Healthy Living in the North

Feeding our babies: at what age can we start offering solid foods?

The question

As a mom, I know it can be hard to get straight answers to parenting questions. Websites and discussion boards offer so many conflicting opinions (right?). Even professional recommendations sometime vary. This can be confusing… and frustrating!

baby eating solid foods in high chair

At six months, my daughter let us know she was ready for solids. Here she is eating little bits of soft stew meat as her first food!

As a dietitian, I also know people have a LOT of questions about feeding their babies. Here’s an important one: “When is the ‘right’ time to start offering solid food?”

The recommendation

Northern Health supports the following recommendations from World Health Organization, Health Canada, Canadian Pediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, Breastfeeding Committee for Canada, and Perinatal Services BC:

  • Infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life
  • With continued breastfeeding, complementary solid foods and other fluids are introduced around the age of six months of life
  • Continued breastfeeding is recommended for up to two years and beyond

Well, now that’s a mouthful! Let’s simplify that:

“Breastmilk is the only food a baby needs for the first six months. After that, keep breastfeeding and offer nutritious foods, too.”

The details

Since there are some variations in when babies are ready to eat food, we see the language of starting foods at about six months of age. Some babies will be ready for food a few weeks earlier than six months, some a few weeks later. Your baby will give you signs, not just that they are interested in food, but also that they are developmentally ready. Your baby may be ready for solids if they can:

  • Sit up, unsupported
  • Open their mouth for food
  • Turn their head when they are full

Our daughter let us know when she was ready, which, for her, was just before six months (I have proud mama pictures of her eating little bits of soft stew meat as her first food. So cute!).

More questions

“Don’t some people say, ‘Food before one is just for fun’?”

Red flag! This phrase is concerning because we know how important food is for babies, starting at about six months. One big reason is the increased need for iron at this age. Other reasons include involving babies in family meals and supporting the development of their eating and food acceptance skills.

“What about children at risk for food allergies?”

You may have seen some media stories about the prevention of peanut allergy, where “four-to-six months” is sometimes mentioned. To clarify, the majority of families (98-99%) can introduce peanuts, at home, when baby is about six months old (for more information about safely introducing peanuts and other common food allergens, see Reducing Risk of Food Allergy in your Baby). For a baby with egg allergy or severe eczema (this is not common), their doctor can help make an individualized plan that may involve testing for peanut allergy before introducing peanut-containing foods.

Want up-to-date information on first foods for babies? Check out the following resources:

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise started her career as a dietitian with Northern Health in 2004 when she moved to Terrace "for a year." More than 10 years later, she is now part of the regional population health registered dietitian team and she continues to love living, working and playing in B.C.'s northwest. Lise enjoys playing outside with her husband and friends and you might find her skiing, biking or kiting. She’s passionate about local food, keeps a garden, enjoys local community-supported agriculture (CSA) and farmers market goodies, and carries out food preservation projects.

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Babies, solid foods, and allergies: What do you need to know?

Are you worried that your baby might develop a food allergy? I was. A baby is at higher risk of developing an allergy if they have a parent or sibling with a food allergy, eczema, asthma or hay fever, or if the baby has severe eczema. My husband had various nut allergies when he was young, many of which he outgrew, but he still has a strong reaction to Brazil nuts. Given my husband’s history, my daughter is at higher risk of developing a food allergy.

baby eating solids

Early introduction to common food allergens may help reduce the risk of children developing allergies.

You might be a bit nervous about introducing certain foods to your baby – I was! The foods most likely to be involved in food allergies are called “common food allergens.” They are:

  • Eggs
  • Milk and milk products
  • Peanuts
  • Seafood (fish, crustaceans, and shellfish)
  • Sesame
  • Soy
  • Tree nuts (almond, Brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios, etc.)
  • Wheat

As a dietitian, I have seen the advice on introducing common food allergens change – a lot! Years ago, it was thought best to wait to offer these foods until baby was a year old, or two years old, or even older. However, research over the past 10 years has shown us that there is no benefit to waiting that long. In fact, new research, especially research on peanuts, shows that earlier introduction may actually help to reduce risk of allergies. Wow!

