If you would have told me that one day I would be in an abusive relationship—and that I would choose to stay in it for over two years—my feisty, smart, strong, opinionated, kickboxing self would never have believed you. But I think it took me so long to get out because I didn’t feel like I fit a stereotypical “abused woman” image. Even though I was dragged, hit, choked, publicly humiliated, raped and threatened with death multiple times, I didn’t see myself as abused; I didn’t think I could be abused.

My relationship with Collin (names have been changed) started when I was just 18. We met at college where I was going to school and I thought he was too. Our relationship didn’t start out violent. In fact, it was a fairytale—and would turn out to be just as fictitious. Collin was everything I’d ever wanted in a partner and since I didn’t have a lot of relationship or life experience at that point in my life it was easy for him to shape himself into my fantasy. He took me to fancy dinners and on long walks down the beach. We talked about everything until dawn. We spent every spare minute together. I was head over heels in love and after just a few months I’d even mentally decided he was the one I wanted to marry.

Friends and family seemed wary of him, particularly of our age difference, but I thought they were just jealous. I had found true love at 18. Some people were just lucky like that.

(Related: 12 Things Most People Don’t Realize About Domestic Violence)

I should have listened

Their concerns were well-founded. Unfortunately, it was all too easy to ignore them—something Collin encouraged by making it harder and harder to spend time with them. For instance, when I went home for Thanksgiving break he drove six hours to my parents’ home and insisted I leave right before dinner started. I went with him because he’d driven so far and said it was a crisis. When I discovered the “crisis” was just that he was bored and lonely and I insisted on going back, he took my car keys so I couldn’t leave. It was only then I noticed that he’d insisted on going to a spot in the mountains where there was no cell phone reception.

He didn’t allow me to go home until after midnight and my family was panicking since they hadn’t heard from me. I was embarrassed and upset but I didn’t want to look dumb so I told them his grandmother had died, an excuse that seemed appropriate at the time. Still, I thought it was kind of romantic that I was the only person in the world who truly understood him (as he had told me), so I brushed it off.

From there things escalated, but at an incremental pace. He was always pushing me just a little farther, emotionally and physically. It was so subtle at first that I hardly noticed how far past my original boundaries I’d gone. Yet I kept making excuses for him, rationalizing his behavior. Maybe I hadn’t been clear enough? Maybe he just needed more attention right now?

Then one night it got really physical. We’d had an argument earlier in the day and I’d felt a tenseness in the air even though he didn’t say anything about it. Once we were alone, he unleashed his anger on me, choking and then sexually assaulting me. I cried. Yet when he finished, his finger marks still red on my neck, he had a violent reaction—but in the opposite direction. He seemed even more upset than I was, crying and shaking until I found myself comforting him. He kept repeating, “Look what you made me do!” It was one of the strangest nights of my life and I felt like I couldn’t trust my own perceptions. So I believed his.

The abuse continued to get worse

As the abuse escalated and I began to see patterns, I would put myself in them. He told me horrible things so many times that I started repeating them myself: I was the crazy one. I was the one with out-of-control emotions. I asked too much. I wasn’t pretty enough. It was all my fault. I deserved to be hurt and humiliated. If I could just be better this wouldn’t keep happening to me.

To an outsider, this must sound insane. And it is. I’d lost touch with my reality because he’d so completely supplanted mine with his twisted version.

After a couple of years of this treatment, it really did feel normal. My self-esteem was non-existent. He told me no one would ever love me besides him. And I believed it. Then he told me he would kill me. And I believed that too. I didn’t think there was any way out for me, I was in too deep and had made too many mistakes. I knew that I was going to die young and it would be at his hands. I was so sure of it, I even made a box with pictures, journals, and other evidence of what he’d done to me. I sealed it with a note to my family telling them good-bye and how sorry I was—not so they could catch him, just so they’d have some closure.

And that might have been how my story ended. Except then he proposed. As I stared at the ring on my finger, I remember thinking that this should be the happiest moment of my life but all I felt was numb. That weekend I drove home to show my mom. Her reaction floored me. She went ballistic, crying and telling me that she just couldn’t stand by and watch this happen anymore. She didn’t even know the half of it but she knew enough to know I was in danger. I remember her crying and telling me she would send me to another country, change my name, whatever it took to get me away from him, but I wouldn’t be going back to school and I certainly wouldn’t be going back to him. She took the ring and my phone and as I lay in my childhood bed, far away from his reach, things finally started to make sense and I realized my mom was right.

How I ended up leaving him is another story. It wasn’t easy but I did it and I now have a wonderful, happy life. Yet every time I hear people talk about women in domestic violence situations—in the news or rumors about real-life acquaintances—it takes me right back to that dark place. I always hear people ask “Why doesn’t she just leave?” That question, and the carefree way people ask it, always chills me.

I know why women don’t leave abusive situations

First, because it’s not just that easy. Abusers make sure of that. There are many big reasons women don’t leave their abusers: Financial dependency, threats against children or other loved ones, nowhere else to go, and physical isolation. But there are so many smaller reasons too: The gradual shift from trusting their version of events more than your own, the social isolation from anyone who could provide a dose of reality, the constant belittling and undermining—and, yes, the lingering feelings of love.

