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Why Tuesday?

The Girlfriend's Guide to Health will be updated every Tuesday.... Stay tuned dear readers and let me rock your world.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Say Cheese?

Truth be told I have cellulite. Yes, at times when I am as honest with myself as a three way mirror I will easily acknowledge that butt looks like two scoops of cottage cheese. Make no mistake, I am okay with the divets that scatter my backside like pushpins on a map of the world. I like that at the ripe age of almost 40, I am safely in the best physical condition of my life. I can run and swim and bike as long as I want to and even do 20 "boy" pushups with ease. My body has become my opportunity to get things done. No longer am I hindered by my limitations in a physical sense.

Quite frankly, I am happy with my physical sense of selse, and yes, dressing up has become one of my favorite sporting events. But there are times in the flourescent light of of day , when I must acknowledge that my ass is a place where dimples go to die. Yes, the medical term is cellulite and NO the best cream in the world will not fix my “field of indentation dreams”. Rarely is there an occasion for me to stand in the bathroom and appreciate my backside for all its cottage cheese glory.

But recently I have developed a new appreciation for all things cellulite, when I discovered it is not only very common, but can be quite satisfying as well. In fact I would go so far as to argue, that cellulite may very well be “the great equalizer”.

Take last Friday night for example. I was invited to attend an ECO Fashion Show as part of the Cultural Olympiad that is making Vancouver even more fabulous than it already is. Yes I am aware that we have nothing on New York City- but a little delusion can be healthy and after all- New York IS New York and we have the Olympics- so SUCK IT!

An ECO Fashion Show for those of you who don’t know is a regular fashion show where all the clothes are reclaimed fabrics and materials. Imagine my surprise to see fur and leather on the run way? Apparently as long as someone else has killed the rabbit or the cow, it can be used lest it be thrown into a landfill.

I have never professed to be the authority on all things fashionable, but as far as this ECO fashion show goes, it is safe to say that some things were meant to be in a landfill. I realize that these fabrics were considered "throw aways" but there is no excuse for parading down a runway dressed like the maid of honour at a circus. Sisters note- if the bearded lady ever marries the tattooed man- do I have a dress for you!

Let me set the scene. We stood in the courtyard of the Vancouver Public Library which as some of you know looks like a coliseum. The models for this ecological event stood on the second floor balcony above us- each in an alcove with a clothing rack behind her. Every few minutes the spot light would shine on a new model in a new outfit. The model would pose like a moving mannequin for a few moments showing off the latest and greatest in recyclable fashions. The spotlight would go out and the model would then strip down to a body suit and put on another outfit while the spotlight shone on another model in another outfit.

There we stood drinking organic wine and watching the models pose to a mix of 1980’s dance music. And just as my macrobiotic buzz took hold (yes, one glass later…. even organic wine will do) I had a revelation. High above me in the second balcony was a woman easily 6 feet tall tall with 5% body fat. Her perfect blond hair was perfectly styled, her make up professionally done. She was long and willowy and her eyes shone with a hunger that only a diet of nicotine and diet coke could produce. I am sure she was born a model and would never see the inside of a gym unless it was for a fashion shoot. And yet when the spotlight went out and she stripped down to her body suit I could see it like a beacon of hope for all chubby girls everywhere. Cellulite. It was a ray of sunshine as bright as the spot light to come. Her thighs had more cheese curds than the Quebec House at the Winter Olympics.

Here was a woman who could not spell the word CARBOHYDRATE let alone bring herself to eat it and she had a backside that looked like the cold salad section at a Las Vegas buffet. On me, cellulite was expected, on this fashion stick insect.... it was a revelation.

One of the medical terms for cellulite is Gynoid Lipodystrophy. In fact the medical community remains in disagreement as to whether this condition is actually an abnormal state. Cellulite is a condition affecting 85% of post adolescent women characterized by dimpled tissue on the upper outer thighs, posterior upper thighs, and lower buttocks. Ultrasounds of fat tissue have shown that cellulite is caused by a deterioration of the skin's dermal matrix and vasculature (structure and blood supply network) particularly loss of the capillary networks, leading to excess fluid retention within the subcutaneous tissues and the skin. Fat cells then clump together and fluid collects in the tissues between them causing a dimpling of the skin.

This formation is thought to be influenced by genetic factors and certain genes have been implicated in the predisposition to the formation of cellulite. Hormones play a dominant role in the formation of cellulite. Estrogen may be the important hormone and initiate and aggravate cellulite. However, there has been no reliable clinical evidence to support such a claim. Other hormones including insulin, the catecholamines adrenaline and noradrenaline, thyroid hormones, and prolactin are all believed to participate in the development of cellulite.

