Canadian Kids

So the Standing Committee on Health (HESA)...not sure how that acronym fits, but I will go with it...has released a report saying that Canadian kids are fat and getting fatter. You can read the press release here, or download the report here.

Good news that the feds are realizing that we need to do something drastic about our kids health or they will be the first generation in a while that will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

Bad news that parents of obese kids don't even realize that their kids are obese. A total of 26% of Canadian kids are overweight or obese. Only 9% of parents of children between 2 and 18 years old identified their children as being overweight or obese.

Other troubling things identified in the report:

-adolescents spend an average of 35 hours per week in front of a screen;
-only one third of parents report participation in active games with their kids;
-less than one in five kids has daily physical education in school;
-sugary drinks are estimated to be responsible for half a kilogram of weight gain per month in adolescents (NOTE: 'Sports Drinks' like Gatorade, Powerade and the like are 'sugary drinks');
-60% of Canadian children aged 2-17 yrs consumed fruits and veggies less than 5 times per day;
-First Nations and Inuit children are getting up to 40% of their calories from sugar, fat, highly refined grains and junk food and less than 10% from traditional foods.

There are many reasons cited for these facts...

-low income was considered to be the largest barrier to participation in both unorganized and organized sports;
-as education levels increase, so does health status;
-strong, cohesive communities play a significant role in combatting childhood obesity;
-people who live in 'walkable' communities are 2.4 times more likely to get the recommended amount of physical activity;
- a basket of groceries in Kugaaruk, Nunavut costs $327 weekly, an amount double that of Edmonton;
-some population groups are biologically more susceptible to obesity-related health conditions;
-access to a range of health services (outside the traditional health sphere) is essential. Nutritionists and dieticians are important on the nutrition side and 'physical educator specialists' are important on the physical activity side;
-boys are more active than girls.

Needless to say, we have our work cut out for us.

I hope that you follow this blog over the coming months as we endeavour to make a difference in the one place where we have the most control, our own family.

By ditching our car, we plan to incorporate what I call 'authentic exercise' into our daily existence. If we need to get somewhere, we need to actually expend energy to get there.

On the nutrition side of the equation, we have been beginning to practice what Sans Auto calls 'intuitive eating'.


Balancing life...on two wheels.

On Sunday, April 1, I will drive Kelly's folks to the Nagoya Airport for their flight home. During that trip, I will pay about $55 in tolls over about 200 km.

When I get home, we will park the car. We are quitting. Cold turkey.

Maybe April Fools Day is appropriate for such a venture. I am sure there are many who will call us fools; or at least think us fools.

Maybe we aren't so bright in doing this as we head into the rainy season. It really rains here in June. I know that there are plenty of places that get more rain, but coming from Calgary, the rain here is plenty abundant. The main difference is that it will often be pouring rain and 30 degrees outside. That makes for miserable riding.

This is a project that will continue when we get back home this summer. Once there, we will be dealing with the heat and then the cold; oh, and readjusting to life in the western hemisphere.

I hope you will follow our journey, both here, and practically as we try to balance our lives on two wheels.


Well, ya!

From the CBC.

So, what now?

Our “extended Sabbath” in Japan, as Colin put it, allowed us to step back and evaluate our lives.

What were we doing wrong?

What needs to change…permanently.

What do we want our lives to look like?

So, what WERE we doing wrong? We seemed to be on the right track with our cute little nuclear family with the boy and the girl, mom at home intentionally to be with the kids, and dad not at all, cuz he was busy “providing”. We had a nice new little house and a brand new car that took us everywhere we wanted to go, including church on Sundays. How could anything be wrong? If Hammy (from Over the Hedge ) had licked us, he would’ve exclaimed, “Mmmmmmmmm! Tastes Shiny!”

But, something was wrong. The suburbs were slowly killing us. "Keeping up with the Jones’" didn’t seem to be such a great idea...not that we ever thought it was, yet somehow that's what we ended up doing.

So we left.


We thought relocating to a different country would be a good experience…at least, that is what we always heard. Turns out its true! Not any easy experience, but good. We got to step outside our lives and re-evaluate.

After we arrived in Japan and as I slowed down, I realized that there was an extreme lack of movement in my life. Sounds like a paradox, doesn’t it? But, I am not talking about busy-ness. I had been plenty busy with lots of little part-time jobs to help make ends meet: teaching piano, sitting at my computer as an administrative assistant, selling Pampered Chef, being “at home” with my kids who were pre-school age etc. You know, “life”. You have it, too. When I did go places, I walked from my house to the car and then from my car to my destination where I sat down again or walked at a snail’s pace (shopping with kids for example). My dedicated workout routine was raising a white flag of surrender to the utter lack of movement usurping the rest of my existence. How do I know? My pant size.

