The year 2020 will go down as one of the worst years on record for well, a lot of things. The Covid-19 pandemic impacted people in different ways, but we can all agree it was a stressful and anxiety-inducing time for everyone. I found myself willing to try anything and everything that could make me feel better—both mentally and physically.
Some of the attempts were a waste of time and money. For example, tracking down different essential oils to impact my mood. They all smelled pretty good, but I can’t say that one or another actually helped me fall asleep or noticeably reduced stress. Oh, well.
But, a lot of my wellness experiments did work. And those are the results I’m reporting here, on what I call my “15 Days of Feeling Better.”
One of the items I tried is this unexpected device that reduced my low back pain: a Theragun Elite ($549) percussion massage gun. The Theragun mini is also one of the best back massagers for lower back pain.
However, I should emphasize that percussion massage guns should not be used on acute injuries like muscle spasms, ligament sprains, and muscle strains. (Consult a medical professional before trying a percussion massage gun at home if you have injuries or chronic health conditions.)
(Related: 6 Helpful Products for Lower Back Pain)
What is a percussion massage gun?
Percussive massage devices, sometimes called massage guns, have moved from wellness trend to wellness obsession. The devices are popular with personal trainers, massage therapists, and weekend warriors who spend their time training for and recovering from sports and marathons.
I encountered my first percussion massage gun at the chiropractor’s office, and I’ve seen versions of the devices all over social media and holiday gift guides since.
Let me back up. In 2019 (gosh that seems like a long time ago), I sprained my low back during a particularly intense HIIT bootcamp class. The pain was so extreme, prescription muscle relaxers didn’t even stop the spasms. I finally found relief with a chiropractor who manually adjusted my back.
But since that initial jolt of debilitating pain, I’ve worked out less frequently due to fear of hurting myself again. And even though I did lower back stretches and still saw a chiropractor for adjustments after small flare-ups, I started to think I’d just always have to live with some low back pain.
And I’m not alone. According to Statistics Canada, 80 percent of adults will experience back pain at some point in their lives.
My first percussion massage gun experience
After the back sprain healed, one of the follow-up treatments the chiropractor performed was using a percussion massage gun.
What is a percussion massage gun? It’s a small handheld device that looks more like a drill than a gun. It has a trigger or button that controls a massaging ball or point at the end. This is applied to different areas of the body to loosen muscles, break up knots, and increase blood flow—among other healing benefits.
When my chiropractor used a percussion massage gun all over my back in her office, it felt amazing. It felt almost like getting a very strong, very pointed shiatsu massage from a hammer—but in a good way. After the treatment, my back felt great—no tightness or sudden pain if I moved wrong.
I considered booking a follow-up appointment just for another massage gun treatment! When a Therabody publicist reached out to ask if I wanted to borrow a percussion massage gun to try at home, I was thrilled.
However, it’s important to note that when I initially went to the chiropractor with a sprained lower back, the doctor did not use a percussion massage gun—it could have been damaging.
Potential benefits of percussion massage guns
Randi Jaffe, a chiropractor in New York City, explains, “Massage guns offer what is known as percussive or vibration therapy. The device provides rapid bursts of pressure into the muscle and surrounding soft tissues. The combination of the vibration and force have numerous benefits.”
The device concentrates on muscles and connective tissue, which is what helps our mobility. It can be beneficial for post-workout muscle soreness, for example.
“The main goals of percussive therapy are to increase blood flow to the area, decrease muscle tightness and tension, increase flexibility, provide pain relief, increase range of motion, reduce scar tissue, and assist in faster recovery time from workouts,” Jaffe says.
Along with easing muscle tension and tightness, Jaffe explains, “They can also be used to ease stress, general tension, and help with sleep. Additionally, they can help reduce trigger points or ‘knots’ in the muscles.” Wait, so a percussion massage gun can reduce my back pain and help me sleep? Sounds like a miracle product.
Using a percussion massage gun at home
I started using the Theragun Elite percussion massage gun the day it arrived in the mail. It came charged, and with instructions for how to sync the device’s Bluetooth to the Therabody app. This is key. Using the app allows you to select from preloaded massage therapies for specific parts of the body or workout aftercare.
For instance, there’s a post-run recovery setting that guides the percussion gun over different muscle groups that runners tend to use. The intensity and duration are preset and you’ll be visually prompted to move the gun from the calves to the quads and so on. Cool!
The Theragun Elite comes with five different attachments to affix to the end of the gun. The app offers suggestions on which attachments are specific for different problems and body parts. I use the thumb attachment to really dig into my low back, and the dampener for bony body parts like my hips and foot arch.
You can also just turn on the Theragun Elite and run it along your muscles. However, there’s a learning curve to figuring out which settings and attachments are best for your body. After the initial novelty of learning how to use the gun and seeing how it felt on different muscle groups wore off, I got into a percussion massage gun routine.
I like to use it at night while I’m watching TV—which isn’t a problem thanks to the quiet motor. I use it on my low back and also the tight points in my body that come from working at a desk all day. Yep, the app has a routine for office workers. It also feels exceptionally good on the arches of my feet after ice skating.
On weekends, I like to use the sleep feature in the app to help me wind down and relax.
Are percussion massage guns safe?
The hardest part of getting started with the Theragun Elite is fighting the desire to turn it on full blast for as long as you can stand the pressure. Don’t do that! It’s important to go slow.
I asked Jaffe if percussion massage guns are safe. She warns, “Percussive devices are mostly safe to use at home but should be used with great caution and care. These devices can be intense, especially when used at higher settings and with deep pressure. They can even do damage to the muscles and other soft tissues when not used properly.”
They shouldn’t be used by children or people who have a loss of sensation, such as those with peripheral neuropathy. (The condition causes numbness that can be due to diabetes-related nerve damage or the side effects of chemotherapy.)
As I mentioned, my doctor did not use a percussion massage gun on my back until after the injured area had healed.
You should definitely talk to your doctor if you have injuries or chronic health conditions, and don’t use percussion massage guns for muscle spasms, sprains, or muscle strains.
The pros and cons of the Theragun Elite
The Theragun Elite has provided me with much needed back pain relief in a decent amount of time. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed using it, but I must admit, there are several pros and cons to consider.
