fitness · rest · sleep

No sleep for the homeless and fancy sleep for the rich? A quick update on luxury sleep

Recently (okay, yesterday) I blogged about the weirdness of high end, Manhattan napping classes. Luxurious guided naps for $22/hour in a fitness class context.

When I shared the story to Facebook, a friend reminded me of the drastic measures taken to stop homeless people from napping in public via hostile architrecture.

Here’s an example.

Metro stop bench is tilted so attempting to lay down ends up with you sliding off. From–GKl8gViv03YjplUn-PPaemCZnq1mmGikDgi0MoqLc

I remember one time my partner Jeff tried unsuccessfully to spend the night in a park in Florida but was woken when sprinklers came on. They weren’t needed for watering. Their purpose just was keeping people from making the park their overnight home.

So for the rich there’s the privatization and commodification of sleep and for the poor, there’s the policing and forbidding of sleeping.

More than ever we need the Nap Ministry.


Making Exercise a Habit

When did exercise become a habit for me? Not when I was a teenager, when I was sure I was not athletic, and had an unhealthy addiction to nicotine that made my lungs feel heavy when I ran across the street. I dabbled in exercise when I was in my 20s but I don’t recall it being a regular habit until I started running when I was 31. I had quit smoking many times before but running was added incentive to quit smoking for good. Plus, I quickly noted how the endorphin rush calmed my nerves, quieted my brain, gave me an outlet for anger and sadness, or a way to celebrate joys. It has remained a habit because I schedule my workouts in my week, every week. I remind myself to go workout, even when I don’t feel like it (more often than makes sense) because I know it will make me feel better. Because, if I don’t move my body intentionally for more than a couple of days, the edginess builds up, the cloudiness fills my brain, the self-doubt increases. The benefits of my persistence are many. But rather than focus on my reasons, I thought I would interview women who exercise regularly and let them describe their reasons. I hope they inspire you to continue moving, or to start moving, and to welcome the benefits of exercise into your life.

In the interest of space, I have taken snippets from each of their responses.


Brittany doing a back squat with a barbell

What do you include as part of your regular exercise routine?

In a city as energetic as Toronto, I love walking places as a mode of transportation when I can (whether an hour to work, or 10 minutes to grab a coffee). I also strength train 4 times a week, and practice yoga once a week, along with the odd spin class.

What benefits do you get from exercise?

When I first started strength training two years ago, I realized how empowered and inspired it could make me feel. Deadlifting more than my body weight, for example, has never been about losing weight, or getting toned. It’s about proving to myself that I’m stronger than I think I am, and that I’m capable of doing things I once never considered. It’s a shift in perspective that can translate to so many different aspects of life. I also find time for yoga and meditation, which remind me to step back and stay present. Some weeks require that more than others!

How do you handle days when you are dragging your feet?

I assess why I’m feeling that way: Did I get enough sleep? Is work stressing me out? Am I battling a cold? Is winter weather winning today? I listen to my body and work out when I know it’ll benefit me (aka it’s time to leave the office!) and give myself rest days when I know that’s what I need that week (if I’m sleep deprived or sick or am simply due for a night in to relax!).

What are your favourite exercises?

I love lower-body workouts like deadlifts and squats. However, I’m trying to learn to love upper body moves too, to continue to challenge myself. I’m also into cardio, and love running outside when weather permits, because treadmills = death.


Bonnie with her bike

What do you include as part of your regular exercise routine?

– 5km walk per day to/from work – squash 2x/week – used to go to the gym 3-5x/week for HIIT classes, weights, and cardio but recently moved and trying to figure out new workout schedule – used to do yoga too but that has been non-existent in the past years! – road biking during summer

What benefits do you get from exercise?

– Stress release and helps with emotional/mental balance – Social community engagements and friendships – Helps me sleep. I had trouble sleeping for a period and went to play squash by myself at night to try to tire myself out to be able to sleep! – Improved body and mental awareness/control

Do you have any tips for people new to exercise or trying to make it routine?

