They’re berry good for you: Acai and goji and bil, oh my!

Goji berries / Image source: blog.nekterjuicebar.com
Handful of acai berries / Image source: Mayo Clinic News Network

They're berry good for you: Acai and goji and bil, oh my!

Raspberries? Blueberries? Strawberries? Pffft. Been there, ate that.

I kid. I’m not really slagging them. Whatever your preference, berries typically deliver high amounts of Vitamin C, dietary fibre, and antioxidants. You see them in a wide variety of dishes from jams to juices to pancakes, where they add colour and a wide spectrum of flavours ranging from sweet to sour and beyond. Today we look at three lesser-known but ultra-healthy members of the berry family.

Acai berries and power / Image source: evolution-slimming.comAcai berries

Among the best known exotic berries, acai berries are native to the Brazilian Amazon region and are popular for their high  antioxidant content. In fact, they may contain up to ten times as much antioxidant polyphenols as blueberries. Acai berries have been linked to reductions in cholesterol levels and post-exercise oxidative stress.

Acai berry fans tout many other possible health benefits for these Brazilian berries, including heart and skin health, weight loss, energy boost, anti-aging properties, and more. And no list of possible health claims would be complete, of course, without references to the male libido; acai berries are said to help in this regard by promoting increased blood circulation. 

Acai berries are perishable, and thus are usually shipped frozen. They can be used in juices and powders and eaten with yogurt, cereals, and desserts.

Goji berries / Image source: blog.nekterjuicebar.comGoji berries

Traditionally used as a medicinal food in China, goji berries have a sweet taste tinged with a little sour and are often marketed in dried form. In addition to being potent sources of Vitamin A and copper, goji berries are high in  zeaxanthin, making them a powerful supplement to eye health. They also contain antioxidant polyphenols, which can protect against ultraviolet light. Other possible benefits include boosting the immune system and reducing the risk of cancer.

Some research draws links between goji berries and sexual performance, and even suggests that they can function as an alternative to medications such as Viagra.

Goji berries can be used in smoothies, yogurt, cereal, salads, and more. You can also enjoy them by the handful like raisins.

Fresh bilberries / Image source: linnea.chBilberries

Bilberries are similar to blueberries but are smaller, softer, and darker. They are good sources of fibre and Vitamin C, and are said to help reduce inflammation, blood sugar, and cholesterol. One study tied them to weight loss and reduced waist circumference. Other potential benefits include stronger blood vessels and better circulation, prevention of cell damage, possible reduction in blood glucose levels, and treating diarrhea and nausea. 

Like the other berries, bilberries are a good source of dietary antioxidants, manganese, zinc, and iron. Bilberry extract has been cited as an effective defense against a number of eye problems, including some tied to aging. The fruit is also said to have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties.

Bilberries can be used in preserves, pies, jams, and tarts. The juice can be enjoyed straight or used as the basis for liqueurs and syrups. Even the leaves can be used to brew tea!

Bottom line

Like their better-known cousins, today’s berries pack a healthy punch. They’re low in calories but high in fibre, and excellent sources of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. And their lively flavours can help reduce cravings for sugary snacks. In short, there are berry good reasons to make them part of your daily diet!

Disclaimer: this site is not offering professional medical or nutritional advice. If you have questions about these foods and your health, ask your family doctor or a qualified nutritionist.

Focus on supplements: collagen can help with many things, but is it right for you?

Collagen powder / Image source: Clear Medicine
Collagen powder / Image source: Clear Medicine

Focus on supplements: collagen can help with many things, but is it right for you?

I’ve had many clients ask me about the health benefits of collagen. They want to know what it is, what it does, how it helps…and if it actually works.

Collagen is a protein, made up of long chains of linked amino acids, and plays a key role in the connective tissue throughout our entire body — contributing to the function of skin, blood vessels, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. However, as we age, the production of this protein slows down.

Besides from improvements to the text of skin and hair, people are turning to collagen for relief from joint pain and stiffness, as well as help with digestive issues. Collagen supplements are available as tablets, capsules, and powders. To be effective, collagen supplements must be hydrolyzed. Hydrolyzation breaks the collagen down into peptides, making it easier for the body to absorb and use.

