100 days of counting steps is like a marathon, only longer

Three outside stairs (in Chicago) with a right foot in a robin blue running shoe and the bottom of a brown leg (Tracy's) on the lower step.

Three outside stairs (in Chicago) with a right foot in a robin blue running shoe and the bottom of a brown leg (Tracy’s) on the lower step.

Sam and I are both doing the Virgin Pulse Global Challenge, which is 100 days of counting steps as a member of a seven-person team. We’re not on the same team. She’s on Nasty Women and Bad Hombres (a team specially crafted to win and which is currently 304th globally and 1st at our university), I’m on Oh, the Humanities! (a team not specially crafted to win that currently stands at 9040th place globally and 21st at our university).

I’m doing it despite that last year I said I would never do it again. I got drawn in by FOMO.

We’ve got 15 days to go and, like last year, I’m ready for this to be over. Today it occurred to me that this 100 day challenge is feeling like a long, long event that loses it’s shine after a bit.  I’ve run a marathon and done other distances of running events and triathlons in the past, and they all have a similar psychological pattern to them (for me, anyway).

At the start, I feel super enthusiastic and energized. I want to be there. I like being there. It’s fun to be doing what I’m doing. I’m up for the challenge. This is the part of the race where you feel like you can do anything. That’s how I felt about the step challenge for about 6 weeks.

I was in a routine and it felt good. There were some tougher days when I didn’t do my regular walking commute and had to make a plan if I was going to get those steps. I traveled a bit, and that threw off the routine but I managed. But for about the first half, it felt pretty good.

In the middle part of a race it’s easy to lose your focus. The mind starts to wander. All the scenery looks the same. I sometimes experience boredom or a sense of doubt about why I’m even doing this. But despite all of this, I’ve still got the energy to stick to the plan.

That’s how it felt for the past month. I’ve got other things on my mind and some days I just don’t care that much about steps. I get the idea — I know that mostly it’s no problem for me to get between 15000-20000 steps in a day. But other days, like if I work at home or drive to work or go to a pool party, it requires more effort and planning. I need to go for walks or plan a 10K run or risk falling short. My mind wandered but I stuck it out.

Going into the home stretch of a race — that’s when I feel as if I want to tap out. The doubt about why I’m doing this can shift into the downright conviction that this is a useless undertaking that makes no sense. Instead of a lack of focus, the mind fixates on just one thing — finishing. This is the time in a long race that I haul out all of the affirmations I can muster. I can do this. I’ve trained for this. I’m strong and full of energy. Seriously, anything. And still, it’s a slog. I just want it to be over.

It’s day 85 of the challenge. I’m in home stretch mode. I want it to be over. It makes no sense. I’m kicking myself for allowing FOMO to motivate me to do something that I have already determined loses its luster before the end. And to top it all off, I’m about to go sailing for two. And it’s hard to get steps on the boat. And I just want to enjoy my vacation.

Not that I don’t enjoy activity on m vacation. But I can start to resent goals and monitoring and tracking and all that. And that is the stuff of which the global challenge is made. I will stick it out to the end. I’m on a team and that adds to the commitment, even if my team doesn’t stand a chance of victory. At least some of my team members have had a good experience dedicating themselves to the challenge. As did I for the first bit. I guess it’s time for my affirmations.

I know we’ve asked this before, but I’ll ask again: how do you feel about tracking your steps? Is this a part of your life? A thing you do from time to time (for a time, like the 100 day challenge)? A thing you would never do because…?

Bikes and boats!

Tracy knows this much better than I do. It’s hard to get much movement on a boat. You can read a bit about that here. Though she’s had some success with sun salutations and end of day dancing.

Jeff is spending the summer on his boat, touring canals and waterways, going through locks, exploring new places. You can read about Jeff’s boating adventures over at his boating blog! Mostly I prefer the land and I prefer active weekends, usually on my bike. Often we’re happy to each do our thing but we’ve been scheming about ways to combine the two activities and this weekend we had some success.

