need to actually attempt an elimination diet.  It involves 4 phases:
1. Preparing
2. Planning and Eliminating
3. Challenge Phase
4. Maintenance

Part Four includes tools to help you through it, including a sample targeted elimination diet and a catchall elimination diet, tips for avoiding common allergens and triggers, and maintenance diet tools.

The tips are particularly useful because they explain where you will find various triggers, which may not always be evident from labels, etc. Like, for example, all the places you will find sulfites, and the different ingredient names which are all types of sulfites.  Or, all the unexpected places you might find wheat, or nuts, or soy.  There are also tables of substitution foods to provide nutrients that you may be currently getting from a food you plan to eliminate.

So if you suspect you may have a food allergy or sensitivity and would like to try an elimination diet, this book will be very useful for you.  Just make sure you check with your doctor first to rule out any other possible causes of your symptoms.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Get the Infertility/Sole Parenting Support You Need!

Support Group

I have great news! We have been running support groups at Lifequest for patients and they are now open to anyone, even non-Lifequest patients.  So if you live in the GTA and are either:

1. A woman without children who has had 2+ miscarriages, or
2. Are embarking on the journey to become a sole parent,

...than you are welcome to join us!

Here are the details:
  • $20/session, non-refundable.
  • Payment is due by credit card when they sign up.
  • Individuals must sign up by calling 416.506.0804 ext. 0 or by emailing

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Nanny Angel Network

Nanny Angel Network
Being a parent is hard work.  Can you even imagine how hard it would be if you were undergoing cancer treatment while looking after young children?

My friend is right in the thick of her treatment for ovarian cancer.  She's just completed several rounds of chemo and is starting radiation this week.  As you can probably guess, she's wiped out.  Super tired, and anticipating some pretty awful side effects that may leave her out of commission from looking after the kids.  Her wife is already overwhelmed by having to pick up the slack.  And having any time to themselves?  Forget about it.

So when an acquaintance mentioned to me a charity called the Nanny Angel Network last week, I knew I had to find out more.  This organization provides free childcare for any family that has a mom undergoing cancer treatment.  Need I say more?

I immediately called them up and requested a nanny on their behalf.  My call was returned within a day and I was told they most certainly had a care giver to send their way.  How awesome is that?

Here is a little more info on the services they provide:

We close the gap between healthcare and social services

Moms with cancer have limited childcare relief options. In Ontario, they are eligible for about four hours a week of personal home care – but that doesn’t include childcare support. Few hospitals or clinics provide childcare facilities on-site, and many women don’t want to bring their young children due to fear of infection or having to leave them totally unsupervised for hours at a time. Plus, these women are faced with the added worry of being alert and healthy enough to get their children home safely after treatment – and then fighting illness and exhaustion once they get there.
For many, the only option is paid childcare, but because many families lose income due to extended absences from work, their ability to afford childcare during treatment and recovery plummets. NAN’s free childcare helps families impacted by income loss. It offers mothers the peace of mind of knowing their children are in good hands, and gives them the opportunity to get the care, rest and the free time they need.

NAN gives mothers and children emotional support

During a Nanny Angel visit, children get undivided attention from a trained caregiver who ensures they are coping well with their mother’s  diagnosis. They are entertained, stimulated and encouraged to share their feelings in a safe space. For children who have anger issues, anxiety, or difficulties dealing with their mom’s illness, Nanny Angels provide extra help and support. Our volunteers are trained to identify warning signs of children not coping well, and can recommend a visit from a Child Life Specialist. Often, in a high stress environment of a mother’s illness, our Angels are the only smiling faces a child sees.

NAN is an ambassador of cancer prevention education

Statistics show that 90% of all cancers are curable in the very early stages. Our program offers families and volunteers helpful information about cancer prevention and healthy lifestyle, and can help women detect cancer at an early stage. Over 500 volunteers have been trained in cancer awareness education and are committed to peer-to-peer knowledge sharing.

NAN actively raises funds to help support mothers with cancer

NAN’s Angels Spread Their Wings initiative is a long-term fundraising effort to help support moms in the GTA and expand our services to other Canadian communities. We reach out to community partners and individuals to raise funds so we can:
  • Spread the word by generating awareness at hospitals, healthcare support networks and in the media.
  • Spread the knowledge by educating volunteers and families on how to cope with the cancer journey, including recovery and bereavement, in a constructive and positive way.
  • Spread the joy by promoting a healthy and generous volunteer spirit in the communities we touch.
Every year Adam and I make a large donation around Rosh Hashana, always to a different cause.  This year, my money is going to Nanny Angel Network for sure!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Weekend Highlights

Hello and happy Monday...said no one ever.  I actually don't mind Mondays since I love my job, but back in the day of working dreaded corporate jobs I did find them pretty miserable.  If that is the case for you...find a job you enjoy!

This weekend was lovely.  We attended the girls' school Spring Fling Friday night and it was a late night for them.  They were wiped when we got home, but boy did they have a great time.

