About Rahima Hirji

A Naturopathic Doctor who thrives on finding ways to make life better for her family, patients and herself.

To Weigh or Not to Weigh-My Battle with the Scale.

Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be thinner.  I was never thin.  Not even as a young child.  Like many women, I have focused on the negatives of my body.  I have longed to be rid of the pear shape that I have been destined to live my life in.  My attitude towards my body is unhealthy and the constant pursuit of losing 10 pounds is exhausting. 

And the irony is that I help people lose weight.  I teach people to eat well, to focus on choosing healthy foods when they are hungry and tell them that if they do this, the scale will take care of itself. 

Yet, I still long for the number on my scale to go down despite the fact that I know I am a healthy weight, active and fit.   It makes no sense.  I have been the same size, give or take 10 pounds throughout fertility treatments, stress and holidays for as long as I can remember.  I gained 50 pounds with each of my pregnancies, managed to lose it both times and can still fit into my wedding dress, 14 years and 2 kids later.  By all accounts, I am doing pretty well.  I eat very well.  I am fitter than I have ever been and stronger than I ever imagined.  I ran a half marathon at 35 when the doctors were pretty sure I was going to have difficulty walking on my 40th birthday. 

Several years ago I started training with a personal trainer and it changed the way I look at exercise.  I realize that exercise helps my mood and it helps me maintain my balance and strength so I can stay well, stay mobile and fight my illness with all I’ve got.

And still, despite all my body has done and all the odds it has defied, I want to be thinner.

Last week, I wrote about how I wanted to focus on stretching.   The reality is, I want to do more than that.  I want to focus on making my body the best it can be, regardless of the number on the scale.  This is going to be significantly more difficult than just stretching 10 minutes a day but I am committed.  I do not want to go into my 40’s continuing to loathe my hips and thighs. 

And luckily, I found someone that has been helping me confront this. 

In January 2012 I moved to Toronto.  Finally in March, I walked the two blocks to the gym and found a new trainer.  He is awesome.  He is my unwilling confidante and counselor.  No nonsense and no bull but full of insight at the ripe old age of 23.  He is mature beyond his years and never ceases to amaze me with his wisdom. 

Over the last 2 years, he has pushed me and transformed the way I view working out.  Of course, he would really love it if my life didn’t get in the way of my sessions with him but despite my challenges at fitting him in regularly, he works with me and supports me. 

He doesn’t let me get away with anything yet at the same time, he encourages me and has helped me see myself for the strong, fit person I am, and not just the number I long to see on the scale.  Don’t get me wrong.  He would love it if I lost the 10 pounds.  I imagine it gets frustrating to have a client that is so close to reaching her goal and yet the goal always eludes her.

One day, after a particularly grueling workout, I said to him “Not bad for a girl who’s almost 40 and has a neurological illness”.  He countered with “Not bad for a girl-period”.  I was a little stunned.  He was right.  I was short changing myself.  His comment was an eye-opener.  I can do push-ups (the real ones!) and plank, lunges and squats, intervals at 9.5mph and I have more stamina than ever.  

But my weight is the same-give or take a few pounds.

So I am going to stop weighing myself.  Not forever, but for a month.  I will continue to focus on eating well, exercising and stretching, but I will not let the scale be my motivator.   I want to focus on all that my body can do, and appreciate that the hips I have loathed, helped me deliver my 2 boys naturally.  That the thighs I wished would shrink still support me, and allow me mobility that I wasn’t sure I would have at this point in my life. 

Self acceptance is hard, but constantly fighting who I am and what I look like is harder.  This isn’t a habit that will be easy to track or measure, but hopefully my trainer will keep me honest.  He doesn’t let me get away with much and he reads my blog so I am pretty sure I will be held accountable. 

 There you go Victor-there’s your plug:)Image



Taking Time to Stretch

My newest habit is not so exciting.  I admit it.  But I need to do it.  I need to stretch everyday.  I am a typical type A personality.  I work a lot, I am always doing something and I think most people would describe me as being fairly intense.  I fought this for awhile.  The first time someone called me intense, I was shocked.  In my mind, I was really easy-going.  But over the last couple of years, I have come to terms with it.  I am not so easy-going.  I like things a certain way and I can be fairly demanding.  I like to think of it as part of my appeal although I am sure there are people who would disagree.

My intensity permeates my life. Including how I exercise.  I choose activities like long distance running, at least until I injured myself, step classes, spin classes weights and TRX.  I don’t do Yoga because, well, in my mind, it’s just not intense enough.  I know this isn’t true but I just can’t bring myself to do Yoga regularly.  I thought I could do Hot Yoga since that seemed more intense, but I don’t do that very often either.  I bought a 20 pass package last January with the intent to go every weekend.  I still have several classes left.