So my dear girlfriends.... most of us are destined to dimple from the waist down. Embrace it as the great equalizer as common as chin hairs and as welcome as control top pantyhose.

And so the lights went up again on the 6 foot amazon wonder. Her dimpled butt cheeks were now covered with an outfit that was once bound for the city dump. There in the atrium of the Vancouver Public Library a new world was born.... I found solace in a universe where no outfit is every thrown away, where even the wine is organic and therefore good for you and where every ass, regardless of its creed, colour or constitution can be as "dimply" as nature will allow.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Make Love not War

Truth be told, I make a good argument. This is not about anything in particular, it is merely an observation of my character, which is to say, that when it comes to confrontation, I am as comfortable in conflict as I am in any Saks Fifth Avenue in the world.

My beloved, however has taken years to rise to the task. When we first met, he faced any dispute with eyes drawn to the ground for fear of opening his mouth lest I shove my proverbial fist in it. In his defense, I do believe this is both a common and a safe response for a man having a verbal Tet a Tet with the opposite sex. Women as a rule- are good in a fight. We mastered the language early on and we are not afraid to use it.

Scientifically girls speak words before boys and form sentences well before their male counterparts. WE spend much of our formative youth talking- in our early years we talk to ourselves… I lay in bed each night for most of the 70’s in my pink and silver disco room lit with the token night light. I had full on conversations only an eight year old can have about what I would wear to school in the morning and who I would be when I grew up.

I have spent much of my life talking to things in succession that cannot answer back. First were my Barbie dolls that bore an immense amount of optimistic responsibility. I played both parts answering them as my imaginary muscles flexed with vigour. From there, I moved on to a variety of animals… first the fish, then the hamsters, now the dogs. Their little heads cock to the side as if they “get me” and somewhere I do acknowledge this unreasonable argument to be true. How many of us have whispered in a dog’s ear at one point in life…. “You understand Spotty, you love me.”

I have moved on through life to talking to ads in magazines- cursing the skinny blond that lies across the pages eating whatever she likes. I have had full discussions with television programs in order to cultivate my debating skills. I am the Bill Maher of my own living room. I have had full on conversations with my girlfriend’s baby daughter who stares up at me smiling as a result of gas and not out of comprehension.

I have had one too many midnight talks with unconscious patients on life support in Intensive Care Units across this country. These eerily one-sided discussions are shamefully reminiscent of a tacky movie scene. The lights are dim a lifeless hand is in mine as I will a perfect stranger to overcome a disease that is far bigger than the treatment I have to offer.

Many of these conversations end with ones we have all at the gravestones of parents and friends with long discussions of how things have become and what should have been.

So after millions of words have passed my lips, it is no surprise that I can kick my husband’s ass in an argument. Or at least I used to. After 16 years together, I must say… in the argument Olympics… he’s a gold medal contender.

I say this with pride as though I am training an athlete. When we first got together his eyes looked at the floor and I could sense there was an internal voice that just wanted to know when the fight would be over.

Now, many years later…. He gets his point across with a respect for both me and for the English language. There is no yelling, there is a discussion- eyes are met, minds are met and yes, I am sometimes wrong. It is very grown up and quite frankly, kind of hot. But I had to ask…. Is it healthy?

Several studies have looked at marital discord and health related indices.

In 1994, a study published in the Journal of Biobehavioural Medicine examined certain hormones in newlyweds. The study showed significant rises in the Growth Hormones and Epinephrine and Norepinephrine (hormones linked to the “fight or flight response) in couples who were arguing. Furthermore there were sex-based differences in these fluctuations. Naturally our body physiologically responds to an argument by adjusting our neurohormonal make up to accommodate. What was most remarkable was that these fluctuations were statistically different between men and women.

Another study published in Health Psychology in 1991 examined the impact of normal family arguments on 24 females and 19 males (aged 32–73 yrs) with high blood pressure. Patients and their partners discussed a threatening disagreement for 10 min while blood pressure (BP) and conversation were recorded. Discussing problems increased BP, but the causal pathways differed by sex. In women, hostile interaction and marital dissatisfaction were associated with increased BP; supportive or neutral exchanges were unrelated to BP. In men, BP fluctuations were related only to the patient's speech rate.

These findings are consistent with other research on sex differences in communication and social problem-solving styles and implicate different mechanisms involved among the sexes.

