Apple Pecan Bacon Salad

Salads are so delicious in the summer!

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Use any assortment of lettuce and/or other greens.  Add chopped up apple, real bacon bits (or leftover bacon cut up) and candied pecans (you can make or buy them). Combine the following for the salad dressing:

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1.5 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp minced garlic

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1/3 cup avocado or olive oil

1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar

 

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): How does it differ from other eating disorders?  

As a Registered Dietitian that specializes in disordered eating, I see a wide variety of clients (both male and female and of varying ages) that struggle with food. While you have likely heard of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, how much do you know about ARFID?

What is ARFID?

ARFID stands for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (See DSM-5 for diagnostic criteria).  Individuals diagnosed with ARFID have developed a problem with eating or feeding which affects their ability to eat enough to meet their nutritional needs.  Food intake may be restricted based on the food’s taste, texture, smell, colour or past negative experience with the food.

As a result, children or teens may lose weight or not gain weight during growth or may not grow in height as expected. Adults may lose weight and/or not eat enough to maintain basic body functions. ARFID can cause social issues because individuals may have extreme anxiety with eating around other people and/or isolate themselves to avoid social situations that involve food.  Ie. At school or work lunches, holidays with family or gatherings with friends.

Examples of possible ways ARFID may present itself (with no other medical explanation):

  • A child/teen is an extremely picky eater since childhood + not gaining weight or growing.
  • Child/teen/adult had a negative past experience with choking or vomiting followed by a fear of eating solid foods.
  • Child/teen has abdominal pain that prevents them from eating enough + height has dropped or stopped on their growth curve.
  • Client is unnecessarily avoiding a long list of foods that they claim to be triggers for digestive symptoms, are very rigid and fearful of the restricted food/symptoms + losing weight.

What is not ARFID?

People with ARFID don’t typically fear weight gain and don’t have a distorted body image which are characteristics of other eating disorders.  (However, if left untreated ARFID can develop into anorexia or bulimia nervosa.)  Also, if inadequate food intake is better explained by a medical condition or limited access to food then this is not an ARFID diagnosis.

Don’t confuse ARFID with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  For example, an individual with OCD may not eat any raw food for fear of contamination. However, OCD and ARFID can co-occur together.

Remember ARFID is not the same as picky eating.  ARFID and eating disorders are a mental illness.  Ellyn Satter, Family therapist and Registered Dietitian says “Most problems with eating and feeding are not psychiatric disorders. They are problems, and, as such, they can be addressed by education or brief intervention conducted knowledgeably.” Therefore if you are unsure it is important to seek the advice of a health professional with good experience in the area of family feeding (for children), disordered eating and eating disorders.

Is a diagnosis needed before seeking support?

Knowing a diagnosis can be very helpful but it is not necessary nor the solution to recovery.  For example, a diagnosis can help guide which type of psychotherapy to use (ie. Cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, etc.) using evidence based guidelines for effectiveness.  However, often behaviors and symptoms are “grey” in terms of whether it is an eating disorder, type of eating disorder and/or whether other mental illness is a factor (ie. OCD, depression, ADHD, etc.).  This is why collaborating and referring to other experienced health professionals is crucial.  However, you can still successfully support someone with healthy change with or without an official diagnosis or while they are seeking out other supports and assessments.  Most important is supporting the individual and creating a plan specific to their needs and situation because even two people with the same diagnosis can have very different struggles, fears, behaviors, etc.

Treatment for ARFID:

Because ARFID is a relatively new diagnosis, the most effective treatment is still being studied.  Treatment must address any nutritional deficiencies, inadequate growth, weight loss and psychological concerns.  Some programs use nutrition counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy and/or family counseling for children/teens (and many other therapies are being explored).  Also treatment of other underlying conditions is important. Ie. anxiety disorder, OCD, ADHD, and autism are common.  This is why having a medical doctor, Eating Disorder Dietitian, and Psychotherapist (experienced in eating disorders) are all important professionals on a  support team.