But I know I need to change my exercise habits.  As I am getting older, I am in a lot more pain.  I think it is a combination of driving a lot, being fairly high strung and vigorous exercise that leaves me stiff, inflexible and in pain.  So my next habit is to stretch.

I think one of the most important things to do when trying to incorporate changes into your life is to set yourself up for success.  So in my efforts to set myself up for success in this new routine, I am buying an exercise mat today for my bedroom.  I am also going to devise a 10-minute stretch routine that I can do everyday.  I have also given some thought as to when I can do this routine regularly and without excuses and I have come up with the perfect plan.  When I put my 7-year old to bed, he reads for awhile and then I sit in his room while he falls asleep.  I am going to do my stretch routine while he is reading.  It’s perfect.  I usually don’t do anything of consequence during this time anyway so it should work well.

In other news, my teeth are still brushed, I am still drinking water and often, I forget to turn on my smartphone in the morning.  Amazing!  The habits actually are slowly starting to change my life.

The Days are Long but the Years are Short.

One of my favorite books is “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin.  It is one of the few books that made a lasting impression on me and continues to affect the way I live my life.

There are many great parts to the book, but the one that was most influential for me was a section that discussed the challenges of raising children.  She describes the relentless demands, exhausting schedules and never ending days of parenting.  She also offers the following insight, “The days are long but the years are short”.  I think about this statement often and I’ll tell you why.

I struggled for several years to get pregnant.  I prayed, I cried.  I underwent several procedures and had countless ultrasounds, blood draws and injections.  And then finally, my prayers were answered and I became pregnant.  I was thrilled.  I did not dare complain throughout my pregnancy for fear that it would jinx my good fortune.  Finally, on Valentine’s Day 2006, my eldest son was born.

We brought him home, set the car seat down and didn’t know what to do with him.  We didn’t have any family support and we had no idea what to expect.  My son was a difficult baby.  He slept little.  He fussed a lot.  And that combination left me exhausted and low on milk.  The Naturopath in me refused to yield.  I insisted on nursing him, at all costs-probably a mistake in hindsight.  He woke often and we often started the day at 5:30am.  We sat in a rocking chair on the porch.  While I drank a large coffee, he watched the people on the street starting their days.  And from there, the day went on.  It was long.  He didn’t sleep.  I couldn’t take him anywhere.  He cried in the car.  He cried in the stroller.  I could take him as far as I could carry him.  We realize now that he suffers from motion sickness.  I would watch the hours until my husband came home and then quickly hand him over so I could get a break.  I felt terribly guilty that I wanted to get away from the baby that I had cried for, yearned for and prayed for.  Then, 2 years later came my younger son.  Another blessing.  Another miracle.  And from there it all became a blur.  Feedings, bedtimes, diaper changes and teething.  Like most parents, I was exhausted and weary.

Those days were so very long.  

And now, they are 5 and 7.  My eldest is smart and funny.  He tells tales and loves school.  He plays the violin.  There are times when I look at him and see my husband staring back at me and it never ceases to astonish me.  My youngest loves soccer and skips everywhere.   He plays the cello because violin requires too much standing for his liking.  I look at him and I am amazed at how he can be all sweetness and fire wrapped up into one little bundle of giggles and energy.

The years have flown by. 

How does this all relate to my habits and changing my life?  Well, the first thing I wanted to work on was the amount of time I spent on my smartphone.  I knew I used it too much and I knew it was a problem but I didn’t really understand how big an impact it was having on my life until I stopped using it so much.

My goals were to stop using the phone in the car and in the evenings before the boys’ bedtime.  Over the past 3-4 weeks, I have completely stopped using my phone in the car, except for calls on my Bluetooth.  So instead of constantly having my head down at the traffic lights or stop signs, I look around or I look in my rearview.  I am more aware of my surroundings.  I glance at my children.  Sometimes, they are staring out the window.  Sometimes they are having a silly conversation.  But regardless of what they are doing, I see them.  I see their animated faces or their eyes staring off into space.  I appreciate their beauty and innocence.  Other times, if I am lucky, one of them catches my eye in the mirror and flashes me a smile.  Those moments are golden.  We also talk more in the car since I am less distracted.   I learn more about their friends and what they did at school.

