It’s the season to be jolly. It’s the season to anticipate the arrival of a portly man in a red suit bearing gifts. It’s the season of sugar plums dancing in our heads.

It’s also the season of overeating — and regretting it in the morning. 

About 45% of Canadians say they worry about gaining weight over the holidays, according to Angus Reid. Most people only gain a pound or two, but they often don’t lose that weight and those small gains can add up over the years. 

Moderation and celebration don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Here are 10 tips to help you eat healthfully in the season of excess: 

  1. Don’t starve on the day of a party: Deciding to deprive yourself during the day so you can indulge at dinner can backfire since you are more likely to overeat if you are hungry.
  1. Water, water, everywhere: Have a big glass of water before every meal. This will keep you hydrated, help your body digest food and make you feel less hungry.
  1. Have a healthy snack before you head out: A nutritious snack before going out for a meal can prevent you from overeating later. 
  1. Be selective at the buffet: Fill half your plate with veggies and just a taste of other, richer foods.
  1. Size matters: Using a salad plate instead of a dinner plate can help with portion control.
  1. Eat mindfully: Research shows you’ll consume fewer calories if you eat slowly. Pace yourself by taking small bites, taking your time chewing, putting your fork down and sipping water between bites.
  1. Think twice about going for seconds: Wait for 10 minutes after you’ve finished your meal before filling up again. This way you are giving your body time to digest what you’ve eaten and determine if you are actually still hungry. 
  1. Swap standard calorie-laden holiday foods with healthier options: Select white turkey meat over prime rib or ham, brown rice over stuffing and mashed turnips over mashed potatoes.
  1. Keep a lid on alcohol: Booze adds lots of calories to a meal and can weaken your resolve about not overeating. Delay drinking until you begin your meal and set a limit in advance.
  1.  Don’t beat yourself up: If you do overindulge, try to go back to a nutritious eating plan again as soon as possible. Think of eating in moderation as a gift you give to yourself — and your health.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Anyone can catch the flu. At Winterberry we encourage you to protect yourself – and others – by booking a flu shot and also learning about the virus and recognizing the symptoms.

What is the flu?

The flu (influenza) is a contagious virus that anyone can get. But there are several things you can do to avoid catching it, or spreading it to others.

How can you tell if it’s the flu or COVID-19?

Some of the symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to the flu, and it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone.

If you think you have COVID-19, you can get tested. If you have symptoms, you should stay home and self-isolate for 14 days or until you get your results.

When should you get the flu shot?

Flu season typically runs from late fall to early spring.

Flu shots are now available for all Ontarians. You should get a flu shot as soon as possible because it takes two weeks to take effect.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) now recommends that COVID-19 vaccines may be given at the same time as the flu vaccine. 

Why is the flu shot your best defense?

This year’s flu season is taking place at the same time as COVID-19. Don’t take any unnecessary risks with your health. Get the flu shot as early in the season as possible.

The flu shot is recommended for everyone 6 months old and older. It is:

  • Safe (including for kids and if you are pregnant or breastfeeding)
  • Free
  • Available in many places including Winterberry Family Medicine
  • Proven to reduce the number of doctor visits, hospitalizations and deaths related to the flu
  • Different each year because the virus changes frequently – so you need to get it every fall

Ready to book your flu shot?

Your team at Winterberry is here to make it quick and easy.

Simply pick a convenient time and date using our online booking page.

Information for this article is based on information from

Obesity isn’t just harmful to the heart — it can also have a negative effect on the brain.

While we’ve long known about the link between obesity and conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, a growing body of research examining the connection between body fat and the brain’s grey matter reveals that some types of obesity can lead to a greater risk of dementia and stroke.  

For example, a new study  from researchers at the University of South Australia, reported in the Neurobiology of Aging, found that for every extra 3 kilograms of body weight in a person of average height, the amount of gray matter decreased by 0.3%. With the ongoing rise in obesity (globally nearly two million adults are overweight and 650 million have obesity, according to the World Health Organization) this poses big concerns for overall brain health among the obese. 

We know all too well that the obesity problem extends to children — it’s been on the rise over the past 50 years in the pediatric population. Nearly 40 million children younger than five years old and over 340 million young people aged 15–19 years are considered to be overweight or obese. In the U.S., the percentage of children and adolescents with obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s — the prevalence of obesity in those aged 12 to 19 is now 20 percent.