Another realization was how much we ate. Often times I felt like a giant ogre in Japan. Granted, Japanese people are generally small and thin…but they are that way for a reason! I was shocked at how little they generally ate. The portion sizes are WAY smaller than in the West. Some people may argue that the Japanese have a healthy diet of fish and rice and soybean-everything (ever tried Natto?), so that is why they are smaller. But I have seen how they LOVE fatty meat and greasy sauces and they have aisles and aisles of junk food in their stores. What gives? One reason may be their portion sizes. BUT, this is not a thesis on Japanese nutrition. This is about ME! (Isn’t it always?)

Okham`s Razor states that the simplest answer to a problem is probably the correct one.

I am bigger than the average Japanese person. When I eat, my portions are bigger than the average Japanese person’s portions. Hmmmmmm.

As we adapted to life in another country, we made a lot of changes. For example, before we left Canada, we sold our cute little home with all our nice new appliances. One of those was a huge refrigerator. I mean, we could fit six 4-litre jugs of milk on the middle shelf and the shelf still wasn’t full! It was a beauty! We could stock up. I only had to go shopping once every 2 weeks. And then I would bring home the mother-load.

When the 4 of us got to Japan, this strange foreign land where we were instantly illiterate and everything seemed turned around (culture shock), our fridge was the same height as our counter, and the only vehicle we had was a little mama bike with a basket on the front!

Now, obviously, that wasn’t sustainable, and eventually we upgraded the fridge and got a car. But the “new-to-us” fridge was still only a third of the size of the one back home (and a lovely avocado, 1970’s kind of green, I might add!).

The point is, we were forced to pare down in Japan; eat less, shop more often, and go shopping on foot or by bike. At first this was torture and seemingly Bohemian! But over time, we came to realize these were actually good things! We felt great, we were eating way more fresh food (but less over all) and we were spending time together.

A new idea also started to dawn on us:

The car had kept us from living the lives we wanted to live.


Background Info

Something had to give...and it did.

As I mentioned before, we have been living in Japan since July 2005. One of the things that has been confirmed for us over and over again is that our lifestyle back home was unsustainable.

We read a book called `Making Room for Life` which outlines a plan for taking back control of your life. We were living in far too many `circles`.

The author uses the idea of circles to illustrate how fragmented our lives are. In our case, we had a neighbourhood circle, a school circle, church, family, recreation and work. We had too many things going on in too many different places.

Think of a spider. Spiders generally spin themselves a web and wait for someone to drop in for dinner. A spider with too many webs will be working far too hard to get any extra benefit from the increased number of webs. He will miss opportunities, his webs will fall into disrepair, he will be expending too much energy and his health will fail.

We were living with too many webs, so we started to decline other people`s requests for our time and energy and life improved. Soon, however, things started to pile up again, because now we had time. The cycle was killing us.

During our time here in Japan we have realized that the Great Enabler of all these webs is something that we all feel that we have a need to own. Without this enabler, we would not be able to make it to meetings, we would live much more locally, we would have to eat healthy food, we would save about $500 per month.

Most families own one of these enablers. Many families own two or three.

Ours was a 2004 Saturn Ion.


The Project!

The main focus of this blog was initially to document our experiences here in Japan. Now, as we incorporate what we have learned along the way and make our plans for heading home, we are changing the focus somewhat.

The whole Cultural Vertigo theme still stands. We have been told to expect the reverse culture shock to be more significant than the shock of moving here. Having been away for two years has changed us. We will not simply be stepping back into our old lives.

The changes are not only cultural, they go much deeper than learning to live in another culture. The biggest changes have been in the realm of ideas.
Before we get into that, some background for those who are less familiar with us.

I suppose that we are pretty average, at least we think that we are. We are a family of 4. My wife and I were married in 1995 and we have two kids, born in `97 and`99.

We are both university graduates, Kelly earned her degree in music, I studied phys.ed. the first time around and education the second.

The seeds for this blog were planted sometime between 2003 and 2004.

Back then, I was doing what was expected of me.
It was killing me.

I was a teacher at a small private high school in Calgary, AB, a city that was rapidly approaching a million residents.

Those of you who are teachers know that a rookie teacher in a small, private high school with limited resources is going to be a jack of all trades. That was certainly the case for me.

I taught 7 completely different and topically unrelated subjects I was in charge of the PE Department I was Athletic Director responsible for the Digital Media program which the administration seemed to think put me in charge of maintaining a network of 30 computers running Windows ME from the beginning of September until the end of October I coached volleyball 3 nights a week after volleyball finished I started coaching basketball 3 nights a week until the end of March I did all this and more for a salary that was about 60% of what I would be earning for half the work in a public school.

My life was worse than a run-on sentence.

