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Anxiety is a funny thing – we all experience it, and many have suggested that it has its roots in evolution.  Back in the hunting and gathering days, we had to be alert for any signs of predators lurking around, and our sense of anxiety would signal us to flee the area or prepare for a fight.

Today, as a human race we still experience anxiety on a daily basis, even in the absence of dangerous predators.  As humans, we have a tendency to want to protect ourselves from danger, but in some instances, that perception of danger can be a little bit off.  Anxiety typically leads to avoidance – the hunter doesn’t hunt north of the forest because he knows there’s a large family of lions that lives there.  Similarly, we often try to avoid situations that are dangerous to us.  However, at times, rather than avoiding dangerous situations, we simply end up avoiding unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  But at what cost?  Think back to the last time that you avoided an uncomfortable situation, and what the consequences of that situation were.  Sure, you maybe got to avoid the unpleasant sensation of fear associated with getting on a roller coaster, but perhaps you missed out on a fun day with family and friends.  Sometimes the consequences are even more dire, such as when we avoid applying to our dream job because we’re anxious about the interview process.  What sort of long-term implications are there to something like that?  They could be huge.


Edward A. Selby, Ph.D., wrote an interesting article for Psychology Today outlining the potential costs to our avoidance behaviours.  In it, Selby explains that sometimes these avoidance behaviours can lead to serious costs, such as missing out on important and fulfilling events.  He further suggests that facing some of our fears and anxiety can often enhance our quality of life and, over time, decrease our anxiety levels overall.  Click here to read more.


Selby, E.  (2010, May 4).  Avoidance of Anxiety as Self-Sabotage: How Running Away Can Bite You in the Behind.  Retrieved from 


I’m sure we have all had those moments of craving something sweet or salty or savoury.  It feels like nothing would pleasure us more than satisfying that urge to indulge in what we may be craving in that moment.  Whether it’s a reward, a treat for ourselves, or a way of coping when we may be feeling stressed or down, it’s often quite a powerful sensation and urge that may at times be difficult to simply ignore.

The problem with cravings is if we buy into them too often, they can take over our daily diet.  The more we engage in those cravings, the more likely you are to find that you start to gain weight, realize you aren’t eating the nutritious diet you should be, and then secondary problems with mood, like guilt or shame, may arise.

Due to mindfulness’ popularity and our curiosity about the benefits it can provide, it did not surprise me to find that research has been undertaken to see the advantages it can provide to many areas of our life, including eating.  Through my own research I have found information relating to the benefits of mindfulness in not only effectively reducing food cravings, but also helping to lose weight and find space from troublesome thoughts.

“The results showed that participants in the experimental group reported significantly lower cravings for food after the intervention compared to the control group.  The findings are discussed in terms of possible mechanisms like prevention of goal frustration, disengagement of obsessive thinking and reduction of automatic relations between urge and reaction” (Alberts et al., 2010).

Check out this full article, to see all the details about what researchers have to say about using mindfulness to decrease food cravings.

Because of our expertise in Mindfulness and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), as you may have noticed from previous posts, we have created an ACT for Mindful Eating course to help you work through eating related challenges, including cravings!  For more information about our ACT for Mindful Eating course that starts this September, please contact Michelle Urbanc at 905-317-8890 or by email at today!


Alberts, H. et al.  (2010, March 23).  Coping with food cravings.  Investigating the potential of a mindfulness-based intervention.  Appetite, 2010 (199). DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2010.05.044


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that uses a combination of strategies to foster psychological flexibility including, mindfulness, acceptance, commitment, and behaviour change.  Rather than the focus being on ridding oneself of ‘negative’ internal or external content (i.e. thoughts, feelings, emotions, pain), ACT focuses on inviting individuals to be open to experiencing all that life has to offer us, whether pleasant or unpleasant, and to learn how to move towards the people and things that are meaningful to us, particularly in the presence of challenges.

The way we see ACT is not only as a type of therapy used in a wide variety of clinical settings for a wide range of clinical diagnoses, but also as a way of life, that each of us at JMA have adopted.  Our work at JMA is broad and so using a type of therapy that is also very broad is quite fitting.  We have been able to incorporate components of ACT into each and every one of our services, and have seen plenty of success in doing so.