What does this mean for feeding your baby? The most current research supports these guidelines:

  • Start offering solid foods when your baby is about six months old.
  • Offer foods high in iron twice per day; iron is very important for babies. Examples include well-cooked meat, poultry, and fish; cooked eggs, lentils, beans, chickpeas and tofu; and peanut, tree nut, and seed butters. For more ideas, see “Pumping iron: First foods for building strong babies”.
  • Don’t wait. You can offer common food allergens when baby is ready for solids, at around six months of age.
  • Worried about allergy risk? Introduce common food allergens one at a time (other foods do not need to be introduced one at a time). In the event of an allergic reaction, symptoms often appear within minutes of eating the food, but they can also occur hours later.
  • Worried that a food caused an allergic reaction? Stop offering that food and connect with your child’s doctor for a diagnosis. You can continue to offer other new foods to your baby, including other common food allergens.

When it was time to start our baby on solid foods, I was a little nervous about things like peanut butter. I made sure to offer these foods when my husband and I were both around, and I watched my daughter for signs of a reaction. Luckily, we have not yet seen any signs of allergy, and she has now been introduced a wide variety of common food allergens.

It was helpful to know where to go for help in case we had questions. Did you know that there is a Registered Dietitian at HealthLink BC who can support families who have concerns about food allergies? They are only a phone call away – just dial 8-1-1.

Looking for more information and support? HealthLink BC’s resource “Reducing Risk of Food Allergy in Your Baby” provides additional information on introducing common food allergens to infants.

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise started her career as a dietitian with Northern Health in 2004 when she moved to Terrace "for a year." More than 10 years later, she is now part of the regional population health registered dietitian team and she continues to love living, working and playing in B.C.'s northwest. Lise enjoys playing outside with her husband and friends and you might find her skiing, biking or kiting. She’s passionate about local food, keeps a garden, enjoys local community-supported agriculture (CSA) and farmers market goodies, and carries out food preservation projects.

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Baby teeth: Why they are important

Spirit mascot in front of poster

You can keep your child’s teeth healthy by brushing them in the morning and before bed, starting as soon as those teeth erupt. Use a little smear of toothpaste that has fluoride in it.

They eventually fall out and are collected by the tooth fairy anyways, so why are baby teeth so important?

Healthy baby teeth are important for many reasons:

  • Baby teeth hold the space for the replacement adult teeth.
  • Baby molars will not fall out until your child is about 12 years old.
  • Early loss of a baby tooth may cause the movement of the other teeth, possibly resulting in crowding or bite problems.
  • Baby teeth are important for appearance, proper chewing of foods, and speech.

But, since those baby teeth are not meant to last a lifetime, their outer covering (enamel) is not as thick or hard as the enamel on adult teeth. The enamel in the first 18 months after a tooth erupts is fragile and can decay very quickly.

Why does this matter? Just like in adults, tooth decay in our kids may cause pain, infection, difficulties chewing, problems sleeping or concentrating, and poor self-esteem. Tooth decay is largely preventable. Health care providers, child care providers, and parents can all work together to spread healthy messages regarding oral care and we can all model behaviours that can lead to a reduction in tooth decay and oral health problems.

You can keep your child’s teeth healthy by:

  • Brushing your child’s teeth in the morning and before bed, starting as soon as those teeth erupt. Use a little smear of toothpaste that has fluoride in it.
  • Do not put your child to bed with a bottle or, if you do, offer only water in the bottle.
  • Help your child to learn to drink from an open cup (not a sippy cup). This can be used for small sips of water starting at 6 months and for milk starting between 9-12 months.
  • Limit how often your child gets sticky, sugary foods and drinks. Children one year and older benefit from 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day. These should be spaced 2-3 hours apart. Choose a variety of healthy foods that do not stick to the teeth.
  • Make an appointment for your child’s first dental appointment by their first birthday or about 6 months after their first tooth erupts.
  • Lift your child’s upper lip once a month to check for any whitish marks on the teeth which may be the start of decay.
  • Avoid saliva sharing habits like using the same spoon.
  • Parents should have any decay treated to reduce the chances of passing on the cavity causing bacteria to their child.
Brenda Roseboom

