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Friday, November 21, 2014

What are some foods which are good for my brain?

As we age the brain starts to atrophy or waste away; this starts around age 30, and then increases rapidly after age 50.  Brain deterioration can look like memory loss, difficulty learning new skills, sleep disruption, scattered concentration, and so on. Certain lifestyles such as high stress, substance misuse, and dehydration can also led to the same signs of an aging brain.

The brain is the most delcate organ of the body and can use up to 30% of the energy we derive from food.

Allergies can affect the central nervous system (brain and spine) and can show as fatigue, slowed thinking, irritability, agitation, aggression, nervousness, depression, schizophrenia, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, all issues we associate with brain function.

There are certain foods which can help with maintaining optimal brain function:

1) Blueberries: this fruit has compounds which boost neuron signals, to help neurons "talk to each other", helping with balance, coordination, and motor function.

2) Salmon: this fish helps the brain have more grey matter in the hippocampus, the posterior cingulate, and the orbital frontal cortex.  Studies are showing people who eat salmon have more omega-3 fatty acid in thier brain which helps protect against Alzheimers. Other studies show that omega-3 helps with mood, bipolar, and alcoholism.

3) Coffee: Studies show that limited caffeine from coffe can protect against Parkinsons, Dementia, and Alzheimer.

4) Nuts: Nuts contain fatty acids which can help with insomnia, poor memory, and mental clarity.

5) Avocados: This fruit contains a healthy fat which promotes blood flow to the brain.

6) Eggs: Egg yolks contain choline, one of the B vitamins. THis essential nutrient helps with memory function.

7) Chocolate: Dark chocolate contains magnesium and many antioxidants which are good for focus and concentration.

8) Broccoli: This vegetable activates cell recptor sites ad therefore is seen as a protective food as well as slows down the aging process.

9) Vitamin C & E: These vitamins enhance memory under stressful conditions. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Are there sweeteners which are natural and not harmful?

There are 3 natural sugar substitutes which do not cause harm and are therefore excellent alternatives to sucrose (table sugar).

1) Stevia: Is plant based and about 250-300 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). It is heat stable, PH stable, and non-fermentable. It can be used in cooking and baking but because it is so strong, much less should be used.

2) Sugar Alcohols (SA): The most popular brand of SA is Xylitol and is made from adding hydrogen to sugar; consequently it looks like sugar but with less calories and glycemic load. SA also acts as an antibacterial so is often used in chewing gum to promote dental health.

3) Erthritol: This is often used as a substitute for Xylitol and is made by fermenting glucose with yeast. It's 60-70% as sweet as sucrose but is almost calorie free and does not affect blood sugar. Like Xylitol it doesn't promote tooth decay. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Why should we play more?

There are reasons why playing is psychologically good for us.

1) Having fun eases tension and helps creativity. A study done at Northwestern University found that people could solve problems easier after watching comedy.

2) Happy emotions are generated after play, and help people become unstuck and therefore more productive in life.

3) People laugh more while playing and it is now commonly known that health improves with laughter.

4) Play brings us in the present moment, which is also called "flow" or mindfulness, Pleasure is greatest when not regretting the past or worried about the future.

5) Play brings us closer to other people which is a basic need for all humans.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

What are digestive enzymes?

Digestive enzymes are secreted by the pancreas and help metabolize foods so that their nutrients can be used by the body. Different kinds of enzymes target different nutrients.

1) Protease: digest proteins in an acidic ennvironment such as the stomach.

2) Lipase: digest fats and oils for the body can absorb fat soluable vitamins (A,D,E, & K). This enzyme also supports liver function.

3) Alpha/beta amylase: is found in the saliva and pancreatic juice and helps break down carbohydrates to thier simplest form of energy.

4) Cellulase: breaks down the fibrous walls of plant cells.

5) Lactase: helps digest lactose (milk sugar) found in dairy products.

6) Maltase: helps break down carbs fom grains.

7) Invertase: digests refined sugars.

8) Papain: found in papaya and helps digest protein.  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

What is an Enzyme?

