217 in 2017: What counts?

Image result for 2017

I think I’ve told you before about my favorite fitness accountability/encouragement group, 217 in 2017.

What’s the group all about?

“WHAT: The idea is simple. In 2017 there are 365 days. We are going to challenge ourselves to workout 217 times in those 365 days.

WHY: (1) Consistently doing deliberate exercise is one of the most important factors in developing good health and fitness. (2) Choosing to complete a workout or not is something we can control.

HOW: (1)Workouts are defined as any form of deliberate exercise/movement. Some examples are, lifting weights, doing gymnastics, a CrossFit WOD, a hike in the great outdoors, practising a martial art or yoga. Taking a dance class or playing rec softball with the folks from work also count. Do what inspires you to move your body. (2) Use a spreadsheet, a habit tracking app, or a notebook and give yourself a check mark for every workout you complete. (3) Share your progress with the group.

Let’s get cracking!”

Cate has joined in this year and we’ve had a few chats about what counts. We’ve both counted some strenuous runs through airports with luggage!

We’ve decided that regular everyday bike commuting doesn’t count but we’ll count it if it’s above and beyond the call, like a distance or time of year you normally wouldn’t ride. I also noticed last year that I tended to log it if I did something extra– “bike commute + office planks and burpees”– but I didn’t count it if that was it all alone.

I’m reminded of a discussion about value theory we had at the Arizona ethics conference. The basic idea was about things that are too small to count in decisions based on value. Frances Kamm writes, for example, suppose a trolley is headed toward killing Joe and we have a choice to send the trolley to the right where there is another person but alongside Joe are some beautiful flowers that give many people pleasure.  The extra utility is irrelevant. She says a Principle of Irrelevant Utility as operating in such cases. The flowers make no moral difference. Whatever you decide about the rightness or wrongness of turning the trolley, you shouldn’t do it on the basis of the flowers.

Here’s U of T’s Tom Hurka explaining the Trolley Problem. Hi Tom! (I’m visiting his class tomorrow where the students are discussing a paper of mine, Thresholds for Rights.)

Here’s a two year old’s solution to the Trolley Problem:

And if you haven’t had enough yet, here’s Wayne Norman‘s musical version:

Back to value theory and what counts: Sometimes things don’t matter on their own but they do matter alongside something else. When I was a Department Chair junior colleagues would sometimes ask if book reviews counted for tenure. The answer is complicated. On their own, they don’t count. No number of book reviews is enough to get you tenure at a research oriented university. But they don’t count for nothing. Alongside refereed journal publications, the gold standard for academic publications, book reviews are a nice bonus.

So bike commutes + something else count even if bike commutes alone don’t.

Anyway, anyway, I’m babbling here. Back to fitness!

Here’s my first few days of 2017,

9. Two hour boxing class

8. Played at a new gym, Hart House, lifted some weights, used some of the weight machines, rowed 5000 m, and ran around the track.

 7. Walk around resort nature trail

6. Hotel room squats, planks, burpees, and push ups, plus hip mobility and knee physio

5. Two hour boxing class

4. Downhill skiing lesson! I blogged about that here.

3. Two hours fat biking in the snow, including some dramatic falls. I blogged about that here.

2. 7000 step run through airport from one end to another, carrying a serious back back. Bypassing all the escalators, running the stairs. Good news, caught my flight. Fitness for the win.

 1. Hotel room workout of burpees, push ups, squats and planks. Plus some stretching.

I like this kind of tracking. It’s a simple list of workouts. I also like seeing what people are up to.

I’ll keep you posted.

red briefcase, black slingbag with pink skull name tag

My luggage worn while running gate to gate

Getaway with Friends to Key West (Half Marathon for Good Measure)


Anita, Rebecca and I have been planning for the Key West Half Marathon for months. We first blogged about it back in August. Well, the big day has come and gone, and for my part I can truly say that the Key West Half Marathon is a “destination” event worth working into your plans (if you’re into and able to partake in that sort of thing–I’ll be posting about destination events on Thursday).