About Brenda Roseboom

Brenda was born and raised in Terrace. She has worked in the community first as a certified dental assistant and then as a hygienist. After being in private practice for many years, she joined the Northern Health dental team in May of 2016. Brenda enjoys gardening, quilting, and many other crafting hobbies. The beauty of B.C. continues to amaze her and keeps her rooted in the north.

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Ringing the gong

Boy beside a shooting target

With his son wanting to give target shooting a try, Reg took him out to the local range in Terrace. For Reg, it’s all about being involved and “it’s not really about target shooting.”

I have to admit that during my time in the army, I really enjoyed the time spent on the firing range. Now, I haven’t done any target shooting for a long time, but it’s something that I’ve recently gotten back into. It’s also something my youngest son wanted to try, so we’ve been spending time at the local rifle range in Terrace.

At the back of the small-bore range, a steel gong has been set up at a distance of about one hundred yards. It’s not all that easy to hit considering that we’re shooting a .22 caliber rifle without the aid of a scope. Nonetheless, my son likes to try to hit it.

To be honest, it’s not really about target shooting. It’s about being an involved father and acknowledging the role fathers play in the healthy development of their children. With June 19 being Father’s Day this year, it’s an important topic to talk about.

Being an involved father takes work, but the impact you have on your child’s life is huge. To be an involved father takes consistency, compassion, attention, and time. However, it’s worth the effort.

  • Involved fathers bolster their child’s cognitive development. They help their children develop critical thinking skills, motivation, communication skills, and a sense of independence that will benefit them throughout their lifetimes.
  • Children of involved fathers develop better social skills and ways to cope with the emotional stresses of life. Involved fathers can teach their children how to develop empathy and strong friendships. These skills last a lifetime and help children learn how to build successful relationships.
  • Involved fathers provide a good role model for their children. Having a good role model can help children stay clear of problems with the law or issues with substance abuse.
  • Not only do children benefit from involved fathers, but the relationship between father and mother can benefit as well. I’m sure you’ve heard that old saying about a happy wife.
Taking aim at a shooting range.

What fun ways can you connect with your kids?

While I mentioned that being an involved father takes work, it’s important to remember that you also need to find some fun ways to connect with your children. Put on a cape and become a sidekick for your superhero son. Grab an apron and join your daughter’s tea party. Find a way to be a part of your child’s world.

Last time we went to the range, my son loaded ten rounds and told me that he was going to shoot all of them at the gong. After he hit it on the first shot, he looked at me, smiled slightly and raised one finger. When he raised five fingers, his smile was a little bigger.

I have to admit; at this point, I thought I was doing a good job with teaching him to shoot.

However, speaking as a father, I know it won’t always be this way. You won’t always hit the target, let alone the bulls-eye. There will be times when you’re tired, frustrated and bewildered.

Fatherhood can be trying.

Still, there will be many more times when you do hit the bulls-eye. There will be moments that make you smile and realize that being a father is one of the greatest joys a man can experience.

Like when my son raised 10 fingers and gave me one of the biggest smiles I’d ever seen.

So on this Father’s Day, go out and make a few more of those moments to cherish.

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.

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Bonding with your baby

Father and daughter

“Well-loved babies do better in every way.” How can you spend time bonding with your baby?

Have you ever been told that carrying or holding your baby too much will spoil them? This is a common myth held by many parents and caregivers. In fact, the opposite is true!

Research has shown that well-loved babies do better in every way. The first six months are an important time for you and your baby. Take time to give love, hugs, smiles and lots of reassurance. Emotional attachment is one of the keys to raising a happy, confident child.