Specifically when it comes to nutrition support, here are a few things I have found helpful for my clients with any eating issue including ARFID:

  1. Meet the client where they’re at. Every client is different even if they have the same diagnosis so you need to ask questions, be a good listener and individualize treatment plans with every client.
  2. Explore the home food environment and feeding relationship between the parent/caregiver and child. (Even if the client is an adult it is important to get their childhood food and feeding history.)
  3. Involve and educate the client’s supports (ie. parents, caregivers, spouses or other loved ones) in terms of eating and feeding no matter what age the client is.

Greek Chicken Skewers

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Our family has been making this recipe for years! It’s still one of my favourite recipes served with Greek salad, Tzatziki sauce and warm pita!

Ingredients:

4-5 large chicken breasts cut into 1 inch cubes

Marinade:

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 Tbsp liquid honey

1 Tbsp avocado or canola oil

1 Tbsp dry oregano (or 2 Tbsp fresh oregano minced)

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

1 Tbsp minced garlic

1/2 tsp black pepper (freshly ground is better)

Directions:

  1. Combine marinade ingredients in a glass bowl. Add chicken, stir and marinate in fridge for at least 2 hours or overnight.
  2. Thread chicken onto skewers and discard marinade. (Metal skewers are easiest because they do not burn.) Spray or grease a large piece of tinfoil and lay out on BBQ.  Cook until chicken is no longer pink in the center (turn occasionally).  OR broil on high on greased foil-lined cookie sheet in oven for approximately 4 minutes on each side (when broiling watch carefully because the chicken can burn fast).  Be careful not to overcook or chicken will be dry.

 

 

 

Cilantro Lime Chicken Bowls

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An easy family-friendly recipe that won’t disappoint!  Either dish out bowls or take a “build-your-own” approach and place all the ingredients out for your family to decide!  (FYI: If you are looking for a different homemade salad dressing – try this dressing recipe – it’s my favourite!)

Ingredients for Marinade and Dressing:

1/2 cup                             Lime juice

4 tsp                                  Balsamic vinegar

2/3 cup                             Olive or avocado oil

2 cloves                            Garlic, minced

2 Tbsp                               Honey

1/2 cup                             Cilantro leaves (stems removed, finely chopped)

Ingredients for Bowl:

~4                                      Chicken breasts

1 cup                                 Grape tomatoes, halved

1 (341 mL) can                Corn, kernels (or frozen corn heated)

1 (540 mL) can                Black beans, rinsed

1                                         Avocado, sliced

2 cups                               Uncooked brown rice (cook as per bag directions)

Optional                           Shredded cheddar cheese (as a topping)

 

Directions:

  1. Mix marinade/dressing ingredients by hand. *Use ½ for chicken marinade and save the other ½ for the dressing.
  2. Cut chicken breast into 1” cubes. Place in a glass dish or Ziploc bag with ½ of the marinade mixture. Marinate for at least 1 hour in the fridge.
  3. Meanwhile cook rice and prepare all your other bowl ingredients.
  4. Sauté chicken in a large pan on the stove over medium high heat. Cook until no longer pink.
  5. Layer rice, chicken and then other ingredients. Drizzle desired dressing on top!

 

Wild Game Nutrition

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I’ll be honest, I actually didn’t even like the taste of meat growing up… let alone experimenting with eating wild game.  As an adult, learning to cook and season meat to my preferences has helped me to now enjoy meat dishes but I do love some meatless meals as well.

After getting married, my husband started hunting and providing wild game meat for our family.  I’ve grown to feel more connected to our food source and really appreciate knowing where our meat is coming from.  Also, we have learned to process the meat and I actually feel better doing this ourselves as we waste very little, we are overly cautious with sanitization, we choose the cuts we prefer and what goes into the ground meat.  We have an extra deep freeze for the meat and I rarely have to buy meat from the store.  We have processed deer, elk and moose meat so far.  Currently, I have to say our family favourite is Elk meat as it is so lean and tender at the same time but also it has a milder flavor than other game so it is so versatile for any dish.

