Healthy Living in the North

Helping or Harming:  Reflections from 20 years of being a Dietitian

A crowd of people attends a farmers' market

“Healthy” comes in all shapes and sizes.

Oh, the conviction of youth!  Long gone are the unshakable beliefs from my dietetic internship about how to define “healthy” and the importance of weight in preventing disease. Twenty years have passed and, in that time, I’ve worked in five different provinces with a variety of patients and partner organizations. For instance, young families; schools; clients living with diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and disordered eating; and seniors in care homes, all of whom came from very diverse backgrounds.  In nearly every case, health was defined, in part, by weight. Today, I question that belief. Why? Because I’ve seen so many instances where a subtle emphasis on weight has contributed to some harm.

I’ve learned that while weight is often one of the first lines of treatment when someone is diagnosed with a chronic disease, research tells us that less than one percent of people successfully keep weight off after four years, and usually regain the lost weight plus some. In the end, after treatment, people are at a higher weight and often feel bad about themselves. This can’t be good for health.  Does it make sense to promote a treatment that is doomed to fail?

The recommendation to lose weight perpetuates something called the “thin ideal” (believing that a slim body is the standard for beauty and health), which is based on an assumption that people defined as “overweight” (as per the problematic standard of BMI or body mass index) eat poorly, too often, and do not move enough. My twenty years of experience tell me that this is not the case. Rather, healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes and are supported by healthy and intuitive eating, active living, and positive self-esteem. Thus, a better plan is to focus on supporting everyone, no matter their size, to live well.

The “thin ideal” has normalized weight bias and stigma, where we live, work, play, and are cared for. What is weight bias and weight stigma?

  • Weight bias is a negative judgement of someone because of their weight, shape and/or size.
  • Weight stigma is what a person experiences when weight bias happens to them.

Weight bias and stigma can seem harmless and might even be done in the spirit of helpfulness, but it still hurts. Examples of weight stigma include:

  • Refusing to offer dessert to someone and/or questioning whether someone “needs” that serving of dessert because of their size.
  • Using headless images of “overweight” people or images of “overweight” people being sedentary in handouts and presentations.
  • Using the word “fat” as an insult instead of what it is, which is a physical description of body composition.
  • Assuming someone is unhealthy if “overweight” or healthy if “underweight” or “normal weight.”
  • Failing to offer healthy food at school because “we don’t have fat kids at our school” (yes, one school actually gave this as a reason why they didn’t need to follow the Guidelines for the Sale of Food and Beverages in BC Schools!).

Weight bias needs to stop.  It starts with us thinking about what our own biases and assumptions about weight might be (take the Weight Implicit Attitudes Test) and developing respect and empathy for people who are impacted by weight bias. Last week was Weight Stigma Awareness Week, but it’s an issue that we need to be aware of all year round. Learn more here.

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has a dual role with Northern Health—she is the NW population health team lead and a regional population health dietitian with a lead in 0 – 6 nutrition. In the latter role, she is passionate about the value of supporting children to develop eating competence through regular family meals and planned snacks. Working full-time and managing a busy home life of extracurricular and volunteer activities can challenge Flo's commitment and practice of family meals but flexibility, conviction, planning and creativity help!

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World Breastfeeding Week

A mother breastfeeds her son.

World Breastfeeding Week (October 1-7, 2014) promotes the benefits of breastfeeding.

The slogan and theme for World Breastfeeding Week 2014 is “Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal – For Life!”

World Breastfeeding Week will run from October 1-7, 2014 to recognize the importance of breastfeeding and promote the benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies, as well as its social and environmental benefits. This year’s World Breastfeeding Week theme asserts the importance of increasing and sustaining the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding: it is a vial Life-Saving Goal!

Breastfeeding is not always easy, but, with the right support, most women can have a successful experience. There are many breastfeeding supports and resources available to women and families. For instance:

To kick off the festivities in Prince George, breastfeeding families are invited to celebrate the 14th Annual Prince George Breastfeeding Challenge on October 4, 2014. The event is held annually around the world in hopes of setting a new international record for the most breastfeeding babies at one time. In Prince George, the event will be held in the main floor’s Auditorium in the Northern Interior Health Unit at 1444 Edmonton St. There will also be a second site this year at The Kids Good as New Sale in the Diocese Centre (Old O’Grady High School) at 6500 Southridge Ave. Registration begins at 10 a.m. with official latch-on time starting promptly at 11 a.m. The entire family is encouraged to attend this free, fun-filled event. Refreshments and cake will be provided.