The BC Healthy Child Development Alliance has some simple steps you can take to help ensure a good, close connection with your baby:

Spend time face-to-face with your baby.

  • Take time each day to cuddle and play with your baby up close.
  • Spend time watching what your baby does and responding to facial expressions and sounds by imitating them.
  • Talk to your baby. Research shows that the more words a baby hears each day, the better they learn.

Observe your baby.

Watch and listen to your baby to learn what your baby wants or needs. Here are some cues to what your baby is “saying” to you:

  • Turns away, does not want eye contact: “I need rest.”
  • Frowns, starts to cry, pulls away: “I am upset, lonely, sick or hurt.”
  • Cries, has wide open eyes, stiffens body, arches spine or turns away from you: “I am in distress, upset or afraid.”
  • Reaches for you, follows you (if a walking toddler), face has a sad look – maybe a trembling lip: “I need you.”
  • Smiles, giggles, gazes at you, reaches for you, makes cooing sounds: “I like that.”

Notice the cues that say “distress.”

  • Babies who are in distress and whose parents respond promptly (within 1-2 minutes) cry less after the first year.
  • Babies beyond four months old can handle short periods of mild distress; giving them a chance to calm themselves helps them to learn new skills and to sleep longer periods at night.

Delight in your baby.

  • Help your baby explore and play by finding ways to play together (e.g., stacking cups or playing with blocks or stuffed toys).
  • Welcome your baby when he or she needs to cuddle or comes to you for comfort.

Get down on the floor with your baby.

  • Every baby needs “tummy time” on a mat or blanket set on the floor. This is a time when your baby will exercise muscles or discover new ways to move.
  • Spend time watching what your baby does and respond to your baby’s cues.

For more information and to learn more ways to build attachment and help your child adjust to their emotions, visit:


This article was originally published in Healthier You magazine. Read the full Summer 2016 issue all about healthy children below!

Vanessa Salmons

About Vanessa Salmons

Vanessa is a registered nurse and Northern Health’s Early Childhood Development lead for preventive public health. Located in Quesnel, Vanessa supports prenatal, postpartum and family health services across the north. She is married with two children and is always busy with the family’s many activities. Work/life balance is important to Vanessa. When she is not at work, she enjoys spending time with family and friends entertaining and cooking. Vanessa stays active through walking or running with her dog Maggie, spinning and circuit training. A good game of golf or a good book is always a bonus!

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We all have a role to play in safety!

Looking for easy to understand information on keeping children safe?

The Parachute Canada website is not just for me to use in my work as an Injury Prevention Lead. It is for me as a parent, as an auntie, and as a community member! And it’s for you! When you have a few minutes, check it out! And what better time than Safe Kids Week?

Safety at home

As kids grow, the hazards change. Did you know that falls are the number one cause of injury in the home? Don’t let their first roll be off the change table. Get tips for safety at home!

Parachute Canada poster

Safety at play

When seasons change, the sport activity changes. Any jarring force to the body or head that causes the brain to knock against the skull can cause concussion. Would you know what to do? Get tips for safety at play!

Parachute Canada poster

Safety on the road

Always use the correct car seat or booster seat on every ride, even short trips close to home. When was the last time you checked to see if the seat you use is meeting the growing needs of your child? Get tips for safety on the road!

Parachute Canada poster

The Parachute Canada website is for everyone. We all have a role to play in safety!

Amy Da Costa

About Amy Da Costa

Amy Da Costa has worked in Public Health for 12 years. She recently joined the Population Health team as a part-time Regional Nursing Lead for Injury Prevention. Amy lives in Kitimat with her husband and two children. They like to camp, swim, and cook as a family.

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Just stop and play

Mother and child walking in forest

“Outdoor active time builds confidence, autonomy and resilience, and helps children develop skills and solve problems while giving them the opportunity to learn their own interests and limits.”

With our busy lives and commitments to our children to be sure their everyday needs are met, we often forget to just stop and play with our children.

