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

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Good Blog Revisited

Well my girlfriends, my manuscript of my first draft of my new book "Weightless" is due in 3 days. Needless to say, I writing like a bitch. Not to shuck my GGTH aside but somehow my priorities are a little off.

In the spirit of helping this girlfriend get to her publishers on time and in the interest of full disclosure I am bringing back an older blog from a couple of years ago.

It is one of my first but my favourite.

Read on dear girlfriends and do forgive the repeat. Will be back fresh and fabulous next week. Tune in sometime in December when my book hits the stores.


I was twelve years old when I had my first boyfriend. His name was Michael and, no this is not his real name. (You know who you are, consider me a forgiving soul for giving you and alias) We dated for four months which, when you are twelve is pretty much a lifetime. We had our own song (“I can’t fight this feeling” by REO Speedwagon), our own restaurant, (The Swenson’s Ice cream Parlour on Mcphillips in Winnipeg) and even our own nicknames. (He called me “Ali-cat”) I should have known then and there that the boy lacked vision, but it was 1983 and I was a visibly awkward chubby girl raging through puberty. I could NOT be picky. Michael was a nice guy with cute curly hair and he had the ultimate trump card. He LIKED me. Michael made me feel like I was perfect.

On June 7, 1983, he took me to his sisters wedding as his date. I can still remember the pink and grey dropped waist polka dot satin dress I wore. My hair was the perfect “sun-in” orange and I even wore pink fish net tights to match. I had pink rhinestone earrings and a large pink bow on my purse. Overall I looked like a chubby version of Cindy Lauper and I felt perfect. We danced all night and drank whisky sours that Michael’s snuck us from the bar. On a magical night in June when Michael kissed my goodnight, he told me he loved me. I was Cinderella at the ball and his parents’ ’82 Oldsmobile was my chariot.

But unlike a fairytale, real life has a morning after. Mine came the day after Michael’s sisters wedding when I had braces put on my teeth. The very next day, I returned from the orthodontist’s office with a mouth full of metal, Michael took one look at his “iron Jawed angel” and broke up with me immediately. Apparently the space between my two front teeth WAS the lesser of two evils. When it came to a headgear and a bit guard, Michael COULD fight that feeling…

And yes dear reader that is when it hit me. I had a BAD boyfriend. My boyfriend was not the Prince Charming I had imagined. He was a twelve-year-old boy who has the attention span of a homing pigeon. He was fleeting and self-centred. He wanted a date for his sister’s wedding not a lifelong partner with a smile less than perfect.

The decades have passed and my braces are long gone. Pink fishnet tights made a brief comeback and have returned to the fashion halls of fame. High school came and went and I realized that orange was not a good hair colour for me. “Sun In” has been replaced with “L’Oreal” and now instead of natural looking highlights, I strive for complete grey coverage.
But through it all I have realized that there have been quite a few BAD boyfriends. We have all had them.

I have realized that the only other constant in my life has been that I have always been on a diet. I started my first diet at the age of ten. My gym teacher proclaimed me fat and sent me home with a list of foods I could eat and a list of foods I was forbidden. From this cam the grapefruit diet of the early eighties followed by ten (yes count them, ten) Weight Watcher’s membership, two Jenny Craigs and a Nutrisystem. Coupled with The Zone, South Beach, The GI Diet, Dr. Phil and Atkins, I like many of my North American sisters have been dieting for decades.

And it is only until recently that I have realized, my diet really is a metaphor for a bad boyfriend. When my diet and I first get together, we have a period of infatuation that borders on the absurd. I think my diet is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I can’t imagine what I did before my diet came along. I will give up nights with friends and dinners out just to be with my diet. I will plan events around my diet’s schedule and dream about the day when my diet and I finally achieve perfect bliss and I DO fit into my skinny jeans. I will walk into a room in my perfect size 28, two hundred dollar boot cuts and my diet and I will make every bitch who every said we would not “make it” cringe with remorse.

