November Update: Will I not reach my 2021 Walking Goal of 1200 km?

It’s crunch time for me; not sure I’ll make it. It’s the first time this year I’ve been unmotivated to walk.

It’s crunch time for me; not sure I’ll make it. It’s the first time this year I’ve been unmotivated to walk.

I’ve been doing a lot of walking to reach my 1200 km goal for the year, but my November kilometers are a lot fewer than usual.

I walked 71.13 km this month. Scroll down to see the yearly total and a recap of previous months.

Walking over 70 km in 30 days is actually not too shabby. Those are walks outside or on the treadmill, and are not part of just moving through my daily life.

However, since I need to get in enough km to reach or exceed my goal of 1200 km for 2021, 71.13 is low for the second last month of the year.

I haven’t been motivated to get outside since it got colder. Honestly, I’ve been feeling a bit blah the last half of the month. Maybe it’s just the adjustment to winter arriving, I’m not sure.

Last month, I felt like I’d reach my 1200 km walking goal for the year, no matter what, but now, I’m not sure I care if I make it.

I usually have a good attitude and am motivated to keep moving my body, but lately, I just can’t seem to feel excited about completing my goal. Hopefully, this blah feeling will pass.

On  a positive note, nature continued to impress me while I was on some of my strolls. 

fall walking in nature
walking in the fall
walking in the fall
walking in winter

Here’s a recap of my 2021 walking goal so far.

    71.13 km  November

107.99 km  October

163.07 km  September (my best month so far!)

116.76 km  August (always happy when it’s over 100)

104.69 km  July (not too shabby)

    99.1 km  June

154.43 km  May (I killed it this month!)

 48.87 km  April

 33.85 km  March (10-day water fast from March 20-29, so much less walking)

 50.36 km  February

122.13 km  January (high number due to initial dedication and interest)

2021 distance total is…1074.38 km.

I’ve got 125.62 km to go to reach my goal of 1200 km.

I’ll keep walking and hope that I get back my oomph, so I can finish with a smile on my face on New Year’s Eve.

Be HEALTHY (Healthy Eating And Living Transforms and Heals You),

Alison Carrey

Got a Dream? Which of these 3 Choices will you Make?

Your desires/dreams are a clear sign of who you really are.

I used to keep telling myself I wanted to write a book, start a business, live in a warmer climate, lose 30 pounds, get fitter etc. Periodically, I did take action to work toward those goals, but like many of us, the urgency of my desires faded and they took a back seat to my life.

Which is sad.

Why?

When we keep coming back to wanting to do the same things, it reveals the fact that those goals or dreams mean something to us. It means they’re part of us in some way, or that deep down, we feel drawn to them.

Your desires/dreams are a clear sign of who you really are.

To clarify here, I’m not talking about goals we know we should go after, or that we feel we must do; uuggh!

I’m not talking about your To Do list or things like:

  • Getting finances in order
  • Organizing your paperwork
  • Learning a new skill
  • Decluttering your basement

I’m talking about goals that would deeply satisfy you, make you feel good about yourself, and lead to you having a big smile on your face when you’re 90 years old and looking back on your life.

Only you know what those dreams or goals are. If one doesn’t come to mind at the moment, ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the things that keep coming up that feel like deep desires to you?
  • What is something you’ve been talking about for years that you want to do, but you haven’t done it yet?
  • What are the things that light you up when you do them or think about doing them?
  • At the end of your life, will there be anything you regret not doing?

For me, I’ve always wanted to write a book. In the last few years, as I crept past the age of 50, it really hit me that I’ve wanted to write a book since I was a teenager. 

That means that for the last 40 years, I’ve NOT been working toward a deep desire and dream of mine. Until now.

I’ve finally achieved that dream. I’ve written a practical book to help women find more calm in their life and that will help them identify and reduce much of the stress in their life. It’s finally finished and edited. Now, I have to work at the next stage, which is getting it out into the world, so those that need it can find it! 

Writing the book/guide didn’t happen overnight, and it’s completion is based on many varied attempts along the way. However, once I realized how long I had wanted this, and once I recognized that I needed to nurture that desire so I didn’t lose me,  I was in. I can’t tell you how awesome it feels to accomplish something that’s been a burning desire for 40 years! Stay tuned. 🙂

Back to you…

What is one thing that you want to do or accomplish? What is one goal or dream that’s tied closely to your heart and soul? One thing.

Believe in yourself and your dream

So, now what can you do with that precious desire/dream of yours? Wait… let’s take it one step further before we move on.

Say your dream out loud to yourself. In the car, at home, in the washroom. Wherever.

“My dream is….”

If you can’t figure it out right now, I’d encourage you to journal or talk out your ideas with someone you trust. Dig deep and find it. It’s in there somewhere.

If you’re aware of your dream, or at least have an inkling of what your dream might be connected to (art, travel, etc.), then you’ve got 3 choices when it comes to what’s next.

  1. Do nothing and don’t go after your dream/goal.
  2. Make attempts to go after your dream/goal.
  3. Go after your dream/goal, no matter what.

Choice #1-Do nothing and don’t go after your goal/dream.

If you have a desire that you’ve already confirmed lies deep within you, burning for attention and recognition, you might still choose to NOT go after your dream.

You might feel you could never accomplish it. For whatever reason or excuse you give, you just don’t think it’s possible. Only you can really know if this is really true.

Here are some common reasons/excuses people give for not going after their dreams:

  • It’s too late.
  • I don’t have the money.
  • I don’t have enough time.
  • I’m too busy.
  • It’s just not the right time.
  • I’m not smart/expert/talented enough.
  • I don’t have enough education/credibility.
  • My spouse/family think I’m incapable of doing it or that it’s a stupid idea.
  • Nobody else gets it/understands my dream.
  • I don’t have enough support.
  • I’ve already chosen a path; I can’t add more/make a change.
  • I tried it before, and it didn’t work/failed.
  • I’m carrying issues from my past/childhood.
  • Life is fine right now.
  • I don’t deserve it.
  • I have to focus on my family.
  • I don’t know where to begin.
  • I’m too introverted/shy.
  • I doubt my ability to do it.
  • I’m afraid of failing.
  • I’m not motivated.
  • I’m too distracted.
  • I’m not ready.
  • I’m too old.
  • I’m too young.
  • I’m too tired.
  • I’m too fat.
  • I’m too sick.

There might be a genuine reason for you in that list, but before you decide to NOT go after your dream/goal, ask yourself if you’re willing to give up on your dream.

Before you choose to NOT pursue your dream. I urge you to reconsider because if you squash the burning desire inside you, you are killing a part of yourself. If you kill a part of yourself, you’re not fully living your life, and you may end up like many people who have a regret of not living a life true to themselves (#1 regret in people from the book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware).

The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware

One final thought. There may be a legitimate reason you do not go after your dream. Only you know if that’s the right decision for you, and you can be proud for making a decision that fits you best.

Choice #2 Make attempts to go after your goal.

If you’ve made this choice, you should pat yourself on the back.

Why?

Because it takes courage to go after what you want. Whatever your dream is, it’s likely not something easy, or you would’ve done it by now.

If you’ve decided to make attempts, that’s terrific because you’ve decided to not give up on your dream. Whether you accomplish your goal in the long run, or not, you’ll be able to look back at your life and be able to say that you made attempts.

Even working toward something and not achieving it can be satisfying and a learning experience that helps us grow as a person or that opens paths/doors we otherwise wouldn’t have noticed.

A few tips while you make your attempts at going after your dream:

  • Avoid overwhelm
  • Avoid perfectionist thinking
  • Start small
  • Work backwards
  • Make a plan
  • Work on it every day (or regularly)
  • Take baby steps
  • Nurture your dream by finding others with your dream
  • Nurture your dream by finding related books/videos to inspire you
  • Don’t give up because you don’t know how to do something; Google is your friend
  • Be resourceful and build your resilience

Choice #3: Go after your goal, no matter what!

go after your dream
image: mohamed_hassan (Pixabay)

Congratulations! I’m excited for you.

If you’ve made the decision to go after your dream, it might be because of one or more of these reasons:

  • You realize that you’ve put your dreams aside because of family or others’ opinions, and it’s time to do what’s right for you.
  • You recognize that your dream is central to who you are, and that damn it, you are worth going after your dream.
  • You’ve had a health crisis (that’s what kicked my ass in gear) or an illness/death in the family, which has made you recognize that life is short.
  • You’ve had an epiphany that you’re the only one who can make you happy.
  • You know now that it just doesn’t matter what other people think.
  • You realize you’ve lost yourself over the years, and reconnecting with the passion inside you feels amazing.
  • You crave something that is just yours.
  • You want to be happy.

Before you dive in to charging after your dream, let me warn you about a few things that could throw you off course or make you think you can’t pursue your dream after all.

