How My Mastectomies Changed My Life … For the Better

I have been reminded frequently on social media that October is breast cancer awareness month.  My personal journey of recovery from double mastectomies 17 months ago has not been an easy one.  As I reflect on the last 17 months, I can see that having mastectomies changed my life … for the better.  This is my story.

Being Diagnosed With BRCA2 Gene Mutation

I was diagnosed with a BRCA2 gene mutation in February 2020.  Having this mutation increases my risk of breast, ovarian, pancreatic cancers, melanoma, and in men, prostate cancer.  I was just about to turn 54, the same age my mother died from cancer.  The decision to have prophylactic risk-reducing surgeries was an easy one for me.  I had my ovaries removed in March and bilateral mastectomies in May 2020.

Leading up to those surgeries I was anxious and extremely stressed.  I lost a lot of weight because the fear of getting cancer was overwhelming.  I had had all the screening available – MRI’s, CT scans, Ultrasounds and blood tests for tumour markers.  Even though my tests had all come back negative there was still the fear that the surgeons would find cancer in my breasts or ovaries.  This has happened to many women undergoing prophylactic surgery.

Undergoing Risk Reducing Surgeries

My surgeries were not straightforward.  I had complications after both and I still live with the chronic health issues.  I haemorrhaged after my mastectomies and needed further surgery twice, as well as four blood transfusions.  The recovery from those surgeries lasted months because I wasn’t able to do any exercise for six months due to the risk of swelling.

Prior to those surgeries I was active and able to work.  I walked my dogs 3km per day and did yoga.  Unfortunately I had chronic back pain which prevented me from running and high impact exercise.  I had migraines frequently and felt tired all the time.  Shift work knocked me around and I felt pretty miserable a lot of the time.

Complications Following Surgeries

The first surgery to remove my ovaries uncovered a problem with my bladder and kidneys that had been grumbling along for a long time.  It was a problem that I couldn’t ignore anymore and was the cause of a lot of my chronic back pain.  I now have that issue under control so I actually take it as a blessing that I discovered the problem because if it had been left untreated any longer I would have been really unwell.  My body had been telling me that there was something wrong for months and it took a health crisis to reveal it.

My mastectomies were meant to be a straightforward procedure.  The surgeon planned to remove all my breast tissue, including the nipples, but spare the skin, and insert implants in the same procedure.  The surgery went well but I haemorrhaged on the left side the next day.  I lost a lot of blood, most of it collecting under the skin.  The surgeon took me back to the operating theatre to stem the bleeding.

A Prolonged Recovery From My Mastectomies

The fluid that remains under the skin following a haemorrhage is called a seroma.  That seroma lingered for months, becoming infected and requiring further surgery three months later.  I was under strict doctors’ orders not to exercise because that would increase the risk of further seroma developing.  My surgeon allowed me to gradually increase my walking but everything else was off limits.

I lost a lot of muscle tone during the six months that followed.  This prevented my return to work as a Registered Nurse because I wasn’t able to fulfill my duties, which include being able to perform CPR and patient cares.  I was off work for 11 months in total.  I really struggled with that.  My mental health deteriorated as I felt that my purpose in life was gone.  My role as a nurse meant so much to me after doing it for 35 years that I felt lost without it.

Outpatient Rehabilitation After My Mastectomies

After six months of not exercising, my surgeon finally gave me permission to return to yoga.  Immediately after my first yoga session I had severe muscle pain and cramps.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to get my body strength back without professional help so I asked my GP for help.  He referred me to an Exercise Physiologist.

I had five months of outpatient rehabilitation under her supervision.  My muscles had lost so much condition that I could only improve slowly.  I was in a lot of pain as my muscles regained their strength and my progress was slow.  Despite this I was determined to get strong enough to return to work so I worked hard and over time regained my upper body strength.  I needed to be able to perform CPR which uses multiple muscle groups in your upper body, and when I finally could do that I knew I was ready to return to work.

Building Emotional Resilience During My Recovery

I had been seeing a psychologist to help me to adjust to these massive changes in my life.  I had gone from a healthy, productive member of society to someone who was too unhealthy to work.  My brain was still functioning but my body had let me down.  I had cried buckets of tears during those months off work and I was depressed.  The psychologist has helped me to reframe my thinking, and deal with those negative feelings in a positive way.  I still see her regularly because I feel that she helps me immensely.

I was able to gradually return to work in April.  It was such a huge achievement to reach that goal.  I never realised before how much my job meant to me.  I will never take working for granted again and I appreciate that I have such a supportive boss.  Because I am much fitter now than before my surgeries, working no longer knocks me around like it used to.  I still get fatigued but I now make sure I have a rest instead of pushing through.  

Reaching My Goal of Returning to Work

I really lacked confidence before, even though I had been nursing for a long time.  My confidence grew by going through the rehabilitation process and by achieving a pass mark on a course while I was off work.  I stepped straight back into my role relatively easily, and had the support of my colleagues.  The confidence comes from knowing that I am strong enough to overcome major challenges.  I worked hard to get my life back to normal, and I’m proud of my achievements.

Stronger and fitter after my mastectomies.  Image shows Christina Henry and her dog Banjo, on their daily 3km walk
Stronger and Fitter After My Mastectomies

How My Mastectomies Changed My Life For The Better

I chose resilience as my Word of the Year 2021.  I wasn’t feeling particularly resilient at the start of this year because I was still in the early stages of rehabilitation and was struggling mentally.  By persevering, and achieving that goal, it made me realise that I am resilient.  I have continued to do the exercise regimes set for me by the Exercise Physiologist.  I love the feeling of being strong and fit and I know it helps me manage my daily life better.