But that does not happen. In reality, my diet makes me do all the work while it shits all over me. My diet is aloof and unattainable. It makes me reform my life and give up that which I love in exchange for a sense of self loathing that I could not even pay for. In short I will never measure up with my diet and so after about four weeks together, I know I have to break it off. Then of course comes the usual mourning/euphoria of being free again until I find a new diet to take on with the same gusto. We usually meet online or in a bookstore and pretty soon I am back on the same roller coaster ride. I am pimped out in a grey and pink polka dot dress, taking what I can get until I have braces put on my brains and I sober up.

But somehow, twenty odd years later, after bad boyfriends/diets, I woke up and got off the dysfunctional merry-go-round. Today things are different. I have spent the last eight years not on a DIET, but changing my lifestyle to be one where health comes first. Make no mistake, I am not about to give you another diet to “shack up” with and spiral off out of control. I will however tell you a simplified version about what helped me get off the diet dating cycle and settle down with a relationship with food that makes me feel good about me and my health.

So if any relationship has a set of rules, here are mine:
1. Keep your kitchen safe. Will power is bullshit. Eighty percent of overweight women surveyed are emotional eaters. Having a bad day? Binging on the yogurt and fruit in your kitchen is going to be a lot less damaging on your emotional wellbeing than a bag of Cheesies. Make no mistake, I LOVE ice cream. But I am asking for it if I keep it in my freezer. Want a treat? Get your ass of the couch and buy yourself a cone. I would not be caught dead with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s in my freezer.

2. Exercise daily. Do something every day for at least thirty minutes. Keep it simple. You do not necessarily need the drama of a gym membership and the perfect outfit. Just go for a walk or bike ride or even take a class you night not otherwise do. You’ll be surprised how it keeps your head in the game. Make no mistake, you may never get that “runner’ high” al the skinny broads talk about. Hell I’ve done more than my share of marathons and triathlon and am STILL waiting for it. (I secretly think it is the Robaxacet you take after the race that gives you the “high” they so fondly refer to)

3. Keep a food diary. Studies show that people who keep food diaries automatically regulate their caloric intake and stay on programs longer. There are a variety of online food diary programs that can help you get started. Hell, you have a shoe budget (and if you don’t- get one immediately); you should have a similar attitude to nutrition.

4. Establish a “bare minimum”. What I mean by this is, GET A BOTTOM LINE. You have a bottom line for your relationships with people, get one for your relationships with food. For example, you would not take him back after he slept with your sister, don’t start the day without breakfast. Okay, a bit of a severe comparison, but I needed to make a point. Have a “set of rules” that guides you through your nutritional life just like they do your social life.

So there you have it. We’ve all had our hearts broken, whether it was on the scale or at the roller rink. We’ve all had a diet or a man who made us the ultimate promise and then could not deliver. Make no mistake; blame the Michael’s of the world as much as I blame the “low carb” craze. They could not help themselves. They were just doing what they were supposed to do. By some cosmic curse my diet is supposed to be a BAD boyfriend. How else would I have figured out how good a healthy lifestyle can be?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

HappyBirthday to Me.

Yes my girlfriends today is my birthday.

No wishes necessary, just send footwear please. I am a fan of birthday celebrations. I have never been one to shy away from a good self centred party.

Here's why birthdays are so fabulous:
1. Cake- I love me some good birthday cake. As a nutrition freak- who does not relish in the one day of the year where cake is sanctioned?
2. Gifts- Yah. I'm a shallow cow. But really don't you love it when the people you value the most in life get together and rack their brains and bank accounts just to get you the perfect something?
3. People have to be nice to you- it's your friggin birthday for heaven's sake. Anyone who is mean to you today is an asshole.
4. Gestures- completely perfect strangers wish you well via social media. Sad and demented but social.

There you have it my girlfriends. No evidence. Not a long one. I'm 41 after all. I'm spending my day eating cake, going for a run in the park and buying myself a new pair of shoes. Happy Birthday to me my sisters. Now bring on the tweets.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Heart of the Matter

February is heart month! Yah- I think Valentine is bullshit. One day a year to tell someone you love them? I DON"T THINK SO. That being said- in the spirit of heart month I thought I'd devote a Tuesday to empowering my cybersisters on good heart health....

