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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Nutrition Fail – My 1st Marathon

I’m sharing this personal experience with hopes that it might save someone from the mistake I made…

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On May 27, 2012 I ran my first full marathon.  My goal was sub 4 hours which I thought was reasonable for being a busy mom of 3 young boys.  I followed a training plan and ran the appropriate mileage each week.  As a Registered Dietitian I paid attention and knew nutrition was important especially for the full marathon distance.  I was careful to hydrate, get my electrolytes in on long runs, paid special attention to carbohydrates and recovery nutrition (including carbs and protein).  For ease, I trained using water, energy gels and sports drinks.

Race day was a cool cloudy day.  I felt ready but anxious.  The start was congested but I managed to make my way into my own space after a few kilometers.  It wasn’t a flat course by any means but I managed the hills (I am from Saskatchewan after all) and was thankful for my hill training.  The atmosphere was enjoyable with people cheering you on and I had some good laughs at the signs created by spectators.

I felt good overall until near the end of the race when fatigue starting setting in.  Honestly, the thought of choking back another energy gel was enough to make me want to vomit.  So I didn’t.  Big mistake.

From what I remember around the last 5km mark I bonked and bonked hard.  Some may call it “Hitting the wall”.  I basically felt like I had a sack of bricks tied to my feet and legs – they were so heavy and difficult to lift.  From a mental perspective, I started to feel delusional and just “out of it”.  Someone asked me why I just didn’t sprint the last 100 meters and honestly it would have been physically and mentally impossible.  After I crossed the finish line I almost fell over and didn’t feel right until I ate some cookies and drank some sports drink at the food tents.

In case you are wondering, somehow I still met my goal of sub 4 hrs (my chip time was 3hrs:59min:58sec) and I was still happy about meeting my goal.  However, questions will always remain – how at risk was my health and safety? and if I hadn’t messed up my nutrition plan – what could my time have been?

In the end, I learned a valuable lesson and want to share it with others.  Have a nutrition plan, don’t think you can get away with skipping the carbs, and train with some different options.  Otherwise your safety and performance will suffer.

5 Nutrition Tips for New Marathoners:

  1. Forget Low-Carb: Low carb diets are not for distance runners.  Distance runners need carbohydrate stores called glycogen which fuel long runs.  Simply put-if you are not eating enough carb daily to meet your basic needs, you will not store any glycogen to fuel your long runs.
  2. Train with a Nutrition Plan:  You need to practice your fluid and fuel strategies during training runs in order to assess your body’s tolerance (ie. digestive upset, cramping, etc.).  For runs 1-2.5 hours: 30-60g of carbohydrate is recommended per hour.  For longer runs >2.5 hours: up to 90g of carbohydrate per hour.  Adequate hydration is always essential and electrolyte replacement is recommended for running 1 hour or longer.
  3. Vary Carb Sources: to prevent flavour/taste fatigue.  Taste buds can get tired too which makes it very difficult to choke down another sweet gel.  Train with a few options.  Varied carb sources may also be of benefit to achieve higher carbohydrate absorption rates and therefore enhance performance.
  4. Don’t forget Recovery Nutrition: Have a recovery snack high in carbohydrate with a modest amount of protein within 20-30min.  Then have a balanced meal ~1hour later.
  5. See a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist if you have Questions: It is very important to look for the credentials RD or PDt after the health professional’s name or ask if they are a Dietitian.  In many provinces the title “Nutritionist” is not protected so someone could call themselves a “Nutritionist” with little or no education and without accountability to a regulatory body.  Registered Dietitians have many different specialties so seek out someone with sports nutrition experience.

Check out these links to useful resources:

The No-Fail Breakfast Method

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It’s 6am.  You rise from your bed well rested and bright eyed ready for the day ahead.  You have plenty of time to prepare your gourmet balanced breakfast as you brew your coffee and listen to your favourite tunes.   As you watch the sunrise out on your back deck, you mindfully eat your delicious meal and sip your warm latte feeling peaceful before heading off to work…

Realistic?  Probably not.  I work with a lot of clients who say they skip breakfast because they are rushed in the morning, do not feel hungry, feel physically sick if they eat, or it’s just become a habit.  However, I find that if you set yourself up properly there is no need or excuse to miss breakfast.