Rebecca and her partner, Dan, flew into Fort Lauderdale late Friday and spent the night on the boat with me and Renald.  The four of us made the five hour drive down to the southern most key (Key West) on Saturday. It’s a gorgeous drive with clear blue water on both sides of the road for much of the way. We hit a bit of traffic because we were not the only ones headed that way and the half marathon was not the only happening event down in Key West that weekend. But what a stunning drive.

We checked into our quaint little hotel and went down to the Waterfront Brewery to pick up our race kits. That evening, we met Anita, her husband Rob, and their friend Shannon for dinner at Mangia Mangia (Italian, of course! I don’t care what anyone says, pasta the night before is essential!) on Saturday night. After dinner we strolled home past the cemetery and turned in for an early night with a plan to meet the next morning at 6:15 a.m. to walk down to the start line together for the 7 a.m. start time.

I’ve been really excited about this event for a long time. Not only had I never been to Key West (or any of the Florida Keys), but it’s a treat and then some to be able to do a warm-weather race in January. And I’ve been away for weeks (since Christmas Eve), so it was cool to be meeting up with friends for this.

It was still dark when we walked down to Caroline and Grinnell, where the race started. Renald came with us to take in the energy of the race start and help with the mandatory pre-race pics.


Me with Renald at the start line, just before dawn.

Dan was also out bright and early because he was running the 5K at 7:30 a.m. Here are the four of us, all stoked for the big event!


The half marathon course was spectacular, with the majority of it along the water. At one point we even had an out and back on a pier. I mean really, where else do you do that? When we weren’t on the picturesque path beside the beach we were running through the charming town of Key West. It’s a high-end tourist town teeming with tiny little cottages that are probably worth millions and lots of cafes, shops, restaurants, bars, inns, and people. The race volunteers were excellent and I have never seen so many water stations for a half marathon.

It was an awesome experience and I would do it again. Here are my impressions, followed by Anita’s and Rebecca’s.


I had a good race. As I already said, it was a spectacularly beautiful course along the water. The weather was perfect. We’d spent many months fussing and worrying that it would be too hot. I had had a brutal training run (21K) just after New Year’s in Fort Lauderdale, where I had to stop at the beach showers all along my route to cool off for the last half of my run. If I had never quite appreciated the meaning of  “endurance running” before, I did on that training run. But Key West was perfect. It was warm enough that we could go down to the start line without worrying about an extra layer over our shorts and tanks. But cool enough, with cloud cover and no humidity, that there were no unbearable moments (for me, anyway). Once in awhile I used some of the water from the water stations to cool my hands or neck (I love how that feels), but mostly I was good.

Anita and I ran together with a goal of making under 2:30. This is reasonable for us. We usually include walk breaks in our long runs. We shortened them from one minute to 30 seconds for the first half of the out and back course. After the half way point, we took a few full minute walk breaks. But neither of us felt especially taxed until quite close to the end.

I had one amazing 10 minute run interval where I just hit my stride, picked up my pace, and felt like I could go forever. But I couldn’t keep that up and I never recaptured it after the next walk. I wonder sometimes about my run-walk strategy but so far haven’t attempted to skip walk breaks on a long run.

Besides the awesome beauty of the course, the volunteers were super supportive and the live music at various locations added something special.

The course is basically flat. At one point near the end one of the volunteers assured us that we were about to take on “the last hill.” I hadn’t noticed any hills to that point and honestly couldn’t tell what she was talking about. In fact, I asked her “is it an uphill or a downhill?” Apparently it was uphill, but if I thought London, Ontario was flat, Key West is a whole other order of flat.

