Here's a recent publication (written with a student) on when to worry about your child's fever, and what to do to help them get better ... better!
Next week I will be offering two workshops on the top 10 healthy habits for families. I have ideas about what I think are the most important behaviours to make routine, but I'm curious about others' experiences. Let me know - what behaviours are important to you, and what makes it difficult to make them habitual? I will work your responses into my workshop - where I hope you'll join me!
It’s that time of year! We’re supposed to feel in love, sexy, horny, romantic - right? Hallmark expectations aside, I hear from women in my practice ALL THE TIME that they’re not that into having sex. Their libido isn’t where they’d like it to be. They love their partners (and I find this happens more typically among women who are in committed, long-term relationships), they want to be intimate, but they’re just not feeling it. So here are some ideas to consider … just in time for Valentine’s Day!
(Sexual function is a complex topic; if you have concerns about yours, consider this article that I wrote about exploring and managing low sexual desire in women, and talk to your healthcare provider. Or me :)
Think of intimacy as a holistic concept.
When partners are vulnerable with one another in general - sharing their imperfections, their emotions, their experiences - and ACT with love, they are more likely to feel close to one another, enhancing relationship satisfaction, and naturally fueling a desire for physical connection. (I love this article about the research of John Gottman’s “Love Lab”). One of my most important life lessons is that love is an action, not a feeling … but I know that choosing to act with love can deepen the feeling … the trust and appreciation and deep connection that enhances sexual desire.
Broaden your definition of “sex”.
Particularly for heterosexual couples, “sex” often means “penis-in-vagina”. But there are so many ways to explore sex! And so many ways to give and receive sexual pleasure. When the need and expectation for orgasm is set aside, and space is created for mindfulness, “sex” can be many different things. “Guide to Getting it on” is a great primer. It is heteronormative, and it won’t make everyone happy (is that even possible??) AND there are many great books out there for folks of all orientations/kinks/persuasions. Explore! And comment with your favourites!
While familiarity is comfortable, and knowing and trusting your partner(s) builds intimacy, our brains seek novelty in order to stimulate reward centers. If sex is the same all the time, and predictable, it can get boring and less inticing. Consider talking to your partner about shaking things up a bit! There are many questionnaires available online that can facilitate the potentially awkward conversation and stimulate creativity - try this one! AND couples that engage in new experiences outside of the bedroom (or wherevever else you like to get it on - good for you!) are more likely to connect sexually as well. Try a dance class! Pottery (channeling Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore)! Eating in the dark! See what happens.
Make space for sexual intimacy.
As Dan Savage says, “Fuck first”. We often get busy, put other priorities ahead of our connection with our partner, and end up tired and sapped. Even if you're not exactly in the mood to begin with, being willing to dip in your toe can get the juices flowing. It could be argued that scheduling sex is contrived BUT imagine the turn-on when you sext one another all day in anticipation of what’s to come! Have sex before going for dinner, before catching up on Netflix, before your workout. Don’t succumb to not having time for … business time!
Be good to yourself!
Many conditions including (but definitely not limited to!) hypertension, diabetes, depression, and multiple sclerosis are associated with lower libido. Stress and fatigue can damage our desire. Eating well, exercising most days, getting sufficient sleep, managing stress effectively, and looking after any health concerns can make a big difference. Some medications can dampen libido - touch base with your healthcare provider to explore strategies to navigate this possibility.
And sometimes we just don’t feel like it. And that’s okay too. Especially mothers - we often feel touched out, particularly when our kids are small (and breastfeeding!). When we feel drained and needed, it can be overwhelming to know that our partners need us too. It may be okay to ask your partner to look after YOU … a foot rub, a back tickle, a head massage, more … without the expectation (today anyway) of reciprocity. It will pay long term dividends.
(Full disclosure: I am not a sex goddess, and am working through all of this myself. Just as I am doing with pretty much everything I recommend. As always, a work in progress.)