In September 2017, we will be launching our ACT for Mindful Eating course which uses components of ACT to address the challenges and barriers that typically come into play in other weight loss initiatives (i.e. dieting, counting calories, restricting).  In preparation for the launch of our course we have been exploring what researchers studying ACT’s role on weight control and eating behaviour have discovered.  We came across research that revealed that ACT has shown favourable outcomes for long-term weight control outcomes.

“At 3-month follow-up, ACT participants had lost an additional 1.6% of their body weight, whereas the control group gained .3% and overall a significantly higher proportion of the ACT participants had maintained or lost weight.  The ACT group also showed significant improvements in quality of life and reductions in psychological distress and self-stigma” (Lillis et al., 2009).

Check out this full article, to see what these researchers have to say about using ACT independently or in combination with Standard Behavioural Treatment for weight control:

For more information about our ACT for Mindful Eating course please contact Michelle Urbanc at 905-317-8890 or by email at


Lillis, J. and Kendra, K. (2014). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for weight control: Model, evidence, and future directions. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 3(1), 1–7


Statistics Canada says close to a third of Canadian kids under 17 are overweight or obese.  The rising prevalence of overweight and obesity in several countries has been described as a global pandemic.  In 2010, overweight and obesity were estimated to cause 3.4 million deaths, 4% of years of life lost, and 4% of disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) worldwide.  Data from studies in the USA have suggested that, unabated, the rise in obesity could lead to future falls in life expectancy.  Concern about the health risks associated with rising obesity has become nearly universal; member states of WHO introduced a voluntary target to stop the rise in obesity by 2025, and widespread calls have been made for regular monitoring of changes in the prevalence of overweight and obesity in all populations[1].body-image

It is more apparent than ever that losing weight is not an achievable goal for the majority of people.  As incredible as it sounds, that’s what the evidence is showing.  For psychologist Traci Mann, who has spent 20 years running an eating lab at the University of Minnesota, the evidence is clear.  “It couldn’t be easier to see”, she says; “long-term weight loss happens to only the smallest minority of people”.  Traci Mann’s research on long term weight loss shows that on average, dieters only maintain a 1 kilogram weight loss over two years.

One solution would be to prevent weight gain in the first place.  “An appropriate rebalancing of the primal needs of humans with food availability is essential”, University of Oxford epidemiologist Klim McPherson wrote in The Lancet[2].  But to do that, he suggested, “would entail curtailing many aspects of production and marketing for food industries”.  As necessary as this may be, it is certainly not a “quick fix” solution.

Have you ever dieted?  Did you lose weight?  Did you gain it back?  Why are we obsessed about doing something that has been proven over and over again to not work?  There is an alternate approach, and believe it or not, it has been around for at least 35 years.

The SHAPE (Strategies for Healthful and Pleasurable Eating) Eating Control Program was developed by Dr. Arthur Cott and his colleagues at the Behavioural Medicine Unit (BMU), St. Joseph’s Hospital, Hamilton, Ontario, in the early 1980’s.  Dr. Cott’s approach utilized the scientific evidence in the learning theory literature to design a comprehensive educational program for individuals who felt fat, wanted to lose weight and were fed up with the numerous diets, both mainstream and fad, that they had unsuccessfully endured.  I was privileged to be one of those who worked with Dr. Cott and would like to share his wisdom with you.

The SHAPE Program was a 24 week course that combined both lectures and small group tutorials.  The students in the course ranged in age from 16 years to 70 years.  Both males and females paid a hefty registration fee to attend this course which was taught at locations in Hamilton, Toronto, Kitchener and St. Catharines over a 10 year period.  The lectures were delivered by Psychologists from the BMU, including Dr. Arthur Cott, Dr. Harvey Anchel and Dr. Richard Marlin.  The tutorials were led by Behavioural Therapists who had been trained and

specialized in the application of cognitive behavioural therapy for chronic somatic and mental health conditions as well as behavioural issues, such as eating control.  Again, I was fortunate to have been a tutorial leader and eventually, the Manager of the SHAPE Program.

weight-loss-weight-gain-signRecently, I decided to investigate the current scientific literature regarding behavioural approaches to eating control and weight regulation.  I discovered the work of Dr. Brian Wansink, (Ph.D. Stanford 1990) who is the John Dyson Endowed Chair in the Applied Economics and Management Department at Cornell University, where he directs the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.  He is the lead author of over 100 academic articles and books on eating behaviour.  Kelly D. Brownell, Yale University, has hailed Dr. Wansink as “the Sherlock Holmes of food”.

