Change Your Position, Change Your Health

I haven’t been sleeping well lately. For a long time, actually. I have difficulty falling asleep at night and frequently wake up feeling tired and lethargic, even on days where I’m able to get a solid 8-9 hours of sleep. I had brought the subject up with my doctor recently, but he informed me I was doing all the right things – eating well, exercising regularly, avoiding caffeine before bed, etc. I thought it had something to do with the fact that I was a vegetarian – low iron or vitamin B12, perhaps? Nope – blood work indicated both levels were fine. I figured maybe I just have a poor mattress, but I can’t exactly afford to buy a brand new one at the moment.

Then I had an interesting “a-ha” moment earlier today at work. Every Wednesday we offer free 15-minute seated massages to staff. Someone didn’t show up for their scheduled appointment, so the therapist offered me the spot. I’ve only ever had a massage once in my life because I’m extremely ticklish, but today I obliged because my muscles were feeling tense. As soon as the masseur placed his hands on my shoulders he said, “Ah.. You’re not sleeping well.” His hands applied pressure to various spots on my back and he said, “You haven’t been sleeping well for a long time.”

At the end of the massage he described how he thought I was sleeping – curled up on my left side, back rounded, shoulders tucked up towards my ears, with one leg bent and the other straight. I laughed, surprised, because he was exactly right. Who knew he could determine all of that from a 15-minute chair massage?? It had never really occurred to me that my sleeping position was having that big of an effect on my quality of sleep. I usually just gravitated towards whichever position I found to be most comfortable.

This led me to wonder if there are certain sleeping positions that have been found to improve sleep quality. I found this recent CBS news report which was helpful. I don’t normally like falling asleep on my back, but the news report suggested it might be my best option for improving my sleep quality and reducing back pain. I also found this graphic from The Wall Street Journal which was insightful:

A Better Night\\\

I’m going to give some of these suggestions a try over the next little while to see if there’s any improvement. The massage therapist also recommended that I do some stretches and deep breathing first thing in the morning in order to avoid muscle tension – I’ll be giving this a try too!

Have you been experiencing sleep issues lately? Maybe it’s time to change up your sleeping position!  Changing your position could change your health :)

Be Well xo

Healthy Eating 101

March is National Nutrition Month! For the month of March, I’ll be publishing a variety of posts I like to call the “101” series. Each post will focus on providing some basic information and tips related to a particular area of nutrition*.

Nutrition is a topic that I love promoting, as it’s an area of wellness that I’m very passionate about and enjoy learning more about. Proper nutrition is important for maintaining good health and positive well-being. Despite what many people might think, maintaining a healthy diet doesn’t have to be a difficult task – you just need to remember 3 things: Balance, Moderation, and Variety.

A balanced diet refers to a diet that includes foods from the four major food groups: fruits and vegetables, starches and grains, milk and alternatives, and meat and alternatives. Of course, everyone has different dietary needs and preferences, but Canada’s Food Guide is a good place for most people to start in order to determine how much and which types of foods make up a healthy, balanced diet. Quick sidenote – yes, carbs are an important component of a healthy diet! Despite what some people might think, carbs alone do not contribute to weight gain. Excess calorie consumption in general can pack on the pounds. In fact, research shows that eating whole grains on a regular basis may actually help you lose weight.

Variety is the spice of life! It’s important to eat a wide range of foods from every food group because they each provide different nutrients. Eating a diet that is more varied can help ensure that you are getting all of the essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients your body needs for good health. Don’t be afraid to switch things up and try something new!

Ah, moderation.. the word that everyone refers to when justifying their decision to reach for a second helping of dessert. It’s okay to indulge once in a while and reward ourselves with a little treat. But what exactly does “moderation” mean? I was always told that it’s okay to follow the “90:10” or “80:20” rule, meaning that you should aim to eat healthy foods 80-90% of the time, and the other 10-20% of the time it’s okay to indulge a little bit. Some people refer to this 10-20% as their “cheat day”. My opinion is that moderation is going to mean something different for everyone. The bottom line is that you should aim to eat healthy meals and snacks as often as you can, but it’s okay if you slip up every once in a while. Just try not to beat yourself up over it – we are human, after all!