Even though my surgeries did not go to plan, and caused life altering issues for me, I do not regret having them done.  I no longer have the fear of getting ovarian or breast cancer as my risk is reduced to less than 1%.  My brother was diagnosed with Stage 4 Prostate Cancer a few months after that so I feel like I dodged a bullet.  I still have to have frequent screening for melanoma and am at risk of pancreatic cancer, but on the whole my health has been greatly improved.

My outlook on life is much more positive now.  I am more relaxed and rarely get a migraine which I attribute to dealing with stress better.  Fortunately, I was always a homebody, and feel blessed to live in such a lovely place after staying home so much during my recovery.  I also had time to spend with the people who mean the most to me, in particular my mother-in-law who passed away in May.  Every cloud has its silver lining, as the saying goes.

Breast Cancer Awareness

If you would like to read more about my story, all my previous posts are listed on my resource page, BRCA Gene Mutation and Cancer Awareness.  Don’t forget that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  You may like to read these articles:

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Prioritising Self Care

Prioritising Self Care Builds Resilience

Many people have remarked on how well I’m coping with all the setbacks I’ve faced in my life, especially this year. Developing resilience doesn’t come naturally, it needs to be learned and nurtured. I thought I’d share some of the ways I incorporate self care into my daily routine, and hopefully inspire others to develop their own resilience.

Until I prioritised my own self care needs, I was a bundle of nerves to the point of social anxiety. I had difficulty enforcing my boundaries so that I was a punching bag for others’ abuse. My self esteem was so low that I had absolutely no confidence. If I did speak up I was knocked back down so I built up barriers and sunk into my shell.

I went to therapists and they helped to some extent but I still lacked confidence. Getting really fit helped with my self image but I was still lacking in self esteem. Even though my external appearance was the best it had been for years, my inner self was struggling with self doubt and negativity. I was rushing around trying to fit all my responsibilities into my daily routine, which left little time for myself.

Prioritising Self Care Builds Self Esteem

The real change came last year, when I finally lost a lot of weight. I had a coach for my weight loss program who rang me every three weeks, not only to set goals with me, but also to give me positive feedback about my progress. Having that regular contact helped me lose over 17kg and graduate early from the program.

That success gave me so much confidence. The changes I had made included regular exercise, a new healthy diet with lots more vegetables and the joy of cooking and gardening. With it came the realisation that I had to prioritise self care.

My top tips for self care are:

  • Get outdoors daily. Natural light is better for you
  • Ladies wear makeup (even just tinted moisturiser and mascara) even when you’re not going out, and men shave. You feel better about yourself when you’re groomed. It goes without saying, but shower and brush your teeth too. You’d be surprised how many people don’t, as a nurse you see it all. Wear clothes that make you feel good, and that make you look good too.
  • Exercise daily, even just a walk. You will get natural endorphins.
  • Eat healthy food and drink plenty of water. Eating junk food depletes your energy and will have long-term repercussions if you base your diet around it.
  • Listen to your body. If you’re tired, rest.
  • Have regular massages, beautician visits or manicures purely for the enjoyment of it. If this is outside your budget, you can do at-home spa sessions . My favourite routine is a soak in a bubble bath with a face mask on, and lovely soft music playing, followed by beautiful scented body lotion. I definitely make time and room in my budget for regular professional massages though because it helps me manage my chronic back pain.
  • Listen to the sound of water. We have a pond with a fountain and the sound is so relaxing. You can get the same effect from white noise apps or a small water feature. Bubble baths, swims in the ocean and looking at waves lap on the shore are also calming.
Tips for prioritising self care collage
Tips for self care
  • Practice gratitude. Regularly write down a list of all the things you’re grateful for. Thank other people too, it goes a long way.
  • Spend time with your pets and loved ones. If you have young children or grandchildren play with them. Being around pets and children allows you to see things from a different perspective. Play games with them and their laughter will cheer you up.
  • Hug someone! Social distancing laws made this impossible and a lot of people struggled with not being able to have physical contact with their loved ones. I really missed not being able to hug my best friend and relatives that didn’t live with us.
  • Do something creative for example drawing, painting, baking, music or writing. I found a great colour-by-numbers App, very similar to the paint-by-numbers paintings we did as children. It’s so relaxing. Jigsaws are also calming.
  • Write in a journal daily – my article Journalling as a Self Care Activity has free printable journal prompts to get you started.
  • Use your brain – do crosswords, puzzles or Sudoko. Learn something new like a language or skill.
  • Read books written by people who are inspiring in some way. I’ve read a lot of books by people who have faced the worst adversities and come through them. That gives me confidence to tackle anything that comes my way.
  • Have less screen time. Avoid reality TV especially – it’s just trash. Only watch news from trustworthy sources – don’t get all your knowledge from Facebook and Instagram. Knowledge is power, so don’t get sucked into believing everything you read or hear.
  • If you’re sick stay home. I know we’ve heard that constantly this year but I’m shocked by how many people go to work and school when they are sick. By resting and recuperating your body has a chance to heal. If you’re working and mixing with other people, it takes a lot longer to fully recover and you’re passing it on to other people. Those people may have compromised immunity or other health issues which would lead them to develop much worse illnesses than you.
  • Most important – reach out to someone if you are not coping. There are resources there to help you. Avoid people who suck your energy from you or make you feel worse. These are some help lines available in Australia:
Australian Help lines for people struggling mentally
Help lines in Australia for people struggling

Once you start prioritising self care, it will become part of your daily routine. It will be easier for you to assert your boundaries and say no to people. Your confidence will grow, and you’ll feel so much better within yourself. You will be more resilient when life throws unexpected stresses and crises your way.