It’s not yet known how obesity affects cognitive functioning in young people — although a small study presented at the Radiographic Society of North America found that MRI scans have found signs of damage in the brains of teens with obesity. It’s thought that obesity may trigger inflammation throughout the body and the nervous system that may affect the brain. 

“Brain changes found in obese adolescents related to important regions responsible for control of appetite, emotions, and cognitive functions,” said Pamela Bertolazzi, the study co-author and a biomedical scientist and PhD student from the University of São Paulo in Brazil.

COVID-19 hasn’t helped. Teens are more sedentary than ever before and this poses a new set of challenges for clinicians trying to assist the pediatric population. 

The message to parents? These are the tried-and-true strategies when it comes to developing healthy eating and exercise habits in young people:  

  • Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products.
  • Include low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products, including cheese and yogurt.
  • Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils, and beans for protein.
  • Encourage your family to drink lots of water.
  • Limit sugary drinks.
  • Limit consumption of sugar and saturated fat.
  • Children ages 3 through 5 years should be active throughout the day. Children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 years should be physically active at least 60 minutes each day. 

Photo credit: Unsplash

How are kids coping through COVID-19? They aren’t so different from adults. They’re bored, they’re comfortable eating, they miss their friends, they’re binging on their digital devices and they’re experiencing higher rates of depression and anxiety.

Add to this the fact that the protracted disruption of in-person schooling means they are more sedate than ever, without the benefit of walking to school, engaging in gym class and extracurriculars and running around at recess. All these factors can contribute to pediatric weight gain that could have long-term impacts on children’s health, including increasing their risk for Type 2 diabetes mellitus and high blood pressure.

Good habits begin in childhood, which is why it’s important for parents to do what they can to help kids maintain a healthy weight and thus reduce the risk of obesity later in life.(The rate of childhood obesity has more than doubled in recent decades among preschool children, as well as those ages 12 to 19, and more than tripled among those ages 6 to 11.)

Example is the best teacher.  As such, helping kids lead healthy lifestyles begins with parents who lead by example. Kids emulate what they see — so by being a good role model and eating well, exercising regularly and building healthy habits into your own daily life, you are providing your child with a solid blueprint for incorporating healthy habits that will serve them well and in the future. One of the best things you can do is to try to have as many family meals together as possible. The Childhood Obesity Foundation reports that the more meals a family eats together at home, the more likely the children are to eat fruit, vegetables, whole grains and calcium-rich food and beverages. Children and youth who eat at home are also more likely to feel connected to their family. They do better in school and are half as likely to run into problems with substance abuse as teenagers.

Many parents worry about whether they should intervene if their child gains weight during the pandemic. It’s important not to put the focus on dieting, restricting foods and calorie counting. For one thing, research shows that childhood dieting can increase the risk of developing an eating disorder. And controlling what children eat can cause them to fixate more on the foods parents don’t want them to have. It helps to remember that some weight gain may have nothing to do with the pandemic since many children follow a growth pattern, especially around puberty, where they “round out” before they shoot up in height. 

Instead, focus on helping your child have good habits, and focus on developing them yourself —balanced meals and healthy snacks (limit high-fat, high-sugar snacks and sugary beverages such as pop and sports drinks), getting enough sleep (which will be improved if digital devices are moved out of the bedroom) and regular movement (the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests kids move 60 minutes a day, which can be done in movement breaks throughout the day).

While it can be challenging to fit in physical activity at home, parents can take the lead by engaging in regular walks or hikes with their kids, without invoking weight loss as the goal. The fresh air and movement can give them a serotonin mood boost in addition to physical exercise. There are lots of creative options to engage in on the homefront — from TikTok dance routines to yoga videos. Cycling, skipping rope, playing catch and shooting hoops all offer the opportunity for kids to connect with their kids and it’s good exercise for adults too.

It’s also very important to encourage your kids to take care of themselves emotionally, and take care of yours! — help them talk about their feelings about the pandemic, ask them how they are doing and allow them to speak freely, whether it’s their fears for the future or the fact that they miss hanging out with their friends. Support their creativity and hobbies, whether it’s playing a musical instrument or journalling or cooking. Get them professional help if they seem depressed. When kids feel good about themselves and their lives, they are more likely to be both physically and mentally healthy. 

In this way, they are a lot like adults.

Feature Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash

Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones This Season.

At Winterberry Family Medicine we invite and encourage you to book your flu shot and counselling appointment as early as possible. To make your appointment at our clinic instantly, please click here.

