Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Good Mood Food: How to Eat Your Way to Better Mental Health

There’s no doubt about it – life at College and University can be tough. With exams to study for, papers to finish, and deadlines to meet, it’s far too easy to put healthy eating on the backburner. This is unfortunate, as our diet has a huge impact on our happiness levels. Considering the rising rate of mental health issues on school campuses, it’s becoming more important than ever for students to focus on eating healthy.

In celebration of National Nutrition Month this March, I’ve outlined 4 simple ways that you can boost your mood through the foods you eat.

Add More Omega-3 Fatty Acids

What’s your go-to snack that gets you through all those late night study sessions? If you’re like many students, chances are it’s one that’s packed with trans and saturated fats.

The average North American diet is much higher in trans and saturated fats and is lacking in the essential omega-3 fatty acids. This is troubling, as studies have shown that high levels of these fats can actually lead to depression. The good news is, research tells us that omega-3 fatty acids have a mood-stabilizing effect that can in fact reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.

How can you add more omega-3 fatty acids to your diet? Great options include oily fish such as salmon, trout, and anchovies. If fish isn’t quite your cup of tea, try leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale.

Choose Foods High in Antioxidants

I have some great news for you chocolate lovers: eating foods that are high in antioxidants is a great way to maintain positive mental health and wellbeing.

Antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene help minimize molecules in the body known as “free radicals”. Free radicals are detrimental to our mental health, and they are one of the leading causes of major depression. The silver lining? It has been proven that antioxidants help to fight these molecules, reducing symptoms of depression and improving our overall mental health.

On top of dark chocolate, foods that are rich in these mood-boosting antioxidants include tomatoes, blueberries, cranberries, artichoke, and kidney beans.

Increase your Vitamin B12 Intake

How many nights have you stayed up late studying only to find yourself feeling a little bit down the next day?

I like to think of vitamin B12 as a “miracle” vitamin when it comes to perking up and improving your mood.

Research has found that those who have vitamin B12 deficiencies have higher levels of depression, anxiety, and irritability. Vitamin B12 reduces these feelings by producing a chemical called ‘dopamine’ in the body. Dopamine is an essential chemical that helps to regulate our emotional response, boost our happiness levels, and improve our mood altogether.

To add more vitamin B12 to your diet, try eating more fish, beef, eggs, cheese, and milk.

Go for the Good Bacteria

Did you know that not all bacteria are bad bacteria? It’s true – eating foods that are high in ‘probiotic’ bacteria is a great way to improve your mental health.

Studies have confirmed that probiotics reduce inflammation as well as increase serotonin production within the body. This is great for your mental health, as inflammation causes higher levels of depression and stress, while serotonin helps boost your happiness levels. By consuming probiotics, you are effectively giving your body a natural antidepressant.

If you’re looking to add more depression-fighting probiotics to your diet, try making yogurt your snack of choice.

As a post-grad many, many, many years ago, I understand how busy your days on campus can get. It’s often much easier to choose quick, “on-the-go” snacks than to make a wholesome, nutritious meal. But if improving your mental health and wellbeing is something you value, consider taking that extra time. You’ll feel a whole lot better about it – inside and out.

To learn more about how you can improve your mental health through your diet, check out our Online and Telephonic Nutritional Service through your Student or Employee Assistance Program.


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Eating Disorders: What You Need To Know

As someobelly-2354_960_720ne who has worked in the mental health field for 30 years, I’m no stranger to working with clients who have suffered from eating disorders. This past week was Eating Disorder Awareness Week, a time dedicated to reducing the stigma associated with eating disorders and creating awareness about the mental health issue that affects approximately 1 million Canadians every year.

So what exactly is an eating disorder? In simple terms, an eating disorder is a mental health issue that leaves individuals completely pre-occupied with their weight. However, according to The Canadian Mental Health Association, eating disorders are not just about food. They are often a way to cope with difficult problems or regain a sense of control. They are complicated disorders that affect a person’s sense of identity, worth and self-esteem.

Unsurprisingly, eating disorders are most common in females. A recent report found that 3% of Canadian women will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. This can happen for a number of reasons. Female body image is constantly critiqued in popular culture, and as a result, women are more likely to develop disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia in an effort to control their weight.

While eating disorders are more common in females, body image issues impact males as well. Men are exposed to a similar level of body critique, mainly that they need to be muscular and strong. This kind of societal pressure can result in men developing eating disorders or taking hormones like steroids to increase their muscle mass. Steroid use, like an eating disorder, also has a long-term negative impact on a person’s health.