- It works! I feel noticeably looser in my back, shoulders, and hamstrings (which is where I regularly use the massage gun.)
- Customizable speed and intensity range allows users to start slow and safe.
- Bluetooth technology syncs to an app for customized massage therapy for everything from better sleep to post-ski relief to lower back therapy.
- Long-lasting battery life. I charge mine about every three weeks, and use it almost daily.
- Comes with five attachments for specific therapies. For instance, the wedge attachment is designed for IT bands and shoulder blades.
- It’s quiet. You can watch TV without the motor noise overpowering the news report.
- It doesn’t start and stall (a noted problem among competing percussion massage guns). Expect even percussion.
- Can be used as a gentle and relaxing massage device for those who don’t have back or body pain.
- $400 is pricey. There’s a mini version for $249 if you want to start small.
- The Therabody app is a little wonky at times. Sometimes the screen freezes and I don’t get the next direction to move the Theragun.
- Like with all percussion massage guns, it can be difficult to reach every part of your back at the right angle.
Did using a percussion massage gun make me feel better?
Absolutely. I haven’t been to the chiropractor since August, and I’ve been using the Theragun Elite regularly at home since October. After about a month of consistent use, I noticed a serious decrease in lower back tightness. After two months, my back stopped twinging completely.
Now that I’m more than three months in, my winter workout routine includes rebounding, lifting weights, cross country skiing, and ice skating—without back pain.
I’m excited to (hopefully) get back to bootcamp workouts this spring. I’ll take it slow, and use the Theragun Elite percussion massage gun after.
Maybe it’s our obsession with plant-based protein. Or maybe it’s the allure of food that’s quick, healthy, and convenient. But tofu is having a moment. In the first half of 2020, tofu sales skyrocketed by 40 percent. And the trend shows no signs of slowing down, according to a market analysis published in 2019 by Grand View Research
“Tofu is a fabulous plant protein option for everyone,” says Desiree Nielsen, RD, author of Eat More Plants: Over 100 Anti-Inflammatory, Plant-Based Recipes for Vibrant Living. “It’s seriously underrated because it’s up against new ‘meatier’ plant-based options such as Beyond Beef.” These new meat substitutes come with a surprising amount of saturated fat and salt, she says. So tofu is a less-processed, healthier alternative.
Where does tofu come from?
Tofu (aka bean curd) may be a decades-old option in the United States, but it’s been a protein staple in Asia for centuries. Tofu got its start in China in roughly 220 B.C. Since then, its popularity has skyrocketed, making it a go-to protein in Japanese, Korean, and Southeast Asian cuisines.
If you haven’t tried tofu yet, here are eight reasons to give it a go.
Benefit: Tofu has a super-short ingredient list
˜What, exactly, is tofu anyway? It’s basically solidified soy milk. Tofu is made by boiling soybeans in water to create a milky liquid. Next, coagulants like calcium sulfate are added to form curds. Finally, those curds are drained, pressed into molds, and cut into squares to become the jiggly, white blocks we know as tofu.
Benefit: Tofu is loaded with nutrition
A 1.2 cup serving of tofu contains:
- Calories: 94 (5 percent daily value, or DV)
- Total fat: 5.9 g (9 percent DV)
- Saturated fat: 0.9 g (4 percent DV)
- Cholesterol: 0 mg (0 percent DV)
- Carbohydrate: 2.3 g (1 percent DV)
- Dietary fibre: 0.4 (1 percent DV)
- Protein: 10 g (20 percent DV)
- Sodium: 8.7 mg (0 percent DV)
Tofu is also a great way to rack up these healthful nutrients:
Complete plant protein
“Soy foods like tofu are unique in that they have the highest protein quality among plant proteins,” says Sharon Palmer, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in plant-based nutrition and sustainable living. “Just like meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy, tofu contains good amounts of all the amino acids your body needs to manufacture its own protein supply.”
“Isoflavones are another word for the antioxidants in soy,” says Ginger Hultin, RDN, a Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist. “These compounds may decrease inflammation and are likely responsible for many of soy’s health benefits.”
“Depending on the type of coagulant used to set the tofu, it may contain as much as 30 percent of the RDA for calcium,” says Alex Caspero, RD, a registered dietitian and plant-based chef in St. Louis, Missouri.
Benefit: Tofu is heart healthy
“There’s a reason the American Heart Association recommends consuming soy foods like tofu,” says Caspero. “Soy can reduce both total and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.” A 2020 Circulation study of 289,900 people found that women who consumed one or more servings of tofu per week were 18 percent less likely to develop coronary heart disease than those who ate tofu less than once a month.
Benefit: Tofu may protect against breast cancer
“There’s this common misconception that tofu is high in estrogen, a hormone that may fuel the growth of certain kinds of breast cancer,” says Nielsen. However, that’s not the case. “Soy foods contain naturally occurring phytoestrogens such as isoflavones, which have more of a balancing effect on the body’s hormone levels,” she explains.
According to the American Cancer Society, soy foods like tofu may actually help guard against breast cancer, but there’s not enough evidence to say for sure. A meta-analysis published in PLoS One in 2020 provides some encouraging data. After reviewing the results of 14 studies, researchers found that women who consumed the most tofu were 22 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than those who ate the least tofu.
Benefit: Tofu might help you live longer
Thank plant protein. Replacing just 3 percent of the calories from animal protein in a person’s diet with plant protein could reduce their risk of dying early and of dying from cardiovascular disease by about 10 percent, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2020.
Benefit: Tofu is safe for many people
“Research confirms that tofu is safe to eat at all stages of life,” says Nielsen. “But it’s not a miracle food.” For example, research on tofu’s ability to alleviate menopausal symptoms, like hot flashes, is still inconclusive, she says.
Contrary to the rumors, tofu won’t slow your thyroid, says Caspero. However, if you already have hypothyroidism it may interfere with the absorption of thyroid medication. So be sure not to eat it within a few hours of taking thyroid meds, she advises.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t eat tofu? “Soy is a common allergen, so if you’re allergic to it, you’ll need to steer clear and be stringent about reading labels to avoid it completely,” says Hultin.