Clearly, Dr. Brownell had never met Dr. Cott.  I very quickly discovered that Dr. Cott’s approach from 35 years ago is just as relevant today as it was back then.  I had always believed that this approach was remarkable in its interpretation and implementation of science.  Now I know that it has survived the test of time.  Dr. Cott’s approach was truly ahead of its time.

At one point, the SHAPE program was featured in one of our Canadian magazines which resulted in an overwhelming response from readers across Canada who wanted to participate in the program.  To meet this need, those of us at the BMU at the time, made a decision to develop a “correspondence course” version of the program.  Being the pack rat that I am, I am extremely fortunate to have a copy of the course content developed by the BMU and I would like to start sharing it with you now.  This is the first of a 4 part series (check out our blog each week to find the rest!).


Believe it or not, even though many people think they have a weight problem, weight is not really the problem.  Look at the following examples.  All of these people thought they had a weight problem.  Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Maryanne is a 41-year old, full-time health care professional, married with 2 school-age children.  She’s been fat and she’s been skinny.  She has waged a constant battle over the last 10 years in her attempts to control her body weight.  She has tried low-fat diets, low-carb diets and counting calories.  Maryanne has struggled with frustration from Scarsdale to Pritikin to Beverly Hills Diets.  Some of them worked… for a while.  “I lost 44 lbs in 6 weeks and I’ve put it all back on” comments Maryanne.

Bill is 48 years old, married with 3 grown children, all of whom are living away from home.  The nature of his occupation, a senior manager in the steel industry, requires him to make several business trips a year and to attend numerous business functions, usually all associated with eating.  The impetus for Bill to do something about his weight had come from his family physician who had been treating him for the past year for elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels.  Bill had been monitored for 12 months as he attempted to stay on a prescribed diet, which included very few of his favourite foods.  Bill was discouraged and fed up with the ‘diet’, but still concerned about potentially serious health problems.

Elizabeth had dieted for at least 25 of her 30 years, attending every kind of group dedicated to losing weight.  She knows she’s fat while others claim she’s skinny.  She claims to have lost “at least 1000 lbs” and spent hundreds of dollars on diets.  For the past 2 years she has successfully maintained her weight at 120 lbs.  At 5’3” tall, Elizabeth appears to be a ‘normal weight’ person.  Elizabeth describes herself as ‘fat’.  She believes that her primary goal is to lose weight and listed her ideal weight as 110 lbs.

Each of these three people has one or more of the following problems:

  • “I feel fat!”
  • “I just look at banana splits and donuts and gain weight”
  • “I am always hungry”
  • “eating desserts makes me feel guilty, but when I don’t, I feel deprived”
  • “nothing seems to fit”
  • “I must be addicted to food. Once I start eating peanuts, I can’t stop”
  • “I’m always on a diet”
  • “whenever I’m on a diet, my family loses weight”
  • “going to the beach means wearing sweat pants and t-shirts, never a bathing suit or shorts”

The question is, what do any of these problems have to do with weight?  The answer is NOTHING!  Weight is not the problem.  Weight is simply the result or outcome of the problem.  The problem is lack of control of eating.  Your eating is controlling you – you are not in control of your eating.

Many of us complain of feeling guilty after eating certain kinds of foods.  Questions such as “should you be eating that?” or “is that in your diet?” are frequently heard as family members comment on what we are about to eat.  Some individuals report that the guilty feelings are so strong that they avoid eating in public as much as possible.  Instead, they consume large quantities of their favourite foods when they can be certain of no interruptions.

