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!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Recipe for Recovery: Now an Ebook!

I have some EGGciting (get it?!) news! 
 
I'm so blessed to announce that my book, Recipe for Recovery, is now available for purchase as an ebook! http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/recipe-for-recovery-i-battled/9781771231664-item.html?ikwid=recipe+for+recovery&ikwsec=Fallback+Home&ikwidx=1
 

If you like to read on the go, prefer to use your phone or computer for reading, or own a Kobo or similar reading device, this is definitely for you!  Remember that educating yourself about ED is one of the best ways in which you can make a difference! Recipe for Recovery is also a great resource to have if you are working in the healthcare field and need to learn more about eating disorders. If you are suffering with ED, this book will help you overcome challenges and learn how to stay strong in recovery. If you are caring or supporting someone with ED, this book will help you understand what the person is going through, and how you can help. And don't forget: the book is loaded with delicious and berry funny (haha!) food puns to keep you smiling and laughing along the way! 
 
Thanks once again for all your support. This book would not have been possible if it were not for all the love, kindness, and care I have received from all of you!
 

 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Watch me on TV: Using My Journey to Help Others!

Last month, I was called by Rawal TV's (an international TV channel) manager, who heard my story on CBC and saw my book. He told me that he was very interested in having me appear on one of the shows on Rawal TV called 'Our Canada, Our Home'. I was more than delighted to help out!

This interview segment is about my struggle with ED, and why I decided to write my book (a special note of thanks to Namal, the lovely host of this show!). Many people hear about ED, but they don't quite know WHAT it is, why it is so deadly, and how to help someone with an eating disorder. There are also many questions around how to prevent EDs, how to provide support for those struggling, and how to speak with one's family and friends about EDs.

When I was ill in the ICU, I thought I was going to die because of the ED. I was scared, tired, and hopeless. Even through recovery, I was frustrated. I never thought that I would ever see the day when I would be healthy and happy again. This is why I decided to share my story, to start this blog, and to write my book. I want to make it clear to the world that EDs (and mental health) is not something to be ashamed of. The more we know and educate ourselves, the wiser we will become. This will help us to not only help ourselves, but to help others....to break the stigma, to provide care and support, and to get treatment for whatever we need help with.
Please take the time to watch my appearance on this TV show, which you can find on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSQ3k8wODG4 (My part starts at 20:20). If you have Rawal TV as one of your channels, you may watch it there as well. I hope you enjoy this interview, and that it helps you or someone you know learn something about ED or mental health, food, recovery, etc. I also hope that it teaches you about how to approach food in everyday situations. Finally, I hope my message is clear: EDs are life-threatening illnesses. But with proper prevention, identification, and treatment, recovery is 100% possible. This is the same with any illness. Never lose hope. And remember: health and happiness always go together!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Published Again! Why Have Faith?

I'm very blessed to say that once again, my work has been published on Fr. Anthony's website. This post is about faith...and why it's important. http://franthony.com/why-have-faith/

What purpose does faith serve in our lives? Sometimes, circumstances in life become too difficult for us to handle. We feel overwhelmed, tired, and frustrated. We see no hope or end to our struggles. At these times, when nothing seems to be helpful, faith can carry us through. Trust in God and belief in His mercy is all we need. When you feel so down and alone, remember that God is there. When you feel that nothing in the world can help you, remember that God is Almighty.

Please take some time to read this post and leave a comment here and at Fr. Anthony's website. Thank you all for your support. I can't tell you all how much your kind words, supportive thoughts, and prayers mean to me!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Emotions and ED behaviours

We all know that emotions are a natural part of everyday life. We are human, and we all have feelings! Sad, happy, scared, anxious, frustrated. excited, angry, etc...all of these are emotions that we may feel at one point or another.

How do you express your emotions? Some people are verbal, telling others how they feel. Others keep their feelings to themselves, but you can 'see' their feelings based on how they are acting or appear. Now, we've all had days when we feel frustrated, angry, or sad. And sometimes, we want to tell others how we feel and 'let our feelings out'. However, sometimes, we feel so down or drained that we simply don't have the energy or motivation to speak to others about how our emotions. And that is okay. But what happens when we don't have ways in which we can cope with our emotions or experiences?

