Exclusively yours

To my dear babe as you start solids,

Nursing you has been a joy and a test, for which I was unprepared. You are not my first child to nurse, but just as a parent has a unique relationship with each child, so too was our nutritional bond. I had been to the trenches and back nursing your sister and while I wouldn’t want to relive those days, I am forever thankful for all that I learned through them. With you, I knew what was worth my worry and what would simply take some time. I learned that I am capable of producing ample, at times excessive, milk to nourish a growing infant, something I was not sure was possible the first time around. And you loved to nurse, day and night, more than anything else. I was overcome with the fulfillment of those moments, the simplicity of knowing there was (almost) no problem that could not be solved with nursing. It was easy in so many ways: you and I, together, and all was right with the world.

If only the world could have conformed to that idyllic vision, the demands of life and daily schedules and other family to be ignored indefinitely. While I loved those moments of togetherness, they began to weigh me down. Your tiny body in my lap, so warm, so sweet, so innocent, became an anchor keeping me in the storm. The responsibility of being your only lifeline, your only comfort became crushing. After our peaceful moments, when reality would rush in, I was overwhelmed and lost. I was losing me, who I was, who I needed to be for myself and for others. I love our bond, I love that I could be your everything; I do not love that I could be only your everything.

Today you happily eat every bite-size morsel in sight. I love your eagerness to expand your palate while you continue to enjoy nursing. I looked forward to this time for so long, for the freedom it would inevitably bring. I am happy and feeling myself again, but it is bittersweet all the same. For better or worse, there is no going back. I will never again have the answer to all of your problems, but I have more of me, and others behind me, to help you through any struggle.

No longer exclusively yours,

Mom

Nutrition Month 2017: take the fight out of food

March is special for many dietitians in many ways: fiscal year-end at many of our workplaces, renewal time for College and national association memberships, a mad scramble to get in those last few continuing education points (or find the paperwork for those lunch and learns you’re certain you did THIS year). Oh, and nutrition month! A month to spotlight the importance of good nutrition for every person; a month to showcase dietitians and the wonderful and varied work they do throughout the country. Many local municipalities and provincial/territorial governments release official proclamations for this month every year, and nutrition month events can be found almost anywhere a dietitian works.

Have you heard of nutrition month? Maybe you’ve seen the posters in a local healthcare provider’s office. Did you know that each year there is a new theme? This year the focus is all about renewing our relationship with food, whether that means figuring out where to find safe and trustworthy nutrition advice, making mealtime and food decisions less of a battle ground (for yourself or for others), or learning to eat in a way that is both pleasurable and helps manage your health conditions. Because eating well doesn’t (and shouldn’t) mean forbidden foods, unsafe diets, mealtime meltdowns, or bland and boring meals. There are so many great resources to check out, including the official Nutrition Month 2017 materials at www.dietitians.ca, the Nutrition Summit 2017 at www.nutritionacademy.co, your favourite dietitian’s blog (don’t have one yet? find a new one here), and I’ll be doing my part to make nutrition the star of the month.

Bon appetit!

Resolutions for self

I’ve never been great at long-term planning and goal setting. I’m becoming increasingly skilled at short-term organizational goals (sort of a necessity to keep my household from falling into complete disarray) but grand, overarching plans for the future have been something I’ve bucked ever since I was expected to write outlines for essays ahead of time. Seriously, if the essay wasn’t going to flow out of my pen in one shot fully formed, then it wasn’t going to be written. Also, why think about an assignment casually when you have ample time to prepare when instead you could have the sweet flames of a deadline licking at your back as the best possible creativity generator? But, I digress. Recently, now that I’m realizing that I am in fact a fully fledged adult and that perhaps life would be a little easier if I finally accept some of these behaviours, I am working in earnest towards some professional and personal lifestyle goals. My most recent success was in 2015 when I managed to post a new article every day for November. Last year I tried again but as anyone who followed that endeavour will know, it turned out only to be a brief affair.