Go on, you deserve it.

Please share if you enjoyed my article. I would love to hear what your tips for self care are in the comments below.

Please note: I am not a registered mental health practitioner. The information provided in this article is for general informational and educational purposes only and should not replace information provided by your own mental health practitioner. Please refer to my Disclaimer

https://www.denysewhelan.com.au/denyse-blogs/share-your-snaps-5-25-51-lifethisweek-50-2020/

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Shared at the above Link-up parties

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Why Your Waist Measurement Matters and How to Reduce It

This article will explain the relationship between waist size and your general health. Why your waist measurement matters, and how reducing it will improve your overall health.

According to research, reducing the size of your waist to a healthy size will increase your longevity. Other benefits are that it will reduce your risk for other diseases, such as dislipidemia, insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Even if you are relatively smaller everywhere else on your body, the increased weight around your waist will still lead to other health problems.

My Own Health Concerns

One of my biggest concerns with my weight was my waist circumference. My waist measured 109cm (42 inches) when I started on my weight loss journey. This put me at a much higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. An ideal waist measurement for women is 88cm (35 inches) or less, and men is 102cm (40 inches) or less. Anything above this is classed as abdominal obesity.

All the extra weight I was carrying was fat, which was surrounding all my vital organs like my heart, liver and pancreas. I had been taking blood pressure medication for a couple of years, and for my cholesterol for at least 6 years. This meant my body was already showing signs of issues caused by this excess fat around my abdomen.

How to Measure Your Waist Size

Along with wanting to lose weight, I was desperate to reduce the size of my waist to prevent any other health issues. I started measuring my waist, hips, bust, thighs and upper arms along with weighing myself 2 – 3 times a week. I used a Body Fat Calculator to assess this. My body fat percentage a year ago was 43.3% which is very high. Now it is around 28% and in the healthy range for my age.

I have found that taking those measurements is more incentive to than just weighing on the scales alone is. Some days I’m quite bloated with my waist ranging between 84cm on a good day to 88cm on a bad day! The “bad day” is usually from working night shifts or having a day or two of eating and drinking unhealthy food. I accept that we all need a day or two like that occasionally.

Image credit for feature photo: Pixabay on Pexel

If you are interested in starting to do the same measurements, there’s a great website called Calculator.net. It has a number of health and fitness calculators that are easy to use, including a Body Fat Calculator. If you don’t want to go to that much trouble, try writing down your waist measurement and weight once or twice a week.

Gauging Your Waist Size by How Your Clothes Fit

The way your clothes fit will also be a good way to gauge whether you’re losing weight off your waist. I’ve had to totally replace my whole wardrobe twice in the last year, down to my underwear! It’s so rewarding to be able to see the results, and know that I’ve improved my health by reducing my waist size.

Another benefit of reducing your waist size is that clothes fit better! I always found it really hard to find clothes that fitted my apple shaped body and was always trying to hide my belly with tunics etc. It’s now so much easier to find clothes that fit, and my body has a better figure. (not quite an hourglass shape though!)

Here are my measurements before and after:

October 2018 / October 2019

Weight 83.5kg / 66.1kg

Waist 105cm / 84cm

Hips 109cm / 95cm

Bust 104cm / 90cm

Thighs 69cm / 59cm

Upper arm 30cm / 27cm

My Weight Loss Success

Before 83.5kg October 2018. After 66.1kg October 2019

Steps to Take to Reduce your Waist Size

The following six steps have been shown to effectively reduce your waist size:

  1. Cut out all sugar, especially drinks that have been sweetened. A high intake of sugar leads to the liver getting overloaded, resulting in insulin resistance. Your body can’t cope with so much sugar (fructose) and stores it as fat in your abdomen and liver.
  2. Increase your protein intake, because this reduces cravings and boosts your metabolism. High quality protein is important, such as that found in eggs, fish, legumes, nuts, seafood, meat and high quality protein supplements (whey powder).
  3. Cut carbohydrates, particularly highly refined ones found in cakes, sweets and white bread. Some people cut carbs drastically leading to ketosis (the popular keto diet) which reduces your appetite and leads to rapid weight loss. My brother has done really well on this diet, while I found just dropping all the rubbish like lollies, cakes, muffins etc. was enough for me to be effective. I find that if I have any of those foods now I get a migraine. That just proves to me that this type of food is bad for my health.
  4. Eat food high in fibre, particularly vegetables. This helps to fill you up, and aids digestion. One of the most effective steps I took was to amp up my vegetable intake, replacing a lot of the carbs with vegetables. Vegetables contain plenty of vitamins and minerals which also help our health and well-being. Other food sources of fibre include fruit, cereals and legumes. Adding a fibre supplement like Metamucil would be effective as well.
  5. Exercise, in particular aerobic exercise such as walking, running, swimming and cycling. Spot exercises like sit-ups do not work! Improving your core muscle strength will help you overall but it might not necessarily reduce your waist size unless you are doing aerobic exercise. I can’t do heavy exercise but I have found that regular walking has been effective for me.
  6. Count your calories using a macro counter. I use an App on my phone to record everything I eat. From there I can see my macros (percentage of protein, carbs and fat), and calorie intake. I try to keep to between 1500 – 1800 Kcal per day, and make sure my calories in is lower than my calories out. Even though my weight has been stable for months I still track my intake because I find it helps me stay accountable to my health goals.
Why your waist measurement matters - how your waist measurement affects your health and what you can do to reduce your waist measurement
Why your waist measurement matters – how your waist measurement affects your health and what you can do to remedy it.