For the last 3K I felt like we should gun it. I suggested that to Anita, but she wasn’t as enthusiastic as I was about that. With just over a kilometre to go, she took a walk break that I decided to skip. I just didn’t feel I would be able to get my legs moving again if I slowed down. I chugged along, feeling my energy fade but there was a boost when we rounded a corner to volunteers shouting “you’re almost there.”  Anita caught up to me and we approached the final stretch together. We passed Rob and Shannon, who took a bunch of pics of us coming into the finish line.  We crossed together at 2:27:27. Rebecca wanted to know if we were holding hands. Not literally, but “in spirit” as Anita said. Rebecca didn’t know because by the time we crossed she was long done with her awesome 2:02 time (so so close to breaking 2 hours next time!).

All in all, it was a great race and I would do it again.


What’s not to love about running a race in the Florida Keys? The sun, pools, beaches, cute shops, bars, tourist traps – I loved it the minute I got there. I wanted to savour every moment. Tracy and Rebecca arrived in another car, about an hour earlier than me. We were meeting up that night for a pasta dinner so in the meantime I wandered over to the race bib pick up site and expo with my friend Shannon. Only about five booths were selling running stuff. Shannon thought it was slightly disorganized but also acknowledged that it was a smaller race in a somewhat far away venue. We both agreed that the shirts – of the Hawaiian shirt genre, if you catch my drift – were terrific.

And on to the race…although somewhat unusual, the 7 am start time was perfect given the Floridian heat. Tracy, Rebecca and I had talked for days about this heat; we were quite anxious about it, actually, but in the end the morning turned out to be perfect. A little breeze to cool us off, and most of the time the sun hid behind the clouds. The route was breathtaking. We ran most of it along the ocean front, and as we ran we enjoyed the various bands and musicians scattered throughout the route. It was truly one of the prettiest races I’ve ever run. My only complaint was that it wrapped around a lot of corners so you couldn’t see the turn around point or the finish line. Rebecca, aka as The Whip, was way ahead of Tracy and me, as we knew she would be. Tracy and I tried a somewhat different strategy this time: no full on conversations in order to use our energy for running. (We run side-by-side on account of our similar pace and speed). Although I think our strategy worked quite well, by about the last half hour I had to pull out my bag of tricks to keep going:

-repeating my new mantra (“you are stronger than you think”) in place of my old one (“slow and steady wins the race”).

-focusing on my breathing

-and a new technique for that last km: pick out something bright in the distance, like a stop sign, and run while focused on it, saying “if you can see it you can run it.” Once I got to the marker I had to find the next one. I picked red markers to match my shirt.

I stopped to catch my breath at one point but Tracy kept going. I caught up with her, and we crossed that finish line together. We did it!  All three of us rocked that race, with times that we were happy with. I love my running pals! We’re definitely addicted to destination races (and have started talking about the next one)!


I had been training for this race for months, but by the time I made it down to Florida, I was less excited about the race than I was about escaping my home in Washington, DC in order to avoid the depressing winter and even more depressing inauguration preparations, for a few days of sun, ocean, and fantastic company. I was worried the racing conditions would be far too hot and humid for me to make my goal of breaking 2:05, for a half-marathon PR. I also have a maximally intense boxing bout coming up in two weeks, in which I am definitely the underdog fighter, and I am a bit focused on training for and surviving that, at the moment. I couldn’t wait to spend a couple of nights on Tracy and her husband’s lovely catamaran, and to wander Key West with good friends. I had decided that if my race time was terrible, I was fine with that. I had already proven to myself that I could finish a half marathon, so unlike when I did the Niagara Women’s Half with Tracy and Anita last summer, I was not afraid of literally dying or needing to be carted off the course mid-race.

But race morning turned out to be balmy and beautiful, and when I started running I felt totally comfortable and light on my feet. By the time I had run for a mile or so down little Key West alleys, my competitive nature had kicked back in, and once we broke out onto the gorgeous oceanside trail, with the sun rising beside us, I decided to break away from my pacing group and try for the best race of my life. For a solid 10 miles, I felt like the total master of my body and my world. I didn’t take any walk breaks, I skipped all the water stations, I ignored my energy snacks, and just ran, pacing myself exactly how I wanted to, slowly but surely increasing my speed as I went. I mentally calculated that I was now on track to finish several minutes ahead of my 2:05 goal. I began dreaming of breaking 2:00, and increased my speed yet more.

