Quality Counts: a different perspective

When it comes to food quality really does count. Diets high in processed foods are often linked to chronic diseases, while low processed, as close to the form Mother Earth gave them, foods tend to be linked to healthier outcomes.

But when it comes to food it is easy to think what we eat is the only quality thing that counts, but there are other parts of our meal that count too.

Quality counts in how you eat

I know it might sound weird, but the relationship you have to food – when, why and how you eat, can have huge affects on your health. Today I want to focus on the quality that matters for how you eat your meals.

Take for instance the family meal; something many struggle to have in this day and age of busy on-the-go lives. But the number of health benefits that exist when a family takes the time to sit down and eat together are numerable. Family meals promote healthy relationships for adults and children; not just with other human beings, but also with food. This is one of the beautiful things about food; it is a place where we can connect.

The same goes for those of us who are family or child free. Eating with friends has many health benefits, as food is the perfect medium for socializing – and even us introverts experience health benefits from time with friends. Even when eating alone it is important to respect the time around food; mindful and intuitive eating both show that preparing a meal you will enjoy, creating a space that is inviting, and sitting down to mindfully enjoy that meal without distraction (no TV, no computer, no phone!) improves health outcomes. Not only that but you will be more satisfied; think about how quickly you mindlessly eat your dinner but still feel hungry after eating in front of the television. Or go through an entire bag of chips without feeling the fullness factor.

Do you feel the pressure?

It is hard to think about adding one more thing to our already full plates, or about cutting out something to fit in daily family meals. Culturally in North America there is great pride in being busy, in doing all the extra-curricular activities, and it can be hard to say no (particularly if they are things your kids love). Not only that but there is already a lot of pressure on parents to do a “perfect” job raising their kids, and having perfect family meals can be just one more place we shame and blame parents.

So in the name of trying to decrease the pressure, or spark some creativity around the how of your eating here are some ways you can incorporate this idea into your life.

For the Family Meal:

– The family meal does not have to be dinner. It can be lunch, it can be breakfast. Whatever meal you can find that allows you to sit down all together and eat is the meal that works.

– It doesn’t have to be every day. Despite our perfectionist beliefs, something is always better than nothing. Many of us might be weighed down with work, school and commitments on weekdays, but if there is one meal, one day a week when everyone can get together that still gives you benefits. A nice Sunday brunch or dinner? Awesome if that’s what you can do, that’s what you can do.

– Get everyone involved; have family members switch off who plans and cooks the meal. Get your kids involved in choosing the meal, helping get groceries and cooking. Everyone benefits from having basic cooking skills and the younger you begin to develop them, the better they will be.

For those of us who are single:

– It can be so hard to motivate yourself to cook a healthy meal for just you. Fortunately lots of easy meals are totally healthy; pasta with a meat or vegetarian sauce, salad and some protein such as chicken, tofu or beans, tuna melts, grilled cheese and soup…. good healthy food doesn’t have to be fancy. Speaking from personal experience; when I finally stepped off the dieting wagon I decided giving myself interesting and new meals was important for my self care. I chose a new recipe every few weeks to try, because I love to cook I knew this would be good for me. I also don’t mind having three or four meals a week that are “left overs”. This won’t work for everyone, you have to figure out what you like doing around food (throwing everything in the crock pot, maybe just eat fun and healthy sandwiches or wraps? Whatever floats your boat) to best have meals that are healthy and satisfying.

– If you really can’t imagine going to all that work just for yourself invite friends over (since eating out gets $$$ and isn’t always health friendly), or even organize a community kitchen style get together where you cook as a group and have meals for everyone to take home with them.

– Try to eat less in front of the TV and more in silence. Even try setting the table for yourself (yes it totally makes the meal feel special). Do I do these things all the time? No, but when I do it feels amazing.

So as week 2 of Nutrition Month rolls over, remember quality counts around food in many different ways. You can change what you eat, how and why you eat depending on your goals and circumstances, so go a head try to change up the how and see how it helps you.

Nutrition Month–let’s get ready

March is nutrition month, and this year Dietitians of Canada is asking you to take a 100 Meal Journey.

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Image source.

A what now? You might be asking.

What it is

Every month most people eat roughly 100 meals. When trying to make new healthy habits around eating you have 100 opportunities to make small changes that can add up to big health benefits. When it comes to goal setting and making habit changes a lot of us have a habit of doing something really big or doing a whole lot of different things all at once. This ends up being no good. Too big of a change and we get shocked and the change doesn’t stick. Too many changes and we get overwhelmed and revert back to what’s easy: the bad habit we want to change.

Time to get SMART?

A lot of goal setting talks about S.M.A.R.T goal setting. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Reasonable and Timely (ok the words are sometimes different but always with the same gist).

An not SMART goal: eating more fruits and vegetables.

A SMART goal: I will eat an extra serving of vegetables at every weekday lunch meal.

I don’t love S.M.A.R.T goal setting because it doesn’t make you dig down to your why. You can set perfectly great SMART goals but if you don’t dig into the why behind them they can leave you feeling unfulfilled.