One of the simplest things many of us can do to improve our health is drink more water. It need not be from a bottle (though it's a great idea to carry a re-fillable glass or stainless steel one!). It need not have gone through reverse osmosis. We are blessed in this part of the world to have cold, clean water that comes out of a tap - inexpensive, life-giving, miraculous. And yet many of us don't drink enough. The consequences? We are sluggish (water is necessary to deliver nutrients to our cells and tissues); our brains are foggy (our brain cells depend on water to bring them essential oxygen and glucose); our bodies ache (water helps to clear away waste from our natural metabolic reactions); we are constipated (water bulks up our stool, making it easier to eliminate); we are DRY (cracked lips and knuckles, anyone??). Drinking more water might even help maintain a healthy weight! Kids in particular are vulnerable to dehydration, and may not recognize when they are thirsty.
I'm not talking coffee. I'm not talking juice. I'm not talking pop - diet or otherwise. I'm talking the real deal. BUT there is no magic volume - that "eight cups a day" rule doesn't hold much ... water. How much we need depends on how much physical activity we're getting, how dry/hot the environment is, whether we're struggling with an illness, and how big our bodies are. It also depends on how much moisture there is in our diets. A person who eats a diet rich in fresh fruits, veggies and water-based foods (think soups, stews, porridges) needs less water straight-up. Being mindful of our thirst and taking a quick peek at our urine after going (kids love this) should give us a clue ... healthy urine should be see-through and pale yellow ... not perfectly clear, and not as dark as apple juice. Unless you are really going overboard, particularly if you're an endurance athlete, there's rarely harm in working in more water. Ready for some tips?
1. Just drink it! Cold or warm, flat or fizzy (just watch the sodium content) ... find what turns you on. Savour it!
2. If plain water bores you, jazz it up with some added fruits or veggies! Sliced cucumber or lemon, or a handful of berries look lovely in a pitcher of agua and add a touch of flavour. When that beautiful pitcher is at the front of the fridge, or in a prominent place on the counter, who can resist??
3. Teas (the non-caffeinated version*) count! The bonus is that they can be individualized to your health needs. That's an entirely other blog post (stay tuned!), but start with these suggestions: chamomile when someone needs to chill; peppermint for an after-meal digestif; ginger with lemon for a refreshing pick-me-up; or nettles for an extra hit of iron. I suggest making a big vat of your family's favourite and drink it room-temperature or cold.
4. If your kids are used to drinking something else (milk, juice ... or even pop), and refuse to drink the plain stuff, slowly dilute what they will drink (with or without their cooperation) over time until it is mostly or completely unadulterated water. Then work on the other strategies mentioned above!
* black and especially green teas are full of amazing antioxidants and can definitely be enjoyed; however, the caffeine can be a bit dehydrating if that's all that's being consumed, and may be too stimulating for some
It's January. Again. Resolutions are so cliche, but really, every day is a good day to set new goals and start fresh. Here's a little quiz to help you focus your energy this year, with some tips to make it happen. Enjoy!
I've always thought of September as the new year. As primarily an academic - and as a mother - September is reminiscent of Anne of Green Gables' sentiment that "tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it." After a restful summer my energy is highest, my ambition greatest, and my optimism most sincere.
However, September in my household - like for most families - is a rude shift from the quieter pace of July and August. Even though there may be camps to get to and lunches to make, September also brings the extra demands of extra-curricular activities and homework. September often makes me wish we homeschooled ...
There are a few strategies that save our household from collapsing into chaos. Focusing on the pillars of good health - nutrition, sleep, physical activity and stress management - I hope there are some pearls that help your family cope with the fall!
Getting good nutrition can be tough in the midst of a busy routine. Menu planning is your friend! Sit down as a family to make a list of everyone’s favourites, including leisurely family meals and grab-and-go options. Once you’ve got a master list, use it to create a menu for the week based on activities planned each day. Shop for what you need and do any necessary pre-prep (veggie-chopping, grains-cooking, etc.) to save time on the nights when there are two music lessons and a cub scout meeting. Planning meals not only promotes sanity, it also improves nutritional intake and reduces expense and food waste. Try adding a new item or two to the master list each week! If you need some guidance, come in and talk me about the qualities of an ideal diet (think lots of veggies, lean protein, healthy fats and whole grains), and find out if anyone is a candidate for nutritional supplementation. Vitamin D is critical for everyone, especially as the days get shorter, and fish oils are super helpful for kids' brain development.
School-aged kids should be accumulating at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity, but most kids don’t get enough. Not only does exercise keep them fit, but it helps them stay sharp in the classroom too! Look for ways to build activity into your family routine; kids are more likely to be active if their parents are - hint, hint! Get outside and throw a Frisbee; go for an after-dinner bike ride; try crosscountry skiing - being outside has bonus benefits! Trying to keep up with your kids as you get older can take a toll on your body ... let me know if you need some injury support! Ask about acupuncture or natural anti-inflammatory products that can get you back in the game!
Sleep is critical for growing bodies. Inadequate sleep interferes with metabolism, hormone production, mood and learning. Most school-aged kids do not get enough, but they need as much as 9-11 hours of sleep per night in order to be at their best. Some strategies to promote sleep include keeping a predictable routine; having a dark bedroom; building in a “wind-down” time before sleep; and minimizing screen-based media, especially in the 30 minutes before bed. Under no circumstances should your child be using screens in his/her bedroom - it is one of the strongest predictors of poor sleep. Come see me if anyone in your brood struggles with sleep; a combination of sleep hygiene strategies and relaxing herbs or supplements can help carry you or your little one safely off to dreamland.
Stress levels can increase for everyone as kids head back to school, affecting sleep, immunity, weight and mood. Perception of control is an important factor; our family holds regular family meetings to ensure everyone is doing okay, and problem solve if anyone is struggling. Kids feel stress more than we sometimes realize; listening empathically and non-judgmentally helps foster attachment, which reduces stress and builds resilience. Sharing gratitude at family meals, or trying meditation or yoga together can help everyone cope when the pressure begins to rise. If stress becomes unmanageable, I can help through counselling or natural health products that can gently boost resilience. Don’t forget the power of sleep, physical activity and time outside to reduce stress!
If nutrition, physical activity levels, sleep and stress management are all under control, your family should sail through fall with flying colours! These are the pillars of great health, and will keep your family strong. However, talk to me about strategies for additional immune system support, since fall also marks the onset of cold and flu season. Happy fall!!
Three years ago this month I traveled to Boston to run the marathon. Along with 25,000 others that year, I had trained hard to qualify and make the cut. The previous year had been a turbulent one; my training had been a bit manic in an attempt to run off something that ultimately required time and compassion to heal. I had also had an injury over the winter, so it was with a bruised body and a bruised spirit that I got on a plane to Massachusetts. When the middle-aged, slightly overweight customs agent asked me the nature of my trip, I told her I was running the marathon. She lit up and asked me how long I had been running. I told her about 20 years ... That I hadn't just started last week. "I started last week!" she said. She wished me luck and sent me on my way with a huge grin.
The energy of the city was palpable. The hostel was filled with athletes in their running tights and shoes (yes, even while they were just hanging out), draped with every hue of previous Boston marathon jackets. I made some conversation in the common room, while runners buzzed about preparing meals and snacks (I don't think the fridges of that hostel had ever contained so much nutrient-dense food!).
But mostly I kept to myself. It was the first time I had traveled alone in many years and, with the run on Monday morning, I had two full days to explore Boston. I took the 'T' everywhere, exploring Cambridge and Harvard Yard, touring Fenway park (and then taking a stroll along the Charles with a handsome young man from Australia that I met on the tour), and visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum (spectacular if you have the opportunity). My last run before the race took me through Boston Common, past Cheers, and around Beacon Hill. I tried to watch a Red Sox game with an old university friend who was in town to run as well, but it was rained out and we went for a beer instead. I took in the Boston Symphony Orchestra and wandered along the Freedom Trail. I waited in a line 100 deep for a cannoli at Mike's Bakery, with its shiny tin ceiling. I meandered around crumbling cemeteries - many of them Unitarian - and sat quietly in beautiful New England churches, steeped in history and tradition.