Unfortunately, right after that, we took a turn out onto a pier and the sun hit me full force, reflecting off the pier and blasting my face with hot air. At the same moment I saw the 2:00 pacer coming back off the pier, at least two minutes ahead of me, which was disheartening.  I lost my steam, both psychically and physically. Coming off the pier, I took my first walk break, and found that once I started walking my legs began to shake and I became hyper-aware of my labored breathing and rapid hearbeat. Bad plan! Bad plan! I broke back into a run and decided to really push myself to my absolute limit for that final 2.5 miles or so. I ran fast, but that moment of overheating and discouragement had broken my racing magic, and I started having to alternate between bursts of speed running and slow jogging. By the time I passed the 12-mile mark I was exhausted. I started looking for the finish line around every corner. Perhaps 250 meters before the finish, I saw my sweetie, who had run the 5k earlier in the morning, cheering me on. I didn’t want to look weak in front of him – obviously!! – so I grit my teeth, bolted past him as he high-fived me, and sprinted my way to the finish. My final time was 2:02 and change, safely under my goal and a clear PR, although I didn’t manage to break 2:00 as I briefly dreamed of doing. That was by far the closest I have come to running at maximum intensity and using up all my reserves.

By an hour after race time, I was in the hotel swimming pool, fully energized and refreshed and on an enormous high. This was my first real ‘destination race.’ I know that I am ridiculously privileged to be able to do ‘destination races’ of this sort. I feel so grateful that I am in a position to do something so very self-indulgent. But honestly, if I am going to treat myself to anything, this is about the best treat I can imagine giving myself. I’m sold on these! I had a fantastic mini-vacation with wonderful friends and I am super proud of my performance, bumps and all.  Of course, when Tracy, Anita and I finally managed to sit down together for a moment after the race, the first thing we did was start talking about our next race. Las Vegas in November here we come, maybe… I hope?


Anita and I doing our signature medal-biting pic at the end.

Happy Blue Monday!

Happy worst day of the year! See Why January 16th is Called Blue Monday and What You Can Do about It.

It’s an inexact science, of course. But it’s a rough month whatever the actual worst day is. Read more here.

“The original date of “Blue Monday” was mathematically calculated in 2005 by Dr. Cliff Arnall a researcher at Cardiff University. In 2005 Blue Monday fell on January 24th which was the 4th Monday of January. (MSN:news/Jan. 24, 2005 called worst day of the year).

Mr. Arnall created his formula for the most depressing day of the year by working six distinct factors into the equation: weather conditions (Gloomy old January and its typical lack of sunshine), debt level and our ability to pay that debt, time elapsed since Christmas, time elapsed since failing our New Years resolutions, our general seasonal motivational levels, and our need to take action and to have something to look forward to( During January, and depending on where you reside, there are no statutory holidays in the fore-see-able future. Gasp!).”

Maybe take the day off, walk your dog in the woods, nap lots, buy some quality chocolate, and hug all your friends.

Or if temperamentally you need a good wallow every once in awhile designate that day. Drag out some sad songs, drink tea, watch some sad movies, and stock up on handkerchiefs. Get it out of your system.

Here’s some resources:

Why do sad songs help with sadness? Here’s one answer. “Sad songs counter such deterioration by enhancing a sense of social connectedness or bonding. Research has shown that one of the strongest emotions elicited by sad songs is nostalgia. By triggering reminiscence, nostalgia can remind us of who we once were, how we overcame challenges in the past, and who we are in terms of our relationships to others. Nostalgia is associated with enhanced social connectedness, continuity of self, and healthy ways of coping with stress. Memories of prior achievements, family get-togethers, and activities we enjoyed remind us that, once possible before, joy is attainable again. Remembering that we were once loved, not for what we could do, earn, or give, but simply for who we are reminds us of our enduring worth.”

Read more here.

