Sunday, 15 February 2015

Watch my Latest Presentation: NEDIC's EDAW Conference

Last week, as I mentioned, I was asked by NEDIC to be a special guest panelist at their event, 'Healthy Bodies, Healthy Attitudes". It was an honour to be invited by NEDIC to be a speaker at this event!

For those of you who came, thank you! For those who could not make it, my family was so kind as to record my portion of the night. You can watch me relay my story at the conference here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EENucWmfcTI

My hope is that my story can inspire others. I hope that my story shows others that regardless of how ill you or someone may be, there is always hope. You ought not to give up. I hope that my journey demonstrates how perseverance, God, love, support, and hard-work can truly produce positive outcomes. I pray that the message is clear: ED are mental illnesses, not choices. But that doesn't mean that those who suffer are hopeless. On the contrary. It may take time, effort, pain, and struggles. But recovery is fully possible. And it is definitely worth it.

When I was ill, I never thought that I would ever eat again. I never thought that I would be healthy one day. Nor did I ever think that I would be sharing my story with others - on this blog, in my book, on TV and radio shows, in newspapers, at schools and organizations, and at conferences. God is so good!

To all my readers, friends, and family - thank you. Speaking at a well-known NEDIC conference was something I never thought I would be doing...and here I am, spreading the word, raising awareness, and hopefully, helping and inspiring others. I would not be here without you all, or without the love and strength of God.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Eating Disorder Awareness Week! (EDAW)

This week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW). This is a week that pays special attention to increasing awareness about eating disorders: what they are, how they can be prevented and treated. and how to support others throughout their own journeys. Of course, raising awareness about ED should happen all year - but having a special week dedicated to the cause makes us more aware of the key issues. (P.S. Purple is the colour for Eating Disorder Awareness - so please try to wear purple or incorporate purple into your lives this week to show your support!)

I have certain goals for EDAW. I hope that someone will hear of ED and know that it is a mental illness, and not a choice. That struggling with an eating disorder is a challenging, emotional, and painful experience - and not simply a quest to lose weight and be thin. I have hope that society will let go of false ideas that women and men need to be tall, thin, muscular, etc. in order to be strong and beautiful. That the media will realize that depicting individuals in unrealistic measures does more harm than what we may see on the surface. That friends and family can avoid speaking about food as good or bad, as healthy or unhealthy. That all foods can be eaten in moderation, as part of a healthy and balanced life. That nutrition will be viewed as something necessary for life - that food is the sustenance that enables our bodies and minds to carry out normal functions. That weight will not be seen as a measure of one's self-worth or achievements. That exercise will not be seen or depicted as a chore, as something that we need to do because we want to look a certain way, fit into a pair of jeans, brag about our muscular strength, etc. That beauty will be defined as simply being yourself - the amazing, talented, special individual that you are, the awesome creation by God.

Does this seem far off? Perhaps, seeing as where society is at now. But it isn't impossible. Already, strives and successes have been made. Think back to your previous knowledge about ED, and think about it now. Do you understand more about ED as a mental illness? Can you appreciate why recovering from ED is challenging? Do you know how to support someone with ED? I guarantee that your knowledge has increased...and this is the way it should be. When we understand more about something, we become less ignorant and more informed. You can make a difference. You can educate yourself and others about ED. You can be a positive example for your friends and family by enjoying food (ex. not talking about how awful it is that you ate that piece of cake), by accepting your body and not shaming it (ex. don't complain about how you don't look like you did give years ago), by approaching physical activity in a healthy manner (ex. no one cares how much you 'lift' or that you woke up today and had a fun run in the sun), etc.


As a final shout-out, I am honoured to say that I have been invited to present at a NEDIC workshop/conference On Tuesday February 10, 2014 in Toronto (see http://www.nedic.ca/news/events#ON for details, scroll down to the Toronto events and see the second large poster). This is a major annual conference that never fails to educate and inspire! I will be speaking about my experience with ED, my recovery process, and tools for support. The event is free and open to all - members of the community, healthcare professionals, teachers, friends, etc - so if you are able to come, please show us your support! I am excited to yet again have an opportunity to share my story (through my presentations, book, and blog) to others, in hopes that it will not only help those currently battling ED, but also in raising awareness and sharing this message:

Eating disorders are life-threatening mental illnesses. They are not choices. But eating disorders don't have to persist. They can be identified and treated. And recovery is 100% possible.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Published again! Stages of Change

Once again, my work has been published by NEDIC! (Thank you, God! And thank you to all my readers and supporters who continually provide me with motivation and care!). This post is about the stages of change and how we can use this model to help ourselves (or others) in altering our habits or working towards new goals: http://www.nedic.ca/blog/stages-change

There are five stages, each describing the points at which an individual is thinking or functioning. As the person becomes convinced and prepared to acknowledge the problem and make a plan of action, he or she is able to slowly implement changes. Once the goals have been achieved, the focus is maintaining those changes and preventing reoccurrences.