Here’s his boat:

One challenge of visiting Jeff on the boat is getting back to your car. You see you drive to where the boat is but that’s a moving target. You get on the boat and motor away from your car. For those of us just enjoying weekend bits of boat life, we need to get back to the car to get to work Monday morning. Bikes are the obvious answer since Jeff’s cruising at slower speeds the distance works out okay.

Sarah and I boarded the boat in Westport with our bikes on Friday, leaving the car there. We noodled over to Perth for lunch on Saturday, and then anchored for the night near Rideau Ferry. Sunday morning we hopped off the boat and got on our bikes.

The little trip over to Perth was my favorite part of the trip. All of the locks are manually operated but these ones seemed especially old and quaint. The trip after the lock was through beautiful park land. We couldn’t quite make it to downtown Perth. Instead we tied up at the public dock and walked over to grab lunch at a Mexican restaurant on the water.

The only downside of our plan was carrying stuff in backpacks. Next time we’re leaving things on the boat for their return journey home.

Here’s the bikes on the boat, still with their bike rally plates attached:

I got some relaxing in, putting my pink toes up:

While Sarah and Jeff did the work of actually getting the boat through the locks:

Here’s Jeff on the Beveridge Lock:

And more:

And I did less useful things like take a boat selfie:

From boat to bikes!

There might have been a few hills on the 40 km ride back to the car. Luckily at the end there were also blueberry scones and lattes!

Thanks Jeff and Sarah for the boat-bike adventure. Let’s do it again!

FFS, I don’t deserve my health

Because of the blog people know a lot about the fitness-y things that I do. They say, “Oh you look great.” And that’s fine. I’ll take it. But then sometimes people go on to speculate that I am in such good health because of the fitness-y things that I do. “You take such good care of yourself!”

And then I turn red and think of nice ways to engage with the presumption that good health is worked for or deserved. Just like you can’t tell if a person is fit from how they look, you also can’t assume a person is healthy because they are doing physical activity.

In the scheme of things, I’m not that healthy. I’ve had my gall bladder out. In the course of the life of the blog, I’ve had thyroid cancer and had my thyroid removed. Both surgeries were fine. In some ways, no big deal, but still. I’ve got some osteoarthritis stuff going on too. I get a hacking cough that can last for weeks in the winter. Also, I’m visually impaired. Everything’s okay right now but I don’t feel like the healthiest person out there.

We actually have very little control over our health. You know that joke about having good parents being the most important thing you can do for your health. Genetics is huge.

Of course, get some exercise. Of course, eat your veggies. Don’t smoke. Don’t drink much. Stay connected with the world. Keep your brain working. There’s some stuff you can do that’s health promoting. But there are no guarantees.

In my post What does 74 look like? I wrote about luck, illness and disability, and aging. I talked about Jeff’s mother, one of the most healthy behaving people I’ve known and her death.

“I watched my mother-in-law go from being a happy, healthy, vibrant woman who loved hiking, swimming, and cross country skiing to bring someone who needed help with basic day to day activities in just a couple of years. The cause? ALS. Its cause isn’t known. Random genetic mutation? Doesn’t matter. Eating right and moving lots won’t prevent it.

If you saw me pushing her in a wheelchair and thought she was there because she made bad choices, you’d be wrong.”

We like to think we have control over our health. It’s good for us to believe that we do. It’s a useful lie. It motivates us to take charge of the tiny part of our health that is in our control. Yes, we can eat well and work out but there are no guarantees. I know you know this. But sometimes I think we forgot it.

This is a reminder.

It only took 27 years, but now I’m a bona fide intuitive eater

Image description: Colour photo of three small chocolate bowls, each filled with fresh strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, on white plates with blue and gold around the edges.

Image description: Colour photo of three small chocolate bowls, each filled with fresh strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, on white plates with blue and gold around the edges.

It sort of snuck up on me. I’ve known about “intuitive eating” for over 25 years. When I was a graduate student in Cambridge, MA, I used to browse the shelves at Wordsworth Books looking for something, anything, that might help me lose my obsession with food and weight and dieting. Like many of us, I tried diets, thinking that if I could just lose the weight I’d stop obsessing. That didn’t work. Even when I lost the weight I didn’t stop obsessing. A lot of the time I didn’t lose the weight anyway. And the attempts to lose it just increased my obsession with food.