Since I didn’t grow up eating game meat, I have been challenged with the task of learning how to cook it.  (Actually I tried poorly made deer sausage once when I was little and thought it was gross.)  I think it’s important to note that wild game does not have to taste “gamey”.  You just need to know the best way to prepare and cook it depending on the type of game and different cuts.  I have made stew, burgers, tacos, spaghetti sauce, roasts, steaks, kabobs, chili, chorizo, smokies, jerky and pepperoni so far.

Nutritionally wild game meat is a great source of lean protein which is typically lower in total fat, saturated fat and calories than other red meat (See Nutritional Comparison below).  It’s suggested that the nutritional difference is due to game animals eating their natural vegetation and being more active in their wild habitat compared to farm raised animals.

Nutritional Comparison:

Meat

Quantity Calories Protein Fat

Saturated Fat

Deer (venison), roasted

100g

158 kcal 30.2g 3.2g

1.3g

Elk, roasted

100g

146 kcal 30.2g 1.9g

0.7g

Moose, roasted

100g

134 kcal 35.0g 1.3g

0.3g

Beef loin, sirloin, lean roasted

100g

178 kcal 29.3g 5.9g

2.4g

Beef loin, tenderloin, lean roasted

100g

194 kcal 30.9g 6.6g

3.0g

*Data from the Canadian Nutrient File

If you don’t hunt (or know someone that does), many farmers markets, specialty butcher shops and local restaurants carry game meat if you want to give it a try!

When is Mindful Eating an effective strategy for Eating Disorders?

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Mindful Eating is often promoted and supported in the treatment of eating disorders.  It is important to point out though that the majority of research and evidence for mindful eating has been focused on overeating, bulimia and binge eating disorder (BED).  Very few studies have looked at mindful eating and anorexia or other restrictive types of eating disorders.  (Please note: this article discusses “mindful eating” not to be confused with the broader practice of “mindfulness“.  Mindfulness may be taught by experienced eating disorder professionals and used for all types and stages of treatment.)

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindful Eating involves an intentional awareness of our food choices and paying attention to how we eat (focusing, limiting distractions, listening and trusting our body’s hunger/fullness cues).  Professionally I have seen the benefit of clients using mindful eating because it fosters a healthy non-judgmental relationship with food that supports flexibility and variety.

When is Mindful Eating not effective?

Many experienced eating disorder health professionals would agree that mindful eating is not appropriate or effective for people with anorexia in the early stages of treatment.  This may also be the case for other restrictive or extreme eating disorder cases.  Health professionals need to assess client appropriateness before utilizing a mindful eating plan.

6S’s to Assess:

  1. Safety: Have physical health indicators been checked? (ie. blood pressure, heart rate, blood work, electrolytes, etc.)  Is there a risk for refeeding syndrome?  Does the person need to be medically monitored in an inpatient program or hospital setting?  Is the individual self-harming in other ways?
  2. Supports:  Is a full support team in place including a therapist (and/or psychiatrist), medical doctor, and registered dietitian.  Is there family or other supports?
  3. Stability: Are mental and emotional health stable?   Is medication needed?  Is weight restoration needed?  Are basic nutritional needs being met?  A meal plan from a Registered Dietitian is often utilized to ensure adequate intake.
  4. Slowed Digestion: Has food been restricted for a prolonged period of time?  If so, digestion can be slowed and fullness reached really quickly with a very small amount of food.  In this situation, feeling “uncomfortably full” may be necessary in the refeeding or weight restoration process.  Hunger and fullness cues are often not relied on or trusted until nutritional needs are being met and sustained.
  5. Stress: Can the person tolerate stress? (and to what degree?) Stress and anxiety surrounding food and mealtimes can often create stomach discomfort which can be confused with physical fullness.  Initially distraction strategies are often used as a part of meal support because the goal of treatment is to just complete meals.  A trained therapist can help clients build resiliency, develop stress tolerance and differentiate between emotional and physical discomfort.
  6. Stage of Change: Does the person even think their eating disorder is a problem? Are they even contemplating change?  If not, mindful eating will not be effective.  Remember many people suffering with eating disorders will initially be forced into treatment or forced to seek support but are still in the precontemplation stage of change.