After all, he was kind, funny, and charming more often than he was the monster who hurt me. Who was I to say I deserved more?

He had groomed me so well that the erosion of boundaries and my sense of self happened so subtly that I barely questioned it. For me, there was also a keen embarrassment of becoming a person I never thought I could be. I felt weak and dumb, ugly and scared, out of control of my life, and if I admitted the truth of my situation, then I was accepting that I really was those bad things.

And that’s what people who’ve never been in an abusive relationship can’t understand. You become a different person, one that’s more the abuser than yourself. That may be the cruelest thing my ex did to me, stripping me of my sense of self and everything precious to me until all that was left in my life was him and, therefore, without him I would have no life.

I’ve been through many years of therapy since leaving Collin. It took me at least a year to finally be able to untangle these thoughts and to see them for the lies and manipulations they were. I remember sitting in my therapist’s office one day, looking through the pictures from my farewell box, and seeing the deep bruises, bloodied clothes, and tear-stained pages. I studied them like I was reading a sad news story that happened to a stranger far away. She looked at them and cried. I watched her cry and for the first time, I began to feel sympathy for that poor, young, vulnerable girl who was so hurt. That girl who was me. I had shed many tears during and about that relationship but that afternoon was the first time I cried for me. That was the moment I finally truly left that relationship for good.

Leaving an abusive relationship takes time and effort. So instead of asking women “Why don’t you leave?” perhaps we should simply be asking, “How can I help you?” If you or someone you know is in a crisis situation, use Shelter Safe’s resources to find a domestic violence phone line for your province or territory, or search for a service that can help.

Next, 15 Signs That Your Relationship Could Turn Abusive

Over the last two years, many of us (myself included) have had a rough time emotionally and financially. Setting goals for the new year doesn’t feel as exciting as it used to because we’re still in survival mode, and there are still many unknowns. However, making plans, regardless of how much uncertainty you confront, is a helpful way to stay motivated. But, you also need to build in some flexibility. That’s why I’m setting intentions this year, instead of goals. By setting an intention, I can be both accountable to a financial target and compassionate with myself when things inevitably shift.

Every intention should be both financially savvy and emotionally satisfying, says Shannon Lee Simmons, the founder of the New School of Finance, an advice-only financial planning firm. “Not one or the other.” And whether you want to buy new clothes, treat yourself to a bucket-list vacation or save, you need to put healthy financial intentions into action. Here’s how.

(Related: I Had $1.11 in Savings. Here’s How I Improved My Relationship With Money)

Focus on conscious spending for financial wellness

Conscious spending refers to the practice of knowing or deciding exactly how and where you will spend your money based on your core beliefs and values. To identify them, ask yourself: What is the most important thing to me? Why? What brings me happiness and gives me purpose? Find the central theme and use it as a framework for all your spending decisions.

It’s important because you can buy things online within seconds, without even looking at the price, which can lead to a surprisingly big credit card bill. To counter this, Simmons believes one of the most important things you can do to feel more in control of your money is to remove your credit cards from shopping sites and apps on your phone. “Manually entering it every time is crucial because it allows your brain time to process what is happening,” she says. “Because you have to physically take out a credit card and punch in the digits, you’re more aware that you spent money.”

Ultimately, conscious spending is about making a decision that you’re going to feel proud of later on.

Not sure where to start? Pull up the last few transactions you made in 2021 and reflect on whether they match your values and priorities. This will help you set clear financial objectives for the new year.

(Related: How to Save Money, Depending on Your Current Pandemic Situation)

Implement micro habits

Rather than focus on aggressive financial goals, like saving 15 percent of your salary for retirement or putting aside a year’s worth of costs in an emergency fund, try to start with small actions that will result in changes in your behaviour over time.

Also known as micro habits, these minor, manageable actions are so simple they can be completed in under two minutes. For example, set a waiting period between wanting something and buying it. “Put a 24-hour embargo on anything that you’re considering purchasing,” says Simmons.

You can also try the HALT technique: before you buy something, ask yourself, Am I spending because I’m hungry, angry, lonely or tired? When faced with a challenge, stress or any other emotional trigger, you may turn to spending for comfort—consciously or unconsciously.

Develop financial boundaries

Even amid the country’s worst public health crisis, money was cited as the top source of stress for over one-thirds of Canadians (38 percent)—more than personal health (26 percent) or employment (20 percent) or relationships (20 percent), according to the 2021 Financial Stress Index survey. That’s why it’s more important than ever to prioritize financial wellness. Creating boundaries is a vital first step.“Pre-COVID, people got stressed out about how much they were expected to spend,” says Simmons. “And I believe that one of the lessons we can take away from all of this is that you don’t have to say yes to everything.”

It’s easy to go overboard during the holidays, for example, so try setting spending limits with loved ones to avoid debt and overspending. Don’t forget to set appropriate boundaries for yourself, too, which will help you make room to say yes to things that truly bring you joy, she says.