I also stopped using my phone as much in the evenings.  I have gotten better at this, but have to admit that I have my slip-ups.  But putting down my phone in the evenings has meant that I can truly focus on the task at hand-the task of mothering.  There are more conversations at the dinner table.  More giggles when brushing teeth and more stories before bed.  I am more patient and involved because I am not trying to send a text or email while getting a 5-year old to floss. I am simply being mommy and what I have found is that when I am focused on this one task, the task of being mommy, I am better at it.   I go to bed feeling more connected with my children and my children go to bed feeling more connected to me.

Generally, putting down my phone has given me a sense of calm, a grounding that I was missing.  It’s reduced the chaos in my brain and allowed me to be more present in my day-to-day activities.

Now, there is a downside to all of this.  Many people have asked me why I haven’t responded to their emails or texts.  A few are annoyed.  But you know what?  They’ll get over it.  I let them know that I am trying to distance myself from my phone.  They will know for next time that it might take me a little longer to get back to them and it will soon become the new normal.

This has been a tremendous journey for me.  Being a good mother is the single most important thing to me.  I consider it a privilege to be a mother.  I never want to forget what a blessing my children are and I want my children to think back and remember a mother that listened to them and was interested in them.  Equally important, I want to be able to look back and know that I was there for my children to my fullest capacity.

The years may be short, but that’s all the more reason to make the most of them.


Breaking my addiction is harder than I thought.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am trying to limit my smartphone use.  It’s the first habit I am trying to kick as I better myself over the next year or so.  

It’s harder than I thought.  It’s amazing how often I reach for it and then have to stop and remind myself that I am not doing “that” anymore.  Truth be told, I am having a lot of trouble with it.  I am so used to multitasking that simply sitting in traffic, waiting at the stop sign or hanging out with my family seems too simple and unencumbered. 

It also amazes me how much of an addiction it actually is.  For me, the hardest time to avoid checking my phone is after I have exited off the highway.  My highway drive is about an hour.  I exit and immediately have a very long traffic light.  This is one of the hardest times for me to stay true to breaking this habit.  I fidget.  I check my hair.  I drink some water.  I look in the rearview.  The only problem with looking in the rearview is that the guy or girl behind me is inescapably checking his or her phone!  The first time this happened, I felt like a smoker having a nic-fit.  But after a few more drives like that, I think I have beat that traffic light.  I know work is only 5 minutes from that spot and I keep telling myself I can wait 5 more minutes.  

About a week in though, I knew I needed help to kick this habit, especially in the evenings when I am at home.  So I enlisted my 7 year old.  I told him to “catch me” if I was on my phone in the evenings or in the car.  Trust me, he is taking his job very seriously.  Whenever I touch it, he says, “You said no phone”.  I usually fight the urge to shoot him a dirty look and then put my phone away feeling only a little sheepish.

I have found a few other tricks to make it easier too.  First, as soon as I get in the car, I check my phone one last time before I start driving.  Then I put it on silent.  It is much easier to ignore it if I don’t constantly hear it beeping at me about an incoming text or email. 

Next, I started listening to audio cds on my long drives.  I had always kind of discounted the idea of listening to “books on tape”.  I always preferred music to listening to podcasts or the news.  I blast my music and sing along.  I accepted the fact that I would probably need hearing aids in my old age.  It’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.  Then a friend gave me a couple of audio books.  I half-heartedly started listening to one and you know what?  I am hooked.  I look forward to an uninterrupted drive so I can listen to my cd.  It’s made ignoring my cellphone much easier indeed.  In fact, when someone calls on the Bluetooth, I am often annoyed that they’ve interrupted my listening.

So I would say overall, my cell phone usage has decreased. I am focusing on this for one more week to firmly entrench the new behavior.  Keeping my fingers crossed and off my phone:)

The Whisper Before the Scream….

My sister-in-law once told me that God whispers before he screams.  I don’t think you need to be religious to appreciate the message.  Often we are given signs-little nudges or indications that something is amiss or that something needs to change but we ignore them.  For some reason though, her words have stuck with me over the years and they have certainly played a big role in my first official habit.

It is not so much adding a habit as kicking a habit.  You see, I am an addict.  My phone is my lifeline.  I email, text, schedule, talk, browse and google nonstop.  At first, it was because I was starting my clinic and needed to be connected, especially since my clinic is in another city.  Then it was because we were renovating the house and I needed to stay on top of contractors, orders and deadlines.  The next thing you know, my smartphone has become an appendage.  I wake up and it’s the first thing I turn on.  I go to bed and it’s the last thing I turn off.  I check it non-stop.  I am the annoying friend that is always on her phone, the irritating daughter, sister and wife who is always distracted, the multitasking mother that can’t stop texting.   I always had excuses.  I have so much to do.  I am juggling so much.  I just need to send this message, make this call or quickly look this up.

