aging · fashion · injury

If I were 20 years younger! Roller derby me….

HomeI don’t have a lot of regrets in life. There aren’t a lot of things about which I find myself thinking, “Wow, I would have loved to do that. If only I weren’t so old!”

Mostly I don’t feel the least bit old and there’s not a lot I don’t do for reasons of age.

I’ve told people on this blog that age is a silly excuse not to race. I wrote: “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s like saying that sex is for the young.  We’ve only got one kick at the can, one try at this life, and if something would have been fun when you were young, it’s probably still fun now. (Like sex.)”

But I do have a few regrets.  I’ve noted here that team sports, in particular rugby, is a a bit of a regret.

And  here’s something I would do if I were 20 years younger but that I won’t do now: Roller Derby.

I’d love to be Slamantha! (Do you have a derby name picked out? What is it?)

Last night I went and watched The Forest City Derby Girls.

At the end of the night it was Thames Fatales vs Luscious Lunch Ladies 218-119 for the Lunchies and Forest City Derby Girls Timber Rollers vs Tri-City Roller Girls Plan B 222 to 181 for the Timber Rollers.

They played at the agriplex where just hours earlier I’d been playing indoor soccer.  As much as I enjoy indoor soccer, it sort of pales in comparison.

I love the speed, the grace, the power of the derby girls. The sheer physicality of it, the contact, looks fun. I also like the look. All ink and bright colours  and even skeleton tights. (I want some!) Roller derby and prom dress rugby have a shared aesthetic appeal.

When I was riding track at the Forest City Velodrome some of the derby girls tried to recruit me (they practiced in the infield later in the evening). They recognized my fitness and my fearlessness but I didn’t bite.  I’ve got the cardio fitness and some martial arts skills that would do me well in derby, I think, but a)I don’t roller skate (major obstacle!) and b)I’m scared.

My fears? Well, injury is the main one and that would ruin everything else I love. I take longer to heal these days and feel hard done by by enforced periods of inactivity. My twelve weeks of training lost due to stress fractures hurt and these days it takes longer to regain fitness lost. So my “fittest by fifty” campaign won’t include roller derby…

In the meantime, I love to go and watch. You should come too. The schedule is here,

I think I’ll just satisfy my derby urges aesthetically. Maybe it’s time for snazzy skeleton tights and a new tattoo.

body image · diets · eating · fat · health

Shame on You Daniel Callahan or Bad Fat Day Rant

by Sam B and guest blogger, Kristin Rodier. (Kristin will be guest blogging later about her cross country ski experiences.)

Kristin is a philosophy PhD candidate at the University of Alberta. She works on “the connection between freedom and embodiment — specifically on habit, how to change habits, how habits constitute our selves, and different ways of having habits especially habits of gender.” And Kristin’s work is supervised by Cressida Heyes whose work on Weight Watchers and Foucault, we’ve mentioned here.  Her website is here,


Yesterday was a bad day for fat news on the internet.

First across the newsfeed was this treat, Obese Drivers 80% More Likely to Die in Accidents.

With thanks to current scientific research, scholars have already have observed issues connecting obesity with unsustainable ecology with causal links to industrial chemicals. Obesity is an ongoing global health concern, perhaps second only to the trend of climate change, and a recent study has discovered that auto accidents are a new venue of risk of fatality for obese people. Recently published research has indicated that the significantly overweight are 80% more likely to perish in an auto accident.”

How are climate change and death rates in auto crashes connected? Is the higher death rate in car crashes karmic revenge for the role fat people play in causing global warming? All this bad reasoning before morning coffee. (Coffee didn’t help.)

Because, you know it’s not large fossil fuel and fossil fueled corporations that are responsible for our environmental woes, nor the fault of governments who largely don’t regulate them, it’s the fault of individual fat people and our bad fat choices. (Actually, there are team meetings where we plot the downfall of the planet, text us your BMI and we’ll see you’re invited next time.)