At some point in the very early nineties, I stumbled upon a new approach — intuitive eating.  The idea behind it is simple: eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’ve had enough. Eat what you want to eat. There are no “good” foods or “bad” foods. For a chronic dieter who constantly moralized foods as good and bad, who weighed and measured portions and always felt deprived, who thought all day about what to eat and when, whose too-small meals were over too soon because there was so little on the plate, intuitive eating sounded like the key to freedom.

I hardly even cared anymore whether I would lose weight (well, okay, I cared a little). I just wanted to be okay with food and okay with my body.  It was a little bit terrifying to think what would happen if I released the restrictions and changed my way of thinking. But it was more terrifying to anticipate living like I was forever. That was around 1990. Fast forward to our “Fittest by 50 Challenge” that got the blog started back in 2012.  By January of the challenge, after a brief encounter with “sports nutrition,” I reconnected with intuitive eating.

The basic approach is championed by a host of authors such as Geneen Roth (Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating), Carol H. Munter and Jane R. Hirschmann (Overcoming Overeating), and Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch (Intuitive Eating). The idea is that you can release yourself from food and weight obsession by releasing yourself from the restrictive approach mandated by “the diet mentality.”

In Intuitive Eating, Tribole and Resch outline ten principles. They have a comprehensive website where you can find these principles and become a part of a larger community who subscribes to this way of eating. The ten principles are:

  1. reject the diet mentality
  2. honor your hunger
  3. make peace with food
  4. challenge the food police
  5. feel your fullness
  6. discover the satisfaction factor
  7. cope with your emotions without using food
  8. respect your body
  9. exercise: feel the difference
  10. honor your health with gentle nutrition

I remember reading their description of what it was like to live like a seasoned intuitive eater. They said you stopped thinking about food all the time. You wouldn’t care any longer about the number on the bathroom scale. All foods would be permissible and you would reach for what you really wanted at the time. They said that though you might think that would mean that for the rest of your life you’d eat chocolate chip cookies all the time and never want a celery stick, that would turn out not to be true. Sometimes you might be offered cake and not feel like it. Other times you might order a veggie burger and fries and not eat all the fries. Not eat all the fries? Yeah right!

When I read that for the first time, even when I read it in 2012, I felt skeptical that I would ever get there. But through the past five years of blogging, I have devoted myself to living by the principles of intuitive eating. I do reject the diet mentality — there is nothing anyone could ever do to convince me to go another weight loss diet ever again. I honor my hunger by eating when I’m hungry. This was a foreign concept to me when I first started intuitive eating. I was so used to eating by the clock — if it’s noon it must be lunch time — that I didn’t even know what hunger actually felt like.

I do not agonize about food anymore, nor do I accept what the food police tell me. Eating chocolate instead of strawberries doesn’t mean I’m “bad.” Eating salad instead of fries doesn’t make me “bad.” That is why I wrote the post “Why Food Is Beyond Good and Evil.”

If there was one thing I wanted to do was to stop eating to the point of discomfort. But when you’re deprived most of the time, it’s all or nothing. Either I’m “virtuously” eating steamed vegetables with brown rice and cubed tofu, or going to town on too many pieces of deep dish pizza. By “too many pieces” I mean more pieces than I need to feel satisfied.

But over time I’ve learned how to listen to my body and can tell, for the most part, when it’s time to stop. I eat foods that I enjoy, so it’s easier to feel satisfied.  I don’t need food to soothe me anymore. This is not to say I never reach for chocolate when I’m in a funk. If I do, I do it with awareness not out of compulsion. I can and do have chocolate in my pantry all the time. One bar can sit there for months. This was not a thing that used to happen.

Our fitness challenge helped me learn to respect my body. Wow — I did two Olympic distance triathlons just before I turned fifty! And I’ve since run a marathon and several half marathons. And my body is pretty awesome. And it deserves good treatment. So there.

I also subscribe to the final two principles: I exercise and I honor my health.