Then I heard the whisper.   A couple of times, my son said, “Stop texting!”.  My immediate response was that I was trying to schedule a playdate, register for soccer or call the dentist.  An excuse to justify my behavior-but somewhere in my soul, it nagged me.

The whisper became louder.  I went to Evergreen Brickworks and lost my phone.  Ironically that was a day when I told myself I was going to put my phone away and focus on the time I had at the market with the boys. This was the day after two little boys were killed in a car accident in Parry Sound.  I looked at my children and appreciated them a little more, hugged them a little tighter and said a little prayer for the poor mother that had lost her children.  I told myself that I would be fine without my phone for a couple of hours and needed to focus on my children.

When I did look for my phone and realized it was gone, I was remarkably calm.  I have suffered enough loss in my life to recognize that there are worse things than losing my phone.  I left the boys with a friend and went hunting for it.  I never found it.  When I got back to the children, my friend had informed them that mommy had lost her phone.  My 5 year old’s eyes opened wide as he exclaimed “You lost your phone!  Oh my gosh Mummy!  That’s really bad right?  What are you going to do?”.  I looked at him and thought wow, there’s a problem when my 5-year old sees me as being so attached to an object.  It was very disconcerting.

Then the scream.   I ended up having to buy a new phone.  I left dinner with a friend after having just bought it and started downloading an app before I started driving.  I got to a stoplight and glanced at the phone to see if the app had finished downloading.  I didn’t push a button, I didn’t speak, nothing.  Just glanced at it.  Then I heard a banging on the window.  An older man was pounding on my window yelling, “Don’t do that!”.

Ok.  I get it.  I finally get it!

So here’s my first habit.  I will not touch my phone in the car.   I feel this is particularly important since I am in the car a lot.  I don’t text and drive but I certainly check my phone at the stop light or in traffic.  I also make calls on my Bluetooth, play music or am generally engaged with it in some capacity.   But now I have 2 young boys watching me.  I want to set a good example.  I don’t ever want them to text and drive or be otherwise distracted while driving.  How can I tell them not to do it if they grow up watching me on my phone in the car?  How can I tell them to put their phones down while I hold onto mine with a vise grip?

I also will not touch my phone after getting home with the boys after school.  I will put it away and not check it again until after they are happily tucked away in their beds.  I know it’s a cliché, but time is precious.  My boys deserve a few hours of my time that is uninterrupted by my phone.

This is the habit I want to kick.  I think it will be tough.  But I know it will be worth it.  I have heard the scream; it’s time for action. 

The Test Habits….

As a type-A personality, I wasn’t going to put myself out there without testing the waters first.  When I first had this idea to incorporate new habits into my life, it was back in August.  I wanted to see if this was a feasible idea and if I would actually be able to do this and stick to the new habits before going public.

So I decided to try out a couple “test” habits before sharing my ideas.  The first habit was a relatively easy one but when I told my husband about it, his initial reaction was “You are going to tell people about that?”  And my answer was “Yes.  It’s important to me and although some people will be grossed out, many mothers will totally get it”.

So what was the first habit?  It was to brush my teeth and wash my face every night before bed.  For many years, with two boys 2 years apart and immeasurable chaos in our lives, I was just counting my blessings to make it to bedtime with everyone intact.  I was exhausted.    Truth be told, most nights I didn’t even change my clothes before bed.  I would put on pajama pants but I would just wear the camisole that I put on most days under my shirt and fall into bed.  I was lucky though.  People always tell me I have great skin and the dentist always comments that it’s clear that I take good care of my teeth.  Little does he know.

But in the back of my head, I felt like my luck was going to run out.  If I didn’t start taking care of my skin and teeth, I was worried about aging prematurely and getting cavities.  Plus there is loads of research that shows that poor oral hygiene can lead to other health concerns, like heart disease.  So I started washing my face.  Nothing fancy.  Just a wash.  I am never going to be one of those women with a multi-step facial care ritual.  I also started brushing my teeth and flossing too!   I started this new habit on Aug 21 and I am happy to say that I have not missed a single day.  It doesn’t matter how exhausted I am anymore.  It has indeed become a firmly entrenched habit.

The second test habit had to do with water.  As a naturopath, I always tell my patients to drink half of their body weight in ounces.  So a 140-pound woman would drink 70 ounces of waters.  64 ounces is the equivalent to 2 liters so she’d need a little over 2 liters daily.  Now I am not going to tell you how much I am supposed to drink but suffice it to say that many days, I wasn’t getting enough.  I always got 1-2 liters in, but I wanted to make this a priority and get at least 2 liters.  I feel that the things we do everyday-eat, sleep, drink-are the places that the small changes will have the most impact.

