July 20, 2016

Pokemon Go (or no)?

Over the past week or so I've been keeping close attention to the latest smart phone craze, Pok√©mon Go (PG) out of sheer awe, amazement, confusion, and (if I were to be honest) disgust and fear.  I have considered all points of view with an open mind and, to this point, I still have more questions than answers.  I thought it may be a refreshing change to ask more questions in this post than provide answers (or opinions). 


Question #1: Could this craze become the next "bread and circuses" of our generation diverting our attention from what's really important?


The Roman government of the past had a great idea when it came to dealing with the masses and the potential uprising of society.  Through the provision of free bread and entertainment (i.e. the Roman Coliseum events) they were able to shift the focus of the crowds from fighting for social change to watching gladiators fight to the death in the ring (sound familiar?).  


I was reminded of this while reading the latest articles on PG suggesting that it is creating a healthy diversion from the terrible happenings in the world right now.  So my question is...is this a good thing or taking our global attention off what desperately needs our attention for positive social change??????


Question #2:  Are we lowering the bar of physical activity so much it may become more of a public health issue than living a sedentary lifestyle?


I'm consistently hearing the argument that PG is introducing many sedentary people to physical activity.  According to the articles, many people are walking for miles with phone in hand (whilst bumping into things, walking into traffic, and disconnected from the natural environment).


Will this lead to problems we have yet to even comprehend? Problems related to gaming addiction, or an inability to truly connect with nature without seeing it through a techno-buffer? Is this really bringing people together as suggested or disconnecting them even more as all thought, manners, and respect go out the proverbial window?


I am not that comfortable with the argument that "at least it is getting kids out of the house" because of my own critical thoughts about what creates or fuels a true connection with nature. Can one authentically be a part of nature while looking through a smart phone focused on capturing fictional creatures?  If PG can serve as a gateway to introducing kids to physical activity and nature (while giving up the smart phone and interacting with the real - not augmented - environment) then I'm all for PG!


Question #3:  If augmented reality is the future, does this future reduce the human race to zombie-like meat suits void of critical thought?


Sifting through the on-line news reports I do see huge groups of people "socializing" together and hear of instances where this game is promoting social connection.  What I'm confused about is the pictures I have seen so far, while you do see people in large groups, show these people looking at their smart phones...not at each other.  Running into these people on my own hikes in the woods and walks on the beach, I'm witnessing families (parents and children) walking like zombies through the woods (doing nothing else but looking at their hand helds and tripping over the branches). 


Then you have the security and business bureau people warning us of the security issues and potential problems with these downloads, yet people still download. People are waiving their rights to confidentiality to play a game.  Are we losing the ability to think critically just to be one of the first people to play a game? Is there a line we have drawn in the sand or are there boundaries we have set for ourselves for future games or have we even given it a second thought? These questions scare me.


Question #4:  What does this mean for the future?


I take that back, THIS is the question that is keeping me up at night.  I'm no techno-genius and I have to admit, I haven't played a "video game" since Pac Man was popular, perhaps it is because of this I don't get the punch line.  I do know that this new PG game is the first of its kind to augment reality and we will most certainly see better, brighter, more strategic, more visually stunning, and (in my opinion) more dangerous improvements on this new idea in the future.


Are we ready for this? Will this have an effect on our social connection, injury rates, disconnection to social problems, personal confidentiality, and how we relate to our environment?  If we have failed to respect the present technology (ie. use and abuse of cell phones), how are we able to relate to new technology in a safe, healthy, and effective way? Do we have a plan in place to teach kids how to respect this new technology? Do we, as the adults in the world, have a plan for ourselves?


I think I just broke my brain.


While I do understand the many benefits that have already been observed with this new game (i.e. the anxious and social phobic stepping out into the world easier) we cannot even fathom how augmented reality is going to effect our health and well being.  I may be risking coming off as the grumpy old woman popping the party balloon, but I think it is important to ask some questions before jumping on the band wagon and I'm happy to do it.