Most importantly when supporting someone with eating disorder recovery remember that there is never one best approach for everyone.  Eating disorders are very complicated and individualized treatment is absolutely necessary.

If you’re in the Calgary area and you’d like to learn more about nutrition counselling for eating disorder recovery you can book a free consultation here:  https://www.healthstandnutrition.com/request-a-consultation/

Or if you are looking for an eating disorder specialist in your area (in Canada), check out the National Eating Disorder Information Centre’s (NEDIC’s) Service Provider Directory:  http://nedic.ca/providers/search

*Photo credit: Brooke Lark

SKIP The Resolutions

Why commit to unrealistic short-term resolutions when they aren’t going to last?

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Here are some Red Flags that your resolution may not be suitable or effective for benefiting your health.

Your Resolution may not be a great choice if it:   

  1. Makes you feel deprived.

Ie. A fad diet.  It can fail because you really love carbs but the diet says you cannot eat them.  You avoid carbs for a while and then end up bingeing.

Instead: Focus on what you can add in (vs take out).  For example, including or increasing vegetables at lunch and dinner.

  1. Creates more stress in your life.

Ie. Counting calories.  It can fail because for some people it becomes obsessive and time consuming.  The focus on calories can take away from food satisfaction and trusting your body.

Instead: Focus on balancing your meal with protein, grain and vegetable(s) choices.

  1. Creates rigidity.

Ie. Food rules.  “I can only eat gluten-free, organic, dairy-free, clean, and sugar-free”.  It can fail because you are limiting your options so much (and unnecessarily unless there are food allergies, etc.) that you don’t know what to eat.

Instead: Allow yourself flexibility.  Maybe you aim to eat less sugar when you are at home but don’t worry about it when you are invited to your friend’s for supper.

  1. Has no evidence of improving your health.

Ie.  Doing a cleanse or detox.  It can fail because there is no evidence to show it improves health and in some cases can even be harmful.  Also, it’s not changing long term habits or behaviours.

Instead: Avoid harmful behaviours like binge drinking.  Seek out a credible regulated health professional such as a Registered Dietitian for evidence based health advice.

  1. Affects your sleep.

Ie.  Not eating enough in attempt to lose weight.  It can fail because lack of intake can interrupt sleeping patterns where you wake up at unusual hours from hunger.  Lack of sleep can affect hormones that can actually increase appetite.

Instead:  Learn to trust your body that it knows how much it needs to be nourished. Build awareness of your body’s hunger and fullness cues.

  1. Doesn’t fit into a reasonable schedule.

Ie.  Working out 7 days a week.  It fails because realistically you don’t have that kind of time and don’t enjoy the gym.

Instead: Focus on fewer days a week of quality exercise that you enjoy (group class or fun hockey league?) and then do something active with your family on the weekend.

  1. Creates disconnection and/or social isolation.

Ie.  Extreme eating patterns.  It can fail because you have to prepare a totally different supper than the rest of your family or you can’t eat at restaurants.

 Instead: Focus on creating healthy family meals and connecting with the people you are eating with.  You may find you eat slower, enjoy your food more and feel more satisfied!