If you are interested in adding collagen to your diet, look for companies that get their bones and tissues from cage-free, pasture-raised, free-range, and antibiotic-free sources. Animal sources of collagen who have been treated humanely are more likely to be free from hormones, pesticides, and heavy metals. With marine collagen, you also need to read labels carefully to refrain from supporting fish farms.

While collagen powder dissolves in most hot liquids, marine collagen can clump together and require more stirring. It is also has no flavour so is easily added to coffee, tea, or oatmeal without compromising taste.

There are currently not many known risks associated with collagen supplemented. However, if you have an allergy to fish or shellfish, you should avoid marine collagen to prevent allergic reactions. Some people have experience digestive side effects like a feeling of fullness or heartburn.

Like any new supplement, it’s best to start off slow. Add a teaspoon to your morning coffee or tea and see if collagen is for you.

Do you really want to change?

Change often comes one droplet at a time / image source: medium.com
Change often comes one droplet at a time / image source: medium.com

Do you really want to change?

One of the biggest reasons why people start working with a personal trainer is that they want to change. There has been a moment of realization when change becomes essential. Whether incited by a past or upcoming doctor’s visit or the inability to get into your favourite pair of jeans, you are propelled to take charge of your health. And the change will begin.

We all embark on change with the best intentions. But the reality is that change is hard. We say we want to commit ourselves to transformation — but this is often a slow process. One of the reasons why people have embraced the keto diet is that it works quickly. Making those adjustments results in significant and quick weight loss. When we see the effects of change and want to continue. When it looks like we’re putting in effort and don’t see results … well, it’s hard to keep on track.

Additionally, it’s easy to say we want to change but when it comes down to putting in the work…that’s a lot harder. It pushes us out of comfort zone and makes us feel vulnerable. We don’t ever want to appear weak or in need of help. It’s the daily armour we put up that allows us to move through a world that is often complicated and cruel.

If you’ve settled changing something in your life, how can you make it last? Well, change has two parts. There is the thought and there is the action. You can say you want to start running three times a week, and you can really want to start running three times a week, but if you aren’t actually running three times a week, then you need to put those runs in your schedule. Do you need to wake up a little earlier to accomplish this? Can you run home from work? If you aren’t looking for solutions and ways to make change part of your daily life, then it isn’t important enough.

With lifestyle changes, the journey is the focus. The results are surprises. They creep up on you when you least expect it. It’s being able to cycle up a hill without feeling winded or sustaining a 5KM run without walking. It’s choosing a salad because you just want a salad, and not because any diet plan tells you to eat salad. It’s prioritizing yourself and your workouts without feeling guilty.

Change happens in tiny increments, so don’t get discouraged. Allow yourself to appreciate the journey and reject quick fixes. In the end, it’s the change that is earned that is the change that lasts forever.


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Diets come and go, but how do you decide which one works for you? Listen to your body​

Post-workout meal / image source: Healthline
Post-workout meal / image source: Healthline

Diets come and go, but how do you decide which one works for you? Listen to your body

A new diet is introduced and it’s hailed as a fast way to lose weight and get healthy. The culture embraces this diet and celebrates it. Celebrities post before and after photographs and articles citing scientific evidence are published in journals.

Then, everything changes. The backlash begins as the truth comes out. This diet isn’t healthy, it’s too restrictive, it harms your body, or causes severe side effects. Lines are drawn and the information becomes increasingly confusing. For every positive, there’s a negative ready to address each specific claim.

Recently, the keto diet has been in the news because celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels has come out strongly against it. She describes its negative effect on the body. And maybe Michaels is right. However, she is also someone who recommended that people who were gaining weight from antidepressants go off their medication and that it’s okay for pregnant women to occasionally have a drink.