“The No-Fail Breakfast Method” focuses on planning for 3 scenarios to set you up for success:

  1. Home Breakfast – Ideal to eat before you leave for the day so that you can eat in a relaxed, non-distracted setting.  This way you can eat slowly and have fuel before you start expending energy.
  2. On the Go Breakfast – Some mornings are a little more rushed and scattered to get out the door.  Use less time by preparing a quick portable option and eating it on the commute.
  3. Back-up Plan Breakfast – There are always some unpredictable events in the morning (ie. alarm mishaps, dog barfs, bad weather, etc.) so as a last resort when breakfast is totally missed have a few options already stored and available at the office (or your school locker).

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1. Home Breakfast Ideas:

  • Breakfast burrito with scrambled egg, veggies, salsa in a whole grain wrap
  • Oatmeal with berries/nuts or Overnight oats (make ahead the night before)
  • Homemade muffin, fresh fruit salad and cottage cheese
  • Leftovers from last night’s supper

2. On the Go Breakfast Ideas:

  • Homemade trail mix with nuts/seeds+dried fruit+dry cereal (pre-portion it ahead of time into containers and leave in your car/bag)
  • Smoothie with fresh or frozen fruit, spinach or kale, greek yogurt and milk
  • Banana and nut butter sandwich or on a whole grain wrap
  • Greek yogurt parfait with berries and muesli

3. Back-up Plan Breakfast Ideas:

  • Plain instant oatmeal packets that you can easily make with hot water at the office and add-in some nuts/dried fruit or an unsweetened fruit cup.
  • Nut butter (that doesn’t need to be refrigerated) on whole grain crackers
  • High fibre low sugar cold breakfast cereal (with milk if your office has it for coffee)
  • If you have an office fridge – keep a few pre-peeled hard-boiled eggs, fresh fruit and/or Greek yogurt handy for the week ahead.

Every BODY needs Boundaries

canstockphotogirlAs a Registered Dietitian, I have been seeing people struggling with weight and eating disorders for over 14 years. I have seen first-hand how one comment about a person’s body or weight can have such a negative impact (sometimes for the rest of their life). I’ve seen single comments reinforce damaging dieting cycles, disordered eating, eating disorders, feelings of worthlessness and poor self-esteem.

More recently in the media, we have seen terms such as “fat-shaming”, “thin-shaming”, and even women being mocked for their post-pregnancy bodies. I remember being teased in elementary school, called “flat as a board” for having no breasts. No one seems immune. I’m always left wondering, why do we feel the need to comment on a person’s body?

Most people are so unaware how their comments affect others. Sometimes the comment is innocent or even intended to be a compliment. Other times people think they are being helpful or some intend to be hurtful. Some people just don’t think before they speak. But because I work with people on the aftermath of repairing their relationship with food and body image, I see a great need to work on awareness and prevention.

Reasons not to comment on a person’s body:

1. We don’t know their situation.  A friend of mine went through a difficult time with her Dad slowly dying of cancer in the hospital. He couldn’t eat and was basically wasting away. As she was grieving, she had a hard time eating, ended up unintentionally losing a significant amount of weight and was not healthy. A few years later she ran into someone she did a yoga class with during that difficult time. The woman said to her “Are you not doing yoga anymore? Because you looked so good when we were doing that class.”

My friend’s first reaction was a mix of emotions from anger to hurt to grief. She herself knew she was much healthier now but the comments left a sting. Then it was like a flood of old disordered eating, body image, and dieting thoughts came over her.

We need to think about how our comments can really affect people’s well-being.

2. You can’t judge a person’s health by their size.  Our world needs to prioritize and value health over weight. People come in all shapes and sizes. Thinness does not equal health. Overweight and obese people can be healthier than thin people. Also, just because someone is skinny doesn’t mean they have an eating disorder and not all people with eating disorders look extremely thin.

For people with eating disorders, negative behaviors (ie. Restricting, binging and purging, etc.) can be reinforced by random people that tell them they are “looking good” when in reality they are extremely ill mentally and physically.