Enzymes speed up the thousands of chemical reactions our bodies need to function. They are like our vital force and are needed for cellular energy, repairing tissues, stimulating the brain, and digesting food. Without them, we'd soon die.

Enzymes were discovered by Dr. Edward Howell in 1920 who thought that humans are born with a certain amount of enzymes at birth and that we can only replenish them with certain healthy foods such as raw fruits and vegetables. Research now shows that as age, we produce fewer enzymes than in youth. Some people see that aging and enzyme production are closely linked.

There are 3 classes of enzymes:

1) Metabolic enzymes: help manage reaction between cells such as turning phosphorus into bone, attching iron to our red blood cells, healing wounds, and making sure our hearts beat.

2) Digestive enzymes: are formed in the pancreas and help break down foods so that we can assimmilate nutrients into the blood stream. There are different types of digestive enzymes which break down different type of nutrients and this is described in another post (see:  What are digestive enzymes?)

3) Food enzymes: come from raw food and is what helps uneaten food decompose. Food enzymes help us "predigest" our food, before the other enzymes kick in.  One theory says that if you eat lot's of uncooked food, you are helping prolong the number of other enzymes in your system, as they do not have to work as hard. Saving enzymes slows down the aging process.

Friday, May 9, 2014

How long does it take to form a new habit?

A habit is a new behaviour which becomes automatic or second nature (like brushing teeth before bedtime) over time.

Based on research done by Dr Phillipa Lally on 96 people, a new behaviour takes about 7 weeks to become habit.

The smaller the action chosen, the more likely it is to succeed. The new behaviour must be performed in the same way, same time, same place (ie same context) so that over time the body becomes cued to perform the habit.

Missing a day here and there does not reduce the chance of forming the new habit, and some habits may take longer than 7 weeks. In general, the larger the new habit, the longer it takes.

Generally doctors do not help their patients make change; they just tell their patient to loose weight, or get more sleep, or quit smoking. When faced with any major lifestyle change,  many people give up because a lifestyle change requires the assimilation of many new smaller habits into their new, healthier lifestyle.

If you are needing to develop healthier habits contact Birgit Schinke, health coach & educator, clinical counselor for help with developing your new lifestyle. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Why is chewing your food thoroughly so important?


1) Digestion: Saliva is a digestive enzyme which starts the first phase of digestion. Food passes down the esophagus when properly chewed.

2) Hormonal Signaling: If not chewed properly food passes into the stomach not ready for the next phase of digestion. Chewing also starts the secretion of other digestive hormones furhter along the chain as in the stomach (hydrochloric acid) and the pancreas (bicarbonate).

3) Pylorus: Chewing relaxes this muscle which allows food to move into the small intestine.

4) Dental Health: Chewing keeps teeth and jaw strong. It also helps prevent tooth decay.

5) Bacteria: Chewing reduces food borne bacteria from moving into the stomach. Bacteria can cause bloating, cramping, and other digestive discomforts. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

What are the benefits of eating slowly?

First of all, how does one eat slowly?

Simply put, by chewing your food longer, such as up to 40 times a mouthful. Most people eat as an unconscious act, just chewing and swallowing their food without  really noticing what they're doing.

Studies show that overweight people eat more quickly than normal weighted people. A 2008 study published in the British Medical Journal found that eating until full and eating quickly triples the risk of becoming overweight.

Why is this?

1) The slower one eats the less calories consumed during the meal, and as well in snacks afterwards.

2) Eating slowly allows the hormonal network tell the brain when one is satiated (full) . It takes the body about 20 minutes to realize it's full during which time the hormone, leptin is released to prevent overeating.

3) Mastication (chewing) starts the digestion process by breaking down carbs and proteins so that the nutrients can be made properly available to the body. If the body does not get enough nutrition, cravings for more food, in general,  can cause overeating.

4) Slow eating also helps prevent diabetes.


If you think you may be a food addict by eating too much and eating compulsively, contact Birgit Schinke to develop a relapse prevention or mindfulness plan to help control your food intake.