Today is a chance for us to look at the benefits of outdoor play. I want to encourage all caregivers to connect with their children outside, no matter what the weather forecast says! If it’s raining, put on your rubber boots and play in the rain and splash in the puddles. If the sun is poking through, slap on the sunscreen and go outside and play.

Encourage fun, self-directed, free-range play!

Today, children are often scheduled with structured activities such as hockey and soccer practices and piano lessons. Equally important to these scheduled opportunities is the free time for children to dream and explore their own limits. This outdoor active time builds confidence, autonomy and resilience and helps children develop skills and solve problems while giving them the opportunity to learn their own interests and limits.

Play – how much is the right amount?

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 180 minutes (3 hours) of daily physical activity for children ages 3-4 at any level of intensity. The guidelines then change for children ages 5 and up to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous play per day.

Unfortunately, only 14% of children are meeting these guidelines. This drops to only 5% who are meeting the guidelines for children aged 12-17.

How to play?

Reduce screen time. Unplug and play. Make playing and exploring our neighbourhoods the reward rather than more screen time. Let’s embrace the beauty of living in the north! Everything is so accessible and nature is all around us. And it’s free! This may mean letting the child take the lead. You may get a glimpse into what the world looks like through your child’s eyes: spending time bent over exploring the colour in the rocks or examining pussy willows that you revisit later as they become leaves throughout the spring.

The benefits of play are across the board

The most obvious is that it is fun, but play also helps release tension, develops imagination, and allows for problem-solving and mastering new concepts. Play builds self-esteem, leadership skills, and reduces anxiety. Playing socially builds on co-operation and sharing as well as increases our children’s ability to resolve conflict. Outdoor play helps with gross motor skills, which build strong hearts, muscles and bones. Being active everyday as a child helps develop a lifelong habit of daily exercise as an adult.

Finally, be a good role model. Live an active life and rediscover the fun and freedom of outside play. While encouraging the whole family to “wear the gear,” wear your helmet when biking or skateboarding together. Turn your cell off. Make play a priority. Set aside time every day for free play and a chance to connect and have fun with your child today.

Reflect back to your own childhood playtime. I want to encourage everyone to build those same quality experiences for our children today! Let’s get everyone outside and active, having fun while promoting safe, active outdoor play.

Sandra Sasaki

About Sandra Sasaki

Sandra is the Children’s First Manager. In this role, she supports local committees and groups in Prince George, Quesnel, the Robson Valley and Mackenzie to work together to assess, identify and plan for the unique needs of young children. Sandra has lived and worked most of her life in Prince George where she and her husband are active members of the community. She enjoys weightlifting and working out at the gym, painting, skiing, camping, and fishing. Most of all, she enjoys spending time with her family as she is the proud mother of three daughters and a grandmother of seven. (Sandra no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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Oral Health Month: Healthy smiles for your family

Smiling child

Keep your family’s smiles bright! Registered dental hygienist Kelly has tips to ensure a lifetime of healthy smiles.

Good oral health is something we all try to work on every day as a healthy mouth contributes to overall good health. But, at certain times of the year, the choices we make are even more important to our dental health. April is Oral Health Month in Canada and it’s a great time to think about your family’s smiles!

For many families, last week included a special visit from the Easter Bunny. It’s common for a child’s Easter basket to be filled with chocolate and candy. As a registered dental hygienist, my role is to help prevent tooth decay in children, so I’m always conscious of the effects these traditions have on children’s mouths.

Baby teeth are very important and need to be well cared for; primary teeth can remain in a child’s mouth until the age of 12. They help with chewing, speech, and allow the proper spaces for the adult teeth to come in.

It is important to know that sugars turn to acids in the mouth. If your child is eating candy throughout the day, numerous acid attacks are happening in the mouth. Constant sugar/acid exposure can wear down enamel and lead to dental decay. If untreated, this can cause pain, infection, and problems with eating and sleeping for the child. Decay is preventable and can be avoided.

