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mindful minute

We are freed and imprisoned by our thoughts


Mark Fontaine

Unhealthy eating concept : Stock Photo

The world is becoming addicted to unhealthy food. Childhood obesity is rampant. We have become slaves to the insidious practices of big food companies. There is a lack of political will to address the problems.

 North Americans have doubled their sugar intake since 1977. There has been an explosion of Type 2 diabetes in the past 30 years. Weight-loss industries are worth billions.

 14-year-olds are getting lap band surgery. The prognosis isn’t good: This is the first generation of kids in two centuries expected to live shorter lives than their parents.

Why isn’t anything being done about it?  Is there collusion between government and big food? Processed food remains cheap and accessible. School nutrition budgets have been slashed. Fast food is served in most schools. Companies dump so much sugar (in so many different forms) into food labeled non-fat or low fat that “healthier” options are often anything but. Attempts to crack down on practices that are clearly harmful to kids are met with accusations of a nanny state.

Exercise campaigns will continue to be massive failures for only addressing half the problem. Few politician have the will to risk of taking on the big money food companies.

Research suggests that sugar may be linked to deadly diseases, but current food labelling regulations make it tough for people to get an easy picture of how much they are consuming. Don’t look for that to change any time soon. Researchers have linked sugar to diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer and Alzheimer’s.

 We have become used to warnings about the dangers of consuming too much fat or salt, nutrition labels on food but labels have never included recommended daily limits for sugar. Sugar industry spokespeople say they see “no need” for a recommended daily limit on sugar intake.

 According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian consumes 26 teaspoons of sugar per day. That works out to 40 kilograms per year, or roughly 100 pounds.

The American Heart Association is suggesting men consume no more than nine teaspoons a day. For women, the recommendation is a maximum of six teaspoons.

 Current food labelling regulation can make it difficult for consumers who want to avoid sugar. Many labels list multiple kinds of sweeteners with different names. For example, honey, barley malt syrup and evaporated cane juice could all be listed separately, even though the human body treats them all as sugar.

 Also, sugar is measured in grams on labels, instead of more consumer friendly teaspoons. For someone trying to keep track of intake, four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon.

 In a can of Coke, there are more than 10 teaspoons of sugar. “Healthy Choice” microwave chicken dinner has 5½ teaspoons.

 Because of the epidemic of obesity in our society today, it has created a new industry of over-sized caskets for people when they die. A company called Goliath Caskets boast widths as much as 52 inches.  No word on how many pallbearers are required.

 You may want to familiarize yourself with food labels and ingredients that are masquerading sugars, or instead, check out Goliath Caskets and make a reservation. I have a feeling their business will be booming.





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Mark Fontaine

The Internet is packed with information about how to be happy. The volume of advice out there can be mind-boggling. Is all that information helping us to become any happier?

What does it really take to lead a happy, meaningful life? The University of California at Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) studies well-being with the goal of fostering a more resilient and compassionate culture. They are using a new online course to educate the public about what it really takes to achieve happiness.

To reach a wider audience this fall, the University will bring a wealth of positive psychology research to the public. They are offering the Science of Happiness MOOC,a massive online open course.
The course emphasizes two main keys to happiness: Strong social ties, and a sense of purpose or connection to the greater good.

Leading thinkers in positive psychology will join as guest-lecturers throughout the course, engaging with topics including mindfulness, compassion and gratitude.

The eight-week course is available to the public free of charge. Nearly 30,000 people have already signed up.

The hope is to help the public to sort through the mass of happiness advice and content available on the Internet, and to give them real, tried-and-true skills that can be applied to everyday life.
There isn’t a philosophical or spiritual layer underneath the content. It is based in neuroscience.

There is no agenda other than giving people more information about what works and what doesn’t work.
The course is more than a bunch of research about how positive emotions affect the brain. The course is designed to be hands-on and experiential. Each week is divided into a topic. Students will dive into the science and research. The week will conclude with a practical exercise to boost well-being.

Students will keep track of their activities and progress through self-reflection and mood evaluation.

You may find that you get much more happiness from your interpersonal connections than from your possessions and privilege. Perhaps this course would provide an opportunity for you to take a step back and notice how your habits and values may be impacting your happiness.

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Mark Fontaine


Are you certain the physician was not in the exam room with you for more than three or four minutes? You’re likely not far off.