But the truth is that regardless of Michaels’ feelings about the keto diet, the backlash against popular ways of eating is inevitable. Remember Atkins, South Beach, the Master Cleanse, Whole 30, Eat Right for Your Blood Type, fasting, the Mediterranean diet, juice cleanses, paleo, clean eating, weight loss tea, apple cider vinegar, intermittent fasting, coffee enemas…and on and on. Every single one of these diets swept through our culture and was hailed as the new hope of quick and easy weight loss. And only months later, these diet cookbooks fight for space in the bargain bin.

Despite the different rules of diets, they are all aimed at the same basic formula: ingest fewer calories and burn more calories. Eat less, move more. How you trick your body into eating fewer calories is really at the diet’s heart. Whether it’s a deliberate feeding time, constantly drinking liquid, or ingesting protein that sends your body the satiety signals, each diet works the same way.

For some people, having a restricted diet helps them feel in control of their relationship with food. It prohibits feelings of bingeing and stops them from reaching for sugar-filled, high carb snacks. For others, the set of laws that govern diets is enough to shake them out of the misconception that they are eating healthy. These extreme diets can be the wake-up call that you need to assess your habits and help examine your relationship with food.

Where diets become dangerous is when they aren’t actually good for you. And the you is not general, it’s very specific and individual. While your friend may find the keto diet the best way to make healthy changes in her life, you might find yourself struggling. I remember when I was drinking bulletproof coffee in the morning and I felt extreme pains in my side that sent me to the hospital. The ingestion of this type fat was not right for me — and I had to stop immediately. However, I have several clients that put the exact same oil in their coffee and swear by it.

There is no overarching diet that is good for everyone. If you want to try cutting out carbs or trading in a smoothie for a meal, I think you should. But if you are in pain or suffering from weakness and lack of energy, you need to supplement what you are doing with different foods. And your body will actually tell you what you are missing. Those hunger pangs, and I’m not talking about cravings for peanut M&Ms, are your body telling you what it needs. From meat to more vegetables, listening to your body will help you navigate the complicated waters of eating.

Diets may come and go. You might find one that works for you, or you might laugh at the time you ate cabbage soup for a week and spent more time in the bathroom than at your desk. What isn’t negotiable is listening to what your body needs and not being afraid to break from an extreme eating routine.

Is it authentic, or just a manufactured influencer? Be wary of ‘advice’ contrived via social media

social media influencers / Image source: appinstitute.com
social media influencers / Image source: appinstitute.com

Is it authentic, or just a manufactured influencer? Be wary of ads contrived via social media

If you are engaged in social media, and especially Instagram, you are probably familiar with the power of influencers. These are ordinary people, just like you and me, who lovingly curate their feeds with inspirational photos of their meals, exercise routines, glorious sunrises, and breathtaking sunsets. They tag their posts with #blessed, #fitspo, and #empowered — and offer us all a slice of a more perfect life. It can be fun to thumb through the feeds of people of all shapes and sizes living their best lives and offering us that push that we can do it too.

Influencers can be found in all corners of the online fitness social communities. From trainers to fit-at-any-size marathoners to mothers entering their first weightlifting competitions, social media has given voice to those who might not fit the stereotype of a typical fitness devotee.

Recently, high levels of Instagram user engagement have given companies an opportunity to capitalize on users with thousands of followers.These Instagram ads, for which influencers can be paid an estimated $1,000 per 100,000 followers, are selling not just a product but an entire lifestyle. They also might be selling bad fitness and diet-related advice.

9 out of 10 patients look to influencers and online communities when making health and wellness decisions. 94% of people share influencer-driven health information with others.

But let’s think about the reality of these influencers. Are they qualified to provide wellness advice? Or are they motivated by a desire to promote certain products or simply to further their personal brands? Because sponcon (sponsored content) can be positioned alongside other posts, it can be difficult to separate the paid ads from the personal stories.

As you scroll through different feeds, keep an eye out for these paid promotions masquerading as solid lifestyle advice. Because influencers are more likely to be ordinary people and not celebrities, they are more valuable to sponsors and appear more trustworthy. Having 100,000 followers does not make you a fitness expert. It does not make you a qualified trainer or a nutritionist. What it makes you is a person with beautiful photos and a performance of authenticity that appeals to your followers.