A second characteristic frequently demonstrated by people with eating problems, especially the constant dieter, is that of deprivation.  While everyone else is enjoying steak with béarnaise sauce, baked potato with sour cream and apple pie a la mode, the dieter is suffering with a tossed salad and no dressing, broiled fish and water.  Feelings of “why me?” and “it’s not fair” often result in secretive snacking.  Many of us have a long list of “forbidden fruits” or list of foods which we believe we should not eat.

It is not unusual for individuals to provide the following reasons for their inability to control their eating:

  • “I have no willpower”
  • “I’m weak willed”
  • “my mother made me clean my plate when I was a child”

We often feel miserable as a result.

None of these problems are related to weight alone.  Losing weight is not the solution.  Even after losing weight, guilt, deprivation and misery can persist.  The solution is to acquire the skills to control when you start eating and when you stop eating.

Control of eating is not always the entire solution to an eating problem.  Quite frequently, there is a second component which must be addressed and that is the problem of “feeling fat” or body image.  Body image problems result when an individual’s perception of their size is discrepant with their actual size.  In other words, the individual feels fat even though they are not fat.  For example, friends and family frequently tell them that they “don’t need to worry about their weight”, however, they continue to feel fat.

Individuals with ‘fat body image’ problems demonstrate behaviours such as:

  • Asking their spouse “does this look fat on me?”
  • Checking every mirror or plate glass window to make sure that their ‘fat spot’ is tucked in or covered up
  • Standing in the back row to get their photo taken
  • Wearing sweat pants and shirt to the beach
  • Avoiding gyms, reunions, and exercise

Weight loss alone is not the solution to a body image problem.  In fact, it can make the problem worse as the discrepancy between the size a person perceives themselves to be and their actual size becomes larger.  Once a body image problem has been identified, it is necessary for the individual to start behaving “thin”, thus leading them to “think thin” and eventually to “feel thin”.

Most people who say they have ‘weight problems’ usually have some concerns about their willpower or lack of it.  They are often accused by other people of lacking willpower.  They are often scolded by others for not using it.  What we know is that the control of eating is far too important to be left to willpower and conscious control and far too complex.

In Part II of this series, we will start by looking at what it is that starts and stops us from eating – the determinants of eating behaviour – and why it is that we have to eat in the first place.  We will discover that “the real problem” has nothing to do with willpower.


[1] Ng, Marie et al.  (2014, May 28).  Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013.  The Lancet, 384 (9945), 766 – 781.  DOI:

[2] McPherson, Klim.  (2014, May 28).  Reducing the global prevalence of overweight and obesity.  The Lancet, 384 (9945), 728 – 730.  DOI:




Binge eating.  If you are or every have been a binge eater, I’m sure that simply reading the phrase elicits different feelings inside of you.  And if you’ve struggled with binge eating, I’m sure you’ve also tried many different diet and self-talk strategies to try and curb your eating; “My diet is going to start tomorrow”, “I need to get my money’s worth from this buffet!”, “Five more cookies and I’m done!” Sound familiar?  I could probably write a 15 page essay on all of the things I’ve ever said and done to curb my eating habits!

The problem with binge eating is that it doesn’t just end with food.  Researchers Hannah Woolhouse, Ann Knowles and Naomi Crafti (2012) explain that women who binge eat have an increased likelihood that they will suffer from low self-esteem, poor body image, interpersonal problems, depression and anxiety.  What their research and many others reveal, is that if we have a complicated relationship with our eating habits, we often have a complicated relationship with ourselves as well.


Woolhouse, Knowles and Crafti were interested in determining if mindfulness (the practice of being present or aware of what’s happening, free from judgement) could help women in controlling their binge eating habits.  They conducted a study where 30 women (ages 18-52) who regularly binge eat participated in a Mindful Eating Group (MEG) for 3 hours a day, for 10 weeks (Woolhouse, Knowles & Crafti, 2012, p. 324).  The women participated in mindfulness practice (such as formal and informal meditation and mindful or attentional eating), as well as CBT elements (including meal planning and food monitoring) (Woolhouse, Knowles & Crafti, 2012, p. 324).

