By Miranda Massie on July 4, 2018
Emotional intelligence is something that’s been garnering attention in recent years. Magazine articles, research papers and leadership courses continue to emerge, touting the benefits of high EQ (your emotional intelligence score) on work performance, happiness, leadership capabilities and even love .
So what are the key components to emotional intelligence and how might we harness this information to positively impact our relationships with others?
Emotional Intelligence is the “ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” It is made up of the following components:
- Self-awareness: an in-depth knowledge of oneself (tendencies, emotions, behaviours)
- Self-regulation: our ability to manage ourselves (feelings, triggers, reactions)
- Motivation: how and why we reach our goals (values, setting intention, building resilience)
- Empathy: recognizing and understanding emotions in others (as separate from our own)
- Social skills: how we communicate and interact with others 
With this information, how can we build up these skills in ways that enable us to have healthy and satisfying relationships with others? Personally, I feel that it’s a bit of a “chicken or the egg” scenario. What comes first: successful relationships that lead to higher emotional intelligence or increased emotional intelligence that creates healthier relationships? Perhaps it is both.
Knowing ourselves, regulating our emotions, understanding what drives us, acknowledging and validating others’ feelings, and engaging in optimal communication are all ways that emotional intelligence can support us in building relationships with others. Sustaining these positive behaviours through healthy habits over time can help raise our EQ.
This month, I encourage you to try and be present in your interactions with others. Experiment with the different components of emotional intelligence to discover what resonates best with you. Hopefully your relationship IQ will get a boost in the process.
All my best,
Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)
 Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (Salovey and Mayer, 1990)
 Emotional intelligence: Why it can Matter more than IQ (Daniel Goleman)
Posted in Editorial, Miranda Massie | Tagged communication, editorial, emotional intelligence, emotions, EQ, expectation, healthy relationships, IQ, judgement, Miranda Massie, relationships, UBC | 1 Response
By Miranda Massie on June 5, 2018
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, health literacy is “…the ability to access, comprehend, evaluate and communicate information as a way to promote, maintain and improve health in a variety of settings across the life-course.” 
In short, health literacy is our ability to take in and understand information in ways that enhance our health-related decisions and behaviours. This process sounds straightforward, but in the age of open and on-demand access to information, becoming health literate can be a challenge. The overwhelming amount of information that we’re exposed to can make it difficult to find both the time, and mental capacity, to sort through it all.
Remember when the media reported that chocolate could help you lose weight? Turns out it was all an elaborate prank by a group of researchers to demonstrate how easy it was to manipulate study results into ‘evidence’. (Read all about it here.) This is perhaps an extreme example, but it shows how easily health information can be misrepresented and how this in turn influences our behaviour.
This month, I’m sharing ways to help you build and flex your muscles in an effort to become savvier at discerning facts from fads (or falsehoods).
Your Health Literacy Workout Plan
Step 1: Get to the source.
Start with the domain name and URL. Look for sites that end in .ca, .com, or .org. Next, try to find the original source of the claim/information. In this era of content convergence and integration, many articles tend to reference another source. Check that the information is from a peer-reviewed article in an academic journal.
Step 2: Examine the evidence.
Even if a study is reporting significant findings, things like sample size, population demographics and researcher bias can lead to inaccurate information translation.
Step 3: Check for affiliations.
We are in the midst of a ‘wellness revolution’ with companies trying to sell wellbeing in a variety of ways (e.g. supplements, services, products, workouts). Before buying into a product or claim, find out if the author is affiliated with the company in any way or even receiving payment/sponsorship for their endorsement. Many magazine and online advertisements are commonly disguised as research-based articles.
Step 4: Think before you share.
You may not realize it, but people in your professional, social and family circles might look to you as an expert on health and wellbeing. In an effort to ensure we are passing along accurate health information, be mindful of where, and with whom, you are sharing.
Step 5: Repeat steps as needed.
This month, I encourage you to delve a little deeper when the next great health claim comes along. Put your newfound skills to the test and be sure to act or react based on solid evidence.
Wishing you a wonderful start to the summer season!