Beware:

  • You will have highs and lows. One minute you’ll feel so on top of the world and that you got this!  The next minute, you’ll doubt yourself or face an obstacle; both can squash a dream if you allow it. Expect the ups and downs and ride the waves to your dream. Don’t let the challenges throw you off course.
  • Keep your dream front and center. Even if you don’t work on it every day, keep your dream alive. Find or make signs, posters, a vision board, reminders on your phone, etc. Keep a dream journal.
  • Don’t let the busyness of life or other people’s opinions push your dream to the side. Remind yourself that even if your dream seems weird or unlikely to others, it’s central to who you are, and you will choose to keep it close to your heart.

And remember…

  • You CAN do this.
  • You are strong.
  • It’s a journey/process.
  • It will take time.
  • Be gentle with yourself.
  • You are worth it.

Whether you made a decision today, or you need to take more time to explore and reflect, I hope you will not let your dream die.

I hope you will love yourself in the best way possible by lighting the spark of your dream and fanning its flames.

Be HEALTHY (Healthy Eating And Living Transforms and Heals You),

Alison Carrey

Wine-care Ain’t Self-care, Girl!

When you hit your late 40’s or early 50’s, you become more aware of your health and the horrifying idea that you should drink less if you want to be healthy.

You’ve just walked in the door, after a long day at work. You’re beat. Your feet hurt. No one’s walked the dog yet. You’ve got ten things on your mind, and now you have to make dinner.

How long does it take for you to have a glass of wine in your hand?

Maybe wine isn’t your thing. Maybe it’s a cooler, a gin and tonic, or a beer.

Whatever your fave booze is, ask yourself if you’re using it to relieve stress, to relax and to just have a moment for you. A peaceful, smooth, tasty moment.

drinking wine for self-care

Is alcohol your self-care? I know it used to be mine.

For me, it was red wine, and I drank it all week long. After a stressful day at work. Celebrating and socializing on the weekends. A relaxing evening with my husband.

Wine took the edge off. More relaxed. More laughing. More good times. Drinking wine was fun. 

Until it wasn’t.

If you’re not 40 years old yet, you may or may not have noticed you don’t bounce back after drinking like you used to. When you hit your late 40’s or early 50’s, you become more aware of your health and the horrifying idea that you should drink less if you want to be healthy.

less wine to be healthy

Speaking of drinking less. Think about what you pour into your glass. According to the serving sizes of alcohol, I was probably drinking 1.5 to 2 servings in each glass!

So, how do you know if you should reduce your intake of alcohol or even consider giving it up? 

Consider two things: 

  1. How alcohol affects you
  2. The actual dangers of booze (especially for women)

Checklist: How Alcohol Affects You in your Life

Read each statement below, and keep track of how many you agree with in terms of your drinking habits.

  • I drink alcohol 3 or more times a week.
  • When I drink, I usually have 2 or more drinks.
  • I usually finish my drink before others around me finish theirs.
  • When I’m stressed, I look forward to my glass of wine/drink.
  • There are times I’ve told myself I wouldn’t drink at an event, but then I do.
  • On more than one occasion, I’ve told myself I should drink less for my health.
  • I sometimes drink more than I intended.
  • Sometimes I drink when I don’t really feel like it; it’s a habit.
  • After drinking too much, I feel awful the next day (whatever your definition of awful is: headache, tired, groggy, hungover, etc.)
  • I often don’t sleep well, and I’ve started to notice my poorest sleeps are after I drink.
  • My hot flashes get worse after I drink.
  • Drinking alcohol leads me to eating crappy food and/or too much food.
  • If I think about it, most arguments with my spouse, family or friends have been when I or we were drinking.
  • On more than one occasion, I’ve forgotten conversations or events from the previous day when I was drinking.
  • On more than one occasion, I’ve said or did something I regretted or that was embarrassing while drinking.

Checklist Answers

Although we’re all different (culture, genes, habits, lifestyle, etc.), and alcohol can affect us in different ways, the following guidelines can help you determine if you need to have a frank, but gentle, conversation with yourself about how much alcohol you’re drinking, and how often.

In addition, although you’ve heard that wine can be good for you, the risks of drinking it regularly outweigh the benefits. Just like running might benefit your health, the risk of harm from running down the center of a busy highway outweighs any benefits you’d get from the actual running.

Here are the answers to the checklist. How many of those statements were true for you? These guidelines are my own. I’m not a doctor or health care expert. Only you can gauge whether you need to look at reducing your alcohol intake.

1-4 It’s unlikely you’re turning to alcohol for self-care. Alcohol is probably not a focus in your life. However, depending on the specific items you checked off, keep an eye on how often you drink, and how much you drink, to avoid future health problems.

5-9 Your self-care habit may lead to bigger problems. Alcohol is impacting your life in more ways than you might have realized. Depending on which items you checked off, it would be a good idea to decrease how often you drink and to consume less when you drink. Try drinking only once a week and limit your drinks to two. Doing so will decrease your chance of acquiring alcohol-related health problems.

10-15 This score indicates that your regular self-care routine of sipping a lovely Shiraz or whatever you like to drink, is going to bite you in the ass, later. You should seriously consider the physical and mental health risks of your alcohol consumption. Try going alcohol-free for 30 days. Doing so will be eye-opening. It may show that you just have a bad habit of drinking, or it may show that you have an addiction that needs to be looked at. Either way, you’ll need to start drinking less if you want to have good health.

After reviewing your results, you may need to look in the mirror (with love and kindness) and have a conversation with yourself about whether your health and overall well-being is really important to you or not. When I say health, I mean the health of your body, mind and even your relationships.

the dangers of drinking alcohol
image: Alison Carrey

The Real Dangers of Drinking (especially for women)

Now that you’ve had a look at the effects of your own alcohol consumption, let’s review some of the dangers. It’s my guess that most women are completely unaware of just how harmful drinking can be. I was one of those people, diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020. 

Since then, I’ve gone for weeks and months without drinking. I drink less, and honestly, I envision a future life without any alcohol because the World Health Organization has classified alcohol as a carcinogen in the same category as asbestos and tobacco. The organization says alcohol is toxic and that there is no safe level of alcohol.

Since I’ve had cancer already, and a type that has been shown to be (in part) caused by alcohol (see below), it would be in my best interest to abstain from alcohol altogether, for my health. It is my hope that I can achieve this eventually.

The information below is not a comprehensive list of the dangers of booze, but if you want to improve your health or keep the health you have, it will give you a glimpse of how alcohol can greatly impact your health. I’ve bolded the parts that stood out to me. 

“Alcohol is a toxic and psychoactive substance with dependence producing properties. In many of today’s societies, alcoholic beverages are a routine part of the social landscape for many in the population. This is particularly true for those in social environments with high visibility and societal influence, nationally and internationally, where alcohol frequently accompanies socializing. In this context, it is easy to overlook or discount the health and social damage caused or contributed to by drinking.” –World Health Organization

“Cancer: alcohol consumption has been identified as carcinogenic for the following cancer categories (Baan et al., 2007): cancers of the colorectum, female breast, larynx, liver, oesophagus, oral cavity and pharynx. The higher the consumption of alcohol, the greater the risk for these cancers: even the consumption of two drinks per day causes an increased risk for some cancers, such as breast cancer (Hamajima et al., 2002). ” –World Health Organization

  • “Liver Disease: The risk of cirrhosis and other alcohol-related liver diseases is higher for women than for men.
  • Impact on the Brain: Alcohol-related cognitive decline and shrinkage of the brain develop more quickly for women than for men.
  • Impact on the Heart: Women who drink excessively are at increased risk for damage to the heart muscle at lower levels of consumption and over fewer years of drinking than men.
  • Breast Cancer and other Cancers: Alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon. In women, drinking is also associated with breast cancer, even at low levels of consumption.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“[Women’s] bodies contain proportionately less water and more fat than men’s bodies. Water dilutes alcohol and fat retains it, so our organs are exposed to higher concentrations of alcohol for longer periods of time. Also, women have less alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme that breaks down alcohol before it reaches the bloodstream. At any given dose, our blood levels of alcohol will be higher than a man’s, even taking into account differences in body weight. As a result, one drink for a woman is roughly equivalent to two drinks for a man.” Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School

Final Thoughts

Women are increasing how much they drink, compared to the past. This article published by NPR (National Public Radio) talks about how women are using booze to cope with life, as opposed to using it just for pleasure, and that so many women are completely unaware that their drinking habits need to be adjusted or halted.

Based on my own drinking habits and experiences, and my observation of family and friends’ drinking patterns, I whole-heartedly agree that we’re turning to booze for an escape. Many women are practically in-lust with their vino (ya, that was me) because it helps us to relax and escape our hectic, stressful lives, where we do much more (work and home) than the average man (especially if we have children). 

Do you want to take a closer look at the stress in your life and how you can reduce it? Read “3 Steps to Less S#?@**(Stress)“.

If you want to go deeper into reflecting on your drinking habits, go to Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol and your Health.

I’m writing this post because I want women to see that turning to booze for their self-care program is not the way to go.

I’m hoping women will begin to see that we need to make other changes in our life to cope with stress. I want us to see the incredible power we have within, and that we’re not treasuring that power when we reach for our glass of toxins. 