It’s reminiscent of the episode of Dr. OZ where he had on Glen Gasser, author of Big Fat Lies.  Dr. OZ asked Gasser to put on a backpack weighing 80 pounds and then asked him to walk up a flight of stairs.  Gasser, being the Health At Every Size Proponent that he is, was there to promote the idea that weight maintenance and not necessarily weight loss combined with lifestyle changes can improve health at any size. When Gasser tried to walk up the stairs and fumbled slightly Dr. OZ said “even your risk of falling increases with obesity.” As was pointed out by blogger Ragen Chastain, argues, yes if you gain 80 pounds in five seconds, you might fall.

But, that isn’t how fat is experienced on the body when it is living supportive tissue that sustains and is sustained within an organism.  As fat women, we both have had our  lean body mass index assessed and our lean body mass is 122 lbs. for one of us and 187 pounds for the other (we won’t say who is who or what the rest of our bodies weigh!).  If  either one of us were to lose 80 pounds, it would likely be a combination of fat and muscle because we wouldn’t need as much muscle to move our bodies (fat and other tissues) around. Gasser was asked to put on 80 pounds of dead weight on his back.

Next up on the news was this, a hate filled review of in the National Review, Fat Politics , by Betsy Woodruff.
“To hear “fat activists” tell it, the only problem with being obese is societal oppression.”  Woodruff’s caricature of fat activists makes it seem as though their fat has interrupted their brainwaves and thereby made them delusional truth-haters.

But worst, was a goal on our home net so to speak, a call for more fat shame from noted bioethicist Daniel Callahan published in the usually reputable bioethics publication Hastings Report.

“Fat-shaming may curb obesity, bioethicist says” Read more here

Because you know fat people are all proud, never feel any shame, and really aren’t even aware we are fat because no one ever points that out. Women’s magazines hardly ever mention weight.

Honestly, if shame caused weight loss, we’d all look like Twiggy.

Two hard questions for Callahan: Does shame motivate anyone to change their ways? If fat people were to change our ways, what would you suggest Daniel Callahan? Diet? Like that’s successful for more than a very few people. Exercise? Sure. We all ought to move more. It’s good for everyone but it doesn’t lead to weight loss. Read Science, exercise, and weight loss: when our bodies scheme against us on this blog for some discussion of why that’s so.

Now shaming might be a useful social tool if and when there are clear reasons for doing so and there are clear methods to enact the shaming and to use it to bring forth a new future. This doesn’t seem to us to meet those criteria.

Fat activists and health at every size proponents believe that we took a very wrong turn in society when we let weight loss industry studies infiltrate our medical categorizations of bodies.  Look upstream of any obesity study and you will see that they are funded largely by people who will profit from making other people lose weight REGARDLESS of the health effects or the long term sustainability of the procedure. In fact, it is fat activists’ and HAES proponents’ point that the overriding desire of others for fat people to lose weight is what is making everyone less healthy.

Perhaps  Callahan should read some carefully reasoned articles by people who disagree with him in order to make his case more sound—i.e., the principle of charity meaning that we should respond to the strongest version of our opponent’s view.  This is something that we teach our undergraduates and it is a best practice that perhaps eludes him.  I suggest reading Anna Kirkland’s “The Environmental Account of Obesity.”

“The most recent survey of Americans’ fast food habits revealed high-frequency customers (the 14 percent of the population that accounts for half of sales) to be men below middle age with incomes averaging $67,575 (“Study Says” 2008). Yet we haven’t seen upper-middle-class men discussed as a subpopulation of concern for obesity researchers. Americans are actually more physically active today than in past decades (Kolata 2007b, 194). It would seem that this would make us thinner, except that it turns out that exercise cannot be shown to necessarily produce weight loss (Taubes 2007). Walking (which many urban residents of all income levels presumably do a lot of) can have health benefits, but people participating in walking programs only lose about two pounds on average (Richardson et al. 2008). We make a long chain of assumptions about causal relationships in antiobesity policy, and the rhetoric in which they are presented rarely represents them as contested, uncertain, or incomplete.”

[Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2011, vol. 36, no. 2] (463-485)

Perhaps as a man who fits closely to the at-risk group for fast food consumption, Callahan should shame himself, especially for writing the aforementioned article.