I have to say that it’s hard for me to say whether or not I have truly succeeded at getting in my 2 plus liters of water.  With the first habit, it was easy to measure, I either did it or I didn’t but with this second habit, unless I measure and log every drink I take, it’s harder to tell.   But I have definitely been drinking more water and I am certainly making an effort everyday.  As I sit here at 7:30 in the morning, the first thing I did was make a coffee.  But while the coffee was brewing, I had a big glass of water.  I think that’s a good indication that things are moving in the right direction.

I also bought a 1.25 liter water bottle.  Two of those surpass my daily quota.

This will certainly make my success at this habit more measurable.

And you know what?  I noticed that since I started drinking more water, I crave less chocolate.  It might be a coincidence, but I’ll take it.

Today, I started my first “official” new habit.  It will be a tough one but the signs are evident that I need to do it.  Watch out for next week’s post.

Step 1: The Need for Change

My name is Rahima Hirji.  I am a Naturopathic Doctor,  a wife, a mother, a runner, a baker and a cook and the past 18 months of my life have been brutal.

I am not complaining.  By all measures, I am living the dream.  I have two beautiful boys after struggling with infertility for 3 years.  I have a very successful husband and we are both lucky to have jobs that we love.  I own my own thriving practice.  I  “work” part-time.  We just bought and are renovating our dream home.  Seriously, I have it made.

So why has my life been so brutal?  Because living the dream requires a lot of work.  In the last 18 months, I have moved cities, and then moved into two relatively tiny condos (my house was 3700 square feet and the condos we moved into were barely 1100-still big by some standards but it’s all relative). Finally, we moved into our home that only recently stopped resembling a construction zone.  I opened my clinic in Kitchener in Jan 2012, the same month that I moved to Toronto.  What can I say? It seemed like a good idea at the time.  I commute 2 hours 2-3 days a week.  Our renovation of the heritage home we bought in Toronto turned out to be a nightmare and almost broke my already strained marriage.  The week we moved, my son slipped and got a concussion.  On top of all that, I have a neurological condition that is worsened by stress.

So why did I decide to start this blog?  Because, one morning, I woke up and realized that things were getting better.  The house was no longer a complete disaster.  Not finished by any means, but resembling less a construction zone and more of a home.   My days were not completely filled with talking to contractors, getting estimates and driving around the city for tiles, paint, doorknobs and door stops.  You’d be amazed how many door stops you need when you are building a home.  My nights were no longer filled with worry, I was sleeping again and my hair stopped falling out.

So I decided I wanted to start enjoying my life again, instead of waiting for the stress to go away.  I want to thrive despite it.  It certainly helped that we booked a 2-week vacation at a cottage.  It allowed me time to look beyond my to-do list and focus on other things-like the fact that I am turning 40 in 2014.   In 60 weeks to be precise.  I am pretty sure I am not having a mid-life crisis, but the looming birthday has certainly made me think of who I want to be on that day.

Now, we’ve all woken up on a Monday morning and declared that that was the day that we were going to change our lives.  We were going to eat better, exercise more, drink more water, drink less wine and sleep more and then by Thursday, we are reaching for the wine after the fries and ice cream.   I am not interested in a repeat performance of that.  I want to stop watching the years go by while I try to make the changes that I feel are important for me but I need to find a better way to make those changes.

While I was at the cottage, I read an article that stated that it takes about 21 days to integrate a new habit into your life.  If you do something for 21 days, you have a pretty good chance of making that “something” a permanent change in your life.  This was not new information to me, but since there was room in my brain for new ideas for a change, it made me start thinking.  Maybe this was the answer. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to successfully change everything on any given Monday, but maybe, if I broke things down into 21 day chunks, I could make a reasonable dent by my 40th birthday.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am not a complete disaster.  I am pretty well put together.  I eat pretty well.  I am a Naturopath afterall.  I exercise.  I don’t smoke and I don’t drink excessively.  I sleep well and my health has been stable despite an initial bad prognosis.

But I want to be better.  We all have to strive for improvement.  So I am going to make a list of the 21 habits that I want to change by my 40th birthday in 3-4 week increments.  Some will be trivial and easy and others will be hard.   I will blog about them as a way to keep myself honest and on track.  I would love any feedback on my habits and my progress.  My hope is that by my 40th birthday, I will be able to look back and be able to say that the 60 weeks to 40 were the defining weeks in my life and that the changes I make will not only better my life, but the lives of my husband and sons.