Dalal, with her daughter and sister, Fatima. Image courtesy of Dalal Al-Waheidi.
Self-improvement and self-care are important, but this time of year always brings me back to the focus of my childhood New Year's experiences: my family.
By the time the fireworks crescendoed over Cairo and my 22-month-old-daughter woke up to witness midnight on her second New Year's eve, my mind raced with changes I wanted to make in the year ahead to strengthen my family.
Ringing in the New Year with my sister at a Nile-side café, sharing plates of Arabic mezze such as hummus, baba ghanouj and kebab, was very special. Separated by thousands of kilometers and national borders, I don't get to see my loved ones nearly as often as I'd like and the holidays present a rare opportunity to rekindle the bonds of family.
As we talked—and the clock moved closer to midnight—sharing our plans for the New Year and reminiscing about our childhood, it struck me that the types of resolutions we usually think of around this time of year are foreign to me. Growing up in Kuwait and Gaza, the New Year was a very different affair.
Sure, there were fireworks and parties—but even at their loudest, our celebrations felt quieter, more subdued and grounded. There were no glaring campaigns encouraging you to join a gym, take that dream vacation or switch phone companies. New Year's Eve was another occasion to spend time as a family and connect with those closest to you.
It wasn't until I moved to Europe and eventually came to Canada that I saw the full force of the self-improvement craze as people promised to slim down and tone up, get more sleep and stick to a budget.
Self-improvement and self-care are important—being fulfilled in ourselves empowers us to care for others—but this time of year always brings me back to the focus of my childhood New Year's experiences: my family.
Firstly, I'm committing to use technology to enhance my family's relationships, instead of just to fill time while commuting. I'm going to be present with the people in my life, leaving my phone in the other room to make the most of the time I have with my loved ones over dinner. And for my family we can't share a meal with, I'm going to make sure they're an active presence in my daughter's life through video chats and photos.
Next, my husband and I are committing to volunteering together. Families that are actively engaged in their communities create a generation of change-makers and one of the greatest gifts I can give my daughter is the knowledge that she can have an impact. That starts with modeling behaviour for her now.
Lastly, I'm going to ensure my daughter grows up knowing what it means to be a part of a diverse community that cares for each other. Whenever I travel I'm reminded of how special Canada is, where people from all backgrounds speaking a multitude of languages celebrate cherished cultures side by side. This year my family is going to celebrate the threads that make up our diverse tapestry by sharing meals with our neighbours.
As 2016 drew to a close, headlines around the world declared it the worst year in recent memory: darker; more politically divisive; full of disaster, disease and an uncharacteristically high number of celebrity deaths. We have the potential to make 2017 better—not just for ourselves (when we finally lose that extra five pounds or remember to pack lunches for work) but for our family's and for each other, when we learn about issues together, leave notes of kindness to brighten one another's day, or tell the people in our lives what we're grateful for.
These are simple steps I plan to take for my family but my goal is much larger. I imagine a day, not too far off, when my daughter is a little older and we can talk about the issues and challenges she sees in the world. I want to raise her to care about little injustices and dream of ways she can help because she knows she can have an impact. That starts now, with a strong grounding in our home and our family.
Boost your heart health Image by: Getty Images
Heart disease is the biggest cause of death for women, but Dr. Danielle Martin from Toronto's Women's College Hospital says there are ways you can improve your heart health.
What do you think of when you hear a phrase like "women’s health"?
Many of us picture high-profile campaigns about breast and other cancers, or reproductive health issues—but, in fact, heart disease is the number one cause of death for women over 55.
In the past, health professionals were trained to think of heart disease mainly as a men’s issue. This mentality led to gaps in awareness (when Canadian women were asked to name the greatest health problem for their gender, only 13 percent correctly answered heart disease) and treatment (after a heart attack, women are less likely to be admitted to intensive care settings and â€¨cardiac rehabilitation programs, or to receive interventions such as bypass surgery).
Today, thanks to public health campaigns and the work of advocates, there is growing awareness that heart health is a women’s issue, too.
When it comes to your heart, there is good news on two fronts.
First, you have the power to reduce your risk of a heart attack right now. Some risk factors are beyond your control, such as age, gender and family history. But there is much that you can control.
