Video: Cooking with Kels – Chinese-style Vegetarian dish

This meal, with meat instead of a meat substitute, was a staple in my house growing up. I’ve modified it to fit my current dietary/nutritional restrictions and it’s just as good. It also shows that you can cook really delicious vegetarian/vegan meals. Make sure to speak with your healthcare team before making any drastic dietary changes. Check out this interview with Emily Marquis on how to make the changes once you’ve decided on them. Keep making the most of it!

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Cooking with Kels: Healthy Pumpkin Muffins

I love fall… mostly I love October.. and October means all things pumpkins! But I also try to eat as halthy as I can, and I’m really trying to cut back on gluten , plus I’m (mostly) dairy-free as well. The problem with a lot of muffin recipes is that they are loaded with sugar. This one isn’t and it has options to make it gluten-free and dairy-free as well! Here’s the recipe I used. And while you’re at it, check out this podcast episode with Mandy Podlesny on different dietary options for autoimmune diseases. Remember to always consult with your healthcare team before making any dietary changes!

Keep making the most of it!

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Should I Be Taking Prebiotics, Probiotics, or Eating Fermented Foods?

I don’t know about you but I find that what I eat really affects how well I’m feeling. For example, back in 2019 I went to Costa Rica with one of my best friends. Neither of us had ever eaten healthier in our lives. Everything was farm or ocean to table. Fruit was literally picked off the tree. There were no preservatives in anything. I could pretty much eat anything without any problems. Unfortunately back at home that can be harder to do because of costs and availability. There has been so much talk over the past several years about the benefits of probiotics, and more recently on prebiotics. And then I was falling this Flo Living diet last year that emphasized eating fermented foods during certain parts of your menstrual cycle. So this got me thinking, what should we be taking/eating?

Farm to table breakfast in Costa Rica

Since this isn’t an easy question to answer, I thought we’d just look at the benefits of each. Let’s start with prebiotics. So this week on the podcast I had on Beau Berman from Layer Origin, and they specialize in prebiotics (though they also make probiotics) and he gives a very thorough explanation of what prebiotics are and the benefits of them, so I highly recommend checking it out. Here’s the Apple link, the Spotify link, and the web link. My quick summary is this, prebiotics helps stimulate the growth of gut bacteria that are important for digestion and can improve the immune system. Some of the benefits are:

  • pay help prevent colorectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease
  • helpful in relieving constipation
  • may be helpful in preventing obesity and lowering cholesterol
  • and may improve your ability to absorb minerals such as calcium and magnesium
Check out the podcast for more on prebiotics (and probiotics).

What about probiotics? These can promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria, but they don’t stimulate the growth of what’s already there (basically you’re introducing new strains – listen to the podcast for more on this). Here are some of the potential benefits:

  • prevent and treat diarrhea
  • may promote heart health
  • may reduce severity of some allergies
  • may reduce symptoms of colitis and Crohn’s
  • boost the immune system
  • may help you lose weight
  • may help with mental health – some strains have been linked with improvements in anxiety, depression, and OCD

Finally, there are fermented foods. Fermented foods are full of probiotics, so they are similar to taking probiotic supplements in many ways (with the benefit of getting to eat food instead of taking pills or powders). Since they are similar to probiotics, they also improve the digestive and immune systems because they add new bacteria strains to your gut. Here’s some benefits:

  • helps to manufacture vitamin B and synthesize vitamin K
  • may help with lactose intolerance because they break down lactose in food, so foods like yogurt are easier to digest
  • and may help with mental health as they have been linked with the production of serotonin in the brain

My conversation with Beau has inspired me to try out probiotics, and for me, I think I’ll stick with fermented foods as opposed to taking probiotics because they are honestly more delicious. I think it really comes down to each of us figuring out what works for us and what seems to be helping. Talk with your healthcare team before making any changes because they may have some suggestions on which route to go. Everyone, keep making the most of it!

It’s about finding what’s right for you.
(Me in Costa Rica, 2019, eating vegan chocolate mousse on my birthday).

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Cooking with Kels: Fish Tacos

I’m always looking for healthy recipes, and I LOVE fish tacos. However, I hate that 99% of the time when you go out to get them, they’re deep fried. I have a favourite taco place in LA that doesn’t deep fry theirs, but I only get to LA every few years. As a result, I make my own. There is nothing fancy about this recipe, and it’s super customizable to your dietary needs (as long as you can eat fish)!.

Keep eating… I mean making the most of it!

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How Can I Improve My Self-Efficacy with My Chronic Illness?

Back in the summer and fall of 2016 I wondered how much I would be able to accomplish in my life. Can I even manage through the situation I’m in? Particularly with my physical health, having recently been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and then the mental health consequences (mainly anxiety) that had come along with it? My partner and I were fighting a lot, despite having only moved in together a few months earlier. What would happen to my dreams of being a filmmaker if I can’t be active on set for 12+ hours straight? My self-efficacy was falling and falling…

Since 99% of the photos I have from that summer/fall are of my dog (RIP) I can tell what it was like for me.