Laura Ravlic

About Laura Ravlic

Laura is a public health nurse who works for the children and families Team in Prince George, BC. She has three energetic boys who keep her busy out in the community with their many activities, including bike riding, class outings and soccer, for which she is an assistant coach. She is also involved in the Baby Friendly Initiative which promotes a breastfeeding friendly environment.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Knowledge versus “knowledge”

Are you using credible sources to create your knowledge?

Are you using credible sources to create your knowledge?

Knowledge is more accessible than ever. Between the internet and 24-hour news stations, we’re swamped with it. But there’s knowledge and then there’s “knowledge.” Let’s discuss the difference between the two, because separating them is vital to your health.

For me, knowledge is information gained through evidence-based research. This includes checking your sources and the sources of the people providing you with the information. That’s one of the reasons I follow the Northern Health position papers. Many heads have worked on them, combining research from a variety of credible sources.

“Knowledge,” on the other hand, is the 10-second sound bite. It’s the picture of a piece of fruit on Pinterest that comes with a quote like, “Seven strawberries a day cures the common cold” without offering a source. These more accurately align with Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness.” They may have portions of the truth or they might just feel like they could be the truth. But we weren’t we all taught from a very young age not to believe everything we’re told?

Between the knowledge and “knowledge,” I always choose the first, burying my head in books and listening to audio books, all by credible sources. And that’s the key isn’t it? It has to be credible.

Here are some tips that are based on sound research from credible sources to help you stay healthy in mind and body:

That’s just scratching the surface of the available knowledge that will help us stay healthy. We can’t fit all of it into our brains, but we have to make sure that what we do hold onto comes from a good place (as is the case with all of the links in the above health tips).

Good luck to you!

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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IMAGINE Grants profile: Kids Helping Kids

Children take part in an exercise at a Kids Helping Kids event.

Children take part in an exercise at a Kids Helping Kids event.

When two grade seven students at Immaculate Conception Elementary School in Prince George observed that many of their classmates were leading sedentary lifestyles, their principal challenged them to educate their peers to be more physically active. They responded by recruiting more students, Action Schools! B.C., the City of Prince George, and School District 57 to create “Kids Helping Kids” – an IMAGINE Grant funded program that promotes the immediate and future benefits of healthy eating and physical activity.

The growth of the program throughout School District 57 has been remarkable. “The first year was run as a pilot project with independent schools,” explained Sue McDonald, Coordinator with Kids Helping Kids. “Year two, the program was offered to approximately half of the schools in the area, and last year it was offered to all schools in the Prince George area.” According to McDonald, the next phase of Kids Helping Kids is to expand beyond Prince George with the intention to “firmly embed [healthy eating and physical activity] as part of each school’s culture, truly making a difference in the future.”

Students take leadership roles, teaching other students about the value of nutrition.

Students take leadership roles, teaching other students about the value of nutrition.

Along with the program’s expansion, Kids Helping Kids is unique because of its peer-to-peer emphasis that teaches students life-long leadership skills. “…I am so thankful to have been in a leadership role,” said David, a School District 57 student and Kids Helping Kids participant, “teaching younger students and making a difference in their lives.”

“I went from a 15-year-old boy who could barely run a kilometre to a 17-year-old who is healthy, happy, and physically fit,” David continued, describing the impact that the program has had on his life. “I learned keeping healthy isn’t just about being more physically active. It’s about eating properly and making sure you’re not having too many candies, not eating that box of cookies that you have in your cupboard. It is keeping yourself running around, playing games and having fun with what you do. [Taking part in the program] was a lot of work, but it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. It was also one of the hardest.”

Northern Health couldn’t be more proud of Kids Helping Kids and of children like David.

About the IMAGINE Grants

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Grants fund health promotion projects by community partners, including northern groups/organizations and schools or districts, to support the health and wellness of northerners where they live, work, learn, and play. Ideas for projects are inspired and guided by Northern Health’s Position Statements. We’re happy to introduce an ongoing series of blog posts that will highlight past recipients of IMAGINE Grants and share their great work with you!

Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Project Assistant in Health Promotions. He started at Northern Health in October of 2013. Mike grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007, when he moved here to pursue a career in radio. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, watching sports, reading, and ice fishing. His favourite thing about the north is the slower pace of life and the fact that he no longer has to worry about traffic every morning.

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IMAGINE: Legacy Grants – Deadline Extended to July 11

IMAGINE grantsLast month, we told you about the great opportunity to apply for an IMAGINE: Legacy Grant (see previous post). You have one more week to send us your applications – the deadline has been extended to Friday, July 11!