All my best,
By Miranda Massie on May 3, 2018
Sexual and reproductive health are key components of our overall wellbeing, and yet we often consider them as unimportant or embarrassing. Social stigma and lack of education can get in the way of early, appropriate, and non-judgmental access to critical health care and accurate information.
To welcome in the start of spring, and to accompany the inevitable innuendos about ‘the birds and the bees’, I‘m offering up a quick guide for how to “heart your parts”.
Re-imagining the mind as a sexual organ
Sexuality is often considered as being exclusively physical, and yet it has fundamental connections to our mental health. Our thoughts, feelings and emotions linked to gender, sexuality and sexual health can impact our mental wellbeing in both positive and negative ways. The state of our mental health (positive, challenges, illness or diagnosis) can also affect our ability to lead the sexual lives we want.
Recent UBC research has shown the positive impact of regular mindfulness practice on sexual pleasure. The sexual response “really requires this back-and-forth communication between the brain and the body” says Dr. Lori Brotto in a recent article on research linking mindfulness to increased sexual satisfaction.
- Learn more about the connections between mental health and sexual health courtesy of Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights.
Reproductive health regardless of reproduction
Regular checkups are an important part of sexual health maintenance. Even if you’re not sexually active, or planning on conceiving, that doesn’t mean you’re not at risk of certain health problems relating to your reproductive systems.
Often, seeking medical advice on the subject can be intimidating, but there are many resources available to you:
- Find a list of sex-positive sexual health service providers (province-wide).
- Read more about common reproductive system health concerns, including signs and symptoms. Note: Please enter “University of British Columbia” as your organization.
Consent is for everyone
In the immortal words of Marvin Gaye: “Don’t you know how sweet and wonderful life can be? I’m askin’ you, baby, to get it on with me.” He was both ahead of his time in role modeling sexual consent and in creating space for conversations about pleasure (self or partnered – it’s your prerogative). Consent is not something that disappears when we graduate, get married or are in a situation where we have previously consented. Consent is a constant conversation that requires communication, openness and active listening.
- Remember: Consent must be freely given and can be withdrawn at any time.
This month, regardless of what kind of parts you’re working with, I invite you to show them some love.
Want more on this subject?
Photo Credit: Sean McGrath (Flickr)
By Miranda Massie on April 3, 2018
I was fortunate to take a short vacation to a sunnier destination at the end of last month. Nothing gets me thinking about my finances more than travel, especially when converting hard-earned Canadian dollars into US currency. With tax season upon us, and in an effort to bring attention to the importance of financial wellbeing, I present a list of our top financial hacks to help set you on the right track for the new financial season.
Hack #1: Deal with high debt
Prioritize debt with the highest interest rates. When you’ve paid off one, move on to the next highest.
Hack #2: Unsubscribe from temptation
If you are trying to practice good financial health, unsubscribe from mailing lists so that you are not tempted to impulse-buy through online shopping deals.
Hack #3: Travel tips
Planning a vacation and want to stretch your dollars? Look at “value for money” destination lists such as Lonely Planet’s 2018 Best Value guide. Or, try clearing your cache (browsing history) each time you search for flights online, as sites often raise their prices if they see that you are searching multiple times for the same flight.
Hack #4: Statements serve a purpose
Read your monthly financial statements to help combat fraud and identify potential mix-ups early. Real-life example: I discovered I was being overcharged on my cellphone bill even after contacting the company to clear up the error. I would not have caught it without fully reading through my statement each month.
Hack #5: Get gift card savvy
If eating out is important, save some money by giving someone an “experience” gift, purchasing prizes in bulk, or buying discounted gift cards from places like Costco or London Drugs. Alternately, if you find yourself with a wallet full of unused gift cards, look at re-selling them online through sites like CardSwap.ca.
Hack #6: Maximize your benefits
Do you know all of the details of your UBC Extended Health plan? You might be missing out on opportunities to save money. Learn more about your benefit details, or check out our Health, Fitness and Family Discounts.