Change is difficult. As a result, self-compassion is another crucial component of financial well-being. Using an intention-based approach to setting your goals for 2022, whether you achieve them or not, is a gentler, more empathetic way to make change or help an idea come to fruition. So, let’s move forward with intention. Whatever financial objective you have in mind, you can achieve it.

Next, How to Feel Better About Your Financial Situation, According to an Expert

Not enough rice to make for your guests or family? Have a mishmash of assorted grains—some rice here, some farro there—hanging out in the back of your pantry? Here’s the answer—a great risotto recipe you make with rice, farro, barley, or whatever grains you have!

(Related: Transform Your Roast Chicken Leftovers With This Easy Recipe)

The Great Risotto

Uses up grains, vegetables, stock, Parmesan rinds 

Serves 4 

Total Time: 20 minutes 

Keeps for up to 5 days in the fridge. Risotto will get dry in the fridge, so when reheating n the stovetop, stir in a splash of water, stock, wine or even a tab of butter.

Can substitute vegetables with uncooked finely chopped hardy greens or spinach, just add at the end of cooking time and cook until wilted through.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups Vegetable, Poultry, or Meat Stock
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion or 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1–2 Tbsp chopped fresh or 1–2 tsp dried herbs, e.g., thyme, sage, or parsley stems
  • 1 cup mixed grains, rinsed
  • 1 Parmesan rind (optional)
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ cup chopped celery leaves and tops
  • 1 cup cooked vegetables (see substitutions)
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, to taste

(Recipe: These Newfoundland-Style Fish Cakes Are the Ultimate Comfort Food)

Instructions

  1. In a medium-size saucepot, bring the stock to a simmer and then set aside on a back burner to keep warm.
  2. In a medium-size saucepot over medium heat, add the oil and sauté the onion and garlic until translucent, being careful not to burn the garlic, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the white wine and allow it to reduce until almost dry, about 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in the herbs, grains, Parmesan rind, if using, and the salt and Let the oil coat the grains. Sauté for about 2 minutes.
  5. Ladle in 1 cup of the hot stock and let simmer and reduce until the bottom of the pot is no longer very wet, stirring occasionally.
  6. Ladle in more stock and continue to cook, stirring occasionally so the grains do not stick to the As the liquid at the bottom is absorbed, keep adding more until the grains are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the celery and cooked veggies. Remove the Parmesan rind. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  7. Sprinkle with the grated cheese and serve immediately.

What to do with leftover risotto

Turn risotto into cheesy baked risotto balls. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet. Place the leftover risotto in a bowl, add some grated cheese, and roll into golf-ball-size balls. Dip each ball in beaten egg, roll in Breadcrumbs (page 182), and bake until golden-brown, about 20 minutes.

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Excerpted from Cook More, Waste Less by Christine Tizzard Copyright © 2021 Christine Tizzard. Photography © Reena Newman. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Next: 10 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Food Waste in the Kitchen

Food waste is a serious problem. In Canada, the average household spends $1,766 on uneaten food each year. But that’s not the only problem: Food that isn’t eaten ends up in landfills and creates methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.

Below is an excerpt from Cook More, Waste Less, where author Christine Tizzard shares ten ways to cut down on food waste in your home.

First in, first out

This is one of the first rules you learn in chef school: Eat what was bought earliest and has the shortest shelf life remaining. In other words, most perishable foods get eaten first.

Revive bendy vegetables

Firm up limp veggies like celery or broccoli in a five-minute cold water bath.

Rethink overcooked vegetables

Don’t despair if you overcook carrots—overly soft vegetables make for an easy and tasty mash or purée.

Get soup-ing and sauce-ing

Leftover vegetables make great soups and sauces. Just blend them with a cup of a liquid, like coconut milk, along with some stock and a little seasoning.

Peeling is overrated

Edible thin peels like on potatoes really just need a good scrub. And you can add more fibre and nutrients to your diet by leaving these on.

Think big picture

Use the overlooked tops, stems, peels, skins and rinds of fruits and vegetable, too.

Re-crisp stale chips and crackers

Pop stale snacks like chips and crackers in your oven at 350°F for a few minutes until toasty to bring back their crunch.

Save the bones

Gather up leftover bones and store them in a container in the freezer until you have enough to make a big batch of stock. Why toss such a valuable source of essential amino acids, minerals and collagen?

Utilize fat

Store leftover bacon fat or pan drippings in a sealed container in your fridge for use throughout the week. Bacon fat or schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) can be used instead of oil or butter.

Plan your portions

Knowing how much to buy and cook can be daunting, but it goes a long way to reduce waste. There are many free online portion planning tools and other helpful resources, such as from Love Food Hate Waste Canada.

Cover

Excerpted from Cook More, Waste Less by Christine Tizzard Copyright © 2021 Christine Tizzard. Photography © Reena Newman. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Next: 12 Fresh Foods You Should Never Store Together

Last holiday season, vaccines were just starting to roll out. This season, will it be antiviral pills?

Two antiviral drugs—that can be taken as pills at home—recently made headlines for significantly reducing hospitalizations when given in the early stages of COVID-19 infections.