That's all I got.


K



May 24, 2016

An Open Letter to All 20-Somethings in Fear of Aging


Just breathe...it'll be okay.
As I read the "Open Letter to Women in Their Mid-20s" written by a 23 year old woman fearing her life will never change, I felt empathy and compassion mixed with a bit of excitement. While I empathize with the fear many 20-somethings are struggling with I'm also excited to report that aging doesn't suck as much as you may think it does.


Unfortunately the lessons that are the most valuable to learn are the ones that come over time (and, in my opinion, this is why it is so sad that our society values youth over age).  We won't learn how to overcome adversity until we experience life's low points. We won't understand how strong we are until we have come out on the other side of a shitty life experience. We don't know contentment until we have experienced sadness, worry, fear, and loss. From where I am standing (yes, standing ...not rocking back and forth in a fetal position in a corner somewhere) at 48, things look a lot different.  If I could offer you a few bits of knowledge from my own experience it would look like this.


Try your best to listen to your gut and do what is in YOUR best interest early on. Getting married and having kids NEVER promises you happiness.  In fact, so many of us who get married early on and punch out the babies soon after, find ourselves divorcing and a single parent before our 30th birthday. No matter how strong the love is in the beginning, things can change. Those married friends of yours may be happy now...but there's no guarantee for their future.  Comparing yourself to those happy people who have found love is futile and based upon nothing but our fears of being single for the rest of our lives.


Avoiding falling prey to the idea of beauty.  Those who identify with their beauty have a high rate of depression once this beauty starts to fade.  Although we see the effects of pickling within the celebrity population, this is not the reality of aging.  One cannot be smooth of skin and tight of tummy at 50 (especially after kids).  Focus on your intrinsic skills, talents, and abilities.  Learn something, do good for others, be kind to animals, focus on being a good person (beautiful or not). Beauty doesn't matter. It only matters to those that have nothing else to fall back on.


Avoid social comparisons at all cost (and if you must, compare yourself with those that have less).  The secret to a happy life (in my aged opinion) is cultivating a healthy level of gratitude for what we have (instead of lamenting on what we don't). Instead of getting down because we lack the high profile job, the hefty bank account, or the new car, remember that not having the latest iPhone or handbag is a 1st world problem (rather than having no food on the table or bed to sleep in). Most of the world is struggling with adequate shelter, safety, and food security; not having Wi-Fi isn't so bad. 


The sooner you become more positive about aging, the better.  After saying this, I can honestly say I wasn't comfortable about it until I hit around 45 -46.  There is something magical that happens in your 40's.  I don't know if it is nature's way of calming you (or sedating you) as you transitioned into the 50s or if it is wisdom that comes with age, but if you are able to "let it all go", aging can become more of a blessing instead of a curse.  The trick is letting go of the image of your younger self, the grief that may come when we notice the first jowl or sag.  By fighting the process of aging we are only making it harder on ourselves to age.  Kinda like flies on flypaper; the more they struggle the stucker they get.  DO NOT fall prey to the beliefs that fashion is age specific. Check out this blog on "Advanced Style" if you want to see concrete examples of beauty and fashion (these women are my mentors). 


Focus on health promotion now.  Quit smoking, start walking, practice sleep (i.e. getting the necessary amount), focus on mental resiliency and stress management, wear your safety gear, learn how to communicate well, understand who you are and what you want, increase your self worth, chose your partners wisely, unpack your emotional baggage when necessary, learn from mistakes, stretch, do not over exercise or limit yourself to vegetables, focus on contentment rather than happiness, feel your feelings rather than avoid them, listen to your gut, know when to end toxic relationships, learn to love yourself, invite love into your life, and never believe that you'll find happiness ten pounds lighter or when you find the perfect mate...happiness never comes when we tie conditions onto it.
Full disclosure: Black and white
pics don't show as many wrinkles.
I may not fear aging, but I'm going
to do what I can to keep what I've
got! If that means looking up at the
camera, so be it!