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My favourite apps for a healthy lifestyle

I’m one of those people who needs to keep a track of everything. I like to be organised and plan things in advance. When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, I use a few apps to help me and give me incentive. I would recommend them to anyone who wants to keep a track of their exercise, weight, and dietary intake amongst other health goals. This post will explain why I use these Apps for a healthy lifestyle and how they can help you with your goals as well.

This post may contain affiliate links which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure

Fitbit

This is an obvious first choice for me because I wear my Fitbit all day and night apart from showering and charging it up. It counts my steps, number of floors I’ve climbed, how many calories I’ve used, my heartrate and how many hours I sleep per night. I also use mine to track my calorie intake and my weight and water intake. Every week it sends me a summary of everything and gives me incentive to continue with my goals.

I do challenges every week with a group of other people and am in a few support groups such as the Healthy Eating forum. The most helpful aspect of the app is the calories in vs. calories out section. As long as my calorie intake is less than what I burn off every day with exercise, I’m on track to maintain a healthy weight. I also like the weight tracker where I can see graphs of my weight and fat percentage over time.

Fitbit App weight graph.  This is an App for a healthy lifestyle that I recommend.
Fitbit App weight graph. This is an App for a healthy lifestyle that I recommend.

Fitbit Macros graph.  Calories in vs Calories out.  These graphs on the Fitbit App help me to keep my food intake (calories in) lower than the energy I use up (calories out)
Fitbit Macros graph. Calories in vs Calories out.
These graphs on the Fitbit App help me to keep my food intake (calories in) lower than the energy I use up (calories out)

Samsung Health

I have a Samsung mobile phone which came with a free health tracker called Samsung Health. It is very much like the Fitbit App where it can track steps and exercise sessions, weight and sleep. The reason I like it is that the calorie intake section is better than the Fitbit App. While the Fitbit is more accurate in counting steps and sleep, the Samsung App. has an easier calorie counter to use.

It is possible to save numerous types of food in the data bank which makes it easier to track your diet as you go along. I generally eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch so it’s very easy to save a whole meal in the favourites section, or to work out how many calories are in a meal. Calorie counting is very tedious for most people but I find this App. makes it really easy for me to keep control of my eating. Keeping to 1500 – 1800 kCalories per day has been the way I’ve lost 17kg and been able to keep it off. The breakdown of my diet into macros (percentages of carbs, protein and fat) is very useful. It goes into further detail by telling me how my diet is in relation to vitamins and minerals.

Samsung Health App is another App I use for a healthy lifestyle.  This shows the Samsung Health Macros chart and my intake of vitamins and minerals.
Samsung Health App is another App I use for a healthy lifestyle.
This shows the Samsung Health Macros chart and my intake of vitamins and minerals.

Smiling Mind

I have been an insomniac for as long as I can remember. Doing shift work doesn’t help because I feel permanently jet lagged. Even with pretty strong sleeping pills I still have a lot of trouble sleeping. The Smiling Mind App. has been a Godsend to me because I’m usually lulled into sleep within minutes of listening to one of the sleep meditations. There are programs for Mindfulness, Stress reduction and improving relationships amongst other things. There are other Apps designed for meditation but this is the one I return to time and time again.

This is a screenshot of the Apps I use every day for tracking, inspiration and ideas.
This is a screenshot of the Apps I use every day for tracking, inspiration and ideas.

Clever Guts

If you’re a fan of Michael Mosley then this is the App. for you. My brother and I have both lost weight using his programs, my brother with Intermittent Fasting and me with The Clever Guts diet and Mediterranean Diet. There are recipes, videos and podcasts on this App.

Health Calculator

I use this App. to work out my BMI ( body mass index). There are also calculators for body fat, ideal weight and basal metabolic rate. I find that the body fat and ideal weight calculators aren’t very accurate but the BMI is easy to calculate using your weight and height. I use a website called calculator.net to calculate my body fat percentage, as I find this much more accurate. To compare, my body fat percentage is calculated as 35.55% on the App, and 28.5% on the website. The website uses gender, age, weight, height, neck size, waist size and hip size while the App only uses waist size and weight. That is why I prefer the website. It’s a handy App to use but I’d recommend only using the BMI calculator.

Pinterest

While not strictly a health App, Pinterest is a great source of information. I can look up thousands of recipes, ideas on food prep, motivation for exercise and self care. It links to bloggers around the world who talk about a myriad of different topics from plant sources of protein to growing vegetables. I follow many different Pinterest boards focused on living a healthy lifestyle. They have opened my mind up to many different ways of thinking, especially about diet and self care. I doubt if I’ll ever buy another recipe book because I can find exactly the recipes I need on Pinterest.