Saturday morning I saw clients and then, because our scheduled playdate bombed, we decided to take the girls to the Junction Summer Solstice Festival.  The exciting part, is we were able to bicycle there as a family.  The girls are doing great with their cycling.  Once we arrived, we were hot and thirsty, so we went to the Indie Ale House, where I tried a beer I absolutely loved, called the Barnyard.  I gotta go back and get some take out to drink at home!!

Then the girls begged us to let them go on the ferris wheel, so we bought tickets and waited in line for a half hour. 

Although the ride itself was about 3 minutes long, the girls thought it was well worth it, they had a blast.  No complaints about the long ride home either!

Yesterday I taught my spin class and then painted with Little A while Big A was at a birthday party in High Park.  We picked her up and Adam and I let them play in one of the big playgrounds there and then headed home so Adam could get ready for his book club meeting.

The weather was gorgeous.  Unfortunately, this week is going to be uncomfortably hot.  Sorry, I had to get at least one complaint about the weather in.

Have a lovely start to the week.

Friday, June 20, 2014

World Pride 2014

2014 Worldpride Festival Map

Good day!  Today is not only Friday, and absolutely gorgeous weather here in Toronto, it is also the beginning or World Pride 2014, and our fair city is hosting it this year!

There are all sorts of fun and exciting events and activities, so if you live in the area, or have the opportunity to come, be sure to get in on the action.

I am very proud of Canada for being a leader in human rights for the LGBTQ community...that being said, we can still do better even here.  But I was very distressed to read an article in this week's Grid Magazine, about the horrendous conditions for LGBTQ folks in other parts of the world.

It is shocking and appalling how much hatred still exists.  I really hope one day we can end it.  It sickens me.  But this week it is all about hope, love, tolerance and understanding, and I hope the world can build on this and be a better place for our children.  Everyone should feel free to be themselves and to love whomever they want.  Anything else is unacceptable.

Well, we've got a weekend of playdates, a birthday party, swim lessons, and Adam has book club.  Tonight is the girls' school's Spring Fling fundraiser.  I have volunteered to lead a family fitness session.  That should be fun.  Big A says she is going to participate, but Little A stubbornly told me she will not be doing it, as yoga is the only exercise class she likes to do.  Oh well, yoga's good too!

Have a happy, healthy weekend. Peace out!!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Healthy Breakfast Cereal?


I know I bitch about breakfast cereal a lot, but I do think it is a very poor food choice.  High in carbs and sugar, and generally low in protein, even with milk, it doesn't sustain you for long.  Sugar high.  Sugar crash.  Extreme hunger for the rest of the day.  Overeat.  Wake up.  Repeat.

At least this is the story for many North Americans. 

Unfortunately, the stuff is like crack.  I think Adam would divorce me rather than have to give up cereal.  But he knows its not a great choice, so he limits himself to eating it only on Sundays as his weekly treat.  The girls love cereal too, however, (especially Big A, who has a serious sweet tooth), and they would be happy to eat it anytime.  Of course, none of them go for whole grain, organic unsweetened cereals.  We certainly don't buy Fruit Loops or that kind of crap, but even their favorite cereal, Special K Protein, is nothing to write home about nutritionally.  Like look at the ingredients:

Whole grain wheat, wheat gluten, sugar, rice, soy protein isolate, wheat bran, defatted soy grits, contains 2% or less of salt, cinnamon, malt flavor, L-lysine monohydrochloride, sucralose, BHT for freshness. Vitamins and minerals:Reduced iron, vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol), niacinamide, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin A palmitate, vitamin B1 (thiamin hydrochloride), folic acid, vitamin B12.

Sugar is the third ingredient, it uses soy protein isolate, the most processed and least healthy form of soy, BHT, which is a potential carcinogen, and the rice is most definitely refined white rice.  Gross!

I had pretty much given up on the idea of ever finding a breakfast cereal that I approve of, that they would eat until I discovered One Degree (A company whose organic grains and flours I've raved about before) now makes cereals.  At Fiesta Farms last week, I stuffed my cart with several types to try.

We've just opened one box so far, but Little A went cuckoo for the Cacao Crisps!  I think Big A will like the Honey Os because she is a honey nut. The ingredient lists are awesome.  Organic, whole grains, no toxic preservatives, and sweetened with coconut sugar! 

Now, I still think there are better breakfast options, but if you must have cereal, check these out folks.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Please DON'T Call Me a Lady

Please forgive this rant, but I gotta get it out.

Maybe its because I'm older, maybe its because I am the mother of two girls, but more and more, I feel like the feminist movement has been backsliding lately. 

Don't get me wrong, there have been many positive changes, particularly in terms of opportunities for women (Ontario just elected our first female, gay premier after all!), but there is really still a long way to go.

In particular, violence against women and misogyny are still rampant, and compared to men, we are still seen as objects for others to admire.  And frankly, I think we women tolerate all this far too much.

I want to mention one thing that really irks me...maybe its not such a big deal, but its a pet peeve of mine: I hate being called a lady!

How do you address your male friends?  As gentlemen?  Guys? Dudes?  And how about your female friends? As ladies? Folks? Women? Personally, when addressing people informally, regardless of their gender, I use the term guys.  While guy is often thought to refer to a man, apparently it can also be used as an informal way to address someone of any gender.