We are now solidly into the new year and the time for making resolutions for 2017 has passed, but we are still in the prime of resolution breaking season. It is no secret that many goals will not see the ball drop the following New Year’s Eve; most won’t be remembered past mid-January. There are a lot of reasons why goals don’t materialize, poor planning, low motivation, and low self-efficacy being chief among them. Think about the kinds of goals that tend to be set: they are dramatic, long-term, pass-fail, and frequently carry heavy moral judgements on the character of the person setting the goal. Something along the lines of “this year I will accomplish a lot and change myself entirely”. They might sound great as one shares a tipsy dance to Auld Lang Syne under a starry sky, but it’s not the stuff that real, lasting change or accomplishment is made of. As I always had a hard time coming up with goals and knew I was unlikely to keep them anyway, I gave up on this sort of thing years ago.

None of this is to say that change is bad, quite the contrary. Especially in our lifestyle and our health, change towards healthier, more centred living often provides a wealth of benefits, many unexpected. The thing is, sustained change is hard. If the desire for the outcomes of our efforts was enough to make them reality, most of us would certainly have drastically different lives. The draw of our comfortable and safe old habits is, in most cases, strong enough to bring us right back where we started or even stop us from taking that first step. Setting small, realistic, and sustainable goals in conjunction with planning one’s life to facilitate change is essential. So to is avoiding feeling like or calling one’s self a failure – rarely the motivator Hollywood makes this strategy our to be. Goals based on heavy restriction are generally a recipe for disaster.

Whether one made resolutions or not, whether they are still going or have been quietly tucked away for another year, if you are still looking for some change, I have three suggestions. As I’ve said before, my nutrition advice is rarely sexy but it’s probably likely to help get you where you’re going. I promise, no restriction.

  1. Drink water. Just water. Sometimes with a bit of lemon, sometimes with some herbal tea if you like. Have other beverages too if you like, but reach for water first. No need to guzzle gallons daily, but if you feel tired, hungry, headachy, “off”, or just can’t remember the last time you had some, try it. The worst thing that will happen is that you’ll have to pee. Which you should be doing regularly anyway.
  2. Eat fibre. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, seed, nuts. Eat what you want, just try to incorporate more of these items daily. Start small and add more. High fibre foods certainly have more texture than their processed counterparts, but adding in fibre won’t (shouldn’t) make everything taste like cardboard.
  3. Get some physical activity. Move your body as much as you can through the day. If structured exercise or classes or crossfit gyms do it for you, wonderful, but there’s no need to be active specifically in those ways, particularly if you’re just starting out. Just find ways to move, and celebrate your success when you do it.

As I slowly adjust to parenting two small kids and the fatigue and hormone induced anxiety they bring in addition to mulling my future paths, I find physical activity the best management technique to keep me somewhat balanced. My new goal is to be on my treadmill most days of the week for 20 minutes. I’m also committed to walking my children to outings and lessons as a default in place of using the car. This may change once I’m back at work, so I’m thinking ahead to be flexible with my goals once my circumstances change. So far, so good. I’ve definitely had some backsliding weeks, but I’m still going and my goals for myself do not weigh on my shoulders.

A political post

The results of the American presidential election have left me in a state of disbelief and uncertainty. Though November 9th started with a sunrise, as every other day, it felt more like an eerily realistic dream where something isn’t quite right. I know the results to be true, but believing for so long that this result couldn’t possibly happen, I’m still waiting to wake up. Perhaps I should have known better. The fact remains that I am now rocked, truly concerned for the state of the world my children will inherit. I’m Canadian, living a very privileged and comfortable life. I can only begin to imagine how those who have been openly and repeated targeted by Trump and his supporters are feeling today.

I did two things I’ve never done today. First, I told my daughter that the new president is not a good person. I would not do this in any other circumstance, but she asked who he was while watching me scroll through my news feed and my emotions got the better of me. I wish I could explain to her in some more nuanced way that I can’t fully make a judgement about him as I’ve never met him but he espouses ideas and actions set to limit the rights of many innocent people and thus we view him unfavourably, but that’s a little beyond her comprehension level. Luckily, her favourite comic book series ran a story paralleling the presidential race, so she could understand some of our concern. Second, I wrote to my member of parliament. I was feeling helpless but wanting to take some sort of action to help right the wrong, as it were. Of course, there is nothing he, nor I, can do to change the result down south, but there are things he can do in our own federal government. I want my voice to be heard, but more importantly, it is now, more than ever, so important to be aware of what our elected officials are doing and ensure they are acting in the interests of the constituents. A common theme surfacing during the post election analysis is citizen disenfranchisement and distrust of the political machine. We must also keep in mind that if we do not engage, as is our right, and leave politics to its own devices, this deepens the divide between the “elites” and the “prols”. To be clear, I do not intend to blame the victims and there are innumerable systems in place that make it difficult for marginalized people to have their voices heard. That is not true for me, so how can I stand by and assume someone else will get engaged and fix our societal woes while I turn back to my comfortable white, middle class world?

