body image · diets · eating · fat · overeating · sports nutrition · weight loss

On the Grapefruit Diet, Atkins, Paleo, the Zone, Five Factor, and Cabbage Soup: Reflections on Fad Diets and the Meaning of “Success”


When we track our blog stats, Sam and I always get a kick out of seeing that our post on raspberry ketones, pure green coffee bean extract, and garcina cambogia is among the most popular.  It’s not popular because everyone wants to read about why the appeal to authority is a fallacy. It’s not popular because it essentially dismisses these things, claiming that you should keep your money and focus on a healthy approach to eating real food.

No. It’s popular because “raspberry ketones,” “pure green coffee bean extract,” and “garcinia cambogia” are popular search terms for people looking for the next weight loss miracle. They are among the latest fads.
“Fad diet” is a derogatory way of referring to any trendy weight loss plan. I’ve yet to hear it used in a positive way.  When I was a teenager and in my twenties, popular fad diets included the banana diet, the grapefruit diet, the cabbage soup diet, the Scarsdale Diet.

The grapefruit diet is pretty representative of how these things go, so I’ll use it as an example.  You eat half a grapefruit at each meal. With it, at breakfast you have two eggs and some bacon, at lunch you have meat and salad, at dinner you have meat and a vegetable (from an approved list), and then you drink a glass of tomato juice or skim milk at bed time.

The “key” ingredient, be it cabbage soup, bananas, grapefruit, acai berries, a miracle juice or a special smoothie, is really just a diversion.  The reason people lose weight rapidly on these diets is that they involve severe calorie restriction and usually cut out most simple and complex carbohydrates (except a few vegetables and one or two types of fruit). They also include very few snacks, usually restricting eating to three bland meals a day.

Fad diets like this don’t even pretend to be long term.  They are almost always for a stated period of time, ranging from 3 days to 3 weeks.

Other kinds of fad diets, such as the Zone, Atkins, the Blood Type Diet, the Paleo Diet, or the South Beach Diet purport to be longer term and most include advice for eating their way forever.  But they also include long lists of forbidden foods, such as carbohydrates other than certain approved vegetables. I don’t care what anyone says, our bodies need carbs to function efficiently.

Again, the complicated food plans are, in my view, just a diversion.  If we eat a lot of junk food we will maintain a higher weight than many of us wish to maintain.  These plans usually cut out chips and fried foods, cakes and pies, cookies and candy bars. Cutting those things out will of course allow someone to maintain a lower weight than they might if they ate these things all the time.

The diets also often restrict juice.

I was at a talk the other day by Harley Pasternak, personal trainer for many Hollywood celebrities and author of “The Five Factor Diet.”  Other that his approved smoothies (because apparently we ingest more nutritional ingredients when our food is blended than when we chew it ourselves), his diet requires that all drinks be calorie free. He spoke of fresh squeezed OJ as if it was the devil (note that a cup and a half does contain an alarming 450 calories—this might be good information to have but doesn’t automatically mean you ought never drink fresh squeezed orange juice again).

An interesting thing that Harley Pasternak said was this. Though he believes, and all the research points to the fact that, slow, steady weight loss of about half a pound a week is the most effective for long term good results, no one is interested in that kind of weight loss. A book that offered that would not sell.  These days, we want fast results, a la Tim Ferriss and the 4-Hour Body. Without fast results in the first week or two, people will not stick to a plan.

That goes a long way to explaining the appeal of fad diets that are for a limited time only. They get the weight off quickly.  So those who go on them feel successful. That keeps them focused, at least for the period of the diet.  And knowing that it is time-limited makes it bearable.

But as I’ve said many times before, short term results aren’t all that interesting.  They’re uninteresting because they are fleeting at best.  The weight comes back and in 98% of the cases, people end up heavier than they were before they went on the diet.

This is in part because they have damaged their metabolism. The body responds to severely restricted eating by slowing down the metabolism to cope with the lower food intake and use it more efficiently. Most of us do not ease ourselves off of fad diets, but rebound with a major binge on all that we were deprived of while eating half grapefruits and meat and salad.