I often find that people still refer to a group of women as ladies.  It’s always made me cringe.  I grew up in a household with a feminist mother and I don’t remember the term ever being used.  In fact, by the time my older brother was 14, I recall him referring to his classmates, as well as any older female, as women.

To me, ladies just seems like an antiquated term.  It makes me think of the word ‘ladylike’ which has some very outdated and sexist connotations.  Wondering if there was any basis to my assumptions, I looked up the definition.

1. A well-mannered and considerate woman with high standards of proper behavior.


a. A woman regarded as proper and virtuous.

b. A well-behaved young girl.

3. A woman who is the head of a household.

4. A woman, especially when spoken of or to in a polite way.


a. A woman to whom a man is romantically attached.

b. Informal A wife.

6. Lady Chiefly British A general feminine title of nobility and other rank, specifically:

a. Used as the title for the wife or widow of a knight or baronet.

b. Used as a form of address for a marchioness, countess, viscountess, baroness, or baronetess.

c. Used as a form of address for the wife or widow of a baron.

d. Used as a courtesy title for the daughter of a duke, a marquis, or an earl.

e. Used as a courtesy title for the wife of a younger son of a duke or marquis.

7. Lady The Virgin Mary. Usually used with Our.

8. Slang Cocaine.

usage: In the meanings “refined, polite woman” and “woman of high social position” the noun lady is the parallel of gentleman. As forms of address, both nouns are used in the plural (Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your cooperation), but only lady occurs in the singular. Except in chivalrous, literary, humorous or similar contexts (Lady, spurn me not), this singular is now usu. perceived as rude or at least insensitive: Where do you want the new air conditioner, lady? Other uses that are commonly disliked include lady in compounds or phrases referring to occupation or position (cleaning lady; forelady; saleslady) and as a modifier (lady artist; lady doctor). Increasingly, sex-neutral terms replace lady (cleaner; supervisor; salesperson or salesclerk). When it is relevant to specify the sex of the performer or practitioner, woman rather than lady is used, the parallel term being man, or male and female are used as modifiers: I need a saleswoman; Male doctors outnumber female doctors on the hospital staff by three to one.

 Hmm, yes I do take most of that to task.  Proper and virtuous?  Well-behaved?  Kiss my ass! 

I much prefer the term woman, but decided to see just what the official meaning is.

1. An adult female human.

2. Women considered as a group; womankind: "Woman feels the invidious distinctions of sex exactly as the black man does those of color" (Elizabeth Cady Stanton).

3. An adult female human belonging to a specified occupation, group, nationality, or other category. Often used in combination: an Englishwoman; congresswoman; a saleswoman.

4. Feminine quality or aspect; womanliness.

5. A female servant or subordinate.

6. Informal

a. A wife.

b. A female lover or sweetheart.

usage: Although formerly woman was sometimes regarded as demeaning and lady was the term of courtesy, woman is the designation preferred by most modern female adults: League of Women Voters; American Association of University Women. woman is the standard parallel to man. When modifying a plural noun, woman, like man, becomes plural: women athletes; women students. The use of lady as a term of courtesy has diminished somewhat in recent years, although it still survives in a few set phrases (ladies' room; Ladies' Day). lady is also used, but decreasingly, as a term of reference for women engaged in occupations considered by some to be menial or routine: cleaning lady; saleslady.

Okay, so not all of it is ideal…female servant or subordinate?  But as you can see in the usage section, MOST MODERN FEMALE ADULTS PREFER THE TERM.  Ladies just evokes images of the restrictive gender norms from the Victorian era.  So why do so many people still use the term ladies?  I find it especially puzzling that women still use the term to address other women?

Lady makes me think of misogynistic rappers and cheesy waiters at old-school restaurants with red and white checked tablecloths.  It makes me think of prissy, judgemental women with small, dainty hands who wear clean white gloves and carry handbags.  Women who don’t talk about sex or bodily functions and never challenge authority.  A 'lady' is demure and defers to her husband’s needs.  A lady – if she doesn’t have hired help – is diligent about housekeeping.

That is not AT ALL me!

 As my husband recently said, “Everything about you is small except your mouth.”  You betcha!  I am small, but I have man-hands that never see a manicure (how can you be functional at all if you have to worry about chipping polish?).  I love lifting heavy weights and I am really strong. I usually carry a backpack not a purse.  I belch a lot and think farts are funny.  And I speak my mind.  I don’t really like talking about clothes and I don’t like spending a lot on them either.  Aside from cooking and baking (which I adore), I hate housework.  All of it.  Adam is much better at ironing and folding clothes than I am, and isn’t as prone at letting clutter build up.  He is far more likely than I to remember to brush the kids’ hair before letting them leave the house.  I have no problem discussing all bodily functions and sex…after all I do it almost every day with clients in my work as a therapist.  I did not take my husband’s last name. 

So please, call me Erica, call me Dr. Berman, call me dude, guy, pal, woman, freakin' powerhouse, just don't call me lady!!


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Stop the Torment: Book Review

By now pretty much everyone in the developed world has heard about our obesity epidemic.  Ask 100 people about the cause and you'll get 100 different answers. 