Hack #7: Strengthen your money know-how
Attend our upcoming workshop on Debt Freedom & Finances or The Psychology of Money, or read some of our past finance-related articles, including A Financial Cleanse in Five Steps and ‘Cha-Ching’: Cost Effective Health Hacks.
Here’s to healthier wallets this spring!
All my best,
By Miranda Massie on March 7, 2018
I love breakfast. Besides being one of those people who MUST eat something within an hour of waking up, I also just love breakfast food. Sweet, savoury, hot, cold, liquid, solid – it’s one of the most versatile meals around.
How many of you have heard that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”? Particularly in North America, this common social understanding dates back to childhood, and despite evidence to support it, many people still don’t eat breakfast. 
Now, I’m not here to get all parental and tell you what to do. Instead, in honour of National Nutrition Month, I’d like to share my love of breakfast. Here are my four reasons to feed your brain the most delicious meal of the day!
If you’re someone who needs variety, eating the same breakfast day after day may not sound very appetizing. Below is a go-to recipe that uses seasonally available ingredients and can be customized to your tastes. You can also find more oatmeal-topping ideas here.
Miranda’s Custom Make-ahead Oatmeal:
|5 cups||Quick oats|
|1 cup||Nut of your choice
(almond slices, toasted pecans, walnuts
|1 cup||Seed of your choice
(sunflower, pumpkin, chia, hemp)
|1 cup||Dried fruit of your choice
(cranberries, apricots, pineapple, banana)
|1 cup||Dried shredded coconut|
|Optional||Sliced fresh fruit (apples, banana, berries)|
- Prep ingredients in advance.
- Scoop 1/4 to 1/3 cup of your oatmeal into a bowl or Tupperware container. Add water.
- Microwave for 2 minutes. Enjoy!
Time can be a big barrier, but it doesn’t have to take ages to prepare breakfast. Here is a list of time-tested meal ideas to keep you moving in the morning:
- Miranda’s Custom Make-ahead Oatmeal (see above)
- Total time: 2 minutes, 30 seconds (30 seconds to scoop + 2 minutes to microwave)
- Toasted English muffin with melted cheese
- Total time: 1 minute, 30 seconds (1 minute in toaster + 30 seconds to melt cheese)
- Night-before yogurt parfait
- Total time: 2 minutes night before, no time in the morning (45 seconds to scoop yogurt + 45 seconds to add frozen fruit + 30 seconds to pack granola)
- Nut butter Eggo
- Total time: 1 minute, 30 seconds (1 minute to toast frozen Eggo waffle + 30 seconds to spread nut butter of choice)
- Make-ahead breakfast egg cups 
- Total time: 31 minutes (30 minutes to make head of time + 45 seconds to microwave on the go)
It makes you smarter
Food fuels our bodies. The same way that wood fuels a fire, we can’t function optimally or survive without it. When we sleep, we fast for six to eight hours, which means the longer we put off eating, the longer our bodies have to try and function without fuel. Breakfast can help support our brains to do great things and be productive. It also prevents us from being distracted by rumbling tummies. Read more about the effects of nutrients on brain function. 
Another barrier to breakfast is cost. We often assume that it’s easier to make a quick stop at a coffee shop, but this routine can end up being more expensive over time. For example, a yogurt parfait and a banana loaf from Starbucks costs $6.63 including tax, but you can get the equivalent items — all homemade by UBC nutrition students – at the Agora Café for $4. It also pays (pun intended) to be prepared. Prepping your meals in advance (as per the time saving tips above) is another way to cut costs.
This month, I invite you to rise and shine with breakfast, and if that’s not for you, find a way to incorporate an early morning snack into your routine a few days a week. Turning meals into social events (a potluck brunch perhaps?) is a great way to start.
All my best,
Photo credit: UBC Communications & Marketing
By Miranda Massie on February 5, 2018
A variety of personal, professional and educational situations have presented themselves recently that have prompted me to explore and reflect on my values.
Perhaps influenced by the current state of the world (or any number of other factors in my life at the moment), the value I seem most drawn to is love. After some coaching and reflection, I am able to say that I see love as the most foundational value upon which my values system is built.