– No excuses…if you want to get into a good routine, you have to go to the gym/workout and not make excuses not to – Try to find friends or a community that will provide support and keep you motivated – Be aware of your form!!! This is super important in so many aspects! – It gets easier…first step is to take the initiative to get off your butt and do something…nothing comes easier, but as you continue, you will get better and feel better about your abilities and achievements!!! – Don’t analyze and keep thinking it’s so hard…just acknowledge it and do it. Working out is not just physical…it’s mental as well…don’t beat yourself mentally before you even start.


Lesli (in the middle), me and Cate at our gym’s 3rd birthday party

What do you include as part of your regular exercise routine?

I love to walk and try to reach 10,000 steps every day. Gym sessions are 4 to 5 days per week (scheduled a month at a time to avoid temptation to not go/cancel).

Have you always exercised regularly?

Exercise was a big part of my life growing up, teens, and well into my twenties, but then for years I was a couch potato. It wasn’t until I was approaching my forties that I made room for activity again.

If no, what motivated you to start?

Not sure it was “motivation” or a big old kick in the ass from a dear friend. I was suffering from panic attacks and anxiety and withdrawing from friends and she knew I would benefit from exercise.

Do you have an exercise motto?

Consistency carves canyons!!!

Is there anything else you would like to say about why exercise is important to you?

I may look like a hot mess while exercising but I mentally and physically feel like a million bucks. That feeling is priceless.


Cate biking

What do you include as part of your regular exercise routine?

All the things — spinning, riding my bike, going to the Y, small group cross-fit style classes, yoga in studio and at home, running, hiking, brisk walking that isn’t part of my regular day

What benefits do you get from exercise?

community, mental health, better sleep, a sense of virtuousness

Do you have an exercise motto?

You almost never feel worse after a workout; if you do, you have a fever and need to go to bed.

Do you have any tips for people new to exercise or trying to make it routine?

Try to learn the difference in your body between discomfort/effort and pain/strain — when you can make friends with discomfort, many things open up and you become stronger. But don’t work through pain or something that might hurt you.

What about you readers? Do you have favourite exercises? Ways to motivate yourself when you are not feeling motivated?

Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk who loves to: exercise, think about what to eat next, snuggle with her dogs, and enjoy life with her wonderful husband.

Leg brace and leggings that fit

I’ve written before about my struggle to buy winter stuff. It’s frustrating beyond belief. I now have a winter coat. Thanks for your patience Mallory and Sarah. But leggings that fit, that stay up, continue to elude me.

It’s partly because winter came fast. Daytime highs were 15, 17, 13 one week and then 2, 3 and 5 the next. Now there’s a snowfall advisory and a low of-13. It all felt awfully fast. When I’m leaving for work now it’s freezing. It’s partly because I’m too busy to shop (and I hate shopping.)

Oh, and I’m fussy. The cold ankle pant trend isn’t me. I want my leggings to reach my socks and my shoes. What is with the 7/8 length trend?

I also need to wear leggings because of my knee brace. Pants don’t work. Tights don’t work. It has to be leggings pretty much everyday. I dislike pants so much that it’s connected to my struggle to really bond with winter. Even my beloved (and pricey) Canadian made yoga jeans (see In praise of yoga jeans) no longer come in any leg width other than “skinny.” I’d love fashion wise to wear knee high boots and dresses and skirts but my calves are enormous. See Finding clothes that fit athletic women’s bodies. And then there’s knee brace It isn’t easy!

Back to leggings: My fave are Lululemon–yes, I know they’re evil–high waist Align. In black. (Thanks Ann for the recommendation.) They’re soft and dressy enough to wear to work. I’d prefer a company which manufactured their leggings in North America but failing that I want these in size 12 or 14. That’s what I was trying to order above.

You’d think given that size 12 and 14 are pretty popular sizes that they’d be more easily available. I try not to feel judged by the “sold out online” thing. Gap and Old Navy are a bit easier to find but they don’t last as long as they aren’t as work suitable. I worry about the carbon footprint of clothes so I hate buying stuff that wears out within a year.