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for northern B.C. communities, schools, organizations and individuals of all ages to be inspired by the upcoming 2015 Canada Winter Games and apply for funding towards a health promotion or disease/injury-prevention project that will help improve health through physical activity. Apply now! As a reminder, here are the details:

What are IMAGINE: Legacy Grants?
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leverage the positive impact of the 2015 Canada Winter Games in fostering a sustainable legacy of increased health and wellness for northern communities and their residents, which will last beyond the two-week event in Prince George and Northern B.C. – where they live, work, learn and play.

Types of IMAGINE: Legacy Grants available:
In the spirit of the 2015 Canada Winter Games, we are asking for health promotion or disease or injury prevention projects with a focus on physical activity that may also include other key health promotion goals including: injury prevention, tobacco-free communities, healthy eating (HE), active living (AL), HEAL for Your Heart, prevention of problematic substance use, HIV prevention, harm reduction and chronic disease prevention.  For more information, please visit our IMAGINE Grants site.

The grants fund health promotion or disease or injury prevention projects that:

  • Focus on physical activity and at least one other key health promotion goal – considering the upcoming 2015 Canada Winter Games and how the Games can be leveraged to inspire community health
  • Last – your project has a good chance of living on after the funding ends
  • Make a difference – your project will broadly impact community in a positive way
  • Reduce health inequities – your project will help support those who are disadvantaged or marginalized
  • Build relationships – your project will help people connect to each other and their community and share successes
  • Support collaboration & partnerships – your project will encourage diverse groups to work together toward a common goal
  • Improve health – your project will reduce the risks and impacts of chronic illnesses and injuries

Deadline for applications has been extended to July 11, 2014. Apply now!

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc) and moderates all comments for the NH blog. When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care.

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Vote for the NH Mascot Design!

Vote now for the new Northern Health MascotThank you so much to everyone who submitted an entry into the Northern Health Mascot Design Contest! We were really impressed with the creativity that all of the entries showed – great work!

A panel of Northern Health staff judges has taken some time to carefully consider both the illustrations and stories of each entry — taking into account originality, practicality and alignment with the NH positions statements — and we’ve narrowed it down to two!

Now we’re asking for YOUR help to decide which of these outstanding entries will become the first ever Northern Health mascot! Please take a moment to visit our voting page, read the stories that go along with each illustration, and choose whether Rex or Spirit should be the new NH mascot! Voting will close July 18, 2014.

Vote for your favourite mascot design now!

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc) and moderates all comments for the NH blog. When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care.

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New IMAGINE: Legacy Grants available

IMAGINE grantsWe are very pleased to launch a new season of IMAGINE grant funding opportunities to help improve the health and well-being of those living, working, learning and playing in northern BC.

From February 13 to March 1, 2015, Prince George and Northern British Columbia will be host to the 2015 Canada Winter Games. Northern BC communities are presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leverage the positive impact of the Games in fostering a sustainable legacy of increased health and wellness for northerners that lasts beyond the two-week event. We hope that the Games will inspire and motivate communities, schools, organizations and individuals of all ages to take action towards efforts to improve health through physical activity.

If you have a great idea for a health promotion or disease or injury prevention project within the Northern Health region of BC, we invite you to apply for funding now.

What are IMAGINE: Legacy Grants?
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leverage the positive impact of the 2015 Canada Winter Games in fostering a sustainable legacy of increased health and wellness for northern communities and their residents, which will last beyond the two-week event in Prince George and Northern B.C. – where they live, work, learn and play.

Types of IMAGINE: Legacy Grants available:
In the spirit of the 2015 Canada Winter Games, we are asking for health promotion or disease or injury prevention projects with a focus on physical activity that may also include other key health promotion goals including: injury prevention, tobacco-free communities, healthy eating (HE), active living (AL), HEAL for Your Heart, prevention of problematic substance use, HIV prevention, harm reduction and chronic disease prevention.  For more information, please visit our IMAGINE Grants site.

The grants fund health promotion or disease or injury prevention projects that:

  • Focus on physical activity and at least one other key health promotion goal – considering the upcoming 2015 Canada Winter Games and how the Games can be leveraged to inspire community health
  • Last – your project has a good chance of living on after the funding ends
  • Make a difference – your project will broadly impact community in a positive way
  • Reduce health inequities – your project will help support those who are disadvantaged or marginalized
  • Build relationships – your project will help people connect to each other and their community and share successes
  • Support collaboration & partnerships – your project will encourage diverse groups to work together toward a common goal
  • Improve health – your project will reduce the risks and impacts of chronic illnesses and injuries

Applications are being accepted until July 7, 2014. Apply now!