Effects of eating disorders may not always be apparent. For example, anorexia sufferers generally have a very low body mass index (BMI), but people suffering from bulimia often maintain a relatively stable body weight. Here are some tips on how you can identify if a friend or employee is suffering from an eating-related mental health issue.

  • Food obsession
    It’s important to note when someone begins to obsess about food, for example, constantly counting calories or eliminating large groups of “bad” foods from their diet, especially if this was never a topic of conversation before.
  • Excessive exercise
    Physical activity is part of a healthy lifestyle, but when you begin to notice someone is taking his or her gym routine to the next level it can be cause for concern. People with eating disorders often attempt to “work-off” the bad calories they have consumed after a binge, to the point where they are putting their bodies through physical discomfort.
  • Body image issues.
    While losing weight can be a side effect of an eating disorder, it can also increase the level of anxiety a person may have towards their body. Even though they may be losing weight, someone suffering from an eating disorder might wear baggy clothes to cover up their body. Take notice if someone in your life begins expressing dissatisfaction with his or her body more frequently.
  • Depression.
    Symptoms of eating disorders often mimic the symptoms of depression due to the lack of energy, low morale and lack of sufficient sleep the disease causes. People suffering from eating disorders tend to isolate themselves from groups, especially if food is involved. If you notice someone exhibiting symptoms of depression while showing signs of negative body image or food obsession, it could be cause for concern.

The impact of any eating disorder can be devastating. From restricting the body of food to choosing to binge eat and then purge, eating disorders can wreak havoc on a person’s physical and mental health. Short-term effects include poor digestion, kidney issues, anxiety and depression while long-term issues include infertility in women or death as a result of malnutrition.

Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, employer or friend, it’s important to know how to spot the signs of an eating disorder so if someone you know is impacted, you can help. Confronting someone about an eating-related mental health issue is difficult, but it’s important to get your loved one the help they need before they cause irreparable damage.

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, it’s important to get help. Contact your EAP or SAP provider for assistance, or speak to a medical professional.

For more advice on this issue, visit The National Eating Disorder Information Centre or CAMH.

 


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You Are What You Eat

aspiria healthy eatingFor many of us, we associate eating with weight and body image, but supplying our body with the right types of food is so much more than that! Eating a balanced diet, full of the necessary vitamins and nutrients that your body needs, will help prevent disease, stay energized, and improve your mood.

Unfortunately, a majority of the population is not fueling their bodies with the right foods, instead opting for unhealthy, (albeit tasty or satisfying) substitutes. And like the old saying goes, you are what you eat! What does this mean exactly? Your body, (mood included) is a direct reflection of what you’re putting into it.

This week, I would like to focus on what simple things you can change about your diet to improve your body, mind and spirit.

What to eliminate:

  • Foods high in fat
    Fatty foods are detrimental to your weight, and to your overall health. High-fat diets increase risk for heart disease and stroke, as the saturated and trans fats act as roadblocks in your arteries. Cutting out fatty foods can lead to more productivity and energy.
  • Sugar
    The more sugar you eat, the more you want! The addictive ingredient has been associated with obesity, diabetes, heart disease and mood. High-sugar foods are basically empty calories, providing your body with little to no benefits.

What to increase:

  • Water
    Hydrating your body is one of the most important tasks of the day. Dehydration leads to fatigue, loss of focus, dry skin, and so much more.
  • Whole Foods
    Shift your focus from processed foods (containing ingredients that you do not recognize) to whole foods, like natural protein, fruits and vegetables, and complex carbohydrates. These foods contain more nutrients such as thiamin (B1), which has been associated with control of mood, and folate and zinc (supplements of these nutrients have been shown to improve the mood of people with depression in a small number of studies).

If you can work towards these goals, your body will thank you! Remember, while I brought up the saying “you are what you eat”, keep in mind that “everything in moderation” is applicable as well. Understand the signs your body is giving you and adjust your diet accordingly. You may be already aware of what you need to change about your diet in order to feel better and healthy. But sometimes, we all need a gentle reminder!

Have you seen improvements in your productivity and mood by making changes in your diet? Share your experiences in the comments.

Happy eating!


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Not All Midday Slumps Have to Lead to Chocolate

huge_36_181001-300x200We’ve all done it, and depending on when you read my blog, you might have already hit that time of the day, affectionately called the midday slump. You know that time of the day when we open our drawers looking for a chocolate snack, or that second large coffee, or visit the lunchroom seeking cookies to re-energize us for the balance of the day.

The problem is that instead of perking you up, these snacks often leave you feeling sluggish and unfocused. The exact opposite of what we had hoped!