A few weeks ago I found myself at a cocktail party (yes doctors are people too) and inevitably the question of “what do you do?” came up from a woman at the party.

“I’m a physician”, I responded innocently enough, between sips of my Riesling.

“Family doc?” she asked almost eagerly. Given the shortage of female family doctors I was not surprised that she was hoping to be one of my newest patients.

“No, I’m a specialist in Cardiac Risk Management. You know, Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, Cholesterol.” I answered.

“Oh”, she said disappointed, “I’ll never need you. No family history and I am a Yoga freak”.

We shared a laugh, and the conversation went on without me about her latest hot yoga instructor. In the end, it was not the place or the time for me to give my infomercial speech about the importance of risk factor screening in women. But here I sit in a local Vancouver cafĂ©, the wine has been replaced with a non-fat late and I’m feeling the need to inform. Don’t get me wrong, I hope that lovely woman at the party NEVER needs my help, but there is a very good chance she will.

When it comes to risk factors for heart attacks and strokes, as women we have a ways to go. One in three women in Canada will die of heart attacks and strokes, compared to one in twelve women who will die of breast cancer. It sounds bleak but the best thing we can do for ourselves is what women have always done when faced with a challenge… inform and reform. So I thought I would spend my first five inaugural entries on the five greatest risk factors for heart attacks and strokes that affect women and what we can do about them:

First up this week is High Blood Pressure: (also called Hypertension)

Sixty percent of Canadian women over the age of 60 have high blood pressure and only about half of them are aware of it. The average person will need at least 3 medications to control their blood pressure to target.

The optimal numbers for blood pressure are less than 120/80 mmHg. Prehypertension is defined as blood pressure between 120-139/80-89. Hypertension is a blood pressure 140/90 or higher.

The top number is called the systolic (systole is Latin for “pump”) and the bottom number is called the diastolic (diastole is Latin for “relax”). Both numbers are equally important and home blood pressure readings are far more accurate than the readings at a doctor’s office. (Hell the book is always better than the movie) Your optimal numbers at home should be 5 mmHg lower than in the office. (So high blood pressure at home are numbers greater than 135/85)

So Ladies…. You know your shoe size, you hair colour and your dress size in Europe and North America….time to know your blood pressure. Next time you are at the drug store (You know who you are…I see you casually pacing the cosmetics isle wondering if today is the day to spend $40 on the lip plumping serum) Make your way over to the pharmacy and sit down at the blood pressure machine and follow these simple steps:

1. Put down the basket, purse and cell phone you are holding.

2. Turn off your iPod- 3 minutes with your own thoughts will not kill you.

3. Think good thoughts

4. Sit down at the machine, comfortably, feet on the floor

5. Wait 3-5 minutes quietly.

6. Longest 5 minutes ever isn’t it?

7. Arm in the machine, elbow resting, make sure the machine’s “sleeve” is covering your bicep. (Best to have a bare arm)

8. Push the button on the machine marked “start” (I’m really not a jerk)

9. The cuff does the rest for you…..

10. Take two readings about 2-3 minutes apart and keep track over a period of a few weeks.

I know, not rocket science. Anyone who can put lipstick on in a moving vehicle should find this frighteningly simple. The thing is it is probably one of the best screening tests a woman can do in terms of cardiovascular health.

So now you know your numbers… what to do about them? Well if you have high blood pressure…. See your family doctor. It is likely (almost certain) you will need blood work monitored and medications to control your blood pressure. The biggest thing to remember is that there are a variety of classes of medications to choose from so don’t be discouraged. Your doctor will find the right one for you to take. Most agents have very little side effects for the majority of patients. Lifestyle modification is also key and I will get to that in a minute.

What do you if your blood pressure is “kissing” high?

Studies show that women with mild elevations in blood pressure (pre-hypertension) can dramatically reduce their blood pressure and their risk of developing high blood pressure through diet and exercise. I know, a doctor who preaches lifestyle modification? Where the hell did I go to school?

