covid19 · eating · food · holidays · overeating

What Serving Love Can Look Like

Growing up, no one needed to explain to me what I already seemed to understand: Grandma cooked big meals (especially over the holidays) to show that she loved us, and we ate as much as we could to show her we loved her.

That dynamic worked for me a kid because the food was delicious and I didn’t care about things like portion sizing, calorie counting, bad cholesterol, etc. At the time, I wasn’t fully aware of the complex dynamics involved in eating food and showing affection—which also involves aspects of power, tradition, expectations, guilt, body rights, etc., as other FIFI bloggers have described.

And, as Tracy recently reminded us, how food is offered and received can create much stress in social situations. In turn, these dilemmas focus our attention away from being merry and grateful for eating together in the first place. This is especially true if we are able to feast with loved ones while the pandemic continues.

Soon I am hosting our family’s upcoming holiday meal. While others may be planning how to respond to offerings of food, I am thinking about how I can create a dinner in which everyone feels attended to but not unduly pressured. Here is what I am thinking:

Share the menu in advance, and ask for dish suggestions.

It’s no secret I am planning a menu in advance, so why not share it to let people know what’s for dinner? I’m not doing exotic food theatrics like a on-fire baked Alaska, so I will leave the surprises to the wrapped presents under the tree. I will try to seek favourite dish requests–and put extras on the side–to ensure everyone gets something that accommodates their dietary needs.

Make the traditionals

In one of my favourite Christmas movies, The Ref (1994), Caroline experiments with an off-beat Christmas dinner menu, serving (to her family’s horror and disgust) “roast suckling pig, fresh baked Kringlors in a honey-pecan dipping sauce, seven-day old lutefisk, and lamb gookins.”

While I might enjoy preparing elaborate dishes with strange ingredients, I know my family mostly likes to eat the basics: roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Unless I plan on making guests uncomfortable (and eating 16 portions of 7-day old lutefish afterwards), it’s more realistic to give them what I know they will enjoy.

Plan an outdoor stretch break

Not everyone likes to feel trapped in a place where they can only eat and drink, and I can’t see my family getting into a lively game of charades, so I will remind everyone to bring their warmies for a relaxed winter wonderland walk outside at some point. I will make available extra scarfs, and maybe some travel tea, to make this exercise activity inviting and comfortable.

Ask once, judge not

I will only ask folks if they want more food ONE TIME. I will not repeat my Grandma’s loving mantra, “Eat eat eat.” I will not take offence to food that is not touched or finished. I will remind myself that people choose what, how, and how much to eat for their own reasons that have nothing to do with my cooking.

I admit this one will be tough for me, but I will remember that paying less attention to other’s plates means I can focus on conversation and fun. (And if folks really don’t like the food, then they should be offering to host dinner next year).

Provide takeaways

My own habit is to overeat so food “doesn’t go to waste,” even if I don’t really want more. But I can avoid waste-guilt all around by making takeaway containers readily available, so folks can eat more when they want. (If I get my act together in time, I can get neat lidded dishes from a second-hand store.)

So, this for this holiday dinner–instead of focusing all of my energy on the food prep and on the eating habits of others–I plan on giving people information, choices, and a little optional exercise to let them know I love them. If they show up and seem to be having a good time, then I know that they love me.

This post is dedicated to my late grandmother, Margaret Stanski, who was a loving person and a wonderful cook.

fitness · holiday fitness · meditation · mindfulness · motivation · self care · stretching

Making Space Day 1: Let’s Start With Our Shoulders

Since my post yesterday was inviting you to make some space for yourself this month, I’ve decided to help you out with that by offering a short movement video and short meditation video each afternoon in December.

I figure that if you don’t have to search for and choose a video, it might make it easier to fit it into your day. And if you subscribe to the blog, it will even show up in your email!

You don’t *have* to do these every day, of course, (I’m bossy but I’m not actually the boss of you) but I’ll bet it will feel pretty good if you do.

Please adjust to your own schedule and abilities, of course, I don’t want anyone to get hurt!

First up, since I seem to hoard my tension in my shoulders and I assume other people do, too, here’s Doctor Jo with some shoulder stretches.

This video from the Ask Doctor Jo YouTube channel shows Doctor Jo doing shoulder stretches while wearing a blue shirt with a superhero dog on it.