A 3 month follow-up at the conclusion of the program found that participants who reported binge eating twice a week or more dropped from 80% to 14% (Woolhouse, Knowles & Crafti, 2012, p. 328).  Of all of the mindfulness practices introduced, mindful eating was reported to have the biggest impact on their habits, including slowing down chewing, paying attention to flavours and stomach fullness, and likes and dislikes of “binge foods” (Woolhouse, Knowles & Crafti, 2012, p. 329, 331).  There were also significant improvements in over-eating and dieting behaviours, and body image dissatisfaction (Woolhouse, Knowles & Crafti, 2012, p. 324).

The takeaway is that mindfulness has the potential to transform our relationship with food as well as with ourselves.  Improving our relationship with both food and ourselves can improve our eating habits and our overall mental health.  While more research is needed in regards to mindfulness-based intervention, early research shows that this growing practice is worth giving it a shot.

If you’re looking for some simple ways to become more mindful while eating, check out our “Tip Tuesdays” on Twitter @JMAssociatesInc, or on Instagram @jmarlinandassociates.  If you’re interested in learning more about identifying unhelpful eating patterns, body image and more comprehensive mindfulness strategies, enroll in our evidence-based mindful eating program (ACT for Mindful Eating) by sending us an email at


Reference: Woolhouse, H., Knowles, A. & Crafti, N.  (2012).  Adding Mindfulness to CBT Programs for Binge Eating: A Mixed-Methods Evaluation, Eating Disorders, 20:4, 321-339, DOI: 10.1080/10640266.2012.691791



I’m willing to bet that you’re here reading this because you are, or have at some time, tried to lose weight.  I’m also willing to bet that you’re well aware of information about which foods are “healthy”, that you should probably exercise more, and that you may need to eat less.  Weight loss, diets, and information on how to be “healthy” are all around us, but with so much information out there, what are we to believe?  We have all of this information flooding our computer screens and cell phones constantly, so why can’t we lose weight?  According to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), the answer to this question lies in our behaviour as well as the way that we think about food and our emotions.


Dr. JoAnne Dahl, Ph.D., hosts an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) podcast, ACT: Taking Hurt to Hope, in which she delves into many different topics and difficulties that individuals face in their lives, and talks about how we can understand these difficulties from an ACT perspective.  In particular, Dr. Dahl explores the mechanisms underlying why we do what we do, and attempts to help us understand how we can alter our behaviour and our thinking in order to change that.

Dr. Dahl has four podcast episodes that cover the topic of eating behaviour and weight loss:

  1. Hope for weight strugglers: In this episode, Dr. Dahl speaks with Dr. Jason Lillis, a psychologist at Brown University, about the role of self-compassion in your journey to lose weight.
  2. Struggling with Emotional Eating: Feeding [or starving] your Feelings: Dahl teams up with Dr. Emmett Bishop from an eating disorder clinic in Colorado to discuss the mechanisms behind why we eat ‘junk’ food even when we know it will cause us to gain weight, and why people who suffer from eating disorders have such a difficult time changing their behaviour.
  3. Struggling with Choices: Eating Problems: Dahl, along with Dr. Joseph Ciarrochi of the University of Western Sydney in Australia, discuss the effects of unhealthy weight control behaviours, advertising, and more on the obesity rates of today’s children.
  4. New ACT book The Diet Trap: Dahl speaks about her book, The Diet Trap, and why this book is different from most books related to dieting and weight loss. The Diet Trap focuses on the emotional aspects of eating and why we turn to food for comfort, as well as how to change this.

To listen to any of the above episodes, simply click on the episode title and listen for FREE.  I would also strongly recommend listening to other episodes of the podcast, as the concepts in ACT that are introduced in the context of eating and weight issues can also be applied to other aspects of our lives.  Click here to access the main page and browse Dr. Dahl’s many podcast episodes.


You’re at home in the evening, and all of a sudden a wave of sadness creeps in.  You find out you didn’t get the promotion you worked so hard towards, and you feel shame, wondering how you’ll tell your family.  You arrive at an event, notice you’re significantly under-dressed for the occasion, and instantly feel embarrassed, wishing you could just disappear.  We experience a multitude of emotions each and every day, and yet we dread and try and avoid this experience as best as we can.  But why?