Self-efficacy is our beliefs in our ability to cope or succeed during a difficult situation. Those with higher self-efficacy, have higher beliefs in their abilities, and those with lower have, well, lower. I see this a lot within the chronic illness community, and it makes sense, because as the opening story pointed out, I’ve been there too. The pain, and discomfort or disability from having one or more chronic illnesses messes with one’s self-efficacy because of the drastic changes it makes to our lives. However, having high self-efficacy has been linked to better quality of life and less disability from illness, so it’s important for us to find ways to improve it. But how do we go about doing this?

Drastic improvements in self-efficacy by the time I took this solo trip to LA in 2018.

I looked at a number of research studies to find some answers, because it is a good and important question. The studies were all from 2010-2021 and the illnesses included ranged from COPD to diabetes to people with multiple chronic illnesses. These are some of the ways to improve self-efficacy, which is directly linked to self-care ability, and you’re about to see why:

  • more physical activity – yes, this can be hard for people with chronic illness, which is why I recommend starting slow and building up, and working with appropriate professionals such as physiotherapists and personal trainers.
  • healthy eating – eating a nutritious diet can improve our ability to cope, but this can be a struggle if you’re not used to eating one, so take this slow, one meal at a time.
  • a lower emotional response to your illness – this is because of the mind-body connection (check out that podcast episode here). This can be accomplished with the help of a psychotherapist and by practicing things like meditations (like these).
  • having less perceived consequences from your illness – I think this is much more difficult to accomplish and can take much more time -change is slow! This will likely improve as other areas improve, and working with a whole team of healthcare professionals was helpful for me.
  • problem solving – our ability to problem solve is linked to self-efficacy in a variety of contexts. Working with appropriate healthcare and mental healthcare professionals on problem solving is a helpful way to learn to problem solve so that you can do more of it on your own in the future.
  • having more social support – build that network! I find that online support groups aren’t always the most helpful because sometimes it’s negative feeding negative, but if you find it is helpful for you then go with it. Also utilizing your family, friends, and any local peer supports you have is important.
  • having a good understanding of your illness – and this means not just the bad parts, the terrible outcomes, but also looking for success stories, as in people who have a good quality of life with your illness. The full range of human experience is important to consider. I call myself a realistic optimist.
  • having doctors who use person-centred communication – I’ll admit this can be hard to find, and if you have the ability to “shop around” for one that does use this then that might be a good idea. This type of communication includes fostering healing relationships, exchanging information, responding to emotions (yes, doctors should understand that you will have an emotional response to your illness), helping you manage your uncertainty about your illness, making decisions collaboratively, and enabling you to be able to self-manage your illness.
As my self-efficacy increased, my drive to help others did too! Masters degree convocation grad pictures June 2021.

Cut to summer 2021 and my self-efficacy is high. I’ve traveled, both with others and by myself between 2017 and 2019. I exercise regularly, try to eat healthy, problem solve well, cope with my emotions, don’t perceive myself as having a disability, am always learning more about my illness, have a great support system, and while I don’t currently have a doctor because I’m going to be moving soon (for the last time for a while) I know that I can find one like the previous ones I had. I utilized a full team of healthcare professionals and took a lot of ownership over my own health in my journey the past 5 years. However, if you told me 5 years ago that I could get here, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Change is slow. You can keep making the most of it though!

New (and much more refined) season of the podcast launched this week! Available everywhere you get them (here’s the web link!)

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Cooking with Kels: Healthy Breakfast Muffins

This week we’re baking up a storm with some very healthy muffins. These are great as a part of breakfast or on the go as a snack. They are chock full of fruits and vegetables. I personally use very little sugar, but you can adjust depending on your needs. For more information on healthy eating, I suggest listening to this podcast episode with Dr. Steph on the essentials of health, one of which is… you guessed it… nutrition and eating healthy!

Have a great week and keep making the most of it!

Cooking with Kels: Movie Night Snacks

All of these snacks are modifiable to meet your dietary needs… unless you don’t eat fish/seafood since the main ones are with those. However, another option is to just skip those two, have a nice big, fresh veggie tray, a fruit platter, and then whatever fun snacks you want to add. Remember, moderation rules the nation. If you haven’t checked out my podcast yet, here’s the web link. It’s also available on Apple and Spotify.

Spoonie Stress

It’s not really a surprise that Spoonies have more stress than healthy folks. Chronic illness and chronic pain warriors just have a lot more to deal with. Coming up with ways to relieve stress is important, and something I try to pay attention to. As stress accumulates it can lead to mental health problems, and quite often, especially with autoimmune diseases, flares. Today I thought we’d focus on some causes of stress and I’ll give some ideas (that work for me) for you to try out to see if they help at all.

Stress is an evolutionary response.

First, I thought we’d start off with a few definitions. The reason I want to give these is that often as a therapist-in-training, I see that people don’t really understand the meanings of the words they use, nor are they aware of the difference appropriate emotional responses and ones that don’t fit the situation.