Benefit: Tofu is incredibly versatile
Unlike most proteins, tofu works in all kinds of dishes, from sweet to savory. No wonder chefs love its flexibility. “Tofu is like a blank canvas,” says Palmer. It’s very mild and bland, so it pretty much soaks up the flavour of any sauce, marinade, or spice you pair it with, she explains.
Plus, there are lots of different varieties of tofu. Whether you’re whipping up a smoothie or a sandwich, there’s a type for you. You’ll generally cook with one of these:
Try it when you crave meaty texture without the meat. “I typically use pressed or extra-firm tofu in my recipes for its dense texture,” says Nielsen. “It slices, fries, and roasts well, plus it produces a good crumble for tofu scrambles.”
This is the most common and versatile type of tofu. It’s a little less dense than extra-firm, making it a great pick for pan-frying, stir-frying, or including in sandwiches.
Silken (or soft) tofu
This creamier version is magic for desserts, like chocolate peanut butter pie. It’s also perfect for smoothies, dips, and sauces.
Benefit: Tofu is easy to prepare
“If you can cook chicken, you already know how to cook tofu,” says Nielsen. “It needs to be well-seasoned and spiced, but even a simple pan-fry will create a texture that most people will love.”
Another trick for great-tasting tofu is pressing it. “Tofu is packed in water, so you want to make sure to get as much of that water out as possible for the best texture,” says Caspero. “Simply wrap it in a few kitchen towels then press a heavy object on top, like a cast-iron skillet or some cans.” (Or, if you’re feeling fancy, you can invest in a tofu press.)
Since cannabis was legalized in Canada, there’s been an explosion in the cannabis beverages market, with some reports estimating it to be worth USD$2.8 billion by 2025. CBD (or cannabidiol) drinks are forecasted to be the fastest growing segment.
By now, you’ve probably heard all about the supposed health benefits of CBD: it’s thought to help with anxiety, relieve pain and might even reinvigorate your sex life. But are these benefits real? And why is CBD, and not its high-inducing sister THC, the star of the cannabis drink game?
(Related: Can Cannabis Help Kick-Start My Sex Drive?)
What are CBD drinks?
In a nutshell, CBD is one of the two main cannabinoids (chemical compounds) found in cannabis. The other main cannabinoid, THC, is responsible for the “high” experienced when using cannabis. CBD is the non-psychoactive and non addictive cannabinoid found in cannabis.
CBD drinks are made by infusing water with CBD particles. The result is a canned, usually sparkling drink that’s similar to flavoured sparkling water or a spiked seltzer like White Claw. There are some “CBD-only” drinks on the market but it can be hard to find one that doesn’t have a trace amount of THC (for example, this Strawberry Hibiscus Sparkling Water contains 0.5mg of THC along with 15mg of CBD). This is because it can be hard to extract pure CBD from cannabis plants without some THC hanging on as well, says Dr. Danilo de Gregorio, a postdoctoral fellow at McGill University’s Neurobiological Psychiatry Unit.
(Related: What You Need to Know About Cannabis Edibles)
What positive effects do these drinks have?
One major factor in the drinks’ popularity is CBD’s reputation as a cure-all. However, there hasn’t been a ton of research into the benefits of CBD (partly because the substance has only recently been legalized). The studies that have been done have shown some promise.
“Generally speaking, [CBD] helps to reduce the level of anxiety, to aid with sleep and sometimes to eliminate pain perception,” says de Gregorio. “Notably, when CBD binds with the TRPV1 receptor [in our bodies], especially after repeated administration for multiple days, it can have a strong analgesic effect.”
Are there any adverse effects?
Low doses of CBD are generally very safe, so moderation is absolutely key. “At higher doses, CBD can produce some nausea, and could interact with other drugs if someone is under treatment through other medication,” says de Gregorio.
De Gregorio recommends that people who are taking antidepressants or mood stabilizers should be cautious. “These drinks might affect or interact with these drugs,” he says. “If they want to take these drinks, they always have to follow their doctor’s advice.”
What about hemp drinks?
Hemp is a variety of the cannabis plant that contains little to no THC but boasts a lot more CBD than other varieties. “Typically, hemp contains less than 0.3 percent of THC,” says Gregorio.
While the hemp plant’s leaves and stems contain CBD, other parts of the plant contain only trace amounts of the cannabinoid. In fact, hemp seeds and hemp hearts have been making a name for themselves as a good source of plant-based protein because they’re rich in heart- and brain-healthy omega fatty acids. Hemp extracts and hempseed oil also don’t contain CBD.
There are also hemp drinks made from hemp extracts and hempseed oil that don’t contain CBD. These drinks, like the Canadian brand Daydream, claim to boost your focus and decrease stress. Daydream also contains adaptogens like Schisandra and ginseng which are known to help with stress reduction, focus, and memory.
(Related: 10 Facts You Need to Know About CBD)
What to look for if you want to try CBD and hemp drinks
First and foremost, pay attention to how much CBD (and THC) is in each product. In Canada, cannabis is regulated by the Cannabis Act and all products must have both the THC and CBD content displayed in quantity (by milligrams) or concentration (by milligrams per gram). When you’re at your local legal dispensary or ordering online through one of the province’s legal online retailers, carefully examine the labelling to find a dosage that works for you. Start low and slow and see how your body reacts. If you’re buying in-person, tell the budtender what effects you’re looking for, and they can make recommendations for you based on that.
Also, make sure you’re buying the legal stuff. Companies that are licenced to sell are regulated by the government, meaning that their products are well-labelled, and the dosages are carefully measured.
As a kid, taking your daily supplement was a breeze. It probably came in the form of a Flintstone, and was found beside your morning glass of OJ. When you’re older, it’s not quite that simple. With all the options available, it’s not always easy to know which ones to take—and all too easy to forget to take them. A new Canadian direction-to-consumer subscription company is trying to simplify the process.
VTMN Packs offers a selection of supplements to order online, delivered in personalized dose packets. “I think of them as an update to the granny pill pack organizer,” says Laurie Cook, founder of VTMN Packs and a licensed pharmacist. She started the company in December 2019 due to her frustration with her own lack of consistency taking supplements. “Having all of your daily supplements together, and separated for the morning and evening, just makes it so much more convenient to take them,” she says.