Check out my other post about alcohol, “I’ll have a Cabernet, with a Side of Cancer”.

Be HEALTHY (Healthy Eating And Living Transforms and Heals You),

Alison Carrey

Do you Make this Mistake when Reading Food Labels?

To avoid making this mistake while reading the nutrition label, let’s look at what you need to do to be a savvy consumer.

Splattered all over a food package are words, images, lists, labels, symbols and logos, and sometimes it’s hard to know if the product fits with your buying needs.

Although a product’s packaging can seem complex, if you know this secret, it’s actually pretty simple to understand it. You’ll always know where to look when making a decision about a box of crackers, can of soup, or any other processed food item.

We take the price of a product into account, but there’s usually a more pressing decision to be made. More of us want to know if the food product is loaded with chemicals, or we might be concerned about how much fat, protein, sugar or salt is in it. With allergies so prevalent, people are also looking to see if a product is nut-free or gluten-free.

Today, many people are becoming more concerned about what they put in their bodies, and they want to know if a food is healthy or not. Based on our own definitions of health or healthy eating, we need to determine if the product is good for us, or if it’s not.

If it’s a food item the family eats daily, you might try to pick one that has the most vitamins or that has less sugar. If it’s a treat, like brownies or potato chips that you buy only once in a while, you might be less concerned about the “bad” stuff.

Either way, you want the tools to determine if you’re going to spend your hard earned money on it or not.

Let’s look at food packaging based on three areas.

The first is the general stuff that’s all around the packaging. It’s designed to be appealing to the eye and often includes lots of colour. The general area of the package is also structured to create an emotion in you: excitement, comfort, etc. 

General Packaging Design

On the general packaging you’ll likely see…

  • Bright colors
  • Brand name
  • Brand logo
  • Product name
  • Slogan
  • Weight or volume of product
  • Manufacturing or distribution company details
  • Bar Code
  • Product claims, highlights/features, such as “light”, “50% less fat” or “30 calories per tablespoon”

The second area of packaging is the nutrition label. Most people are familiar with this government-mandated part of a package, and they often rely on the nutrition label to make a purchasing decision. It shows you the amount of each nutrient by weight, and the daily percentage value (based on a 2000 calorie day), of certain nutrients in the product. 

The last area of food packaging is the ingredients list, which lists all the ingredients used to make the product.

ritz crackers ingredients list

Let’s take a closer look at the three areas, so you can avoid mistakes and be in-the-know about how to make the best food-purchasing decisions for you and your family.

General Area

The claims made by the company selling a product are aimed at convincing you that their product is good (light, low salt, tasty, healthy, etc.). However, often those claims can be misleading. 

A product such as low/no fat salad dressing will feature its fat-free quality in big letters where you can see it, but when you look closely, you might notice the sugar and/or salt content is high (to add more taste, since some or all of the fat has been removed). Having a low-fat product might be important to you, but you may not want the added sugar or salt in order to eat low fat. 

The features of the general area of food packaging are meant to lure you into the product and to buy it. So, overall, it’s NOT what you want to focus on when buying. 

The other two areas (nutrition labels and ingredients) have valuable information, but it’s important to know HOW to read these areas of a food package, so you’re not tricked, and so you get accurate information.

Nutrition Label

When looking at the nutrition label DO NOT look at the percentages listed beside each nutrient. They don’t give you any valuable information. If you buy a can of soup, and see that the percentage value for fat is 14%, what does that mean to you? Are you going to go home and plan how much fat you eat at each meal to know if you reach or exceed 100% of the daily value for fat? Probably not.

can of soup nutrition label

What some people mistakenly do is glance at the 14%, and in their minds, think, “Oh, this soup is only 14% fat”. Not true! Even if we know that’s not what the percentage means, we can think that because that percentage is there.

To avoid making this mistake while reading the nutrition label, let’s look at what you need to do to be a savvy consumer.

Look only at the grams (g) for the nutrient you’re interested in. 

How much fat is in it? Sugar? Salt?

You might be wondering now, “So what? The label shows grams; I don’t know how many grams of fat I should have. The grams don’t mean anything to me.”

That’s ok. It’s not the grams, by themselves, that are so important, but it’s what you can do with your knowledge of the grams

When it comes to a nutrition label, you need to know…

…what proportion of the product a particular nutrient represents.

Let’s take a closer look at the fat in that can of soup.

can of soup fat percentage nutrition label

Holy moly! 67.5% of each spoonful of this soup is fat. I’m not a dietician, but even I know that’s high.

Most people make the mistake of not figuring out the proportion of nutrients in their food. Knowing how to do this is huge!

Don’t worry about the math. When you’re in the grocery store, you can just do an estimate in your head, or you can pull out your phone and use your calculator.

Serving Size

Another area of the nutrition label to watch is the serving size. Companies are counting on us to focus on the nutrients, but often when you factor in the serving size, you’ll see a problem.

The can of soup pictured above has a serving size of 1/2 cup (125 mL). Do you know what half a cup looks like? It’s pretty small when you think about half a cup of soup in your bowl. Most people would have 4 servings (2 cups).

If companies put a serving size more realistic to what people actually eat, then we’d become more aware of how many calories we’re eating. That could mean that we’d eat less of the product (and buy less), or it could mean we wouldn’t buy the product in the first place.

If you increase the serving size of this soup, the percentage of fat stays the same; your soup is 67.5% fat whether you have 1/2 cup or 2 cups.

However, you’re definitely consuming more fat, overall. When you have 1/2 cup of soup, you’re getting 9 grams of fat, but when you have 2 cups (a much more likely event), you’re now eating 4 times the amount of fat in a serving, which is 36 grams of fat! 

Although the percentage of fat in the soup is the same, by eating more fat, you are increasing the percentage of fat you eat in the day. 

For example, let’s imagine it’s the end of the day and you’ve eaten 1800 calories. Out of all the food you’ve eaten that day, 500 of those calories (28%) were fat (500/1800 = 27.77%).

Now let’s add 2 cups of that soup (4 servings) as a snack while you’re watching TV. Now your calories for the day are 2280 (1800 + 480). When you factor in the fat from the soup, you’ve now had 980 (500 + 480) calories, or 43% of your calories from fat at the end of your day (980/2280 = 42.98%). That soup made a considerable difference in your overall fat intake and percentage for your day because the soup is high in fat.

How much fat should you have?

There’s nothing wrong with a little fat in our diet. We need fat as a nutrient, but we don’t need too much. Some sources will tell you that 30% of your diet as fat is ok, but others say it should be kept to only 10%. If you’re trying to watch your weight or your heart, you’ll want to keep your fat intake low. Aim for less than 20%. 

If you are trying to lose weight, and you’ve never calculated the percentage of fat in your food from a food label (or through a nutrient-tracking app), give it a try and see what happens. If you reduce your fat intake over time, you’ll likely lose weight because fat has a high number of calories (compared to sugar and protein, which both have only 4 calories per gram). Of course, if you eat more calories overall, to compensate, then the weight won’t come off.

What about Salt?

The soup can shows 850 mg of salt. For this nutrient, there’s no proportion to figure out. Instead, you want to compare the salt amount to the calories. The general rule of thumb is to keep the salt amount to no higher than the number of calories. 

Note: sodium is salt, and it is noted in mg (not g).

In this case, there are 120 calories in one serving of soup, so the salt amount should be 120 mg or less. You’ll find that in a processed food product, it’s very rare for the salt to fit with the rule of thumb. Knowing this trick, however, can help you decide if a product’s salt level is too high,  just a little bit high, or right on target.

Let’s talk Sugar

The sugar in this soup product is low. Only 1 g. If you want to know the proportion of the soup that’s sugar, then you’d apply the same formula we used for fat intake. The only difference is that 1 gram of sugar has only 4 calories (not 9, like 1 g of fat). 

In the case of the soup, 1 g of sugar = 4 calories. 4/120 = 3.33% sugar.

Note on Carbs and Protein:

You can apply the same formula if you want to know the percentage of carbs per serving as well. 1 g of carbohydrate = 4 calories. In the soup, 8 g = 32 calories/12o = 27%.

Interested in the protein? Use the same formula you used for sugar/carbs. 1 g of protein = 4 calories. In this case, 2 g of protein = 8 calories. 8/120 = 6.66% protein.

Back to sugar….

Beware of sugar in some products. Especially products that claim to be healthy, or ones you consume on a daily basis, like cereal.

Honey Nut Cheerios is one third sugar. Every bite is 34.3% sugar. That’s a little high.

Total sugar = 12 g per 1 cup serving

12 x 4 (4 calories in each gram of sugar) = 48 calories

48 / 140 (total calories) = 34%

honey nut cheerios sugar content nutrition label
source: cheerios.com

If you have kids, try not to give in to their pleas to eat the sugary cereals that come in colorful boxes. Look at Cap’n Crunch. It’s almost half sugar at 45% (17 x 4 = 68 calories from sugar; 68/150 = 45.33%).

cap'n crunch cereal sugar content nutrition label
source: capncrunch.com

Please beware…many companies lower their serving size, so you think you’re getting less fat, sugar or salt in their products.

