Thursday, 26 March 2015

Published again! - and birthday celebrations

I am blessed to say that once again, my writing has been featured on Fr. Anthony's site. This time, my post is about suffering and pain, and how to communicate with God during these times:

I will be honest with you, I find that when I get overwhelmed by the troubles in this world, it becomes difficult to do anything. And sometimes, the hardest thing to do during tribulations is to pray. We all have times when we don't feel like talking to God - and this is harder when we feel angry or fearful that God has forgotten about us.

Here is a little secret: God can never forget about us. He loves us unconditionally. And He has His eyes on you all the time, His hands around you to protect you, and His ears ready to listen. I know that sometimes it is hard to pray and communicate with God when we are facing obstacles because we don't understand why things are happening as in our lives. But know this: 'all things work together  for the good for those who love God' (Romans 8:28)

Do not feel that when you pray to God, you need to use lavish, big words. Or fancy terms. The wonderful thing about prayer is that we can do it as informally as we like. I have moments when I talk openly with God, honestly telling Him how tired I am. How I am lacking motivation. How I need hope and peace. And I know that He is always listening.

Please check the post out and feel free to comment here/on Fr. Anthony's blog and let me know what you think!

To add to that, I am also blessed to be celebrating my birthday this week! I cannot believe that another year has passed, and I am alive, healthy, and well. I am a registered nurse, I am a health-advocate, a writer, and a volunteer in many places.

It is a blessing to be able to breathe on my own, to walk, to talk, to play, and to engage in everyday activities. My life has definitely been full of ups and downs...but each time there was a low point, God and the support of all my friends and family (and you, dear readers!) has brought me back up again. And do you know what? I am truly thankful for every obstacle I have faced, every challenge I endured, and every tear I cried. Because these experiences have honestly made me into the person I am today. I pray that in this new year of my life, I can continue to help others, to share my story to new listeners, and to grow in wisdom, love, understanding, kindness, compassion, and every good virtue.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

What changes in the brain of a patient with ED?

By now, you must know that I love relating brain changes and science to what I can. The differences that occur in the brains of patients with ED are still being studied. Remember how we talked about differences in neurotransmitters and hormones, such as dopamine, leptin, etc? Well, I was able to find a document that summarizes many different studies and what brain changes were found to occur in ED patients. I'm not suggesting that you even try to read the document, as it is long and uses a lot of scientific and research terminology. However, for the purpose of referencing, I will provide a link to it here: The picture here is an extremely simplified depiction of the brain and different regions and their functions.

So, what changes in the brains of ED patients? One of my favourite changes to discuss is what happens to the amygdala and the limbic system. This is the part of the brain involved in emotions. Studies show that these areas are smaller or less stimulated in patients with ED, highlighting the difficulties that patients have with emotion and expressing them. At the same time, these areas are not stimulated during eating, which is supposed to be an enjoyable time for humans.

Throughout the brain, there is a decreased activation and sensitivity to dopamine, which we know is involved in reward patterns. This is important because it tells us a lot about patients with ED. First, they are not rewarded when they eat because their brains do not register this is as being fun or pleasurable. Furthermore, patients often do not feel happy or pleased with things that usually or normally cause joy, such as social time, relationships, laughing, etc. Again, we can relate this to the lack of dopamine or its malfunctioning in the brains of ED patients. This is commonly called anhedonia: a lack of pleasure from things that normally cause pleasure.

We also know that serotonin doesn't work properly either. Serotonin, or 5 HT, is involved in mood. There has been shown to be decreased 5HT in patients, which can help us explain the depression, anxiety, or bad moods that ED patients experience. New research is also finding a connection between 5HT and eating - namely, in patients with ED, 5HT works to make eating less enjoyable. Thus. when patients with ED eat, the lack of 5HT may actually cause negative emotions, discomfort, anxiety, a sense of doom, etc.

There are many other changes that have been observed, studied, and researched. I won't get into them because it would take me years to explain them all - and I am still learning as well. But what I want you to get from this post is that ED is a mental illness. What is important to understand as well is the fact that changes in the brain occur in patients with ED. What does this tell us? First, that ED is a REAL illness and not simply a choice that people make. It also helps us understand some of the symptoms and signs associated with ED. Moreover, we can empathize with patients and learn that what they are feeling and experiencing is very real - they are not trying to be difficult or starve themselves; rather, it is changes in the brain and other factors of the illness that change their behaviours and moods and contribute to the illness.

 Finally, this helps us realize that the treatment of ED is more complex than simply feeding the patient and getting their weight stable - recovery, if it is to be successful, must address the many different factors that have been found to be implicated in ED. This may include medications, food, therapy, massages, etc. We cannot expect to 'fix' a patient with ED if we simply feed them and neglect that there are other things we must address: moods, behaviours, changes in hormones, self harm, suicidal thoughts, self-esteem, motivation, and more (please note, however, that food is VITAL for all people, including patients with ED. Studies have shown that with proper nutrition and adequate food intake and weight restoration, many changes in ED patients can become reversible and treated. FOOD IS MEDICINE!). Perhaps this is why recovery is so complex, and why it takes so long. But what keeps me hopeful is that all of this does not end in despair, as I am proof that true recovery is possible. It takes work, social support, love, and determination. Things often feel that they get worse before they get better. But just keep going. When a door closes, don't waste your time staring at it - look for another one. And if all doors are closed, look for an open window. Just don't give up.