A Pinterest search for healthy recipes.  I use Pinterest for ideas on healthy recipes and other health related information
A Pinterest search for healthy recipes. I use Pinterest for ideas on healthy recipes and other health related information

Allrecipes Dinner Spinner

Recipes have been created by many different contributors so there is a huge range of great recipes on this App. I can collate favourites and create a collection under different headings. I can also create a shopping list for the ingredients. It’s a handy App to use on the go. For example while I’m out shopping I can quickly look up the ingredients I need to make a particular recipe.

We use our phone continuously throughout the day so try using Apps to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle
We use our phone continuously throughout the day so try using Apps to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle

In summary, these are my favourite Apps that I use to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I would love to know if you find any of these Apps useful, or can suggest Apps that you use. If you enjoyed this article, you may also like to read:

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My Top Posts of 2019

My healthy lifestyle blog has been my biggest achievement this year (apart from losing 17kg!). I’ve really enjoyed writing about a topic that I’m passionate about. The hardest part is the self promotion which goes against my introverted nature but it’s vital to gain followers if I want people to read my articles. I would like to share my top posts 2019 with my readers.

MY TOP 9 POSTS of 2019


In order, they were:
1 How to make goals that will stick,
2 Why your waist measurement matters,
3 My Weight-loss Journey,
4 Slow and Steady wins the race,
5 13+ ways to get more colour in your diet,
6 Gifts that Inspire a Healthy Lifestyle,
7 How to keep on track with your health goals during the holiday season,
8 Just change one habit at a time and
9 Losing weight is a marathon not a sprint.

Read them now to gain some inspiration! Live your healthiest year in 2020.


Thanks to everyone who has read, followed, liked and shared my posts across WordPress, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter! I really appreciate your support and all the comments, likes and shares. It keeps me motivated to write more. Please let me know what your favourite article was.

A collage of the top posts of 2019 on the Midlifestylist blog.
The top posts on Midlifestylist.com for 2019
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How to Keep on track with your health goals during holiday season

One of the hardest times to keep on track with our health goals is during the holiday season – Christmas and New Year, up to Australia Day at the end of January and even up to Easter. In the US and Canada, Thanksgiving Day in November is the start of the holiday season. Summer in the Southern Hemisphere is a time of beach, school holidays, barbecues and celebrations, while winter in the Northern Hemisphere is a time for hearty meals, staying indoors in front of the fire and eggnog!

It has to be the most challenging time of the year for people trying to keep to their health goals. This post will discuss some of the ways you can manage temptations during special events. It will also help you to prepare some strategies before the holiday season.

A collage of tempting, unhealthy food that people may face over the holiday season.  Pancakes and icecream, fried  food, alcohol and large servings of Chinese food
So many temptations during holidays and celebrations. A collage of tempting, unhealthy food that people may face over the holiday season. Pancakes and icecream, fried food, alcohol and large servings of Chinese food

How to Manage Temptations at Events

If you are having a celebratory meal or gathering of any kind, inevitably the menu includes food that is high in calories and alcohol, and wouldn’t be normally in your day to day diet. Some suggestions to deal with these situations are:

  • Take your own platter with healthy food to share. This is my number one way of dealing with these situations! Try using my recipes for a savoury and sweet grazing platter – or combine both for a really interesting platter
  • Eat a small portion of the food on offer
  • Drink water in between each alcoholic drink
  • Take your own beverages
  • If you don’t want to drink alcohol but feel pressured to, order a drink that looks like an alcoholic drink e.g. mocktail, lemon lime and bitters or soda water. I’m a fan of Kombucha which is really refreshing and doesn’t include many calories.
  • Drink less high calorie alcoholic drinks like a wine spritzer or vodka and soda water. There are low carbohydrate beers and diet mixers as well
  • Order a salad with the dressing on the side. Salads are often covered in dressing in restaurants and that is where all the calories are
  • Many restaurants list how many calories or kilojoules are in their food. Some of them even publish it online so you can research the venue before you go.
  • Don’t go to an event with an empty stomach
  • Don’t order a 3 course meal. Just a main meal is usually ample. My husband and I share an appetiser or dessert if we really feel like another course
  • Don’t stand near the buffet! Take a small plateful and walk away
  • Space out your meal. Give your body time to feel full. Only eat until you start to feel the signals that you’ve had enough
  • Having said that, if I know that I’m about to blow my calorie allowance for the day, I plan for it in advance and eat lightly for the rest of the day. A small breakfast and a salad for lunch counterbalances a blow-out for tea.
  • Learn to be assertive and say “no thank you” when offered food. This was always a challenge to me but I’m getting better at asserting myself
  • Accept that some situations are going to be out of your control. If you’re eating to plan during the rest of the week a day of overeating is not going to affect you long term.
  • Enjoy that blow-out meal! You deserve it.
  • Don’t neglect your exercise regime during holiday periods. You will feel so much better if you exercise on days that you’re consuming a large number of calories. Even a walk in the morning before an event will help
  • Try to make celebrations around activities rather than just feasting and getting drunk. Do something active like a picnic at the beach or a bush-walk. Even active party games can take the focus off eating and drinking. Have a game of cricket after Christmas lunch!

How to Keep On Track With Your Health Goals During Holidays and Special Occasions.  Shows a group of people at a party
How to Keep On Track With Your Health Goals During Holidays and Special Occasions.

I hope these suggestions will help you to keep on track with your health goals during the holiday season. The most important thing is to prepare beforehand. Acknowledge that sometimes eating unhealthy food can’t be avoided. In that case, enjoy the meal and get back on track the next day.