And as for meditation, let’s give this one a whirl…ahem, let’s give this one a sit.

Please remember that you don’t have to automatically be able to sit quietly with your breath, that’s a skill that comes with practice. And that practice involves trying to meditate, noticing that your attention has wandered, and then returning to the focus on your breath. Returning over and over is PART of the initial process, it’s not a failure or a mistake.

A video from the My Life YouTube channel that offers a visual of gentle water with a guided meditation.

Feel free to check in to let me know that you did one of these videos, or any other movement or mindfulness practice, and I’ll respond with a gold star for your efforts.

And whether you do these videos or not, please be kind to yourself today. 🌟


Good advice for teens and others

I want to be a journalist one day, I told a friend in high school. I think it was Grade 10. The friend said she didn’t want to go to university. She planned to get married. This was the mid-80s. The idea of not going to university was surprising to me. I had always been a good student. I don’t think I ever learned good study skills but I naturally did well in school.

Cut to Grade 12. I was barely going to class. I don’t remember when it started, but sometime in Grade 11, I stopped going. I didn’t do anything exciting either. I didn’t do drugs. I wasn’t into drinking. I worked part-time in retail as many kids did and I worked a lot. Something about being at work separated me from the numbness, the drift, I was experiencing at school. I think of those days as a kind of blankness. I don’t remember much other than I didn’t go to class. When I did, teachers who knew me as a decent student would talk to me about coming to class and I remember feeling embarrassed, if grateful, that they were trying, but it didn’t help me go more. I remember friends getting skip sheets because their grades were low, but I evaded the skip sheet because I managed to keep mine in the 70s even with not going to class (I’d show up to write exams).

My timeline was different than others. I did go to university at 21. I had a great average for a couple years, but I still also suffered from crippling anxiety and terrible self-worth that felt like a cloud a lot of the time. I still hadn’t learned good study habits, so I would procrastinate and then cram, procrastinate and then cram, then feel sick after I got everything done. I also felt the stress of living on student loans. I hated the feeling of having $13 dollars to buy groceries for the week.

I had a great student summer job in Toronto and when it was done, I decided to get a full time job, stay in Toronto and finish school part-time. In many ways, this decision worked out for me, but I still wish I had finished at the time. I wish I knew that another year was nothing and sticking out would have positive lifelong effects.

Since then, I’ve finished many degrees, certificates, programs, etc. I’m a lifelong student, because I love learning but also likely because I’m trying to make up for my younger days.

Never Stop Learning Handwritten by white Chalk on a Blackboard. Composition with Small Chalkboard and Stack of Books, Alarm Clock and Rolls of Paper on Blurred Background. Toned Image.

I remember reading a book in book club that was about a journalist, whose son lost track in high school and wanted to take the year off. His father agreed if the son agreed to watch the father’s choice of movies for the year, as a way of learning in an unconventional way. I remember one of my book club pals saying “I just don’t understand why someone who was doing well would want to drop out.” It was a shame I kept inside (still do for the most part) so I didn’t say “there are SO MANY reasons”. None of them have to do with ability. No one would have guessed that 8 year old, 13 year old, 15 year old Nicole wouldn’t finish high school with the rest of her year. I still didn’t believe or understand it.

Why am I rehashing this? Because one thing I know at 49 is that no part of me is shameful. That what others think about my history has nothing to do with me or my ability. What I think DOES matter because it will shape how I live each day. Each day provides experience. Some experiences make sense and some don’t. I am the person I am today, to be cliched, because of all of those experiences. And I am doing better than OK. There’s no one way to a fulfilling life.

“The goal is to live a fulfilling life, not a perfect one.” on a grey/blue background

I’ve learned so much as an adult and continue to learn each day. These are some of the lessons I would impart on my teenage self.

Be yourself without apology. The people who get you are your people. Pay little attention to those that are not.

Take chances that make sense for you. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. You need to feel a little uncomfortable. But listen to your inner voice telling you or shouting at you to try.

Ignore your self-doubt and help others. Seeing how your gifts can help others can be it’s own kind of ego boost.