There’s lots to juggle here. I hate whining. I just want long lasting leggings that fit. Preferably ethically made. Is that too much to ask?

fitness · sleep

High end luxury fancy sleep

Sleep is getting strange. From the never sleep crowd to the sleep as personal revolution set, there’s a lot of talk these days about sleep. It even made the program of the Canadian Society for Women in Philosophy conference we recently hosted at Guelph as the topic of one of the papers presented.

Feminist philosopher Cressida Heyes describes her feminist sleep project this way, “In 2017 I won a SSHRC Insight Grant for my new project, Sleep is the New Sex. Put simply, I hope to write the first feminist philosophy of sleep. This work continues Anaesthetics of Existence in its focus on liminal states of consciousness and their political consequences, but has a more obviously thematic focus and will be written in a more popular voice.”

Fascinating, right?

We blog about sleep a lot here too. I’ve got lots to say about sleep but the thing that weirds me out the the most is upscale sleep, expensive sleep, sleep with a price tag attached. Fancy sleep.

I’ll get to that in a minute.

Let’s note first that sleep tracks social privilege. For example, black Americans get a lot less sleep than white Americans. In fact, the difference in sleep quantity between the two groups may be enough to explain the difference in life expectancy between the two groups.

“The racial inequalities in the US are stark, but none are more damaging than the health gap between blacks and whites. On average, blacks die at a significantly younger age than whites.”

Here is a recent report on sleep differences between black and white Americans, Nobody Sleeps Better Than White People, Says Study. And here’s my response in a past blog post: Sleep and social privilege, or why rich white people like me should stop whining about how tired we all are

That important detail out of the way here’s three recent updates from the world of commodified sleep.

First, forget standing desks, napping desks are the next big thing.

Napping desk

Second, Toronto just got its first napping studio. The first adult nap room I encountered was for undergraduate students at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I was a new grad student and I knew that lots of the students, commuters all, led busy lives, taking classes and working, often in shifts that didn’t easily line up. I was happy to see that there was a nap room where you could sign in, nap, and be woken up when you needed to work or go to class. Now they even have nap pods.

Napping studio

Third, I just came back from a weekend in New York. While waiting for a friend, I spied this place, Inscape, a meditation studio in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan that offers “deep rest” classes. You can read more about them here.

Here’s a photo of people in the “deep rest” class.

See also Sleep is the new status symbol.

I can’t imagine paying for napping classes. Spin classes, yes. Yoga, yes. Napping, no. Why does the latter strike me as incredibly privileged and so rich and wasteful while the former options do not? Would you take pricey nap classes?

I much prefer the activist, anti-consumerist approach of the Nap Ministry‘s public nap-ins. or collective nap experiences. “The 2nd Thursday of every month we will be at one of our favorite spaces with a FREE Pop-Up Rest Event. It is a perfect opportunity to experience our programming, meet the Nap Bishop, have a cup of tea, and curl up and rest with cozy yoga mats, pillows and blankets. You can drop in to catch a restorative cat nap or stay for a longer rest. We look forward to seeing you.” Their website includes advice for good places for public napping.

from . A Nap Ministry Collective Napping Experience.
body image · eating · femalestrength · fitness · food · sports nutrition

Dare *Not* To Compare

(CW: some mention of food regimens, food shame.)

Paul the trainer and I were gabbing in his kitchen post-workout, while I packed up my stuff and he warmed up his lunch. I was feeling invigorated by all the lifting, pulling, squatting and pressing and was looking forward to eating all the things at my fave café up the road.

I asked Paul what he was having.

“Chicken and rice; I have it every day!” was the reply.

I wondered aloud if he didn’t get bored of it; not a chance, he said. He told me he grills a batch of chicken each weekend and freezes it; he makes big piles of rice in his steamer and adds some to each chicken portion. Sometime he switches it up with meatballs, but that’s it.

A pile of white rice with sliced, skinless chicken on a blue plate. Paul didn’t mention any avocado, though.