The need for quick results is what sabotages our efforts from the get go.  If slow but steady is what works, then why are we so resistant to slow progress?  Maybe we need new measures of success. Much of what Sam and I are trying to do in our lives, and are trying to champion in the blog, is to revise our visions of success.  Sam has a great post that explains why body weight and even BMI have been shown to be poor measures of fitness and health. I’m with her when she advocates for athletic over aesthetic values.  It’s not all about looking a certain way, as we can see when we look at the reality of fitness figure competitors.

These days, I have a more diverse sense of goals.  I do not have weight loss goals at all anymore.  I am happy with what my body can do and I enjoy fueling it according to the guidelines of the intuitive eating approach.  A great measure of success for me is to maintain a non-obsessive relationship with food, eat what I want when I need it and in the amounts that keep me satisfied, and above all to enjoy eating.  It’s a wonderful part of life.

I also have performance goals for distance and speed in swimming and running, and for weight and reps in my resistance training, and for gaining strength, confidence, and balance in my yoga practice.

Besides those goals, I have simple “practice” goals each week.  These are just about showing up to do what I said I would do and what I feel I need to do to train well.  For me, this means running 3 times a week, going swimming 2 times a week, resistance training every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and going to yoga 3-4 times per week.  If I can stay on task with these commitments, I feel pretty successful.

I feel fairly confident that following through on doing what is necessary to meet these goals will automatically change the ratio of lean mass to fat in my body composition. I do not preoccupy myself with this as a goal, but I do look on it with interest, for the purposes of our “fittest by fifty” adventure.  To that end, I have scheduled another bod pod visit for next month.

Finally, I’ve got an overall goal that supports my sense of well-being, and that is to have a pretty relaxed attitude about it all. I’m not a drill sergeant anymore. If I miss a workout or eat less mindfully than I rather would, it’s not the end of the world and I don’t spend a single second in remorse.  Onward!

Fad diets fuel an all-or-nothing mentality.  You’re on it or you’re not.  They set us up to fail even if we are successful on the diet itself. Why? Because the pounds will return. They do not promote good health, strong muscles, or sustainable habits. They do not promote moderation, but rather, extremism.  I’m not alone in my views about fad diets. Go Kaleo has a whole blog with the tagline: Are you as tired of fad diets as I am?

I liked Sam’s post about moderation yesterday because I’m a big fan of it myself. I’m also a big fan of slow and steady progress that takes me in a consistent direction. And I’m an advocate of doing less instead of more. And I really don’t like wasting my time with things that set me up for failure, demoralize me, and make me feel badly about myself.  Fad diets have done all of these things to me, lots of my friends, and millions of people I don’t know.

Let’s revise our view of success in ways that support our well-being.

diets · eating

Experiments in moderation

I’m an all or nothing person. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. And I don’t eat meat. You can read more about my views on moderation here.

I started thinking about my preference for all or nothing after reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project. You can read Rubin on abstaining versus moderating when you’re trying to give something up here.

According to Rubin,

” You’re a moderator if you…
– find that occasional indulgence heightens your pleasure – and strengthens your resolve
– get panicky at the thought of “never” getting or doing something

You’re an abstainer if you…
– have trouble stopping something once you’ve started
– aren’t tempted by things that you’ve decided are off-limits”

Rubin is an abstainer. She finds it easier not to eat cookies than eat only one but she’s unhappy when she eats five. Mostly I’m with Rubin. I’m a much better abstainer than a moderator but lately I’ve had some small successes as a moderator I thought I’d share. Both successes involve food, an area of life where abstaining is hard. You can’t just give up eating.

Success story number 1 is my moderate approach to veganism. I’m a vegetarian who had been for years thinking that ethically speaking I ought to be a vegan. That is, the same arguments that persuaded me not to eat meat (primarily concerns about animal suffering and factory farming) ought to also, if applied consistently, persuade me not to eat dairy products or eggs.

But for a variety of reasons, some involving my own food preferences but others involving the need to feed hungry, growing teenagers, I’ve never been able to take that step. Then last year I decided I’d just do as much as I reasonably could. To a rough measure I’d aim to eat vegan two thirds of the time. I was inspired by a feminist philosophy colleague who had similar concerns and who’d recently taken the two thirds vegan plunge.

And I’ve been successful eating vegan most, but not all, of the time. I eat free range eggs sometimes and I use fish oil supplements. In a pinch, where other protein isn’t available, I’ll eat sustainable seafood. So I’m not a vegan but my efforts, I think, are better than nothing. And the worry is that thinking that being a vegan is too hard leads you to doing nothing. Perfection is the enemy of the good, so they say.