  • stress – normal, physiological reaction caused by the fight-flight-freeze response in our brains, alerting us that something needs our attention. It’s neither good nor bad, but is a signal telling us that we need to act on something. podcast
  • anxiety – “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure” (American Psychological Association). Anxiety is also not inherently good or bad. It’s another natural response of the fight-flight-freeze part of our brain. It’s also normal and part of what makes us human. There is no way to be totally free of anxiety. Fear, on the other hand can be extremely protective and it can be easily confused with anxiety. podcast
    • Anxiety disorder: anxiety that is out of proportion with the situation, and is long-lasting and severe can indicate an anxiety disorder. Someone with an anxiety disorder has “recurring, intrusive thoughts or concerns” (APA)
  • depression: an emotional disorder that can include feelings of sadness, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, and low energy and motivation. Sadness is a common emotion that is important to our functioning. Depression occurs when sadness doesn’t just “go away” on its own. Both anxiety disorders and depression are helped with psychological treatments. blog, podcast
  • trauma – “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea” (APA). I’ve heard this one be misused often, so just be aware of whether you’re actually experiencing trauma. This can also be helped with psychological treatments.
Understanding mental health concepts can be helpful for managing it.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way. What are some common causes of stress in Spoonies?

  • physical symptoms – flares, pain, and basically any other annoying and/or debilitating symptom that comes with your chronic illness. blog
  • medical gaslighting – when a doctor or healthcare professional dismisses your pain and/or symptoms. podcast
  • interpersonal relationships – difficulties with your partner, family, or friends often stemming from a lack of understanding of your illness. blog
  • finances/insurance – even with insurance there is a cost of medications and other treatments that may not be covered or give you as much coverage as you need. blog
Side effect from my hip arthroscopy that definitely caused me some stress.

These are of course, just a few, and you may experience a lot of other stressors depending on your illness and overall life situation. The point out reducing stressors like this is to improve your overall quality of life. So, here are some suggestions that I’ve found to be helpful for each of these (I’m going to link some of my other posts and podcast episodes in case you want more in-depth information).

  • Mindfulness, exercise, sleep, and diet. This means daily practice of whatever way you stay present. Getting whatever type of exercise is accessible during the day (even if it’s a short walk). Practicing good sleep hygiene. And eating as healthy a diet as you can. podcast, podcast, podcast, podcast (yes, one for each of these).
  • Being a self-advocate when it comes to your health and knowing your rights. The medical gaslighting podcast episode I mentioned earlier goes into being a self-advocate. For disability rights check out this podcast.
  • Effective communication and emotional regulation. We can’t control other people but we can definitely control ourselves, even if our emotions are high. podcast
  • Budgeting, budgeting, budgeting. I am without health insurance for the first time in many years. And yes, I live in Canada where healthcare is “Free” (with the exceptions of medications, dentistry, and adjunct care such as physio/chiro/naturopath/massage/etc). Yet I’ve seen the chiropractor twice in the past 3 months (with another appointment today) and gone for a massage. I’ve very meticulously budgeted these in because they are so helpful. The blog post mentioned for finances incorporates budgeting.
There are lots of ways to decrease stress. I enjoy some light exercise in nature.

On top of all this, practicing self-care (podcast) is very helpful. If you don’t like the term “self-care” because it’s been waaaay overused in the media than maybe think of it is as “ways to improve my overall health.” It includes domains of : physical, emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, and work. It is also incredibly helpful in reducing stress levels. I’m going to be hosting a self-care challenge starting on April 24 on the premium blog. To sign up for the challenge it is only $5 and you get 4 weekly premium posts, motivation for the challenge, ideas and help with the challenge, and an opportunity to be featured on the blog and/or podcast! Stay tuned for more!

Until next week Spoonies, keep making the most of it!

Cooking with Kels: Eggplant Parmesan

Okay, so this is the first time I’ve ever made Eggplant Parmesan yet alone use this particular recipe. You can find the recipe I used here. By the way, this ended up being pretty good. I’m kind of hit-and-miss with eggplant but I liked this. I mean anything with cheese on it is good! That being said you could use dairy free cheese to make it, well, dairy-free. You can basically modify as needed, which is what I do depending on what I have in my house. Remember that healthy eating and nutrition is essential to our health (as in the podcast episode with Dr. Steph, which you can find here).

Let me know what you think of the recipe, and keep making the most of it!

Cooking with Kels: Caesar Salad Dressing

This is a non-creamy Caesar salad dressing recipe handed down to me by my mom. It is my absolute favourite and is very simple (and healthy) to make. All it requires is olive oil, red wine vinegar, an egg yolk, one clove of garlic, and anchovies. Everything is shaken together in a mason jar or tupperware container! Eating healthy is an important part of health (you can check out the podcast episode on the Essentials of Health with Dr. Steph here). This recipe may put you out of your comfort zone a bit but it is definitely worth it.

And don’t forget to keep on making the most of it!