Were you ever told as a child, “Big boys/girls don’t cry”, “Snap out of it”, or “Don’t worry about it”?  From a very young age, many of us were taught to do our best to avoid emotions, to not think about them, or to use distraction techniques.  We learned that some emotions were “good”, and some were “bad”, and that we will only be happy in life if we avoid the “bad” or “negative” emotions.  As such, we start to become masters at avoiding emotions, whether it be holding them in, harshly judging ourselves for experiencing them, or trying to dampen our emotions with substances or other avoidance techniques.  Although this can sometimes be effective in the short term, there are many long-term implications for treating our emotions as enemies, such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), our emotions are viewed as a part of our experience that are neither good nor bad.  Instead, ACT takes a radical stance that we must learn to universally accept all emotions, no matter how they make us feel.  Acceptance does not necessarily mean that we want the emotions or like them, but rather that we are choosing to allow space for them to be a part of our experience.  When we allow space for our emotions, we are fostering self-compassion by allowing ourselves to be here, as we are, right now.  Dr. Joan Rosenberg, a psychologist based in Los Angeles, argues that emotions actually help us to feel more comfortable in our own skin.  In her TEDx Talk, she discusses how we must embrace our emotions, as they are the path back to being more fully you.  In other words, to deny our emotions is to deny a part of ourselves and perhaps the very thing that makes us human.

So how can we end this battle with our emotions?  Next time you experience a strong emotion, pause.  Notice where you feel the emotion, and any thoughts that show up with it.  Notice if any rules or judgements about your emotions appear.  Notice if you experience the urge to run away and escape this uncomfortable feeling.  Then, instead of doing the escaping – just let it be.  Open up and allow space for the emotion, granting it permission to be there.  Physically, emotions hurt, but they cannot harm us.  We are always bigger than any emotion we may experience.  We hurt where we care, and experiencing an emotion is a sign that there is something we care deeply about.  What is it?  How can we honour this part of ourselves?  Can we thank ourselves for caring so deeply and passionately about something?  It is through this last step of gratitude that we can slow down, connect, and centre ourselves in what’s really important.


You can view Dr. Joan Rosenberg’s TEDx talk by visiting



It is not uncommon for people to describe how they may have wished they had dealt with a situation differently — whether they feel as though they may have let someone take advantage of them or on the flip side, they may feel they reacted too aggressively.  It is times like these when utilizing assertive behaviours to deal with not only day to day issues, but also perhaps stressful or uncomfortable situations, is usually most beneficial.

The easiest way I like to describe assertiveness is learning to find the balance between being passive or aggressive.  It’s that middle ground where you wish to communicate your point without intentionally hurting others.  An assertive person expresses his/her opinions, needs and feelings without ignoring the opinions, needs or feelings of others.  In contrast, aggressive people react to their emotion and attack or ignore others’ opinions in favour of their own, while passive people don’t state their opinion at all.


For different people, depending on the situation, they may feel more or less confident in using assertiveness skills.  These situations could include dealing with a boss or senior figure at work, family, friends, and authority figures, or even as customers.  No matter the situation though, if you learn how to incorporate more assertive behaviours, it should help you be able to feel in charge of your own behaviour with a method and specific goal in mind for a given situation.

Here are some common ASSERTIVE Behaviours you can start including in your daily life to help build on your assertiveness:

  • keeping good eye contact
  • maintaining a relaxed posture that says you are open to what is being said
  • maintaining an expression that goes along with the message that you want to deliver
  • using a conversational tone
  • speaking openly and to the point – start, change or end a conversation – address issues that bother you
  • make requests and ask favours – refuse a request if you don’t want to do it
  • expressing positive and negative emotion as well as honest thoughts and feelings
  • reaching goals without hurting others in process

My challenge to you now, is to try the above behaviours throughout the next couple of days; as a customer, with your boss, with family and friends.  See if you can notice not only how you may have acted differently, but also how the other person responded and how you felt afterwards.  Did you reach your goal?  If you did, you are definitely working towards finding the balance of assertiveness!



I’m sure we have all experienced the anxious feeling that arises when there just doesn’t seem to be enough money in the pot to cover all our expenses, or the gut-wrenching feeling that arrives when we are hit with unexpected and un-planned for expenses, like car and home repairs, or vet bills.  Financial stressors are not uncommon and feeling overwhelmed by financial pressures is normal.  It is when the stress takes over due to ineffective money management that our long-term mental health may start to suffer.