Oh, and of course, all of these articles featured the ubiquitous headless fatties photos. Sigh. We suggest journalists read this.

(Last word from Sam: Now this blog is about fitness. You might wonder how fatness and fitness are related. It’s not in the way most people think and I’ve blogged about that here, Obesity, health, and fitness: some odd connections. If you’ve been reading the blog, you also know I’m ambivalent about the label ‘fat’ as it applies to me though by BMI categories, I’m so there. You can read about that here, Fat or big: What’s in a name?.)

(Last word from Kristin: I would like to see bioethicists debate the worth of anti-obesity policies and procedures in a way that does not just presume that fat people are too stupid to figure out that diet and exercise leads to fat loss and thus an increase in health. That is just diet and weight loss industry rhetoric and I ain’t buying it.)

athletes · cycling · training

Spin Cycle: Armstrong, Doping, and the Lies He Told

Written by Sam B, for Western’s university newspaper, Western News.  It’s in the Jan 24, 2013 issue. And damn, I wish they’d used my cycling helmet photo! But they do have a great graphic to go with the story. Flashy, bright yellow (of course) and worth looking at.

“As a philosopher whose main area of research is ethics, and as a cyclist, I’m saddened, angered, and intellectually puzzled by Lance Armstrong’s behaviour and recent confession. Like many people I’ve followed his career closely. It’s a compelling saga, triathlete turned Tour de France champion seven times over, with a life threatening battle with cancer along the way. In the past, I believed Lance Armstrong when he said he was clean, when time after time he denied accusations of doping, and when he said he was the victim of overzealous investigating by cycling officials.

But what now? Now that he’s confessed, how should we feel about Armstrong’s record including his use of banned performance enhancing drugs? Let’s set my personal sense of betrayal aside and consider the ethics involved…”

You can read the rest on their website here.

cycling · fitness

Data geekery and fitness

A confession: I’m a data geek.

I love numbers, graphs, and analysis. I also like gadgets that supply me with the numbers. I don’t love them as much as my partner loves gadgets and numbers but then he’s professional data geek. For me, it’s just a hobby.

Currently I’m lusting after a new bike computer but I suppose it all started with a simple heart rate monitor for running. I bought my first heart rate monitor about ten years ago and I enjoyed playing with the zone training functions, speeding up when my heart rate dropped, slowing down when it got going too fast. For running it was useful in race situations when I wanted to run at a fast steady rate and not bump myself up into a zone where I’d need to slow down in order to recover.

It was a basic model and I couldn’t get the numbers off the wrist watch and onto my laptop for further inspection. But I recorded distance, time, speed and average heart rate. The numbers had me hooked.

Later it was my first bike computer, linked to heart rate monitor, that continued the romance. All the data–speed, altitude, heart rate, cadence–there for downloading and staring at. I found it strangely reassuring to watch familiar patterns. Time at the front of the pack when group riding, heart rate high, and then when my turn was over, recovering at the back. Until I started not to recover, and then I was toast. I knew what that felt like, crap. But nice somehow to see I wasn’t making it up. There it was, crap quantified.

Over the season, with increased fitness, I could work harder and recovered faster. Riding a bike in almost all settings is interval training. Sprinting up hills, recovering on the way down. In races, attack, pursue, and then cling to the back and recover.

Four years ago I even had lactate threshold testing done along with V02 max testing so I could accurately chart my heart rate training zones. It was all done on my bike and I even have gripping video footage to prove it.

The results: V02 max starting 13.2, lactate threshold 35.5, peak 39.7; heart rate starting 120, lactate threshold 162, peak 177; calories per hour starting 329, max 983; METS starting 3.8, max 11.3; Recovery: max 177, 1 min 158 (34%), 2 min 124 (93%); Fitness level: superior.

I liked that, fitness level: superior. Not elite. But that’s fine. I have a day job.

And I confess that part of what I love about these sorts of numbers is that they make it clear that the one number we all tend to focus on, the number on the scale, is part of much more complex story.