Cook has also tried to take the guesswork out of the selection process. She enlisted an Advisory Board, made up of registered dietitians, holistic nutritionists, and naturopaths, to consult on which supplements the service would offer. “We looked for brands that focused on the purist product and offered the active ingredient at the right amounts,” says Cook. Being a pharmacist, Cook was familiar with all Canadian supplement brands, and therefore knew which ones she wanted to work with—the ones that conducted effective third-party testing and were thoughtful with their sourcing practices.
Below, all your other questions, answered.
(Related: 7 Supplements Heart Doctors Take Every Day)
Do these supplements cost more than what I’d pay at a store?
VTMN Packs offers the same brands as you see at your local health food store—and they sell them for the same price. The extra service that’s offered is them being packaged together.
Compared to other options, the VTMN Pack’s options are at a middle price point. “Not all supplements are created equal, and our focus is primarily on premium vitamins, meaning vitamins that contain the most active form of the ingredients with the fewest extra ingredients or non-medicinal ingredients,” says Cook. “So we are more on the premium price range.”
How are they packaged?
“We are simplifying the process by grouping together your supplements into two monthly packs to be taken twice a day—morning and night,” says Cook. Each pack contains daily dose packets labeled with your name and the supplements included inside.
How do I know which ones to choose?
You can use the site’s health assessment, which gathers information about your diet, lifestyle, and wellness goals, takes into consideration any other medications you’re taking, and recommends supplements accordingly. She does recommend checking with your primary care provider before taking any supplements.
Already know which supplements you’d like? Create your packs yourself by selecting your desired supplements from the products page.
How do I know if I’m taking too many supplements?
“The health assessment will recommend only the absolute basics,” says Cook, “and will cancel out some supplements if they don’t work well together.” In addition, Cook reviews each order personally, and she alerts customers if there are any concerns with their selections.
How do I take each supplement?
Your first package comes with a welcome booklet that includes tips for getting the most out of your supplements —for example, vitamin B12 and melatonin should be not swallowed, but taken and dissolved under the tongue. “We always recommend taking your supplements with food and a full glass of water, says Cook, “and not within an hour of any coffee or tea because that will decrease the absorption of your supplements.”
How do I know the supplements are working, and not just giving me “expensive pee”?
There are a lot of low-quality supplements on the market which are made with unnecessary fillers that prevent your body from absorbing the good stuff, says Cook. “If you’re not absorbing it then you’re going to end up excreting most of it.” To see if your (high-quality) vitamins are working for you, check your levels by asking your doctor for a blood test, or try an at-home test kit.
Even though it was 17 years ago, I remember what life was like at my lowest weight—94 pounds—quite vividly. That’s because every 24-hour day felt about 124 hours. I was living (that’s actually a very generous way to put it; I was surviving) to make it to the pillow at night.
I’d wake up to my alarm to get ready for school, and would spend the next 14 hours shivering and snapping at others. From that moment on, it would almost be a challenge to see how long I could wait to eat breakfast and how little I could eat the rest of the day. Also, it became a challenge of how much I could sneak around and act “normal” so my uber-low-calorie diet and eating rituals wouldn’t be too “weird” for anyone else.
I was actually quite open publicly about the fact that I had been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa by my doctor at age 16. It’s not like I could easily hide the fact that I had faded away from 180 pounds to 94 in just 12 months.
An innocent “health kick” turns unhealthy
My “health kick” started innocently and honestly at first. Five days a week, I’d hop on the elliptical for 30 minutes after school and for dinner, I’d choose grilled chicken and a baked potato instead of breaded chicken fingers and fries.
At some point, the competitive and Type A side (more competitive, highly organized, and more impatient) took the reins. The “you look so great!” comments when I reached 120 pounds spurred me on to believe that I might as well keep going. Keep shrinking. And eventually, I might as well keep starving.
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Eating disorder and depression: Which came first?
Around the time my period went MIA, any hint of emotion seemed to disappear too. The best way to describe it is that I felt flat. I rarely cried and never felt suicidal, but I was essentially completely devoid of emotion.
I’d hear my mom crying in another room at home and know that I was the reason why. Yet, I couldn’t seem to feel all that sad about what I was doing to myself. I felt remorseful that I was putting her and my dad through this; watching their daughter slowly shrink away.
This is why I finally decided to take them up on their suggestion to begin meeting with a psychiatrist once per week. I’d been avoiding it, fearful of how much it would cost them or that seeing a mental health professional was something only people with “real” struggles should do.
In the eternal chicken-and-egg debate, it’s tough to say whether the depression may have contributed to the eating disorder or the eating disorder impacted my brain chemistry so much that it contributed to depression.
“Several studies suggest that in many, but not all cases, an anxiety disorder was present before the development of the eating disorder,” explains Andrea C. Castelhano, a licensed psychologist at Baltimore Therapy Group in Towson, Maryland, when I recently presented her with this exact conundrum.
“The psychiatric consequences of eating disorder behaviour, particularly restrictive eating, are well documented. When our bodies are consistently denied the nourishment and energy needed to thrive, what typically follows might be an increase in obsessive thoughts and behaviour, irritability, depression, concentration problems, brain fog, and social withdrawal,” she explains.
The connection between eating disorders and the brain
There are many factors that contribute to an eating disorder, says Linda Snell, a therapist at New Method Wellness in San Juan Capistrano, California. An individual may be genetically or biologically predisposed, and changes in one’s brain chemicals may also contribute.
“Psychological and emotional health can also be contributing factors. Low self-esteem, low self-worth, perfectionism, poor impulse control, interpersonal conflict, and trauma all can contribute to the development of an eating disorder,” Snell says. “The social environment can play a role as well, and an eating disorder can be a learned behaviour modeled during childhood,” she says.
Increases in cortisol (the body’s primary stress hormone) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) appear to be linked to emotional and cognitive functioning challenges among those who are battling eating disorders.
This applies to whether we’re referring to anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and restricting or otherwise, Castelhano adds. As a result, the comorbidity rate of eating disorders and another diagnosed mental health condition—in my case, depression—is considerable.
Researchers believe somewhere between 56 and 94 percent of individuals with eating disorders also suffer from anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to Castelhano, “the good news is that most of the physical and psychiatric consequences of disordered eating and exercise behaviour are resolved when regular eating is resumed and maintained.”