...and if nothing else makes you feel better, just remember this...if we aren't aging we are dead.


That's all I got.
K


 

April 5, 2016

Weighing In on Bariatric Surgery

This is a wonderful documentary
that highlights the factors and
struggles of weight loss.
Check it out!
I have never been obese and can't even begin to imagine what it is like to live in a world that hates me as an obese person.  I can't imagine what it might be like trying to buy clothes that fit or constantly worried about sitting on a chair that may not hold me.  I can't imagine what it is like to have strangers call me names in public or suggest ways of eating and exercising that I haven't thought of yet.  The world is cruel for people of size (let alone those who are within the range of obese).  So, ya, I haven't felt that so who am I to talk.  I just wanted to put that out there because I do believe the drive for bariatric surgery is fueled by the desperation of living life in an obese body.

For anyone unaware of the term, bariatric surgery serves as the umbrella term for a wide variety of surgeries meant to reduce fat.  Surgeries can range from cutting and rearranging organs to placing a band around the stomach to reduce its' size.  There are huge line ups for such surgeries and from what I understand the percentage of those that achieve the desired weight loss is as low as 5%.  The aftermath of such surgeries can be somewhat drastic and embarrassing (like dumping syndrome...do I need to define it?). 

What confuses me the most about this process is what happens after the surgery.  The patient leaves the hospital with a list of lifestyle changes he/she must adhere to to ensure the success of the surgery.  Exercise and nutritional prescriptions must be adhered to along with taking a long list of supplements.  So if the person didn't adhere to this before the surgery...what is going to make them stick with it after? If there was a psychological cause for the weight gain, what makes this go away once the surgery is over? Time after time, I see post-bariatric clients to counselling them on eating behaviour...after the surgery.  Why can't I see them before? Perhaps there is a way to avoid surgery altogether if we could work on the psychology of eating before?

In most documentaries on obesity, we will hear the testimonials of those struggling with weight as they go through the long list of diets and exercise regimes that failed them.  What appears to be missing in everyone of these programs is gaining a deeper understanding of what may be the underlying influences of the weight gain (if any). While I realize there are many factors that influence obesity, I have yet to hear or read one nutritionist, personal trainer, or medical professional even hint that it could go deeper than just diet and exercise. Instead we apply a thin layer of a superficial weight loss treatment and then blame the person when it doesn't work.  It's not about will power or self control...it's about mental health (coupled with environment, social and cultural influences, and even biology). It's not about the person, it's about a medical system that fails to support them.
Probably one of the most honest books on
bariatric surgery told by a woman who went
through it.  She details the emotion and the
trauma before and after surgery.
Check it out!

Through my research as a graduate student in clinical psychology, I became aware that the only programs for weight loss are the typical diet and exercise programs (yawn). In fact, I was surprised to learn that there was no therapy-type program to help with weight reduction within any population (besides the usual cognitive behavioural stuff - change your thoughts will change your behaviours).  Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is good, but it ain't the answer to everything.

There's a gap in obesity care and it's starting to worry me a bit.  If we are unable to acknowledge the root cause of obesity (and this may be different for everyone) how the hell will we be able to reduce rates of it (without defaulting to surgery).  If bariatric surgeries become the norm, I am betting we will start seeing other health related issues due to those surgeries...and the cycle will continue.

Just something to consider.....



April 4, 2016

The Good (and not so good) Sides of Pintrest

 I have to admit, I'm hooked on Pintrest. It's not uncommon on a Sunday morning to find me with a coffee in one hand and my tablet in the other surfing fashion, recipes, home decor, and cute little baby animals.  Pintrest has helped me dress more professionally for work and cook with whole foods. In fact, I have found many amazing recipes that I have shared with my healthy eating classes and use it as the "go to" resource before hitting the thrift shops. While I'm a huge fan of this unique social media and owe my cooking skills and fashion sense to Pintrest, I'm wondering if there is another side of Pintrest that is a little more....harmful....
 