Many of the risk factors for heart attack and stroke can be reduced or even eliminated. Smoking is a big one: If you smoke, the single best thing you can do is stop. Other risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, can be significantly reduced by effectively managing those chronic conditions. Management includes eating a healthful diet with lots of vegetables and minimal processed foods; exercising and keeping a healthy body weight; and, when necessary, taking medications regularly and as prescribed.
The other piece of good news is that the Canadian health-care system has made some much needed changes to the way heart health is managed. One challenge in the past was the long wait times to see a cardiac specialist. In recent years, Canada has been a world leader in improving access to cardiac care. For example, back in 1990, the Cardiac Care Network of Ontario set out to reduce wait times. It increased coordination between family doctors and cardiologists by creating a central database and an urgency rating system.
The result? 17 cardiac centres across Ontario link patients, doctors, cardiologists and hospitals. The moment a patient is referred, they are assigned a maximum safe wait time and given a tool kit of educational resources.
Since 2004, regional differences in wait times have gone down, and nearly all Ontarians waiting for heart treatment and procedures are seen within their recommended wait times.
Both at the individual level and at the systemic level, there is much we can do to reduce the risk of heart disease and promote heart health.
No one wants to feel hangry or get hit with a midday crash—but that doesn't mean you have to visit the office vending machine. Instead, curb hunger pangs with these healthier, expert-approved alternatives.
1. Swap: Microwave popcorn for cauliflower popcorn
Even light microwave popcorn can be loaded with sodium, trans fats (which raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol) and artificial colours and flavours, says Kelowna, B.C.–based registered dietitian Tristaca Curley. Instead, cut a head of cauliflower into bite-size pieces, then roast in the oven with some olive or coconut oil and sprinkle with sea salt flakes. This low-calorie, folate- and potassium-rich sub is a satisfying twist on that movie-night favourite.
Photography by Angus Fergusson
2. Swap: Store-bought gorp for DIY trail mix
Ready-made trail mixes can be full of sugar and salt, so create your own snack of walnuts (the nut with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids), unsalted sunflower seeds, dried apple bits and unsweetened shredded coconut. Add chocolate chips for an extra hit of sweetness. "For a tart superfood top-up, add golden berries, which resemble golden raisins," says Toronto-based registered nutritionist Joey Shulman. "They're lower in sugar versus other small berries, and they contain linoleic and oleic acids, which help with fat oxidation." Or add resveratrol-rich mulberries for their antioxidant punch.
3. Swap: Potato Chips for kale chips
"Regular chips contain trans fatty acids, the bad fat that can lead to heart disease and elevated cholesterol," says Shulman. "This superfood alternative is loaded with vitamins A, C and K." Tear kale leaves into bite-size pieces (discard thick stems), toss with olive oil and salt, then roast until crisp.
4. Swap: Salted pretzels for roasted chickpeas
Sure, pretzels may be low in fat, but they're loaded with salt and have no real nutritional value, says Curley. For a crunchy alternative, try oven-roasted chickpeas. These legumes are high in fibre, protein and iron, making them an ideal "fill me up" snack. Toss together chickpeas, olive oil, sea salt and your favourite spice (think smoked paprika, ground cumin, cayenne pepper or garlic powder), then roast until golden brown and crunchy.
5. Swap: Cheese crackers for a seaweed snack
Most crackers are processed carbs laden with artificial colours, preservatives and other additives. "In their place, top a sheet of nori with some canned tuna, smoked salmon or a meat alternative, like grilled tofu," says Curley. The seaweed is super satisfying and guilt-free: There are only five calories per sheet. Plus, sea vegetables are full of vitamins A and C, calcium, iodine (essential for metabolism) and iron.
6. Swap: Chocolate pudding for avocado and cocoa pudding
Chocolate puddings can be drowning in high-fructose corn syrup. For a healthier treat, mash an avocado, then stir in two tablespoons each of cocoa powder and hemp seeds and a quarter cup of honey, says Curley. This pudding is low in sugar and a great source of monounsaturated fats, vitamin C and fibre.