When you know you are good at something, don’t be afraid to brag. Not every day and not in all settings. Even if only to yourself, a little bragging is healthy

Feeling lost, bored, self-conscious, etc., are all normal human emotions. Learn healthy ways to re-direct those emotions.

Move more. It helps with the anxious mind. It also helps you feel strong and capable. In terms of the benefits on the brain, here’s an article.

Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, stop.

Stop dieting.

Look after your body as it’s your vehicle through which to travel in life. There’s no guarantees, there’s no one way for bodies to be healthy, but as much as you can – move, rest, eat, mindfully.

Figure out how to re-direct your mind from scrutinizing your every flaw. Direct that to something good. Helping someone. Moving. Laughing. Reading. Anything.

Whether people “get you” or not, you are worthy.

Don’t take dating too seriously. Don’t settle. Even if it takes you longer to find your partner, or you never do. Being single can be a gift. If you do find the right partner for you, you’ll know. No need to agonize over someone who isn’t the right one. Remember the “get you” part? Don’t waste time on those who don’t.

Learn about active meditation.

Help others. I might have mentioned that already, but if you can find a way to use your gifts (and we all have gifts) to help others, either in your career or in your day-to-day life, help others.

Oh and laugh. Find ways to laugh and have fun.

Readers, do you have advice for young people?

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs and is learning, moving, practicing gratitude for each day.
blog · fitness · ICYMI

Top Ten Posts, November 2021, #ICYMI

The first five most read posts this month ask (and maybe even answer) some questions.

A question mark. Photo by Emily Morter, Unsplash.

Cate wants to know why she’s still menstruating at 53.5 and whether that’s a good thing.

Sam wants to know where the images are of larger, muscular, athletic women’s bodies.

Guest blogger Nicole asks why wear the same dress for 100 days?

Susan wonders, is it a heart attack or is it perimenopause?

Catherine wonders what to tell snarky critics of e-bikes. Reader: She has some great suggestions.

Our sixth most read post is an older guest post from Marjorie on working out while healing from a hysterotomy.

Be a Fitness Muppet! is our seventh most read post.

Miss Piggy doing karate!

Diane’s “donating her vagina to science” post is our 8th most read post.

Ninth is Mina’s Self-Discipline As Ease and a Path to Joy.

And Looking for a Good Beginner’s Race on Zwift? Sam has some suggestions. That’s our 10th most read post.

fitness · habits · holidays · planning

Go Team: Give Yourself Some Space

So, tomorrow is the 1st of December.

Whether you are just finishing up the end of the year or you are getting ready for the holidays you celebrate, you probably have some extra items on your to do list this month.

When you combine that with the ambient time pressure that December generates, you end up not only having more to do but you feel like you have way less time than you need to do it.

When that kind of pressure happens and something’s got to give, we usually sacrifice something personal like our fitness activities, our meditation, or any breaks we might take to look after ourselves.

I wonder if you can avoid that trap this year (or at least not get caught so firmly) by making some space for yourself in your own head…and hopefully in your own schedule.

Maybe you won’t have time for your usual fitness routine but perhaps you could make space for some stretches.

Perhaps there will be too many people around for you to meditate, perhaps you could take a short walk, or do some doodling, or anything else that will put you firmly in the moment, for a moment.

Or maybe you can even go the other way and instead of shortening your time for yourself, you can find a way to create space to add extra personal time to your schedule. Committing to some yoga first thing in the morning or some meditative colouring right before bed might help you feel more at ease during the rest of the day.

I know some of you are reading this and despairing that there is no way for you to keep up any sort of a routine and you definitely can’t add anything to your day.

If that’s how you are feeling, then I’d like you to create space by letting yourself off the hook. Try to avoid telling yourself what you *should* be doing or feeling this month and embrace the feeling of running around. Sometimes it’s the disconnect between what you think you should be doing and what you actually are doing that causes the most distress.

If you can say ‘December is utter madness and I am just rolling with it.’ things may go more smoothly.

Really, I just want you to be kind to yourself, whatever form that might take this month, or at any time.

Here’s your star for your efforts!

Image description: a large foldable paper star is hanging on a white door.​
This is my largest gold star, a large paper one that was a gift from my friend Catherine. Image description: a large gold foldable paper star decorated with spirals is hanging from a string on a white door.