One of my first attempts at healthier eating came from a suggestion I found on Pintrest.  From black bean brownies to home made peanut butter cups, I have to admit I became a better cook because of my Pintrest addiction.
 
I have started to note a disturbing trend as I surf through the health and fitness boards and have now made the decision to avoid them at all costs (lest I lose my temper and throw my beloved tablet out the window).  From a kinesiologists (that's me) perspective, I find many of the fitness programs offered on this site void of any common sense or understanding of the principles of exercise science.  Many of the fitness and training programs feed on the belief that spot reducing is possible (and, without a shadow of a doubt, it isn't).  What these boards or post do is promote an unrealistic expectation of what fitness and strength training can do (which only leads to disapointment, depression, and a little more self-disgust than before).

What is spot reducing you may ask? Remember in the 1980s and early 90s when you may have been told to perform 100 sit ups a night and you would be rewarded with a flat stomach? That's spot reducing.  Believe me, I tried it and all I got was a sore stomach and lost time.  It is a belief that if you work a particular muscle or muscle group (in this case my rectus abdominus), that the fat lying on top of it will disappear. This is what sparked the donkey kicks and triceps dips (in the desperate attempts to lose our arms flaps or what a client of mine referred to as her "Aunt Ednas"....no offense to all Aunt Ednas of the world). 
 
Don't be fooled, while using a ball
may strengthen your core and other
supportive muscles, it will not lead
to losing a belly. Healthy nutrition
coupled with a wide range of factors
(including sleep, stress management,
physical activity, and like) will do that.

From performing leg lifts to upper arm exercises, there are hundreds of posts on Pintrest to suggest that the belief (or hope) that spot reducing works is alive and well and exploiting everyones desire for quick and dirty fat loss.  The cold, hard fact is if you do those leg lifts, while you may end up with really hard muscles, the fat laying on top will still be there.  To lose the fat we have to combine healthy nutrition with exercise and hope for the best.  I know...it sucks.

I still love Pintrest and will still continue to use it for ideas and inspirations, but I think we all need to add a bit of critical thinking to our engagement in all social media.  I have to say, I'm getting very tired of seeing the same stick figures modeling the latest fashion and I trying and ignore the many posers touting their physiques, but I'm old, wise, bitter and know better (vs. the young, hopeful, and impressionable).  For many, Pintrest could serve as another way to find support for eating and exercise disorders while tearing apart the teeny bits of self-esteem one may be holding onto.

It's just something to think about.

K




April 1, 2016

Fat, Health, and Ignorance

I have spent over 20 years dedicated to education, research, study, teaching, speaking, and working to spread the word about fat and health.  Additionally, there are hundreds of academics, journalists, and researchers out there doing the very same thing (with probably more impact that little old me). Although I see hints of a true understanding, I am still in awe and disbelief that we (the global we) could still be so ignorant, not to mention extremely judgie, about the facts and fiction around fat and health.
Did his meals make him this way? From genetics, environment, and mental health, to diet, exercise, and social influences there is more to fat than meets the (blind) eye.  Unfortunately, kids are going to bearing the brunt of our fat shaming through disordered relationships with food, body, and exercise.  Wait for it.
 Although the research is extensive, academically sound, and indisputable (given the number of participants and years of study) health practitioners, organizations, and those hanging on to old ways of thinking continue to state that an excess of body fat is unhealthy.  Today, coming back from a few days of leave, I learned that my employer will be adding a "health" measurement to the already existing fitness test.  What is this new health-related measure measuring? Each employee will have to have a waist circumference measure to help identify those in the unhealthy range of body fat.