Monday, April 28, 2014

What is my motivational style?

The work of Tamara Lowe states that our brains are hard-wired for motivational styles. Her work is based on 8 years of research on over 10,000 people.

I've included her test for you to try. Self-awareness is the corner stone for making change. The better one understand oneself the easier it is to achieve.

Here's her test for you to try.


Friday, April 25, 2014

What is a mirror neuron ?

A mirror neuron is a type of brain cell which allows us to sense what some else is feeling. These cells fire in our brains in response to what we see others doing or experiencing. For example, if some else stubs their toe we will "ouch" along with them, as our mirror neurons fires as if we have also been hurt. This mechanism is the root of "empathy" or our capacity to understand others' feelings and intentions.

Although research is fledgling, some researchers suggest that people with autism have poorly developed mirror neurons, in that autistic people lack in their capacity for social interactions. They don't read social cues very well, if at all.

Mirror neurons fire involuntarily or automatically. We can't choose to turn our neurons on or off; we are at the effect of anything exposed to. Our brains are hard wired to see others as similar to us, rather than differently.

Implications for this research are many. Firstly, it makes sense to spend time with pleasant people as other's moods are likely to rub off on us via these mirror neurons. Secondly, it also makes sense for us to communicate as respectfully as possible, as others reflect back to us what they feel coming from us. Mirror neurons respond to body language as well as language.

Mirror neurons makes the popular saying: "It takes two to tango", so very true.

If you'd like to explore these ideas on a personal level, or you feel stuck with someone who "brings you down", contact Birgit Schinke on her website. 



Thursday, April 10, 2014

What foods are good for mood?

1) Proteins ( 22 amino acids) are necessary to produce neurotransmitters which communicate positive feelings throughout the CNS (Central Nervous System). The rate of depression in the world correspond to the amount of fish eaten and this is due to the Omega-3 contained in fish which is responsible for healthy brain function.

2) Omega-3 Fats which is found in fish and flaxseed is needed by the brain (which is 60% fat) and raises dopamine and is also an MAO inhibitor (slows down MAO enzymes which destroy neurotransmitters). Neurotransmitters are mood boosters in our CNS.

3) SAT Fats (butter, coconut milk, olive oil, nuts) are also known as Satisfying Fats. Olive oil contains Omega-9 which is a good mood fat. Butter contains butyrate (a fatty acid) which helps to make GABA ( a natural relaxant).

4) Vegetables contain magnesium (relaxing mineral) and potassium (promotes vitality). Vegies also contain Vitamins B & K which preserves Omega-3's.

5) Good Mood Carbs: bananas contain potassium, serotonin, and melatonin, all three essential for good brain health. Fructose from fruit is a carb but doesn't cause the blood sugar and mood to swing like grains (gluten) and white starches do. Fruit is also rich in B6 which is needed by the brain to produce serotonin.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

What's the difference between a technical and an adaptive change?

The answer is from the work of Heifetz and Linsky from Harvard.

A technical change involves learning a new set of techniques or skills. It can be seen as a behaviour change via informational learning. 

An adaptive change requires a transformative turn or a change in mindset. 

One of the biggest source of failure is trying to make adaptive changes by using technical means.

For example, only 5-8% of people can loose weight by learning new technical skills, yet most try to do this. The most effective way to loose and maintain weight loss is via transformational learning.

Visit Birgit Schinke's web site if you are stuck with trying to make a change and would like support with transformational learning.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

What food are bad for moods?

1) Sugar and white flour starches as this combination overworks the adrenals which keeps our hormones balanced. Adrenal fatigue is the precursor of most disease, and can also look like depression.

2) Gluten grains (wheat, rye, oats, barley) irritate the digestive tract so that nutrients don't absorb properly. Gluten intolerance is linked to depression as well as thyroid disease.

3) Fats (vegetable oil, margarine, shortening) are unstable and therefore rancid or oxidative which can cause cellular damage to the brain which is mostly fat. These fats contain omega-6 which cause inflammation; inflammation in the brain interferes with dopomine production, our pleasure hormone.