As Tom Hurka argued in one of his ethics columns in the Globe and Mail, consistency is overrated as a virtue. Better to be good two thirds of the time than to be rotten consistently!

I have also come to worry about diets that get rid of food groups entirely and while her reasons and her landing place aren’t quite the same as mine, I found this post by Alexandra Jamieson quite moving: I’m not vegan anymore.

Success story number 2 is my moderate approach to desserts. I’ve been tempted over the years to give up desserts entirely but I love food as celebration too much. I love birthday cake and Pi day. But awhile ago I decided enough was enough. Not every day is dessert day. I wasn’t sure if I could handle having dessert just x number of days a week but it seems that’s a plan that works for me. I was at four, now at two, and the world hasn’t ended. I’m glad my moderate plan seems to be working.

Finally I enjoyed reading Go Kaleo’s defence of moderation in matters of fat loss. See her post Moderation is Evidence Based.

body image · fashion

The Saga of the Mannequins Who Aren’t Size 0

mannequins It all started on Sunday when a friend sent me a link to this page.  According to the article, H&M in Sweden introduced mannequins in sizes 6 and 10 (pictured left). The comment under the photo, attributed to RHUer, states that “some are saying they [H&M] condone obesity.”

For those of us who have had it with the ridiculously unsustainable and even unattainable body ideal that has been foisted upon women of late, them’s fighting words!

I was quick to post this on my Facebook wall and on the blog’s Facebook page.  Friends were equally quick to let me know that The Washington Post reported it as a hoax. As it happens, it’s not a hoax. The WP has issued a correction.

It turns out that the mannequins didn’t appear in H&M in Sweden, but rather in a different Swedish store called Åhléns. Blogger and photographer blogged about these mannequins in 2010.

The renewed interest came lately because a Canadian radio station posted the pictures on its Facebook page and the images got over 600,000 “likes” and went viral.

It doesn’t take a genius to explain why.  So many women posted “ahem!” type posts about finally seeing mannequins in realistic sizes.  Lots of comments noted that size 6 and 10 are nowhere near obese.

We have been conditions to see mannequins that wear the smallest sizes.  Super-models are selected for how well they can resemble mannequins. And then this all gets twisted around so that super-models become the standard feminine beauty ideal. Tall, thin, and featureless, like mannequins.

Putting realistically sized mannequins in store windows and then having them labelled “obese” is good evidence of how harshly our cultural gaze judges women’s bodies.  The fact that so many women felt relieved and pleased at the site of these mannequins demonstrates just how urgently so many of us are feeling the need for a shift in cultural expectations and standards for women’s bodies.

Sam and I have written a lot about this issue and will no doubt continue to have lots to say. The attention these mannequins have received, even if it came three years later than the original post, is a good sign that we are not voices crying in the wilderness. Women are ready for a change.

I’d like to reiterate what a few commentators have emphasized: these are not PLUS sized mannequines.  Even size 6 is quite thin and small, and 10 is about average (in fact, a little search around the internet turns up women’s dress size averages in North America ranging from 11 to 14).  Our views and expectations of women’s bodies (of our own bodies) are distorted.

I hope the next generation of young women can grow up in a more reasonable world where size and body image is concerned. I chatted with a young woman in the locker room at yoga the other day about her struggles with body image (she was reading a book by Geneen Roth called Women, Food, and God, and I asked her about it). She told me about the ease with which her mother would throw out comments about her (the young woman) needing to lose a few pounds.  The young woman has never felt good about her body and is desperate for a change.

This interaction reminded me, as if I need reminding, that culture-wide we have such a distorted view of the body that even beautiful and enviably fit young women are painfully self-conscious and full of self-loathing about their bodies. I touched on this in my discussion of the two different locker rooms not too long ago. It also made me sad because we have a right to love ourselves, period.

The comment frenzy around these non-size zero mannequins fills me with hope. Maybe we actually have had it. Maybe the beauty ideal is about ready to change.

Related posts:

Why the “Thigh Gap” Makes Me Sad

Loving the Body You’ve Got: Why Love is a Better Motivator than Hate

A Tale of Two Locker Rooms


Habits versus Goals

I’m a big fan of habit based versus goal based change. It’s one of the things I like best about Precision Nutrition’s lean eating program.