Before you take advice from anyone you follow on social media, take a moment to evaluate this advice. Is there a prominent brand name dominating the caption? Could these before and after photos be altered in any way? Are you taking advice from influencers you would never even consider if it came from your best friend, a neighbour, or a casual acquaintance?

If you said answered “yes” to any of these questions, maybe it’s time to click “unfollow”.

Special-occasion weight loss and what happens the day after

measuring tape around waist
Foot on scale with flowers for weight loss post

Special-occasion weight loss and what happens the day after

This post originally appeared June 18, 2018.

I’ve had a lot of clients come to me with a specific goal or date in mind. It’s the wedding dates or the high-school reunions that have motivated them to take the first steps to weight loss. Whether powered by a desire to transform themselves or fit into a magical size, these are some of the most committed people that I’ve ever seen.

They meet with me multiple times a week.

They follow the diet rules. (BTW, I hate the word “diet.”)

They track their food and obsessively count calories.

And they count down to that special day.

And, not surprisingly, many of them achieve their goals. When you’re dedicated and have an end date in mind, your own laser focus can take you wherever you need to go. As a trainer, I work with my clients to target specific areas and celebrate weight-loss milestones. I love seeing my clients achieve their goals, but there’s always this little voice in my head that haunts every weigh-in.

“What about the day after?” it says.

Don’t backslide

Because I’ve seen it happen so many times. The day after the marathon is completed or the cake is cut. What happens next? What happens when real life sets in and there’s no focused end date for this fitness-first mentality?

Sadly, I’ve seen the most motivated people cancel workouts and slide back into unhealthy habits without a solid goal and a date. I’ve seen all the good work replaced with weight gain and frustration. Without the focused goal date, it’s difficult to get re-motivated until the next big event. We’ve talked about the challenge of maintaining commitment before. And the cycle continues.

That’s why I always recommend that my clients train for life — real life and not a cut-off date. By integrating healthy habits into the everyday, you can avoid the disappointment of special-occasion weight gain … that follows special-occasion weight loss. Focusing on overall wellbeing develops patterns and a healthy baseline.

So, train for today and not tomorrow.

Laura's question of the week

Have you ever resolved to lose x amount of weight for a specific occasion? What was it for?

  • Wedding?
  • Christening?
  • Bar / Bat Mitzvah?

Were you able to maintain it? Let us know!

stock shot of tape measure around waist of woman in bridal gown

Don’t take bad habits on holiday: Three tips to keep vacations good for your health

Holidays can be a chance to enjoy exotic dishes -- better than overindulging familiar not-so-healthy fare.
Holidays can be a chance to enjoy exotic dishes -- better than overindulging familiar not-so-healthy fare.

Don't take bad habits on holiday: Three tips to keep vacations good for your health

I remember being at an airport a couple of years ago and seeing a sign that made me laugh and think. “Vacation calories don’t count!” it exclaimed. For so many of us, vacations are a break from the routine. This doesn’t just include work but can extend to diet and exercise. We can see vacations as a free-for-all, a magical time period where calories don’t count and exercise is an inconvenience.

I get it. When on vacation, you want to indulge in the things that you normally wouldn’t touch when you’re at home. So how can you find a healthy balance? Here are three things you can do to make the most of your vacation while staying committed to maintaining your health goals:

Avoid the buffet — if possible

Whether you’re at an all-inclusive, on a cruise, or at a hotel, the lure of the buffet is an on-going temptation. Because of the choices on offer, it can be easy to go back and overindulge. But the days of the 99-cent buffet are long gone.  Today, buffets can be just as expensive as eating in a proper restaurant.

If a buffet is your only option, use smaller plates and focus on the foods you will really enjoy. Don’t look at a buffet as a FOMO experience — much of the same food will be available the following day. While there may be slight variations, by day two or three, you will know your buffet’s offerings by heart. Also, take advantage of the chefs to prepare fresh choices.