Now...I know there are studies to suggest that the old hip to waist ratio is the one effective measurement because storing fat in the trunk runs a higher risk for all sorts of nasty stuff.  If one were to pull the primary literature, read it in full, and apply some critical thought to it...you would find that there is no mention or examination of the effects exercise and eating a healthy (veggie based) diet has on the health of someone carrying more fat in the trunk than the next person.  Nothing. That would take too much time and too much money.

So we continue to believe that fat (especially the fat that lies around our organs) is evil and must be destroyed.  Today, Yahoo.ca also posted an article about the growing rates of global obesity and the suggestion that we (the global we) should be turning to surgery as a way to fight the battle.  If you don't believe me (because you are wise, all knowing, and educated) check it out.  While I realize there are some health complications that relate to severe obesity, and surgery may be the only alternative, I am concerned that we may be jumping the gun a bit and forgetting about the myriad of complications that come from such surgeries. 

Not only that, we continue to blame the victim, their (assumed) diet, their (assumed) activity level and make some terrible assumptions about their intelligence, cleanliness, and demeanor.  This is referred to as fat shaming and is probably more prevalent now than ever before as our society continues to support the thin body ideal. Just look at Cheryl Tiegs's reaction to the "plug-sized" model on the Sports Illustrated cover. I don't know which is worse; her ignorance over fat and health or her commitment to the words of Dr. Oz. 
If you were to dive into the hsitory of fat, body, health, politics, and gender, you would find this stuff ain't new.  This is an example of our more recent history, yet the first diet originated from the 1800s and it wasn't until the 1920s, the age of consumerism, that the thin ideal became in fashion (you can thanks the religious groups for this).  I'm not going to get into the relatioship between body shaming and the suffergets. That's another vent for another time.
Obesity may be a problem and it may lead to new stressors on our health care system, but to paint everyone with the same brush is not only ignorant but inexcusable with everything we now know.  To refuse to evolve in understanding the true relationship between health, fat, diet, exercise, environment, mental heatlh, social health, and the pollutants in our food and other products is like still believing the earth is flat.  Until we open our eyes, apply a tiny (doesn't have to be that big) amount of critical thinking, and see that it isn't about fat we will continue measuring waistlines and fail to examine other important contributors. 

That's all I got.

K

March 18, 2016

We Need to Rethink Exercise!


Today I came across an article on the CBC about how hard it is to get the recommended daily dose of exercise and it lit the fire necessary to post something. This article follows another earlier this week on the future of doctor prescribed exercise and the important role exercise can play on the treating (and preventing) of injury, illness, and chronic pain (just to name a few). Not only that, but it has been reported that exercise can also be impactful for mental health. In fact, exercise can be as effective on mild to moderate depression as an anti-depressant (but without the icky side effects).  Not only that, an exerciser will also benefit from all the other great things physical activity can do for us.

While it is exciting to see exercise being applied to health (versus weight loss), the challenge is still going to be getting people to do it (and stick with it). This has been my area of study and interest for over 18 years now and I still don't see a move towards a new way of thinking of exercise.  I believe it is because of our faulty attitudes and beliefs about what is exercise (and what we have to do to obtain results) that is holding us back from a lifetime of activity.

We need to rethink exercise and start understanding it as a tool for health and not a tool to get back into our skinny jeans.  We need to shift the paradigm and see it as activity vs. exercise.  Physical activity includes everything from walking, cleaning the house, gardening, hiking, and the rest of it.  Conversely, exercise tends to shift our thoughts to the gym, Cross Fit, high intensities, and spandex.  No wonder the majority of us aren't interested.

Although the message isn't sexy and doesn't come in the form of a skinny, beautiful white woman exercising in the latest outfits, it is important, impactful, and will help change our behaviour. Physical activity can be done in bouts of 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there.  The recommended weekly amount is 150 minutes a week (which is hilarious to me, I mean who the hell records their exercise in weekly minutes?). What this boils down to is a mere 20 minutes of physical activity per day. Do you clean house? Chase kids? Walk the dog? Ride your bike? Go for a hike? Garden? If you do...chances are good you get your daily dose.  The problem is, we don't see it like that. If we haven't run or gone to spin class or sweated we haven't worked out.