Maybe end the day with a sad run. And then start the next day anew and call it the start of spring.



How much motivation can you stand? Where’s your limit?

Everyone loves the motivational penguin. But generally one person’s motivational saying or short video might drive someone else up the wall. This is another area in which Tracy and I have different tastes. For example, Tracy can’t take the grind videos but I find them motivational. I am a sucker for a good motivational sports video. But even I have my limits.

Clearly this is a joke, the remix anyway, but it makes me want to run and hide under the blankets!

I looked for some background and found this, The Real Story Behind Shia LaBeouf’s Hilarious ‘Motivational’ Rant:

“There are two kinds of people in the world: those who’ve already seen the hilarious clip of actor Shia LaBeouf screaming, “Just DO IT!” furiously at the camera for two minutes, and those who will.

The first time you see it, you can’t help having some reaction. The guy is just losing it. He’s like a Nike commercial delivered by Charles Manson. He’s Tony Robbins on a bad trip.

“Just DO IT!he screams. “Don’t let your dreams be dreams. Yesterday, you said tomorrow. So just do it! … What are you waiting for?! DO IT! JUST DO IT! YES, YOU CAN! JUST DO IT! If you’re tired of starting over, STOP GIVING UP!”

Throughout this rant, he’s contorting himself. He doubles over. He plucks some invisible birdseed out of one palm. He keeps enclosing the space around his crotch. Overall, he behaves as though his distress over your inactivity is being compounded by severe intestinal distress.

But the back story is fascinating. It’s a piece of intentional performance art. You should go read it!

Past posts:

You may lose more weight in cold weather… if you’re a mouse

A small brown mouse outside in the snow

Congratulations, blog readers!  You’ve made it through the minefield of New Year’s Resolutions, including all of those articles promising ways to lose weight this year.

However, now that we are settled into real winter (in the northern hemisphere), the writers of those weight-loss articles need a new angle.  And they have one: the role of cold weather in weight loss.

a thermometer with icecicles, surrounded by snowflakes

Honestly, I didn’t know this was a thing until I started googling, and found a bunch of articles touting the idea that we burn more calories in cold weather, or we can harness our shivering reflexes to burn more calories.  I’m not kidding– check the article out here. Or better yet, (re)read Sam’s blog post about hot vs. cold on exercise and weight loss here.  The advice never ends:  we are supposed to be able to use the cold to activate our brown fat to burn more calories (read about it here).  If you’re pressed for time and can’t read the rest of my post, here’s my two-word analysis of these methods for weight loss.

the words


Of course, this blog has been ever vigilant in documenting the hot/cold weight loss/gain silliness; see Sam’s posts on this issue here and here.  I was reminded of this seasonal phenomenon while looking at the weekly email digest I get in my inbox, called Obesity and Energetics Offerings (thanks David Allison, for your continued compiling of this). It compiles articles on everything from basic science to meta-analyses on topics related to body weight and weight loss. One of my favorite parts of the newsletter is the “Headline vs. Study” feature. It illustrates why we would do well not to take sensational news stories about diets or weight-loss at face value.

This week, the cold-weather-weight-loss meme was back.  First, the actual scientific article, from the journal Cell:  Gut microbiota orchestrates energy homeostasis during cold [for mice]. The tests were done on mice, and the results were illustrated like this:

a description of the process of insulin uptake after introducing gut microbiota into mice

It’s kind of pretty, don’t you think?  But also pretty complicated in such a way that doesn’t make for a catchy headline.  But fear not, for the news media will happily remedy that problem.  Like so:

Headline saying Study: cold weather helps you lose weight

You can find the article here, which does in fact mention the mice, but also suggests that this might work for humans:

The study states that its findings on the role microbes play in obesity should be useful in finding treatments in the future. For now, while you’re shivering outside, remember that it could lead to that perfect beach body.

Okay, I get it that news outlets are always looking for anything that will get more page views.  And any story that says “If you do X you may lose weight” is bound to be popular.