To those who voted for Trump out of desperation, I didn’t understand at first, but I’m starting to. I don’t agree – especially as so many of his promises are ill-prepared short term solutions at best – but I can see how one could feel so much like life as we know it is being ripped away that we cling to whatever will bring it back.

To those who voted to Trump for radical change, or as some are saying, to burn this thing to the ground, I hear the frustration but there are better ways to get rid of the captain than sinking the ship with all the passengers on board.

To those who voted Trump because they agree with his values and because he “says what we’re all thinking”, in that statement alone you’ve said enough about yourself that I cannot respect your values or opinions.

To those who were hoping Trump would not win, my heart goes out to you.

To the smug Canadians watching this unfold from above the 49th parallel, basking in the glow of our handsome young Prime Minister and taking in all the free health care we can get, don’t for one minute think that Trump-style politics couldn’t happen here. One member of Parliament, Conservative Party of Canada leadership hopeful, has already expressed her desire for his message to make its way north. We are not immune simply because we have more than two political parties and because we’re so polite. Engage, make your values heard, be aware of those who cannot speak for themselves and work to ensure ALL Canadians have the opportunities and basic necessities that currently only some of us enjoy.

Dinner, with a side of exhaustion

Getting a meal on the table three times a day – or up to six times a day with small kids – is tough. I talk about food, meal planning, and cooking all day long and even still, I often find myself unsure of what to prepare each night. Add in the challenges of managing a hungry toddler (or a few) and the fatigue of pregnancy, stress, illness, or an overly full extracurricular calendar, and preparing a fresh meal at home can feel an insurmountable task. As a result, fast food, take out, prepared meals and processed instant dishes – once an occasional treat or time saver – have become staples in many households. I won’t get into the details of the potential health risks of consuming a diet high in processed foods (at least not in this post). Suffice to say that most people understand that it is not the best health choice, but other priorities or realities of life discourage increased cooking at home.

So how do we manage all the demands on our time and energy and still eat well? Barring hiring a nutrition focused personal chef, there are a few things that we can do to make it a little easier.

  1. Be kind to yourself. There certainly is a difference between a simple supper and a gourmet meal, but the latter is not necessarily (or at all) healthier than the former. In our instagram-pinterest-snapchat world of beautiful food everywhere we turn, we start to believe that all meals must look like that and include heirloom-this and truffle-infused that. They don’t.
  2. Lock in the basics. Include a protein source, a carbohydrate, and veggies and fruits. Add some dairy or alternative if you like. This helps you and the family feel satisfied and stay well nourished. Simple examples: chicken breast, salad, rice, or eggs, tomato and avocado slices, and hash browns.
  3. Go for cold meals or one-pot meals. Try a sandwich, a fruit and some veggie sticks and cheese or a glass of milk and you’re golden. Or go for pasta with tomato and meat/lentil sauce. Try a greek chickpea pasta salad for a warm and cold option. Breakfast for supper is one of my personal favourites: pancakes, eggs, and fruit or a smoothie.
  4. Take advantage of convenience items. Pre-washed and cut vegetables, whole rotisserie chickens, canned beans and fish, marinated meat skewers and grill-ready veggies, frozen fruits and stir-fry mixes. I am the first to admit that I used to ridicule the existence of these items, but truly they are just as healthy as freshly prepped versions and they shave a lot of time and stress off of meal prep at home.
  5. Batch cook when you can. If you’re making soup, make a larger batch and keep some for a busy night. If you’re baking chicken breast, make some extra for another night.
  6. Plan to go out or order in sometimes if you can afford it. Again, cut yourself some slack. For the first two weeks of each of my childrens’ lives we ate almost exclusively take-out food. If you plan ahead for eating out, you’re more likely to choose foods that will help rejuvenate your energy, rather than  last minute choices that don’t sit so well.

My best advice, try not to overthink it. You’ll be fine. Bon appetit.