I'm here to tell you without a shadow of a doubt, we need to reconceptualize what it is to exercise and start focusing on the every day activities that can have a huge impact on our health. Not only will you feel better physically, but you will see a change in your mood and (if you are lucky) your sleep habits. There is so much that physical activity can do for us and it only takes 20 minutes a day (or 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there).

And that's it...no difficult prescription, no rules, no special outfits, and no bullshit.

Have a great Friday.
K

 

January 11, 2016

The Road to Burnout (is riddled with potholes)

You would think that after experiencing the downtime that comes with the holiday season, many of us would be rested and ready for the hustle and bustle of 2016.  Interestingly, but not surprisingly, I have since talked to many of my friends learning of their "busy" Christmas season followed by the flu (or a cold, or feelings of exhaustion). From parties to traveling for family get togethers, twas the season for busy busy busy! I was not only left suffering from vicarious exhaustion, I was thinking I might need more friends or a social life of some kind (after spending most of my holidays in my PJs binge watching some fabulous show no Netflix).  The result of my vacation schedule, however, left me feeling energized and ready to get back to it in January!

It leaves me questioning why some people are able to say "no" more often than others? In the case of a few friends of mine, some felt the pressure to attend parties while other felt the extreme desire to socialize even if they were too tired to lift a wine glass.  At any rate, there comes a time in everyone's life when the skills of saying "no" and the awareness of our limitations (for the health of it) become necessary....or we risk the dreaded burnout.

If you have gone through true burnout before, you will know just how much it sucks and how long it takes to climb out of that big black hole.  After working full time and interning at night (to achieve my MA in counselling psychology) I suffered terrible burnout to the point of suicidal thoughts and extreme feelings of loneliness. Luckily for me, the internship was coming to a close and I knew enough about burnout, depression, and suicide to know that I wasn't at risk but needed to stop.

It has been almost one year now and I finally feel like I'm (almost) back to myself again. I stopped exercising, writing, and socializing. Those things that I took pleasure in before, meant nothing to me. I became isolated and (to be perfectly honest) a bitch to others. I've only done this once before when I was starting my career and promised I would never do it again....but it sneaks up on those most susceptible (those that have a passion and drive to reach a certain goal). My goal was to finish my internship in time so I wouldn't have to pay another semester's tuition (in addition to my interest and passion in the work).

So what are the signs of burnout?  The physical signs may include body aches and pains, chronic fatigue, lack of sleep and changes in eating habits. The emotional signals may include feelings of hopelessness (that's a bad one), feeling defeated, alone, and losing all satisfaction in accomplishments.  Behaviourally, the signs may be isolation, procrastination, lack of care and attention to home and relationships, and coping with substances (or food, shopping, TV, and the like).

Chronic stress and burnout are similiar.  Above is a list of symptoms that could relate to each. In my experience, a sense of hopelessness comes more from burnout than chronic stress (but we are all different). Once the hope is lost, the problem becomes more severe.  In my opinion, where there's hope, there's life.

Burnout comes to those with perfectionist standards, a drive to succeed in a career, and the like.  Although I was working on my own perfectionism (through letting go and accepting) I still held onto certain beliefs about myself and success (a work in progress I guess).  For "my people" out there who relate, the key is awareness and making time for stress management, healthy eating, sleep, and seeking a helping professional if feelings of burnout start creeping in. If you ignore the problem it will only get worse ...guaranteed!

It's also very important to get used to saying "no" more often and treating yourself as your number one priority.  If your body needs to stay in, enjoy a healthy dinner, and go to bed early don't ignore it.  It's easy to put aside trivial needs like sleep and rest to go out and party like a rock star or work into the wee hours, but the long term effects of such decisions may bite you in the ass later on.  One day, going to bed early will be held in high regard rather than burning the midnight oil....I hope.

K