In fact, a recent study from the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) and the Center for Health Research shows that workers who ate healthy meals and exercised on a regular basis had better job performance and lower absenteeism. Their research further cites that employees who eat healthy all day long were 25% more likely to have higher job performance, while those who eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables at least 4 times a week were 20% more likely to be more productive.

Great research, but how does this impact our midday slump? If we invest a little time and energy into making changes to eat healthier at work, it will reap rewards of improved concentration and productivity.

Here are a few tips on how to help make healthier food choices at work:

  • Step away: Make an effort to step away from your desk for a few minutes a couple of times a day. It’s easy to get caught up in a task and eat at your desk, but productivity may suffer later in the day.
  • Don’t eat your lunch at your desk: Take a few minutes to decompress and refocus, enjoy your lunch, think about the fact that you are eating, and then our body is able to give us that cue of satiety. Doing this will help us maintain and achieve a healthier weight.
  • Lunches out with co-workers: Take a few minutes before you go to research the menu online and come up with a game plan of what to eat. Many menus now indicate calories or healthy choice options.
  • Drink plenty of water: One way to perk up mid-afternoon is to stay hydrated, but reach for water. A can of regular pop has the equivalent of 10 cubes of sugar.
  • Smoothies: They can be a great energy booster, but make your own with plain yogurt and frozen berries, because some purchased smoothies are equal to the same amount of sugar as 20 chocolate cream-filled cookies!

What do you do to eat healthy at work? Does your employer provide health management programs that included nutrition? If so, do you use this service? I look forward to hearing your feedback.


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Spring: The Season to Discuss Healthy Body Image

stock-footage-woman-running-and-jumping-on-the-beach-slow-motionIt seems as though the warmer weather is finally here to stay, and as the temperature rises, the winter clothing layers are coming off to make way for summer clothes. As the layers come off, however, there is perhaps a slightly uncomfortable yet familiar self-consciousness that comes along with showing more skin in the summer months. Body image issues are prevalent among all demographics and genders, and summer weather is often when advertisements and other images in the media bring to light our body insecurities.

We know that media and print advertising does not leave very much room for imperfection, with photoshop and body enhancement surgeries widely available. We are being sold an idea of beauty and handsomeness based on impossible standards that we compare our own bodies to. Many of us, perhaps unconsciously, spend money in an attempt to meet these unrealistic and unnatural standards – why else would we spend millions of dollars on things like teeth whitening products, hair dye, diet foods, body-building supplements, plastic surgery, and gym memberships?

So, what is a healthy body image? The topic was trending in social media recently when young video blogger and musician, Meghan Tonjes, posted a photo to Instagram that aimed to celebrate her weight loss journey and the photo-sharing app removed the photo, claiming it violated its community standards surrounding nudity. Disappointed and confused, Tonjes believed her photo and account  were targeted because her plus-sized figure did not fall into the very narrow standards of beauty set by society.  Tonjes’ eloquently argued video response garnered praise from folks all over North America, where she said she would not be apologizing for her body and if her photo violated Instagram’s community guidelines, then so did many others, regardless of their body size.

Instead of focusing on what we need to do or buy to make our bodies more perfect, how can we improve our body image?

  1. Separating body image from self-esteem: Body image is the mental picture you have of your body and how you see your body, while self-esteem is how you value and respect yourself as a person. Regardless of your body size or how you perceive your body, people with high self-esteem understand that they are good and valuable people regardless of their body size.
  1. Appreciating your body for what  it  can do: We are often so focused on what our body cannot do – lose weight, gain muscle, firm up – that we forget all the glorious things it can do: walk, run, jump, lift things, dance, hug our loved ones etc. Remembering all that our body allows us to do will help us on the road to being more appreciative and less critical of it.
  1. Treat our body to healthy foods: No – I’m not necessarily talking about a diet, because we will always turn to the  negative when we feel deprived of something, like our favourite foods. Try instead, to look at food as fuel and that you are doing your body a service by eating healthy and nutrient-rich foods.
  1. Avoid body shaming: Because the media tells us to strive towards an ideal of attractiveness that is nearly impossible to attain, we are prone to speak to our bodies negatively and be critical of other people’s bodies too. Try to stop yourself from this train of thought and instead of looking for imperfections in bodies, search for things you appreciate, like a beautiful smile.

 

The human body is a miracle:  it is created in a way that allows us to carry out all of life’s activities.  Of course we want our bodies to look their best, but ultimately, what matters is how you feel about your body outside of the unrealistic standards that have been set for us by the beauty industry, Hollywood, and, the media.

How have you seen unrealistic expectations of body image portrayed in the media? How else can you appreciate your body and work towards a healthy body image? I look forward to your thoughts below.