Until now, most COVID treatments were only available to people sick enough to require hospital admission or an oxygen tank. But all this could change with COVID-19 antiviral pills that may soon be available to Canadians.

In the COVID-19 pill race, Merck and Pfizer are the current frontrunners. Merck’s pill, molnupiravir, has already been authorized for use in adults in the U.K. In October, Merck also signed an agreement to share the formula for molnupiravir, allowing 105 low- and middle-income countries to manufacture and distribute the oral COVID-19 antiviral pill.

In early November, Pfizer released promising preliminary results for its pill, Paxlovid, an antiviral that works in combination with another drug called ritonavir. Pfizer also recently signed a deal with the United Nations that will allow drug companies in 95 countries to produce and distribute their antiviral. According to the press release, this deal could make Pfizer’s pill—which, as of now, has not been authorized for use anywhere—available to approximately 53 percent of the world’s population.

Working on the frontlines of the pandemic as an internal medicine physician in Toronto, I’ve seen the excitement around these drugs and heard from Canadians wondering how these COVID-19 treatment pills work, if they’re safe and when they might be available in Canada. The information is still evolving, but here is what we know so far.

How do antiviral COVID-19 medications work? 

Generally speaking, viruses are tricky to treat because they hijack host cells and then use them to replicate. The problem is, it’s hard to interfere with the virus without harming human cells in the process. Viruses also mutate very quickly, making antiviral treatments less effective overtime. That’s why it’s much more likely you have been prescribed an antibiotic, but not an antiviral.

Antiviral drugs are generally not entirely new or even COVID specific. Merck’s pill, molnupiravir was originally developed to treat influenza. The antiviral treatment is a nucleoside analog drug, meaning it inserts errors into COVID’s genetic code, disrupting its ability to replicate. Theoretically, it only disrupts the virus’ RNA, leaving the DNA of human cells alone.

The Pfizer pill, Paxlovid, is a protease inhibitor—similar to drugs used to treat HIV and hepatitis C. It blocks an enzyme that the virus needs to multiply, but does not disrupt the genetic code of the virus. It is taken in combination with ritonavir, an older HIV drug that helps the Pfizer pill remain in the body longer.

Who could the Pfizer pills and Merck pills help? 

In their trials, both Pfizer and Merck enrolled unvaccinated adults with COVID-19 who had at least one risk factor for severe illness, like advanced age or a pre-existing health conditions. As a result, these antivirals are currently intended for adults who are in the early stages of COVID-19 (within five days or less of symptom onset) with mild to moderate symptoms and who are well enough to remain home, but at risk of deteriorating and needing hospitalization.

These antiviral pills are currently being studied in different patient groups, like vaccinated patients, and in different contexts, like for post exposure prophylaxis. Depending on the results, the drug may be offered to more people in the near future.

(Related: Lessons From The Pandemic: How I Learned to Prepare For The Unknown

It’s early, but do we know how well these COVID pills work? 

For both the Pfizer pill and the Merck pill, preliminary results appear really promising for treating early COVID-19 and keeping patients out of hospital. Especially considering we currently don’t have any other options for treating early COVID-19.

Pfizer’s preliminary results showed a reduction of 89 percent in hospitalization compared to placebo when taken within three days of getting symptoms. Molnupiravir reduced hospitalization in at-risk patients by 50 percent when given within five days of the onset of symptoms. No deaths occurred in the treatment groups of both trials.

Though it’s tempting to compare the two drugs, it’s important to remember the different designs and timing of the Pfizer and Merck trials make head-to-head comparisons imprecise. Also, these results are specifically relevant for unvaccinated, high-risk patients. Anyone who was vaccinated, low risk or exposed without a proven infection was excluded from these trials. Anyone who was sick enough to need hospitalization was also excluded. So while these drugs show immense promise, these results are not applicable to everyone.

Are these COVID treatments safe?

Both Merck and Pfizer have reported minimal side effects, but neither has released detailed data to confirm these results.

That said, both drugs have features that limit who can safely take them.

Molnupiravir makes changes to the viral RNA. Even though human cells have DNA, there is some concern that molnupiravir could cause mutations in human DNA. If this occurs during fetal development, there is a potential risk of birth defects. Pregnant and breastfeeding women were excluded from the Merck trial. When authorizing the use of molnupiravir, U.K. health officials recommended it not be used in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Ritonavir, the drug given together with Paxlovid, has many possible drug-drug interactions and could interfere with many heart disease, pain and immune modulating medications. But because antiviral drug regimens are only five days, working around some of these drug interactions may be possible.

Are there any additional barriers?

These drugs work if they are given within days of developing symptoms. This might be a challenge to do in our existing system. Canada needs to ramp up access to testing and have accessible pathways to get a prescription for these drugs to work in a real-world setting.

Cost is a potential barrier. Because this is an outpatient medication, it might not be covered. For instance, a course of molnupiravir costs over $700 USD in the U.S.

Will these treatments work against COVID variants? Could the virus become resistant?