You can help your children avoid getting cavities by limiting the amount of sugar they consume. If treats are offered, it’s best they are given at meal time when there is more saliva to help maintain an optimum pH level in the mouth. It’s also a good idea to avoid sticky, chewy candy as it is harder to remove from tooth surfaces and it tends to stay in the mouth longer, leaving your child vulnerable to decay.

Some other tips to help prevent childhood cavities include:

  • Offer a variety of healthy choices, including fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, and nuts.
  • Limit sugar intake in snacks and drinks. Water is the best choice for thirst as fruit juices and pop have a very high sugar content.
  • Brush your child’s teeth with a pea size amount of fluoride toothpaste two times per day (morning and before bed). Introduce flossing to your oral hygiene routine.
  • At times like Easter, offer alternatives to candy like stickers, tattoos, pencils, toys, or sugar free gum.
  • See your dentist regularly.
Kelly Esopenko

About Kelly Esopenko

Kelly is a registered dental hygienist working with Population & Public Health. Kelly has been a dental hygienist for over 20 years and has worked in a variety of clinical settings. She joined Northern Health in 2012 and works with a wide range of clients promoting good oral health practices. Kelly is married with two children. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, walking her dogs, and cheering on her children in their various sporting activities.

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Foodie Friday: Family Day weekend

Muffins on a table.

Research has shown that families who prepare and eat meals (or even snacks) together are healthier. This Family Day, try baking together!

It seems like only yesterday we welcomed a brand new year and now January is already gone!

With the hectic activity of our day-to-day lives, it sometimes feels as if life is gliding on by, like an ice skater on a frozen northern B.C. lake. Thankfully, a few years ago, the British Columbia government decided that we all could use a break in early February to rest, relax and have fun with family and friends. The aptly named “Family Day” statutory holiday is observed on the second Monday in February. This year, it falls on Monday, February 8.

You may already have some ideas about how to spend your day off. Maybe you’ll catch some extra zzz’s or take the family out to one of those frozen northern B.C. lakes for some skating, hockey or ice fishing. Whatever you decide, remember that one of the best ways to have fun with family and friends is with food!

Research has shown that families who prepare and eat meals (or even snacks) together are healthier; they have lower risk of depression, lower rates of obesity, and their children generally have higher self-esteem and better academic performance – to name just a few benefits. If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of family meals, check out The Family Dinner Project. Get your whole family into the kitchen by asking your kids to wash vegetables, measure broth, set the table or (maybe for older kids) chop like a MasterChef!

This Family Day, plan to make and enjoy something delicious with your family and friends like these Carrot Coconut Pineapple Muffins. They’re perfect served warm out of the oven with a mug of hot tea or cocoa after a day spent gliding on a cold and frozen lake.

Recipe and photos by Marianne Bloudoff from her fabulous foodie blog: french fries to flax seeds.

Muffins in a muffin tin

Carrot coconut pineapple muffins are a great snack to prepare and enjoy as a family this long weekend! How will you spend this Family Day?

Carrot Coconut Pineapple Muffins

Makes 12.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup non-dairy milk (or dairy if you prefer)
  • 2 tbsp ground flax seeds
  • 1 ¾ cup whole wheat flour
  • ¾ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup shredded carrot
  • 1 can (398 mL or 14 oz) crushed pineapple (including liquid)
  • ¼ cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease muffin pan or line with paper baking cups.
  2. Combine milk and flax seeds in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine flour, coconut, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix in shredded carrot, until all coated.
  4. Add pineapple, coconut oil and vanilla to milk/flax mixture and stir until combined.
  5. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until just combined – lumps are okay!
  6. Divide the batter evenly in the muffin cups and bake for 22 – 25 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from tin and cool on a wire rack.

More tips and ideas for cooking as a family:

Carly Phinney

About Carly Phinney

Born in Vancouver, raised in the Okanagan, and a recent transplant to the North, Carly Phinney is a Clinical Dietitian at UHNBC. Carly’s interest in food started in the kitchen with her mother - watching her mother’s talent for just “throwing something together” from whatever was in fridge. She loves that, through food and nutrition, she is able to touch people’s lives and help them to make small but sustainable changes that can greatly improve their overall quality of life. Outside of work, you can find Carly in her kitchen baking up a storm or in the mountains hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.