Add to that, a wife and two kids at home, involvement in a church where the pastor was a workaholic and didn't know when he was asking too much, meetings, home groups...blah blah blah. I think you get the picture.

It was killing me.

For two years, we kept telling ourselves "Something has got to give! We can't keep living like this." While we told ourselves to slow down, things kept piling up.

Then in May of 2005, something gave.

My wife was accepted into the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (www.jetprogramme.org). We sorted our 'stuff' into four categories: throw away, give away, put into storage and take with us. The 'throw away' category was quite likely the largest (aside from the piano). People thought we were nuts.

We sold our house and car and landed in Japan in July of 2005.

The last year and a half has been a sigh, an extended Sabbath.

We have finally learned that moving slowly is ok, that we can live with a whole lot less 'stuff' than we thought before, that living with less stuff is actually a precursor to being more alive.

I gave up a whole lot of stuff to come here, but I gained far more.

I gained time with my wife and kids. I gained perspective. I am relaxed. I have enough. I have time to read and learn. I have time to ride my bike, throw a Frisbee, fly a kite, build a model tank, take pictures, go bowling and just hang out with friends.

The stuff that I gave up was ultimately worthless. What I gained was priceless.


Quirks and Quarks

Yesterday, Linea suggested that I have a listen to a recent episode of Quirks and Quarks about this topic of obesity. You can download it here. The February 17, 2007 is the relevant episode.

The basic premise of this particular episode is that there is more to the obesity crisis than the simplistic energy balance equation.

The host, Bob McDonald talks to and about researchers who are positing other causes for obesity. One researcher started questioning the energy balance equation when he noticed that there was a study done where lean inmates were fed up to 8000 calories per day and only gained a small amount of weight. I think the average weight of the inmates at the beginning of the study was 150 lbs and they gained about 20% more weight in 6 months and ended at 180. (That seems to me to be a significant increase)

This was compared to a study of morbidly obese women who weighed an average of 360 lbs, ate a drastically reduced-calorie diet and only lost a little weight.

One alternate explanation offered is that the ratios of two different bacteria in the human gut has something to do with how certain individuals are able to process nutrients. If the ratios are just so, then the person will be able to extract more energy from the food eaten compared with someone with different ratios. This seems plausible to me.

Another alternate offered is that there is a virus that can cause obesity. It was first discovered in chickens who died of this virus and had excess abdominal fat.

These researchers are smarter than me (which is amazing, really) and so I will give them a certain deference, although I don`t think that these alternate theories change my assertion at all.

If a person consumes more calories than they burn, they will gain weight.

This is supported by fundamental laws of physics which state that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change form or be converted into matter.

What it does point out is that some people are a whole lot better at consuming (maybe that should be processing or digesting) calories than others and are therefore more likely to have a positive energy balance.

My thinking is that people who are negatively affected by these situations are likely in the minority and that the majority of cases of obesity can be attributed to too much food going in and not enough energy going out.

I would love to hear your thoughts, Linea...



You may have heard all of the hullaballoo about this recent study comparing various diets that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. If not, here is one of many articles written in response.

Here are my thoughts.

The weight losses reported were rather modest, which is good. Too many people have ridiculous expectations when it comes to weight loss. If you are losing any more than about a half-kg per week, you are likely setting yourself up for failure.

In this particular study, people following the Atkins diet plan lost the most weight. You might as well say that people who followed the Atkins diet lost the most hair. It might be true, but it is irrelevant.

Not once in any of the articles that I have read (maybe I should read the study...later) have I seen any discussion about changes in body composition. The Atkins diet does promote weight loss...here is how in a very small nutshell.

Atkins requires that dieters eat very little carbohydrate so as to kick start the body into burning fat for fuel. As a result, the dieter`s stored carbohydrate (in the form of glycogen) is consumed. The thing about glycogen is that it is stored along with a whole bunch of water. When the glycogen is consumed, the water is excreted and the dieter loses weight. This is not lost fat, it is lost water that will be replaced very quickly when the dieter falls off the wagon.

What this study highlights for me is that diets ALWAYS fail.

These women were provided with a tremendous amount of support in the form of reminder phone calls, emails and even cash to get them to stick to the diet. And they still flunked out. The reason that diets always fail is that people always fall off the wagon.

Sure the ads show you the exceptional people who have lost weight and kept it off, but the ads always say `Results not typical`. Would you buy a car based on an advertisement showing a family surviving a car crash because of all the safety equipment if the ad also stated `results not typical`?

There is only one way to lose fat. You must burn more calories than you consume.

There are three keys to burning more calories than you consume.
1. Eat a well-balanced diet focussing on fresh fruit and veggies and whole grains.
2. Get 30 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise everyday.
3. Preserve your muscle mass through regular strength training.

I will expand on these three keys later.


Thanks LA!