A nation-wide survey conducted on behalf of Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC) showed that 42% of Canadians ranked money as their leading cause of stress, significantly more than work, personal health and relationships (FPSC, 2014).  The survey also found that financial stress is contributing to poor sleep, reconsideration of past financial decisions, arguments with partners and dishonesty amongst family and friends about personal finances.  When we lack sleep and our meaningful relationships are strained, a number of other problems can arise, and we can become overwhelmed, and our ability to cope with it all can start to wither away.  When we are no longer able to effectively cope with these building stressors, and are stuck in a cycle of being stretched beyond our limits to try and make ends meet, we are at greater risk of experiencing long-term mental health difficulties.


It is often difficult for even the healthiest and wealthiest of individuals to effectively manage their money and the stress it may bring, but in individuals already suffering with mental health disorders or challenges, there is even more to consider.  Those with existing mental health disorders are at greater risk of being affected by financial pressures for a number of reasons: (1) they may have less drive, focus, and motivation to properly manage their finances; (2) they may use spending money on desired items as a means to relieve symptoms; (3) they may be unemployed or on a leave from work for mental health reasons; and (4) they may be more prone to impulsive spending due to weakened inhibitions.  In order to stay healthy, it is important for all individuals to develop a money management plan, and it is important for us to support one another in doing this because we will all fall victim to financial stressors of some kind.  Researchers from The University of South Hampton concluded that the likelihood of having a mental health problem is three times higher among people who have debt, and that depression, anxiety disorders and psychotic disorders were among the most common mental illnesses people in debt experienced (Psychology Today, 2015).

It is a difficult and multifaceted challenge in that we can’t always identify the cause and effect – whether the debt caused the mental health issues or whether the mental health issues caused the debt – but regardless, both problems must be addressed.  When you have an effective financial plan and are on top of things, it’s easier to improve your mental state – and when you are healthy, both mentally and physically, it is easier to take action on your debt.

So the answer isn’t simple, but it does exist.  We must become mindful of both our mental health as well as our financial situation and if either are not where we would like them to be, we need to develop a plan.  Seek counselling or reach out for social support if you notice that you are experiencing mental health difficulties, and seek financial advice if you are struggling to stay on top of things financially.  You don’t have to try and do it alone – we are all in this together.  According to a survey done by The American Psychological Association, 43% of those who say they have no emotional support report that their overall stress has increased in the past year, compared with 26% of those who say they have emotional support.

So here are some of our basic tips on tips on how stay mentally healthy.
(If you feel you need more support, in the form of coaching or counselling, we are here to help as well).

  • Practice mindfulness & be mindful of your mental health
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Develop and strengthen your social support network (and use them!)
  • Reach out for professional help when needed
  • Engage in activities and relationships that are meaningful to you
  • Set aside time for reflection to see whether you are truly living the life that you want to be living, and if not, make some changes

Because we are not financial experts, we reached out to a friend, Anton Tucker, who is a Certified Financial Planner and Portfolio Manager, and has many years of experience providing financial advice and support to people.  We interviewed Anton and here is what he had to say about how to stay financially healthy:

‘’Managing money effectively is difficult because we are all so consumption driven. After all, our entire lives have been influenced by media touting the latest gizmo or paradise vacation that will “change our lives”.  Most of us have also never been coached on how to properly ‘save the cents and in turn, grow the dollars’, so we are not to blame for not knowing how to do just that.  Saving money is no different from exercising to get fit and stay in shape to be healthy.  It requires a basic plan, discipline, patience and above all sacrifice.  I believe in order to effectively manage our money we all need to first select a saving number based on our ability, need and life stage.  The number is the percentage of your income that you will commit to save each and every paycheque.  It should typically be 10%, 15% or 20% of your net income.  In the simplest of terms, 10% will result in you being somewhat comfortable, 15% will deliver a good nest egg and 20% will provide a very solid financial base from which to fund an enjoyable lifestyle.  Take this at face value as you contemplate your number and set about thinking how you can do this starting from your very next paycheque.  You will be amazed at just how easy it becomes as you get used to setting this amount aside before you pay bills or think of spending again.’’