Eat local

As our world becomes increasingly commercial, it’s not surprising to see a familiar restaurant chain on the main street of your vacation destination. Instead of gravitating towards what you know, a holiday can be the opportunity to try something different and local. Find those little restaurants and eat like a local. This may require venturing off the resort, so get a recommendation from your hotel. People are eager to share their regional cuisine and culture. One of the best Chinese meals I ever had was in Cuba.

Eating local also means eating at different times of day. When in Spain, head out for dinner at 10 PM and don’t be afraid to ask questions as you peruse the menu. Eating is an adventure and while you might not like everything, you’ll definitely come home with one or two unexpected new dishes that you’ll be excited to incorporate into your routine.

Keep active

While you may not want to spend 30 minutes of your vacation on the treadmill at the hotel fitness centre, there are many ways to stay active on vacations. If you’re on a city break, walk as much as you can. You’ll see more and uncover hidden gems that you never thought you would experience. Walking immerses you in a new place and slows you down to take in your surroundings.

The same goes for exploring nature. Hiking, rock-climbing, zip-lining, discovering ruins, or paddling a canoe lets you experience different environments and landscapes — and reminds us all why we need to protect these places.

If you’re on a beach vacation, swimming can get your heart rate up. We’re not talking about mindless laps in the pool while dodging an unruly game of Marco Polo. Snorkelling can introduce you to a beautiful undersea world and the strange creatures that live there. Even walking along the beach provides resistance which can turn a leisurely stroll into an activity that raises your heart rate.

A vacation can be a break but it’s not an excuse to return to bad habits and destroy all your good work. By making sure that each indulgence is deliberate and taking the time to get some well-needed rest, you can come back home reinvigorated and ready to commit to yourself.  

Chaga mushrooms: the newest superfood?

Chaga mushroom / Image source: Medical News Today
Chaga mushroom / Image source: Medical News Today

Chaga mushrooms: the newest superfood?

It feels like a new superfood is celebrated every three months. From Acai berries to celery juice, superfoods come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges. It can be hard to keep track of the benefits of these exalted products — and separating the hype from the healing benefits.

Chaga, a type of mushroom, feels like 2019’s new entry into the superfood cycle. It  is believed to open blood vessels, lower blood pressure, enhance healing, and reduce diabetic blood-sugar levels. Chaga is naturally anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-Candida, which helps to keep foreign bacteria and microorganisms in check while promoting healthy flora and intestinal health. Increasingly, researchers are examining the possibility that chaga mushrooms may be able to prevent cancer and slow its growth.

Although chaga consumption does not commonly produce adverse side effects, there are still some precautions you should take. There is some uncertainty in how it interacts with prescription medication. Chaga may affect blood-thinning drugs (such as aspirin) due to its unique properties — slowing down blood clotting due to its blood-thinning characteristics. Another drug that can react negatively with chaga is insulin. Because chaga lowers blood sugar, it can be dangerous for people taking insulin and other blood-sugar-lowering medications.

Chaga mushroom is available as a supplement and in herbal teas. We always recommend moderation when introducing any new food into your diet — even one with so many healthy properties. You just don’t know how you will react, and everyone has different sensitivities.

If you are curious, you can purchase chaga from your trusted health food store or online retailer. Just make sure that you are using a reliable source. A buying guide to chaga is available here:  https://chaga101.com/chaga-buying-guide/.

Measuring your progress means finding the right way to measure

Don't let the scale be the only measure of your progress. / Image source: Pixabay
The way your clothes fit you can be a great measure of progress. / Image source: pixabay.com

Measuring your progress means finding the right way to measure

You step on the scale … and the results are enough to reinforce all that negative self-talk.

It feels like you will never reach your goals. You don’t see enough progress and get frustrated. Is it time to throw in the towel and give up? Do you need another pep talk about how you aren’t working hard enough, how you don’t have will power, and aren’t committed to achieving what you’ve promised yourself?

But the scale doesn’t tell the whole story.

It’s impossible for those numbers to tell you that you’re losing the right kind of weight in the right kind of places. There are so many other aspects to consider, including how you look, feel, and where the weight loss is coming from — your muscles or your stored fat.  