The doctor will give you a cursory look and reach for a prescription pad. If you ask a question or protest the prescription of choice you may be cut off.

Patients and physicians feel the time crunch as never before as doctors rush through appointments as if on roller skates. There is a push to see more patients and perform more procedures as doctors are awarded flat or declining reimbursements.

Most primary care doctors’ appointments are scheduled at 15-minute intervals. Some physicians see patients every 11 minutes and have half a dozen examining rooms on the go.

Doctors may have their eyes on the clock rather than the patient.

Short visits take a toll on the doctor-patient relationship. That relationship is the key ingredient of good care. Opportunities for getting patients more actively involved in their own health are missed. There is less of a dialogue between patient and doctor increasing the odds patients will leave the office confused and frustrated.

Shorter visits also increase the likelihood the patient will leave with a prescription for medication, rather than a prescription for behavioral change.

Physicians don’t like to be rushed, but for primary care physicians, time is money. Unlike specialists, they don’t do procedures which generate revenue, but instead, are still paid mostly per visit.

This fee-for-service payment model, rewards doctors who see patients in bulk rather than rewarding doctors for efficacy. Doctors are thinking more about the bottom line and overhead rather than their patients.

The doctor tends to quickly try to identify the chief complaint. The patient is thinking: ‘I’m taking the afternoon off work for this appointment. I’ve waited months for it. I’ve got a list of things to discuss.’

 A study found that doctors let patients speak for only 23 seconds before redirecting them. One in four patients got to finish his or her statement. Doctors often fall short in the listening department. They have a bad habit of interrupting.

 A study in 2001 found primary care patients were interrupted after 12 seconds, if not by the health care provider, then by a beeper or a knock on the door.

Shouldn’t making the patient feel they have been heard be one of the most important elements of doctoring? I have a prescription for doctors–slow down and be mindful. I am confident that both you and your patients will be rewarded.


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Mark Fontaine


A weird dual form of waking consciousness has emerged in our modern world. Many of us struggle nightly with poor sleep and we become chronically tired. At the same time, the excessive stimulation the wired world drives us to feel wired ourselves.

 This is rapidly becoming the new normal. We see wired people everywhere– friends, family, neighbors and co-workers. Insomnia is becoming endemic.

 Many people with insomnia report feeling energized during the day. Yet, they also complain of exhaustion.

 Insomnia is associated with hyperarousal. Do you lead an excessive, turbo-charged life? Racing brain? Rapid heart rate? Feeling flushed or hot? The result is dysfunctional hormonal rhythms which serve to impair sleep and hide daytime sleepiness.

 Hyperarousal pulls us one direction and sleepiness and fatigue pull us in the other. We are stretched by equal forces and going nowhere. Depressing, isn’t it?  We are stuck.

 Modern life overwhelms us with information and entertainment options. It is easy to become addicted to activity and productivity. Walking fast? Talking fast? Speeding?

 We live in a world of neverending motion. Slowing and stopping is discouraged. Has your world world lost its sense of rhythm? The natural world is rhythmic, it is tempered by rest. Things come and they go. Seasons change. Tides rise and fall. The sun rises and sets.

 Have you forgotten how to rest? Have you lost your brakes?  The solution may not be a grand vacation and certainly not inebriation or tranquilizers. As ordinary or boring as it may seem, the prescription for managing the hyperarousal epidemic is learning and regularly practicing true rest.

 Slow down and then stop. Come to a complete stop. True rest is not simply the absence of activity. Cultive a state of serenity. Meditation? Yoga? Deep breathing exercises? Long slow walks in the woods?

 Slow the body and mind. Learn to modulate the velocity of your waking life. Build a bridge to quality sleep and dreams.

 In a world gone crazy with motion, seek to step out of the herd mentality. March to a different drum. Find peace in the rhythms of nature and rediscover your own true nature.


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How do we create more happiness?  Is the key to happiness found in letting go? Are you willing to give up the following 5 things?

1. The habit of blaming. Blaming others does not absolve you of taking responsibility for your own well being. It takes away energy from you moving forward and finding a solution.

2.  The need to impress. Accept who you are. Embrace your flaws, skills and vulnerability. Get comfortable in your own skin.

3. Being a victim.  Bad things happen to good people. Life can be unfair. If you identify as a victim rather than a victor you can not nurture your ability to move beyond unhappiness.