Survival guide for the Holiday Season

This is perhaps the busiest time of the year for most people.  Stress starts to build as we head towards the major events of the year.  This year has already been stressful for most people so the holiday season will leave us even more frazzled.  

Even if you love all the celebrations, the added toll you put on your body with parties will lead to fatigue.  Many people end up stressed and broke at the end of the holiday – they feel like they need a holiday to get over the holidays!

Think of all the upcoming events you and your family will have in the next few weeks and months:

  • School – Exams, Graduation, Formal and then Back to School;
  • Work – Completing projects, End of Year Parties.  Some industries are heading into their busiest time, e.g. retail;
  • Events – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year.

An offer for you: free e-book

Survival Guide for the Holiday Season

My Survival Guide for the Holiday Season will help you stay healthy during this busy time.  You will get:

  • A guide to healthy eating, self care and exercise;
  • A planner to guide you to set goals for staying healthy;
  • Weekly trackers – checklists to keep you on track.

Sign up now to receive this survival guide completely free. It will help you to keep on track with your health goals during the holiday season. More details at the link.

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If my readers have some other solutions on how to keep on track with your health goals during the holiday season, please share them in the comments. I would love to know how you deal with social events and the “silly” season.

Shared on Denyse Whelan’s Linkup Life This Week.

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Signs you need to see a doctor

When should you see a doctor? What signs to look for

Signs and symptoms that need to be checked by a doctor

Updated 14 August 2020

People are delaying seeking a doctor’s advice because of the pandemic. A delay in the diagnosis and treatment of disease leads to poorer outcomes in some instances, especially cancer. There are some signs and symptoms that should not be ignored, and need to be checked by a doctor.

I’ve been a Registered Nurse for over 30 years and unfortunately many of the patients I see have a “head in the sand” approach to health. They are aware of signs and symptoms, but they’re too scared to go to the doctor so they leave it too late. Many of the diseases we see can be cured if they’re diagnosed and treated early enough, but because the person is too scared to see a doctor, it is too late to do anything about it. Unfortunately we also see patients who have been fobbed off or treated for the wrong thing as well. If you’re not happy with what you’re told by one doctor, seek another opinion. You are the best advocate for your own health so keep in tune with your body and don’t ignore signs that there’s something wrong.

What predisposes us to disease?

A doctor I worked with once said to me “if everyone gave up smoking I’d be out of a job”. That’s not strictly true, however, because even though the smoking rate has gone down since awareness campaigns and Government restrictions on the sale of cigarettes, there are still other risk factors that can predispose us to disease. These include hereditary factors, lifestyle, age and sex, environmental factors and socioeconomic status. We can’t do much about our hereditary factors, age or sex, but we can control our lifestyle, environment and socioeconomic status to a certain degree.

Don’t ignore these symptoms

Another thing we can control is our awareness of signs and symptoms that could warrant a trip to the doctor, such as:

  • changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • shortness of breath, wheeziness
  • a cough that produces yellow or green sputum, or is blood tinged
  • chest tightness or pain
  • spots that have changed on your skin
  • lumps and bumps
  • bleeding, e.g in your urine or faeces, or a wound
  • hoarse voice or difficulty swallowing
  • dizziness or fainting
  • pain not controlled with over the counter medications
  • weakness in a limb, especially when it’s down one side of your body and you also have a drooping mouth
  • very high fevers, 38 degrees C or above
  • discharge or oozing, especially when it has a strong odour
  • swelling
  • a cut or sore that won’t heal
  • severe thirst but still have a dry mouth
  • unexpected weight loss and loss of appetite over a period of time
  • snoring and breath holding at night, and still feeling exhausted during the day
  • changes in your vision, crustiness in your eyes, or red and painful eyes
  • yellowing of skin and eyes
  • palpitations or fluttering in your chest
  • fractures or sprains
  • severe vomiting
  • confusion or mood changes
  • reactions to medications or treatment
  • Knocks to the head, especially ones where you lose conciousness or see stars, or are confused afterwards
  • epileptic fits

This list is only a sample of things to watch out for. Some of these are medical emergencies – don’t hesitate to call an ambulance if you have chest pain, weakness down one side of the body, severe bleeding and serious accidents. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, make sure you are informed of what signs and symptoms to look for, and when to see your doctor for follow-up appointments.

Misdiagnosis can lead to poor health outcomes

I have worked in Plastics and Reconstructive surgery wards for many years and even then I have a personal example of misdiagnosis with skin cancer. Because I am aware of the risks of skin cancer I have had a yearly skin check for at least the last 20 years. My sons have had the same checks since they were small children. This is partly due to the high incidence of melanoma in my family (my brother and sister) but also because of seeing the effects of melanoma spread in patients.

I was on holiday in New Zealand and my son phoned me to say he’d had his skin check and the doctor had biopsied a spot on the back of his hand and it had come back as melanoma. It’s hard to convey how devastated I was at hearing this and not being at home to support him. He was only 24 at the time and we’d been going to the same skin doctor for years. This doctor had told him at least twice before that the spot was fine, and we had trusted him. This time it was a different doctor – we had recently moved to a new surgery.