Instead of resolutions think about:

  1. Starting now or anytime. Don’t wait for the New Year to make changes!
  2. Being realistic. Make small changes in your day-to-day routine.  You will see the benefits in the long-term.
  3. Finding support(s). Making changes with your spouse or a friend can be fun and encouraging (and help when you are feeling less motivated).  Also, accountability can be beneficial in supporting sustainable change.
  4. Avoiding extremes. No one needs to eliminate anything from their diet.  Look at what your food is providing you: a mix of nourishment and enjoyment.  It’s the frequency or quantity that may need to change.
  5. Avoiding diets. There is no point to eating from a diet plan that you know you can’t live with for the long-term.  Diets and diet culture may actually lead to more weight gain.
  6. Avoiding bad advice. Avoid advice from online celebrities, personal testimonials and people trying to sell you their product. Just because they are famous, popular or pop up in your online search does not mean they are health experts.
  7. Avoiding “all or none” thinking. There will be moments of getting off track – that does not mean you failed.  It’s when you allow your negative thoughts to keep you off track that leads to an unhealthy lifestyle.
  8. Taking a wholistic approach to health. Maybe your food intake and fitness are healthy but is stress being managed? Stress can impact physical health in so many ways. Ie. trigger IBS symptoms, affect hormones, etc.

What changes can you make in your day to day routine that will improve your health?

*Photo by Jordan Donaldson | @jordi.d on Unsplash

Is Eliminating World Hunger Possible?

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In honor of World Food Day, I felt inspired to write about something near and dear to my heart – World Hunger.

World Food Day promotes awareness and action for eliminating world hunger, ensuring food security and access to nutritious diets for everyone.  The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) actually has a goal of achieving “zero hunger” by 2030.

Some people may believe that eradicating world hunger is an unreachable or unattainable goal but hear this:

Reaching #ZeroHunger is possible: out of the 129 countries monitored by FAO, 72 have already achieved the target of halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015; over the past 20 years, the likelihood of a child dying before age five has been nearly cut in half, with about 17,000 children saved every day; extreme poverty rates have been cut in half since 1990.(fao.org)

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In the Spring of May 2000 I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to The Gambia, West Africa.  The group of University students that I went with lived and worked with The Sisters of the Presentation of Mary.  As an aspiring dietitian and nutrition student at the time, I was particularly interested in the nutritional aspect of feeding the hungry and sick.  We were able to help out in the schools, church and the hospital.  Never did I realize how life-changing this experience would be.

One of the most memorable days was working with The Sisters of Charity (Then Mother Teresa’s order of nuns and now Saint Teresa of Calcutta) at a malnourished children’s center.   The day we were there 28 children were present ranging from ~2-4 years old.  Some of the children had protruding stomachs (Kwashiorkor or bacterial infection?), some had severe stunting of growth and some also had disabilities.  We helped feed the children but also just held them or played with them as many were just seeking some love and attention (they would cry until you picked them up).

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Working at the hospital definitely took me out of my comfort zone and I experienced a very different reality than healthcare in Canada.  Another young woman and I were tasked to help in the kitchen and then help deliver the food to the hospital patients.  Tasks included peeling potatoes and carrots or helping out wherever needed.  We were sent with baskets of hard-boiled eggs to wards with beds with at least 2 children per bed (on either end).  One day by surprise they put a towel on my head, placed a very large pan of hot millet porridge with peanut butter mixed in (for protein) on my head and asked me to deliver it.  We walked across the street and into the hospital to several other wards this way. (I was so nervous I was going to spill!)  They had a 1 Week Cycle Menu at the hospital (this is not inclusive – only what I helped with and documented in my journal):

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My experience in Africa changed me forever and I (like many others doing this type of work) claim that “you always seem to gain more from it than you give”.  Experiencing a country with extreme poverty and starvation puts into perspective how much we have to be grateful for and definitely strengthened my faith.

Not everyone has the opportunity to volunteer in another country nor is it necessary.  However, whether you are helping to fight hunger in your own community or supporting an international organization, both are equally important.  Just know that ending World Hunger is possible!