The truth is, its a very complex issue and the 'cause' is the confluence of many, many factors.  In addition, on an individual level, the reason who someone is overweight varies from one person to the next. 

For many people in North America, there are emotional issues underlying their weight problem.  People often use food as an avoidant coping strategy, the way others use shopping, drinking or doing drugs.  Others use being overweight as a way to prevent intimacy due to insecurity, trauma or fear.

When I do weight-loss counselling, it is amazing how many emotional or psychological issues will emerge that are contributing to their weight struggles.

Because of this, I was eager to review the book by author, Joyce Lillis, Stop the Torment, which purports to help people "Conquer" their relationship with food.

Lillis is a life coach who, after yo-yo dieting for many years, successfully lost weight and has kept it off by transforming her relationship with food.  She now runs a weight-loss program called, The Metabolic Diet.  Now I can't tell you much about this diet plan, as there aren't many specific details, but the website does say that it includes:

  • Personalized Weight Loss Program
  • 6 – 9 Week Coaching including 21 day Stabilization
  • 24/7 phone, email, texting support
  • Weekly meeting and/or conference call
  • Psychological weight counseling
  • Recipes and nutritional guidance
  • Supplements to support weight loss
  • Tips on eating out and traveling
  • Weight Loss Maintenance Plan
  • Completion of Weight Loss Treatment

  • Doesn't sound bad, but this description of Phase I of the program makes me go "hmmm":

    The first three to six weeks of The Metabolic Reset Program you will follow an individually designed food program and with the support of the homeopathic appetite suppressant your body will release the secure fat deposits in the problem areas at an accelerated rate. During this stage you will lose weight rapidly with the program designed specifically for your body. During this period you will also notice a re-shaping of your body. Energy levels will be high, hunger and appetite low. Your body will not burn necessary fat that supports your organs and arteries. Your face will not look drawn as often results from diets you may have tried in the past.

    The homeopathic appetite suppressant contains ingredients that support adrenals, thyroid, liver, skin elasticity and much more.

    Frankly, I have not seen any scientific data supporting the efficacy of homeopathy...especially for weight loss!

    Anyways, back to the book.  I applaud Lillis for bringing attention to the fact that one's eating habits should not have an impact on one's self-evaluation or self-esteem, and that our weight problems may be due to deep seated emotional issues, but I pretty much think this book is useless.

    It starts will Lillis's own story, and then a history of the dieting industry.  Interesting but not really all that relevant for many readers.  There is a chapter describing physical hunger and natural instinct related to eating, which is important for people to understand as, like she points out, many of us have lost touch with our physiological nutritional needs, and eat for social, psychological and/or emotional issues instead.  In the following chapter Lillis describes the inner dialogue relating to a positive relationship to food versus the inner dialogue when you have a dysfunctional relationship with food.  Another chapter is devoted solely to the issue of emotional eating.  Throughout, the book is peppered with anecdotes from her clients.  There is a chapter on the scale and about how not to fixate on the number, one providing her definitions of terms she uses, and one she calls, "The Six Stages of Change,", which is essentially her spin on health behaviour change theory.

    In the chapter called, "Nutrition", Lillis mentions other factors important to maintaining a healthy weight such as exercise, sleep, social support, and stress management.  In the chapter about metabolism, she recommends eating every few hours and eating 'metabolism boosting foods.'   She also says that Dr. Oz says we need to chew every bite 20 times.  Oh, okay then, if Dr. Oz says, then it must be so!

    Her metabolism boosting foods, at least, are all healthy: whole grains, fruits and veggies, coffee, tea and dark chocolate, spices and hot peppers, lean protein, olive and coconut oil, beans, nuts, apple cider vinegar, and water.

    Lillis's 10 key concepts to success are:

    1. Weigh yourself daily
    2. Listen to your body not your inner critic related to eating
    3. Ask yourself if you are hungry when you have the urge to binge
    4. Enjoy indulgences when you crave them
    5. Eat until satisfied, not full, and don't feel guilty about having leftovers
    6. Breathe 4/7/8 before eating (I doubt most people will know what this means!)
    7. Slow down and enjoy food taking 20 chews per bite
    8. Eat every 3-4 hours and drink 8 glasses of water (this whole 8 glasses of water theory is bogus!)
    9. Surrender to your biological hunger and eat with passion
    10. Be kind to yourself

    I disagree with daily weigh-ins, once a week is enough since, as even she pointed out, you don't want to get fixated on the number!  Not everyone needs the same amount of water, so don't necessarily aim for 8 glasses, and 20 chews per bite is rather arbitrary, however, eating slowly is better for you and does lead to eating less.  The rest is definitely good advice.

    The last chapter is filled with exercises involving answering questions about yourself and your eating and thought patterns.  Again, I think she brings up important issues here, and things many people can relate to in their weight-loss struggles, but this book falls short of being a resource that most people can rely on to transform their relationship with food.  The whole book is less than 150 pages long, and it really doesn't spend enough time or go into enough detail on HOW people can do so.  It often takes months of intense therapy for my clients to have breakthroughs, especially if their dysfunctional eating behaviours are linked to serious trauma or emotional issues.