Sam is Checking In for November 2021: 10 Things to Make It Through the Worst Month of the Year

My plan was to come at November head on with all my self care and happiness promoting defenses ready to go.

Because November and I are not good friends. Indeed, we haven’t gotten along for awhile.

Image of a book cover: “If God loves me why is it dark at 5 pm ?”

So in the spirit of “the best defense is a good offense” (is that the saying?) I brought out the big guns.

What are they, for me?

Here’s my self care/happiness sustaining list:

  1. Gratitude: It’s a thing around here. I signed up for making November Gratitude Month, see November is Gratitude Month: What are you grateful for? #NationalGratitudeMonth. And Cate chimed in too, writing about the connection between gratitude and health.

2. Books: Reading fiction makes me happy but I struggle to find the time. In November I got deliberate about making it happen, even investing in better reading lights so that with my bad eyesight I can still read into the evening. I also followed Christine’s lead and got myself a bluetooth toque so I can listen to audiobooks while walking Cheddar.

3. Coffee: November is not the month to try to cut back on coffee consumption. Indeed, I might even have bought more lattes than usual.

This month, coffee made the news in the context of the time change–Coffee could boost your mood when there’s less daylight. “A new survey, funded by the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee, has declared that drinking a cup of coffee every four hours can lead to an improvement in cognition and mood, as well as improve reaction times and alertness.”

4. Bright lights: One the first things people recommend for combatting seasonal sadness is bright lights. I’ve got both a light alarm clock and very bright desk lamp. Do they work? I’m not sure. But I like them and they can’t hurt.

5. Fitness: It’s not a shock to readers of this blog that moving my body brings me joy and at a minimum helps me cope with stress. I’ve ridden my bike nearly 500 km this month en route to my goal of 5500 km. I also rejoined the university gym and exercised inside for the first time since the pandemic began.

6. Friends: We can see them again, in person, sometimes even inside. And we did! Lots. So many dinners and visits with friends. One weekend we saw four different groups of people. Much hugs and many smiles.

7. Fashion: While in other circumstances I might enjoy the aesthetic challenge in wearing the same dress for 100 days, one thing I’ve loved about being back in the office is dressing up for work again. I’ve missed my work dresses and jackets and shoes and jewelry. I take a lot of pleasure in clothes and even though I’m not seeing very many people, I’ve been the ‘back to the office’ selfie queen, playing with the #OOTD hashtag.

8. Plants: Aren’t they beautiful? My son Gavin got me started. My office has great light too.

9. Cozy: This is the month of flannel PJs, warm jackets, and toques.

10. Sleep: It goes without saying that sleep matters for mood. In November I made sure I got enough.

How did it go? Well, it went. There were many bright moments, some sad ones, some silly ones. I got over feeling self-conscious about doing the things that make me happy. After all, it’s necessary. It’s November. But soon, in a matter of days, it won’t be November any longer. There are Christmas lights up and plans to spend the days with family, walking Cheddar in the snow, playing cards, and eating great food. Life is good.

How about for you? Do you suffer from the lack of light in November? What tricks have you developed for making it through the month?

fitness · health · research

Are pushups and grip strength the Magic 8 balls of longevity?

There are so many questions we don’t have answers for. Some are extremely important, like “what will life with COVID be like in 2-5 years?” Others are less serious but perhaps more urgent, as in “should I keep those bananas around another day in hopes of actually making banana bread, or give up and throw them out?”

Comic with old  banana saying it will be banana bread, and other banana (who is smoking) says "nobody is ever banana bread".
I never knew some bananas smoked.

Another area where we spend a lot of time and money searching for answers is human longevity. How long will we live? What will help us live longer? What will help us live better?

Chickens discussing bucket lists. One said that chickens don't do that because of the whole KFC thing.
Apparently, bucket list comics are a whole sub-genre.

A few years ago, I wrote about the sit-rise test, a candidate predictor of life expectancy. Sam wrote about it before me (we keep track of these things, so you don’t have to).

But life expectancy prediction science has moved on to other things, namely grip strength and pushups. What is their current revealed wisdom?

Magic 8 ball image saying "concentrate and ask again".
Magic 8 ball image saying “concentrate and ask again”.


