FIT Talk With Tania  

A happy and healthy way to return to school

Eat right, stress less

Back to school can be a stressful time for both kids and parents, but you can turn it around for you and your child.

Just over a week into September and kids and parents are settling in to the start of another school year.

My walk home from the gym takes me right past Rutland Middle School and it's really good to see kids walking, talking and hanging out together. Being together and social interaction is an important part of their development, growth and how they deal with situations in the real world.

As a mom and self-proclaimed “health nut”, I tend to notice things when it comes to kids.

Part of that also comes from the decade and a half of working with kids with special needs. Occupational hazard. And people are interesting. We can learn a lot about a lot of things when we pay attention to those around us. Anyway, walking home this week I noticed a few things on the faces and in the hands of several of the kids I encountered—stress and sugar.

Just to backtrack a little for all the new readers, there are six components to look at when it comes to achieving and maintaining health. Stress, sleep, water, nutrition, exercise, supplements, in order of importance. Each one affects the other, positively or negatively, depending on where you're at with that component. It really should be no surprise that stress is at the top of this list.

As I've written about before, whether it's acute (short-term) or chronic (constant), stress affects all areas of our lives, including the lives of our kids. And for those people who are saying, “What do kids have to stress about?”, it's all a matter of perception.

We, adults and kids alike, can only ever see things from our own perspective. Stress occurs when we encounter a real or perceived danger. Our brain doesn't differentiate and the negative effects are the same.

Back to school can be a stressful time for both kids are parents. For parents it's more about dealing with the changes in schedule, logistics for getting everyone where they need to be on time, costs involved with buying school clothes, supplies and fees and the new extracurricular activities that often come with.

For kids it can be going to a new school and not knowing anyone, entering middle or high school and afraid of getting lost trying to find all the different classrooms. Then there's the clothes, shoes, hairstyles, and wondering whether they will fit in or stand out in an awkward or bad way. And these were all before covid was thrown into the mix. Try reading someone's facial cues from across the room when everyone's masked up. It's not easy and it's stressful.

Any readers out there ever reach for ice cream, cookies, chips, etc., or perhaps even a drink or a cigarette, when you know what hits the fan? Yep, we've all been there.

Did bad food or stimulants solve the situation? Likely not. In fact, I'd bet that the guilt that came with over indulgence of bad choices made the situation even worse. At least mentally. And kids are no different. I would say that at least half of the kids I saw were nursing sort of over-sized take-out drink or using a vape. Definitely not the best way to start the day, or the year.

What can you do about it? Be the example. The do-what-I-say-not-what-I-do doesn't work much past kindergarten. If you're lucky. Parents, take note of how you're handling your own stressful situations. It's ok to let you child see that you're stressed, that's a part of life. Let them also see you handle and resolve it by making good choices for your health.

Let's say things haven't been going well at work. Morning rolls around, you're mind is all over the place about what's happened or what might happen (perceived stress remember?) when you get there. You can either, hit snooze a few too many times, skip breakfast and rush out the door without more than a few words to your family, or, make a point to get up a few mins early, take a few minutes to yourself to relax, sit down with your family and actually eat breakfast and talk. Let them know you might be having a tough day and ask what's been going on with everyone else. It may seem minor to you, but to the 12-year-old who had a timetable change the day before and has no idea where his new classroom is for first period, a few encouraging words and help with the school map is invaluable. Trust me, you'll both start the day feeling good.

When we take the time to do these little things that sometimes go against what we feel like doing in the moment, we are telling our kids, it's ok to talk about problems, you are a safe person to talk to and taking the time to eat breakfast is important. And you all know how I feel about breakfast.

Your mom was right, it is the most important meal of the day. Starting the day with real, whole foods, including protein, plus a big glass of water, and then taking some more protein and whole foods to work—and kids to school—will keep that blood sugar balanced, lower internal stress and eliminate sugar cravings.

Repeat the process again at dinner for maximum effect and you'll soon find that you and your kids will be healthier and feeling less stressed.

And that's a win for you both.

For more recipes and a plan on how to create healthy, balanced meals, join Tania's 8 Weeks is All it Takes group on Facebook.


Exercise, diet help the mind

“Sudden bursts of movement cause reactions in the body that break the cycle of stress, allowing the brain to calm down, relax and focus on the task at hand.”

We all know that eating right and exercising is necessary to create and maintain good physical health. But how many of us actually stop and think about the effect eating whole foods and getting in some exercise really has when it comes to our mental and emotional health? Lucas Cullen did. And if you keep reading, you'll see what an incredible difference it made for him and others.