Just for fun, I decided to google losing weight in spring/summer/fall, and I found articles for every season, saying that it was the best time for weight loss.

Spring is the best time for weight loss because:

  • you can run outside (so you run longer, burning more calories)
  • you just happen to burn more calories in spring (yes, this keeps coming up but still isn’t true)
  • Bathing suit season (with impending fat shaming) is coming, thus motivating us through fear to lose weight (yeah, that always works)


Summer is the best time for weight loss because:

  • the weather is nice
  • we’re all in better moods (okay, I give them that one)
  • the damn bathing suit thing again (we’re wearing bathing suits, so are afraid of eating lest we be judged; thanks for that!)


But wait, Fall is the best time for weight loss because:

  • Fall produce is yummy and good for you
  • It’s slow-cooker season (I didn’t make this up; look here but there’s no explanation)
  • The gym is not crowded

I have an idea:  we can fight back by figuring out which season is the best season for loving our bodies.  Here’s me:

Winter is a great season to love my body because it knows how to cross country ski and glide around.  Also, I love the feel of gloves and hats and scarves. And the crunch of snow under my boots.

Spring is a great season to love my body because I start to bare a little more skin and also spruce up with brighter colors.  And I ride my bike more, which my body and I love.

Summer is a fantastic season to love my body.  One word: water! I love the feeling of being in and moving through water.  And sweat, too– I do plenty of that on the bike and elsewhere.  And I love summer produce– yum yum yum!

Fall is a great season to love my body, with cool nights and feel of putting on a jacket after months of bare arms.  There’s fall riding and hiking, and festive rides, and the promise of eating more yummy orange foods.

Do you have a favorite season for loving your body?  I know, it’s hard to pick just one.




Unwinding a Double-bind at the Gym (Guest Post)

by Marnina Norys

I have allowed myself to become a “before” picture over the past 6 months. The gravity of my situation only hit home when I went to put on my go-to outfit for the first day of classes, and couldn’t get the zipper up on a jacket that had been flattering a mere 2 months before. Perhaps I’d have been alerted to my plight earlier if over the holidays, I’d worn something other than fleece pants and pajamas. You know the ones, they swathe you in softness and have such kind, forgiving waistbands. The fact that my winter coats were all becoming a bit too snug told my something, but I wasn’t listening.

This might seem like a trivial concern, but come on, the winter coats alone would cost $500 to replace. I went for quality when shopping, so that my ski coat, for example, is almost a decade old and is still holding up just fine. And lets not get started on the cost of a good, durable down parka, especially in Toronto. The same logic (quality over quantity) drove me when I was buying most of my clothes. This includes the gym gear purchased back when I was a happy little gym rat.

So of course, I’ve ended up hitting the gym harder than I have in years. In a way, the money I stand to save on new clothes is like getting paid to work out and that has been a good motivator. I’m not killing myself out there, I’m doing workouts that I enjoy. My credo has always “if it’s not fun, stop,” so as to avert developing negative associations with the gym. I’m glad of this, because this helped me overcome some toxic thought processes that almost kyboshed a recent work out.

“Norys,” I thought to myself while I stared at my body in the change room mirror, “you are so not falling for that line of bullshit, not a chance.” This is the thought that got me back onto the floor that night.

This internal conversation took place after discovering that the Cherry St. Y was a lot warmer than the downtown Y. As such, the thin fleece I usually wear for winter workouts was way too warm, leaving me uncomfortable and unhappy on the track. Where the fleece had acted like a corset, however, the tank top underneath was much too small now, revealing my newest midriff bulges in all their corpulent glory. I was simply not comfortable with the idea of working out in nothing but a too-tight tank top. Vain me started to bargain with the side of me that just wanted to run around and play in the gym. “Lets just go home,” she whispered. “We’ll try again another time with more appropriate gear.”