If you count out the scale, how else can you measure your progress? What are the markers you can use to ensure that you’re moving in the right direction?

  1. Use Measurements

Scales don’t track muscle or fat. Even those body-fat calibration scales aren’t entirely accurate. If you are interested in seeing how your body composition has changed, take measurements over time. Using a tape measure to capture your waist, hips, chest, biceps, thighs, or calves can demonstrate how you are reshaping your body.

  1. Take photos

Everyone loves a good before and after photo. If you don’t mind posing for the camera, get a friend or loved one to take a picture of you in the same outfit over time. You can see how these items of clothing fit differently and how your body composition shifts over time. Being committed to a photo shoot every month can help you see the results that those numbers on the scale gloss over.

  1. Small Activity goals

By gradually increasing your reps, your weights, or your endurance, you will be able to experience your progress. If you were lifting 10 lbs with one arm and your trainer moves you up to 15 lbs, how can you not be getting stronger? If you are using a running app like Couch to 10K and you find yourself running more than walking, how is this not progress? It’s hard when we’re in our own bodies to assess how far we’ve come, so take a moment to realize how much you’ve accomplished … and then set your next goal.  

  1. Know your numbers

At your next physical, get your key markers of heart health like blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and waist circumference. These numbers are key to understanding what your healthy lifestyle is doing in your body. More important than the number of your size tag, these heart health numbers can help you refine how you eat and exercise. This is the real reward for all your hard work — living longer in a body you deserve.

While I don’t necessarily recommend throwing out the scale, it’s essential that it’s not the only way we measure success. If you must weigh yourself, I recommend stepping on the scale only once a week at the most.

Our bodies are complicated machines and always in flux. There are other ways to calibrate success rather than these numbers that may undo all your good work.

Jesus and the Apostles didn’t binge at the Last Supper, and neither should you

Repeat after me: Jesus did not binge. / Image source: glittergraphics.org
Repeat after me: Jesus did not binge. / Image source: glittergraphics.org

Jesus and the Apostles didn't binge at the Last Supper, and neither should you

Have you ever decided to start a diet on a Monday and spent the entire weekend indulging in everything that you will not be able to eat once the diet begins? It’s not surprising that if you are about to embark on a restrictive diet, you want to eat all the foods that will be off limits. From a string of chocolate bars to stuffing ourselves at a family gathering, we promise once the diet begins we will say goodbye to the sugar, fats, carbs, and processed treats that we love so much.

But this sabotages our diets before they begin.

Last Supper Syndrome is part of the vicious dieting cycle. If you are going to experience famine, why wouldn’t you feast? This knowledge drives you to eat as if you will never be able to eat these special treats again. And we begin our new diet with feelings of guilt, punishment, and fear.

We know we shouldn’t feel that eating healthy is something negative. But if we focus on deprivation and dividing food up into positives and negatives, we are stuck in a constant cycle:

  1. Start the diet feeling unhappy and scared, focusing on forbidden foods
  2. Break down and eat something that isn’t permitted by the diet
  3. Feeling guilty about failing
  4. Make a plan to diet even harder the next time.
  5. Go back to step 1.

By falsely associating the foods we love with relaxation and happiness (and associating diet with the hard work and effort), we fool ourselves on a regular basis. If we are going to succeed, we need to create a healthy relationship with food.

Foods aren’t good or bad — those are just the labels that we put on them. By making your special forbidden foods part of your regular diet, they will lose their appeal. After all, how many times do you swear off pasta and find yourself thinking of pasta…all the time? These associations that come with deprivation only build a bigger mystique and entice us to break our commitment to clean eating.

Developing a healthy relationship with food can be a lifelong challenge. From comfort to reward to a signifier of celebration and companionship, detangling nourishment from emotions is a difficult process. By thinking about how we view food and examining its hold on our emotions, we can start one meal (or even one snack) at a time to evaluate this relationship.

Being healthy isn’t about consuming as much as possible before an arbitrary start date. It’s about being kind to your body and your mind and untangling ourselves from the constant diet cycle.