In this 2019 Atlantic article, the author cites several studies that suggest grip strength is associated with mortality risk:

In 2018, a study of half a million middle-aged people found that lung cancer, heart disease, and all-cause mortality were well predicted by the strength of a person’s grip.

Yes, how hard you can squeeze a grip meter. This was a better predictor of mortality than blood pressure or overall physical activity. A prior study found that grip strength among people in their 80s predicted the likelihood of making it past 100. Even more impressive, grip strength had good predictive ability in a study among 18-year-olds in the Swedish military on cardiovascular death 25 years later.

So what’s going on here? Grip strength is standing in as a proxy for muscle strength and (possibly erroneously) fitness in people as they age. Muscle strength decreases as we age. There’s not overall consensus on how, at what rates, where, for whom, and why, though.

More importantly, health science doesn’t know to what extent muscle loss is genetic or the result of physical activity and nutrition. In this Washington Post article, one researcher even says that grip strength doesn’t necessarily change with exercise. If that’s the case, then why are these articles using this correlation to admonish us to get out there and exercise more (including, I assume, grabbing lots of heavy things)?

The Magic 8 Ball says, "don't ask me".
The Magic 8 Ball says, “don’t ask me”.

This Atlantic article does have an answer. But first, a few words about the potentially prognosticatory properties of pushups.

In a study done on firefighters, researchers found that pushup tests were better at predicting cardiovascular disease than a standard treadmill stress test. Some experts think this result could extend to the general population.

“Push-ups are another marker in a consistent story about whole-body exercise capacity and mortality,” says Michael Joyner, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic whose work focuses on the limits of human performance. “Any form of whole-body engagement becomes predictive of mortality if the population is large enough.”

Hmmm… I guess this means we can just set up hula hoop testing at the local registries of motor vehicles and polling places, and then we’ll know all we need to about people’s overall health?

You've got to be kidding. I'm with you, Magic 8 ball.
You’ve got to be kidding. I’m with you, Magic 8 ball.

What makes health expects so psyched about these sorts of one-and-done health tests is that they are 1) cheap; 2) quick and easy to administer; and 3) believed to offer a snapshot of someone’s overall physical capacities, says the Atlantic article. But do we know this, above and beyond the broad population correlation studies (which have their own limitations)?

No, says Magic 8 Ball.

We do know, for instance, that grip strength declines over time in the absence of disease. We know that osteoarthritis and lots of other common physical conditions interfere with pushup abilities. We don’t know how lower grip strength in younger populations correlates with anything. And, we have no idea whether these statistically significant mortality risks are clinically significant (that is, whether the increased risk will translate into diagnosed clinical conditions).

We do have a lot of evidence that physical activities of many sorts are good for us. They can feel good, they can help us feel good after doing them, and they can bring us together with other people, which also feels good. That’s good.

One last question, Magic 8 Ball: will I make banana bread with those overripe bananas in my kitchen?

All signs point to yes, or maybe no.
All signs point to yes, or maybe no.

Readers, what do you think about these one-and-done overall life expectancy tests? Are you working on your grip strength while reading this? Let me know what you think.

fitness · holidays · intuitive eating

Intuitive Eaters Unite! A Holiday Bill of Rights

Image description: a written list of Intuitive Eater’s Holiday Bill of Rights, with seven rights listed (to be discussed in the body of the post) and credited to @evelyntribole and including a round button that says “Evelyn Tribole The Original Intuitive Eating Pro”

I’m a big fan of intuitive eating and try to practice it in my daily life. I have blogged about it often, making commitments and recommitments to it over the life of the blog. It’s an approach to eating, championed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, originally in the book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach, first published in 1995 and now in its fourth edition. They also have a great website that outlines the main principles of this approach and provides basic information about it through a blog, links to the books, and an active online community that people can join.

I had to smile when Sam sent me this “intuitive eater’s holiday bill of rights,” by Evelyn Tribole, self-described as “The Original Intuitive Eating Pro.” The festive season is upon us, and with it many holiday events with food, glorious food, as a focal point. I for one love the seasonal favourites, from sugar cookies to Christmas cakes jammed with dried fruits, nuts, and bursting with flavour. I love vegan cheese boards and special hors d’oeuvres that no one much takes the time to make at other times of year. And I’m a big fan of cozying up with a mug of hot cider made extra yummy with cinnamon and cloves.