What’s the difference?

Rather than setting a goal, say completing a 10 km race in under an hour, you set out the steps and then commit to following the plan. Rather than picking a desired weight or per cent body fat, you concentrate on the habits that make for healthy eating. The idea is simple: Make small changes, live them consistently, and change will come. That’s the idea anyway.

What are the habits that the Lean Eating program focuses on?

The two key ones are ones Tracy has talked about in the context of overcoming overeating (Overcoming Overeating: Overview, Review, and Update) and intuitive eating (Intuitive Eating: What It Is and Why I Love It!).

  • Eating slowly and mindfully
  • Paying attention to hunger, eating to 80 percent full

The other is eating lots of veggies and a substantial amount of protein with each meal.

You can read more here: 5 Essential Nutrition Habits Via Precision Nutrition

I’ll let you know how it goes!

More reading on habits versus goals:
Make Habits Your Goal
Autopilot Achievement: How to Turn Your Goals Into Habits

18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick 

Stick to Your Goals This Year by Using Identity-Based Habits

I am also reading this book, The Power of Habit. I’ll report back…

fitness · health

Green exercise and the health benefits of the great outdoors


I try to be a liberal about tastes and desires. Really I do. What you like is what you like and what I like is what I like. You can’t be wrong about what you like and I can’t be wrong about what I like.

Certainly I would never force anyone to pursue tastes and desires they don’t share. And I think it’s insisting on that line that actually makes me a liberal.

But sometimes people say they don’t like things and I can’t help but think they’re mistaken. In that case I wouldn’t force anyone to do something they don’t like but I might try to change their mind.

What’s an example of a mistaken preference? Here’s one example, the great outdoors. There are people who say they’re not outdoors people. They say they prefer being inside. But I think they’re wrong not to appreciate nature and the great outdoors. They’re missing out on a source of joy.

We’re human animals and we need the outdoors, I think. It’s essential to our health and well being.

What do the people who prefer the indoors say?

They say it’s too hot sometimes, too cold other times. It’s humid or damp or windy.They’ve gotten used to temperature controlled environments.

But there is a ton of evidence on the health benefits of outdoor experience and exercise.

Here are some of the benefits to ‘green exercise’ (as its advocates call it):

First, it’s pretty clear our physical training benefits when we work out outside. Running on a treadmill doesn’t compare to running outside. And the same is true for spin bikes versus real bicycles on the trail or on the road. Outside we face wind and hills and uneven terrain. It’s hard to duplicate these challenges in the gym.

Second, outdoor exercise also seems to have an impact on our well being. We are just happier when we exercise outside. Gretchen Reynolds, in one her columns for the New York Times,  writes, “In a number of recent studies, volunteers have been asked to go for two walks for the same time or distance — one inside, usually on a treadmill or around a track, the other outdoors. In virtually all of the studies, the volunteers reported enjoying the outside activity more and, on subsequent psychological tests, scored significantly higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem and lower on tension, depression and fatigue after they walked outside.” Read more here.

Here’s one recent study, reported in Science Daily. It’s a meta-study carried out by a team at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry and it analysed existing studies and concluded that there are benefits to mental and physical well-being from exercising outdoors. The study is published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

“The study found that most trials showed an improvement in mental well-being: compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalisation, increased energy and positive engagement, together with decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression. Participants also reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and stated that they were more likely to repeat the activity at a later date.” Read more in Science Daily here.

The Japanese even have a term for outdoor exercise designed to relieve stress. They call it “Forest Therapy” and you can read about that in Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Mornings.

Here’s an American researcher’s account of forest bathing’s effects on his blood pressure. He writes that he knew it improved because his blood pressure was measured at the start and at the finish of his walk. “We knew this because we were on one of Japan’s 48 official Forest Therapy trails, designated for shinrin-yoku by Japan’s Forestry Agency. In an effort to benefit the Japanese and find nonextractive ways to use forests, which cover 67 percent of the country’s landmass, the government has funded about $4 million in forest-bathing research since 2004. It intends to designate a total of 100 Forest Therapy sites within 10 years. Visitors here are routinely hauled off to a cabin where rangers measure their blood pressure, part of an effort to provide ever more data to support the project.”