For those who have been following me over the years – a big thank-you for that by the way – you might remember that once upon a time I worked in the field of special needs. First with littles at the Child Development Centre, then in classrooms with elementary school kids, and then later with some private clients in their homes. Even though many of the kids I worked with fell under the same diagnoses, no two were ever the same. Just like the typical learners, each child with special needs was also unique in the way they took in information, processed it, learned and progressed. There were two things, however, that regardless of where the child was at in his/her learning, always brought about good outcomes – diet and exercise.

Quite a while back I remember reading something that said vigorous exercise was the most effective “medicine” for depression. Seems that statement had some merit. A paper published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry on the NIH (National Institute of Health) website had this to say, “Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression. These improvements in mood are proposed to be caused by exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain... and the hippocampus, which plays an important part in memory formation as well as in mood and motivation.” It's nice to have the validation of a prestigious paper to back me up when I share information, but it's really just redundant for anyone who's tried making healthy changes. Results speak volumes. And really, at the end of the day, results are really all that matter.

The patterns I saw in the classroom, were not unique just to children. Kids who showed up at school without breakfast had way more difficulty attending to the teacher and getting their work done. When the same children were allowed to eat a snack at their desk, the majority of wiggles and inattention went away. Similar can be said for adults who arrive on the job without breakfast. Whether your job is physical or mental, demands are being put on your body that require fuel to keep it functioning properly. Fatigue, headaches, irritability, being short with co-workers, having to read the same thing over and over again, forgetting something, or conversely doing it twice – are just a few symptoms that arise when the body is not properly nourished.

As referenced in the study, similar can be said in both age groups when it comes to exercise. The kids who just can't seem to sit or focus for any length of time, regardless whether they'd eaten or not, find it much easier to concentrate and get their work done after exercise. Any parent or teacher who's been locked inside with kids for any length of time can't wait for them to get outside and run around. Sudden bursts of movement – running, jumping, lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, etc. – cause reactions in the body that break the cycle of stress you're experiencing at that moment, allowing the brain to calm down, relax and focus on the task at hand. And when things positively affect the way our brain works, things like depression, mood swings, and hormonal issues see a profound improvement as well. Just ask Lucas Cullen.

Lucas, a Kelowna local and former semi-pro hockey player turned ultra-marathon runner, has struggled a lot with depression. It was when he reached out to me a few months ago for nutritional coaching in preparation for his first 52-km run this fall, that I heard his story. How he's been using running to beat back depression, overcome the struggles, and create strength in the areas of his life where it was lacking. Because of his success and passion for helping others, Lucas created Struggles Create Strength, to help others to also find strength in their struggles. It's amazing to see just how much a person can transform their life and take back control of their health, not just physically, but mentally as well. And to help as many people as possible, Lucas is running the 52-km ultra-marathon next month hoping to raise $50,000 for mental health. Watch this short video on Lucas' story And read the stories of people he's helped and how you can support the movement at Struggles Create Strength. Please share with anyone you know who might be struggling.

To get started creating healthy food and fitness habits, join Tania's 8 Weeks is All it Takes group on Facebook and set yourself up to win with your health.

In shape, not just physically

These achievements are crucial because they’ve helped me to develop a positive outlook not just on fitness or nutrition, but life in general.

Meet Brent. A client who, through making health changes, has truly taken back control of his health and his life. I am grateful that he wanted to share his story and perhaps help others to do the same. Here is Brent's story...

By the summer of 2015, I had hit rock bottom. I was living in my parents’ basement, a 26-year-old two-time college dropout with a drinking problem that was out of control. After a particularly rough incident, I had decided to seek out counselling to try and sort out my life. It was here that I was diagnosed with depression and began to truly understand my personal issues.

I grew up in a small oil patch town in Alberta. Recreational activity in this town was nothing more than drinking heavily. As an only child, social interactions with others had always been difficult, and places like school and later work were ofen anxiety inducing. This made my hometown’s love of drinking especially dangerous for me, as alcohol seemed to medicate my issues with anxiety, and helped me forget about my problems.

Through ongoing therapy and personal discovery, I managed to find answers to my problems. Within a year of starting counselling, I had dropped alcohol for good, left home, and by the spring of 2020, finally graduated college. As a communications grad, I settled on the Okanagan as the perfect place to start a new career in the marketing industry. My college even set up a practicum in Kelowna to help me get started in May. I couldn’t wait to cross the mountains and start my new life.