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Healthy living for healthy aging

Woman on a boat

“Food, lifestyle, getting back to the land, going for walks, being at peace and enjoying what’s around you – these do matter.” Judy Gerow shares her thoughts on health and aging.

Judy Gerow is member of the Kitselas First Nation and has been in Band Council for over 20 years: two years as Chief and the rest as Councillor. She is a mother of six, a stepmother of an additional six, and is also raising her granddaughter. Throughout her whole life, her health has been on her mind. I had the privilege of asking Judy a few questions about her experiences of health and aging and am excited to share her thoughts and story below.

Do you believe that health is a journey?

Yes, absolutely, I think it’s a journey! Your physical and mental health play a big part in your well-being and need to be in balance to be truly healthy.

When did you start really considering your health?

Even though I have always been thinking about my health, it was after I became a mother that I realized how important it was to take care of myself so that I was here for my children.

My kids are a real motivation for me. Now that I am raising my granddaughter, I want to take care of myself to make sure I am here for her until she can be on her own.

What things are you doing to keep you healthy?

I try to watch what I eat and I don’t drink alcohol or smoke. I keep myself involved in various activities, many of which are physical such as my volunteer role in the fire department. I like to fish and hunt and through this, challenge my body to keep up with others and carry what I can. I garden, too.

Family is also very important to me; we are a large and close family and look forward to getting together for family dinners. As I get older, I spend more time thinking about my life, what matters, and how I can live this to the fullest.

How does this healthy lifestyle make you feel?

I feel a sense of pride that I can still pull my own weight, even though I can’t carry as much as I could in my youth. My role model is my mother. She is 84 years old and she’s still going strong. When she was in her 60’s, I had a hard time keeping up to her. She would get up at dawn and preserve fruits and vegetables until late at night. She is slowing down now due to health concerns. She has macular degeneration but she still cuts fish, even though she does it now by feel.

When I’m out on the river or in the bush, I have time to reflect and focus on the land and the environment. I find that very spiritual and I get a sense of belonging when I’m out there. It’s like I can feel the presence of my ancestors who walked before me for thousands of years.

How do you think having a healthy lifestyle now will support your health in the future?

I think it will help me to live longer and to remain active. I couldn’t imagine not being active. I want to be just like my mom! When I was growing up, I used to tell my friends that I didn’t want to be like my mother. It’s ironic that no matter how hard I tried to do things differently, I end up like her! My mother is always there, a focus in my life.

What are you most looking forward to about being healthy as you age?

I look forward to being active and having a fulfilling life where I can do what I want and not be a burden to anyone. I want to remain independent as long as I can.

If you could share one message with others about your journey, what would that message be?

When you are younger, you don’t think about what it’s going to be like when you’re older. Choices one makes when they are young do matter in the future, that is the message I would like to share.

Every summer was like bootcamp for me. I was busy keeping up to my husband as we hunted or fished together. I wasn’t paying attention to my body. Parts of my body are starting to give me more problems now – like my knees and my elbows – from pushing myself too much then, packing heavy loads, and jumping off rocks.

My husband passed away five years ago from lung cancer. He was a smoker and a drinker. I chose not to so I could be there for my children. My current partner has diabetes and heart disease from not taking care earlier.

Everyone needs to start taking care of themselves and be more conscious of what’s around them. Food, lifestyle, getting back to the land, going for walks, being at peace and enjoying what’s around you – these do matter.

I never had an interest in gardening even when I had watched my mom do it. Yet, last year, we planted a garden and what came up was wonderful! I found it so relaxing; I could just get lost in it. I could sit in that garden, pulling weeds and not think of anything and before I knew it, four hours had passed! Work and other things in my life slipped away. We all need to do more of this. Life is too fast-paced. I’m going on a vacation soon. My partner and I are taking our motorhome and just going – no destination or timeline! Stress-free!

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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