If you’re trying to eat healthier, there’s no better time to start than now. You just need to know where and how to begin! Try starting off with some of these tips:

1) Have a clear sense of your main goal. “Eat healthier” is too general. Try breaking it down into smaller, more achievable milestones, such as “For the month of March I will ensure that all the grains I eat are whole grains”, or “I will eat at least 8 servings of fruits and vegetables every day this week”. Behaviour change is more attainable and sustainable if it’s broken down into realistic objectives. Start small, then go from there!

2) Plan ahead. Having regular access to healthy meals and snacks will make you less likely to seek out fast food. We like what’s available and convenient for us. Try setting aside some time every Sunday to prepare your meals and snacks for the coming week. You’ll be more likely to stay on track if you’re organized and prepared! Here’s a snapshot of one of my Sunday prep sessions:

Sunday Night Food Prep

I made a black bean salad, a batch of homemade applesauce, hard-boiled some eggs, and chopped up some fresh fruits and vegetables for the week. It took about an hour to prepare, which can seem like a long time, but it made my life a lot easier for the remainder of the week!

3) Don’t feel like you have to do it alone. Recruit a friend or family member to join you in your quest for better health. It will be easier to stay on track if you have someone there to support and motivate you along the way! Smartphone apps can also be helpful virtual motivators. Some of my favourites include MyFitness Pal and SlimKicker.

4) Don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek professional advice. EatRight Ontario is an excellent resource that provides free access to Registered Dietitians. They’re just a phone call away!

Stay tuned for the next post in this “101” series about how to read food labels! I’ll be posting healthy recipe ideas as well to help keep you motivated :) Try to challenge yourself for the month of March to eat healthy, wholesome foods – your body will thank you for it!

Be Well xo

*The information provided in this post is based on national standards for proper nutrition as recommended by Health Canada. I am not a Registered Dietitian or Certified Nutritionist, therefore the information presented here need not be interpreted as professional advice. You should consult a certified professional if you are seeking specific advice or recommendations about your diet.

The Movember Movement

It’s everyone’s favourite time of the year.. Movember! For those of you that have never heard of Movember, this initiative encourages men to sport a moustache for the month of November and raise funds to support men’s health, specifically for prostate cancer and mental health.

Now, normally I don’t mind when guys have a bit of facial hair, but when Movember comes around I have to admit… sometimes people have a tendency to look downright creepy. Sorry fellas, but not everyone suits a ‘stache.

That being said, Movember is still a great cause and I especially appreciate the fact that it seeks to raise awareness about men’s mental health. For those of you that read my blog regularly, you will know that mental health is something I feel very passionately about. In fact, one of the first blog posts I ever did discussed Bell’s ‘Let’s Talk’ mental health initiative.

If you’re curious to know why we should be raising more awareness about mental health, here are a few statistics that might help shed some light on the topic (source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health):

  • 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime
  • 10% of Canadian men experience mental health symptoms
  • Men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide
  • Mental illness is estimated to cost the Canadian economy more than $51 billion
  • Only one-third of those who need mental health services in Canada actually receive them

This last statistic is particularly troubling. Stigma can be a significant reason why people fail to seek help. This is why raising awareness about mental health is so important – the stigma can only be reduced once people start to gain a greater understanding of mental health issues.

So, although I’m not a dude, I can still support my “Mo Bros” and take a stand against stigma by sporting my own ‘stache. I hope others will do the same! :)

Be Well xo

Our Future: A Plants-Based Diet?

Is a vegetarian diet the future of food? According to recent research by the Stockholm Water Institute, the entire population may be forced to switch to a vegetarian diet by the year 2050 in order to avoid critical food and water shortages. You might be wondering how we could possibly run out of food and water by that time. Well, there are huge environmental costs associated with meat consumption, not to mention serious problems associated with waste disposal from factory farms. Check out Kimberly Snyder’s blog to learn more.