My sister has used my previous post to talk about education. It is worth a read.

After you read it, why not use the same template to critique something else on your blog?

Possible topics include


Fitness Centres

I spent the better part of 3 years working in various fitness centres in Western Canada, and I must say that I would lump many fitness centres into the "Diet and Weight-Loss Industry". I have become rather cynical about this massive money-making scheme. I wrote an article about it a while ago on my other site.

If I ignore the whole bait and switch tactic of weight loss vs. fat loss that the typical fitness centre uses to take your money away, there are still some things that I really don't like about fitness centres.

The first thing I don't like is how often they don't provide what their clients need, or are looking for. I agree that there is a significant chunk of people who really like going to the gym and do so habitually, thats great. What I don't like is the oodles of people who show up at fitness centres all over the continent (I suppose they are fitness centers in the USA) during the first couple weeks of January, plunk down a whack of cash for a year or two's membership, go through the motions of 'working out' for two or three weeks, then disappear. Some even last a full six weeks before they drop out. Usually, they don't (or can't) get out of their contract with the fitness centre and end up paying the monthly dues for the full year or two of their contract. This is bad.

Another reason I don't like fitness centres is that they give the impression that somebody needs to spend a whack of cash to be active. This is not true! Many of these places have all the lastest and greatest new machines from Hammer Strength or LifeFitness or Nautilus or whatever. Guess what, your muscles can't tell the difference between brands of weight equipment. In fact, you can get the best workout from the cheapest of apparati...find a potato sack and fill it with sand, get creative.

Also, fitness centres contribute to a fractured lifestyle. 'Working out' becomes something that you do away from home and family. Maybe that can be a good thing, but the last thing many of us need is more committments away from our homes.

Those are just a few problems I see with fitness centres. What do I propose as a solution? I like to think of Authentic Exercise.

Authentic Exercise is exercise that you get while you are primarily doing something else. Do you need to get to work? Walk or ride your bike, that is exercise that has a specific purpose in itself, it doesn't require you to go somewhere to do something to get a workout, it is a workout.

Do you need to sit at a desk? Buy yourself a physio ball.
That way, you are in a dynamic situation where your core muscles are active when you are simply sitting. Another advantage is that when you sit on a ball, you move, you bounce around. That means that your spine moves around. That is a good thing.


New links

Down The Road

This couple has been cycling around the world for the last 5 years. They have a huge website with pics from their travels through North, Central and South America, Asia, Australia and now Tasmania.

Support these guys, buy their book, use their links to buy from Amazon...

Globe Squatters

A young couple from Tasmania has just embarked on a year-long trip around the world.


Cheese Fondue

Kelly is off galavanting in Hida this weekend so I am on double duty for a day or so. It is well-known around our house that sans-Kelly, things tend to fall apart. That is testament to how cool my wife is.

I did pretty good this weekend, though. The breakfast dishes are done, laundry brought in from outside, folded, put away, replaced with wet stuff from the washer which was replaced with dirty stuff. The kids are finishing their homework, the vaccuuming is done and bathroom mostly cleaned. AND the kids still like me, although there was some sans-Mommy angst this morning before everybody was fed and watered.

The weather is gorgeous! As of about an hour ago the current temp was 18 C, sunny and a slight breeze.

With that kinda weather, the kids were outside for a good chunk of yesterday.

I think Selah's friend Konomi thought that Selah might have to go hungry with Kelly gone because she arranged to have the three of us invited over to her house for supper last night. I am not sure who initiated the invite, but it seemed genuine, so I gladly accepted.

We had a cheese fondue like no other I have experienced. We had the typical bread to dunk in the gooey, artery-clogging goodness. That was nothing revolutionary. Some things were a little out of the ordinary...like wieners, and shrimp, and octopus tentacles (suckers included). It was followed up with an ice-cream cake in honour of Hina Matsuri (Girls Festival). Oh, and there was also some home-made plum wine on hand...oishikata! The wine reminded me of ice-wine from the Okanagan. It was very sweet and fortunately tempered by some club soda.

I am very interested in the typical Japanese diet and its relation to the size of Japanese people. The meal that we had last night was horribly full of saturated fat. Back home, people would have had to roll themselves away from the table. Here, very few people overeat.

The dinner plates have something to do with it. They are about the size of a typical tea saucer that most North Americans are used to.

The picture below is one of the high-quality, expensive cuts of beef that you can get here. This is Hida Beef, the good stuff. Click on the picture and you will be able to see that this cut is 319 grams and it will set you back 3126 yen, 980 yen per 100 grams. That translates into about $31 CAD.

Many North Americans would think nothing of eating this steak alone in one sitting. Here, it would likely feed a typical family of 6 or 7 people, including Grandma and Grandpa.

Maybe North Americans need to re-think how much they eat...