Other Information on the Nutrition Label

I personally don’t pay attention to the other parts of the nutrition label. When I think about fiber and vitamins and minerals, I know it’s best to get those from fruits and vegetables mainly. I don’t look to processed foods for my nutrition.

The saturated and trans fat amounts on a label can be relevant, though. Saturated fat should be low, and transfat amounts should be zero (beware: companies lower the serving size so the transfats will be zero, which means that two servings might have transfats…think potato chips!). Overall, I don’t pay attention to these two fats; I just look at the overall fat.

Milk Fat…Buyer Beware

I bring up milk at the end because you now have a good understanding of how to calculate a nutrient in a food.

I also save milk for the end of the post because it’s one of the most misleading products out there in terms of how companies promote the fat content. Yes, they do tell you how many grams of fat the milk contains, but they specifically list a percentage of fat on the product, and this is the tricky part.

When you buy 2% milk, you think it’s only 2% fat, right?  Awesome…chug away!

WRONG. It’s much higher.

There are other products that are also deceptive in their labeling of fat, but milk is one of those foods that so many people consume on a daily basis, and that so many people think is low in fat.

Milk companies give you the percentage of fat by the weight of the product. Now that you know it’s the percentage of calories from fat that’s more important when consuming fat, let’s have a closer look at milk.

percentage of fat in milk
image: Alison Carrey

Don’t be fooled by nutrition labels. Always calculate a nutrient based on its proportion of the total calories.

Remember:

  • 1 g fat = 9 calories
  • 1 g sugar = 4 calories
  • 1 g protein = 4 calories
  • salt mg < or = to total calories

Ingredients List

This is the third and last area of food packaging you should know about. I could write a whole blog post just about the ingredients in products because there are so many to avoid and because there are so many variations. For our purposes, however, we’ll cover the basics.

The ingredients are important because they tell you what you’re actually eating. Is it a chemical? Is it a highly refined ingredient? Is it a whole ingredient? A natural ingredient?

Start with these guidelines.

1. Aim for as few ingredients as possible (3 or less is awesome; 5 or less is good too). When you look at an ingredient list and see it’s packed with many ingredients, you know it’s highly processed and generally not healthy. The image below shows the ingredients of a frozen pizza…yikes! That’s a long list! 

pizza long list of ingredients
source: goodness.com

2. Aim for ingredients you can understand. You know what onions and sunflower oil are, but do you know what BHT or sodium ascorbate are? Too often, we trust that our food products are safe. If you don’t know what something in the list is… Google it.

3. Ingredients are listed in descending order, from the highest amount to lowest amount (ingredients used in the greatest amount are listed first; those used in lesser amounts follow).

4. The first ingredient is the most important to pay attention to, followed by the next two ingredients because this means that the product is made mainly of those three ingredients.

5. The ingredient list will also include the names of any chemicals, additives, preservatives etc., although not always. Regulations allow companies to include terms like “natural flavors”, which can be something that sounds healthy, but may not be. A natural flavor must originate from a natural source, but often, it’s chemically modified, and there’s nothing natural about it.

6. Start to learn just what some ingredients really mean. “Wheat flour” just means it’s from wheat. It’s not a whole grain and is highly refined. Ever seen “spices” listed in the ingredients? Who knows what that is. Why not list the spices? Even if companies don’t want to list their proprietary ingredients, you, as the consumer, really don’t know what you’re eating.

Here’s a peek at the ingredients from that can of soup. 

soup ingredients list

This soup has 13 ingredients. The first three are water, mushrooms and vegetable oil.

I’d rather see oil further down the list; so many food products use a lot of oil, which is 100% fat. Based on how companies list their ingredients, I don’t know the exact amount of oil in this soup, although I know it’s a lot, based on the high percentage of fat (67.5%).

Start paying attention to those ingredients lists. What exactly is modified food starch? Sounds ok, but what is it? It’s a food additive that can be made from a variety of foods, like wheat or corn. You can’t be certain what you’re eating. Monosodium glutamate? That’s MSG. It’s a flavor enhancer that most people have heard of. It’s controversial whether it’s safe or not.

Now that you have the scoop to really see what’s in your food, it’s important to remember that most of us will consume processed foods at some point, even if we aim to be very healthy. Once in a while, and if you don’t have any health issues already, eating foods with questionable ingredients is not really going to hurt you.

However, what your “once in a while” is, and what mine is, might be different. The point is that you don’t want to be consuming highly processed ingredients on a regular basis. If you’re concerned about what you put in your mouth, pay attention to what’s in the ingredients list. Even better, try to eat mostly whole foods that don’t have an ingredient list, like apples, potatoes and kale–I’m not getting into organic vs non organic vs genetically modified foods, but at least fruits and vegetables are more real than processed food in a package.

When I pick up a food product in the store, I first look at the ingredients list. I’m far from perfect, but if I’m aiming for health, I choose the product with the fewest ingredients that seem familiar to me. If I’m feeling like a treat, I may not worry about the ingredients.

Once I look at the ingredients, I make sure to look over the nutrition label to check on the fat and sugar content. I glance at the salt too, but that’s usually not my focus because, overall, I eat mostly whole foods I make at home.

Whatever your definition of healthy eating is, knowing how to read food labels is an essential skill for living in today’s world of processed and ultra-processed foods.

When you make decisions in the supermarket, be informed. Take the extra minute or two to know what’s in your food. Getting familiar with food packaging takes a bit of time, but once you know the secrets to making more informed choices, it will eventually become second nature.

Be HEALTHY (Healthy Eating And Living Transforms and Heals You),

Alison Carrey

3 Steps to Less S#?@** (Stress)

Regardless of where the stress is coming from, your well-being monitor needs to flag the stresses in your life before they lead to devastating mental health issues (severe anxiety, depression) or even illness.

We all experience stress in one form or another, and it’s a normal part of life.

What’s not normal is the level of stress most of us feel on a daily basis.

Human beings weren’t designed to live 23 hours a day indoors and spend 40-50 hours a week working in a job that makes life seem like a gerbil wheel. We weren’t meant to have such little quality time with our family and friends.

Compound all this with a mostly sedentary lifestyle, as well as financial and relationship pressures, and you have the perfect recipe for stress.

Some people experience waves of stress with peaks and valleys. Their stress levels shoot up high and then come down low. Others experience low-mid levels of stress almost constantly.

what's causing your stress
Photo: Alexander Dummer

Unless you’re living the ideal life which includes being loved unconditionally, feeling fulfilled, not worrying about anything and feeling a sense of calm on a daily basis, you probably endure more stress than you realize.

I believe it’s crucial to keep an eye on your stress levels and not assume they’re just part of life. Your physical and mental health are impacted from experiencing stress on a regular basis. I’m certain that many years of stress contributed to my breast cancer diagnosis in 2020.

An excellent book to learn the tolls that stress can take on your body is called When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress, by Gabor Maté.

When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress by Gabor Mate

Before you can figure out how to reduce stress in your life, you need to know precisely what’s causing it. Some of our stresses are from big life events that knock you over (divorce, death, illness, financial ruin, etc.). Often though, our stress is triggered by the little things.

Those smaller stresses are usually just a symptom of the bigger stresses. Getting really angry at the small stuff is a sign of stress.

Regardless of where the stress is coming from, your well-being monitor needs to flag the stresses in your life before they lead to devastating mental health issues (severe anxiety, depression) or even illness.

Step 1

The very first step to living a life with more calm and peace is to identify the things or situations that are triggering your stress.

Think a minute about your life. Is there one area that seems to trigger you more than others?

  • Work
  • Kids
  • Spouse
  • Family
  • Finances
  • Health
  • Well-being
  • Hectic life

Step 2

When you notice you’re feeling stressed, the second step is twofold:

1. What is the precise situation/tigger?

  • Driver cuts you off
  • Expected package is late
  • Spouse left the dishes for you to do
  • Car repair is a surprising $1200 bill
  • Coworker’s incompetence is affecting you
  • Late for work

2. What is your response (emotions and behavior)?

Are you…?

  • Irritated
  • Impatient
  • Annoyed
  • Anxious
  • Bitter 
  • Worried 
  • Afraid 
  • Angry
  • Embarrassed 
  • Overwhelmed
  • Disappointed
  • Sad

Do you…?

  • Get tense
  • Speak rudely to others
  • Withdraw
  • Yell
  • Hold in your feelings
  • Walk away
  • Turn to alcohol or drugs
  • Turn to food
  • Have thoughts spinning in your head

The next time you feel stress, ask yourself what’s causing it.

If you snap at your kids for not doing something at home, is it really because they didn’t pick up their toys that you’re pissed at them? Or, is there something else going on? Maybe you had an argument with your spouse that was unresolved, or maybe you were feeling the pressure of an unrealistic deadline at work.

Maybe you are exhausted all the time and are running on empty.

Exhausted, running on empty
Photo: Marcus Aurelius

Think about what’s behind your stress as well as how you show your stress.