I love this model because it emphasizes personal readiness. Of course, sometimes, we can't wait until we're ready to make changes (because after all, not many of us are actually ever going to wake up one day and feel fully optimistic about breaking a lifelong habit of ours!). However, the stages of change, in my opinion, can teach us something about the process of making a change: even if you aren't fully ready, sometimes you just need to make a plan. Then, you can make a pros/cons list and see what positives and negatives will occur if you make a change. This way, you can get a better idea of how the change can impact your life and health. Next, you can take baby steps towards the goal.

I went through this with my recovery from anorexia. And you know what? I still go through the stages of change. Even now as I'm recovered, I realize that I need to make decisions that promote my continued health and well-being (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, etc).

What habit or issue in your life needs change? Can you use the stages of change to help you reach this goal? Remember: this can be about stopping the use of alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs. It can be about controlling your anger or temper. It can even be about eating balanced and delicious meals, getting more physical activity, relaxing and engaging in self-care, etc. The most important thing - the first step - is to contemplate about the change. Only then can you become prepared, take action, and maintain your success. Whatever your goals or changes are, remember to always stay hopeful! You will accomplish your goals - it may take time, patience, effort, and perseverance....but it is possible. Trust me, I've been there and I've done it. Was it always easy? No. But was it worth it? Most definitely.


Monday, 12 January 2015

Gluten-Free: Is it for Me?

Before your alarm goes off, no - I am NOT going gluten-free. This post is meant to present information on what 'gluten-free' means, who actually needs to follow the meal-plan, whether you should jumpy on board, and more. (Note: this post is long - but well worth the read!).

First, let's talk about what 'gluten-free; is all about. Celiac's disease is also called gluten-sensitivity or gluten-induced enteropathy. In simple terms, this describes an illness related to the intestines. Gluten is an ingredient present in rye, oats, wheat, and barley. When these substances are broken down, gluten is produced. Normally, our intestines can break this component down. However, in some people, the immune system makes antibodies against gluten. These antibodies (think of little soldiers) start attacking the intestine, and this produces inflammation. The inflammation damages the ability of the intestine to absorb nutrients. The individual may experience stomach cramps, weight loss, diarrhea, nausea, and other symptoms. Left untreated, the person can become very ill.

Celiac's disease can be diagnosed by many means. A blood test can show antibodies to transglutaminase, the enzyme that breaks gluten down in the intestines. Also, if the person starts a gluten-free diet and symptoms go away - including the antibodies - Celiac's disease is confirmed.

The treatment sounds simple: to follow a gluten-free diet (and by diet, I mean 'meal plan). However, this sounds easier than it really is. The individual must avoid rye, oats, wheat, and barley. Breads and pastas need to be avoided. But, the person needs to also avoid any foods that may contain these ingredients, which can be tricky if they are hidden. For example, some ice creams, crackers, pancakes, cream sauces, drinks, etc. may contain sources of gluten. As you can imagine, this means carefully reading all nutrition labels and selecting products that are 100% safe. Also, if you have ever walked into a grocery store or looked at store prices, you will find that gluten-free foods are more expensive than other foods. This means that someone with Celiac's will need to spend more money on their meals in order to avoid gluten. Moreover, going out to order meals can be challenging, as the individual must be aware of sources of gluten in fast-food or restaurant meals (or drinks) they are purchasing.

So, now the big question is: why are so many people, who don't have Celiac's disease, following a gluten-free diet? There has been a lot of speculation that going gluten-free can aid in weight-loss or detoxification. But is this true? Research is mixed on this topic. However, let me clear: research shows that a gluten-free diet is NECESSARY for anyone with Celiac's because it stops symptoms and prevents complications. However, for those without Celiac's, following a gluten-free diet does not automatically make you healthier or lose weight faster. So, why is there so much hype about gluten-free for those without Celiac's. Does it really cause weight-loss?

No. The simple answer is this: eliminating sources of gluten means that it is harder to eat breads, pasta, and sweets. So, if you are not diagnosed with Celiac's, but are going gluten-free, you will avoid these carbohydrates. Most people end up eating fruits and veggies instead, which can lead to weight-loss. Some people claim that this also prevents cancer, but again, it doesn't. The simple, logical answer is that following a gluten-free diet in the absence of Celiac's is not 'the cure for weight-loss and cancer prevention'. What it DOES do is challenges the individual to avoid gluten in the diet, which can make the person forced to rely on other foods (such as fruits) for meals.