Emotion regulation is a phrase used to denote how we handle our emotions. As mentioned, negative feelings can be dealt with in many ways. Some people prefer to talk about their feelings, others use relaxation tips or meditation, while others play a game, write in a journal, or read a book. In patients with ED, negative emotions can be quite difficult to manage. Feelings of anger, sadness, stress, and frustration can make the patient feel isolated, scared, and anxious. This can lead to ED behaviours such as purging, binging, or restriction (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/erv.2183/abstract?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false).

As you can imagine, this can become a dangerous and repetitive cycle. If a patient with ED feel sad or angry, he or she may restrict the next meal. Then, the patient feels bad about not eating, tired and weak, and scared. What happens at the next meal? The patient doesn't eat because of these negative feelings as well. Now, the patient is caught in this cycle: negative feeling, don't eat. Feel even worse? Don't eat. Feel tired, weak, and fat? Don't eat.

What is the solution? Firstly, helping the patient recognize and express emotions is critical. Talking about emotions is a great way to release them and draw upon the support and care of others. Even those without ED can attest to the power of speaking with a caring individual. Other outlets such as writing, singing, playing, reading, etc. are also helpful. Along with stopping ED behaviours, adequate nutrition, and weight maintenance, it will become easier for patients with ED to identify, express, and handle negative emotions. With recovery, someone who struggled with ED will notice that even when they feel down or angry, restriction or ED behaviours are simply not an option. By expressing emotions or dealing with them in a positive way. the individual will be able to maintain an optimal state of health. Try it out yourself, even if you don't have ED. Try expressing a negative emotion such as anger, fear, anxiety, or sadness. Talk to someone who cares, write it down on a piece of paper, or practice deep-breathing. How do you feel after? Although the problem may still be there, you will likely feel better - and perhaps even strong enough to consider how you will  deal with the situation. When we are able to regulate our emotions, we are able to think clearly and be healthy.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Stress, Forgiveness, and Mental Health

Have you ever found yourself in a situation when you were just so angry or hurt by what someone did or said to you? You likely felt that you could not forgive them at the moment. How could they do such a thing? How could they hurt you like that? We've all had times like this. Remember when your coworkers teased you for not attending that late-night party? Or when your friends forgot to invite you to dinner? What about when your children yelled at you and disrespected you? Or when your partner or spouse didn't even offer to help you with the dishes? Remember the time your parents got angry at you for that awful mark you got in school? The list can go on and on.

We've all been hurt or angered before. Needless to say, it is very difficult to forgive other when this occurs. Right away, we feel a rush of emotions such as anger, sadness, frustration, tension, embarrassment, pain, etc. We simply cannot find it within ourselves to forgive. And that's okay. We all need time to process our emotions. We need to think about what happened, how we are feeling, why we are feeling this way, and what we can do about it. Remember that it is NORMAL to feel angry, hurt, stressed, or tired because of circumstances, others' actions or words, etc.

After you've had time to process your emotions...can you find it within yourself to forgive others? What impact does forgiveness have on mental health? A study focussed on the relationship between stress, forgiveness, and mental health: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.libaccess.lib.mcmaster.ca/pubmed/25139892. The researchers administered a survey to participants on life events associated with stress and forgiveness. Then, they completed another survey on mental health. The results? Those who were able to forgive others had significantly better mental health. They experienced less stress, anxiety, and depression. They felt happier and calmer.

Why does this occur? The simple answer is that holding grudges never helps anyone  - neither yourself, nor the person who hurt or angered you. When we forgive, we feel a sense of relief. It doesn't mean that we are being 'weak' because we forgive; rather, forgiveness is a sign of strength. Forgiveness means that though someone else has hurt me, I am strong enough (and wise enough) to let it go. I have become hurt and angry, and that's normal. But I refuse to let that event stop me from enjoying a happy, healthy life. I refuse to hold a grudge and let this event haunt me, or interfere with my relationships with others. I will choose to forgive. And doing that helps us feel healthy. When we forgive, we can forget about how others may have hurt us, and we can focus on the present moment. We can focus on our goals and continue to make decisions that will help us lead happy, healthy, successful lives.

There is a part in the Bible when Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who continuously wrongs him. Jesus answers that we must forgive not only seven times (seven was the honoured number of that time), but seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). Did Jesus mean to forgive 490 times, and then stop after that? No. Jesus meant to always forgive  - to set no limits on forgiveness. There is a well-known quote that says: when I forgive, I forget. And it's true. When we forgive, we can forget what wrong others have done to us. And we can move on with our lives. This is a wonderful, freeing feeling!

'Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, fighting, and harsh words. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.' (Ephesians 4:31-32)