Certainly we should share the great outdoors with our children and make an effort to share experiences in nature with them. They haven’t developed preferences yet and we can teach them to like what’s best for them. Some of the studies cited above day that children now spend 90% of their time indoors. That isn’t good.

Me, I love the outdoors and for almost all activities prefer the outside version. I much prefer biking outside to either spin classes or the velodrome, though I loved the outdoor track in New Zealand. I love cross country skiing. I love trail walking and running with my dog. But I struggle with Canadian winters. These days I’m doing most of my exercise indoors: Aikido in the dojo, CrossFit in the gym, rowing indoors at the rowing club, and indoor soccer even. By this point in the winter I’m suffering from cabin fever and can’t wait to get back outside.

Ideally I’d live somewhere with a climate a bit better suited to spending more time outside–Arizona, New Zealand, Australia–but for now I’m anxiously awaiting Canadian spring. Soon, I hope.

If you want to know more you can also read about the health benefits of time spent outside in the newsletter of the Harvard Medical School: A prescription for better health: Go alfresco

You can watch nature on your computer, I suppose, but it’s just not the same.


athletes · diets · eating · fitness · men · motivation · running · sports nutrition · swimming · training · weight lifting · weight loss

Will I Still Have My 4-Hour Body 4 Years from Now?

4HBI just finished reading Timothy Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman. The book promises a lot. And it’s based on Tim Ferriss’ own form of research. He operates as a rogue researcher, not within the confines of peer review scientific scholarship. It frees him up to do some crazy things that might not receive ethics approval from an academic research council.

He uses himself, family (especially his dad), friends, and seemingly passing acquaintances as test subjects. He has some recommended “paths” through the book (even he recommends against reading the book from start to finish, and says most people won’t need more than 150 pages to ‘reinvent’ themselves), based on your goals.

The goals the book caters to are: rapid fat loss, rapid muscle gain, rapid strength gain, and rapid sense of total well-being. The book presupposes, as do most physical fitness programs, that its readers are non-disabled individuals who are not thriving physically.

It’s a funny book in lots of ways, not just because the author is quite funny and a great story-teller, but also because it has a mixed message. He starts off talking about the “minimum effective dose,” arguing that in general, where all things fitness-wise are concerned, we tend to do more than is necessary to achieve our desired results. Between that claim and the whole “4-hour body” idea, it seems as if he’s going to hand us a really do-able program.

But then so much of what he recommends is beyond extreme. The preferred diet, for example, is what he calls “The Slow Carb Diet.” The first info he gives about it details the massive food intake on “cheat day”–bear claws, chocolate croissants, grapefruit juice, coffee, pizzas… But cheat day comes only once a week. Outside of cheat day, the diet is ultra-restrictive. No “white” carbohydrates (bread, rice, cereal, potatoes, pasta, tortillas, fried food that’s breaded, or anything white [cauliflower is allowed]). Pick a few meals and eat them over and over and over, spacing them out by four hours. Do not consume any calories as drinks. No fruit (NONE). One day off a week — that’s your “cheat day.”

Any diet that cuts out food groups is a bad idea. It’s not sustainable over the long run, despite Ferriss’s repeated claims that he and some of his friends who followed this diet for his research ended up loving it. He himself maintains that on his Saturday cheat day he eats himself sick.

This is not a big surprise. It’s a documented fact that diets lead to a sense of deprivation that results in binges. Just calling the day off a “cheat day” is itself a sign of dysfunctional eating and an unhealthy attitude about food, where some foods are “bad” and others are “good.”

This may have “worked” for Ferriss and his friends. I have no doubt that they lost weight quickly. Anyone will lose weight on a restrictive diet that cuts out whole food groups, such as carbs. But the real question is, do they keep it off? I have not seen a report of where Ferriss and his test subjects ended up five years out. Are they still eating like this — highly restricted 6 days a week with one splurge day?

Ferriss does not address any of the research about the failure of restrictive diets to produce longterm results. It’s not super-impressive that people experience rapid weight loss when they change their eating patterns for a month and follow a strict diet of the kind Ferriss recommends. The whole thing screams out “fad diet”!