Saturday, 28 February 2015

Laughter...and Health?

Have you ever laughed so hard that your cheeks started to hurt? I have! Laughter is arguably one of the simplest ways to feel happy. It can be because of a silly joke, a funny movie clip, or even an embarrassing moment...but the results are the same: when we laugh, we feel better. We feel good. It is almost as though for a single quick moment, our worries are gone from our minds. For that quick laugh, we can think of nothing else but the hilarity that has just occurred. Now, more than ever, the world needs some laughter...

Wouldn't it be great if we actually had studies to support that laughter is good for our health? Well. it appears that we do! I did a lot of research on this, and there is quite a bit of literature out there on this topic. For the sake of time and my fingers that have to type all this out, I have chosen a few articles to discuss here. The first was a large, cross-cultural study that tested the relationship between laughter and health: This study attempted to correlate laughter with disease prevalence  - that is, the presence of disease. The results? Those who laughed more had fewer chronic (long-term, 'on and off' illnesses) than those who did not laugh as much (or at all).

Now, here is an important point: this is a correlation. That means that laughter and less disease are related/ It does not mean that laughter CAUSES less diseases to be present. But what it DOES indicate is that there is some sort of relationship between the two, such that more laughter may indicate that the same person may experience less disease.

I like what the authors in this study conclude: laughter is really an important part of our lives. Whether it is related to less disease or simply a better mood, laughter is critical! Imagine how beneficial laughter can be if we implemented it in various areas of our lives. For example, what if we used more humour in stressful situations, like when we are freaking out because our assignment is due in two days? Or what if we can turn a tense moment, such as in a heated argument, into a joke? (Note that laughter always needs to be introduced appropriately. For example, it clearly is not a good time to bring in a joke if your loved one is furious that you forgot about their birthday).

In terms of healthcare providers, what we if simply smiled more at patients? Think about this: how do you feel when your doctor or nurse walks in and is frowning? Probably not great. But what about when they come in smiling or make the situation light-hearted? It makes a huge difference! This is truly what I have tried to implement in my own nursing experiences. I always walk in with a smile on my face, and when possible, make the situation fun or funny. There is always time to be serious. But then again, there is always time to have fun and laugh! It is amazing how simply making something humorous can change the way we feel, the way we think of situations, and our abilities to problem-solve and cope.

Of course, we cannot always laugh. But one thing we can do: make laughter a priority. Try to joke around (when appropriate) and get some humour into your life. Make others laugh and feel contentment as you realize how you've made their day jut a little more special, a little more tolerable. Try watching a funny show or reading some good jokes...and feel your face ache as you cannot stop laughing. Then feel the relief on the inside, that for a quick moment, all you could do is laugh. For someone who struggled with a degree of depression in the ICU, I can assure you that laughter works! Three years from then - today - I am strong in my recovery and do not suffer from depression. I have learned ways to cope, to heal, and to sustain my health. And allow me to fill you in on a secret: laughter is one of the best things that I have discovered. There is nothing like a smile or a good laugh to make the situation more manageable, to give hope, and to renew strength. (P.S. Note the hilarious joke in the picture about the tuna sandwich named Kevin!)

Please, take some time today (and tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that!) to laugh! (Also, if you look online for jokes, please - search for CLEAN jokes. Here is a site that got me laughing - check it out! (P.s. Also note the funny joke in this picture about laughter and medicine. Yes, so it is a little silly and 'nasty' ... but I seriously laughed out loud!). See the joke below to get you started - it really made me laugh out loud!

A Minnesota couple decided to vacation to Florida during the winter. They planned to stay at the very same hotel where they spent their honeymoon 20 years earlier. Because of hectic schedules, it was difficult to coordinate their travel schedules. So, the husband left Minnesota and flew to Florida on Thursday. His wife would fly down the following day.

The husband checked into the hotel. There was a computer in his room, so he decided to send an e-mail to his wife. However, he accidentally left out one letter in her e-mail address, and without realizing his error, he sent the e-mail.

Meanwhile.....somewhere in Houston, a widow had just returned home from her husband's funeral. He was a minister of many years who was called home to glory following a sudden heart attack. The widow decided to check her e-mail, expecting messages from relatives and friends. After reading the first message, she fainted.

The widow's son rushed into the room, found his mother on the floor, and saw the computer screen which read:

To: My Loving Wife
Subject: I've Arrived
Date: 16 May 2003

I know you're surprised to hear from me. They have computers here now and you are allowed to send e-mails to your loved ones. I've just arrived and have been checked in. I see that everything has been prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then! Hope your journey is not as uneventful as mine was.
P.S. Sure is hot down here!

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:

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 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:

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 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 Plus, eliminating gluten-containing products can lead to eliminating other foods, body image disturbances, and eating disorders (see 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.