Melanoma, stage 1, on my 24 year old son's hand.  Required excision and flap graft.
My son’s melanoma

If my son had left it for another year it would have spread. We were lucky it was Grade 1 and hadn’t spread at all. I phoned one of the Plastic Surgeons I worked with and made an urgent appointment and my son was in surgery the following week. He had to have a full thickness flap done, about 3cm in diameter, to his hand but he’s cancer free which is the best outcome we could have had. He’s proud to show his scar because he’s a survivor and he’s brought awareness to many of his friends and acquaintances about the need for skin checks. We both have to have 6 monthly skin checks now for the rest of our lives.

This is the scar on his hand now. He had a skin flap removed from his upper arm to graft on to his hand

Be Your Own Health Advocate

My message today is that I want you to see a doctor if you’re concerned about anything, but keep pushing for more if you’re not happy with what they tell you. That niggling feeling that something isn’t right should not be ignored so pay attention to your body!

Note: this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be substituted for professional advice from a Registered Medical Practitioner. Please see the full disclaimer statement by clicking on the heading Disclaimer on the Home page. I am unable to answer specific questions from readers – if you are concerned, please see your doctor.

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13 plus ways to get more colour in your diet

Eating more vegetables every day is a sure way to improve your health by filling you up (more fibre) and providing essential vitamins to aid your body in maintaining vital functions. We should all be eating 5 – 6 serves of vegetables and 2 serves of fruit a day. Some people struggle to eat vegetables because of past experiences with badly cooked vegetables or lack of knowledge of how to prepare them. That is why I have put together this list of ways to increase the amount of vegetables in your diet.

A serve of vegetables is about 75g or:

  • 1/2 cup cooked green or orange vegetables, e.g. broccoli, spinach, carrots
  • 1/2 cup cooked beans, peas or lentils
  • 1 cup green leafy or raw salad vegetables
  • 1/2 cup sweet corn
  • 1/2 medium potato, sweet potato, taro or other starchy vegetable
  • 1 medium tomato

Depending on the vegetable and the cooking method, a standard serve of vegetables is only 100 – 350kJ (24 – 84kCal). Compared to a small ham sandwich (approx. 271kCal), a meat pie (445kCal) or a Big Mac from McDonalds (520kCal), a large salad will only set you back 50 – 200 kCal depending on the ingredients. Eating a diet that includes plenty of vegetables is essential for healthy weight control. One of my strategies to lose weight was to increase the number of serves of vegetables. I credit that one dietary change for most of my successful weight loss.

Here are some ways to increase the amount of vegetables in your diet:

  • A large salad for lunch, like my Super Spinach Salad recipe
  • A smoothie with vegetables e.g. spinach, kale, carrot, zucchini, beetroot. Try my Blueberry Smoothie recipe
  • Load other meals such as stews, bolognese, and pasta bakes with vegetables such as broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, carrots etc. If you have fussy eaters in the family, try grating carrots, zucchini etc. so that they’re barely visible
  • A large stir-fry
  • Soup loaded with vegetables, like my healthy vegetable soup recipe
  • Sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, cucumber etc. and meat or cheese.
  • Mexican food like tacos, burritos, nachos can be loaded with legumes such as kidney beans. We have grated carrots, shredded lettuce, corn, tomatoes and guacamole on ours as well
  • Try having a meatless day at least once a week. There are so many options for vegetarian recipes online these days that it’s not difficult to think up ideas for meatless days
  • Carrot or celery sticks with hummus
  • Add spinach or grilled tomato or mushrooms to your breakfast, e.g. in an omelette
  • Potato or sweet potato wedges with tomato salsa
  • Potato salad or bake
  • Make or buy zucchini noodles to use instead of pasta.

Vegetables don’t necessarily have to be fresh. Frozen, canned and dried (legumes like beans or lentils) are all an excellent option. In our supermarkets we can buy vegetables pre-cut and ready to cook which is a great time-saving idea. I prefer to steam most of my vegetables in the microwave for a couple of minutes, or stir fry them. This retains the crispness and flavour.

These are just some of the ways you can incorporate vegetables into your diet. I’d love to hear from you some other ideas because I’m always interested in healthy options! If you enjoyed this, you may enjoy Why Your Waist Measurement Matters.

My weekly haul from the markets includes a variety of fruit and vegetables
My weekly haul from the Markets includes a variety of fruit and vegetables

Main Image from Amroon Ra, Unsplash

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What’s with the Middle Aged Spread?

Why do People Get a Middle Aged Spread in Midlife?

What is Middle Aged Spread?

We’ve all heard about the middle aged spread. Many of us in our 40’s and 50’s start to put on weight which seems to cling to our abdomen, hips and thighs. But why is that, and what can we do about it?

I’ve always put weight straight on to my tummy. Looking at photos of my family, we all have a “pot gut” which we inherited from our father! Weight gain around our waistline is sometimes caused from hereditary factors, and sometimes from just learning about food from our families. We’re all foodies in my family – we love our food, we talk about food in detail, and love to experiment with cooking. Being good cooks means we enjoy it just a little too much at times and all our social occasions are based on lavish feasts. All well and good when you’re young and fit and can keep your weight down with exercise and eating well the rest of the week.

How Menopause Affects Weight Gain

But after the age of 40, the reduction in sex hormones in both men and women (yes there is a “manopause”!) can lead to excess body fat being stored around the abdomen for men and the buttocks and thighs of women. Women and men store fat differently and it can change due to aging.