Within a workplace context, I value leading with the heart and strongly believe that we should be able to bring our whole selves and whole hearts to work. I think work should be a place where is it safe to be authentic, and to openly acknowledge and practice our values.
There was a time not too long ago, when I felt that I had to separate my values from my professional self. I was sure that my personal values were too ‘soft’ to be present in my work. Bringing love into the workplace might seem like a radical idea, but I realize now that it might be a way to create change and to re-frame the idea of “workplace culture”.
In the spirit of love (and Valentine’s Day), I offer five ways to improve the physical and emotional health of your heart:
1. Say Thank You
Practice gratitude by thanking others, either publicly or privately. Doing this on a regular basis can increase happiness, contentment, pride and hope. It also make us more willing to help others. 
2. Laugh Out Loud
Laughter is one of the oldest and most cost-effective health products on the market. It produces a wide range of both physical (pain reduction, improved cardiovascular health, better immunity) and psychological benefits (elevates mood, creates focus, reduces stress). 
3. Show Compassion
Practicing compassion towards ourselves is just as important as showing compassion to others. Through compassion, we learn to soften our hearts and see improvements in kindness, self-confidence and connectedness. 
4. Spend Time in Nature
Exposure to nature not only boosts lower blood pressure, but it also builds empathy and fosters community. 
5. Stay Connected
Social support creates physical and emotional connection. It has also been found to be a protective factor against stress, and less stress on our hearts leads to healthier lives! 
This month, I invite you to imagine what it would be like if we worked from our hearts. Wishing you a February full of love, warmth and happiness.
All my best,
By Miranda Massie on January 11, 2018
January has arrived and we are back to greet another new year at UBC.
Despite missing my morning sleep-ins and binge-watching true crime dramas on Netflix, I derive a certain satisfaction from returning to a routine. I feel more productive and organized, and I notice an immediate improvement to both my sleeping and eating habits. I even started writing in my Five Minute Journal. (It remains to be seen how long this will last, but I’m cautiously optimistic!)
We are primed for all things new and renewed at this time of year and often start out feeling strong and motivated. But is this sustainable? How long do our resolutions really last? Can our intentions stand the test of time, and should they? How do we avoid feeling like we have failed if things don’t go as planned?
When it comes to changing habits or taking action, I truly believe that the most important factor is a deep understanding of the self. “Sticking with it” or having a “can-do attitude” doesn’t work for me personally. I have learned that in order to avoid feeling like a failure, a specific set of factors must be in place if I’m to be successful. It starts with an examination of what gets me excited, what keeps me going and what can derail my good intentions. My musings might help guide your New Year intentions.
If it’s not right in front of me, I won’t do it.
I easily forget (or intentionally avoid) tasks, even when I chose them. For my 2018 workout plan, I wrote it out calendar-style, with colourful markers and check boxes. It will sit on my kitchen table to ensure that I follow it. It makes for a messier home, but also keeps me accountable. Check out some of my inspiration from Pinterest.
I get bored easily.
Times like these I wish I was a runner. I envy people who like to run: it’s so simple and accessible, but I can’t think of anything I’d rather do less. In order to stay interested and involved in my fitness routine, I need to change things up. I incorporate apps and different types of workouts including yoga, and I’m hoping to take up swimming again in our beautiful UBC Aquatic Centre.
I like a challenge.
The competitive streak in me shines when a challenge is thrown down, even when it is with myself. I like to win and want to win, so I turn my resolutions into mini competitions with myself or others. I’ll be joining the UBC Walkabout this month as a way of increasing and tracking my daily steps, and I use the Carrot app to get rewards for my walking because who doesn’t want more Aeroplan or Scene points?
I need a deadline.
The best way for me to fail at a new habit or resolution is to have it last forever. I am fundamentally unmotivated by anything that does not have an end in sight. My New Year fitness plan is currently set for 10 weeks. Once I complete that, I will celebrate, take a few weeks off and then re-assess what I want to do next. I also make sure to write out a list of rules (guidelines or criteria if you prefer) to keep me accountable, one that includes minimum time limits and what types of activity count.