For me, even the same (delicious and filling) thing each day would quickly get annoying; I suddenly wondered if I was doing it wrong. I asked Paul what else he ate.

He told me: protein shake or similar for breakfast; the lunch above; a small snack in the late afternoon; a small portion of stew in the evening.

My animal brain kicked in – in this case, not the brain that says “eat something now!”, but the brain, well trained by its old handlers, to fear food and loathe oneself for eating it.

God, I thought. I eat way too much!!

“Ha!” I said aloud, joshing to cover the rising panic. “That’s the opposite of me. All I eat is donuts.”

Of course this is not true; I eat many things including donuts – once a week, my ritual Saturday breakfast treat. And clearly Paul knew this, because he is a kind and supportive and body-positive trainer.

He said: “Really? No!! I mean, not all the time.”

Newman from Seinfeld: built for memes. “OH THE HUMANITY!” (NB: humanity needs many and varied foodstuffs to survive, including donuts.)

Let me translate. The above statement, said by Paul in that moment, meant: “No you do not only eat donuts! You enjoy your treats. You eat well and healthily for your body a lot of the time and your strength shows it.”

But in my head, filtered through my trained-animal-food-fearing brain, I heard:

“You indulgent slob!!”

OH YA BABY! 20 epic, multi-coloured glazed donuts on a wire cooling rack. My amazing local, Donut Monster, is worth the trip to Hamilton if you’re in the Toronto area!

What makes us compare our food and exercise choices to others? The same thing, I wager, that makes us compare every inch of our bodies to others’ bodies so much of the time. It’s a lived experience of being taught to compare, with the ultimate goal of shaming yourself into adhering to the promoted cultural ideal, as closely as possible. (Which of course is impossible. It. Is. Designed. To. Be. Impossible. Read that again, slowly!)

I grew up learning to compare. Maybe you did, too. My mom (bless her) would draw my attention to those around us who looked out-of-order: too big, outfit not age-appropriate, plate too full. She would quietly whisper shaming things; I knew they were directed at herself. But I’d hear them directed at me. I knew what not to do: look/eat/choose like that. I knew to compare and be wise.

Comparison is painful; we are our own worst critics, so we always come up wanting. It is also anti-communal; comparing means drawing hierarchical lines between me and you, rather than seeing what we have in common and celebrating that. Comparison has, thus, a very conservative political tendency: it discourages bonds between citizens, and therefore discourages change, revolution.

Comparison is also often limited in its nuance. It can tell us in broad strokes where the same/other stuff lies, but it usually stops there, shamed or prideful.

If you dig deeper, you tend to get more similarities than differences.

Take my experience with Paul’s lunch as a case point. After I got to my car, I reminded myself that my food, exercise and health choices lead every day to a body I want to be in and a life I want to be living. I took some deep breaths. Then I thought more carefully.

Paul trains several times a week, but he does not have the endurance regimen I do; he’s not racking up the kilometres on the bike that I do. Those kilometres contribute to my much-increased need for calories; those calories are pleasurable and they also help make me strong.

Paul’s wellness goals include maintaining his trim physique; my wellness goals are not as centred on such things anymore. I like wearing my selectively-chosen and carefully-purchased outfits; I’m cautious with my clothes budget and only buy a few items a year. It’s important to me to fit my beloved outfits well. Beyond that, I don’t care about the numbers on the scale. (And, like Cate, if I have to buy a new size next time, that’s fine; if the look is swish I’m in!)

Paul is also a man, slightly younger than me. As a woman approaching peri-menopause, I’m aware that things are changing around my middle in particular, and THAT IS LIFE, PEEPS. If I become a peri-menopausal and then a menopausal and then an older woman who can also climb the stairs up the mountain brow and cycle to Guelph and Milton to visit Sam and Susan and still dead-lift a Great Dane, who cares?

My whole life I’ve feared weight gain. Why? Somebody once told somebody who mattered a great deal to my mom, and she told it to me; all the magazines reminded me every week at the Safeway; and don’t even get me started on the bullies.