Step 3

By pausing to see what’s at the root of your stress and how you respond it, you can move to the third step, which is to figure out ways to eliminate, decrease or manage that stress.

I lived with high levels of stress for many years in my teaching job (now retired), but you know what? A lot of my stress came from my own thinking patterns. Discovering that my own mind was contributing to my stress levels helped me reduce the stress I was feeling.

You can utilize a huge array of strategies (physical and mental techniques) to make you feel better when you feel stressed out (exercise, meditation, etc.), but what’s more powerful is to learn how you’re creating your own stress with your thoughts.

Start to pay closer attention to your thoughts.

If you start imagining what will happen in a meeting with your boss, you might start to feel stressed. Your thoughts create that stress. You created the thought, so you created the stress. Powerful, right?

Instead, find out exactly what the meeting is about, so you can be prepared. Then, put it out of your mind. Remind yourself that you can handle whatever happens.

Worrying and stressing about the meeting in advance will not change the outcome of the meeting. Change your stressful thoughts to something else. You could focus on the present, or you could repeat helpful, calming thoughts, like, “Everything will be fine.” over and over.

change your thoughts
Photo by Los Muertos Crew

By changing your thoughts, you can decrease your stress. Conversely, you can elevate your stress by thinking about stressful thoughts.

Can you Actually Reduce your Stress?

When you practice using the three steps, you will..

  • become more aware of your stress triggers and find healthier ways to deal with them
  • notice when you’re flying off the handle at some minor situation, and then reset your thinking and emotions
  • begin to head off some of your negative responses to stress before they even start

As you pay more attention to the daily stresses in your life, you may also find that you become more aware of deep underlying stresses (miserable marriage or highly stressful job). Discovering the roots of your stress can be eye-opening because your awareness will help you to take steps to build a calmer, happier life.

Be gentle with yourself as you observe yourself in times of stress. Changing our habits takes time, so be patient.

If you’re interested in digging deeper and making eye-opening discoveries about the stress in your life and how you can feel more calm on a regular basis, stay tuned for the comprehensive, self-paced guide I’m putting together. It will give you a practical, step-by-step roadmap to avoid living a life stacked with stress.

Be HEALTHY (Healthy Eating And Living Transforms and Heals You),

Alison Carrey

October Update on my 1200 km Walking Goal for 2021

I encourage you to begin your own regular walking routine, especially if you can do it outdoors where you’ll get even more energized from the fresh air.

Wow! I can’t believe I have only two months to go!

This month was different in a couple of ways.

First, I missed eight days of walking, which is the most number of days I’ve not gone for a walk in any month this year so far.

Second, around the middle of the month, I decided to focus on trying to walk 5 km each day, instead of just walking random distances. Doing so helped me cover more ground each day and meet my goal of 100 km for the month.

October started to get a bit cooler, but it was still lovely to walk on most days. Early in the month, we had some bonus summer time in Winnipeg! Beautiful warm and sunny days.

I enjoyed walks in Assiniboine Forest, as well as my neighborhood. 

walking in nature
Assiniboine Forest
walking in my neighborhood
Neighborhood beauty climbing a garage

My walks in Beaudry Provincial Park were visually stunning. The trail I take becomes a cross-country ski trail in the winter, so once the snow arrives, I’ll need to move to a different path in the park.

Beaudry Provincial Park: Winter Trails

I like this particular route, not only due to its beauty, but because it is 5.5 km, which is the perfect length for a morning walk (not too long and not too short).

walking in nature
Beaudry Provincial Park

One week early in the month, I was lucky enough to get out to my sister’s cabin at Twin Beaches (on Lake Manitoba), where we did several walks. My favorite walk was on a gorgeous warm day, when we walked along the beach.

walk on the beach
Twin Beaches

Here’s where I’m at for my 2021 walking goal so far.

I’m getting close!

107.99 km October

163.07 km September (my best month so far!)

116.76 km August (always happy when it’s over 100)

104.69 km July (not too shabby)

99.1 km June

154.43 km  May (I killed it this month!)

48.87 km  April

33.85 km  March (10-day water fast from March 20-29, so much less walking)

50.36 km  February

122.13 km  January (high number due to initial dedication and interest)

2021 distance total is 1003.25 km.

Only 196.75 km to go. I’m excited!

I encourage you to begin your own regular walking routine, especially if you can do it outdoors where you’ll get even more energized from the fresh air.

Be HEALTHY (Healthy Eating And Living Transforms and Heals You),

Alison Carrey

I’ll have a Cabernet, with a side of Cancer

Whether you’re sipping it slowly, or slamming it back, alcohol is a harmful drug that’s been normalized at the dinner table.

Do you need to give up your Cabernet or your Pinot Grigio for your health? 

Many women would riot in the streets with such an expectation. 

Although giving up wine or any alcohol sounds extreme, when you know the real risks and what it’s doing to you, long-term, you might decide to do just that–give it up. If not, then it’s a good idea to at least consider reducing your intake of alcohol on a weekly basis. 

I love my red wine, and I know lots of ladies (young and old) who love it too. Not just red, but white, rose and sparkling too. 

red wine, alcohol, dinner

We love it after work. We love it with dinner (on the weekends, with brunch). We love it as an evening drink. We love it as a nightcap.

If you look around, you’ll notice that wine is the go-to beverage for so many women. Whether it’s drinks with the girls, grabbing wine coolers on the way to the beach or a party, or having top notch red wine with a fine dinner, we love our wine.

Ok…it might not be love, but it’s definitely lust for many of us.

I know. The idea of something else being bad for us is just too much to take. The last thing women want to hear is that there’s something wrong with their wine. We don’t want to hear it’s bad news, or that we’d be wise to give it up or drink less of it.

Over the years, I’ve made some surprising discoveries (or realizations) about wine, well, about alcohol in general. What I now know has made me look at my wine with a different perspective and has led me to change how often I drink. 

The Wine Escape

Women are turning to wine to relieve their stress. And there’s a lot of stress out there. I’m not saying men don’t endure stress because they do, but women carry the load of society. 

stressed woman

Women who work full time are also usually the primary caregivers for children or the elderly, and they usually manage the household. Sometimes that’s by choice, and sometimes it’s related to parental role expectations due to upbringings or culture.

The end result is the same. Women are lugging around high levels of stress on a daily basis. For some of us, that stress is almost constant, like a quiet engine humming. We don’t really hear it or notice it, necessarily, but it’s quietly burning our energy and exhausting us.

I used to walk in the door after a stressful day or week of teaching, and shortly after, I’d have a glass of vino in my hand. It flowed through all my arteries and calmed me down. This was me time. That wine washed all my troubles away.

What I didn’t realize was that I was trying to manage my stress with wine. I knew it felt good, and I would even say things like, “I definitely need wine tonight!”, but I truly didn’t make the obvious connection. I didn’t see the dangers of living with such levels of stress on a daily basis. I didn’t see the dangers of drinking a couple of glasses of wine almost every night (more on the weekends) to escape my stress.

A glass of wine gives us relief from stress for a short time, but in the long run, that stress permeates our bodies and leaves us tired and with health issues. In the long run, turning to booze for some form of escape becomes a habit that also negatively affects our bodies.

A better route to manage our stress is to try to determine what’s causing the stress, and to see what can be done to prevent it or at least decrease it. Finding alternative ways to handle the stresses we encounter in our lives is a healthier solution. 

Alcohol Causes Cancer

There’s been a link between alcohol and cancer since the late 80’s, but most of us aren’t aware of the dangers. I sure wasn’t.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen, which means there’s enough evidence to show that the carcinogen causes cancer. Research doesn’t show that alcohol probably causes cancer. The Group 1 classification means it does. Other Group 1 carcinogens include (but are not limited to) asbestos, tobacco and formaldehyde.

who alcohol facts

Are you going to get cancer if you have a few glasses of wine each month? Probably not. Will you get cancer if you drink ten or more glasses of wine each week? Not guaranteed, but more likely.

None of us think that our wonderful wine can really cause us any harm. After all, we’re always reading about how good wine is for us. Unfortunately, like in the food industry, financial forces are at play to keep us confused.

Alcohol in any form can cause cancer. No amount is considered safe. However, it’s the regular consumption of booze, over time, that’s the real problem. 

If you start drinking wine in your 20’s, and it becomes a regular habit in your 30’s and 40’s, you’ve been drinking wine on a regular basis for 10, 20 or more years.

I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in January of 2020. Does this mean, for sure, that my alcohol consumption caused my cancer? No, but based on the research, it does mean that there’s a good chance that all the wine I drank increased my risk of getting cancer. 

Especially breast cancer.

The World Health Organization/Europe recently announced…

“There is no safe level of alcohol consumption. The risk of breast cancer increases with each unit of alcohol consumed per day.” 

who alcohol breast cancer

Of course, there are many other risks for breast cancer including being overweight and being sedentary…yep…I fit into those categories too. Thankfully, I’ve lost about 25-30 lbs since my diagnosis, and I started walking outside 5-7 times a week ever since. Check out last month’s update on my 1200 km walking goal for 2021.