Setting the stage for change has become just as or even more important than what my ultimate goals are. In being more intentional at the start, I find that I’m much more likely to have all the pieces in place to feel successful.
This month, I invite you to leave some room for self-compassion, inspiration and success in whatever form your resolutions might take. Find ways to manage your New Year energy, investigate ways to keep motivated and perhaps even step out of your comfort zone like Professor Ono.
Wishing you a wonderful start to 2018!
All my best,
Photo credit: Miranda Massie
By Miranda Massie on December 7, 2017
In the true spirit of the holiday season, I feel it is important that I not only be honest with myself, but with you as well. This fall was tough: it was probably the most demanding, hectic and draining fall that I have experienced in many years, at work and in my life outside of work. The upside is that I’ve been able to share my wellbeing work with large numbers of the UBC community, and that I’ve handed in my last school paper for the semester. It was a rewarding and meaningful time, both personally and professionally, and I hope the same is true for you. Even so, I’m conscious of the fact that my personal gas tank is hovering on empty as I push myself towards the finish line that is my holiday break. As we find ourselves in the middle of yet another busy season (one that is sometimes overshadowed by consumerism, busyness and all manners of excess), I’m experiencing a lot of internal questions:
Could I be doing more? Should I be doing more? Why do I feel guilty when I’m not working or studying? Have I let others down? Am I capable? What should success look like?
In sharing these vulnerable thoughts and insecurities recently with friends and now with you, I’m reminded of a practice that is often overlooked but one imperative to our survival – especially at this time of year: self-compassion.
Practicing self- compassion
What is self-compassion?
It is taking the time to treat ourselves the same way that we would treat a loved one, whether they’re two-legged, four-legged, winged, etc. It is acknowledging that we, too, deserve care and comfort during stressful and difficult times. It is the act of silencing our inner critic in the hope of accepting that we are entitled to a break.
Why is it important?
Self-compassion has been strongly linked to wellbeing. It can lead to reductions in negative mind states such as anxiety, depression, stress, rumination, thought suppression, perfectionism and shame. It has also been found to increase positive mind states like life satisfaction, happiness, connectedness, self-confidence, optimism, curiosity and gratitude .
How do you start?
- Practice self-kindness instead of self-judgement.This means accepting our imperfections with empathy instead of shame and criticism. The more we cling to aspirations of perfection, the more we judge the end result. Recognize and value the massiveness of what we try to do each day and know there will be situations, histories and events beyond our control and that these are not a reflection of our worth or character.
- Look for common humanity instead of isolation.This involves acknowledging that we may face difficult situations, but we are not alone in doing so. Trials and tribulations are part of the common human experience, and they are ones that we do not have to face alone.
- Try mindfulness instead of over-identification. This is working to process negative emotions in a constructive way in order to avoid emotional reactivity and negative thought patterns. Reflect on how you are more than your external achievements and that internal accomplishments are worth just as much.
Want to learn more?
Watch this two-minute video for tips on practicing self-compassion
Or, listen to this 10-minute guided meditation for self-compassion:
This holiday season, as a reminder of the true meaning and spirit of this time of year, I invite you to give yourself the gift of self-compassion. Take it slow and be kind in your expectations of the self. Cut yourself some slack. Find new ways to silence that internal critic and replace it with a voice of kindness and charity. And I promise to try and do the same for myself as well. As 2017 closes, let’s get ready to meet the New Year with fresh eyes and an open heart.
Posted in Editorial, Miranda Massie | Tagged editorial, generosity, kindness, Mindfulness, Miranda Massie, patience, recharge, rest, self-care, self-compassion, spiritual health, Support, survival | 2 Responses
By Miranda Massie on June 7, 2017
The sun is out, there is the smell of freshly cut grass around us and it is finally starting to feel like summer. We seem to have skipped right over spring this year, with the cherry blossoms late to the party and a cold chill in the air lasting longer than usual.
Over the past few weeks, I have been amazed at the remarkable influence of weather patterns and the natural elements on human emotions. People seem physically lighter, and they are quicker to smile and laugh. There is a palpable increase in human energy and there is a celebratory feeling in the air. Not only does the city come alive once again, but so do the people within it.