The other day a friend said that I am a very “disciplined” eater. I challenged that assessment, asking what he meant. He said, “well, I’ve seen you eat potato chips and you just eat a few then put the bag away.” It’s true. I do that. But not out of discipline. That was the old way, the “diet mentality” way. I now do it because that’s what I feel like doing. I want a few chips. So I eat a few chips.

Now I realize intuitive eating has its detractors. Sam doesn’t believe in it at all because, she says, her thyroid meds mean she’s never hungry. If she only ate when she was hungry she wouldn’t eat.

Catherine is also skeptical. One of her reasons is that environmental factors are also important.

That’s fine. Me? I’m a huge fan. And though it may not be the cure-all that works for everyone, it has taken me from being a food-obsessed chronic dieter with a history of disordered eating, to a confident eater who enjoys food but is neither intimidated by it nor indifferent to it. I enjoy it and am fortunate enough to be in a position to acquire and to eat a range of delicious foods. That is an incredible achievement for me. It’s only within the past week or so that I realize that I actually live by the ten principles of intuitive eating pretty much all the time now. Coupled with that, I have maintained my weight within a 5 pound range effortlessly since 2013. It’s definitely a manner of eating that I embrace and feel fortunate to have learned.

Have you had any experience with intuitive eating? If so, we’d love to hear about it.


Sam gets her first ever pedicure right before the bike rally

Tanned white feet with pink toenails resting on a white lawn chair

Right before the bike rally I did a new thing!

It’s on the list of feminine beauty rituals I’ve never tried. It’s a long list. Longer than you might suspect. But now you can knock one item off the never tried list, the pedicure.

Catherine was in town for a few days before the 1 day ride so we could get some work done. We talked about information and habit change, which she blogged about this week, and about whether there are medically distinct categories of overweight and obesity (though we both hate these terms). Catherine is interested in the public health question of where we should focus our attention.

And on our long day of walking around Toronto and talking about all the things, Catherine put in a plug for an uplifting pre-bike rally pedicure. Sure, why not, I thought. Live a little. Try new things.

I contacted Cate since I know she does this stuff and worries about the ethics of it all, like how well the people who work there are treated.

Here’s our feet after…

Thoughts? Short and simple, I loved it. Loved the process and the result. Weeks later they’re still pretty and pink. I also liked the “doing a fun thing with a friend” part of it all.

Why haven’t I tried it before?

I’m always a bit queasy about feminine beauty rituals. They’re part of a package I try to reject. No one has ever plucked my eyebrows. I’ve never had any body part waxed. And I resist the offer of my hair dresser to get rid of the peach fuzz on my face to make it easier to apply foundation. How about I just don’t wear foundation?

With each new thing, I think “wow, really? women do that? I had no idea.”

I nearly changed hair salons this year because the place I go and love, which doesn’t ask to colour my grey hair, started hosting Botox parties. Ew.

I’ve also read lots about the working conditions of women who paint nails and pamper hands and feet for a living. Grim. See here.

I also worry about each new thing I try as upping the ante, becoming the new normal. Like will I feel underdressed the next time I’m wearing summer dresses and sandals without painted toes?

It’s also different when you’re older. Previously my scruffy feet looked athletic or outdoorsy. My worry now is that they look like I’ve given up on myself. I’m letting myself go. Whatever that means. Plain toenails! Gasp!

I’m worry about that too with makeup which I’ve never made a habit of wearing.

Like Tracy and her eye lashes extensions though I wasn’t sure about my painted mails in all contexts. With pretty strappy sandals and a dress, they looked great. But I wasn’t sure about them stuffed into socks and crammed into my bike shoes.

Oh, and they also they waxed my toes! So that’s another thing I can tick off the list of feminine beauty rituals I haven’t tried.

On the positive side, maybe it all balances out in the year of branching out and trying new things. Yes, a pedicure. But I also used my first power tool and didn’t die. (I was helping to fix the canoe rack that Sarah built last summer.)

I might get another pedicure. But next time I’m keeping my toe fuzz.

Here’s my painted toenails post bike rally in flip flops complete with the usual scrapes and chain ring grease.