Below you’ll find important and trustworthy information about the flu and the flu shot from the Ontario Ministry of Health flu and flu shot news release.

TORONTO — To keep Ontarians healthy this flu season and prevent unnecessary visits to the hospital during the fourth wave of COVID-19, the Ontario government is launching one of the largest flu immunization campaigns in the province’s history, with the flu shot available to all Ontarians starting in November.

“Our government is prepared for flu season and is launching an even larger flu shot program this year to keep Ontarians healthy as we continue to respond to COVID-19,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “It is safe to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot at the same time, so if you’re receiving your flu shot and still have yet to receive a first or second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, now is the time.”

Last year, uptake of the flu vaccine by Ontarians was the highest in recent history. Building on this success, Ontario is investing over $89 million this year to purchase over 7.6 million flu vaccine doses, which is 1.4 million more doses than last year. This includes a total of 1.8 million doses specifically for seniors.

To protect the most vulnerable, Ontario’s initial supply of flu vaccine was prioritized for long-term care home residents and hospital patients beginning in September, and flu shots are now available for seniors and others most at risk for complications from the flu. Starting in November, the flu shot will be available for all Ontarians through doctor and nurse practitioner offices, participating pharmacies, and public health units. To further improve access and convenience to the flu shot and based on demand in recent years, pharmacies will receive approximately 40 per cent of the allocated doses, up from 36 per cent last year.

“The annual flu shot is the best defence against the flu this season,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, Chief Medical Officer of Health. “As we head into the fall and begin gathering indoors more often with family and friends, it is even more important to get your flu shot, in addition to following public health measures, to protect yourself and those around you.”

Each flu season, Ontario receives its supply of flu vaccine in multiple shipments from manufacturers over several months starting in mid- to late September based on the schedule negotiated between the federal government and manufacturers. Distribution and the ability for locations in Ontario to re-order additional supply of flu vaccine are based on the timing of shipments from manufacturers and the replenishment of the provincial supply. Ontarians are encouraged to be patient as it may take time for shipments to arrive to their local flu shot locations.

To help stop the spread this fall, Ontarians should continue to follow COVID-19 public health measures and advice in public settings, including wearing a face covering indoors, frequent handwashing, and maintaining physical distance from those outside their household.

Let’s face it: We live in a world where we are judged by our appearance. Women, especially, are constantly bombarded with unrealistic standards of “beauty” in the media, from magazine covers to TV ads and carefully curated Instagram images.

So, it’s not surprising that people who are obese suffer from a lower sense of self-worth determined by their weight status. A growing body of evidence is showing the toll that obesity can take on mental health. 

A new study in Human Molecular Genetics, using data from  a mental health questionnaire of 145,000 people, found that having a higher body mass index (BMI) increases the likelihood of depression. In fact, obesity and depression have a two-way connection—having obesity appears to cause depression and vice versa. There’s also the fact that many antidepressants list weight gain as a side effect.

This points to the threat of increasing rates of depression in people around the world. Obesity has nearly tripled since 1975, according to the World Health Population. More than 40% of adults with depression are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and depressed children often have a higher BMI than children who aren’t depressed. 

There isn’t just one cause for either depression or obesity. Both can be influenced by social and environmental determinants, such as childhood trauma, abuse, neglect, chronic stress and poverty. And both conditions are risk factors for other health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain and sleep problems.

In terms of prevention strategies, here are 3 strategies to reduce your risk for both depression and obesity:

  1. Keep active

Regular exercise helps release mood enhancing endorphins and  keeps weight in check. However, most depressed people aren’t motivated to exercise. Taking small steps of even just 10 minutes a day can help kickstart a regular exercise routine. 

  1. Seek therapy

Talking to a professional can help address issues such as emotional eating, binge eating and food addictions. For those who are depressed, understanding the causes of their low mood and the available treatments can be helpful. It’s important to process the emotional issues that both obesity and depression can cause.

  1. Have a plan

 If you’ve been diagnosed with either obesity or depression, or both, your health care provider will have provided you with a treatment plan that might include medication, dietary changes, referral to a therapist or other suggestions to manage your condition(s). Doing your best to stick to this plan — and informing your health care provider when you run into difficulties — is your best chance to minimize side effects and complications and put yourself on a path to better health.

The elderly are bearing the brunt of the worst of COVID-19, but children are hurting too. More than 2 million children in the U.S. have tested positive for coronavirus although rates of death and hospitalizations in those under 16 are very low — 0.01% and 0.8%, respectively. Still the long-term effects of the pandemic are expected to have an impact on kids, especially when it comes to obesity.