If you’re paying attention to the year that I graduated, you probably know that this wasn’t how things played out. COVID-19 swifty dashed my hopes, at least in the short term. I lost my practicum and with it, any chance to begin networking in the Okanagan. I wouldn’t even be able to move to Kelowna until September, and when I did, I had few connections socially and none professionally. I was alone and unemployed, the perfect combination for the anxieties that I had overcome to creep back into my life. This time, instead of turning to alcohol, I turned to food. Specifically prepackaged food, for which I developed a taste for after hoarding it through quarantines.

By the end of a particularly sugar-laden holiday season, I had begun 2021 at nearly 250 pounds and a body fat percentage over 35%. More than enough for my doctor to determine me clinically obese, but more importantly, enough to again induce me into improving my condition. Luckily, a Google search would lead me to FIT Nutrition’s 8-week program. I had always been averse to diet plans, having fallen into the trap of thinking they would have me starving on tasteless, non-filling morsels of lettuce. Still, it was only eight weeks, which seemed reasonable to attempt.

I was happy to be proven wrong. From my first meeting with Tania, it became apparent that this would not be the stereotypical starve yourself diet, but rather one focused on balance. Sure, I was eating less at meals, but I was eating more often. Yes, many foods were restricted, but there were still so many available that I couldn’t possibly complain. Being forced to cook my food fresh illustrated opportunities for me to find new ways of preparing food that were more health conscious and better tasting. Before long, I realized that this would not just be an 8-week diet, it would be a new way of looking at food from this point forward. In a time of such personal strife, something positive was more than welcome.

While I had developed a new appreciation for foods, my newly found outlook could only be sustained if I had results. The past year had left me in a jaded state where even the most positive feelings could turn south in a near instant. If I didn’t lose any weight, or even if the weight loss took too long to start, it would have been easy to get discouraged and fall back into old patterns. Luckily, this was not an issue. In the first week, I lost more weight than ever on any diet or plan I had tried previously.

I had gone into the program hoping to get down to 220 pounds by the end of the eight weeks. I was already approaching 230 after barely seven days. I began to envision myself as a lean, healthy person. I developed a goal for myself that I wouldn’t just get back to my pre-pandemic weight, I would make sure to reach the best shape of my adult life. Though my social and career aspirations had been forcibly put on hold, I had a new goal to target. For the first time since the pandemic started, my life once again had purpose.

This purpose manifested itself most noticeably in the pursuit of my fitness goals. I had been going to the gym for years, but without the proper nutrition, it had never yielded great results. I was always labouring through workouts, desperately slogging to lift the required number of reps and lift my ever-increasing weight off the floor in body weight exercises. Now, I am lifting more than ever and am springing to my feet. I’ve also taken up running and have steadily improved each time I venture out. When I first started, I ran from my apartment downtown to the base of Knox Mountain and needed a rest by the time I got there. Now, I can make it nearly a third of the way up!

These achievements are crucial because they’ve helped me to develop a positive outlook not just on fitness or nutrition, but life in general. To reach personal success, you need to first envision yourself succeeding. Some days, it seems like I will never reach my career goals. But it wasn’t long ago that I never thought I could weigh less than 200 pounds. Being able to achieve what I never thought possible has helped me to shed negative perceptions of myself and envision a future that I can look forward to, even in times when the present isn’t so great.

Six months ago, things looked bleak. My personal progress had been halted by circumstances beyond my control, and I didn’t know if I could turn things around. What if things fell apart? What if I ran out of money? What if I lost control of my weight? God forbid, what if I started drinking again? Thankfully, it looks as though the pandemic is waning, but there will always be times when things aren’t good. We all might feel anxious or concerned. Luckily, in working with Tania and FIT Nutrition, I’ve developed a positive outlook for the future. This summer, I am not only five years sober, but I’m 60 pounds lighter, a whole lot better looking, and I feel great.

Ready to take back control of your health? Email or book online today.


What we lose with age

Phrases like: “There's not much I can do about it, it just comes with age,” really stick in my craw and ruffle my feathers.

Phrases like: “You're not as young as you used to be you know so things like that are bound to happen” or “Well, you are over 40 (or 50, or 60) so what did you expect?” Even, “There's not much I can do about it, it just comes with age.”

That last one is the one that really kinda sticks in my craw and ruffles my feathers for two reasons:

  1. People actually expect bad things to happen as they age
  2. They truly believe there really isn't anything they can do about it. Let me just start by quoting Paul Zane Pilzer, “There's a small demographic of people getting healthier as they age.” To which I always add, “And it's not an exclusive club,” because it's not.

So what sorts of things are we talking about here...