My plan for the race was to simply enjoy it. Without adequate preparation (due to my injury), I knew I wasn't going to achieve a personal best. I intended to take my time, absorb the experience and tweet along the way. I woke up early Monday morning and stood with hoards of other runners to board the buses to the Athlete's Village. It was all well-coordinated and civilized, everyone brimming with excitement while rubbing sleep from their eyes. I remember thinking on the trip out to Hopkinton that it felt like a long drive ... especially knowing I'd have to run it back!
The village was filled with people warming up, stretching, eating and chatting. It's a long shuffle from the village to the starting line, the corrals packed with runners unsure if they're there yet ("there" being only the start). It's tempting to want to start running too early ... the adrenaline of the day makes you feel like a horse chomping at the bit ... but there are too many bodies around to move any faster, and there's a long way to go ahead. "Discard" layers were shed as we inched forward that would be collected by volunteers and given to thrift stores (where most of them originated). We moved across the starting mats and the energy swelled as we picked up the pace en masse to the din of spectators cheering and ringing cowbells.
That cacophony did not stop for 42.2 km. I have run a lot of races in my life and I have never experienced anything like the Boston Marathon. From start to finish, spectators at least six deep cheering themselves hoarse, waving signs and yelling encouragement to perfect strangers. There was no opportunity to sink into a meditation - there was too much to look at, too much to take in. Despite my poor training, I felt terrific. Through the crowds of young women at Wellesley screaming to be kissed, over the hills in Newton, past Fenway Park ... the high went on and on, and I tweeted as I went.
Turning left onto Boylston Street and seeing the finish line up ahead was a thrilling moment - the culmination of a journey that grouped me with the top runners in the world. I crossed the finish line within moments of my friend and we posed for a photo together, draped in our blankets and medals.
A colleague from work was running that day too; I had passed him a few miles before the finish and pondered going back to watch him cross. Unfortunately, I had a tight time frame to catch my plane, so I headed for my hostel instead which was a few blocks from the finish. I was inside for approximately 20 minutes, changing into dry clothes and packing up. By the time I got to the entrance of the nearest 'T' station, it was locked.
A man ran up to me, panicked, yelling about a bomb. I thought it strange, but he seemed okay himself, and I was focused on not missing my flight. I found another station that was still open, and made my way to Logan. I tried to connect to the network to send out a final tweet, but found it consistently busy. It wasn't until I was through security and waiting at the gate that I saw the news on the overhead monitors. Bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
I was stunned. I wept as a confused mess of emotions and thoughts swept through me. This was within the first minutes after the bombs ... no one knew what was happening. The airport eventually was shut down for a time, but my flight was allowed to leave before it did. There was another finisher on that plane with me to Ottawa ... he didn't seem as affected by the news, and was kind and supportive, sitting with me on the flight when I asked.
I've spent many times over the past three years reflecting on what has come up for me since that day. There is a lot of guilt. I guess it can be called survivor's guilt, but I feel guilty even for calling it that. I missed the explosions by about half an hour. Had I been further back in the starting corrals; had my preparation proved to be truly inadequate; had I taken more time to revel in the experience; had I gone back to the finish line to cheer on my colleague ... I felt guilty that I had been able to safely and triumphantly finish my race when thousands of runners were denied that opportunity. I felt guilty that I didn't heed the shocked bystander at the 'T' station and that I didn't go to help. I felt guilty that I felt so emotionally affected despite being well out of harm's way, while others were terribly - and fatally - injured. I felt guilty for feeling guilty.
I also felt like I had a glimpse of my own funeral. Thanks to social media and my incessant tweeting, a huge group of my contacts knew I was there. I was told later that most of my colleagues and students had been following my progress through the race. My Facebook timeline reveals a collective gasp, followed by a frantic attempt to connect with me. Because of the packed lines in Boston, I wasn't able to send a note that I was safe - no phone calls, no texts, no tweets - until a good amount of time had gone by. My timeline reveals so much love and concern for my safety and well-being ... I continue to feel humbled.