COVID-19 has kept kids out of school and cooped up indoors during the pandemic. The result? They are moving less, sleeping more, increasingly hooked on their phones and tablets and, in some cases, eating less healthily. Studies show that regular school attendance helps reduce obesity in children since it gives them a regular structure to their day, as well as access to physical education classes and healthy school lunches. 

Not being able to walk or bike to school, to access playgrounds and participate in sports teams and physical education during the pandemic puts kids at risk of obesity. A survey from Dalhousie University’s Healthy Population Institute found that less than 3% of kids were getting the recommended amount of exercise (60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day) for kids aged 5 to 17. 

It’s not just a lack of exercise that’s having a negative effect on kids. A lack of sufficient shut-eye can also be a problem. The pandemic has created havoc with our usual routines but it’s important to have some kind of structure around bedtime.Children ages 5 to 13 should be getting 9 to 11 hours of sleep a night and those ages 14-17 need 8-10 hours.

Another factor that affects the health of kids is the increased amount of time they are spending in front of their screens during the pandemic. Pediatric organizations recommend no more than two hours a day of recreational screen time for children over 2. (If you are finding it difficult to put limits on how much time your children are spending on their devices, know that you aren’t alone).

In addition to the lack of access to healthy school lunches, many families have been negatively financially impacted by the pandemic, and this can result in the kind of food insecurity that leads to the consumption of inexpensive and unhealthy meals. Many families also made fewer grocery shopping trips and increasingly relied on non-perishable foods. Evidence suggests that having multiple convenience stores in a child’s neighbourhood can also have a negative impact on their weight, especially because they are more likely to go to these stores during extended school closures. 

So what can families do to protect their children from the obesity-related risk of COVID-19? Here are a few things to consider;

•Get creative when it comes to movement: Consider activities such as physically-distanced football, shooting hoops together as a family or solo activities such as juggling.

•Keep the idea of balance in mind. Is your child eating healthy, getting some form of exercise every day, doing schoolwork and keeping in touch with friends and family. If the answer is yes, a bit of extra screen time right now likely isn’t a problem.

•Maintain a routine: Try to make sure kids still have some structure — for example, getting up, eating and going to bed around the same time every day.

•Consider that having a family pet, particularly a dog, can help kids cope better during stressful times such as COVID-19. The health benefits of having a pet are well documented, from providing a reason to get out and walk every day to reducing anxiety.

•Manage your own anxiety and consider reducing the consumption of alarming news, especially on TV and radio, when children might overhear upsetting information.

•Reach out for help if you need it. Whether it’s support from family and friends or professional care from a therapist or health care provider, it’s important to recognize your limits and know when to seek assistance with life’s challenges.

As the pandemic wears on, one thing is clear: parental awareness and support can go a long way to keeping children healthy during COVID-19.

Plenty of Canadians have put on pandemic pounds during COVID-19. In fact, according to a study from Dalhousie University, of the 42 per cent who say they’ve gained weight, four in ten report an increase of six to 10 pounds. 

This isn’t good news, especially for midlifers who already struggle with added pounds as they age. Many of them believe that a sluggish metabolism is what’s to blame for their thickening middle. A new report, pooling data from more than 40 studies involving 6,400 participants and published in Science magazine, offers new insights into how our metabolism functions as we get older. 

The report found that metabolism, the process our body uses to convert food to energy, is quite stable throughout adulthood and middle age and doesn’t actually start declining until about age 60.

This might come as a surprise to anyone who has gained weight after age 40, thinking it was due to a slowing metabolism. 

But this isn’t the case. Weight gain can be the result of a myriad of factors, ranging from a change in lifestyle, diet, exercise levels, hormones, a medical condition and even the social determinants of health, such as access to quality health care and economic stability. 

People want to know if there’s anything they can do to increase their metabolism later in life. Some even seek out faddish products, such as caffeine and ephedrine, which are marketed as “metabolism-boosting,” but are not backed by evidence-based research to have any real impact. 

The truth is, metabolism is hard to adjust. The rate at which we change the energy we burn from food is often genetically programmed. It may not be fair, but some people are simply born with a faster metabolism than others.

The factors that control weight gain are tried and true: regular exercise, calorie control, engaging in resistance training, increasing your water and fibre intake, reducing stress, cutting back on sugar and getting plenty of rest. 