I’m writing this post because I want women to know that we can no longer ignore the fact that alcohol can give us breast cancer

Just knowing this can help us watch our alcohol intake. Knowing this can help us find other ways to relieve our stress.

Giving up wine isn’t easy. I still drink wine, but I’ve gone for months at a time without it. I’ve realized that alcohol could contribute to my cancer returning, so I’ve made efforts to greatly reduce how much wine I drink.

My goal is to drink alcohol only on occasion or not at all. Maybe one day I can give it up completely, but for now, all I can do is my best, which is working at having it much less frequently than I used to.

Hmmm…if I haven’t been able to give up wine yet, does that mean I have a drinking problem? Does that mean I’m an alcoholic?

No, it doesn’t.

There’s a stigma attached to the idea that we need to reduce how much booze we consume. In fact, I think one of the reasons many of us don’t look at our alcohol intake is because we don’t want to even associate ourselves with the idea of having a drinking problem. 

Like many of our vices, drinking alcohol becomes a habit. If you’re used to having a glass of wine with dinner, then that’s a habit. If you always drink beer when you watch a hockey game, then that’s a habit. If you drink tequila shots every weekend in the summer, it’s a habit.

Just because you have a habit of drinking regularly doesn’t mean you are an alcoholic.

The habit of drinking alcohol is pervasive in our society. Whether you’re sipping it slowly, or slamming it back, alcohol is a harmful drug that’s been normalized at the dinner table.

alcohol at dinner

The more women start to realize the dangers of alcohol, the more we can start talking about it, and the more we can start to turn to healthier forms of distraction, relaxation and escape. 

See resources at the end of this post.

What to do?

If you want to spend less time with wine and want to increase the likelihood of a healthier future, here are some recommendations based on my take of good, better, best.

Good: The WOW Approach (Wine on Weekends)

Work towards drinking only on the weekends (Friday and Saturday nights). This means you don’t have any alcohol Monday to Thursday. If that’s too tough to start, then pick one day not to drink. Then choose two days, and build from there. 

Good: With the WOW approach, keep an eye on how much booze you’re drinking. If you drink a whole bottle of wine to yourself each weekend night, that could be excessive. As long as you’re sticking to just the weekends though, you are off to a good start. Once you’ve mastered the WOW approach, then you can look at cutting back on the number of glasses you drink each weekend night.

Better: Modify the WOW approach, so you drink on only one night on the weekend. Once you’ve conquered that, you can look at how much alcohol you consume.

30 day challenge

Better: 30 Day Challenge

This is a terrific way to see how wrapped up you are in your wine. Can you go 30 days without drinking any alcohol? If you can’t, you know you’ve got to take a close look at why you’re turning to booze, and you need to find other ways to access whatever benefit you get from drinking.

If you need to build up over time, start with a one week challenge. Then two weeks, and so on. If you make 30 days, can you go longer?

I include the challenges as a better approach because it gives you large chunks of time to see what your life is like without booze. You might be surprised to see how you don’t miss alcohol at all, and how it was really just a habit.

Once you build large periods of time without booze, you might find that you want it less. You may naturally begin to consume alcohol less frequently. I’ve gone as long as seven months without any alcohol, so it’s easier for me to drink less and not rely on wine to make me feel better.

Best: If you can give up alcohol completely, then of course, that’s ideal. This approach doesn’t mean you can never ever have a glass of wine again, but if you have a few glasses a year, that’s pretty much the same as giving it up.

Before you Go

How often, how much and why you drink is your personal journey, which is connected to how you handle the stresses in your life. I encourage you to look at those stresses to see if you can remove or reduce them in some way. If you can’t change them, discover methods, other than alcohol, to manage them.

If you decide to re-evaluate your alcohol consumption, do so with self-love.

self-love, be kind to yourself

It’s important to remember to be kind to yourself as you make any changes in your life that will produce better or future health. No one is perfect, but you can take small steps to move toward the health you desire.

Be HEALTHY (Healthy Eating And Living Transforms and Heals You),

Alison Carrey

See Resources Below

Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker

Quit Like a Woman by Holly Witaker

I listened to this book on Audible and was amazed to learn of the damage that alcohol does to the body. This blog post didn’t get into all the details of how toxic alcohol is to your body and how hard your body has to work to get rid of it. A great read for anyone interested in health or for anyone considering the idea of reducing their alcohol intake.

World Health Organization: Europe

National Cancer Institute

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Canadian Cancer Society

American Cancer Society

There is NO Shame in your Struggle with Food

We need to praise our progress instead of pointing to the lack of perfection.

I’ve been in a decade-long battle with food, but I don’t fit some of the typical traits of someone who struggles with food.

  • I’m not obese (I’ve lost 30 lbs since January, 2021, but I’m still 20-30 lbs overweight)
  • I’m not a binge eater.
  • I wasn’t overweight as a child.
Overweight, struggle with food

Although I continually work at reaching an ideal weight for my body, my food story is different from most people’s, and I often feel like I’m the only person like me. It’s not fun to feel alone, so I’m writing today’s post to let you know…

You’re not alone, regardless of your particular struggle.

The details of my story might be different than yours, but if you struggle with food, then we have something in common.

I’m 56 years old, and almost 12 years ago, I decided to become plant-based. After reading The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, and watching Forks Over Knives , I was convinced that eating a whole food, plant-based diet was the healthiest way to eat. 

The China Study by T. Colin Campbell
Forks over Knives

I’m not talking about processed vegan food, but real food: vegetables, fruit, grains, legumes and nuts and seeds, with little to no added oils, sugar or salt. You might believe we’re designed to eat meat, dairy and eggs, which is fine. This post is not about what the best diet is. 

It’s about how trying to stick to a diet that is healthy (by your own definition) can be a real struggle.

2010 wasn’t the first time I wanted to ditch animal products. When I was in my early twenties, I read Diet for a New America by John Robbins and attempted to go vegan. I turned to chips, and other junky food, telling myself it was ok to eat them because they were made from plants. Since living on junk food wasn’t a good plan, I went back to eating the standard American diet that included meat, dairy and eggs.

Since 2010, I’ve been trying to stick to a whole food, plant-based diet. Eating this way is filling, delicious, nutritious and gives me lots of energy, and it helps me stay at a healthier weight.

So, what’s the problem? First, let’s look at my struggle.

-My pattern is that I’ll eat a plant-based diet for weeks or months at a time. I enjoy it and feel great. Usually, I’m not interested in eating things like pizza or chicken wings.

-Then I’ll veer off track by eating something like cheese. Next, I might start eating eggs or seafood.

-This often turns into weeks or months of consuming other foods I don’t really want to be eating (processed foods, meat, dairy and eggs).

I tell myself I don’t want to eat those foods, and that I want to stick to the healthy stuff. It’s frustrating when I’m trying to commit to something, but I just can’t be consistent. I used to feel ashamed when I went off track for chunks of time. Sometimes, I’d feel really low for days. Now, I remind myself that it’s part of the journey and I don’t feel bad about myself. 

There were times when I wondered, Is there something wrong with me? Why can’t I do this?

There’s definitely nothing wrong with me, or with you. 

So, what’s going on? 

It’s the food.

Based on what I’ve learned over the years, as well as my experiences, here’s what I think is behind my struggle, and possibly yours.

Food Fight

Processed food and animal products have calories that are highly concentrated. This means we get a big dopamine (a feel-good brain chemical) hit in our brain when we eat them. The fat, sugar and/or salt levels in these foods are super satisfying and keep us coming back for more. A low calorie density food such as an apple will not give you the same dopamine hit as high calorie density foods like cheese or donuts.

healthy apple and unhealthy donut

Humans are designed to be drawn to foods that are highly concentrated. In The Pleasure Trap by Dr. Alan Goldhamer and Dr. Doug Lisle, I learned how our brains are designed to get as many calories as we can get. In hunter/gatherer times, we didn’t know where our next meal would come from, so we had to recognize the importance of eating those satisfying calories when they presented themselves. 

The Pleasure Trap

In our natural environment, a ripe mango was sweet and an avocado was creamy; both were rich in calories. We’d get a nice hit of dopamine, which taught us to eat more of the foods that gave us this boost. The dopamine shot in our brains helped to keep us alive by teaching us to choose foods that made us feel good. 

The problem is that in today’s modern world, we’re bombarded and surrounded by food products that are high in calories but not good for us. We’re still drawn to them, and crave them, and then we eat too much of them.

Today, grocery stores have aisles of “food” that are high in calories. Oreos are sweet and creamy, and our brain receives a dopamine hit when we eat one. This means when we can’t put a bag of chips down (high in fat and salt) or we eat too much pizza (high in fat, salt and sugar), we’re acting according to our brain’s design. 

pizza and chips, high in fat and salt

Pizza and chips are not natural foods. Sure, some may have more natural qualities than others, but they don’t grow on trees or sprout out of the ground. Humans weren’t designed to eat and digest these highly processed foods for energy. But, we’re hooked. Modern foods can be addictive for many people. 