The thing was, I really felt like working out. I was having fun out there damn it! Angry about the catch 22 I was setting up for myself, I bucked up, fixed my attention firmly on how good it felt to be moving rather than imagining what other people saw. Mind you, I did give vain me a nod and tied my fleece around my waist to hide some flab (just don’t tell vain me what a futile gesture that actually was!). I have a wardrobe full of beautiful clothes that aren’t fitting well anymore, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let these same ill-fitting clothes bar me from making the changes required to wear them comfortably again.


Marnina Norys teaches a variety of subjects for a variety of departments at York University. Her newest favourite activity is urban hiking, often done with other Ingress players. Ingress is augmented-reality smartphone game that uses gps to direct players to game elements around the world. At the gym she enjoys running (generally at a pace she has dubbed a “toodle”), weight lifting, dance, tai chi and her own made-up style of kickboxing done on the heavy bag when no one is watching.




The Flu and My Friend’s Fitness Journey (Guest Post)

Last week I got unexpectedly hit with the flu. (Come to think of it, is it ever really expected?) Anyway, it knocked me out hard and I was upset by the rough start to my 2017. (Needless to say I haven’t worked out but proudly made it to a Yin yoga class which my post-flu body could barely handle.)

While I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, I do appreciate a New Year’s reflection on my overall life trajectory. What have I accomplished? What haven’t I? Where would I like to see things going over the next year?

new years ecard.png

New Year’s resolutions for me, like lots of people, tend to fall flat by Week 2. Sam wrote about December 1st as the new January 1st. I actually like the idea of getting a jump on a new year the months leading up to it.

In the fall, I was excited to recommit to my health and fitness. I’ve written here about how I am learning to see myself as an active person who is takes her wellbeing seriously. One of the people who inspired me to make the change in my own life also recommitted to her health and wellbeing exactly one year before I did (she in November 2015, and I in November 2016).

I thought that I would speak more formally with her about her experience, as there are things I recognize as similar about both of our stories: we both started out as relatively active children and young women but became discouraged and anxious about fitness as we got older. We both had multiple false starts over the years, and we both decided to integrate fitness and wellness in our lives around the same time.


Tracy: What does being “fit” mean to you?

Jaclyn: Being fit means loving, embracing and accepting my body for all the amazing things that I can do. This is not to say that now I love my body because it is leaner and has more muscle mass, and that I could not love my body before because I had a much higher body fat percentage. Getting stronger, lifting heavier, and getting my cardio up to a level I didn’t know was possible has led to an appreciation for myself and my body that I never had when I spent most of my days drinking, partying, and subsequently binge eating my hangover away the next day.

Tracy: Since you mention it, regarding your drinking/partying in the past, do you feel like you simply “replaced” those old habits with new ones or is it more complex? (Do you feel like a different person now than you were back then?)

Jaclyn: I think it’s more complex than that. I’m the same person, yet a different person. I think a part of the drinking was me trying to cover over parts of me that I didn’t like (or that I thought I needed to change to be liked). When I began my fitness journey, my new habits (nutrition, fitness, sleep, water intake, etc.) replaced old habits (binge drinking, binge eating, partying).  As my new habits began to slowly weed out and replace my old ones, there was a moment that I realized I was truly and genuinely happy. In that moment, I realized that this new lifestyle fuels me and allows me to be my most authentic and genuine self.

Tracy: That’s so wonderful and it’s been amazing to see your progress. What was your previous experience with fitness? Were you an active child?

Jaclyn: I grew up an active kid; I was on the swim and synchronized swimming teams, played soccer, and did ballet. My family loves to camp, so I’d frequently go canoeing, hiking, swimming and kayaking with them. But gym class was a nightmare for me. As a shy and introverted child, cliques in gym classes (which often involved choosing partners and teams) intimidated me. My intuition was to skip the classes to avoid this.

In undergrad, I joined a couple gyms but never stuck with them because I had no knowledge about what I should be doing, how to use the machines and free weights, or how to bring variety into my workouts and how to eat in accordance with my goals.