In Five Things Every Gym Should Already be Doing, Ragen Chastain writes:

Instead of selling people a cardio room and a bag of magic weight loss beans, your gym should be educating people about the actual possible benefits of exercise.  I would suggest starting by offering to measure things other than weight.  Offering tests like VO2 Max scores, blood panel, strength, stamina, flexibility etc.  People could choose the baseline tests they want at the beginning and then take them again three. six months in etc. to see if there are any changes.  That way people wouldn’t think that exercise is “failing” just because they aren’t losing weight.

I still love my bike computer though I want a newer, snazzier one, one with a GPS.  Recommendations welcome! If I won the lottery I’d buy a power meter. It measures power output on the bike. I’ve used one before in a bike fit session where it was really instructive to see how different seating positions and bike geometry play out in terms of power output. I don’t need that kind of information on a regular basis but it’s fun to have.

These days I also love some of the smart phone apps for training rides and runs. I use Endomondo which draws nice maps of our routes and publishes avg speed, total distance and the route to Facebook.

I like to track how far I’ve ridden each week and what my speed is on familiar routes. How fast up Heartbreak Hill this time? What was my max speed down River Road?

How about you? Are you a fitness gadget geek? If you can’t track it or measure it, does it count? I know some friends who never track or measure exercise at all and I find that baffling. I want measurable progress complete with graphs to prove it! To what use do you put the numbers? Which apps do you use to track your workouts?

body image · diets · weight loss

Raspberry Ketone, Pure Green Coffee Extract, Garcinia Cambogia, Weight Loss, and the Fallacy of Appealing to Authority

raspberriesMy usually skeptical husband forwarded me an email message late last week with the subject “weight loss.” It contained a short video of Dr. Oz endorsing pure green coffee bean extract as a miracle weight loss potion.  My husband’s question to me:  “what do you think?”

The clip I watched showed an enthusiastic Dr. Oz with the creator of the product.  Oz declared it a weight loss miracle.  When I went back to the link a few days later, the link led me to something different. This time, Dr. Oz was interviewing someone about a different weight loss miracle:  Garcinia Cambogia.  Apparently it’s also an amazing fat burner! Like pure green coffee bean extract, this product is supposed to result in weight loss without any changes to diet or activity.

Neither the green coffee bean extract page or the garcinia cambogia page would let me leave them without not one but two pop-ups asking me if I was sure I wanted to leave that page.

Dr. Oz has also spoken highly of “raspberry ketone.”  Available in pill-form (because you’d have to eat NINETY pounds of raspberries to get the appropriate “dose”), raspberry ketone is no less than “a fat-burner in a bottle,” according to Dr. Oz.

His website states that “research has shown that raspberry ketone can help in your weight-loss efforts, especially when paired with regular exercise and a well-balanced diet of healthy and whole foods.”  I love the addendum “especially when paired with regular exercise and a well-balanced diet…”

I think I will stick to the regular exercise and healthy whole foods and save myself the $180 for a 90-day supply.

Most reviews of these products that I’ve read have questioned the research.  A Globe and Mailarticle notes that the study on which the main claims about green coffee bean extract were based involved very few participants. Moreover, participants also lost weight during the placebo phase of the trial.

A Canadian Livingarticle on raspberry ketone notes that so far mice have been the only research subjects. Both articles quoted credible MDs claiming that, surprise, surprise: There are no magic solutions!

From the Globe and Mail: “Usually when studies break the physical laws of the universe, there’s usually something wrong with the study itself,” said Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, medical director of Ottawa’s Bariatric Medical Institute, who writes Weighty Matters, a popular blog on nutrition issues.

I haven’t linked to Dr. Oz’s website and I am not going to say a lot more about these products. Both his site and the products are easy to find on the internet.

What I do want to say is this: there is a well-known fallacy that we learn about in philosophy called “the appeal to authority.”  Appealing to authority is not a good strategy for those seeking truth claims. Just because some authority like Dr. Oz said it’s true doesn’t mean it’s true. Of course we do not need to dismiss the claims of experts. Good science is based on sound studies that have undergone peer review and are based on approved methodologies and ample evidence.