It’s something to think about the next time you find yourself alone at a restaurant waiting for your girlfriends to arrive and your Blackberry has run out of batteries My bottom line? Check your blood pressure, know your numbers and get moving a little more each day. Know a little bit about what you are eating and don’t just “live green” – eat it. Finally, don’t rush towards the next big change. All in all, change is good but it is best when it is done in steps. We tend to stick to things if they come on gradually rather than if they are severe. Think of it like running in heels…. You really need to walk first.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Show Me What You Eat...

Question time, my girlfriends…. What’s with the food photos? Allow me to be clear: When did we start taking photos of our food with our phones?

I had brunch on Sunday (ah, brunch- proof that there is a higher power) and a group of girls at the table next to me were furiously snapping shots of their French toast and frittatas on their iPhones before the meals grew cold.

I could not help but ask… what’s with the food photos? This is not the first time I’ve noticed a fellow diner reach for their camera before their fork and knife.

Perhaps this craze began when our phones first had the capacity for photos and we thought “woohoo- let’s photograph EVERYTHING”.

Make no mistake much of the food I eat is pretty freaking lovely. But I don’t need to preserve it in my memory (or on my hard-drive) for all eternity.

I ask you my cybersisters- shouldn’t a meal be like a good fashion line- worth remembering without a whole bunch of photos for a frame of reference. Shouldn’t the mind’s eye be enough to preserve posterity?

In fact this photo craze no longer applies to food. It’s really hit everything. Yesterday I was at the mother ship (yes, Holt Renfrew, you know who you are) and a woman had her phone out and was snapping shots of the mannequins and emailing them to herself. For that matter, I ask- when did we rush to capture everything on our I-Phones? Have our memories gotten SO bad that everything needs a photograph to preserve its integrity? Have we reached a cultural “lest we forget” movement and someone forgot to send me the e-vite?

In the last two years, the photo based website Flickr has had a ten fold increase in its food based photos. The staggering number is now over 6 million photos of pictures of what people ate.

Make no mistake- I love to eat- my food and my emotions. But I must admit (lest I judge) I’m not big on the whole “take a picture, it lasts longer” approach to our dietary needs.

I like to photograph my friends and family; I love to capture my life’s adventures on film (or hard-drive). When I’m old and gray (and a bit senile) I want books full of albums and computers full of iPhoto of the people I’ve loved and perhaps lost to ponder over in a deep montage of nostalgia. I want to someday look back on my life and smile or even tear up at the memories.

In this fabulous scenario I am 80 or so years of age. I am of course wearing Vintage Chanel (I will be old enough to handle a good Chanel suit at this point) and my crazy big hair is perfectly white and finally an advantage as all my peers are going bald.

Nowhere, however in my memory montage are there photos of the food I have eaten over the decades - which only serve to make me hungry. I want my eyes to water…. Not my mouth. Besides- when I am 80- I am eating whatever I want – whenever I want. I’m not wasting my time looking at photos of food- I want the real thing.

I could not help but wonder however if taking a picture of your food alters the way you eat it or your enjoyment of it? Could thousands of photographing foodies be on to something?

A study published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies showed that taking photos of your food could influence your attitude towards the food you eat.

The study compared two groups of dieters. Each group was evaluated before they were randomized to one of two methods of food journaling. The groups were deemed to have similar knowledge of nutritional benefit of foods they were eating. The groups were then asked to either keep a photo journal of their food or a written diary of their food. One group kept written diaries and the other kept photo diaries of the foods they ate. In each group the participants were asked to comment on whether they thought their food choices were healthy.

Of the 86 people in the study- the 43 people who kept photo diaries more accurately could comment on the nutritional benefit of the foods they ate. The study- albeit a pilot study concluded that photos of food or visual cues can in fact cue people more effectively into whether or not foods are nutritious. The photo dairy group were more effective in changing their eating patterns than the written group…. hmmmm

In 1825, the French philosopher Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Jean loved food and I do think the dude was on to something.

As for me? I’m a chick who loves the good things in life but understands that good nutrition and good fashion really do open all doors. I’ll talk about food with anyone whom will listen- just don’t ask me to pull out my phone and photograph my meal for the Internet to see. My phone is for phoning. My food is for eating. As for what really feeds my soul? Simple dear girlfriends… very expensive footwear. What does that say about me? That is a discussion for another week entirely.