The biggest bonus of this recent shift in weather? The health benefits that come along with it.
Six ways to use nature to boost your health
1. Take a brain break: Being surrounded by nature provides a much-needed break for the brain. The natural environment reduces overstimulation and allows your mind to rest, recover and re-focus.
Try stepping outside, taking five long deep breaths and then returning to work.
2. Get dirty: Exposure to soil bacteria can act as a natural antidepressant, activating brain cells that improve mood, reduce anxiety and facilitate learning.
Try planting a patio herb garden.
3. Move more, sit less: Better weather leads to more time spent outdoors, which leads to increased activity. By moving more, we boost heart, joint and bone health.
Try taking a 30-minute walk outside this week.
4. Learn who’s who in the zoo: The presence of animals in nature not only enhances social connections between people, but can have a therapeutic effect on mental health.
Try to find five different insects or animals the next time you are outside.
5. Use nature as a gym: Studies show that people who exercise outside have a lower risk of poor mental health.
Try taking your regular workout to a nearby park.
6. Ask an expert: Evidence shows that learning about our natural environment makes us more empathetic towards both humans and animals.
Visit the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.
*A special note given the mention of empathy*:
I want to take a quick moment to acknowledge our many colleagues who are celebrating Ramadan this month. The long sunny days that many of us find so appealing can prove challenging, particularly for those fasting during this religious holiday. This month, I encourage you to offer words of support and encouragement. Read more about Ramadan and one author’s suggestions for how best to support friends and colleagues.
Have fun outside!
All my best,
This is Your Brain on Nature: National Geographic
Go Play Outside: Healthy UBC Newsletter, August 2015
Nurture Your Relationship with Nature: Healthy UBC Newsletter, June 2016
Vitamin Nature: Healthy UBC Newsletter, July 2015
Cheng, J. C. -H. Environment and Behavior: Connection to Nature: Children’s Affective Attitude Toward Nature. 44 Vol. Sage Publications, 01/2012. Web. 26 May 2017.
By Miranda Massie on May 4, 2017
If someone had told me a few years ago that I would eventually be writing articles about sex for work, I probably wouldn’t have believed them! It was a common belief at the time (and for many still is), that it was okay to talk about certain aspects of health at work, but sex was definitely not one of them.
Personally, I don’t see how I can honestly and authentically do my job without acknowledging all of the facets of wellbeing that contribute to overall health. I may be biased by the fact that I have a background as a sexual health educator, but I like to dedicate at least one editorial a year to my often underrated, overlooked and sometimes stigmatized friend: sexual health. (Bonus: I get to come up with catchy, tongue-in-cheek titles!)
My top tips for getting re-acquainted with your sexual health
If you don’t use it, you might lose it.
As comical as it sounds, when it comes to sexual health, research says it’s true. Regular use and care for our reproductive parts and sexual organs helps to keep them, and their owners, healthy. Click here to learn more about the health benefits of keeping sexually active.
Parents: It’s going to be ok!
When you’re a parent, talking about sexual health with your kids can add another layer to a tricky topic, one that can provoke both anxiety and stress. For any parents or guardians out there looking for tips on how to talk about this topic with your kids, consider registering for our upcoming workshop:
Find study buddies
There’s a lot of research going on at UBC that relates to sexual health. One example is the UBC Sexual Health Laboratory. Consider signing up to take part in a study – the topics are varied and there are a range of participation options (online, in person, solo, with a partner, etc.). These are often wonderful opportunities to contribute to learning and research while discovering new things about yourself and your sexual health.
Avoid Dr. Google
When it comes to a topic like sexual health, my advice is avoid Google. Not only is there a lot of misinformation on the Internet, but search results can often be unreliable. Learn more about the dangers of Dr. Google here and see the suggestions below for more accurate online sources.
Seek out the right sources
As an alternative to Google, I recommend checking out the following resources for unbiased, non-judgmental sexual health information:
- SexandU: Rated one of the top 10 health websites in Canada, this site is run by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
- Options for Sexual Health: Educational resources for all ages and services available for free to all residents of BC.