But, you can enjoy fruits and veggies without eliminating gluten. If you follow a diet in moderation, you can eat breads, sweets, fruits, meats, etc. - and still be healthy and happy. You need not eliminate gluten in order to do this. But, the messages you hear from people are tempting - and deceptive: 'I've been gluten-free and I'm loving it!' or 'I lost xxx pounds since stopping gluten and I'm so happy'. Other messages include 'I'm gluten-free and decreasing my risk for cancer'  or 'I've been gluten-free and I'm loving my veggies and all the cool stuff I made without gluten!'.

Seriously now. We need to watch what we write. Let me be clear: if you aren't diagnosed with Celiac's disease. there is no reason why you should not be eating gluten products. In fact, avoiding gluten can lead to nutrient and vitamin deficiencies (see http://www.uwhealth.org/nutrition-diet/the-reality-behind-gluten-free-diets/31084 for more info on this). Not to mention that raving on and on about following a gluten-free diet and how thrilled you are isn't fair to those who are FORCED to adopt this meal plan because of their illness, and are struggling or feel sad/angry about it (this article highlights some of these points http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/going-gluten-free-just-because-heres-what-you-need-to-know-201302205916). Plus, eliminating gluten-containing products can lead to eliminating other foods, body image disturbances, and eating disorders (see http://www.forbes.com/sites/meghancasserly/2011/05/23/what-were-not-eating-the-potential-danger-of-gluten-free/ for an interesting article on this issue).

So, what is the bottom line? The take-home message? If you think you may have Celiac's disease because of symptoms you are experiencing, talk to your healthcare provider about them. And if you have Celiac's disease, there are a lot of resources available to help you enjoy a balanced, fun, and healthy diet without eating gluten. If you have Celiac's disease, know that there is hope because you CAN enjoy food without gluten and experience less symptoms (and please ignore anyone who belittles your illness, tells you it is 'all in your head')! If you don't have Celiac's disease, you need not follow a gluten-free diet. Nor should you cave into all the hypes, which aren't supported by research or are false claims, about how following a gluten-free diet is the best decision someone made. Please, be wise about what you believe - whether this is from some self-proclaimed professional on TV, or your best friend. Remember that enjoying a balance of all foods is the best way to go!

If there is a common theme that you should be picking up by now, it's that all these fad-diets, the quick weight-loss, cancer-preventing, key-to-happiness diets or food fads...they all don't work. What DOES work? Following a lifestyle that is enjoyable, fun, and full of different foods. Not depriving yourself of any foods, and not labelling foods as good and/or bad. Note the comic to the right - a perfect example of how various 'diets' claim to be the best...and how little sense this makes.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2015!!!

Happy New Years to everyone! Once again, today marks the beginning of another year in our lives - 2015!

As always, I wish you and your loved ones a safe, successful, and blessed new year. I hope that this new year brings you laughter, memories, smiles, and joy.


As the new year rolls in, many people are faced with the dreaded 'resolutions'. Simply put, a resolution is a promise to do something. Many find that the new year is the best time to make resolutions because it symbolizes that you are starting the new right 'fresh' with new goals. However, the new year is not the only time when you can make new goals...but it can be a good time to stop and reflect.

I always take time at this point in the year to think about my last year - 2014 in this case. 2014 was full of events for me: my book got published, I have various presentations to organizations, I completed my nursing degree, etc. It was also my solid two-year recovery mark. Aside from that, I've grown personally. I've become a stronger and wiser person.





Looking into the new year, I always like to make goals for myself. These aren't your typical new year resolutions...they are more like my personal goals for what I want to achieve or become in this new stage of my life (2015). I've decided to share some of my goals for the new year with you. Do any of these apply to you as well?
-I want to maintain my recovery and health. I'm doing very well, and I know that this will continue. I want to continue to use my experiences to ell others, whether this means giving presentations, doing interviews, or simply supporting others.
-I want to become more positive. I'm generally an optimistic person, but I want to train myself to look at situations with an eye towards what they can teach me. This is very hard to do. But I've noticed that when I'm positive, situations are a lot easier to handle. I know this will take time, but I'm ready for the challenge!
-I want to make an effort to see the views of others as much as possible. This means that when I'm in a disagreement with others, I'm going to avoid arguing. I'm going to first consider their point of view and avoid becoming defensive. This is really hard to do, especially when we feel that we are correct. However, I've seen that simply listening to others and acknowledging their feelings can do wonders. It allows us to consider how others are feeling, and helps us to see where the argument or problem may be. This is an excellent way to resolve conflicts.