Last bike rally update, by the way. Thanks to an anonymous donor I made my $5000 fundraising goal. Thanks everyone!

Consistency and Confidence (Guest Post)

As I said in last week’s post, my main goal for Taekwondo this year is to be willing to be *seen* in class. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to build the mental and physical confidence to do that.
Obviously, for the mental confidence, there is going to be a certain amount of just ‘go for it’ involved, a willingness to accept the possibility of appearing foolish if I make a mistake. I can’t practice that until I am actually back in class but I am going to do some meditation and other practices to help me with enduring the discomfort I know I will feel.
Luckily, I’m not generally one of those people who needs to feel like they are doing things perfectly, I just need to feel like I have been steadily working. I don’t so much mind making mistakes if I have been putting effort in so I have to commit to practicing consistently.
The need to continue practicing my patterns goes almost without saying. For the record though, I am going to practice each pattern at least twice a week so I am never caught off guard by a request to perform any given one.
Aside from that though, I have realized that I really want to improve my overall fitness and strength so I can have a better sense that my body will do what I ask it to. I don’t mean to give the impression that I don’t have strength or that I lack body confidence right now, I just want more.
I have always had trouble with consistency with my fitness training. Aside from my class time in Taekwondo, I find it challenging to schedule exercise. It seems like everything else has to fit in first and if our lives get busy or someone in my family is sick, my exercise time is the first thing to go.
I don’t want that to happen any more so I have to create a smoother path to a regular exercise habit – having my exercise clothes ready, having a plan for busy days, picking specific exercises and a dedicated time to do them. I know from past success in other areas that choosing my actions in advance means I am much more likely to do them in the moment.
So, my next step must be to make some advance choices about exercises.
I know that I want to have stronger arms and I want my arm muscles to be visible. I am already decently strong but I want to see a muscle when I look in the mirror. That’s going to require a variety of arm exercises.
I want to be able to feel more power in my strikes and my blocks. That means I need greater strength in my core. My back and I flatly refuse to do crunches, so I need a variety of ab exercises. The fact that those exercises will help my back is a bonus.
There’s a certain way my body moves and feels when I am getting enough cardio. There’s a strength in my movement and feeling of cooperation in my muscles. Those are good things and I want to feel like that all the time, so that means there is more cycling, more time on the rowing machine, more walking, and more jump rope in my future.
I want to refine my kicks. I’ve got good accuracy but I’d like to increase the strength and height of my kicking. That’s going to require some leg work and some hip work, so I’ll be doing a lot of lunges and squats and stretching.
Usually, I have trouble seeing how individual pieces make up part of a greater whole but the process of writing about these exercises has given me a strong mental picture of how they all fit together. I suddenly feel really excited about putting this program together for myself and bringing the results of my efforts into my classes in the fall.
One of my reasons for joining Taekwondo in the first place was that I wanted to have a warrior’s body to match my warrior’s mind. I do have a strong, capable body now but I want to inhabit it even more fully. I want to be more charge of what my muscles will do. I want to have even more strength. There is always room for a warrior to become more powerful.

Christine Hennebury is a storyteller, writer, creative life coach, and martial artist who lives in Newfoundland and Labrador. She is the founder and Chair of the Association for the Arts in Mount Pearl and the President of the St. John’s Storytelling Festival. She wishes she could help you be a little kinder to yourself – you are doing just fine.

My new scale doesn’t tell me what I weigh, and I like it that way

A bathroom scale that says "you are not a number"

I really hate scales.  I think I’m not alone here.  There are loads of comic strips with scale jokes, but I will spare you because they all seem to presuppose that the scale is an authoritative judge and we are the irrational defendants whose weight is a crime.

And with respect to this scale hatred narrative, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  If you weigh yourself, then you’re generally appalled or ashamed or enraged or depressed.  If you don’t weigh yourself, then you’re avoiding your responsibility, which is to confront the reality which is the numerical judgment of your total worth.

Okay, maybe that sounds a bit dramatic, but this is the story that whispers in our ears from time to time.