    In my opinion, if you are looking for a book that can help you develop a healthier relationship with food, pick up Yoni Freedhoff's book, The Diet Fix.

    Monday, June 16, 2014

    Clif Mojo Trail Mix Bars: Product Review

    Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond

    Hello, and happy Monday to you.  Its going to be wet and steamy here this week, the weather I hate the most.  Fab.  Frizzy hair for me.  Luckily, it was just perfect this weekend and we had a great time.  How about you?

    So, on to the scheduled programming for the day.

    Who doesn't like a bar?

    Not a 'pour me a drink' bar, a snack bar, silly!

    They usually satisfy your sweet tooth and are portable and non-perishable.  There are literally 100s on the market, and the reality is, most are junk.  Many are filled with sugar, refined grains, weird chemicals, and/or low quality sources of protein.

    Recently, we were sent some of Clif's new Mojo Trail Mix Bars to try.  I let Adam be the tester, since he is really the only one in the family that regularly eats trail mix bars of various types.

    Here's a little bit about Clif's latest product line:

    Mojo bars are:
    - Gluten-free
    - 70% organic
    - A source of fibre

    The 40g bars are between 180 and 200 calories each, and have about 4-5g of protein.  They come in 3 varieties:
    - Coconut almond peanut
    - Dark chocolate almond sea salt
    - Dark chocolate cherry almond

    Adam tried the one with sea salt first and was not a fan.  He found it way too salty.  The other two, he was quite pleased with.  He said they were very tasty, satisfied his craving for something sweet, and were very filling.  He did, however, wish the bars came in 2 pieces to give him more willpower to not eat them all in one shot.  But even 200 calories isn't horrible for a snack.

    Personally, I am not wildly impressed with them from a nutrition stand-point. Too much added sugar, especially in some of the flavours.  Only 6g in the Coconut Almond Peanut, but 13g in the Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond.  Also, while 200 calories is not unreasonable for a snack, these bars are only 40g.  Adam did say they were filling, so I think it depends what kind of appetite you have and how many calories you need.  They are sweetened with organic cane sugar which is not a great sweetener to use.  It matters little that its organic, it still is processed by your body the same way regular sugar is processed.  Better choices are stevia, xylitol, erythritol or even coconut sugar.

    So these win from a taste perspective and might be better than your standard, grocery-store fruit/nut granola bar, but there are definitely better snack choices out there.

    Disclaimer: We were provided with a complimentary selection of Mojo bars, but all opinions on this blog are my own (or those of my family).

    Friday, June 13, 2014

    Embracing the Discomfort

    Hip hip hurray it's Friday!  Friday the 13th as a matter of fact!!

    Today I have to do one of those push-myself-beyond-my-comfort-zone thingies...I am attending a professional conference (Rise: The Better Living Expo) where I don't really know anyone.  Gulp!  I hate schmoozing, networking, etc.  I am much more comfortable in one-on-one situations or small groups (guess that's why I'm a counsellor!).

    If I can get past my anxiety though, it should be interesting.  It's basically how to get ahead in the wellness field.  I've been working on some business ideas with my marketing guru/consultant...who also organized the event, and she suggested (strongly) that I attend.

    There is also a whole market and expo open to the public, which sounds awesome.  We are all going as a family on Saturday.  It's at the wonderful Evergreen Brick Works here in Toronto.  If you live in the GTA, you might want to check it out!

    Adam and I are also having our long awaited/belated anniversary celebration Saturday night.  Little A is sleeping at my in-laws and Big A is having her first real sleep over at her friend's house.  No fancy schmancy restaurant meal or cocktails for us though, we're just being our usual nerdy selves and staying home, having a nice dinner and watching the Veronica Mars movie.  We were avid VM fans, so we have been wanting to see it for some time.  Sunday, if the weather cooperates, we are taking the girls to Wild Water Kingdom which we hoped to do last weekend but couldn't because it rained. And, of course, because it is Father's Day, we have to take Adam for his annual Blizzard at Dairy Queen.

    So stay safe my friends, and be healthy.  Have a great weekend.

    Thursday, June 12, 2014

    Busting Popular Health Myths

    If it seems like health information is constantly changing and contradicting itself, than you are not alone.  Lots of North Americans are confused about what do eat or not eat, how much to exercise, and whether to take supplements, if any.  For one, the information we have is always changing, but the following issues also make it very difficult to understand the facts:

    1.  A lot of the research in the field of health and nutrition is poorly designed and/or simply by its nature very unreliable (i.e. getting people to self-report what they ate).
    2. Researchers often draw faulty conclusions from their research.
    3. The media sensationalizes research findings and/or the researchers' faulty conclusions, or misinterprets the findings themselves.

    I am often frustrated and astonished by the completely inaccurate information reported by the media or even by supposed health 'experts' like Dr. Oz or Dr. Joey Shulman.

    So I was absolutely thrilled that the Nutrition Action Health Letter for June 2014 devoted a whole article to debunking some of the top myths floating around these days.  Some of these also happen to be ones that really drive me nuts, so I thought I would share, so you can know what's what.