(Related: What Are the Signs of an Eating Disorder?)
The healing begins
“There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment method for eating disorders,” says DeAnna J. Crosby, the clinical director at New Method Wellness in San Juan Capistrano, California.
My outpatient treatment team at the time included my family doctor, a dietitian, and my psychiatrist, who collaborated to put me on:
- “Bed rest” so my low blood pressure wouldn’t lead to a heart attack
- A calorie-rich diet (which, in full disclosure, I didn’t always follow in the first few months even though I knew it would be best for me)
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help change how I think and behave to address my problems
- A prescription to help me sleep, as my bony body would ache all night
- A prescription selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), the most common class of antidepressant that results in more serotonin (a key happiness and mood-stabilizing hormone) coursing throughout the brain
The “gold standards” of eating disorder treatment depend on the particular diagnosis.
“There is strong support for CBT and family-based treatment (FBT) for anorexia nervosa; CBT, FBT, and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) for the treatment of bulimia nervosa; and CBT and IPT for the treatment of binge eating disorder,” Castelhano explains. “Nutritional intervention is crucial for many in eating disorder recovery. Finally, certain psychiatric medications also appear to be effective in managing symptoms,” she says.
Treatment for eating disorders is most successful when other mental health problems that one might be suffering from are treated simultaneously, says Sherry Benton, the Golden, Colorado-based founder and chief science officer of the online therapy resource TAO Connect.
“This is beneficial to ensure that someone achieves full recovery and is able to establish a happy and satisfying life,” Benton says.
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Food and feelings return
It was a slow and winding process. I’d bawl my way through a “homework” challenge from my psychiatrist to eat a donut one day, then eat a bowl of ice cream the next with little stress.
Turns out, I’m not alone in lacking a linear recovery path.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is recovery. Most of the time, recovery is two steps forward and one step back. When my patients make mistakes regarding their eating disorder behaviours, I always encourage them to let them go quickly and move forward,” Crosby says.
Eventually, I began to notice “good” days of eating slightly more and feeling a bit brighter than the day prior became more common. My weight rebounded to 100, then 110, and while it took more than a decade for my period to return to normal, each passing year I’d feel a bit more at home in my body.
About three years later, my psychiatrist eased me off antidepressants, and I slowly scaled back on therapy appointments as I made my way through college.
Finding happiness in my body
After graduating from college and completing a 10-year shift in the corporate world, I decided to become an “entrepreneur” of sorts, and am a full-time freelance writer.
Now, at age 33, I find myself jumping out of the bed each morning excited to learn something new from the experts I interview, the studies I comb through for additional context, and the food I devour—yes, really—in my work as a food writer to support local businesses.
One of the key elements to regaining my emotions and finding peace and joy in my bones was finding passions and pursuits outside of myself. First, I found joy from contributing to the world. Later, I found joy by being myself within it.
“Long-term follow-up studies indicate that about 50 percent of those diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and over half of those diagnosed with bulimia nervosa will make a full recovery,” Castelhano says. “There is a lack of consensus on the definition of recovery, but in this research, ‘full recovery’ means the absence of behavioural, emotional, and cognitive symptoms and absence of difficulty or interference when it comes to personal, work, and social life. Negative body image thoughts are not unusual—in recovery and in general. The difference is really that those experiences no longer cause internal distress, nor do they lead to changes in behaviour.”
The ongoing work of recovery
I’ll readily admit that every so often, moments of self-doubt or body criticism do pop up in the back of my mind. For me, I think I’ll be in a continual state of recovery, but what differs now is that I’m so happy with who I’ve become and how I show up in the world that I don’t want to go back. I can flag them as vestiges of my eating disorder and call them out as such, so I don’t allow those thoughts to control my actions.
I’m well aware that there will likely be days ahead during which I’ll feel a little down or a little puffy, but now I think to myself in these moments, “Goodness, I sure am lucky to be alive. I have so much to live for, be grateful for, and be joyful about. And goodness, food sure tastes delicious.”
Self-esteem is associated with decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression and greater happiness and life satisfaction, and there’s a strong correlation between self-esteem and self-compassion, Snell says. Self-compassion involves accepting oneself, flaws and all, which results in a happiness boost.
“Self-compassion also fosters resilience, moderating an individual’s response to negative events and increasing tolerance for experiencing negative emotions. A person’s ability to exhibit self-love, acceptance, and self-compassion is crucial to recovery and sustained happiness levels,” she says.
There will be great days, and there will be bad. But experiencing my eating disorder and being open about the challenges along the way has taught me that many more of us are working on overcoming mental and emotional challenges of our own, either publicly or privately. So when in doubt, I try to give myself and others grace, imagining there might be more going on under the surface than I’m aware of.
“Having the ability to be mindful of others’ suffering and struggles and being able to respond to those individuals with kindness, possessing compassion in our hearts and expressing that suffering is crucial,” Snell says. She adds, “If we realize it’s something we all share as part of the human condition, then we are better equipped to manage life’s adversity with more ease.”
If you or a loved one is struggling with obsessive thoughts around food or your body, contact the National Eating Disorder Information Centre. And If you or someone you know has had thoughts of self-harm or suicide, contact the Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566), which provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress.
If you follow healthy recipe accounts online, you’ve probably noticed one trendy ingredient pop up often—coconut aminos. This liquid ingredient is often used as a substitute for soy sauce—popular in Asian cuisine, specifically Chinese and Japanese. Coconut aminos shares similar culinary properties with its traditional counterpart, but it’s quite different in its composition.
Here’s a look at what coconut aminos is made from, and some of the reasons why it’s become so standard, particularly in health-focused cooking. Plus, find out if it’s actually healthier than soy sauce.
(Related: Which rice is the healthiest?)
What is coconut aminos?
Coconut aminos is a brown liquid that can sometimes be made of fermented coconut palm sap that’s mildly salty and sweet in flavour. The ingredients in Bragg’s brand of coconut liquid aminos are simply organic coconut blossom nectar, distilled water, organic apple cider vinegar, and sea salt. Coconut blossom nectar is the sap from the flowers of the coconut tree.