Think about it. If you refuse to give up a certain food, or you say you can’t live without a certain food, then what’s going on with that food? You’re addicted to it.  Could you give up that food for 30 days or 6 months? Would you go through withdrawal and crave it?

Something to think about.

The addictive food out there may be different than alcohol or heroin, but in its own way, it’s got a hold on you. In Michael Moss’ book, Hooked, he references a definition for addiction that makes sense: “…a repetitive behavior that some people find difficult to quit.” If you keep going back to cookies, bread, potato chips, etc., then you might have a little addiction on your hands.

Hooked by Michael Moss

That’s me, and maybe that’s you. If I keep going back to cheese, then cheese is addictive for me. I’m not the only one, either. Cheese is often the hardest thing to give up when people go plant-based. If you’re interested in learning more about how cheese has such a strong hold on people, you can check out The Cheese Trap by Dr. Neal Barnard.

The Cheese Trap

Another aspect related to anyone’s struggle to eat healthier is our taste buds. Once our taste buds get a hold of fat, sugar and/or salt, they want to party. If you eat nachos with sour cream or even vegan chocolate cake, you’re giving your taste buds a turn on the fat, sugar and salt dance floor. They want to boogie all night long, and every day. 

If I eat unhealthy food for a couple of days, then my body simply wants more of it. I tell myself I should have a salad, but my taste buds are whispering to me, “No…we don’t want that. We want more of that fatty stuff you ate yesterday.”

I’ve found this to be true in reverse. When I eat healthy smoothies and salads, my taste buds love it and ask for more. They’re happy with fruit and vegetables. They don’t want the crappy stuff.

salad and smoothie

I can’t tell you why I veer off track when my taste buds are already happy with my healthy food choices. I think it’s a trick of the mind. After eating really well for a while, I think that I can just have a little of this or a little of that. Or I think I’ll just treat myself on the weekend. After those taste buds latch on to the fat/salt combination I love, though, it’s very difficult to tell them we have to stop eating that stuff and go back to spinach.

Food, as well as my evolutionary history, brain and taste buds, all have me gravitating to the unhealthy stuff. It’s not my fault I want to eat processed vegan cheese, or real cheese. They’re both high in fat and salt and both make me want to keep eating more. However, both will move me away from optimal health, and it is my struggle to try to avoid eating them or eating too much of them.

Just because there are powerful forces at play doesn’t mean the pressure is off, and that we have the perfect excuse to pig out. If I give in to the power of food, then I’m giving in to future health issues, which include being overweight. I want to be healthy and independent when I am older. The pressure is still there.

It’s my belief that the addictive nature of foods, with highly concentrated calories (via fat, sugar and salt), is the key factor that keeps us overweight/unhealthy and battling with food on a daily basis.

Of course, there are other factors that contribute to our eating patterns (our family’s diets, our past experiences, our stress and emotions, etc.), but ultimately, IT IS THE FOOD. You don’t sit down to watch a Netflix show with a bowl of green beans or celery. Instead, you’re chilling out with popcorn or Doritos (both high in fat and salt). When you come home at the end of a challenging day, you’re not reaching for carrots or kale to soothe your soul.  

eating popcorn

Aside from my battle of wavering between healthy food and unhealthy food, I have other situations that contribute to my struggle (although much less so than the addictive nature of food itself).

My inner critic beats myself up for not sticking to something I believe in. I ask myself, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I just stick to this way of eating, when I believe it’s the healthiest?” Even though I know there are issues with the food itself, I expect to be perfect somehow. The mental fight can be brutal, but over the years, I’ve learned to be kinder to myself. I have more self-compassion than I used to.

Part of my struggle appears in certain situations or listening to the opinions of others. For the most part, I don’t let them bother me, but occasionally, I get caught off guard and let their views affect me. There are three types of opinions or situations I run into when I’m eating in a certain way that can add to my continued battle with food.

Situations/Opinions that fuel my Struggle

The first are meat eaters who question me when I’m eating plant-based and tell me I’m not getting enough protein. Huge myth created by the meat industry. Some of them will go on and on and tell me other reasons why eating vegan is not healthy. I don’t bring up my way of eating at all; it’s their questions that start the conversation. I’ve learned to quickly change the subject. I’m not interested in defending my way of eating. I’m not out to convert anyone.

My struggle is also heightened from comments by people who judge me because one minute I seem to be plant-based, and the next minute, I’m not. They ask me why I’m changing how I eat all the time. I try to explain, but they just don’t get it. 

I don’t really know what the judges think, but when I don’t stick to plant-based eating, I feel like a fraud and assume others think of me as sort of a fraud. I feel like no one should listen to me or take me seriously. It’s my own thinking here that’s the problem, and not other people. It’s the situation that triggers my thoughts.

The last group are the people I should be able to count on the most: other whole food, plant-based eaters. Many people who are vegan or plant-based will harshly judge others who try to eat that way, but aren’t always consistent. People like me. I appreciate their passion, but I don’t understand why they can’t encourage me and say “good for you” for trying. 

Plant-based eaters and vegans with strong opinions could also remind me that what I’m trying to do, many people are not even willing to try. I’m not looking for a pat on the back, but support and encouragement would go a long way. Their opinions, which often center around their concern about animal cruelty in the agricultural industry, cloud their empathy for people who are making progress at reducing their meat intake etc. 

This leads me to the topic of labels. I’m tired of people putting others into categories based on labels, and then expecting them to act/be a certain way because of those labels. It leads to purist thinking.

If you’re vegan, then why are you eating honey? If you’re whole food, plant-based, then why are you eating that fake meat? If you’re plant-based, then why are you eating that vegan cheese that has casein (a milk protein) in it? If you’re eating healthy, then why are you eating ice cream? And so on. 

news flash people are not perfect

News Flash: People aren’t Perfect.

We need to praise our progress instead of pointing to the lack of perfection. For ourselves, and for the efforts of others.

I used to tell people I was plant-based, but then, I could see I wasn’t eating that way consistently, so I’d tell people I was 90% plant-based. Then I felt like I was a vegetarian because I kept going back to dairy. Forget it. No more labels. I don’t fit into a box with a label on it. 

So, who am I then?

I’m a person working towards consistently eating a mostly plant-based diet. That’s it. I will not give up on my goal of becoming as healthy as I can be. I will not give up on becoming the healthy, active person I want to be just because I’m struggling and not doing it perfectly. 

I will not let others or their expectations shame me. 

There is no shame in my struggle, or yours. Take pride in your efforts that move you toward overcoming your struggle with food. Praise your progress.

Be HEALTHY (Healthy Eating And Living Transforms and Heals You),

Alison Carrey

Are your Hot Flashes a Warning Sign?

Your hot flashes might be your body’s siren going off, so don’t ignore their loud, repetitive message.

All images in today’s post are from Clipart Library.

Should you panic if you’re having hot flashes?

Definitely not.

Many women experience hot flashes around the time of menopause, and that’s normal for the most part. However, if your hot flashes are really uncomfortable, and they interfere with your daily life, including sleeping, then you should pay closer attention to what might be causing them.

Your hot flashes might be your body’s siren going off, so don’t ignore their loud, repetitive message.

Your body gives you signals when it’s out of balance in some way. Like I said, it’s normal to experience some hot flashes, but we need to take a closer look if those hot flashes seem over the top. Most of us look to the outside world for answers about our body’s health, but often, we have the answers if we just get to know our bodies better.

Here are a few reasons you should look at your own body for evidence when it comes to finding answers about your hot flashes.

  • There’s varied and conflicting research out there about what causes hot flashes.
  • Why do some women have awful hot flashes that last for 10 years or more, while others have none or just a few hot flashes for a short time? There may be some genetic tendencies, but I’ve seen in my own family, this is not the case.
  • Menopausal changes can vary in women based on their culture’s diet.
  • Although women have similar experiences during menopause, individual responses can vary.
  • Certain foods and beverages may or may not increase or decrease the frequency, intensity and duration of hot flashes.

If you want to take a deep dive into the research about what causes hot flashes and how you might reduce them, go for it, but there is no better evidence than your own body. I’m not a doctor or an expert on menopause, but I am an expert on my own body. 

Here’s my hot and sweaty story, and how I discovered the real root of my hot flashes.

A few months after turning 50, I entered the early stages of menopause. My periods stopped, and the hot flashes began. It was kind of a love-hate relationship. It was awesome to no longer have to deal with my monthly flow, but the hot flashes were awful. I would’ve chosen to have my periods forever to get rid of the hot flashes. 

Whether I was in the middle of teaching a class or whether it was in the middle of the night, there they were. Persistent. Never-ending. The internal inferno would come out of nowhere, build slowly and then consume me. I would brighten up like a beet and sweat profusely, while throwing off my sweater as quickly as possible. I had fans everywhere.

hot flashes menopause

After a year or two with hot flashes, I was desperate, so I went on hormone therapy. I really didn’t want to take hormones because I knew there was a risk of getting cancer, but my doctor convinced me that there weren’t any dangers to it, since I was under 60. 