The emotions about that day - positive and negative - continue to emerge regularly. When I read others' accounts of their experiences, when I see unexpected news reports about the surviving perpetrator, when I have conversations ... especially when people make light of it ... even writing this piece. I refuse to let the horrific violence of the day take away from my incredibly joyful experience (although I feel guilty about that too). That's what terror does. I want to savour the powerfully positive memories from that weekend, and all it symbolized for me. Boston and the running community rallied in the wake of the event, standing strong and celebrating the spirit of the marathon.
I will be going back to Boston next week for the first time. I am running as a guide to a visually-impaired athlete named Tim with whom I've run three times at local races. It's Tim who has qualified, and it's Tim who is chasing a personal record. This has been an interesting experience, marked by my usual navel gazing: Do I deserve to run the course at Boston without qualifying myself? Am I entitled to celebrate the day when I'm "just" the support crew? True to form, I am putting pressure on myself to be more than human - to always be one step ahead of Tim, to not find it an effort.
My partner and kids are coming with me this year. We'll have a great two days prior to the race, filled with sight-seeing and watching the Jays play the Sox at Fenway. I'm nervous about where they should stand to watch ... irrationally, I worry about them being at the finish line. I know that it will be hard for me to contain my tears as Tim and I make that left onto Boylston. I anticipate a flood of emotions, which I doubt I'll fully be able to unravel. I hope to let it flow over me, and I'm hoping it will be cleansing.
As my daughter and I were walking the other day, she - somewhat randomly - inquired about how people become blind. I told her there were many ways, but there were a few that were most commonly responsible in Canada. She asked me if there was any way of preventing blindness, and I told her that yes, most cases of blindness in Canada are preventable (think diabetes, macular degeneration) or treatable (visit http://www.cnib.ca for more info). I told her that the best way of keeping her eyes as healthy as possible was to eat her fruits and vegetables and move her body lots. She gave a huge sigh and we both laughed, because that's what she always hears from me. Eat your fruits and veggies. Move your body. Get enough sleep.
She's kind of tired of hearing it, but I hope that with the regular prompts - and even more powerfully, modelling by the adults in her life - it will seep into her consciousness and her habits. Because it's not just her naturopath mom who thinks this is important. This article in the journal Cureus is an excellent overview of the importance of establishing these lifestyle behaviours in childhood. If we want our population to be healthy, if we want the adults of tomorrow to be capable of being productive members of society, then these are the foundational habits that are critical to foster in our young people today.
The recipe for a healthier kid, and the adult they will become? Independent of all other factors (with acknowledgement of the challenges inherent in achieving some of these habits influenced by the social determinants of health):
1. Lots of fruits and veggies (and other good nutritional practices that go along with this).
2. Lots of movement (also tied to awareness around time engaged in sedentary activities like media use).
3. Lots of sleep (acknowledging its impact on stress reduction, growth, and immune system function).
How is your kid doing? How are you doing?
"Detox" is a word that gets thrown around these days with abandon. We are swimming in an environment laden with tens of thousands of untested and - in many cases - unregulated chemicals. And while your body has some really amazing mechanisms to process and eliminate the stuff that could harm you, in many cases, not only are we exposed to more chemicals than we evolved to deal with, we also tend to live lifestyles that impair our natural mechanisms to clear them. "Toxic burden" can result in conditions and symptoms ranging from eczema to headaches to chronic fatigue to behavioural or developmental concerns in kids. Children in particular are vulnerable to the impacts of toxin exposure due to their unique and immature biology and behaviour.
So what does "detox" mean? My goal with a detox is to minimize sources of chemicals in order to reduce what you're asking of your body, and to support the processes that it already has in place. Ideally, these strategies should be ongoing, and not necessarily only during an occasional "detox". Everyone in the family can participate in a gentle plan to promote detoxification and elimination, and spring is a great time to start! A comprehensive detox strategy includes four parts: reduction, diet, herbs and lifestyle. Let's start with the first part!
Imagine trying to clean out your garage while someone was dumping more clutter in through the back. It's not helpful to be putting more junk in while you're trying to clear it out! A household and lifestyle audit can help identify sources of chemicals.