I went to a conference in the Netherlands in June, and the keynote speaker was a behavioral economist named Dan Ariely.  He works on lots of ways to better understand why we behave in various ways, and to figure out some ways to help us achieve some of our goals that we have trouble with (e.g. saving money, losing weight, etc.) .

In this talk, Ariely mentioned a study his group did in which they tested out a hypothesis:  that weighing yourself every day helps you focus on health goals, and may help with weight loss.  This is something lots of medical experts also believe, but it hasn’t been tested.  The problem is:  people hate weighing themselves.  Why?  Well, if you weigh yourself, says Ariely, one of three things will happen:

  1. You’ve gained weight, in which case you’re depressed.
  2. You’re the same, in which case you’re not happy (because you haven’t lost weight).
  3. You’ve lost weight, in which case you become anxious about the next time you have to weigh yourself, worrying that you might regain some of what you lost.

When you put it that way, it sounds unpleasant all around.

Part of the problem with scales is that they register changes all the time because our bodies are changing in weight all the time.    Body weight has very high variance– we can fluctuate up or down 2kg or more in any given day, and it doesn’t mean anything.  There are scales on the market now that register one-tenth of a pound change.  This is really irritating to me, as there’s nothing good about this information– it’s just part of the noise of the variance, but it has the power to make me feel really bad.

Of course there’s a really simple solution to this problem:  don’t weigh yourself.  That’s a perfectly fine option.  Lots of folks who write for this blog and who read this blog do (or rather, don’t do) exactly that.  I say huzzah to that.

But for me, I can’t seem to leave this scale thing alone.  This is because I do want to track my weight changes over time and because I do have health goals that involve weight loss if possible (yeah, these things are complicated; you all know this as well as I do).

Enter the scale that doesn’t tell me what I weigh.  Here it is:

The Shapa scale, a bright orange disc on my bathroom floor with a white S in the middle.

The Shapa scale, a bright orange disc on my bathroom floor with a white S in the middle.

Ariely and his team had an idea:  we don’t really need to know how much we weigh.  What we need to know over time is whether our weight is the same, up a little, down a little, up a little more, or down a little more.  So they developed this scale, called Shapa, that does just that.  It comes bluetooth enabled, with an app on your phone.  Part of the screen looks like this:

A screenshot from the Shapa app, with daily weigh in info (when you weighed yourself) and an optional mission for some activity or cooking.

A screenshot from the Shapa app, with daily weigh in info (when you weighed yourself) and an optional mission for some activity or cooking.

You bring your phone with you to where the scale is, and weigh yourself.  It takes a few weeks for Shapa to calibrate what your average weight is, and what your weight variance is over time.  Once it does that (and it won’t tell you those weights even if you ask nicely!), then when you weigh yourself, it will give you a message and a color.  Mine today looked like this:

A screenshot of the results of my weighing myself- I'm blue, which means "good", which means my weight is the same.

A screenshot of the results of my weighing myself- I’m blue, which means “good”, which means my weight is the same.

The scale keeps the weight variance to itself, and just tells you whether you’re the same, up (one or two standard deviations from the mean) or down (one or two standard deviations from the mean).  Though it says this in a more encouraging and colorful way.

I love this.  What I want to know is how my weight is responding to any changes in my activity or eating, and this scale tells me that without the burden of all those fluctuations which just vex me.  Of course, our clothes and mirrors and partners and selves and other cues can tell us about our bodies.  But I really do like this.  I like the daily attention to myself, and it’s offering me an occasion to think more about what sorts of changes I can or want to make to see if I can effect weight change over time.  And it is also telling me that weight isn’t the only thing that matters.  My weight has stayed the same over the past 6 weeks since I got the Shapa scale, but I feel like my clothes are a little looser.  This is probably because I’m in better physical shape (thank you Bike Rally for motivating me!).

That’s interesting information for me, too– that I can feel better, do more of what I ask of my body, and feel better in my clothes in the face of silence on the part of my scale.  Maybe I like that best of all.

What about y’all, dear readers?  Do you have a relationship with scales?  What is it?  What do you think about this crazy idea of a scale that refuses to tell you what you weigh?  I’d love to hear from you.