4) Soy depresses thyroid function.

Monday, March 31, 2014

What is the Behavior Change Method for breaking old habits?

This is an active system for staying motivated while making permanent behavior change. There are 5 basic steps.

1) Increase your motivation before starting:

  • write down specific reasons for change.
  • talk with friends or others (a wellness buddy) who have made the change.
  • use milestones in your life as targets for change (a birthday, a new job, an upcoming event)
  • make a contract with yourself, or a concerned friend, spouse.
2) Keep records:
  • keep a record of your old habit for one week (or weeks) before trying to change and write down triggers, or events around the habit. (ie smoke after every meal, eat ice cream every night before bed, light up a cigarette when lonely, drink alcohol after argument with spouse, and so on).
3) Set specific objectives:
  • break down general goals into small specific objectives (ie for a goal to loose weight break it into something like "I will walk one hour a day everyday for a week", or I will not eat ice cream at night for this upcoming week, and so on)
  • find a health coach or wellness buddy to discuss your goals and get help in breaking them down into small achievable tasks so the behavior change is not so overwhelming.
  • set a time every week to review your successes of the week and to set new objectives for the next week.
4) Take action:
  • get away from or remove triggers from your environment until new habit is solid.
  • substitute a competing behavior for the habit you are trying to change (ie. brush your teeth after a meal instead of smoking, or drink a glass of water when craving ice cream, and so on. Refer to step 2 for your list of triggers and use this to plan.
  • break behavior chains; a habit is a series of various behaviors strung together. If you interrupt any one of the smaller behaviors in the behavior chain the chance of changing the overall habit is much better. 
  • reward yourself; (ie develop a reward system such as for every cigarette pack not bought but that money towards a vacation, and so on)
  • plan small steps; break down an overwhelming goal into small steps (ie start by walking around the block everyday and work towards joining a running group)
  • use imagery; (ie rehearse how you might refuse a cigarette when a friend offers you one, or imagine how you will look after you loose the first 10 pounds)
  • get help from others; (ie join a group, tell your friends and ask for encouragement, find a coach or change counselor, and so on)
5) Maintain new behavior:
  • keep track of your change (ie weigh yourself once a week, keep an exercise log in your journal, find an accountability buddy, ask friends for feedback, and so on) 
  • if you "fall off the wagon" catch it sooner than later and go back to Step 1 above; this is why frequent feedback is so useful.
  • focus on your new outcome rather than your failure. focus on what worked or went well for you and build on that.
  • remember a slip is much better than a total relapse.
  • investigate your slip for new learning's which you can use towards your new objective.

Many people struggle with breaking old habits and sometimes troublesome habits can make the difference between life and death. Contact Birgit Schinke for help for your particular situation. She is available in person, by email, or via Skype.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

What are some good reasons to stay stressed?

1) Stress helps you seem important because anyone working that hard must be doing something very crucial.

2) Staying busy and stressed helps you avoid intimacy because you don't have much time to bond with anyone and you probably aren't much fun to be around anyways.

3) Staying stressed helps you avoid responsibilities because you can't possibly can't take on anything else; let someone else take on all the smaller details of everyday life.

4) Stress gives you a chemical rush; adrenaline is a high, plus it's addictive.

5) Stress helps you avoid success because it can keep your performance level low; this way you'll never have to fear not being successful.

6) Stress lets you keep your authoritarian management style because you can get away with it when in a crisis mode.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What is health literacy?

Health literacy are the skills needed to access, understand, and use information for taking care of health.

Low health literacy affects from 50-60% of  the North American population and therefore raises health costs and reduces the  health outcomes in our society.  

People with low levels make more mistakes with their medication or treatments because they are less able to follow treatment instructions.  They also lack the skills needed to negotiate the health care system which can be complex and overwhelming, especially if one is seriously ill. They are also more likely to be hospitalized than people with good health literacy skills.