1. Food: The Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” are excellent resources to support you in choosing what produce to buy organic. Ideally animal products should be organic, since many harmful chemicals bioaccumulate in higher amounts in animals than in produce. Eating more of a plant-based diet is also helpful for detox (more to come) and cheaper, making the more expensive organic selections easier to buy! Frequently eaten foods - especially for picky kids - should be prioritized as well. And make sure you check your local fish advisories!
2. Personal care products: Many products such as lotions, creams and soaps contain chemicals which are known to be problematic in humans. The EWG Skin Deep Cosmetic Database offers an accessible and user-friendly resource (mobile-friendly!) to rate your favourite products and select healthier options. The easiest offending ingredient to spot? Fragrance!
3. Cleaning: Household cleaning should be done with homemade cleaners or products identified as being of low toxic load. Dust should be removed via vacuum or wet-mop, and hands washed frequently (especially children’s) with soap and water (no "anti-microbial" products required!). Shoes should be removed when entering the home, and any solvents or chemicals used for occupation or hobbies (and clothes worn while using them) should be kept out of the home.
4. Household objects: Plastic toys and other items should be avoided, since plastics are a significant source of concerning chemicals - for us, and the rest of the planet! A simple strategy is to slowly start replacing all your plastic food containers and bottles with glass, Pyrex or stainless steel (done all at once, this can be pricey, but slowly over time, plastic can be squeezed out). Indoor spaces should be ventilated adequately and frequently (aka open up the windows and let the sunshine in!). Clothing (especially children’s) can be purchased second-hand to reduce exposure to flame-retardants - there are many terrific second-hand stores with a great selection at very affordable prices!
5. Transit and chores: Families can be encouraged to use cars less, and instead walk, bicycle or use public transit. This not only encourages physical activity (which promotes detoxification and elimination), but reduces emissions. Elbow grease should be encouraged, reducing the use of motor-powered mowers and blowers. On days identified as hiving high levels of particulate matter, it is advised to reduce outdoor activity during peak traffic hours.
Over the next few weeks, we'll explore the other elements of promoting optimal detoxification ... and if you just can't wait to learn more, pop by and see me or drop me a line!
So you've explored some strategies for reducing toxic burden in your household. Next up - revving up your detoxification and elimination capacity! Your body knows what to do. You are constantly processing chemicals - both those that your body produces all the time through everyday processes, and those that you take in from the outside world. Our goal this spring is to give your body a little extra support to do what it naturally does anyway. All of these suggestions can be safely incorporated into anyone's life - adults and kids alike!
If you took my quiz (here it is here!), you have an idea of which of these three components is best for you to focus on. Detox support can be highly individual, so if you're stumped on where to begin, come pay me a visit!
The first step? Always start with food:
Your liver, kidneys, lungs, lymphatic organs - those tissues that play such an important role in detoxification - require optimal amounts of essential nutrients. A "detox diet" requires a colourful, plant-based, whole-foods diet, free of artificial sweeteners, refined oils and any processed foods. The more colourful your diet is (think red peppers, purple beets, dark green kale, orange carrots, blueberries, white onions, etc.), the more diverse and abundant your intake of vitamins and bioflavonoids - chemicals found in plants that our bodies can use to optimize natural processes. A diet that is plant-based includes more of these nutrients AND more fibre - absolutely essential for binding and eliminating unwanted junk via our stool. A whole-foods diet avoids processed foods that gunk up the works and lets our elimination pathways focus on clearing anything that's already in our bodies without adding more to the burden.
What does this look like? Think homemade oatmeal with ground almonds and flax seeds for breakfast, with a green smoothie on the side. A leafy green salad for lunch with grated beets, carrots and apple, walnuts and some wild salmon. Homemade sushi wraps with cucumber, red pepper, avocado and organic tofu for dinner, with miso soup and seaweed on the side. Black bean dip with carrots for snacks. And lots of water - add some fresh lemon to it! Herbal tea can enhance the process when made from plants that support detoxification ... stay tuned for more on this!
Need more tips? Bring me your diet diary and we can plan it out together.