Last year most of us had many fewer gatherings, if we gathered at all (I didn’t). So we have the added bonus this year of being in a COVID lull (I won’t say we’re on the other side of COVID quite yet because I don’t want to tempt the heavens) that enables us to gather with friends and family, not just in homes, but also at restaurants.

So…there will be food and people. And where these two come together, so do the mixed messages, the pronouncements from people about how “they really shouldn’t,” the pressure to eat this once-a-year thing that [insert rarely seen member of the family] made just for you because you’ve loved it since you were a kid, a table abundant with choice and more than you can possible comfortably eat, and maybe even food police who ask “should you be eating that?” It challenges even the most skilled intuitive eaters among us. The Bill of Rights will come in handy.

  1. You have the right to savour your meal without cajoling or judgment, without discussion of calories eaten or the amount of exercise needed to burn off said calories.

This, like all the items on the Bill of Rights, would seem to go without saying. After all, we are adults. And adults get to choose their food, their portions, and the speed with which they eat it. If I want to savour a thing, I savour it. That is the whole point of festive foods! To be enjoyed. Enjoy!

2. You have the right to enjoy second servings without an apology.

No worries there in my family. We are big on second servings at family dinners all year round and I’m thankful for that. As an intuitive eater, knowing that a second portion awaits if I want it translates into taking a moderate first portion that allows me to check in with how I’m feeling and making an informed decision about whether I want more and what I want more of.

3. You have the right to honor your fullness, even if that means saying “no thank you” to dessert or a second helping of food.

You know that feeling of having had enough (or too much) and not having room for dessert. When the food is as delicious as it is this time of year, that can happen. Sometimes we deal with this in my family by making a group decision to have dessert later, when we are likely to enjoy it more because we have space. But regardless of what others are doing, I know that’s always an option for me. And though it is sometimes are to put off for later what everyone else is enjoying right now, it is really hard to truly enjoy, savour, and taste something when I’m already at 9/10 or 10/10 or 11/10 on the “fullness scale.” I would rather disappoint a “food pusher” (thankfully I don’t have any in my immediate family or circle) than stuff myself beyond what is comfortable.

4. It is not your responsibility to make someone happy by overeating, even if it took hours to prepare a special holiday dish.

We are all adults here. Food is a lot of people’s “love language,” but that doesn’t mean we have to eat when we don’t feel like it.

5. You have the right to say “no thank you,” without an explanation, when offered more food.

I see a recurring theme here — “no thank you” is good enough. Indeed, given how many people explain their “no thank you” by food-shaming themselves or moralizing their decision or literally talking about their weight or their diet, I wish more people would say “no thank you” without an explanation.

6. You have the right to stick to your original answer of “no” even if you are asked multiple times. Just repeat “No, thank you, really.”

Really! Usually I meant it the first time and I do not appreciate being cajoled.

7. You have the right to eat pumpkin pie for breakfast.

Or whenever. Or whatever.

What I like about this is that it dispels some myths about intuitive eating, which is that if we release ourselves from the “diet mentality food rules” we will eat all the time, and always be reaching for desserts. That hasn’t been the case for me, and it’s not the way it goes for most people who find that intuitive eating works for them (it’s not for everyone, and Sam has blogged about some of its shortcomings). It’s as much about knowing when to say “no,” based on what you feel like eating and your own inner fullness meter, as it is about knowing when to say “yes,” also based on what you feel like eating and your own inner fullness meter.

Another issue that comes up for me during the holidays, also related to intuitive eating, is that eating isn’t an act of defiance. If I approach the holiday spread with an “I’ll show you!” attitude, I am once again being motivated by external forces rather than internal guidance. Chances are, I will eat more than I want and will not pay any attention to what I actually feel like doing. I may also shame others who are holding back, not respecting their decisions (again, when others get into the calorie/diet/food moralizing explanations for their own choices it’s hard, but I try not to engage).

Since embracing intuitive eating, I approach the holidays with confidence, eager anticipation, and sincere gratitude for the privilege of abundance in my life — not just food, but also friends and family and opportunities to gather. But that doesn’t mean some of these situations aren’t fraught. The Intuitive Eating Bill of Rights is a great set of principles for navigating some of that fraught-ness.