Unfortunately, Dr. Oz is not an expert in most of what he goes on about. And yet he is accepted as an authority by countless people. His stamp of approval on some product or health claim is taken as gospel by many people.  It boosts sales the way Oprah’s endorsement of books used to (perhaps still does) have undue influence in the publishing industry.

This is not to say that everything he says is false. It is only to say that just because he said it doesn’t make it true. We need more evidence than that.

But the medical community has long told us that there are no magic pills for weight loss. Dr. Oz’s claims about these miracle weight loss products are just plain irresponsible, given his level of influence.

I’ve heard all sorts of claims about this and that miracle food or product. When I was a teenager, people took caffeine pills to lose weight. As an undergraduate, smoking cigarettes was the thing.  At one time or another, the special powers of cabbage, grapefruit, and bananas took centre stage in the weight loss culture.  Now it’s more likely to be raspberry ketone, pure green coffee bean extract,  or garcinia cambogia.

And I haven’t even touched on fad diets like eating for your blood type (based on totally ungrounded claims), the lemon-cayenne pepper-maple syrup-water detox, or any variant of a low carb/high protein plan (my first diet—circa 1980—was the Scarsdale diet, a high protein low carb plan that people loved because you got to eat “plenty of steak” for dinner).

If healthy and sustainable weight loss is what you are seeking, none of these supplements or plans will work. They are not sustainable ways of eating for the rest of your life.  And like the claim about raspberry ketone, pair anything with regular exercise and healthy eating and you’re good to go.

No magic and no surprises. As Globe and Mail reporter Carly Weeks says in her evaluation of raspberry ketone, the bottom line hasn’t much changed: “While the promise of the synthetic compound sounds alluring, the best way of losing weight hasn’t changed: It’s still diet and exercise.”

I would only add that “diet” shouldn’t be taken to mean “diets,” those restricted eating plans designed to lose weight. Diets don’t work.  In this context we should understand “diet” to mean simply the way we eat on a regular basis.  We talk a lot on our blog about why weight loss alone is not a great measure of fitness and why we’re not big fans of dieting. Also here and here.

Just to reiterate:  “Dr. Oz said it” is not a reason on which you can base a strong conclusion. In philosophy we call that an appeal to authority, and it’s a fallacy.

Crossfit · fitness · fitness classes

Crossfit and what does it mean to say, “I would never do that by myself?”

Sometimes I get myself out the door to Crossfit by telling myself it probably won’t be a particularly tough workout. Strategic self deception. You know the drill. Like when we tell ourselves it’s not that cold outside really. I fantasize that this morning will be all about skill development and will involve not very many reps of some heavy weights.

There are days like that at Crossfit. It’s true. But today wasn’t one of them.

Today we did the following:

40 wall ball throws (with medicine ball) You can see these here,

30 sit ups

20 push ups

10 burpees

You complete that in 3 min and then take a 3 min rest, repeat 5 times. If you can’t complete it in 3 minutes, you scale the workout. The first time through I only did 1 burpee so I dropped the weight on the medicine ball. I also do push ups from my knees. Please don’t judge.

This is exactly the sort of workout I would never do on my own. High intensity, high effort, racing for time. Of course, complete with a a giant timer on the wall and a beep to mark the end of 3 minutes.

On my own, I’d find excuses. But it’s not just that. For me, there’s a real positive value in watching others. I learn from them. I pace myself using the fastest and fittest. They’re doing the same routine but in weighted vests. They are good at pacing so I know if I follow them I’ll make it through in 3 minutes.

I also watch their technique. I wonder how Bob does burpees so fast so when it’s my turn to rest, I watch his form and try to copy it next time through.

Because we do this in shifts–my 3 min on is another person’s 3 min off– there are Crossfit work out friends there to cheer me on. It’s happy supportive cheering. We’re not mean to one another. (Unless someone asks.) And for me, that support definitely makes a difference.