So going back to the vegetable goal – that’s great but if you don’t have a why figured out, it probably won’t stick.

Why?

We know vegetables have lots of benefits but if you’re just doing it “because it’s the right thing I should be doing”, you probably won’t keep with it. “To be healthier” also probably doesn’t mean much.

So what does “the right thing” or “being healthier” actually mean to you? Does it mean having more energy in the day? Is it so you can get through the afternoon at work and have energy when you get home to your family?

Answering the why to our goals can be enlightening. Suddenly things like “lose the last 10lbs” become about “staying healthy and alive so I have energy for my grandkids when I’m old” – which is much more meaningful (no judgements if your health goals are not that deep – we all start somewhere).

Whatever you do…

Keep It Simple. Remember this is a 100 meal journey; you have 100 opportunities this month for those small changes. Should every meal involve a new goal? No fricking way. But pick a goal, maybe one or two, and you have a 100 Meals at which to work on it. Will you fail a couple times? Probably – but look at those slip ups with curiosity instead of judgement and you might surprised at what you learn about yourself.

Hop on over to Dietitians of Canada for some more ideas on goals and what’s coming up next for Nutrition Month!

The Difference a Year Can Make

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This past weekend I attended the Dietitians of Canada Conference in Victoria.

Last year this past weekend, I attended the Dietitians of Canada Conference in Toronto.

This year I am a full-time working Dietitian Registered with the BC College. After 10 months of not working after work (aka no more homework) and practicing the many dietetic, and non-dietetic, skills you need to counsel people around food, my mind is open to thinking, questioning and learning once again.

Last year I was in the final few weeks of my internship, which also happened to be the roughest patch of my internship as well. I was questioning if everything would work out. My stress levels were high and I found it difficult to retain anything. Not a lot stood out for me from last year except for Roberta Bondar (a female Canadian Astronaut) being our key note and a longer session on motivational interviewing skills.

This year what stood out (in a good way) for me:

– Panel at the beginning on leadership.
– Weighty communication: session on both HAES and Obesity Management. While I am completely HAES in my belief, Dr. Sharma’s approach to Obesity Management is probably the only medicalized version of obesity I sort of agree with.
– Men in Dietetics: an interesting topic! In the US 4% of RDs are men. In Canada we don’t even know how many men are a part of our professional association. Questions raised: How can we recruit more men into our profession? Even how do we bring more diversity to our profession?
– Artful Approaches to dietetics Pedagogy: super interesting look at ways of incorporating art based learning into a typical science program. I’ve been recently looking a lot at how we’re educated (I think it could be generalized for any applied science program) and loved the stuff being done at Acadia; it’s so different!

Things that stood out in a bad way:

– The sponsorship of our meals. Really Dietitians of Canada? Really? It happened last year in Toronto too, but I assumed this year being in BC, which holds with pride the idea that we are local, organic and all that jazz we would have been fed delicious, local, real, whole foods from Victoria. I guess I was wrong.
– The Kellogg’s symposium wherein questions were filtered to skew to the positive for industry. If industry wants to be at a DC conference FINE, but you have to open up the full discussion and not shut down what you don’t want to hear. I was very unimpressed with this.
– Again the sponsorship. This time about having certain brands all over the place. There is a fun run that’s meant to raise money for research, and you received a Tshirt… with Pepsico on the back. So a bunch of dietitians ran around Victoria advertising Pepsi on their shirts. Again DC, not cool. Not cool.

The Danger of a Single {Medical} Story

Have you guys seen the Ted Talk, The Danger of a Single Story?

No? Well it’s awesome. Go watch it now.

A few weeks ago I was teaching a diabetes class, the topic was creating reasonable health goals. As an example I mentioned adding a couple pieces of fruit as a snack a day.

A rather outspoken woman looked towards me and said, “And why are you telling diabetics to eat fruit?” Her words were sharp and her eyes concentrated on me, “Diabetics can’t eat fruit.”

This was news to me and my colleague. We’d never heard that diabetics can’t eat fruit.

It turned out as the conversation progressed that when her husband (the diabetic in this case) ate fruit his blood sugars would shoot to 23 (very high for you who don’t know.). This is not the case for everyone. Diabetics can eat fruit. But for this gentleman, fruit might not be a good idea.

But for his wife, after being told fruit was probably not a good idea if his sugars went to 23, she assumed ALL diabetics could not eat fruit.

Assumptions. Stereotypes. Simply reading between the lines of our client’s diagnosis and assuming we then know their life. Yes, the woman in the the diabetes group is a client, but do we as health professionals really behave differently?

After all many health care professionals have personal experience with diseases, chronic or otherwise. Either ourselves, or a close loved one, or even a friend may have been diagnosed with x, y, z and beat it through careful monitoring of this or a lifestyle change of that.

The danger comes because sometimes the patient we’re seeing doesn’t need to change what your aunt changed to get her weight down, or her blood sugars in order. But because the patient fits, in looks, in diagnosis, with your aunt’s story of diabetes, you assume that’s what her problem is.