Things all these things have in common: FAKE NEWS.

Forget blanket, superficial comparisons. Try not comparing at all. What’s working in your life, your exercise, your food choices? Hooray!! What needs some work? Make a list, then maybe a plan, if you want.

But above all else, remember: the more we compare, the less of a community we are.

Do you tend to compare, positively or negatively? Does it work for you or cause you stress? Let us know!


Thinking Positively about Winter

Black words on white square against black and white photo of snowy trees, “If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow.”

I don’t know about what is like where you live but here in Southern Ontario there’s snow. I did my first sub-zero day of bike commuting. I was shocked to see that even the midday highs went above zero and the snow wasn’t going away.

It was a quick trip from warm autumn weather with highs in the high teens to full on serious winter. I’m struggling to find the things I need. Where are my winter cycling gloves? Where’s my puffy winter coat? Etc etc.

And lots of my friends are struggling to adjust. “Too soon,” they’re saying.

Canadians struggle with our long winters. People are sharing stories of the children and pets excitement at the first snow but confessing that they view it with dread, a thing to be endured not enjoyed.

I shared this story on the Norwegian secret to enjoying a long winter. Here’s another How people stay happy in this Norwegian town where the sun doesn’t rise. I also shared some of our older posts: Making peace with winter and Riding on the cold and the snow.

I’m looking forward to snow tubing with my kids over the holidays. I’m thinking I might go skating outdoors too. I’m definitely excited about fat biking. On the whole, my “winter dread” meter is running pretty low.

I’ll see you out there playing in the snow! How are you coping? Are you ready for snow and cold?

Snowy trees on Sam’s street
Sam’s house with bonus snow
fitness · health · Weekends with Womack

Language matters: how words in health contexts can hurt

CW: talk of fat-shaming and weight connected to health (for purposes of describing my presentation). The past two weeks have been conference-intensive. I was in Guelph, Ontario a couple of weeks ago, listening to talks about Feminism and food and also hanging out with our blog founders and friends Sam and Tracy. I mini-blogged about some of the talks here.

This past week, I was giving a talk at the American Public Health Association Meetings in Philadelphia. It was about health-concern trolling of fat people in the doctor’s office and other healthcare contexts. Spoiler alert: I’m against it.

What do I mean by health-concern trolling? Think of it as fat-shaming speech justified by health concerns on the part of the speaker. Here are some common examples:

  • I’m just concerned about your health.
  • You’d find that life was a lot easier if you weighed less.
  • (insert any disease or condition here) would be less severe/go away/never have appeared if you lost weight.
  • Before treating (insert any disease or condition here), you need to lose weight.

But of course images speak volumes. You’ve seen it before, but it’s a classic:

Comic of a woman impaled on a stake, and a doctor telling her she’d do better if she lost weight.

Apart from the big problem the woman in the comic has, how does health concern-trolling harm us? I think (as do others working in feminist bioethics– there’s strength in numbers…) that it’s a form of microagression, which wears us down with the repeated message that we don’t matter as patients, as persons who deserve respect and care.

What do I mean by microagression? This: A microaggression is a relatively minor insulting event made disproportionately harmful by taking part in an oppressive pattern of similar insults. The pattern of insults tends to be linked to stable traits such as gender, ethnicity, disability status, or (in this case) weight. Philosopher Regina Rini explained the harms of microaggressions well here:

What makes microaggression distinctively harmful is victims’ awareness that each instance is not an isolated accident. It will happen again and again and again. Further, these minor insults are linked to vast social harms…”

There’s a lot written about microagressions, and I’m just getting started thinking and writing about them. Next year I’m applying for funding to do some focus groups of fatter people to ask about their experiences with health-concern trolling in healthcare contexts. The goal is to find out what they think good health care looks like from their perspective. Stay tuned for more updates on the health concern trolling front.

Readers, what does good health care look like to you? What would you want to change in your encounters with health workers? I’d love to hear from you.