7. Swap: Granola bars for energy balls
Granola bars can contain as much sugar, fat and refined carbs as a chocolate bar. "Instead, stir together a cup of oatmeal with half a cup each of nut butter, hemp seeds and dried fruit," says Curley. Maple syrup or honey will help it stick together. This homemade option is high in fibre and protein, low in sugar and free of additives.
8. Swap: Chips and dip for hummus and carrot or zucchini coins
Processed foods like chips can raise blood sugar, triggering a release in insulin, which then lowers blood sugar. In the short term, these highs and lows actually increase cravings; in the long run, they can lead to weight gain. Try this clever swap from Curley. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, slice carrots or zucchini into coins. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, then bake until golden brown and crisp. Serve with a side of hummus. (Brownie points if it's homemade!)
9. Swap: Banana chips for a loaded banana
This snack is often coated in sugar and deep-fried to give it crunch, so choose a fresh banana, which is glycemic index–friendly, suggests Curley. (Foods with a low-GI value are digested more slowly, so they won't cause a spike in blood sugar.) Top the banana with two tablespoons of your favourite nut butter, then roll it in hemp seeds. "You'll get a slow, steady rise in your blood sugar, so you'll feel full for longer," says Curley. Plus, this satisfying switch-up delivers potassium, protein, iron and omega-3s.
10. Swap: Chocolate-covered almonds for apple rings with nut butter
Almonds are a great snack, but when they're coated with chocolate, they turn into a treat. For a healthier option, slice a cored apple into rings. Top each slice with natural peanut, cashew or almond butter and sprinkle with hemp seeds, which are a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. "Apples are loaded with fibre and vitamin C," says Shulman. "Look for unprocessed nut butters; they're rich in good fats, which contain essential fatty acids such as omega-3s and monounsaturated fats."
This stylish notebook might just be hottest organizing accessory of the year.
Everyone is supposed to have 24 hours in a day but for some us, it feels like there must be a rip in the space-time continuum. How else can you explain being constantly busy but having nothing to show for it? If this sounds familiar, learn how you can make the most of your time with our five fave productivity tips.
1. Write it down
Billed as "the analog solution for a digital age," the Bullet Journal is a diary, to-do list and catch-all for all your random thoughts. Developed by Brooklyn-based designer Ryder Carroll, this trendy organizing method involves writing down quick, memory jogging statements rather than complex entries. Use it to organize your tasks by day and month pages, keep tabs of books you want to read and things you want to buy or create new lists whenever inspiration strikes. An indexing system allows you to quickly find what you're looking for.
2. Plan your time
Sort of like HIIT for your to-do list, the Pomodoro Technique involves working on your tasks for a short, timed cycle of 25 minutes. With no distractions allowed, it’s great way for those with short attention spans to focus. Take a 5-minute break before starting your next 25 minutes of work and, after four of these cycles, you're rewarded with a longer, half-hour break. Sound a bit too structured? Maybe that's why it works—it was voted the most popular productivity technique by the readers of lifehacker.com.
3. Try a tech-savvy solution
The If This Then That app might be the closest you'll ever come to a personal assistant. Got any apps on your phone? Automate their functions by using If This Then That statements, or as IFTTT calls them, “recipes.” For example: get an early morning text when the forecast calls for rain, use it to get coffee going without getting out of bed (using a programmable outlet) or tell the family you're on your way home (with an email triggered by your location app once you've left work).
4. Go KonMari on your clutter
While organizing trendsetter Marie Kondo’s method of minimal living has been criticized for being a bit too twee, an organized, uncluttered home can be key to increased efficiency. "In most cases, things that function well are inherently neat and clean," says Clare Kumar, a professional organizer based in Toronto. It's not hard to see why. Simply owning less makes it easier for you to find what you need and streamlines your decision making (no need to choose between your 6 pairs of jeans, for example), saving you time that can be better spent elsewhere.
5. Let it go
There'll be days you can't get to everything. Your work presentation sits unfinished, the house is a mess and dinner was takeout (again!). Instead of stressing out, try to cut yourself some slack. "Our bodies burn out when stuck in fast-forward," says Carl Honoré, an expert on the topic of slow living. Sometimes the best way to be productive is to take some time out to recharge. So curl up with a good book, take a long bath, or enjoy a glass of wine...guilt free! After all, there's always tomorrow.