Theoretically, these drugs should be effective against known coronavirus variants. Merck has indicated that molnupiravir is effective against the delta variant. Researchers still need to demonstrate that these drugs will work against future variants.

Drug resistance is a common problem. In HIV, a combination of antivirals is used to combat resistance. We may need a similar strategy with COVID antivirals. Researchers will need to look closely at individuals who don’t respond to the drug and those who are immunocompromised to better understand if resistance is a major concern.

(Related: What You Need to Know About COVID Variants in Canada

Are COVID pills available in Canada? 

There are no current oral antiviral formulations approved in Canada. Merck’s Health Canada request for approval is still under review. Pfizer has yet to submit requests to Health Canada or the FDA.

Remdesivir, an intravenous antiviral, is approved for use in Canada but is generally for sicker patients that are hospitalized.

With the COVID-19 pill race speeding up, do people still need to get vaccinated? 

YES!

This antiviral COVID pill is not a substitute for vaccination. Vaccines prevent infection from happening in the first place and can stop or slow transmission. Because of this, immunization remains our most important defence.

These pills also don’t remove the need for other proven and effective public health measures, like masking, social distancing and ensuring adequate ventilation in indoor spaces.

Antiviral pills, as they have been studied so far, are given to prevent severe illness after someone has already contracted COVID. Where this would have the biggest impact is in the treatment of unvaccinated people. If we truly can prevent them from being hospitalized, we can conserve health care system resources and avoid delaying care or shutting down services for non-COVID patients. COVID pills are also a potential game changer for the large parts of the world that have minimal vaccine coverage.

So, while antiviral pills will hopefully be available to Canadians soon, it’s important to remember that these COVID treatments are not miracle cures. Instead, Pfizer and Merck’s pills could be a nice complement to vaccines and an important tool in our larger toolbox of COVID-19 defense.

Dr. Seema Marwaha is a general internal medicine physician in Toronto and an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Medicine. She is also the editor-in-chief of Healthy Debate.

Next: Could Protection from COVID Soon Be Available Through a Nasal Spray?

Seasonal affective disorder, commonly known as SAD, is a type of depression that affects people in the winter months. Most of us feel energetic and cheerful when the sun is shining and subdued and less active in the winter months. But seasonal affective disorder is more severe than this. Some people are unable to hold down a job in winter because of lethargy, tiredness and poor concentration; relationships often break down because the sufferer becomes irritable and unloving. Some people cannot function at all in winter without treatment.

Who is at risk for SAD?

Between October and April, a growing number of people have symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, and a further 20 percent have a milder version known popularly as the “winter blues.” It can begin at any age but is most common between the ages of 18 and 30. Symptoms disappear in spring, either suddenly (with a bout of hyperactivity) or gradually.

Seasonal affective disorder is caused by lack of light. In winter, there are fewer hours of daylight and the light is much less intense. This can mean that insufficient light gets to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which controls the important bodily functions of sleep, appetite, temperature, sex drive, mood and activity. For people with SAD, these functions slow down and become reduced.

Symptoms of SAD

People with seasonal affective disorder often have a low immune system in the winter and get regular colds, infections and other illnesses. To be diagnosed with the disorder you must have had three years of winter symptoms, including some of the following:

  • Sleepiness during the day or oversleeping;
  • Lack of energy for normal routine;
  • Overeating and putting on weight;
  • Feeling low; sometimes helplessness and despair;
  • Unwillingness to see people or to socialize;
  • Anxiety, tension and irritability;
  • Lack of interest in sex or physical contact.

Treatment for SAD

Light therapy

Bright light treatment helps 85 percent of people diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder. It means spending up to four hours a day exposed to very bright light, or full-spectrum light which mimics natural sunlight and is ten times the intensity of domestic lighting. Light boxes that produce this light can be bought commercially. (Here are the best light therapy lamps on Amazon.)

Medications

Another option is antidepressant drugs and supplements. Newer antidepressants, such as Lustral and Prozac, can help people with severe seasonal affective disorder, and can be combined with light treatment.

Alternative Therapies

The medicinal herb St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is now a popular treatment for depression, and may also help people with seasonal affective disorder. It should not be taken with conventional antidepressants.

Living with SAD

If you’re living with SAD, it’s best to see your doctor. But here are a few quick tips to help you take control:

  • Make the most of any available daylight: go for a walk at midday in winter; decorate your home in light colours.
  • Simplify your life in winter; leave big upheavals until the summer.
  • Take a holiday in January or February.

Source: Adapted from Family Medical Adviser, Reader’s Digest

Next, check out the depression-fighting foods that may help fight SAD.

Roasted chestnuts are one of my favourite treats during the winter holiday season. Growing up, I loved the ritual of shelling and sharing them with my family, and of course their rich, buttery taste. Now, I also appreciate their nutritional punch.

Chestnuts come from the sweet chestnut tree and were first cultivated in the Mediterranean 3,000 years ago. They grow in a prickly green casing called a burr, which splits open and falls from the tree once its ripe. The season for chestnuts is relatively short, from October through December. Scoop them up while you can!