- Scarleteen:Don’t be fooled by the teen/20’s label: This site has accessible information and advice for all ages.
- Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights:Like the World Health Organization, but for sexual health in Canada. Policy, research, advocacy and information.
- Experiencing a non-consensual or unwanted sexual experience can have negative impacts on your mental health and physical health and wellbeing. If you need to speak with someone, you can contact your EFAP at 1-800-361-5676 or learn about sexual assault resources at UBC. Information related to UBC’s new Policy on Sexual Assault and Other Sexual Misconduct will be disseminated in the coming weeks.
Sexual health is a broad and diverse realm of our wellbeing that can include intimacy, relationships, sexuality, gender, safety, reproduction and personal values. This month, I encourage you to have fun exploring what sexual health means to you.
All my best,
By Miranda Massie on March 2, 2017
A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with celiac disease. Although she was not experiencing any symptoms, she was tested based on the diagnosis of a close relative. The results came back positive – and from that point on she has had to make significant changes to her life.
Even if someone is not experiencing physical symptoms, celiac disease can damage the intestinal lining, which increases the risk of future health problems. According to the Canadian Celiac Association, treating the disease requires a “strict adherence to a GLUTEN FREE DIET FOR LIFE.” Their website literally spells it out in ALL CAPS.
Before my friend’s diagnosis, I had an idea of what a gluten free diet looked like: avoid bread and pasta, order bun-less burgers and use a substitute for wheat-based flour when baking. I was very wrong. Over the last few months, I have learned so much about the challenges of living with a food allergy or intolerance. It is not simply choosing the “GF” menu item at a restaurant.
Living gluten-free means:
- having to check ingredient labels on everything from salad dressing to Tylenol,
- needing a separate cutting board, knife and cooking equipment when sharing a kitchen with gluten eaters,
- bringing your own pre-prepared food to parties and dinners with friends, and
- being the only person with nothing but water in front of them when out at a restaurant.
It requires a complete lifestyle overhaul that, sadly, those who don’t have food allergies will have a hard time understanding. Eating and meal preparation are communal events in many cultures, and a diagnosis like this can lead to both physical and social isolation.
Research shows that rates of depression are more common in adults diagnosed with celiac disease and that these rates are similar to those of people living with other chronic physical illnesses. Food sensitivities or allergies in general are associated with higher levels of psychological distress (including depression and anxiety) in both children and adults.
Through my friend’s diagnosis, I have learned to be more tolerant, and I have learned to be more patient and empathetic. I have a greater understanding of just how tough it is to maintain a specialized diet – it’s a lifestyle commitment that requires tremendous dedication, strength and vigilance. One I doubt that I would have the strength for.
In honour of Nutrition Month, and in a spirit of humanity and understanding, I invite you to be kind to those around you living with food allergies. We exist in a world that is not typically designed to make their lives easy. And since we require food for survival, these folks could probably use some thoughtful support and understanding.
For more information about food allergies and how to provide support, visit the Newly Diagnosed Support Centre created by Food Allergy Canada.
All my best,
Canadian Celiac Association: http://www.celiac.ca/
Cummings, A. J., Knibb, R. C., King, R. M. and Lucas, J. S. (2010). The psychosocial impact of food allergy and food hypersensitivity in children, adolescents and their families: a review. Allergy 65: 933–945. doi:10.1111/j.1398-9995.2010.02342.x
Lieberman, J. A. & Sicherer, S. H. (2011). Quality of life in food allergy. Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology 11(3): 236–242. doi: 10.1097/ACI.0b013e3283464cf0
Smith, D. F. and Gerdes, L. U. (2012). Meta-analysis on anxiety and depression in adult celiac disease. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 125: 189–193. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0447.2011.01795.x
Posted in Editorial, Miranda Massie, Nutrition | Tagged allergies, compassion, Diet, eating, editorial, education, food, food intolerance, gluten, gluten-free, health, Miranda Massie, nutrition month | 7 Responses