I strongly suggest that you take some time to reflect on your own past year, and think of what you want to accomplish or practice in the coming year. Remember that you need not create goals that have a 'due date'; however, you should make goals that you are committed to. You should also try to write these goals down so that you can occasionally look and then and review your progress. Your list can have as little as one goal - it doesn't matter! Regardless, ensure that these goals are truly something you hope to achieve in this year, whether they be physical, mental, emotional, personal, spiritual, or interpersonal. Feel free to share your goals, if you wish, in the comments section of this post!

I am wishing you a very happy and blessed new year! Remember that no matter what you decide are valuable  goals for you, the important thing is that you take the time to reflect on what the past year has been like for you, that you establish new goals for the upcoming year, and that you dedicate yourself to achieving these goals. Just remember the acronym RED: reflect on the past year, establish new goals, and dedicate yourself to accomplishing the goals. (Yes, I made up that acronym. But it works, right? This is what I've been using, and it really helps me remember the process of making goals for the new year!). Think of it this way: red symbolizes love and success. When you reflect on the past year and make goals for the new year, you will be setting the pathway for the new year to be full of love and success for you and others!

Saturday, 13 December 2014

'Tis the Season: Navigating the Holidays and Food

"It's the most wonderful time of the year...."


It's no secret that the holiday season is upon us. The snow is falling, my fingers are frozen from the cold weather, and Christmas songs are playing on the radio! This is one of my favourite times of the year! This time of the year allows us to spend time with those we love and count our blessings.

Another important part about this season is the food. Yup, there's no shortage of Christmas sugar cookies, turkey, mashed potatoes, Yule logs, fruit cake, eggnog, stuffing, and more. Sounds delicious, right? It sure does to me! Food is an important part of our lives. It provides us with nourishment, energy, and pleasure. It also allows us to be social and enjoy shopping for it, preparing and serving, or eating it with others. But as great (and yummy) food is, it's equally important to consider our own attitudes about food during this season.

For someone with an eating disorder, this time of the year can be extremely stressful. The emphasis on food can be daunting and scary. When I was sick, I dreaded this time because I would have to listen to guests talking about how much weight they would put on during Christmas. I would sit in fear as I stared at the mountains of food displays at parties. I cringed as I heard about people's diet plans for the new year. I squirmed as I saw advertisements about eating vegetables for dessert (instead of traditional cookies or cake) after Christmas dinner. I hated how food was always the focus of everything. It terrified me and made me more self-conscious. And the ED thoughts got louder and stronger as I cried myself to sleep.


Now that I'm recovered (thank you, God!) I can enjoy the holiday season - food included. But my attitudes have changed. And so have those of family member and friends. We've learned that food is to be enjoyed and cherished, but not in a gluttonous way. What does this mean? It means that we
have a delicious Christmas dinner, but we don't skip lunch to do so. We have dessert after our meal. We don't talk about weight, calories, or diets. We pray before our meals, realizing that others around the world may not be as fortunate as we are. We have heart-felt and interesting discussions at meals, topics ranging anywhere from the unpredictable weather to our favourite books. We set the table with Christmas table cloths and flowers. We also make heart-warning, delicious meals. But we don't 'over do it'. Each person can serve him or herself, without reviewing or giving any comments about someone else's plate. There is a variety of food on the table, but not so much that it becomes
overwhelming. Everyone in the family knows now not to label food as 'good' or 'bad', and so we all eat a bit of everything without stuffing ourselves sick. We also plan a relaxing and fun-filled Christmas Day that isn't simply about the food. We play games, watch movies, sing songs, talk, count our blessings, go to church, etc.

Even if you don't know someone who is suffering from an ED, it's a good idea to adopt these tips and strategies during the holiday season (and always!). Learning to practice and model healthy eating behaviours is critical. Avoiding labeling food as good or bad, eating everything in moderation, and avoiding 'fat and diet' talk is essential. When you do this, you will feel better about yourself. And you'll become more mindful of how lucky we are to actually have food on our plates. You'll also realize how much more enjoyable food and social gatherings are when there isn't emphasis on the food. Don't get me wrong - food is important and is a part of our everyday lives! But learning how to approach food in a healthy way is crucial.