(Related: The Real Health Benefits of Eating Poppy Seeds)

Health benefits of chestnuts

Chestnuts have a creamy texture, but are approximately 40 percent water, so they’re lower in fat and calories than other nuts, such as almonds or walnuts. They’re chock-full of complex carbohydrates and fibre, which keep you feeling full and provide a stable supply of energy throughout the day, helping to prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes

One serving (about ¼ cup) contains about 20 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin C and 25 percent of your recommended copper intake. Vitamin C and copper are antioxidants and support the body’s production of collagen, an essential for healthy joints and skin. Both keep your immune system strong and help fight off infections.

How to prepare and use chestnuts

You can include chestnuts in savoury and sweet recipes, and the best preparation method depends on the type of dish you’re making. For salads, snacks, and stuffing, keep the chestnuts dry by roasting them. For soups and purées, boiling is best, so the chestnuts are softer and easier to blend. Use a knife to score an ‘x’ on both ends of the chestnuts before boiling or roasting (this will prevent them from exploding during cooking). When the ‘x’ pops open, the chestnuts are done, and the hard, outer shell and membrane can easily be removed.

Chestnuts provide rich flavour and texture to bread stuffing for meat and poultry roasts; or, pop them in the oven alongside vegetables like Brussels sprouts to breathe new life into standard side dishes. They are starchier than other nuts, so they have thickening power, which helps to add creaminess to soups and purées.
On the sweeter side, look for crème de marrons, a classic French spread made from ground chestnuts and sweetened with sugar. Try it on toast or crepes or add it to steamed milk to create a festive spin on a latté.

(Related: You’re Going to Want to Get Pomegranates Right Now)

What to look for when buying chestnuts

Look for glossy shells and give them a shake — if they rattle, they’ve dried out. Chestnuts perish quickly but will last up to one week in the fridge.

Fresh chestnuts have the best texture and flavour but shelling them can take a while. If you’re pressed for time, the pre-roasted, shelled, and vacuum-packed varieties work well. These are also great for snacking. Canned chestnuts work, too, but drain and dry them thoroughly before using in cooking.

Don’t miss your chance to do more than sing about this wintertime gem — no open fire required!

Laura Jeha is a Registered Dietitian, nutrition counsellor, recipe developer and food writer living in Toronto. Find out more at ahealthyappetite.ca.

Next: Ths is the perfect cookbook for stressful times.

It can be hard to stay motivated and active in the colder months, especially when the pandemic has forced many of us to exercise at home. In the Before Times, I loved going to IRL fitness classes—I’ve tried everything from Yin Yoga to Pound (a cardio workout where you pretend to be a drummer in a rock band; I highly recommend it). When COVID forced me to turn a 2 by 2 metre section of my living room into my home gym, my activity level dropped exponentially. So, when I got the chance to try MIRROR, a fitness brand and product now owned by Lululemon, I jumped at the chance.

MIRROR launched earlier this year in the States, and the product (and its app) is arriving in Canada on November 22 this year. Marketed as a “nearly invisible, smart home gym,” MIRROR is part-normal mirror, part-TV screen, and nothing like other at-home gym options as it takes up zero floor space—you can hang it up or lean it against a wall. Plus, while a spin bike stays a spin bike (or, something to toss dirty laundry on) MIRROR is just a normal mirror whenever you aren’t working out with it making it a functional option for people with small living spaces. However, the price is sky-high: the normal base price of the device is $1895, then you pay $49 monthly for access to classes. For comparison, the basic Peloton and an all-access membership for its app costs the same.

(Related: Can Apple Fitness+ Change Your At-Home Workout Game?)

I tried MIRROR at the Lululemon store on Queen Street West in Toronto, and it looked like something straight out of Black Mirror. Through its sleek, thin screen, I could see both my own reflection and a scrolling display of workout classes and community-member chatter. I also noticed that there was a camera in the device, which can be turned on for live classes so the instructor can see you. Thankfully, MIRROR comes with a camera cover (so it can’t creepily watch me sleep—my deep-seated personal fear).

Once I started working out, the sci-fi-ness faded into the back of my mind. The mobile app that accompanies and controls MIRROR is similar to the Nike app, and asks for a bunch of personal details (age, skill level, goals and any limitations you have, like injuries). It will then offer workout modifications at the bottom left corner of the screen to make the class more appropriate to you. Plus, as you use MIRROR, it will start to suggest classes based on your preferences as it gets to know you (okay, this part is VERY Black Mirror). You can also connect any Bluetooth fitness tracker, like your Apple Watch or FitBit, so it can measure your heart rate and calories burnt.

MIRROR’s catalogue of classes is massive, with 50 different categories including yoga, dance, cardio, Tai Chi, pre- and postnatal workouts, ballet, Pilates and more. Classes range from five to 60 minutes, and you can choose from four difficulty levels, many of which can be done with no equipment (though some do incorporate kettlebells and weights).

(Related: I Need You to Know: Fitness Is Not One Size Fits All)

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On top of the on-demand classes, MIRROR members can join live classes. If you choose to turn your camera on, your instruction can see you and shout you out. Or, if you love competition, you can join a Competitive Class where you earn points when you hit your target heart rate. And, if you crave one-on-one time, MIRROR also offers personal training sessions at $50 a pop.