In addition to its natural sweetness, the sap contains minerals, including magnesium, potassium, zinc, and iron, as well as antioxidants, according to a 2020 study, published in the journal Food Science & Nutrition.
Coconut aminos and apple cider vinegar
Like Bragg’s version, coconut aminos that contain apple cider vinegar can deliver benefits from the vinegar itself. Apple cider vinegar is an age-old ingredient with published research to back many of its health claims, particularly for improving blood sugar regulation. One older study, published in Diabetes Care, was conducted in men and women with type 2 diabetes. Researchers found that compared to water, consuming apple cider vinegar before bed with the same snack (one ounce of cheese), led to lower blood sugar levels the following morning.
Another study in the same journal assessed people with diabetes, as well as healthy adults, and those with pre-diabetic insulin resistance. When less than one ounce of apple cider vinegar was consumed with a high-carb meal (a bagel and orange juice), all three groups experienced better blood glucose outcomes compared to a placebo. In those with pre-diabetes, blood sugar values were nearly 50 percent lower, and they dropped by about 25 percent in those with diabetes.
Coconut aminos nutrition
Sodium is one factor that sets coconut aminos apart from soy sauce. Soy sauce has nearly double the amount, at 260 mg of sodium per teaspoon, or 11 percent of the advised daily cap. That difference can add up with regular use, or if a dish calls for a tablespoon rather than a teaspoon, which is three times the portion.
Here’s some nutritional information for one teaspoon of Bragg’s organic coconut aminos:
- Calories: 10
- Cholesterol: 0 g
- Sodium: 140 mg (6 percent DV)
- Carbohydrates: 2 g (1 percent DV)
- Total sugars: 2 g (4 percent DV)
Coconut aminos vs soy sauce: Which is healthier?
Apart from the sodium difference, many people choose coconut aminos for another key reason. Soy sauce contains two common allergens—wheat gluten and soy. These components of soy sauce are among the “Big 8” most common allergens, which also includes peanuts, milk, shellfish, tree nuts, eggs, and fish.
A 2019 report from the International Food Information Council finds that one in six consumers report having a food allergy in the household. This is likely why foods that don’t contain common allergens have become increasingly in demand among shoppers. According to a 2019 report by consumer research group Mintel, the market for “free-from” foods, which omit top allergens, as well as ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and preservatives, is growing, and unlikely to slow in the near future.
A Mintel 2019 report found that 62 percent of consumers avoid at least one ingredient when selecting food products. The lack of common allergens in coconut aminos, and its simple, all-natural makeup, have fueled its popularity.
(Related: A Vegan Ramen Recipe This Nutritionist Loves)
How to use coconut aminos
While coconut aminos is a bit sweeter and less salty compared to soy sauce, both ingredients provide umami flavor, the unique savoury fifth taste. For this reason, coconut aminos works well in dishes like stir-fry, teriyaki, and marinades. You can swap soy sauce for coconut aminos in a 1:1 ratio in most recipes.
Store it in the fridge after opening, and use it as a condiment to sprinkle onto just about anything, from vegan sushi to cooked veggies or brown rice.
The last word
Coconut aminos is a great soy-and gluten-free alternative that contains less sodium than soy sauce. It’s also wheat-free. It’s not necessarily a health food and it does add sodium to your diet, so it’s important to monitor your intake.
Be mindful that coconut aminos can be difficult to find at your local supermarket and it could be more expensive than soy. Overall, it’s a popular soy alternative that can be part of your low-sodium diet if used sparingly.
For decades all-purpose flour was the automatic go-to in the baking aisle. But these days, a wide variety of flours are available, even at mainstream supermarkets. These include options made from gluten-free whole grains—such as quinoa and brown rice—to grain-free choices like almond, coconut, chickpea, sweet potato, and cassava flours.
Whole Foods Market listed “flour power” as one of the top trends for 2020, citing consumer desire for more protein, fibre, and superfoods. Dietary restrictions, including gluten-free, and an increase in plant-based eating, have also fueled flour diversity.
One of the newer kids on the block in the baking section is millet flour, made from grinding the gluten-free ancient whole grain. Millet is less known in Canada but remains the sixth most popular cereal grain in the world.
Millet is good for the planet
Through funding from the Berkeley Food Institute, The Millet Project is attempting to diversify agriculture and American diets by cultivating millet in Northern California. The group notes that millet can grow with little water compared to most other grains, and is well suited to drought-like conditions.
Millet is also pest resistant, according to a study published in 2017 in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science. These attributes make millet eco-friendly, something that’s important to a growing number of consumers. According to a 2019 report from the International Food Information Council, over half of consumers say it’s at least somewhat important that the products they buy are produced in an environmentally sustainable way.
Nutrition of millet flour
Millet flour is also nutritious. Most notably, 100 grams provides 22 percent of the Daily Value (DV) for iron and energy-supporting B vitamins. The whole grain also provides antioxidants and other minerals, including magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, copper, zinc, and potassium.
Here’s some information on millet flour nutrition per 100 grams (g):
- Calories: 382
- Fat: 4.3 g (6 percent DV)
- Sodium: 4 mg (0 percent DV)
- Carbohydrates: 75 g (27 percent DV)
- Dietary fibre: 4 g (12 percent DV)
- Protein: 11 g (22 percent DV)
- Calcium: 14 mg (1 percent DV)
- Iron: 3.9 mg (22 percent DV)
- Potassium: 224 mg (5 percent DV)
Potential health benefits of millet flour
The touted health benefits of millet mostly derive from its properties as a whole grain rather than millet itself. For example, because it’s a member of the whole grain family, it may offer certain benefits linked to whole grain consumption. And because it contains fibre, it may have benefits linked to fibre consumption. So, although millet isn’t directly linked to health benefits like lower cholesterol or blood pressure, it may offer some of those benefits because of the nutrients in the grain.
Note: This really depends on how often you eat it. Millet flour is likely to be consumed less often than millet grain.
However, there is one study worth highlighting that directly focuses on the consumption of millet and its benefits.
Promotes gut-friendly bacteria
A study, published in 2016 in the Journal of Scientific & Innovative Research, highlights millet’s health benefits. The grain shows prebiotic activity, which helps promote the growth of friendly gut bacteria linked to healthy digestion. And animal research, cited in the study, suggests that natural compounds in millet may protect against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, inflammation, and aging.