So what’s the solution? Eat organic (the manner in which organic foods are produced reduces toxicity in the environment and ground water), eat local, eat seasonal, and minimize your animal protein intake to less than 1-3 times per week!

Mind Over Matter: Tips to Avoid “Over-Indulging”

Thanksgiving is one of my favourite holidays. Unlike Christmas, there’s no added stress caused from elbowing your way through crowded shopping malls, trying to decide on the perfect gift for someone. The only thing I need to worry about is eating, which is just fine by me!

It was around this time last year that I first started to contemplate becoming a vegetarian. After learning a few things in school, talking to friends, and doing some research of my own, I decided I was going to cut down significantly on my meat consumption and attempt to only purchase organic meat products. After purchasing a small organic chicken breast for a whopping $8.11, I decided meat didn’t really fit my budget anymore and vowed to cut it out of my life entirely. But Thanksgiving was just around the corner. My parents had even gone to the trouble of buying a fresh, organic turkey from a local butcher, as they knew how much I loved Thanksgiving. So, I decided I would eat the bird. While I have to admit it tasted delicious, I’ve decided I’m sticking to my morals this year and will not be eating turkey.

However, I did go out and buy a Tofurky roast! Though the sodium content is less than desirable, it contains no saturated or trans fat, no cholesterol, and is very high in protein. A 5oz serving also provides 130% of the daily recommended intake of Vitamin B12 – something which vegetarians and vegans often have difficulty consuming enough of. The cashier gave me a not-so-subtle look of disgust when I walked up to the counter to pay for it, but my best friend promises me that it actually tastes pretty good. I guess I will find out tomorrow at our family dinner!

I know most people look forward to Thanksgiving because it’s a chance for them to stuff themselves silly, but here’s an eye-opening fun-fact that might have you think twice about filling up your plate for seconds.. and maybe thirds..

The average Thanksgiving meal contains 3,000 calories and 229 grams of fat.

This might seem somewhat shocking, but it makes sense when you factor in pre-dinner appetizers and snacks.. added sauces and condiments, such as butter and gravy.. two helpings of pumpkin pie or other desserts.. Yikes.

For those of you that have not yet had your Thanksgiving dinner, here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind which will help you to avoid over-indulging in delicious holiday goodies:

1) Eat a light, healthy lunch beforehand. Don’t try to “fast and feast”.

2) If your family likes to snack before dinner on appetizers and other finger foods, try bringing healthy munchies such as raw veggies and low-fat dip.

3) Drink a big glass of water before sitting down to dinner. It will help you feel fuller before you actually start to dig in.

4) When piling your plate with food, start with the healthiest items first. Aim to fill at least half of your plate with vegetables. Potatoes or other veggies smothered with butter, gravy and salt don’t count. My aunt and uncle like to bring a variety of steamed vegetables to our dinner, such as spinach, mushrooms, beans, broccoli and carrots. I try to make sure half of my plate is heaped with some of each before moving on to the stuffing and turkey (or in this case, Tofurky).

5) Rest for at least 20 minutes after finishing your first plate. Socialize! Relax! Let your brain register that you have eaten – you will be less likely to head up for seconds.

6) It would be unrealistic for me to say you can’t eat dessert, because I myself am a dessert fanatic. If possible, try to opt for healthier options, such as fresh fruit and yogurt. If you absolutely, positively MUST have a slice of pumpkin pie, cut yourself a slice that is 50% smaller than what you would usually take.

7) Instead of crashing on the couch after dinner, try getting some people together to do some form of exercise. Sprinting would probably be a bad idea, but a nice leisurely stroll around the neighbourhood might be nice? My family usually likes to play road hockey. Gotta love being Canadian, eh? ;)

I hope you all have a safe, happy, healthy Thanksgiving weekend!

Be Well xo