I decided to give the hormones a try. 

What happened? The hot flashes went away, and my periods returned. After several months, my original and instinctive feelings kicked back in, and I stopped the hormone therapy. I just didn’t want to take the risk.

So, the hot flashes returned, and I said goodbye to my periods once again.

Many women follow the menopausal patterns of their mothers. Not me. My mom told me she had some hot flashes for only a couple of weeks.

Weeks!!!

It’s been six years since I had my first hot flash, and I’m still getting them.

Over these years, I’ve paid attention to the pattern of my hot flashes, and I’ve made a huge discovery about what makes them frequent, intense and long-lasting. The culprit is the food and alcohol I put in my mouth.

Oh no, you might be thinking! Give up my wine?!! More and more women are using food and alcohol to cope with menopause (on top of their already stressful life). I get it. I used to do that too.

Whether it’s pizza, burgers, junk food, cupcakes or ice cream (or all of them) that light up your brain’s pleasure center, we’re eating too much of the food that’s not healthy for our bodies to function optimally. Whether it’s wine, cocktails, the hard stuff or beer, we’re drinking too much alcohol as well.

Here’s what I’ve discovered, based on a consistent pattern.

If I eat foods on a regular basis that are high in fat (meat, dairy, eggs, processed foods like potato chips), and when I drink alcohol (usually red wine) on a regular basis, that’s when the hot flashes interfere with my life. 

When I commit to eating healthy and do so for several weeks or months, I drop the fatty foods and booze and eat whole plant foods that are naturally low in fat (and high in fiber). I eat vegetables (lots of raw veggies), fruit, potatoes, grains, raw seeds/nuts, and beans, and then my hot flashes decrease in…

  • Frequency: they happen much less often
  • Intensity: they are more warm than hot
  • Duration: they last only a minute or two instead of several minutes

When I veer off track and succumb to the lure of the fatty-food world and red wine again (for several days or weeks), then I’m back to being a hot sweaty mess. 

My body has shown me the way. I don’t make perfect choices every day, but I know from my six years of living with hot flashes that what I eat and drink directly impacts them.

This means that it’s up to me.

As I draft this post, it is 5:30 am, and I’ve been up for over an hour. Three times, in the middle of the night, I had to get up, grab a towel and put it on top of my sheets and pillow, which were wet with sweat. That’s three towels. Each one got too wet to sleep on comfortably. After the third towel, as I was lying in bed, I just couldn’t sleep, so I got up to write about what was happening.

hot flashes while sleeping
maenopause

I was thinking about the last five days of eating and drinking. It was Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. My diet is far from perfect, but overall, I’ve been eating very well. It has been many months since I’ve had to put a towel on top of my sheets.

This weekend, I made the choice to eat foods I normally would not eat: turkey, mashed potatoes with butter, cheese, eggs and pumpkin pie. I had some potato chips, but that was it for processed food. I knew I was just treating myself for the weekend and thought a few days of eating off track would be fine.

But, the fatty food frenzy turned into five days, and my body said enough. My body showed me it wasn’t happy by giving me a horrible sleep with frequent and intense hot flashes.

So, here’s my thinking…

If I don’t have many hot flashes when I eat one way, and then I have lots of them when I eat another way, it just makes sense that something is off with what I’m eating when I’m having lots of hot flashes. The only thing that was different was the food I ate and the increase in my alcohol consumption.

Logic tells me my body is sending me a signal to stick to the healthier, low-fat way of eating, focused on whole plant foods. 

The hot flashes might be about something more dangerous too. They could be a warning sign because I don’t know what other hidden effects there might be to eating a diet that includes plenty of high fat foods like meat, dairy, eggs and processed foods. (There is considerable evidence that such a diet contributes to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases, but I won’t go into that here).

I had already been shocked by a breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 54, so I’m fully aware of how health issues can not only surprise you, but sneak up on you. After my diagnosis, I discovered that there are three significant factors for a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer are:

  1. Being overweight
  2. Drinking alcohol (The World Health Organization says there is no safe level.)
  3. Being sedentary

I was all three. Since my diagnosis, I have lost 30 lbs and walk outside for 30 minutes or more almost every day

Note: I am NOT saying that if you have hot flashes, you will get cancer.

I AM saying that when your body produces symptoms that are uncomfortable or painful, you need to pay attention. Listen to your body. Investigate and do your own research. Don’t assume, and don’t count on your doctor or health care system to always know what’s best for you.

One other thing that helps keep my hot flashes at bay is keeping my stress levels low. I’ve noticed that often, a hot flash comes after a stressful thought. If you have a lot of daily stress, examine your thoughts and try to catch yourself when you have a negative thought or thinking that gives you significant stress. Sometimes, I can greatly reduce the intensity and duration of my hot flash when I catch myself in a negative or stressful thought.

Although we are all unique, I’m sure my body is not so unique that the things that have helped me reduce hot flashes wouldn’t help other women too. I hope my experience gives you some insight into your own journey with menopause.

Here are some general tips I would give to anyone experiencing hot flashes regularly, and especially if they are frequent, intense and last several minutes or more:

  1. Eat few processed foods.
  2. Limit your alcohol intake to a few drinks on the weekend.
  3. Go alcohol-free for 30 days. See the difference.
  4. Focus on getting as many vegetables in your body as you can each day.
  5. Experiment with different ways of eating (over a period of  a week or more) to see if you notice any reduction in your hot flashes.
  6. Consider trying a whole food, plant-based diet that has very little oil, sugar or salt.
  7. Reduce your stress by finding healthy techniques or activities.
  8. Keep a health/wellness journal for a month or so to track what you eat and drink and to record your hot flash activity. 

Many women will not make any dietary changes because they don’t want to give up alcohol or certain foods. I get it. We’re hooked on certain foods, and they’re hard to give up.

hot flashes menopause

But, if you’re using food or alcohol to cope with menopause, consider trying the tips given above. You will likely be able to reduce your hot flashes to a point where you no longer need to cope.

I don’t have it all figured out; I still get hot flashes. Even though I haven’t been able to change my lifestyle permanently, yet, I have valuable information that can help me reduce my hot flashes.

It’s my hope that you’ll experiment with your diet and alcohol consumption and make your own discoveries.

Be HEALTHY (Healthy Eating And Living Transforms and Heals You),

Alison Carrey

September Update on my 1200 km Walking Goal for 2021

I was able to share my preferred route in Assiniboine Forest on a group walk with members of the Plant-based Living Winnipeg community (find the group on Facebook). The group was founded, and is run by, the passionate and knowledgeable Michelle Tree.

I really upped my walking game this month. 🙂

Scroll to the bottom to see my total km for September and for 2021, to date.

The first month of autumn provided such lovely warm weather, so it was extra easy to tie up my laces and head out for a walk, especially a walk in nature.

About halfway through the month, I focused on trying to get in more longer walks (5 km +), which really helped me log those km.

Another draw for getting outside was the gorgeous fall leaf colors. One of my favorite walks is at Beaudry Provincial Park, which I wrote about in the post about my August walking update, and it provided a brilliant display of yellows and reds.

walking in Beaudry Provincial Park

This month, I was able to share my preferred route in Assiniboine Forest on a group walk with members of the Plant-based Living Winnipeg community (find the group on Facebook). The group was founded, and is run by, the passionate and knowledgeable Michelle Tree.

We walked almost 6 km that day, which was filled with sunshine and good conversation.

group walk plant-based living winnipeg
plant-based living winnipeg michelle tree
Alison Carrey (left) Michelle Tree (right)

September was filled with more variety in my walks. I walked in Assiniboine Forest with my husband and son-in-law’s dog, and we spent time with our granddaughter walking at Assiniboine Park.

Walking in Assiniboine Park

A few times, I just hopped on the treadmill to get in some walking. It’s important that I keep walking as a habit, so having a way to walk indoors when I need it is awesome! Last year, we put the treadmill in the living room. I use it much more in the colder months since it’s in our main living area and not out of site in the basement.

While on the treadmill one day, I watched an interesting video with Dr. Michael Klaper where he was interviewed on The Ellen Fisher Podcast (Michelle Tree recommended the video inside the Plant-based Living Winnipeg Facebook group). He’s passionate about living a plant-based lifestyle for health and dedicates most of his time teaching medical students about how eating healthy plant foods can improve and reverse chronic diseases.

At the very end of September, I even walked along Grand Beach and on the nearby trail.

Walking at Grand Beach
Walking on a Grand Beach trail

Here’s a recap of my year walking:

163.07 km September (my best month so far!)

116.76 km August (always happy when it’s over 100)

104.69 km July (not too shabby)

99.1 km June

154.43 km  May (I killed it this month!)

48.87 km  April

 33.85 km  March (10-day water fast from March 20-29, so much less walking)

50.36 km  February

122.13 km  January (high number due to initial dedication and interest)

2021 distance total is 893.26 km. 

What a great month September was for walking! Loved it!

Be HEALTHY (Healthy Eating And Living Transforms and Heals You),

Alison Carrey

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