I went into a sudden and severe menopause when I was about 46 where my ovaries switched off overnight. I suffered hot flushes every 5 to 10 minutes, severe anxiety and insomnia. For me, going on to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was vital for my health. I started to put on weight at the same age, but put it down to lifestyle factors. It wasn’t until this year, at the age of 53, that I managed to slowly wean myself off HRT over the course of about 6 months. It’s only been since then that I’ve been able to lose weight more easily than before. Scientific studies dispute the link between weight gain and HRT, but for me, I believe HRT made it harder for me to control my weight.

How to Control Middle Aged Spread

Because weight gain in middle age is so common, it is important to look at what we can control, especially our diet. I genuinely did not know that the recommended number of servings of protein and grains is lower after the age of 50. Here was I, eating the same amount of food as my sons who are in their 20’s, and wondering why I was putting on weight! It wasn’t until the dietician told me this that I had a light-bulb moment and realised that I needed to change not only how many servings I was eating, but the amount of food per serving as well.

Once I did this, the weight actually came off easily. I could no longer eat 3 stalks of broccoli and call it a serving, and 200g of red meat and think that that was a reasonable amount for dinner. An adjustment in both my number of servings of food, and the amount of food I ate made a huge difference to my waistline.

Recommended Number of Servings Per Day

Here are the recommended number of servings per age group:

Men

AgeVegetables and
Legumes/beans
FruitGrainsMilk, cheese and alternativesLean meat, poultry,
eggs, nuts, seeds
19-506262 1/23
51-705 1/2262 1/22 1/2
70+524 1/23 1/22 1/2
Recommended Number of Servings Per Day – Men

Women

AgeVegetables and
Legumes/beans
FruitGrainsMilk, cheese and alternativesLean meat, poultry,
eggs, nuts, seeds
19-505262 1/22 1/2
51-7052442
70+52342
Pregnant528 1/22 1/23 1/2
Lactating7 1/2292 1/22 1/2
Recommended Number of Servings Per Day – Women

Adjust Your Eating Habits as You Age

You can see from this table, the number of servings changes after the age of 50, so it’s important to adjust our eating habits accordingly. I had assumed that my diet was full of healthy fruit and vegetables, but when I looked more closely at it, I realised that I really wasn’t eating many vegetables at all. It was easy to fix – I just started eating a large salad or some homemade vegetable soup for lunch, and loaded extra vegetables into my night time meals. My serve of meat is now much smaller, and I’ve started incorporating legumes with my meals. My son went vegetarian at the beginning of this year and we’ve really enjoyed cooking sessions where we experiment with different recipes. He’s becoming a good cook as well. His meals look far nicer than our carnivorous ones!

A healthy diet should contain 2 serves of fruit and 5-6 serves of vegetables per day
A healthy diet should contain 2 serves of fruit and 5-6 serves of vegetables per day

There are some great resources on the internet about serving numbers and sizes. The one I use is an Australian Government website, Eat for Health. If you are struggling to increase your number of servings of vegetables per day, read 13+ Ways to Get More Colour in Your Diet.

It really is as simple as that: keep to the recommended guidelines for your age and sex, and you will begin to lose weight. Add in exercise, and you’ll not only lose weight, you’ll feel so much better too.

What's with the middle aged spread?  Why do we gain weight around our waist in our 40s and 50s and what can we do about it?
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Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Surely you have heard the saying Slow and Steady Wins the Race. The story of the tortoise and the hare embodies this. The story starts with a race between the tortoise and the hare. The hare was overly confident and decided to take a break, only to have the tortoise win because he plodded along. Plodding along will get you there in the end. The aim is to never give up.

I lost 17kg without setting foot in a gym or running. Due to my chronic back pain I am limited by what exercise I can do. I had to give up running and going to the gym about 10 years ago because of health issues caused by a congenital heart condition. But those limitations have not stopped me from exercising regularly. Instead of focusing on what I can’t do, I focus on what I can do.

Focus On What You Can Do, Not What You Can’t

I can walk! I walk my border collies nearly every day, approximately 3 – 3.5km. My son and I usually walk them together, and we use that time to talk. The bond we have developed from our daily walks is incredible. We really miss that when one of us is away. The obvious other benefit is seeing how much our dogs love their daily walk. We’re really lucky to have fabulous parks and beaches nearby that are dog friendly.

Slow and steady wins the race.  I may not be able to run, but my daily walk with the dogs has lead to my successful weightloss.  Photo shows Christina Henry with her two border collies on the shore of a lake
Slow and steady wins the race. I may not be able to run, but my daily walk with the dogs has lead to my successful weight-loss.

Regular exercise is the key. It doesn’t need to be high impact or energetic to have health benefits. Even a low impact exercise like walking, swimming or yoga has multiple benefits. Starting with a short walk and slowly building up over time, you will see benefits to your health and well being such as weight loss, improved stamina, and better mood. I also increased my incidental exercise by parking further away and climbing the stairs at work instead of taking the lift.

I use a Fitbit tracker to keep track of my steps, and aim to walk 10500 steps a day. Some days I walk more, some less, but at the end of the week it averages 8 – 10,000 steps per day. I find it is a good incentive, and being in Fitbit challenges spurs me on to walk more.

The key to develop a healthy exercise schedule is to do something you like, do it regularly, and set yourself goals such as walking further, climbing 4 flights of stairs a day, or walking for 10 minutes every hour. Over time you will see the benefits

Slow and steady wins the race.  Regular exercise is the key to long term weight-loss.  Even a daily walk has benefits.  Photo shows a man on the shore of a lake in the mountains
Regular exercise is the key to long term weight-loss. Even a daily walk has benefits.

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