Now, I do not have high blood pressure and I do believe Jason’s also runs a cool 120/80. Perhaps as we get older and continue to settle in discussing and debating with each other our physiology will adapt as much as our discussions have. Until then, I will continue to challenge and be challenged in the hopes that like my sisters everywhere- I will have the last word.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Why My Liver is NOT my Best Feature

Ever a contradiction.... I am a cheap date. When it comes to my footwear, it can take a mortgage payment to make me happy. When it comes to alcohol, a glass of wine is all it takes to have me slurring my words. Having a very low tolerance to alcohol can often prove to be quite economical.

Think about it.... there you are at relatively mind numbing cocktail party swallowing glass after glass of wine into your belly in the hopes that it will dull the pain. The pints of "social lubricant" pour into you and you wait for them to take effect. You are on a blind date and he/she is less than you had hoped for.... you begin to order cocktails before the food arrives in the hope that the booze will have their way with you well before he/she will.

What does it take my dear cyber sisters? Three cocktails? Four shots of tequila? A half of a bottle of wine? For me it is blissfully one glass of wine. Yes 120 meagre calories and a 10 minute time lapse and I no longer can feel my bottom lip. It truly is one of my strengths. Yes, this "party trick" has several benefits:

1. I have never had the opportunity to be an alcoholic. One glass and I'm drunk, two and I have passed out. I am never conscious enough to build up a tolerance long enough to make drinking an addiction let alone a habit.

2. The pain of a bad dinner party/Christmas Party/Family function is easy anaesthetised by COUNT IT! one drink! GENIUS!

3. Ever a fan of HEALTHY LIVING and always one to count calories.... I can spend my nutritional "Food points" on cake instead of booze.
4. My "candy-assed" liver has saved me a fortune in shoe money. Call me crazy but I will take a pare of Louboutin open toed four inch heels over a 50 year old bottle of scotch any day of the week.

Take Saturday night for example... There my beloved and I were sampling this city's apparently newest and finest in restaurant dining. Now I won't name names because I know every new dining establishment has to go through it's "growing pains". The french onion soup kicked ass.... the service was crap and the lemon tart was baby food. That being said, I had two glasses of Reisling and so the evening was PHENOMENAL!

Make no mistake, in high school, my amateur liver was a curse. What 16 year old girl in the 1980's wants to be seen worshiping a porcelain god at a weekend party when all of her classmates seem to be handling tequila shots like masters of the universe?

Twenty years later comes the wisdom of ones thirties and again like many of the things that made me unsettled in my youth (my big hair, my unibrow, my odd phone voice), I am able to see my juvenile liver as a strength and not a short coming.

From a health perspective, it turns out that my liver has done more than just buy me a few pairs of strappy sandals.

A recent study published in 2009 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute called the Million Women study looked at the incidence of a variety of diseases in women followed prospectively since 1996. The study has shown that even low (less than 4 drink per week) to moderate (1 drink per day) alcohol consumption in women increased the risk of certain cancers. For every additional drink regularly consumed per day, the increase in incidence up to age 75 years per 1000 for women in developed countries is estimated to be about 11 for breast cancer, 1 for cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, 1 for cancer of the rectum, and 0.7 each for cancers of the esophagus, larynx and liver, giving a total excess of about 15 cancers per 1000 women up to age 75.

That being said there are still a variety of studies showing that low to moderate (up to 1 drink per day) consumption of alcohol may help to prevent heart disease. The studies are stronger in men than in women. That being said, more than one drink a day increases blood pressure, (by as much as 5-10 millimetres of mercury), can increase blood sugars, increases the risk of obesity and high cholesterol (mostly triglycerides).

So... what is a girl/liver to do? Well.... yes in all things not shoe related, moderation seems to prevail. And so, I will continue to rely on the bike and not the bottle to reduce my risk of heart disease lest I find myself drunkety drunk drunk each night after only one glass. It will be yet another healthy feather in my cap placed more out of necessity than fashion sense.

And so I leave you my dear girlfriends to yet another week of contemplation. A glass a day... no more. I myself, after a long day of work am going to sit down, put my feet up and pour myself a big beautiful glass of..... Pellegrino.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Simply the Breast

On January 12, 2005 I changed my religious beliefs. Prior to this momentous day, I really had no preference when it came to undergarments. My underwear was cotton and my bras were Victoria Secret. I hated anything lace and always was of the opinion that "matching" was for the outside outfits. Purple underwear could easily be worn with any bra of any kind. There was neither logic, nor fashion when it came to my lingerie. In fact, I could scarcely call the garments that sat in my underwear drawer "lingerie".