But all health conditions are made of myriad of factors. No two people live the exact same lives with the exact same results.

So it’s important to ask them the questions, even if you predict the answers correctly, about their life and their lifestyle, because simply basing your answers on your assumptions isn’t going to help them.

And really you might be surprised at how many times their answers surprise you. And getting the full story of their life outside of their diagnosis is the best way for you both to work together to help them get to the healthiest place they can.

On Being A Dietitian

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(view from the helicopter rides I get to take…because I’m a dietitian)
I have wanted to be three things in my life:

a) Artist – I wanted to be an artist from as long as I can remember to when I was about 12. Then I realized that I found museums/art galleries extremely boring, and I thought “shouldn’t I enjoy things like this if I want to be an artist?”

b) Author – I read Harry Potter around the time I was 12, and I became a reading fiend. Reading, books, and the world they opened up for me (not to mention the fact that I was on a real-life-once-in-a-lifetime-experience at the time) made me want to write. Ok, actually, Tamora Pierce made me want to be a writer, JK Rowling just got me reading. I always felt that books saved me; and in return I owed the world words as a way to help others save themselves.

c) Dietitian – Obviously “one of these things is not like the other”. As a teenager I took a journey into “health” (I did NOT become healthy until post high school). I learned the word Dietitian from a Sports Nutrition Guidebook I had at the time. In university when I sat in my creative writing program, my artistic side burnt out, and my practical side saying “you can’t waste your money on this (no offense to those who have taken this career/school path – I admire you, I just wasn’t there at the time)… I remembered that word and decided perhaps this was a career I could do (health care, working with people is in my blood, my mom is a social worker).

So here I am. And I can say with honesty that it is not a decision I regret at all. Of course being a dietitian is different then I expected it to be. Though really I haven’t been one very long, and when is anything exactly as you expect?

But I know that in the same way I wanted to be a writer to help people, so I am a dietitian. We live in a pretty twisted food world, where huge companies dominate at every level (from government to healthy food recommendations), where food and what you eat can cause moral judgements to be passed on you, and my goal these days is simple to help people navigate this system – starting wherever they may be in their understanding of our food system.

So it was that my own journey through understanding food, nutrition, weight, health, fitness and what it all means (and it can take many many meanings), that I understood this was another way in which I could return the favour. I could help people out of their dark places with food and nutrition, and help them figure it out (not that it is that straightforward or easy, but when is it ever?).

What I really want to say is that sometimes our career goals change as we grow up, but that doesn’t mean our “calling” does. Sometimes we choose the practical career. The one that will pay the bills. And sometimes it might not feel good enough… But just because the career you have may feel like a betrayal of your inner child or not as daring as those crazy-famous-entrepreneurs, doesn’t mean it is, it is simply a different means to an end.

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Playground with a view.

2012–A Reflection

I made the decision this New Years to return to blogging. It’s taken me several months to decide this, and I’ve been feeling quite ambivalent to the idea. However, I find myself continually looking through blogs, and essentially wasting my time on the internet looking for something.

It took awhile, but I’ve realized I’m mostly searching for a reflection of my own thoughts, and voice. And while many people may state in more eloquent ways what I’ve been thinking, or what I needed to hear, I’m in a place where I’d really like to send my voice out into the interwebs and see what happens.

2012: A Big Year

To say this past year was a really big year for me is an understatement. It was actually a really tough year because I essentially started it in the middle of my internship, but also started it burnt out from being in school for 6 years straight.

Still a lot was accomplished and I think I’d like to focus on those.

Academically

– Finished internship (a 10 month long practicum).

– Finished university (for now)

– Officially became an RD(t) (stands for “temporary”)

– Wrote my Registration Exam to drop that (t)

– Attended my convocation

Fitness

– Completed a 30 day Hot Yoga Challenge (while in internship, might not have been the brightest idea, but was well worth it)

– Tried crossfit, and remember how much I LOVE weight lifting/strength training

– Joined Ultimate Frisbee, and rekindled my love for only team sport I think I’ve ever enjoyed.

– Began giving myself more breaks physically when I was worn out. I’m an exercise every day kind of person, and taking time off can cause me anxiety, but the later part of 2012 helped me learn that sometimes forcing myself to get to the gym doesn’t actually help me and that rest is super important.

Life

– Attended Dietitians of Canada Conference in Toronto June 2012. This was fabulous and helped me feel inspired by the career I’d chosen, because honestly at the point in my internship I was at when I went on this trip, I was burnt out.

– Got a full time permanent job in a small town on Vancouver Island, so consequently this also leads to the third point under life.

– Moved to a new town. It’s small up here; there are many small towns up here, and the population is actually a lot, but where I live is roughly 2, 500 people… To put it in perspective for the Canadians reading, it is so small up here there isn’t even a Tim Horton’s.

 

So there you have it, the biggest highlights of my year. And if I do say so myself it was a pretty crazy year. And it has honestly led to some crazy soul searching, and some pretty big discoveries about myself.

And hopefully 2013 will prove to be as prosperous, challenging and amazing.