Some reasons for low health literacy skills are:

  • low literacy rates in general
  • English as a Second Language issues for New Immigrants and/or refugees.
  • lack of trust in the medical establishment due to past bad experiences or structural inequities in the medical system.
  • feeling intimidated because of the hierarchical nature of the medical system.
  • being anxious and thereby avoidant of anything to do with a complex medical diagnosis
  • complicated medical language used in medical written material.
Here are some suggestions to improve health literacy:
  • prepare self for any medical appointment by coming with a list of questions ready to ask.
  • write down and carry with you a list of any medication and/or vitamins you are taking.
  • write down a list of allergies you may have, as well as a list of diseases and/or surgeries you may have had.
  • do not be afraid to ask questions.
  • bring a friend,  health coach or relative into appointments with you.
  • repeat back what you heard so the health care provider can clarify if necessary.
  • keep a journal of your visits so you don't have to rely on memory, especially if you're dealing with a chronic disease.

More information can be found at the Health Literacy Council of Canada or Birgit Schinke Health Coach and Educator is available by email, if you need some help with such issues. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

What is Health Literacy?

Health Literacy are the skills needed to access, understand and use health information. The majority (50-60%) of North Americans have low levels of health literacy. This means that they:

1) make more mistakes with taking their medications or treatments
2) are less able to follow treatment instructions.
3) lack the skills needed to negotiate their health care services.
4) are more likely to be hospitalized than people with good health literacy skills.

In other words, if you have low health literacy your health may be at risk. In a review (funded by the US Agency for Health Care Research and Quality) of over 96 published studies, researchers concluded that low health literacy is linked with many types of poorer health outcomes as well as poorer use of services.

Among older people this also translated to higher mortality rates.

Here's what you can do for yourself or a loved one if  low health literacy levels is an issue:

1) be prepared for every appointment you have with your health care practitioner (get someone to help you make a list of written questions, so you don't go off track during your appointment, which can be very rushed.)
2) keep a list of all meds and/or vitamins you are taking.
3) keep a list of allergies and/or illnesses you've had.
4) ask questions.
5) repeat back  what you've heard, so the health care practitioner can clarify if necessary.
6) keep a journal of every visit you have, especially if you have a chronic disease.
7) bring someone you trust (family member, health coach, friend) to appointments with you.
8) ask your pharmacist to explain the medication you've been prescribed and show him/her your other meds in case they don't mix well.

To find out more about cancer or health coaching visit Birgit Schinke's web site. She is a registered clinical counselor and health coach practising online or face to face in Vancouver, BC




Friday, March 21, 2014

What is energy management?

Energy management, simply put, refers to how one manages their energy, not only their time. This can look like

1) Pursue what you love. Passion is energy; it's much easier to stay motivated over something you are passionate about.

2) Do the most difficult work in the mornings when you are well rested and have the most energy. This flips our instinct which is to move towards pleasure away from pain. Studies have found that people are most effective when they delay gratification. 

3) Practice or work intensely. Work hard for 90 minutes, then take a break. The greatest performers only practice for 4.5 hours a day. In other words, short and hard shows better results than long and dragging.

4) Take frequent breaks so to give your brain the capacity to integrate the new learnings or practices.

5) Turn your practices into rituals (same time, same sequence, etc) so that they become automatic and you don't have to waste energy thinking about doing them.  


 See Birgit Schinke's practice in which she uses Motivational Interviewing to help those who wish to change behaviours or improve performancs.

What are the best ways to stay stressed out?

Here are some tips on how to stay stressed!

1) Never exercise.

2) Eat anything you want.

3) Gain weight.

4) Take plenty of stimulants like coffee, sugar, nicotine, and soda.

5) Avoid "woo-woo" practices like yoga, meditation, deep breathing, etc.

6) Get rid of your social support system.

7) Personalize all criticism.

8) Throw out your sense of humour.

9) Be "macho".

10) Become a workaholic.

11) Discard good time management skills.

12) Procrastinate.

13) Worry about the things you can't control.

14) Become a perfectionist or set impossibly high standards.