Enjoy the festivities!


I Don’t Know, Is it?

I’m driving on the Gardiner Expressway headed to the East end of Toronto. Just me, in charge of a car, going 95km/h on a busy highway. I start to feel this sensation in my chest, a tightness, a banging, “It’s nothing” I say and will it away. I take deep breaths and focus like I do in yoga to slow my heart rate. “I’m not actually dizzy. That is just my anxiety telling me I’m dizzy”. I don’t know, is it?

It’s 7:30pm and I’m uncomfortable in my own skin. My heart is slamming inside me again and my temperature is erratic, or it feels that way. We are going out to dinner with friends. In this second, I’d fail a COVID screen. “Cate, can I have a thermometer?” My temp is 36.5 degrees Celsius on three different thermometers (no, I don’t know why she has three). I look at my pulse on my watch, 65 beats per-minute. I eat an apple. I’m okay. We go to dinner.

I wake up at 3am, heart slamming again. I try square breathing. I slow everything down to one second at a time. I scan myself for other indicators. It’s so mysterious and awful. Is the world ending? I fall asleep.

The next morning, as she makes lists for some huge trip, I’m tapping my chest like my student does in group process when she is freaking out and needs to stay in the room, stay present, not dissociate into some abyss. There is no reason for this. I am safe, I am happy, all is well, I want to cry.

Later that evening, I’m home and still, every 15 minutes or so, my heart pounds. I idly wonder “am I having a heart attack?”. I ask Dr. Google, she isn’t sure but she can’t rule it out. It’s different for women you know, diffuse symptoms, tightness instead of pain, back ache, anxiety, neck pain, cold sweats. . .check check check. . .I’m through the looking glass now. I wake my son with the news “Your peri-menopausal mother needs to make sure she is peri-menopausal and not having a heart attack.” We drive 5 minutes down the road to the hospital.

I enter with this particular shame. What is the nature of this shame? That I am a bother. That I am bonkers. That I have enough education and whiteness to state my case with the expectation I will be taken seriously, while still constantly undermining my symptoms. They are reassuring. “You did the right thing coming to check.” I am treated with care and my kid puts on a brave face. I know that if it’s true, I will get treatment and if it isn’t, we are both taking the day off the next day anyway. Win-win.

The doctor comes in. He is maybe 10 years older than my child. He could be my child. He is handsome and perky and maybe on Aderal? Who knows what these guys do to keep going these days. He explains my blood work, it was good. My heart monitor looks good. “What about those big blips when I feel that slam in my chest?” They were right there on the screen. My son saw them too, sullying the otherwise regular beats of my little heart, a resting rate of 57bpm. Pretty good. The machine beeped at my because my breathing was too slow for it’s liking. It doesn’t understand I do yoga. “Heart palpitations. Totally normal. Hormone changes can cause them”.

I leave with a requisition for a stress test and a monitor, just to be sure. In this moment, there is no heart attack but that doesn’t mean this body belongs to me any more. It is off on its own, engaging in some process without my consent, devoid of any agency belonging to me. It just flips out whenever it wants to, in spite of my mindfulness and my coping and my measured breathing and my telling myself I am fine. I am fine. But I’m changing and there is nothing that can be done about this presently, only 79 days into the latest pause in the meno.

The wave after wave of palpitations has settled down now. Perhaps my sputtering ovaries are giving it a last go, a little respite? Who knows? No one knows. I don’t know. . .Is it?

(If you want to laugh about this more, take a look at this gem from Baroness Von Sketch.)

Carolyn Taylor of BVK asking the question we all want to know the answer to (no we don’t) “IS IT?!”
covid19 · fitness · traveling

Traveling While COVID, or, same body, new movement reality

Last month, I got on an airplane. For the first time since December 2019.

For me, this is a big deal: usually, in The Before Times, I’d travel (for work and for me) several times a year, doing at least two round trip long haul journeys (family overseas; work all over the place). Since COVID, like so many of us, I’ve grown home-bound and weary, and wary of being adjacent to humans I don’t know. But we cannot live inside the pandemic’s trauma-inducing reality forever. And I had a voucher for British Airways to use before March 2022.