For my demo, I decided to try a 15-minute cardio class. I twisted my ankle the weekend prior, so I picked a class that didn’t include jumps or other injury-aggravating moves—info that the class description gave me right off the bat, which I appreciated. Despite choosing “level 1,” an absolute beginner class, it immediately got my heart pumping and glutes burning (no jumps meant lots of side lunges).

I thought that I’d be self-consciously peering at myself during the whole workout, but instead I found it intuitive to concentrate on the instructor and wasn’t at all distracted by my out-of-focus reflection during the peak of the class. When I moved on to the cooldown (a 15-minute slow, restorative Yin yoga flow class) though, I did catch myself watching my reflection instead of connecting to my breath.

Despite how sleek (and admittedly, cool) MIRROR is, my favourite part of the product has nothing to do with the hardware itself. I absolutely loved the accompanying app—the huge variety of classes, how much you could modify and customize workouts and the trainers’ great energy. I think I could’ve gotten an equally good workout with the app’s video playing over my TV. At this time, however, users without the hardware won’t be able to stream MIRROR classes on their TV through their Apple TV, Chromecast or other streaming devices.

That being said, when compared to other similarly priced fitness gadgets like a Peloton, MIRROR is a much more compact device with way more class options to pick from—giving it an edge over comparable workout systems. In an ideal world, I’d download the MIRROR app and broadcast it to my Apple TV to get the best of MIRROR without the Black Mirror vibes.

Lululemon MIRROR, $1895, launches November 22

Next: 4 Stretches to Improve Range of Motion as You Age

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Breathe easy?

The average adult takes about 20,000 breaths per day. That’s 20,000 opportunities to breathe in the contaminants that pollute our air. According to the EPA, pollutants are three to five times more powerful inside than out. On top of that, Health Canada reports that we Canadians spend 90% of our time indoors – and even more in winter. And as we seal the cold air out, we’re also sealing in bacteria, viruses, mould, pet hair, unseemly odours and more. But that’s not all!

Let’s talk microparticles.

The air may look clean, but microparticles like dust, mite debris, pollen – even powdered sugar – are 99% invisible to the eye. What’s more? They can make up a whopping 99% of the air we breathe! So, with temperatures dropping, and winter looming, it’s time for a gentle reminder to filter the air we breathe as best we can – with a trusted brand like Filtrete™.

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The indoor air effect.

There are considerable health risks that come with simply breathing indoors. The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCDC) reports that poor indoor air quality has numerous side effects, including headaches, tiredness, coughing, sneezing, sinus congestion, shortness of breath, dizziness and nausea. It can irritate the skin, eyes, nose or throat. It can cause allergy and asthma symptoms to get worse. Think of it this way – the smaller the microparticle, the harder it is to capture, and the longer it stays in your lungs.

(Air)quality control.

So how do you take change of indoor air quality? The BCDC lists a number of ways to improve air quality at home, but at the top of the list? Control the sources (vacuum regularly, mitigate dampness, and don’t burn incense or smoke inside), improve ventilation and, importantly, change those air filters regularly. Needless to say, not all air filters are created the same, and it’s key to find a brand you can count on. Enter 3M’s Filtrete™ filters, which have improved the air quality of millions of homes in the company’s 25-year history. Indeed, in its whopping quarter-century-long lifespan, Filtrete™ Filters have leveraged leading engineering and innovation to keep homes safe, in effect becoming one of the most trusted indoor filtration brands on the market today.

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It’s down to science.

What’s so great about Filtrete™ Filters? The science is simple but powerful. Designed to capture airborne allergens, Filtrete™ Filters use proprietary electrostatic charges to attract and trap those microscopic particles. They’re like magnets for mould, pet hair, dust, mite debris, bacteria and more. They trap microparticles in as air flows through.

Pick your filter.

When shopping for Filtrete™ Filters, looks for the proprietary Microparticle Rating (MPR rating) to pick a filter that suits your family’s needs. With specialized filters that target allergens, odours, smoke, pet hair and dander, and even viruses and bacteria, Filtrete™ Filters makes it easy to choose. Simply log onto Filtrete.ca, click on your biggest concerns, and find the filter that suits you.

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Air, purified.

To amp up your line of defence against particles, microparticles and more, consider an air purifier. Filtrete™ Brand’s new line of Room Air Purifiers are fitted with a True HEPA Filter, which can help capture 99.97% of particles both micro and major – making it among the most powerful on the market. Of course, even air purifiers need their filters changed regularly. So how can you stay on top of it?

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Filter maintenance.

There aren’t hard and fast rules about how often you should change your air filter – it comes down to use and lifestyle. Factors like pets, number of people and smoke all affect your changing schedule, but luckily, Filtrete™ Filters have an app for that. Customized to your lifestyle, Filtrete™ Smart App can track your filter life, remind you when it’s time for a new one, and even provide tips and tricks to help you manage your indoor air to keep you breathing easy all winter – and year! – long.