I hated lacey bras. I found them itchy and way too much trouble. When it came to underwear, I favoured support and comfort.

And then I found myself on a 7 hour layover in terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport in London. My husband and I had just flown back from a wonderful trip/conference in Europe and our connecting flight home was delayed.

Ever one to enlighten and inform, I feel the need to formally state that Terminal 2 at Heathrow has a duty free Agent Provocateur store.

Agent Provocateur (AP) has phenomenal lingerie. All bras have matching underwear which comes in a variety of different styles. The store itself is a temple to women everywhere. There is the perfect mix of black lacquer and pink silk with just the right lighting to make anyone look perfect. The sales people at THIS Agent Provocateur offer Champagne as readily as oxygen.

It is safe to say that buying undergarments while intoxicated and exhausted can turn a usually unpleasant task into little bit of a party.
With far too much time and not enough distractions, I found myself in what could only be described as the "Great Bra-Fest of 2005".I should state some obvious facts at this juncture. Agent Provocateur has just had its annual 70% off sale. Such an event fills me with enough joy to last until spring.

There I was, passing the time with British Bras and Underwear that were in fact expensive enough to make even the chubbiest of girls feel like a supermodel.

Perhaps it was the extended layover time and my impending jet lag. Perhaps it was the helpful sales people and their perfect British Accents. Regardless of the circumstances, it was there in terminal two at Heathrow Airport I found a new love for black lace bras and the panties to match.

It all made perfect sense back in 2005 when I first walked into that beautiful pink and black store with its perfect sets of undergarments all laid out in glorious rows. The walls were covered in pink silk and black lacquer and the changing rooms were as big as most one bedroom apartments.

And so I converted.

I took my jet lagged cotton-briefed ass over to the dark (lace) side. There I stood in the temple of self indulgence and crossed over. It was in those moments that it truly struck me how "lopsided" I really am. I always knew that when it came to breasts, I was a bit imbalanced so to speak. In fact I would argue that many women I know have one breast larger than the other.

So common is this condition, that I would venture to say many of the girlfriends now reading this article have stopped midway and have "checked themselves out". Some of you are now in fact in front of the mirror, chest out, shoulders back surveying yourself for asymmetry.

There may be even a few of you who have gone so far as to "weigh the difference". There you sit in front of your computer screens... right breast in right hand... left breast in left hand, balancing your "booby scales".

Make no mistake, I was fully aware that my chest was a bit uneven in the chest area. It is a subtle difference that never bothered me. In my previous undergarments where function was the key, I never really payed much attention. But there in the 400 square feet of luxury that was the AP changing room, my left breast seemed to tower over my right.

A small study (of about 500 women) from Liverpool published in the Journal of Breast Cancer Research in 2006 shows a slight increase in the risk of developing breast cancer in women with asymmetrical breasts. The study compared the breast asymmetry of women who were free of breast disease at time of mammography, but who had subsequently developed breast cancer, with that of age-matched healthy controls who had remained disease-free. The study group consisted of 252 asymptomatic women who had normal mammography, but went on to develop breast cancer. The control group were 252 age-matched healthy controls whose mammograms were also normal and who remained free of cancer during the study period.

Breast volume was calculated from the mammograms for each group, and the relationships between asymmetry, established risk factors and the presence or absence of breast cancer were explored. The group who went on to develop breast cancer had higher breast asymmetry than controls.

The risk of developing breast cancer was 1.5 times higher in patients for every extra 100ml of breast asymmetry. It is a small study but something to think about. That being said, it is estimated that almost 50% of women have some degree of breast asymmetry and only 10% of women develop breast cancer.

That being said, I will continue to have my regular mammograms at regular intervals and not raise my "breast cancer" alert any further. So, my dear girlfriends, I am lopsided and perhaps at increased risk but this will not prevent me from spending far too much money on lacey British brassieres.... After all, we all have to compensate for our physical misgivings.

I am right handed except in sports where my left hand reigns supreme. I am left of centre in all things political and am convinced this is the right way to go. My left foot is bigger than my right, but my right ear is higher on my head. My right eye is larger than my left, but I can only raise my left eyebrow on its own. My left breast is bigger than my right and so I have decided to forever use expensive lace bras to cope with my fate in life.

I realize this makes me sound unreasonable.... perhaps that is just my left brain talking.....