At the end I often recall when I started Crossfit and couldn’t do a single burpee. Some people accuse Crossfit of being a bit cult like–and that’s fine, it’s not for everyone. “It wouldn’t do if we all liked the same thing,” as my mother would have said to dogmatic child me.

For me it’s an extremely supportive workout community and while it’s true I’d never do five rounds of that workout by myself, it’s also true I don’t have to.

body image · diets · eating · fitness

Shame, social networking, and fitness

I am one of those people.

I’m the friend who posts details of my workouts to Facebook. Using the check-in function I tell friends when I’m at Aikido, Crossfit, or more recently, the London Rowing Club.

Sometimes I even give details. This morning I did 5 rounds of the following: 40 medicine ball throws, 30 sit ups, 20 push ups, 10 burpees.

Using Endomondo, I track distance, speed, and route when hiking and biking and that too, I share to Facebook. I’ve started tracking hikes in part because I’ve gotten lost twice recently in parks and it’s nice to be able to look at the map in progress and see if I’m heading back in the direction of the car. This summer, on a 30 degree + day, a 1 hour hike turned into a 3 hour hike without water (for me, the dog was happy was the river) so now I always turn on Endomondo for the map if nothing else.

Indeed, the idea for this blog came about about when I posted a note to Facebook about my “fittest by fifty” idea. A lively discussion about what it means to be fit ensued, Tracy joined in, and thus our blog was born.

I’m not one-sided about this. I like it when friends share their fitness activities too. I smile when I see Tracy’s been out running, or that J has been to karate, or that S has lifted a ton of weight at the gym. I cheer them on and their active lives serve as a source of happiness and inspiration for me. Besides if it’s tiresome for others to read about what I’m up to, they can always learn to use the “see fewer updates from this person” function in Facebook or opt to not see posts from Endomondo.

So all of this is just to say, I’m a big fan of social networking for support for myself and others with our fitness goals.

But social networking has a dark side it turns out. And that dark side is shame and punishment.

A new crop of fitness apps work by paying you when you meet your activity goals and keeping your cash when you don’t. Other apps shame you by posting workout failures to social networking sites.

From The Huffington Post:

Dubbed the “Gym Shamer,” this application tracks your fitness goals (e.g. “visit the gym 3 times a week”) and sends a shameful message to your social media contacts if you slack off.

Gym visits are recorded via Foursquare check-ins, while Facebook and Twitter integration maximize the full reach of your potential “embarrassing, degrading, and insulting” shame.

Gym Shamer is the brainchild of New York entrepreneurs Tal Flanchraych and Volkan Unsal and was conceived during an early-January Foursquare Hackathon.

“New Year’s resolutions are on everyone’s mind right now,” Flanchraych explained to The Huffington Post in an email. “So we thought it was a good theme to build on — especially considering that getting in shape is the most common resolution we hear about.”

“The problem with most fitness apps,” she continued, “is that they’re wholly reliant on your existing level of motivation — there are no consequences if you forget to use them or start getting lazy (and don’t we all?).”

Here’s an example tweet, provided by Gym Shamer:
gym shamer

And it’s not just fitness. There’s the diet program Virtual Fridge Lock – which works with a device that attaches to the refrigerator and  senses when the refrigerator is opened, and shames the midnight snacker by posting to  Facebook.

“This person just raided the fridge.”

Aherk! might be the worst. Aherk! describes itself as a goal-oriented self-blackmailing service.” When you sign up for Aherk! you set a goal, such as running 10 km or losing 10 lbs, and send in an embarrassing photo – referred to as “the bomb.”  If you don’t meet your goal, then news of your failure and the bomb get posted to Facebook.

So far I haven’t seen any “Jane didn’t run 5 km today as planned. She missed her workout” showing up in my newsfeed and I’m pretty glad. I don’t think shame is  motivational for most of us.

What do you think? Would the threat of public shaming motivate you to get to the gym? Are there circumstances under which you’d use one of these tools or are you like me, a fan of the positive sharing with no shame involved?

Read more here:

Foursquare Hackathon Winners: Shame Yourself for Your Lack of Gym Motivation and More

Aherk! uses power of shame to motivate