For people with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or those who want to reduce gluten intake—gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley—millet flour serves as a great gluten-free alternative. Millet flour can be used to make bread, flatbreads, pilafs, and more.
This can provide much relief for those with celiac disease who can’t digest gluten because of the damage it causes to the small intestine. This can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal discomfort. Similarly, those with a gluten intolerance will experience abdominal pain and discomfort after eating gluten.
How to use millet
Millet flour has a subtle, slightly sweet flavour. It can be used in a variety of ways as a 1:1 substitute for all-purpose flour, although it’s typically combined with other flours, like rice or sorghum. You can incorporate millet flour into pancakes, bread, and a variety of baked goods—from muffins to cookies, brownies, and cakes. It also works well in savory recipes, like pizza crust and veggie fritters, to any recipe that calls for traditional flour, like plant-based casseroles and stew.
I personally like Bob’s Red Mill millet flour ($5 per 23-ounce bag). Both brands provide recipes on their websites. And, of course, you’ll find plenty more that call for millet flour online. If you or someone in your household is gluten-free, this healthful flour may just become a new staple in your kitchen cupboard.
You’ve just sized-up a sizeable cystic breakout on your breastbone. Another doozie is popping up on your shoulder – and then there’s the peppering of little pimples across your thighs. As if life doesn’t feel fabulous enough these days, now you’ve got body breakouts to contend with, too. But take comfort in this: you’re not alone in experiencing bacne (back acne) and even buttne (also a thing).
About 5.6 million Canadians deal with acne, says Dr. Benjamin Barankin, a dermatologist with the Toronto Dermatology Centre. And of those who get it on the face, 52 percent will also get it on their trunk. (It is possible, though much less common, to have body blemishes without getting facial breakouts). When you factor in — and no judgement, here — the less-than-ideal lifestyle choices that have come with pandemic life, from ordering in meals more often, to skipping exercise, to sleeping poorly, body breakouts are on the rise. According to one recent survey, 38 percent of respondents said pandemic stress had definitely worsened their body acne. Fortunately, there are ways to banish breakouts on the chest, back, butt and legs.
What is body acne?
Whether you’ve got a zit on your chest or your chin, the underlying causes are almost identical. Facial and body pimples pop up due to excess oil production, blocked pores and inflammation, which are compounded by your genetics, hormone fluctuations and stress levels. That’s why most people who struggle with bacne also have facial breakouts to contend with.
Acne on the trunk and limbs is called folliculitis and is the product of pores being blocked with oil and dead skin, which then pop up as red bumps. Areas where clothing friction has caused dermatitis, or skin irritation, can also lead to zits, especially if combined with sweat. Think between the boobs and along the upper back, following the lines of a sports bra, for example. Breakouts on the bum are often related to tight-fitting clothing, too. People who sweat it out on Peloton rides are probably familiar with the occasional blemish on their behinds. Another common culprit is shaving, which can irritate hair follicles into producing pimples on the legs (mostly the thighs, since there are more oil producing glands there, compared to the shins, for example), bikini area and around the armpits.
Why am I breaking out now?
The surge in pandemic-related stress has resulted in more patients experiencing breakouts all over, says Barankin. There’s the full-on stress of life as we know it (which can kick the skin’s sebum production into overdrive) coupled with the lifestyle changes many have made in lockdown. If you’re someone who used to literally “work out” your stress, but you gave up exercise when your gym closed, you might be dealing with more hormonal breakouts due to higher levels of cortisol in your body. Or, if you took up daily sweat seshes in an attempt to jog away from anxiety, and aren’t always showering after your workouts, you may be noticing more breakouts than usual. You might also be able to point a finger at Uber Eats. Studies show that high glycemic foods that cause your blood sugar to spike quickly, like bread and potatoes (hello burger and fries!), as well as dairy, can worsen acne for some people.
How do I get rid of body blemishes?
For starters, switch your usual ultra-creamy body wash for something designed to actually zap zits. A shower gel that contains salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide will help to unblock pores and exfoliate the skin’s surface layer to manage existing pimples and prevent future breakouts. Add a product with a chemical exfoliant, like AHAs and BHAs, a few times a week to whisk away acne-causing dead skin cells and bacteria. After cleansing, a light hypoallergenic body lotion will help to prevent dryness (which can exacerbate breakouts).
One of the gold star ingredients for facial acne is retinol – especially for women in their 30s and 40s, because it works on blemishes as well as fine lines. “You’ve got one product that treats and prevents acne, and acne scarring, but also treats wrinkles,” says Barankin. But, slathering a pricey facial serum all over your shoulders may not be the best bet in terms of your skincare budget. Those products also aren’t made to penetrate the thicker skin on the torso, says Barankin. A more practical option is a gel or lotion designed to deal with body acne. Over-the-counter options are likely to include active ingredients such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide (but use creams with this ingredient with caution, since it can leave bleach stains on your sheets and pajamas). And then there’s a new prescription topical treatment called Aklief that was created, and tested, for use on the back, shoulders and chest, and could be a game-changer for many women, says Barankin.
But of course, what you put on your skin is only part of the solution. Barankin suggests a multi-step approach to caring for body acne that includes wearing looser, more breathable clothing (if you think that’s a factor for you), cleansing and treating breakout-prone areas daily, and utilizing stress management techniques like meditation, yoga and/or other forms of exercise.
(Related: Do Pimple Patches Actually Work?)
Neutrogena Body Clear Pink Grapefruit Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment Body Wash
This citrus-scented shower gel contains salicylic acid, grapefruit extract and vitamin C to brighten skin and blast body breakouts.
Mighty Patch Invisible+
You can really stick it to those spots with these little treatment bandages that reduce congestion on large zits and prevent you from picking,
The Body Shop Tea Tree Targeted Gel
Say buh-bye to that surprise pimple on your back or shoulder with a few dabs of this clearing tea tree gel.
No doubt, you’ve seen plant-based and vegetarian offerings on more than one fast food menu by now.
From vegetarian “meat” options to the growing array of plant-based milks and oils, there are more options than ever. No surprise. The plant-based food market is expected to grow to an estimated $74.2 billion by 2027, according to a report by research firm Meticulous Market Research.