Ferriss is a big believer in drug “cocktails” to bolster muscle and strength gains. One of his go-to consultants for elite training is Charlie Francis (Ben Johnson’s trainer–Johnson was stripped of his gold medal in the 1988 Olympics after testing positive for banned substances that his trainer had him on…). For most of the fat-loss “studies” undertaken in The 4-Hour Body, he relies 60% on diet, 10% on drugs, and 30% on exercise. Vegetarians or others who can’t follow the diet will need to do more drugs. No thanks.

He is also a big proponent of measurable results. Lots of tracking and weighing and measuring. In one of his experiments, he even weighs his poop. Since I have an aversion to careful tracking, a feeling not shared by all, this approach (poop aside) simply wouldn’t work for me.

The book is for “rapid” changes to body composition and strength. It’s easy to get caught up in Ferriss’ enthusiasm for getting the job done quickly. But after immersing myself in that crazy world for some time, I started to wonder, what’s so great about “rapid” changes?

On balance, I’d rather have slow, sustainable changes. I and lots of people I know have experienced rapid physical changes on extreme programs in the past. But the real question is always about the longer term. Will the dramatic, rapid changes I make over the course of a month still be with me one, two, five years from now? Will I have new, healthy habits that contribute to my overall well-being? Again, as in the chapter on fat loss, Ferriss doesn’t address this issue.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve encountered so many programs and plans that say “if you just do this, then you’ll achieve these amazing results.” For many of them, it’s absolutely true that “if you just do this you’ll achieve these amazing results.” The difficulty is that no one can do “this,” whatever the “this” may be, forever.

I’ve only focused on the section about fat loss. But many of the other programs for rapid change also strike me as unlikely to be sustained over time. For example, “Occam’s protocol” for rapid muscle gain involves what seems like a fairly manageable workout schedule, but the food requirement is unbelievable. Not many people could do it even for a month. And again, there is no follow up advice. Once you’ve achieved this massive muscle gain in a relatively short period of time, what then?

That leaves me skeptical about the success, for most people, of the “plans” outlined in much of the book.

I am not equally skeptical of everything, however. For one thing, Ferriss has convinced me that kettlebell swings are worth incorporating into a resistance training program, and that there are better ab exercises out there than crunches. I am also totally sold on his endorsement of Total Immersion Swimming. I have experimented with it in the past. Reading about it again in Ferriss’ book has convinced me to revisit it. And I agree with him that body weight and BMI are not useful measures, and that body composition (ratio of fat to lean mass) gives us more useful information.

The chapter on “incredible sex” is written pretty much entirely with a male heterosexual reader in mind. It’s all about how to give a woman an orgasm that lasts for 15  minutes (I first thought it took 15 minutes to get there, which isn’t all that impressive. But an orgasm that lasts for 15 minutes — worth reading about and working on the technique with your partner) and how to increase your testosterone and your sperm count. The sections about women’s orgasms were useful in that it’s not a bad thing to educate heterosexual men about women’s anatomy.

He interviewed some heavy hitters for his information about women and sex: Nina Hartley, Tallulah Salis, and Violet Blue. They provide some interesting, practical suggestions that he reviews in detail. And though Violet Blue provides some excellent advice for the woman who may never have had an orgasm, it’s hard not to feel like the whole reason for spending so much time on women’s orgasm is to give heterosexual men a way to feel like rock stars.

Ferriss has written an entertaining book filled with great stories and fascinating, crazy experiments in rapid physical changes (I hesitate to call them “improvements”). He ends with the words “it’s never too late to reinvent yourself.” This may be true. I doubt, however, that the focus on rapid change so emphasized in The 4-Hour Body is a successful formula for “reinvention.” At most, a lot of the recommendations will produce only short term, even if rapid, results.

accessibility · aging · disability · fitness · health · traveling

Wall-E, chosen immobility, and home elevators

I was struck today reading in the Globe and Mail about the rapid growth in personal elevators by the extent to which we’re gradually removing all possibility of physical activity from our daily lives.

And yet, it’s terrific that more homes are accessible to the elderly and the disabled.

The challenge is once elevators are installed not using them unless you need to. And that seems impossibly hard.

I think about the moving sidewalks and gate to gate trams in modern airports. They make travel possible for people for whom otherwise it would be too much. Still most people who use them seem perfectly capable of walking.

I’ve had similar thoughts about the remoteness of some of Canada’s national parks. After two days of canoeing and portaging, I was struck by how beautiful Algonquin park is. And yet only the physically fit can see it. I thought it would be lovely to make parts of it accessible to those in wheel chairs. And yet how to keep the physically capable but lazy away from whatever accessibility method we use?