    1. There is no link between gluten and weight-loss/gain.  Individuals with celiac often lose weight as one of their symptoms because they have difficulty absorbing nutrients while ingesting gluten.    Non-celiac gluten-sensitivity is not even a condition proven to exist, but even if it does it has not been associated with weight.  Some people do lose weight when they eliminate gluten from their diet, but this may simply be because they have cut out a lot of crap food they were eating previously.  Just keep in mind that there are a lot of gluten-free foods that are also total crap.  Refined grains and processed foods are crap, regardless of whether or not they contain gluten.

    2. Meta-analyses are the best way to determine cause and effect.  A meta-analysis is when you use a study as a 'case' in your calculations.  In other words, instead of a person being counted as 1 case, the findings of an entire study is one case, so you are basically summarizing the findings of many similar studies statistically.  Unfortunately, just like any other research design, it is subject to flaws and biases, and can lead you to draw faulty conclusions.  An example of this is the recent meta-analysis that was sensationalized by the media, that concluded that saturated fat does not increase the risk of heart disease.  The Health Action Newsletter explains all the shortcomings of the analysis that led to this finding, but was not addressed in the published paper.

    3. Protein in any form curbs appetite.  I really don't know why smoothies, etc. are so popular and are considered health/weight-loss food.  To me, they are something you eat if you NEED calories.  No matter what you are drinking, liquids are less satiating than solids (we have hard data on this!).  Eat an orange not orange juice.  Eat an apple, not apple juice.  So all these protein drinks touted as meal replacements are just BS...especially if you are trying to manage your weight.  Eat a hard boiled egg or two instead!  You'll also avoid all the added sugar and other crap.

    4. Full-fat dairy is healthier than low/no-fat dairy products.  Oh, this one drives me nuts!  I honestly don't know who came up with this, but I have heard a lot of nutrition experts make this claim and say that low/no-fat dairy has more sugar.  Huh? Not true.  Also, high fat dairy consumption is linked with chronic illness.  The fat isn't good for you just because it is 'natural'.  That is stupid reasoning.  The fat on a steak naturally occurs too, but I doubt too many people would make a claim that for that reason one should eat it and not trim it off! Oh, and no evidence that high fat dairy can help with weight loss either.  Stick with getting your fat from nuts and seeds, olive oil, coconut products, fatty fish, etc. while minimizing the amount you get from dairy and meat.  Oh, and avoid trans fat altogether (i.e. avoid eat fried and processed foods!).

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

    Homemade Maple Vanilla Greek Yogurt

    Everyone in our home loves Greek yogurt.  But we don't buy it often.  Why?  Because its freakin' expensive, for one, and two, unless you buy the plain varieties, most are loaded with sugar, artificial sweeteners or goodness knows what other junk.  But here's the good news: it is ridiculously easy to make at home yourself!  Better yet, you can flavour it any way you like using healthy ingredients.  This version is sweetened with vanilla stevia and pure maple extract 'cause the kids don't go for plain yogurt, but really, you just need to use your imagination to come up with yummy ways to flavour it.  Or, just enjoy plain with some fresh berries...which, by the way, are now in season!

    Maple Vanilla Greek Yogurt

    750ml plain, gelatin-free yogurt (fat-free works just fine!)
    2 droppers full of vanilla stevia liquid, or to taste
    1/4 tsp pure maple extract

    Take a wide bowl and spread cheesecloth over top, securing all sides to the bowl (I used duct tape!).  Carefully spoon yogurt on to cheesecloth and make an even layer. 


    Place in fridge for at least 12 hours.  Scrape yogurt off of cheesecloth into a bowl, jar or container.  Discard liquid (or throw into a smoothie, hot cereal, etc., as it is full of nutrition).  Stir stevia and extract into yogurt.  Keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.

    This recipe was submitted to Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday.

    Tuesday, June 10, 2014

    Black Hole Brownies

    This is one of those recipes that makes me feel pretty smug.  Yep.  It makes me laugh at all those silly folks who think food has to be unhealthy to be incredibly delicious.  Suckers! 

    These impossibly fudgy, chocolately, rich brownies, also happen to be full of only good stuff.  Even my picky daughters were fooled...although they do know that if mommy is letting them eat brownies on a Tuesday for no reason, then they are likely healthy.  But even that knowledge couldn't stop them from swooning over these babies.  They are honestly the only brownies I have ever felt did not even need icing.  Oh, and they come together in minutes because you just throw all the ingredients into the food processor!

    Oh, and did I mention they are grain-free, gluten-free, refined sugar-free and vegan?????  Honestly, I think these put even the triple chocolate chunk cake to shame!  I'm going to be making these again really soon.

    Black Hole Brownies

    15oz can organic black beans, rinsed and drained
    2 flax eggs (2 tbls flax meal + 6 tbls hot water)
    3 tbls coconut oil, softened
    1 cup coconut sugar
    1/3 cup cocoa powder
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1/4 tsp fine grain sea salt

    2 cups sugar-free (stevia sweetened) chocolate chips or chunks

    Throw all the ingredients, except for the chips into food processor.  Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides a few times.  Add chocolate chips or chunks and pulse a few times.  Scrape batter into a greased 9x9 square pan.  Bake at 350F for about 40 minutes.  Let cool completely before cutting into squares*.  Makes 16 brownies.