If you are concerned about your weight gain, don’t blame your metabolism, which is something over which you have little control. Instead, try to understand why you are adding pounds and figure out a way to create a sustainable weight loss plan that works for you over the long-term. Physicians trained in obesity medicine can help you get to the root of the reasons for the weight gain and determine the lifestyle changes will help you feel and look your best.  

Patients who are battling obesity know that exercise is key to losing weight, but they often aren’t sure whether they should focus on aerobic or muscle strengthening workouts. A new study on resistance exercise and body fat sheds some light on the issue, revealing that lifting weights now will help keep you lighter later.

A new study of 12,000 midlife participants found that those who regularly engage in any kind of muscle-strengthening exercise are far less likely to become obese (regardless of whether they also work out aerobically) than their counterparts who don’t do any weight training at all.

The researchers found that those who did weight training a few times a week for a weekly total of one to two hours were 20-30 percent less likely to become obese in the future. 

There’s no doubt about it. If you want to whittle down your waistline, weights are your friend. They not only help you lose weight, but offer a host of other benefits, from building and maintaining muscle mass, to keeping your bones healthy and boosting metabolism and mood.  

But how do you get started with a weight training regimen if you’ve never used weights before? Especially if you are self-conscious about going to the gym because you are overweight or obese?

Here are a few tips to consider:

•Meet with your health care provider first to determine how best to reach your weight loss goals with weight training and determine if there are any limitations or modifications that may apply to you.

•Investing in some nice workout wear isn’t a necessity but it could make you feel better about exercising. There are plenty of retailers that carry plus-size activewear.

•Start lifting weights at home using free weights, which are inexpensive and versatile. If you want to step it up a notch, a weight bench and a barbell can provide a greater variety of workout options. 

•Follow workout routines online to stay motivated. Here’s a series that offers plus-size positive beginner workouts by an instructor who is on a mission to lose 100 pounds herself. 

•Hiring a personal trainer (in person or online) even for just one session, can be especially effective in helping you learn simple weight bearing exercises and techniques to guide you in creating a routine. 

•Finally, don’t give up on going to the gym. Doing so on a regular basis will help you achieve great results. Gyms have a wide variety of weights that will work all your muscle groups and often offer a sense of community that motivates you to keep coming back.

In science, the journey from a theory to a well-understood fact isn’t always straightforward. It often starts with a hunch – something scientists have noticed but just don’t fully understand yet. That hunch is tested from every angle, again and again. Sometimes for years, sometimes for centuries, until it becomes a model for what’s actually going on. 

For doctors who treat obesity, one of these ever-evolving theories is the “protein leverage hypothesis” or “protein leverage model.” Basically, it argues that appetite isn’t just determined by how much we eat, but by what we eat. We’re hard-wired for protein, and our body doesn’t want to turn that appetite off until it gets enough of it. In other words, when we eat less protein, we tend to eat more of everything else. 

This wasn’t a problem for most of human history. If we didn’t get enough protein, we made up for it with larger quantities of vegetables and grains. But since the 1970s, those protein substitutes have been steadily replaced with over-processed foods high in sugar, carbohydrates, and fats. Not only that, but protein is relatively expensive, while processed foods are not. So in developing areas, this issue can be compounded by poverty. 

To what extent protein leverage has contributed to the obesity epidemic is still unclear. There’s some evidence proving elements of the hypothesis, but nothing that conclusively shows it’s a leading cause. One of the reasons some scientists are skeptical is that the overall percentage of protein in our food supply has risen over the last century. So we’re eating more protein than ever, right?

Kind of. While the overall protein content in our diet has risen, the actual percentage of calories from protein has decreased by 1% due to the even greater rise in available carbohydrates and fats. Researcher Kevin D. Hall recently showed that the 1% decrease actually raises our overall calorie intake significantly. I won’t go into the math here, but his work seems to show that protein leverage may have contributed to as much as a third of the average adult weight gain over recent decades. Of course, it’s not the only contributor. Lifestyle and environment changes play their roles as well. 

What does protein leverage mean for the average person trying to lose weight? Well, it reinforces a fundamental idea: that we should be more mindful of the things we eat. By understanding the sources of our nutrition – especially protein – we may be able to control appetite more effectively. When developing a strategy with your doctor, make sure that healthy sources of protein take center stage. 

As we study the protein leverage model more closely, we’ll understand obesity better. But more importantly, we’ll be able to develop treatment plans that work with our bodies’ natural priorities. By listening to what our bodies tell us, the road to weight loss can be just a little bit easier.