4. Feeling entitled.  If you live your life with the feeling that you are owed things, you will be disappointed. Be grateful for what you have. See positive things as bonuses rather than owed expectations.

5. Pretending. Are you trying to show the world that you are flawless in hopes that you will be liked? There is beauty in our vulnerability. If we are authentic, we open ourselves for a true connection with others.

Deciding what not to do may be more important than deciding what to do. In an age of excess everything, can we add value to our lives by subtracting? If you find yourself already overburdened, stressed and miserable, loosen those white knuckles and let go. You have a lot to lose. And, that may be a good thing.  

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Mark Fontaine

Are you overfed and undernourished? Most people in North America are nutritionally deficient.

It is a mistake is to think that if you eat a lot of calories, your diet delivers the nutrients your body needs.  The average diet is too energy dense (too many calories) but nutrient poor (not enough vitamins and minerals).  These “empty calories” confuse the metabolism and pack on pounds.

Processed food is less nutritious. It is stuffed with high fructose corn syrup, refined flours and trans fats. These foods are inexpensive and convenient. Our grandparents wouldn’t recognize most of the foods filling the aisles of our grocery stores today. Most store bought foods today are laced with chemicals, such as nitrates, used to process and preserve.

Soil is being depleted. Industrial farming is depleting the nutrients in farmland. Most vegetables harvested today have fewer nutrients than those just two generations ago. Because foods contain fewer nutrients, the servings we do eat don’t deliver as much nutrition as before. Fewer nutrients lowers immunity and increases vulnerability to chronic disease and obesity. If your body doesn’t get the right nutrition, it asks for more food. This creates a cycle of craving, eating more, getting fatter, but still not feeling satisfied and craving more.

Refining kills nutrients. Foods are stripped of their nutrients during the refining process. A primary example is wheat.  Refining whole wheat flour into white reduces the fiber by 80 percent and reduces essential minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients. Food manufacturers sometimes add synthetic versions of the most important vitamins and minerals back into food and call the food “enriched.” Beware of “enriched foods” because theses products have been stripped in the first place.

How can I get more nutrient-rich calories?

  • Eat more organic plant-based foods: Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains They are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, fiber, and essential fatty acids. These foods eliminate many triggers of chronic illness, such as saturated fat, trans fat, sugar and toxic food additives.
  • Use healthy plant-based fats: extra-virgin olive oil, flax, nuts, and seeds.
  • Eat modest amounts of lean animal protein: fish, turkey, chicken or wild game.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
  • Food is your best medicine. Whole foods have nutrients that work synergistically to optimize your health. They reduce inflammation, boost detoxification, balance hormones, and provide powerful antioxidant protection.  If you choose to eat mindfully, you can repair the underlying causes of disease.


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 Written By: Mark Fontaine

You know who they are. They surround you. People who drain all the positive energy out of you. They have an insatiable hunger for negativity. They leave drained, exhausted, and unhappy people in their wake. They can make our lives miserable if we don’t have strategies to deal with them.

How can you spot these people?

They are intrusive.

They don’t respect personal boundaries.

They are overly critical of everyone and everything.

They are chronic whiners and complainers.

They are argumentative.

They are demanding.

They have a sense of entitlement.

They are unable to accept personal responsibility.

Don’t allow their problems to become yours. Here are 3 strategies to slay Energy Vampires.

 1. Identify them early. Their quirkiness may intrigue you. Their gossip, hard luck stories and dramatics may entertain you. Pay close attention to your instincts and your physical reactions after your encounters. Are you experiencing muscle tension, loss of energy, headaches, irritability, sadness, or negativity?

2. Limit your contact.  Now that you’ve identified them, limit the amount of time you allow them. Set firm limits. You should start off conversations with, “I only have a few minutes before I have to [fill in the blank].”  Once the time has expired, disengage.

3. Don’t get pulled in.  You may be tempted to fix their problems. You won’t. Negative people will resist your help or create new crises in their lives. Resist offering solutions. You may choose to say, ” I’m confident that you’ll be able to find the solution on your own”.  Excuse yourself and walk away. Be firm in a gentle and empathic way.

Positive energy is a precious commodity. It’s not something you should willingly give up. You can choose to keep a positive attitude by surrounding yourself with positive people who leave you feeling upbeat and energized.

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