Read about the rise in home elevators here here.

One of the first comments on the Globe article is this: “And the endless quest for a completely sedentary lifestyle continues…”

That’s exactly my worry.

I thought of the movie Wall-E and the future, movement free humans….

Read here:

“WALL-E indeed seems to be making a statement about fitness and the obesity crisis. “It shows a future in which mankind literally spends all day on a giant starship moving around in floating chairs, drinking liquified food from Big-Gulp-esque cups, and forever surfing (and chatting) on chair-mounted video screens,” says the source.

A section of the film reveals the history of mankind’s fall into sloth and fat: “There’s an amazing sequence where the camera pans over portraits of the previous captains of the ship — and we watch as they slowly devolve into amorphous blobs with each successive generation. Will the lethargic humans re-awaken to their possibilities as people? I hate spoilers: you’ll have to see the movie to find out!”


Housework as exercise: Walk away from that screen and pick up that mop?


One of my pet peeves about modern living is the extent to which we engineer all effort and movement out of our lives, and then frantically work to add it back in. We take elevators at work and then use the stair master at the gym. We drive to the gym, where we walk on treadmills or ride stationery bikes.  It’s a strange world.  It would be funny were it not also kind of sad.

I’ve always thought of this as a gender neutral problem, even with the traditional division of work in the home. I see men riding lawn mowers on lawns which once would have been kept short with push mowers. I have a neighbour, about whom we joke that no home maintenance task is too small to not require a gas powered appliance. Why bend over and rake leaves when you can whoosh, in the flip of a switch, blow them all away? And in the wealthier neighbourhoods close to the university during certain times of year it seems every second vehicle belongs to a gardening and lawn care company.

But recent research that’s been in the news focuses on the increase in women’s weights and the corresponding decrease in hours of housework done by women. Media reports on this research, at least in the mainstream press that I read, don’t quite come out and say, ‘Feminism made the ladies fat’ but the implication is there that the change in women’s lifestyles hasn’t been all good for our health.

See Women today weigh more because they do less housework, study finds in the Globe and Mail.

The actual study in which the article is reporting has a much less punchy title: 45-Year Trends in Women’s Use of Time and Household Management Energy Expenditure. You can read it here.

Conclusion: “From 1965 to 2010, there was a large and significant decrease in the time allocated to HM. By 2010, women allocated 25% more time to screen-based media use than HM (i.e., cooking, cleaning, and laundry combined). The reallocation of time from active pursuits (i.e., housework) to sedentary pastimes (e.g., watching TV) has important health consequences. These results suggest that the decrement in HMEE may have contributed to the increasing prevalence of obesity in women during the last five decades.”

While I have no reason to doubt the correlation to which the researchers draw our attention, I do find it a bit odd to focus just on women. I found myself wondering about the hours men put in around the home and whether those too have decreased as male waists on average have increased. I suspect the same sad news is true for both men and women.

The study’s authors aren’t saying that we need to give up our modern conveniences but rather that we need to think about how to get more activity in our lives.

“The premise of the study is that humans have engineered activity out of every domain of daily life … from the workplace to the home … but we are not suggesting that women should be doing more housework,” said Dr. Edward Archer, a research fellow with the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and lead author of the study. “Our ‘world’ no longer necessitates moderate or intense physical activity. Therefore, women (and men) need to allocate more time to deliberate exercise to overcome the decrement in daily activity,” he said. (Less housework + more technology = worse health, study says, CNN)

And I wouldn’t suggest either that women stop running, biking, lifting weights, and doing martial arts and instead turn our attention to shining floors and beating rugs. However, it’s clear that working out followed by flopping in front of screens of various sorts isn’t a sustainable lifestyle for anyone. In that spirit then, perhaps housework can feel less like drudgery and more like time well spent and money properly saved for both men and women. Many of the labour intensive methods of doing household tasks–push mowers and clotheslines leap to mind–are also good for the environment. I think about that as I trek to the back of our very deep yard to put food scraps in the composter during the warmer months.

I’m not inspired to make a whole workout out of household tasks (I’ll leave that to the New York Times reporter below) but thinking about physical activity in the house has made me a bit more warmly disposed to housework.

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