Emotional work

At the risk of stating the obvious, parenting is hard. So hard. And apparently it gets harder with each child. For us, having two kids isn’t like 2x the work, more like x2 the work. There is so much more to do, and seemingly fewer hours and hands with which to do it all. Every once in a while I start to feel like I have it all together, like I’m finally doing more than just treading water in this new chapter. These moments are fleeting, and are generally proceeded by destruction and chaos to rival the apocalypse. Hell hath no fury like a preschooler told “no”.

The physical caring for and carrying of everything and everyone is certainly exhausting, but thankfully for Canada’s maternity leave policy and stable employment I have the luxury to adjust while not being at work. The hardest part though, is trying to hold it together emotionally on a daily basis. First off, the fatigue and hormones throw almost all sense of stability and balance out the window. Any shreds of emotional fortitude remaining are quickly consumed by constant worry about my childrens’ wellbeing, needing to hold fast during tantrums and meltdowns, and trying to be a pillar of support and perseverance while my heart breaks for my child. The hardest part is trying to ensure that I’m not just going through the day, but that I’m taking advantage of the moments to teach lessons and instill values. I love this idea in theory, but in practice it is the most taxing task I’ve undertaken in life. In those moments, to find the wherewithal to find the right thing to say, or to stick with a decision or consequence previously stated, or sometimes to not say anything will run the well dry. And then, 30 seconds later, I have to do it again. And again.

So often I feel like I (have tried not to) fight so many battles and reinforce so many lessons that I don’t even really know what I’m saying anymore, and I highly doubt anything has been effective. At least it feels like what I’m doing is ineffective, considering the number of times I repeat myself. When you only have a few tools and you’ve used them all, or worse, when you feel you have no options to deal with what is going on, it can be so lonely, so helpless, like watching the tsunami roll in. Of course, it isn’t always like that, but those are the moments that stick out; those are the moments I dread in the future. Then there is the issue of modelling the life, actions, behaviours I want my children to have. Because this entails facing my own fears, beliefs, biases, all those things I had ignored or neatly tucked away instead of resolving. I am reminded of this daily as I see in my daughter the things about myself I would rather remain hidden.

Putting pen to paper, so to speak, about these feelings brings it’s own anxiety and fear of judgement. As for so many, I’ve been trained to expect critique – not praise or encouragement – for all my parenting choices and to believe that my inefficacies as a parent, however small, make me a failure overall. Mommy guilt is a club you join the moment the child enters your life, whether you want to participate or not. It insidiously forces itself upon you and much like those product subscription clubs, it keeps sending you overpriced, unwanted packages that are nearly impossible to return. Of course I know there is no validity to these societal norms and my loved ones will not be the ones pointing any fingers. I know that it’s okay to feel how I feel and I know that my feelings are pretty normal and rational. I know that I’m not alone. That guilt, though, does certainly make it hard to keep pumping at the emotional well.

Patient and provider

I recently had a baby (a common theme through many of my recent posts) and as such I was followed closely by health care professionals for the last year. First by my family doctor, then by my obstetrician, and now by my childrens’ pediatrician. For the record, all three providers are great and I’m very happy with my and my childrens’ care. All of them know I am a dietitian. As nutrition is an important topic in both pregnancy and early childhood, and I have a history of anemia in pregnancy coupled with our vegetarian diet at home, I talk about nutrition a lot with all these providers. Or moreso, they talk to me (or don’t) about my/our diet. It’s always interesting for me to be on the receiving end of nutrition advice, particularly from non-dietitians. Sometimes they explain in depth important nutrients and sources there of, sometimes they make vague suggestions and say something along the lines of “you know what to do”, and sometimes they ask me no nutrition questions at all.

My personal favourite response is the second one. I struggle with feelings of frustration when providers get very detailed canada’s-food-guide at me. My initial reaction is “geez, this is what I do for a living, I got this”; I’m trying now to see this instead as helpful for patients without my particular background and hope that this same explanation is, in fact, offered to everyone. When I was younger and more naive, I would prefer the third response (because I’m a DIETITIAN) but now I do hope to still be asked. First, I’m not a nutrition expert in all fields, and there are many areas I am out of date on. Second, I’m a dietitian, but that doesn’t make my diet perfect – sometimes it’s downright crappy – and I think it’s important for my health providers to know that. Third, I want to know that I’m getting the same standard of care as everyone else, and hopefully health providers aren’t assuming that because I’m thin and a dietitian that I am living a healthy life.