I would never even dream of asking someone to show me how to do something, and I was too afraid of being judged using free weighs since I had never used them before.  So, I would go over to the one machine I knew – the treadmill – walk for 40 minutes and leave as quickly as I could.  After a couple weeks, I would get bored of the same old routine and frustrated by the lack of any tangible kind of progress, I would quit the gym.  Looking back, my social anxiety, shyness and introversion were the biggest obstacles for getting into fitness.

Tracy: I think that can be quite common—sometimes people see “gym culture” as macho or unfriendly, especially for someone who is new to working out or not that knowledgeable when it comes to fitness. How did you find this and what strategies did you find helpful in overcoming that?

Jaclyn: As someone with little knowledge about fitness and exercise, and as an introvert with social anxiety, breaking into the gym and developing a consistent routine was a huge obstacle. This time, however, I didn’t want to run; I wanted to face this challenge and move myself into a space where I could walk into a gym and do my routine comfortably.

As I’ve grown with my anxiety, I have learned things that I can do to help reduce attacks.  For example, in a conference setting, the more research I have done on my topic, the more comfortable I felt.  So, this was my first strategy in wanting to become more comfortable at the gym, to gain knowledge.

I’m fortunate that I could afford a starter package with a personal trainer.  My thought process was that if I was willing to spend the money I previously did on booze, then I could certainly take that money and invest in myself and buy some training sessions.  I thought that if I had an expert take me through the gym, show me how to use the machines and show me some free weight exercises, I would feel more confident walking in and doing it on my own.

Further, I thought that if I could learn the basics of form, that when I went on my own I would be less likely to injure myself.  Another alternative to training packages is to take full advantage of the growing fitness industry via social media platforms (such as YouTube). I used this to watch how certain exercises are done, would mimic the motions in the privacy of my own house, and then try them at the gym. Utilizing the knowledge from the training sessions and from my research online helped me feel more confident in the gym.

Tracy: You’ve mentioned your social anxieties, which I think are common for many people, especially when it comes to trying new things. How has fitness allowed you to grow in this area, and allowed you to become less fearful of being judged, etc.?

Jaclyn: In addition to gaining the knowledge necessary to make me more comfortable at the gym, I made sure to go during quieter periods (i.e., not during peak times), especially at the beginning. I would also wear a baseball hat, which almost acted like blinders—it helped me feel more “in the zone” and focus more on myself and less on others around me.

Over time, I became more and more confident in myself and in my place at the gym. The better I became at lifting, the less I worried about being judged.  Moreover, the more I fell in love with lifting, the less I cared about being judged; in fact, I don’t worry at all about this because I know that weight lifting involves stalling on reps, or failing a certain move.  I know saw failure as opportunity to grow and learn – understood that this was part and parcel of the process itself – and so I no longer feared being judged.  This process of working on my anxieties in the gym was by no means a speedy one, but I can now happily say that about one year later, I do not need to wear a hat, and I can walk into any gym, at any time, and get to the grind with no fear and no anxieties.

I found that this newfound confidence in the gym spilled into other aspects of my life.  Looking back at where I started and where I am now made me realize how strong and resilient I am.  It helped me realize what I want out of life, and what I wasn’t willing to compromise.


Tracy: What surprised you most about the new lifestyle that you wouldn’t have expected?

Jaclyn: I never expected to fall in love with fitness and weightlifting like I did, but perhaps more surprising was the humbling self-love and acceptance that arose naturally out of the process.  I have cellulite and big thighs, but this no longer bothers me like it used to.  Instead, I am amazed by how strong and resilient I have become since I started.  I have become humbled by fitness and developed a love for myself that was absent from the larger part of my life.

Jaclyn is an aspiring fitness blogger, living in London completing her PhD in philosophy of neuroscience at the University of Western Ontario.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Speaking with Jaclyn over the last few months have helped to keep me both motivated and patient with myself. It’s especially helpful when I have my own hang-ups or things that slow me down—like the flu, or like fainting (which I wrote about in last month’s post). I’m grateful to have her as a friend and role model and thank her for letting me write about this so openly in this month’s post!