“Timing is everything in life,” says Joan Salge Blake, RDN, a nutrition professor at Boston University and host of the podcast Spot On! “In 2012, McDonald’s introduced the McVeggie with little success. But the McVegan, which was introduced in 2017, was more successful. Now, McDonald’s is going to launch McPlant in 2021, working with Beyond Meat. The third time is the charm.”
When we talk about plant-based diets, we generally mean eating mostly (but not necessarily always) foods like fruit, veggies, grains, nuts, legumes and more. The emphasis is generally on eating whole or minimally processed, plant-based foods for health reasons, rather than just avoiding meat or animal-derived products.
That means that while something may be labeled vegetarian or vegan, it may not necessarily fit a plant-based lifestyle that’s geared for healthy eating.
That said, when it comes to fast food options that might fit with a plant-based or vegetarian diet, there’s more than just Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods burgers. You’ll also find breakfast sandwiches made with plant-based sausage at Dunkin’ Donuts, spicy tofu sofritas at Chipotle, vegan pizzas at Mellow Mushroom, and a green veggie side dish at Panda Express.
However, it may take some work to figure out which options might be considered healthy.
(Related: Top 10 Plant-Based Food Trends for 2021)
Why are people eating plant-based fast food?
Here’s a fact: Most people—65 percent—choose to eat plant-based because of the perceived health benefits, according to a survey by innovation consultancy firm Mattson.
But meat-free fast food orders don’t always come with a side of health.
“Overall, I believe the rise in plant-based food consumption is beneficial for our bodies and for the planet,” says Elizabeth Gunner, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in New York City. “However, I urge consumers who have chronic health conditions and strong desires to lead healthier lives to think critically and gain awareness around the health halo that some fast food chains may cast over their plant-based menu items.”
And, of course, it’s likely that some people ordering meat-free options are using these picks as a rationale to order an extra-large side of fries or a milkshake—or both.
What can go wrong with ordering
Are plant-based or vegetarian fast food options healthy? It depends on your choices.
“You need to read the nutrition facts on these eatery websites to get the real deal,” says Salge Blake. “Some of these meatless meals can be very high in heart-unhealthy saturated fat because they’re made with coconut oil. The sodium can also be hefty.”
“Unfortunately, most fast food options are still fast food nutritionally,” says Hauser. Ultimately, they’re absolutely okay to include in your diet as “sometimes” options—and part of an overall healthy, balanced diet. But they’re not everyday options.
Also, if you’re vegan and ordering meat-free options, you may need to make modifications. For instance, ask to skip the cheese, eggs, sour cream, or mayo that’s paired with your vegan patty.
What’s good about plant-based fast food
Plant-based fast food gone right, like Taco Bell’s Veggie Power Menu Bowl, will be loaded up with lots of veggies and plant protein. This pick contains 430 calories, 12 grams protein, 5 grams saturated fat (a quarter of the daily value), and 810 milligrams sodium (35 percent of the daily value). These more virtuous plant-based picks will help folks continue eating plant-based diets while enjoying the convenience and enjoyment of fast food.
And, of course, there’s the environment to remember. “While some plant-based food options are not necessarily healthier for our bodies, all are healthier for the planet,” says Gunner. “By selecting plant-based fast food options, consumers are choosing to lower greenhouse gas emissions and supporting a more sustainable environment.”
How to make healthy choices
The No. 1 thing you can do to place a healthy fast food order? Don’t place your order on the fly.
“Luckily, fast food restaurants with more than 20 eateries in the chain must provide the nutrition information of their menu on their website,” says Salge Blake. “My advice is to peruse their website before you place your order. The name of item on the menu may be misleading when it comes to being healthy.”
Oftentimes, plant-based entrees that don’t come with fake meat will be your healthier options. Yup, you’re much more likely to get a balanced meal from a plant-based salad or even a bean-loaded burrito bowl than a burger or sandwich packed with faux meat.
“I’m a fan of Chipotle, as it is very easy to get a balanced meal if you know how to order,” says Hauser. “I recommend a salad with beans, brown rice, fajita veggies, your salsa of choice, and guacamole. This is a really balanced meal: You get protein from the beans, high-fiber carbohydrates from the brown rice, healthy fat from guacamole, and veggies from the fajita mix and salsa.”
Another quick option? A vegetable submarine sandwich from a sub shop. “Load up on as many veggies as you can, top it off with hummus or avocado spread, and be on your way,” says Hauser.
The last word
Plant-based or vegetarian fast food can be healthy if you know what you’re ordering in advance. Be mindful that plant-based doesn’t always translate to healthier if you’re pairing it with a large side of fries and a sugary drink.
And remember to add a side of fruit or veggies whenever possible. This could be apple slices at McDonald’s or a side salad at Burger King. Also, drink ample water throughout the day if your order is high in sodium.
We know it feels like you scroll through the same streaming content day after day. You can only rewatch so many episodes of The Great British Baking Show and the other food shows on Netflix.
Thankfully, Netflix just made an announcement that’s going to appeal to young and old, alike. The good news is that former first lady Michelle Obama is going to be hosting a new cooking show on the platform—and she’s going to have some help from a few puppet costars. Michelle was known for promoting healthy eating and this is a continuation of that crusade.
Discover what our most famous FLOTUSes liked to eat. No surprise, Michelle Obama enjoyed the bounty of her famous White House garden!
What’s the Show About?
The show is called Waffles + Mochi, which is also the name of the two puppets who live in The Land of Frozen Food. Waffles appears to be an icy creature with a knit scarf and frozen waffles for ears, while Mochi is a little sentient blob of mochi ice cream.
The premise is that Michelle is a supermarket owner who helps Waffles and Mochi on missions to learn more about global ingredients. That means the puppets will travel to farms, restaurants and kitchens around the world. Think going to the Andes to pick Peruvian potatoes or making miso in Japan. We’re pretty sure there will also be celebrity and chef appearances.
When Will the Show Be on Netflix?
Waffles + Mochi premieres on Netflix on Tuesday, March 16, so you’ll have plenty of time to gear up. While the target audience is clearly children, we bet grown-ups will be educated and entertained, too.