An eating disorder client that I was seeing who was severely malnourished, finally had reached a turning point and seemed motivated for recovery. A few days later, they bumped into an old friend they had not seen in a while, who to my horror said “Wow! You look amazing!” This client was left feeling so confused and frustrated – it took a long time before they could get back on track with recovery.

3. Respect others: Be a good example.  Commenting on a stranger’s body can affect others as well. Whether it’s discretely talking about a passerby or making comments while watching TV.

I had a client share with me how affected she is personally when her husband comments on other women’s bodies. “Look how big her butt is!” It makes her feel really self-conscious about her own body and feeds her body-dissatisfaction.

This is important for children as well. I was shocked to hear a 7 year old girl calling herself “fat”! Where is this learned at such a young age? Listening to a parent’s conversation is a common way children are misinformed and learn that weight and body image equal self-worth. Parents are the biggest role models and have to be aware of what they are saying about others and themselves.

4. It’s none of our business.  On a personal note, I have had some struggles with body image post-pregnancy. My stomach muscles never fused back together after gaining a fair amount of pregnancy weight and having 3 C-sections. So although I am a healthy weight, my flat stomach never returned and still bulges out 7 years later. I try to find flattering clothes to hide it but every once in a while I have an unpleasant reminder that it still exists…

In the middle of an exercise class our fitness instructor started showing the alternative way of doing exercises if you were pregnant- I didn’t think too much of it but after class to my horror she asked me outright in front of others “are you expecting?”. I muttered a polite “no” trying to pretend I wasn’t offended. But I was devastated and humiliated- just when I thought I was starting to accept my body!

Another time, I had a colleague ask me “Did you lose weight? You look great!”   I told her no- I was actually trying to work on my strength and build muscle. It was an awkward conversation. I felt good about being a little more assertive but wouldn’t most people be left wondering, “did she think I needed to lose weight?”

5. Long-term Damage.  Sometimes all it takes is one person or one comment that is never forgotten.

I met a woman who has been struggling with anorexia for 20 years because of a family member teasing her as a child about being chubby. For one lady it only took a single comment from a parent that she would look prettier if she lost a little weight…she has never forgotten. She has battled with poor self-esteem and self-worth, yo-yoing in weight with endless cycles of dieting. Another young man is now suffering from bulimia. He told me it all started as a teenager when his competitive sport’s coach said he would perform better if he lost 10lbs (even though he was already at a healthy weight).

On occasion, I also hear about health professionals that comment on people’s size or weight in an insensitive manner. Sometimes talking to parents about their children’s weight concerns in front of the child (children are listening). Or one lady tells me of a Dr.’s appointment where she was labelled as “obese” according to the BMI scale. She has been struggling with weight for several years and the classification did not help her. Instead of getting help and support, she went home and cried.

 What should we say?

Here are a few tips to making positive comments:

1. Anyone: Even if you think someone has lost weight, don’t comment on it. You don’t know their circumstances. There’s other more meaningful ways to compliment someone (and build self-worth):

Friend: Thank them for always cheering you up or making you laugh.

Old acquaintance: Tell them you miss hanging out or just a simple- “it’s great to see you!”

Colleague: Tell them how much you enjoy working with them.

2. Parents: Focus on your children’s internal qualities. For example, compliment them on their kindness, generosity, etc. Help build their sense of self-worth outside of their external appearance.  Even if your child is overweight, focus on being a good role model and celebrating your child’s healthy behaviours. Never single out one child or make comments on your child’s body or weight. Also, do not encourage dieting of any sort.

3.Coaches: Have a health professional provide education for your entire group of athletes (ie. Registered Dietitian who specializes in sports). Focus on healthy eating for performance and recovery but also positive body image. Do not comment on an individual athlete’s body or need to lose weight.

4.Medical/health professionals: Be sensitive to the fact that weight does not equal calories in vs. calories out. Weight is multifactorial. Also, eating disorders affect people of every body size and shape. Have information and supports available if your patient needs help. Seek out continuing education on eating disorders, weight bias and stigma.

5.Personally: Be aware of your own boundaries and be assertive if someone comments on your size/body or someone else’s. Tell them it’s inappropriate!