Staying on top of your mental health and your financial health simultaneously will go a long way in helping you stay mentally healthy and in not letting financial pressures threaten to take that away from you.  Whether you are already struggling with mental health or financial stressors or are not yet, but still feel there is room for improvement, try some of the tips we have shared with you or reach out for more personalized support whenever needed.


APA. (2015, February). American Psychological Association Survey Shows Money Stress Weighing on Americans’ Health Nationwide. Retrieved from

FCSP. (2014, November). Canadians Cite Money Worries as Greatest Source of Stress. Retrieved from

Georgopoulos, M. (2017, June). End the Stigma: Impact of finances on mental health (or the impact of mental health on finances…). Retrieved from

Morin, A. (2015, June). What Your Financial Health Says About Your Mental Health. Retrieved from

Richardson TElliott PRoberts R. (2013, December). The relationship between personal unsecured debt and mental and physical health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Retrieved from 


Imagine this scene – you just left the dinner table and are headed for the TV room.  No sooner do you sit down than you feel an “urge to eat”.  You wander into the kitchen and search your cupboards, fridge and freezer hoping that you will encounter something that you feel like eating and not just boring fruits and veggies.  You wander back to the TV room with chips or ice cream or cookies or………….  And then you hear those words – “Didn’t you JUST eat?”

Many of us have had this experience and have probably even wondered “how could I possibly feel hungry so soon after eating?”  The answer is quite simple.  You were NOT hungry.  Instead you had an URGE TO EAT.  The triggers for an urge to eat are not internal but external.  They exist in your environment at home, at work, at the restaurant, at the cottage – in fact, everywhere that you eat.  Dr. Brian Wansink, professor and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, refers to this as the “See-Food Diet” – you eat what you see.


Wansink’s premise is to re-engineer our environment and eating habits so that we can eat enjoyably and mindfully without guilt and weight gain.  His mantra is: the best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.  This is good news because you can actually make some very small, easy changes that will result in you eating and weighing less in the future.  You can make changes that will help protect you against mindless eating.

Here are 10 simple changes for you to try in your home.

  1. You are likely to eat what you can see. Clear your kitchen counter of snacks, cereal boxes, pop, etc.
  2. We tend to eat more in cluttered, chaotic kitchens. Spend some time decluttering your kitchen and moving things out of sight.
  3. When you open the fridge door you are most likely to choose something to eat from the top or middle shelf. Use your crisper bins to store the foods that you find most appealing and move the fruits and veggies to the top shelf.
  4. When you eat in many locations in your home such as the dining room, the kitchen, the bedroom, the den, the office, etc., you “condition” yourself to have an urge to eat in all of those locations. Establish one place in your home where ALL of your eating will take place.  You can eat what you want, but it must be in that location.
  5. The larger the plate, the more you will eat. Swap your 14 inch plates for a 10 or 12 inch plate and you will eat less and lose weight.
  6. When you buy groceries in bulk, you will eat most of it in the first week and then less from that point on. Either buy smaller portions, even if the cost is slightly higher, or repackage foods when you get home from the store and put them in a less accessible place.
  7. The more hassle it is to eat, the less we eat. Store the foods that tempt you the most in locations that require more effort for you to access such as a room in the basement or a fridge in the garage.
  8. When food is served from bowls sitting on the dining table, we eat more. Serve your plate at the kitchen counter.  Even better, store the leftover food in the fridge before you sit down to eat.
  9. Wrap leftovers in tinfoil rather than transparent wrap. No see – no eat!!!
  10. Change “eating scripts” from weight gain scripts to weight loss scripts: re-script dinner – start last, pace with the slowest eater, leave some food on your plate, decide how much to eat before the meal.

Practice the Power of Three:  Choose 3 easy changes that you can mindlessly make, without a lot of sacrifice.  If you choose 3 ways to save 100 calories per day, you can lose 30 pounds this year, and develop healthy diet habits.



J Marlin and Associates Inc. offers Cognitive Behavioural Therapy services to help individuals increase their sense of vitality, well-being, and fulfillment.

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