At the end of a busy and stressful spring, Christine Beard developed what she thought was a tension headache. Instead of subsiding after a visit to her chiropractor, the pain intensified in her right eyebrow, and spread to her forehead and scalp on that side of her face. Her family doctor told her to monitor the pain and come back if it got worse.

Not only did the pain increase, Beard developed a bump the size of a Cadbury mini egg on her eyebrow. She rushed to urgent care, but the doctor sent her home without answers. When the bump started to crack open and reveal an angry red rash, the 44-year-old finally received a diagnosis from a different urgent care physician: she had shingles. Beard was given antivirals to minimize the spread and told to self-isolate until the rash subsided. 

The diagnosis doesn’t surprise Beard, a pastry chef instructor at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. 

“Basically, shingles pops up when you’re stressed, and COVID changes in your lifestyle alone stresses you out,” says Beard. Prior to getting sick, she had weathered an entire year teaching under restrictive COVID conditions. She was also physically exhausted from trying to counter the stress with 100-km bike rides and 20-km hikes. “I was worn out.” 

Shingles in Canada seems to be on the rise

Like sleepless nights and hair loss, getting shingles looks to be another knock-on effect of living under chronic stress during the pandemic.

I can relate—I developed shingles on my left inner thigh in September 2020, when I was 49, likely due to the nervous anticipation of sending my kids back to school (with the vaccine still months away from reality) after a summer of zero breaks from them. I was the third case of shingles the doctor at the walk-in clinic had seen that day. 

“Shingles seems to be more rampant this year than previous years,” says Dr. Craig Jenne, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the University of Calgary. 

Data isn’t available on the percentage of increase in shingles cases in Canada over the course of the pandemic, but anecdotally, Jenne is hearing a lot more about it from colleagues commenting on the number of cases they’ve seen. And it makes sense given the nature of the virus that causes it. 

Shingles typically presents as an itchy, tingly or painful skin rash with blisters on one side of the body, usually the trunk or face. It’s caused by a reactivation of the varicella zoster virus,  the same virus that gives you chicken pox, so anyone who experienced that childhood illness is susceptible. Basically, after you recover from chicken pox the virus never entirely leaves your body—it goes dormant and lives in your nerves, kept in check by a healthy immune system. It’s like a ticking time bomb, waiting for the right combination of immune distress (or high stress!) to resurface as shingles. 

“Shingles is very much a disease that activates or re-activates if the patient’s immune system begins to fade, and the principal cause of that in most people is things such as stress,” says Jenne. “So if you get stressed, we know that suppresses your immune system and that allows the shingles virus to reactivate.”

(Related: The “Other” Virus That’s Putting Those 50+ at Risk

Decline in shingles vaccines

Adults over age 50 are more susceptible to developing shingles (our immune systems weaken naturally as we age), which is why a shingles vaccine is available to that group. 

But fewer Canadians are getting routine vaccinations during the pandemic, which is another factor that could be playing into shingles’ prevalence—an estimated four million adults in Canada have missed or delayed shots during COVID, according to a poll conducted by the Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada. What’s more, internal market data shared by GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures the Shingrix vaccine for shingles, suggests a 22 percent decline in shingles vaccinations in Canada from Sept. 2019 to Sept. 2020, worsening to a 30 percent decline by Sept. 2021. 

Though the majority of shingles cases appear in older Canadians, younger adults can get it, too, especially when shouldering the worries of the world—and juggling our work and personal life from home—like we’ve all been doing since March 2020. 

It’s not run-of-the-mill stress that triggers it, either, Jenne clarifies. “We’re talking prolonged stress that’s amplified by things such as dysregulated sleep, perhaps diet changes,” he says. Not to mention the closed gyms and spas that have made it that much harder to de-stress these past 20 months. 

(Related: COVID-19 Vaccines Are Vital—And So Are These

How to protect against shingles

For Kelowna entrepreneur Jules Taschereau, the onset of both bouts of her ophthalmic shingles was undeniably stress-related. Taschereau, the proprietor of Limey, The British Shop, owns and runs three businesses and works 100-hour weeks. On top of that, Taschereau and her fiancé had to postpone their wedding five times during the pandemic due to gathering and event restrictions. 

“It was brutal. It was stress beyond what you’d expect,” she says. “Living in a pandemic has pushed people over the edge.” 

Taschereau’s second round of shingles this fall was so painful—even the weight of her hair hanging from her head hurt—that the 48-year-old does not want to get it a third time and plans to get vaccinated as soon as she turns 50. 

For those under 50, the best advice for keeping shingles at bay is to keep stress levels down. Get enough sleep. Exercise. Eat a balanced diet. 

“That’s the same advice we’re giving people to avoid colds and flus,” says Jenne. “If you’re stressed and overtired, all sorts of infections can take advantage of that.” 

Beard has taken that advice to heart. Since recovering from shingles in the summer, she’s made a conscious effort to slow down.

“I’m not as busy as before and I’m saying no to a lot more things,” says Beard. “It’s really important to take care of yourself.”

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