3 International Organizations working on World Hunger: (that I have learned about recently)

  1. Mary’s Meals: www.marysmeals.ca 

Provides one good meal every school day to some of the world’s poorest children (where hunger and poverty prevent children from gaining an education).  Impressive: Focus on sustainability as Mary’s Meals buys locally sourced food to boost local economies.  By focusing on the education of children they are helping break the poverty cycle and aim for eventual self-sufficiency in the communities they are supporting.  Also, Mary’s Meals are very committed to keeping their running costs low.  For every $1.00 donated the organization spends a minimum of $0.93 on their charitable activities. (only 7 cents spent on governance and fundraising)

2. MANA: (Mother Administered Nutritive Aid) www.mananutrition.org

Develops and provides solutions to address severe cases of malnutrition in children. They produce a ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) made of a fortified peanut paste.  Impressive: MANA directly empowers mothers (most often in a village setting) to feed their children and prevent suffering or death from severe acute malnutrition.  It’s great to see a non-profit innovating therapeutic nutrition products and supporting groups to help local communities make their own RUTF.

3. Chalice: www.chalice.ca

Uses a direct family funding model to dispense sponsorship funds for a child’s education, nutrition and medical care.  Impressive: Each parent/guardian receives training in basic financial literacy (they are educated, supported and held accountable for funds spent) to help them manage their child’s sponsorship funds.  This encourages self-reliance and greater participation in their children’s education.  Over 90% of funds go directly to programs.  (Chalice received an “A” in Money Sense Charity rating.)

Are your meals a time of Connection or Dysfunction?

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Connection:

Food is much more than nourishment.  Sharing food is also about human connection. Some of my favourite memories are sharing meals with friends and family.

Like many families we have a very busy schedule with my husband’s irregular working hours and my boy’s swimming schedule so mealtimes are not always shared.  However, knowing the importance of family mealtime I take advantage of every opportunity we can to sit down and eat together.  While eating, I have my children’s attention and can ask them about their school day or activities.  Sometimes it’s a slow start but funny thing once one son starts sharing about their day, the other two typically want to share too. They often use the term “Breaking news” when they want to share something about their day as small as “what girl likes what boy” or “who got in trouble” (it’s never them – eyeroll).

Research has shown that simply sitting down at the kitchen table and sharing family meals has a positive impact on children and teenager’s development.  Children and teens that eat regular meals with their family have been shown to have improved food choices, better nutrient intakes, lower eating disorder risk, better social adjustment and improved school performance. Teens specifically involved in meal preparation have also been shown to have improved vegetable and fruit intake.

I believe that sharing meals for adults (with or without children) is equally important.  Personally I cherish the meals I get to share with my girlfriends, family friends, and coworkers.  It is a time to try new restaurants or experience new cuisine (that may be a bit too adventurous for my children).  More than that, it is a time to catch up, de-stress with laughter, get advice and possibly vent.  For many adults it provides a sense of belonging and community.  It allows us time to fulfill our desire to be heard, understood and affirmed in who we are.

Dysfunction:

The following are 3 mealtime struggles I commonly see in my practice:

1. Child Food Fights.

Mealtime should not be a regular battleground of tension, struggle and fighting.  Not uncommon to many families is the power struggle between parents and young children over food. Whether the concern is picky eating, eating too much/too little, etc.  If this is happening at your table, you may need to evaluate or seek guidance on changing your approach to childhood feeding.  Mealtime should be a calm and comfortable environment for children without pressure from grownups.  For example, meals should be a time where kids can feel free to try or not try new foods and finish or not finish everything on their plate.  “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” -Ellyn Satter (Childhood feeding expert, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Family Therapist)

2. Dieting Disruption.

When a parent(s) is dieting it disrupts the unity and enjoyment of sharing the meal.  I’m not talking simply cutting down portions but eating in a totally different way than the rest of the family or eating at a different time.   Others will have a list of “food rules” of what they can or cannot eat.  With chronic dieting “You have forgotten what you really like to eat and instead eat what you think you should eat.” -Evelyn Tribole (Intuitive Eating: A revolutionary program that works)  A dieting parent may never eat dessert or call themselves “bad” when they do.  Children have watchful eyes and ears that pick up on parental behaviours.  This can lead children to question their own food choices and whether “they need to lose weight or diet too”.  Just like in many other areas of life, children need their parents to be role models with eating.  Instead of dieting focus on healthy behaviours that can benefit the whole family.  For example, focus on balancing the family meal better by offering more vegetable options.