So I got on a plane one cool October evening, and flew overnight from Toronto to London.

A seductively blurry shot of a rank of British Airways tail fins at Heathrow terminal 5, taken from the inside of an airplane cabin through the little porthole window. It feels very 1969 to me, even though my plane was a 787 Dreamliner.

Normally (aka “Before Times” normally), going to London for me is going to my second home. I bring my bike; London and southeastern England is where I fell in love with road cycling, so I do lots of rides. I keep a swimsuit, cap and goggles in my travel bag, and I like to hit at least a couple of my favourite London-area pools with UK swim friends (London Fields Lido!!!). I walk a fair bit too, because London is a fabulous walking city, and sometimes I head to the Surrey Hills for organized hikes with family or other pals.

This time around, I knew this movement landscape would be radically curtailed. Though it’s still riding weather in the UK right now, bringing the bike, on top of all the other COVID-related travel admin and anxiety, was just too much to think about. Swimming is still by-booking-only at many pools, so I had to think well ahead about when I’d swim and how I’d get to where I was going. Those pools that accepted walk-ins made me nervous (no UK vaccine mandates in place at pools or gyms), so I knew I wouldn’t want to do that. Hiking would have been grand, of course, but everyone is 120% busier with getting back to life now that COVID is “over” but not, well, over – and many folks are still reticent about getting involved in day-long excursions with people outside their households.

What did I do instead? How did I navigate the moving-while-traveling-under-COVID reality? How did I cope with residual COVID anxiety?

A shot of half my face and neck, wearing sunglasses and a smile, standing in front of a bright blue sky and roiling sea. In the background you can see Brighton pier. I’d been for a sunshine walk on the sand while waiting for my friend and colleague Ben.

First, I doubled down on walking. I did an average of 5-8km a day, some days much more, some days less. I brought my comfortable, light-as-air walking shoes (I like Solomon Speedcross, though your mileage may vary!), and I made sure my orthotics were always in. Instead of taking the tube (more below!!) I strutted across Mayfair into the West End and across to the South Bank; on other days, after journeys to the south coast for work, I strutted along the beach in Brighton.

My foot injury still flared up, though, so I tried as much as possible to stretch; I bought an inexpensive yoga mat and blocks to keep at home with my UK family, and I also tuned into my regular Iyengar class on Zoom. I had a plan, as well, to keep up with Alex Class as much as possible, but the time zone difference got in the way more than I would have liked. I had my bands with me, though no weights, so when I did tune in for Alex I managed a light, largely body-weight, workout. That was, as it turns out, perfect given the accelerated walking regimen.

So much, so self-propelled movement; in (public) transit things were harder for me. In the UK, there are no mask or vaccine mandates in place, and cases are still pretty high. I experienced culture shock over my first couple of days – Canadians, as Cate reminded me, are perhaps among the most COVID-compliant people on earth, and pretty anxious about it! – but I found I adjusted surprisingly quickly. To keep myself safe, I wore N95 masks whenever I was in close proximity to more than a couple of dozen people (on the subway; at the theatre), and if I woke up with a sniffle or scratchy throat I took a rapid test. (In the UK these are free and widely accessible, which is brilliant, though I would have preferred a mask mandate much more.)

My big take-away for moving safely and happily while in COVID transit? Trust your body, and know that whatever movement you manage is good movement. Trust your (high quality) mask, and if you are vaccinated know you are very safe. This is not forever; you’ll get back to running/riding/swimming hard, lifting heavy, standing on your forearms while traveling soon enough. You’ll also get back to a feeling of relative safety in transit soon enough! Movement during travel is about keeping joints limber, moving with joy, keeping things loose and free, and combining movement with pleasure as much as possible. It keeps our brain cells healthy and our cortisol levels under control, too.

We know this is American thanksgiving, and lots of folks are traveling at the minute. So, tune in over the weekend for more ideas and thoughts from some of our regular Fit Feminist travellers. We hope we can offer a few options to help make the most of moving your body and staying safe and well while also moving about this holiday season.

And if you are celebrating this weekend – enjoy!

A peacock struts the grass at Holland Park, west London, where I walked a couple of times with my friend Erin. Please do not cook this bird at home this weekend!

Readers, what are you doing to stay safe and move well in transit? Let us know!