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc) and moderates all comments for the NH blog. When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care.

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Mascot Design Contest Extended!

Mascot contest sneak peek

Here’s a sneak peek at a few of our entries. Have you submitted your idea yet? You have until Friday, June 6!

Have you submitted your idea for the design of the new Northern Health Mascot yet?? The deadline for submissions has been extended to Friday, June 6 at midnight.

The mascot will represent Northern Health values and promote healthy living, including healthy eating, active living, injury prevention, tobacco reduction and more. We want you to enter an idea for a mascot that:

  • Represents all people living in the north
  • Represents healthy living
  • Is creative and fun!

On top of seeing his or her design come to life, the winning entrant will win a torchbearer spot in the 2015 Canada Winter Games torch relay!

Visit our contest page to enter your idea today!

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc) and moderates all comments for the NH blog. When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care.

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Tales from the Man Cave: World No Tobacco Day

A picture of the sun in the sky with the headline World No Tobacco Day and the subheading the sun will still shine tomorrow

Will this sunrise be the one that sees you quit tobacco?

Last year, when writing about World No Tobacco Day, I challenged you to drop the “World” and make it “Your No Tobacco Day” so that you knew exactly who’s in charge of quitting tobacco products.

I’m happy to report that a friend, and a reader of this blog, took up that challenge and successfully quit. My heart is with my friend’s family, with hopes that they may continue to live smoke free for life.

Quitting tobacco is the most difficult of tasks. There are many theories surrounding addiction. Some are brain based, centered on the mind or psyche. Some suggest that vulnerable individuals are more likely to become addicted than “normal” people. Some say we’re all addicted to something. Maybe it’s work, cleanliness, or food. Perhaps it’s control, the internet, or your own beliefs. Some research suggests there is an empty space deep within each of us that needs filling. An abyss, if you like. Others suggest that we self-medicate to reduce the pain of a stressful world.

Personally, I feel that all of these things ring true to some degree and that if you have to be addicted to something, make that one addiction something positive, like exercise. Am I correct? I don’t think it matters.

At an individual level, there is only you and the struggle you face to be free of that which harms you. There is help out there, like nicotine replacement, and informed evidence suggests that using that help improves your chances of quitting.

But, regardless of the help, the battle is yours.

Sure it’s World No Tobacco Day on May 31, but really its world with a small ”w”, your world. I hope you take up the challenge and good luck to you.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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The Grizzly Truth: A good laugh for good health

Nick, with a goatee, holds his cat in a Christmas picture.

Nick’s photo entry into the Northern Health Mr. Movember contest.

“Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.”

I have seen this quote attributed to both Francis Bacon and to Oscar Wilde. To be honest, I don’t have the citation to prove who said what when (if you know, feel free to comment and share as I wasn’t able to find firm evidence for either party). This quote carries a lot of meaning to me, both in my professional life and my personal life. I feel that I have a pretty good sense of humor and that has lent itself to some rich experiences with practical jokes and certain Mr. Movember contests (pictured right).

Wellness research shows that people who laugh regularly are healthier than those who do not. I’m not just referring to mental health either. One study actually found that people who laugh regularly have a lower risk for heart attack and an increased pain threshold! In work environments, the appropriate use of humor can de-escalate tense situations and increase the rapport between staff and clients.

There have been a number of circumstances in which laughing about myself, or my situation, has helped me move past unhelpful and unproductive feelings of stress or frustration. For instance, my hair started thinning at the age of 21. I’m 26 now and that trend is continuing, despite my protests. I will admit that the first time my “bald spot” was pointed out, I didn’t laugh and say “thanks for bringing that to my attention!” In fact, a couple of threats were exchanged before I made my way to the nearest mirror. At first, having a sense of humor about the situation wasn’t easy, but, over time, it made me feel better to have a laugh about it, even cracking a joke or two at my own expense. Humour has helped me come to terms with something that’s completely out of my control.

On a more serious note, I recently read about a nurse who had been struggling with significant depression. He received support to enroll in a stand-up comedy course and, since beginning the course, has found that his outlook, self-esteem, and mood have greatly improved. You don’t have to get on the stand-up comedy stage like the nurse, but, to improve your health, it is important to practise allowing yourself to laugh and to put yourself in an environment where laughter is common practise!

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. He posts a monthly blog, "The Grizzly Truth," which aims to shed light on men's mental wellness. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.

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