    *I found that if you leave them over night (if you can resist not eating them that long!), they continue to firm up and are much easier to cut and remove from pan.  I took out the one in the photo while still a bit warm, which is why its so imperfect looking.

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

    Monday, June 9, 2014

    We Love to Ride Our Bicycles

    Good morning!  It is a beautiful, sunny Monday, but according to the weather report, its going to go up to 26 Celsius by this afternoon, which is too hot for me.  Yeah, I know, complain, complain...

    How was your weekend?  Ours was lovely.  We've hit a new milestone in this house: we can all go for a family bike ride together!  Little A is finally good enough on a two wheeler that riding together is feasible.  This definitely makes life easier and more fun!!

    I have always been an avid bike rider.  I don't call myself a 'cyclist' because I use it for transportation, not for fitness or recreation...except for teaching spinning classes.  I am telling you, there has never been a better time to ride in this city.  Due to declines in funding, our public transportation system (The TTC) is overcrowded and unreliable.  Its become an annoying pain-in-the-ass to use.  And due to increased traffic and record breaking construction in downtown Toronto, using a car just gets you stuck in gridlock...not to mention what a fortune it costs to park.  This is such a huge, spread out city, walking everywhere just isn't always possible.  But cycling?  It rocks!!  The only problem is that its freakin' dangerous.  Cars are either oblivious to cyclists or downright adversarial towards us.  There aren't enough bike lanes, and pot holes and street car tracks create dangerous obstacles.

    So, of course, it does make me super nervous to have the girls riding bikes now.  Little A is still small enough to ride on the side walk, but Big A is too big now, so she rides on the street.  Yeah, I'm pretty anxious about this.  Lucky for us, though, we live in a neighbourhood where we can get most places taking quiet side streets.  We are also adamant about everyone in the family wearing a helmet at all times and not doing anything stupid, like we see a lot of cyclists around here doing, like talking on a phone, listening to headphones, carrying a drink in one hand, etc. while riding.

    Saturday we biked to Christie Pits park where the girls played.  Yesterday, we biked to Bloor Street, for the annual Annex Street Festival.  We had an amazing time watching buskers and musicians and looking at all the arts and crafts for sale.  We got the girls frozen yogurt and BBQ corn on the cob, and then cycling home.  Unfortunately, it started pouring rain on our way home.  Nonetheless, it was so lovely to be able to do all this so easily without having to take the car, a stroller or the TTC. 

    Honestly, riding a bike is so amazing.  Its good for your health, the environment, and your community.  Do you ride?

    Friday, June 6, 2014

    The Importance of Honesty

    Given that I work in the field of mental health, and infertility, I am confronted by the issue of stigma all the time.  There is stigma attached to infertility, there is stigma attached to mental illness, heck there is stigma attached to simply going to see a counsellor like myself!

    One of my goals is go try and erase the stigma, eliminate the fallacy that one is weak or damaged if facing one of these struggles, or needs to reach out for help.  No matter how it may 'seem', nobody's life is perfect.  Not even the richest, most beautiful, successful people in the world are perfect or have perfect lives.

    On this note, I ask you to please read my latest article on infertility for the Huffington Post.

    Also, please check out this excellent piece on parenting with cancer by writer Aviva Rubin.

    So go and have a great weekend and enjoy the messiness and imperfection of life!

    Thursday, June 5, 2014

    Jillian Michaels' Killer Abs: DVD Review

    I have been doing my Jillian Michaels' 6 Week 6 Pack workout once a week since last September and I really have noticed a change in my core strength and physique.  At the very least, I think my abs are the flattest they've been since I popped out 2 kids.  Never mind that I still have a small hernia giving me a really funny looking outie belly button...

    I love this workout but I have been craving change so when I found Michaels' Killer Abs DVD for $10 on Amazon, I couldn't resist.

    You can check out a snipit of it here on Youtube:

    Its definitely a good value as you get 3 different 30 minute workouts, compared to the 2 half hour workouts on the other DVD.  Each one is a different level, so its good if you are starting from a more novice degree of fitness and want to gradually progress to more advanced training.

    What I like the most about this DVD, to be honest, is she loses the trash talk she has going in 6 Week 6 Pack.  In that video she jokes about wanting to put her participants in the hospital and calls the blonde a Barbie doll.  I find that kind of stuff demeaning and obnoxious and inappropriate language for a fitness trainer.  There's none of that in this video thankfully.  I also like that there is essentially no, or very little repetition of exercises from the other DVD.  It's definitely providing me with some variation in my core workouts.

    Overall though, I have to say I think 6 Week 6 Pack abs is still the one I would recommend first.  I think the exercises target and fatigue the core muscles better and it gets my heart rate up higher.  But this could be because I need to use more weight for some of the exercises and/or because some of them require a lot of balance (like crunches done from Warrior 3 or single leg burpees), and my balance sucks, so I am falling over instead of keeping up with the exercise.  Perhaps as my technique improves on those, I'll get a better workout.  This one might be better if you are not currently super fit as it does provide 3 different levels of difficulty, but don't think that means any of the workouts are 'easy'.  Even the level 1 routine will be challenging for a lot of people.