3. Eating Disorder Destruction.

Nothing breaks my heart more than seeing eating disorders rip families apart.  A family member so ill with their eating disorder that mealtime becomes a battleground of control and frustration.  The individual may be so overwhelmed with anxiety and fear that they basically “shut down” at the table.  For some people struggling with an eating disorder, their fears of eating around others or eating food that they did not prepare becomes so terrifying that they socially isolate themselves from friends, colleagues and their own family.  They miss birthday parties, BBQ’s, holiday celebrations, school and/or work events.  For single people, they may avoid dating and meeting new people for fear that food may be involved.  Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that destroy the natural human connection fostered at mealtime and instead create a disconnect and isolation from others.  If you suspect you or your loved one has an eating disorder – reach out for help right away.  The sooner a person receives support and treatment for an eating disorder, the better the recovery outcomes.

Links to useful resources:

Eating Disorders: http://www.nedic.ca

Freedom from Chronic Dieting: http://www.intuitiveeating.org

Childhood Feeding: http://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org

*Seek support if you or your family is experiencing struggles at mealtime.  Look for a Registered Dietitian and therapist that specializes in your area of concern.

Easter Blessings – Food for the Soul

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This Easter weekend I returned to my Ukrainian roots and took part in the Blessing of Easter baskets.  Easter and the Holy Week leading up to it, has always been a very special time of year for me.  Growing up in the Ukrainian Catholic faith, we had so many faith-filled traditions with deep-rooted meaning and many involving food.   I still have fond memories of all of our extended family celebrating at the table with the basket of blessed food.

As a dietitian, Easter is a good reminder to me that food is so much more than nourishment.  Sharing food is also about human connection.  It is a way that people connect on a social and cultural level.  Sharing meals establishes a sense of stability, security, togetherness and belonging that not only benefits children but adults as well.

The day before Easter on Holy Saturday, Ukrainians prepare a basket of food for their families and then have it blessed by the priest at their church. The Easter basket symbolizes the joy and gratitude marking the end of Lent.  After the Easter Sunday Divine Liturgy the food is eaten in celebration of the Resurrection of Christ.  Not a morsel of food is thrown away because everything is blessed.  (Even the egg shells are ground up and often put in the dirt outside with the plants.)  The basket contains specific foods and items that symbolize different aspects of our Christian faith:

Pascha: 

  • symbolizes Jesus Christ and the joy of the new life He has given to us
  • a sweet white bread rich in eggs decorated with braids, crosses, etc.

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Candle: 

  • symbolizes Christ as “the light of the world”
  • made of beeswax and lit during the blessing

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Eggs:

  • symbolizes Christ’s death and resurrection
  • Pysanky are intricately decorated eggs

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  • Krashanky are hard-boiled eggs often dyed and meant to be eaten

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Butter: 

  • symbolizes the goodness of Christ which we need to reflect to others

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Ham: 

  • symbolizes the great joy and abundance of Easter

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Kobasa:

  • symbolizes God’s favour and generousity

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Cottage Cheese:

  • the blandness symbolizes the moderation that we should cultivate in our daily lives

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Salt:

  • symbolizes that we are followers of Christ and the meaning of life is to live according to the Gospel
  • a reminder of Christ’s words: “You are the salt of the earth.”

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Horseradish:

  • symbolizes the passion and death of Christ and the bitterness of sin

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Embroidered Cloth Cover: 

  • symbolizes Christ’s shroud (white linen)
  • (this cloth is usually embroidered with an image of the risen Christ, a cross or other appropriate symbol or words)

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I feel blessed to have a heritage so rich in customs and traditions that has brought me so many fond childhood memories.  Whatever your culture or customs may be, I encourage you to keep them alive with your family and pass on these beautiful and meaningful traditions to your children!

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