This holiday season, let's try to avoid talking about weight and diets. Let's avoid commenting on how much we ate and how much others are. Let's stop making elaborate meals 'for show' but not allowing ourselves to enjoy a sugar cookie after dinner. Let's take the time to enjoy our meals and engage in meaningful conversations. Let's cook and eat all foods in moderation. Let's enjoy a holiday season that's full of Christmas cheer, warm wishes, friendly company, exciting stories, religious traditions, surprising gifts, and thankful hearts. And of course, "...later we'll have some pumpkin pie and do some caroling!". (Okay, so I don't quite like pumpkin pie. But I'll definitely take chocolate pie. May I should write my own Christmas song! What about: "We wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas, and a happy new year! Now bring us some chocolate cookies, now bring us some chocolate cookies, now bring us some chocolate cookies, and leave them right here!")
No? Oh well. I tried. This is why I'm a book author, not a song-writer! But hey, what can I say? Even the smartest cookies know that writing takes some MACadamia. Okay. Now I'm running out of food jokes, so i guess I'll just have to wing it! (Get it? WING it? HAHAHAHA. Okay. Seriously. That was the last one. I'm way too hyper now. Must've been all that chocolate. Lettuce move on to the end of this post!).

From my heart to yours, please enjoy this holiday season and all the fun, delicious, exciting, and traditional things it has to offer!


Merry-Christmas-In-Different-Languages

Monday, 1 December 2014

ED and BDNF: The Importance of Healthy Feelings and Thoughts

Let me introduce you to BDNF: brain-derived neurotrphic factor (that is a mouthful to say!). BDNF promotes brain cell growth (neurons), but can be reduced by certain events. For example, stress decreases BDNF. In fact, depression is strongly related to levels of BDNF, with lower levels detected in depressed patients. Some have suggested that some of the symptoms associated with depression - such as low mood, sadness, stress, irritability, and frustration - are related to low BDNF levels. Now, studies show that patients with ED may also have low levels of BDNF. (http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=67EDD887B3EFB3669B117B672214531D.journals?fromPage=online&aid=5556328)

What does this mean? First, it may help us to understand why people who suffer with ED have periods of depression or sadness/stress. Depression is common in ED, although it might not even be clinically diagnosed. For example, I did not have CLINICAL depression in the sense that it was not bad enough to be diagnosed as such. However, there were many days when I was ill when I felt sad. angry, and truly thought that I would be better off dead. Although there are many reasons for this (serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, BDNF, the environment, etc), this new finding helps us to further understand why ED is so difficult. Not only is the patient physically ill, but their brains are undergoing so many changes that leave them vulnerable to low moods, feelings of sadness, tiredness, frustration, and hopelessness.

From a clinical perspective, this lets us understand what we need to include when treating patients with ED. Although food is important, I am a firm believer that the patient's mental and emotional well-being must be addressed as well. To me, this means that we need to help the patient feel better. This can be done using medicine (if appropriate), but I think it also needs a bit more than that. BDNF, for example, can decrease in response to stress, sadness, despair, and weakness. On the other hand, studies show that in ED, this is temporary and can be reversed if addressed quickly enough and with evidence-based measures. What does this mean? It can mean putting the patient in therapy, supporting them with family/loved ones, playing games with them, taking them out, etc. (The image to the right shows various aspects of health - it is much more than just physical. All of these domains are equally vital to living a healthy, happy life).

For me, one of the worst parts about ED was that many people who tried to help me recover did not understand how my mental and emotional health were functioning during this time. Yes, I completely agree that food is important. and I am NOT saying that you can recover without normalizing meal patterns. But what bothered me is that not many people (including health professionals) tried to help my emotional/mental state.  If you find a trained, therapist, I say GOOD! Go for it, and continue. Make sure your team helps not only the physical, but also the MENTAL and EMOTIONAL aspects of ED as well. To those of you helping someone with ED, try to understand that this poor victim is suffering from multiple things - they are scared, tired, feel alone, and their brain 'chemicals' (neurotransmitters like BDNF) are all over the place! Patients with ED need you to understand that they are more than just their illness, and they need more than food and weight. They need ways to find happiness again, to bring joy into their lives, and hopefully, to fix the mess of neurotransmitters in their brains.

Nearly thee years later after recovery, I can say that I am doing A LOT better. Granted, there are times when I feel 'icky'. Other times I just want to cry because of stress or frustration - but who doesn't have these days? I have also been successful with helping others around me understand what is occurring with my emotions and thoughts. Now, my family understands that they need to care for ALL of me - not just my weight, food intake, etc - but also my feelings, listening to my stories and thoughts, etc. I can now freely talk about my emotions and help myself feel better. I can identify negative thoughts and work to resolve them. I do not know how my BDNF levels are doing, but I DO know that I am much, much happier than I ever was for the last five or seven years. See? Recovery really does happen! It did not come without a long fight, and it isn't always easy. But it is these moments that give me the hope, strength, courage, faith, motivation, and will to keep going.
Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a journey, not a destination. Keep going!