    I know I've said it a million times, but I will say it again: if you are sedentary, you are setting yourself up for long-term health problems...diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis.  Even Alzheimer's and dementia risk is increased if you are not physically active.   The whole "I don't like exercise" or "I don't have time" excuses just don't cut it.  You don't need that much time, space, or money and there are a million different activities that get you up and active.  The best way to find the right one for you is to just keep trying new things!

    Wednesday, June 4, 2014

    Triple Chocolate Chunk Cake

    My family was delighted to discover I had made a chocolate layer cake on Sunday.  That don't happen too often around here!  Of course, its a healthier one than most.  Lots of chocolate, but no sugar crashes thanks, and no white flour or butter!

    This was my first time using powdered erythritol to make chocolate frosting and I think it turned out great.  Honestly, what could be better than sweet, creamy, chocolately frosting that is sugar-free, low in fat and calories???

    Sadly by Monday evening the entire cake was totally gone.  Yep, I'm not kidding.  And yes, I may have contributed to its swift disappearance.  Guess I'll just have to make it again!

    Triple Chocolate Chunk Cake

    Chocolate Covered Katie's mayonnaise cupcake recipe quadrupled
    2 cups chocolate chips or chunks (I used sugar-free)


    2 cups powdered erythritol
    2 tbls coconut oil, softened
    1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1/4 cup non-dairy milk

    To make the cake:  Follow directions from original recipe (quadrupling amounts), but stir in chips or chunks at the end.  Divide batter between two greased, round cake tins.  Bake for about 22-25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool and then remove from pans.

    For the icing:  Put all the ingredients in blender or food processor and process until smooth.  Add more milk, if necessary until you get the desired consistency.  Spread on cooled cakes.

    I have linked this recipe with Urban Naturale's Blog Hop.

    Tuesday, June 3, 2014

    Food Huggers: Product Review

    Set of Four Food Huggers
    If there is one thing I hate, its wasted food.  Some estimates suggest that North Americans throw away 1/3 of the food we purchase.  That's appalling!  With me though, its almost an obsessive thing.  It makes me crazy to see food go to waste.  That's tough when you have kids because they are the worst about wasting.  My kids ask for food, then change their minds a second later, even if said food gets put in the fridge for another time, let me reassure you, the next time they are in a mood to eat it, it has long ago gone green and fuzzy. It makes me totally nuts.

    Of course, produce is usually the first thing to spoil, particularly if it has already been washed and cut.  But how many times have you used half a lemon or lime, then wrapped the rest in plastic wrap, only to come back a few days later and find its already slimy?

    Food Huggers are a great solution if you are looking for something to help you cut down on the waste.  They are reusable BPA-free plastic thingies that you seal your cut produce into to help retain freshness.

    I was lucky enough to receive a set, as well as a set specifically for avocados.  I was a bit sceptical about how well they would fit but was very impressed when the largest sized one fit around half of a humongous cooking onion I had that was oblong in shape.  Even though the hugger is round, it stretched perfectly around my onion and kept it fresh until I needed it a few days later.

    Honestly, it is worth it to cut down on food waste.  It saves you money and Food Huggers are far more environmentally friendly than plastic wrap.

    You can purchase them online for $14.99 for a set of 4 and $9.99 for a set of 2 avocado huggers.

    Note: I was provided with a set of Food Huggers but all of the opinions on this blog are my own.

    Monday, June 2, 2014

    Creamy Lentil Spinach Curry

    Why hello!  How was your weekend?  Ours was stellar thanks.  Big A had her performances on Sunday and she had a blast.  I don't know if I would say the same for Adam and I and my in-laws.  Don't get me wrong, the kids were all great, but Big A was the first act and then we had to sit through 2 more hours of performances from other people's kids.  And the theatre was stuffy. But I am really proud of her.  I am in awe of her confidence and I hope and prey she is able to maintain it always.

    Okay, now for a recipe.  I made this for lunch last week and it was delicious.  But what I'm really proud of, is that I knocked the socks off of someone I work with at the fertility clinic who is from India.  He came in while I was eating and he absolutely could not believe I'd made it myself because it was so authentic.  Ha, see I've always said I was Indian in another life! 

    I purposely made this very thick and rich to serve with naan or roti, but you can add additional water or coconut milk to thin it out, if you wish, and serve over brown rice or other grain instead.

    Creamy Lentil Spinach Curry

    1/2  tsp olive oil
    1 onion, diced
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    3-4 tbls minced fresh ginger
    1 tsp garam masala
    1 tsp curry powder
    1/2 tsp ground cumin
    1/2 tsp turmeric
    1 tsp salt
    1/4 cup cider vinegar
    1/2 cup coconut milk
    1.5 cups cooked brown lentils, or 1 can, drained and rinsed
    300g box frozen chopped spinach, thawed (or fresh baby spinach, chopped)
    1 can tomato paste

    Saute onion in oil for a few minutes over medium heat.  Add garlic, ginger, all the seasonings, and vinegar.  Cook for about 5 minutes.  Add coconut milk, lentils, spinach and tomato paste.  Turn heat down to low and simmer for at least 10 minutes.