Much like your DNA does not totally determine the outcome of your health – it really only controls about 20% which means you control 80% – lost nutrients are only gone forever if you don't replace them. So, if we control 80%, why are so many people simply accepting the aches, pains, increased weight gain and any number of lifestyle diseases that plague the majority of today's population, especially in North America? Mostly because people don't realize how much influence they actually have over their own body, let alone how to use it.

Our bodies are amazing, high-functioning, highly complex machines. I often compare our bodies to our vehicle, as our bodies are the vehicles that drive us through life. Most of us understand that in order to keep our vehicle running in tip top shape there are certain basics that need to be done on an ongoing basis. Not only will you have a nicer ride, your vehicle lasts longer and costs you less in the long run. It's much easier and cheaper to change the oil regularly, than to run the engine dry, have to get a tow, and replace a seized engine, or even buy a new car.

Our bodies are very similar. The trouble is, we don't have a dashboard with lights telling us where to look and what to fill. We do, however, have indicators that give us clues if we would just listen. The human body is not meant to live in disease (dis-ease), it's actually designed to heal. And as long as it has what it needs, it will do just that. You'll notice kids heal up from cuts and bruises more quickly than their grandparents. Before you go saying I've just proved the opposite point of what I was originally aiming at, stick with me a minute. Not doubt about it, grandma and grandpa will heal slower – unless they've been replenishing some of the things the body naturally loses over time. Yep, you can do that.

Calcium, bone density, vision, joint pain, flexibility, sarcopenia (muscle loss), weight gain, memory, immune function, energy are all things many people just take for granted will come at some point as they age and they have no control over it. And they would be wrong. Remember that 80%? For example, we know that stomach acid needed to breakdown and absorb vitamins and nutrients depletes with age. Having your doctor check and knowing which ones you're low in means you can add those to your daily regimen, both in whole foods that contain the desired nutrients, as well as through supplements. Collagen and the production of nitric oxide in the body go way down somewhere around age 35-40. At that age, most folks are down about 30% of collagen, with a further 30% drop every decade after.

Collagen is the most prominent protein in our bodies. Most associate it with hair, skin and nails, but it's also found in teeth, bone, our vascular system, tissue, fascia – so basically most of our innards and joints need collagen to stay healthy and function properly. Unless you've been following my column and caught the article on nitric oxide a month or so ago, you may not have even been aware that that was a thing. But it is. And a very important thing as a matter of fact. Nitric oxide production is needed for circulation, absorption of nutrients, delivery of oxygen to the body, energy, and immune function. As we begin to understand what things the body uses up and doesn't make more on its own, we can then add in food and supplements to help replace and put back the nutrients that are missing. And when the body has what it needs to do its job, great things happen.

Just a quick note here for those who think they can get all the nutrients their body needs without adding in any supplements, yes it's possible. But are you able to do it consistently to get everything you need every single day? Likely not. That's exactly what supplements are for. To come alongside and fill the gaps in your nutrition and replenish those things your body has used up over time. Now it won't happen overnight. Just like it took time for your body to use up some of these essentials, it will take some time to replenish them and bring your body out of the red and back into the black.

So where do you start? Listen to what your body is saying. Whether you're 30, 60, or 90, it's never too late to make healthy changes and refill those gaps. Take note of anything you may have brushed off as “old age” and start with that.

Beginning Aug. 18, Tania is launching her new Nitro Nutrition program. If you're ready to take back control of your health, reserve your spot for the 21 Day Kickstart today.

More FIT Talk With Tania articles

About the Author

Nutritionist Tania Gustafson, owner of FIT Nutrition, has been active in the health and fitness industry since 1986 when she entered as a fitness instructor and trainer.

In 2011, Tania partnered with internationally renowned nutrition and fitness expert Mark Macdonald, and in 2017 officially earned the title of Master Nutrition Coach in conjunction with Venice Nutrition and the International Board of Nutrition and Fitness Coaches (IBNFC).

Tania is one of only five health professionals licensed and certified in Canada to deliver this proven, three-phase program of blood sugar stabilization, not dieting.Tania is committed to ending the dieting madness both locally and globally and educates her clients on how to increase health with age.

Tania is able to work with clients across Canada, the U.S. and U.K. to restore health and achieve their weight loss goals.Tania is a wife, mother of three adult children, global entrepreneur, speaker, workshop facilitator, writer, blogger, podcast host, travel junkie and self-proclaimed gym rat.

For more information and to book your complimentary health assessment go to www.fuelignitethrive.com. Check https://www.facebook.com/fuelignitethrive/  and https://www.facebook.com/groups/8weeksisallittakes/

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories