Learning to Run after Running for a Year: The Clinic

ltr-2010After getting into running just over a year ago, I have finally decided to do a “Learn-to-Run” Clinic at Runner’s Choice, my favorite local running shop.  It might seem like an odd decision, given that I’ve already run a 5K race and had committed, in early winter, to train for a 10K with the “ease into 10K” app.

But I fell out of routine in February when harsh wind chills outside made me say, “forget this.” Since running inside on the treadmill was never what I had in mind, I just switched over to swimming for the rest of the winter. I ran only when the weather was favorable, and my standards for favorable weather kept getting higher and higher.

I figured that running with a group would be a good way to get on track. Both the 5K and 10K training groups were about to end, not to resume again until August.  Learn to Run was about to start. Since I’ve never really learned to run — I just went out and ran — and since I have hardly been running lately and, when I do, I’ve struggled to stick with it (taking “do less” to new minimums), starting at the beginning sounded pretty appealing to me.

The learn to run at Runner’s Choice has three levels, each with its own leader. Level 1 is for total beginners, people who have never run in any significant way. Even for me, that seemed too basic. Level 2 is also pretty basic, but requires you to run in week one for 10 minutes at a stretch, with a 5 minute warm up and cool down walk on either end.  Level 3 starts off with a 20 minute run. In my 10K training I was at 4 sets of 8 minutes each, with 1 minute of rest in between and a 5 minute warm up and cool down. 20 minutes struck me as too ambitious.  I chose Level 2.

Last week, the first session took place during a brief and welcome break in the weather — pouring rain just half an hour prior to the clinic, a hailstorm less than an hour after the end of the run. Each week starts off with a short talk, followed by the run at whichever level you’re in.  27 people showed up at the store, and I have to say that it felt good to be in the company of others, women and men of all ages, shapes, sizes, and physical abilities.

The first week’s talk was about goals and expectations.  We were asked to think about what we wanted out of the program. I had the gratifying experience of automatically going to performance goals. I have two specific goals for the next little while: (1) I want to be able to comfortably run for 30 minutes without needing to take a walk break and (2) I want to pick up my pace.  A third goal, not performance oriented, is that I want to get back into a routine. And a fourth goal is that I would like to meet one or two others to run with regularly.

The instructor explicitly said that it’s not likely that anyone will experience any noticeable weight loss during the duration of the 12-week course.  It was only when she said that that I realized my small victory: despite my disappointment at the bod pod just a couple of days prior, I never once considered weight loss or even fat loss as my goal for running.  That’s a huge step forward for me and tells me that I am successfully reconditioning my default ways of thinking about the role of these activities in my life.

By far the majority chose Level 1.  In my Level 2 group, there were just 6 of us plus the instructor.  We set out for a little warm-up walk and then some dynamic stretching in the park.  And then it was time to run. 10 minutes might not seem like a long time, but remember, I’ve been doing about 8 minutes and then taking a walk break. So it was 2 minutes longer than what I’m used to (to the extent that I’m used to anything at the moment, given that I’d backed off of my running routine so much).

The ten minutes flew by when I was running with the group. I ran alongside the instructor and one other woman, with an older and faster man running up ahead of us, and three other women falling into a slightly slower pace behind us. We ran at an easy pace, chatting the whole time. Before I knew it, we were ready for the cool down.

Here’s what I like about doing the Learn-to-Run:

1. I knew very well that I wasn’t the fastest runner on the road, but it was also gratifying to learn that I’m not the slowest either!  Nothing wrong with my pace even if my goal is to pick it up.

2. Going out with a group is more fun than I thought it would be. I’ve written before about my tendency to prefer going it alone. I like the meditative aspect of running or swimming alone. It allows me to get into my own rhythm and zone. But it’s not always like that, and running with others felt lighter, less serious, more enjoyable.

3. Having the clinic that night ensured that I would go. Once I commit to a program that involves showing up somewhere and doing it with at least one other person, I’m pretty reliable (even more so if I’ve paid for it, which I had — a bargain at $45).

4. Between weekly sessions we have homework, which is to get out at least two other times to do the same assignment. In my case that meant at least two other sessions of 5 minutes of walking, 10 minutes of running, and 5 minutes of walking. I changed it up a bit and did two rounds of the 10-minutes of running with a short walk break in between. Since our time increases each week, there is real incentive to do the homework. So the clinic has me re-committed to a routine after less than one week.

5. It’s in keeping with my “do less” approach.  Though I am starting out doing less, the way this program is set up I will be doing more than I’ve ever done before the end of it. By week 10, we will be running for 35 minutes in a row. That’s amazing!

6. I’m getting some good information about running from the short talks, and I now have experienced and knowledgeable instructors who I can go to when I have questions. Though I’ve been running for a year, I still feel like a novice. I think that’s precisely because I have had no instruction. I’m a workshoppy kind of person who likes classes and courses and clinics when I’m learning new things. Not sure why I’ve waited so long where running is concerned, but I do feel as if the session will build my confidence and help me determine reasonable performance goals.

7. They operate on the premise of gradual progression. Each week is a little bit more demanding than the week before, but not enormously so.  I find that when I am going out by myself, I can get stuck in a rut where I don’t progress at all, I just stick with what I’ve always done. I know full well that staying in my comfort zone isn’t going to get me anywhere, but I’m not always effective at keeping myself on task.

So that’s a bit about why I’m doing such a basic clinic and what I’m enjoying about it.  Most communities have learn-to-run and more advanced clinics for 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon training.  If you are just starting out or have aspirations to increase your distance and think the support and camaraderie of a group would help, I highly recommend that you explore the options in your community.

Related posts:

Come Join in the Fun

On Running and Riding with Friends

Things You Learn from Working out with Others

Working out Alone and with Others

diets · eating

Vegan, plant-based, plant strong? What’s in a name?

Times they are a changing for those of us moved by animal suffering, the environment, and human health to eat a diet more about plants and less about flesh.

It seems there are more and more high profile vegetarians and vegans (even Bill Clinton!). And recently, all of the conferences I’ve been to have had terrific vegan food. Indeed, the most recent conference had only vegetarian and vegan lunches and no one complained.

What’s interesting are the number of people who are happy to, or who are inclined to, eat vegan much or most of the time. More people seem to be following Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Some people call this moderate approach to plant based living ,’flexitarianism.’ The Guardian asks isn’t that just vegetarianism with cheating.

Mark  Bittman in a New York Times column The Flexitarian: Healthy, Meet Delicious puts it this way:

“The moderate, conscious eater — the flexitarian — knows where the goal lies: a diet that’s higher in plants and lower in both animal products and hyperprocessed foods, the stuff that makes up something like three-quarters of what’s sold in supermarkets. That’s the kind of cooking and eating I’ll be exploring in this monthly column. (It’s also the topic of my new book, “VB6” — for vegan before 6 p.m.)”

There’s now a plethora of names for the way one eats and I’m interested here in the people who describe their diet, not as vegan, but instead as plant based or plant strong.

What’s the difference?

First, the latter two admit of degrees. I say I’m mostly vegan but people look at me oddly since veganism is an all or nothing thing. But if I say that saying I’m eating a primarily plant based diet my moderation makes sense. See my post Experiments in Moderation for an explanation of what I’m up to.

Second, there’s a political association with veganism and animal rights that I think some would rather distance themselves from. Although it’s not necessary–we might be moderates to minimize animal suffering for example–the focus of most plant strong people seems to be human health and the environment.

This Huffington Post piece Vegetarianism Cooking talks about the move away from lifestyle vegetarianism which apparently involves wearing birkenstocks and eating lentil loaf. It says that people can now choose cauliflower and kale without a side of ideology.

Third, ‘vegan’ is an identity term and the others aren’t. You’d describe yourself as a feminist, an athlete, and a vegan but the others need to be claimed in connection with the way one eats. “I am a vegan” versus “I eat a mostly plant based diet.’

Vegans aren’t also usually associated with athletic achievement and manliness, Thug Kitchen aside (though note they’re also plant based leaving full strength veganism to the girlfriends).

The most prominent plant based moderate is Lance Armstrong. Here’s Armstrong talking about his 2/3 vegan lifestyle.

Lance Armstrong In 2012: On Exercise, Diet And Why He Won’t Go Into Politics

LA: I started swimming again, and I swim with a guy [ed’s note: former triathlete Rip Esselstyn] who started basically a food program called the Engine 2 Diet, which is a plant-based, 100% natural, organic diet. His dad was a famous cardiologist who did Forks Over Knives, and was President Clinton’s doctor. Clinton has gone to a completely vegan diet and he’s essentially erased his heart disease.

It’s basically whole grains, different types of beans, kale salad with creative alternatives for dressing. They’ll bring out something that looks like a brownie, but it’s not a brownie … though it tastes a bit like a brownie. So I did it for one day, then two days. Then I branched out and started doing it at breakfast and lunch. I still insist that I get to do whatever I want for dinner. But it’s made a significant difference in just in a month.

HPC: What kind of difference?

LA: Energy level. Even when you’re training really hard, it’s normal that you would have certain things for lunch or certain things for breakfast, and then have this dip, or almost like a food coma … I don’t experience that anymore. My energy level has never been this consistent, and not just consistent, but high. I’m a big napper — I couldn’t even take a nap these days if I wanted to.

The other thing — I expected to get rid of that dip, but I didn’t expect the mental side of it, and the sharpness and the focus that I’ve noticed. And I was the biggest non-believer, I was like ‘whatever man’, and I’m in. I’m not doing dinners yet, but breakfast and lunch, I’m in.

HPC: Do you think it’s pretty sustainable?

LA: If I were to stay in Austin, it’s very sustainable. It’s harder when you get on the road, of course — I mean, you walk out that door and breakfast is sitting there. None of that [muffins, croissants, etc.] is on the Engine 2 diet. So it gets harder and harder. But you can even travel with stuff. Breakfast is not hard, you bring your cereal and then you go to the store and buy almond milk, you buy bananas to put on top of it. If you plan, then it’s possible.

Where do I fall? I’m still not sure. I think of myself as an aspiring vegan, someone who recognizes the force of the moral argument and is doing as much as I’m able. Better to be good most of the time than rotten all of the time, basically.

But by description of how I’m actually eating: I’m eating a primarily plant based diet.

And maybe that’s okay. My reasons for being a vegetarian at all aren’t about animal death. They’re about animal suffering. I’m mostly concerned with factory farming and unnecessary animal pain so maybe I can maintain my roughly 2/3 vegan diet while remaining true to those concerns. I’m not sure. I’m still thinking! I’m a philosopher after all.

What do I think of the move to ‘plant strong’ over ‘vegan’? Insofar as it seems to distance our diets from concern for animals, I’m not thrilled. If it results in less animals being raised in and killed in horrible conditions, I think it’s great. In the end, I’ll be happy with good results even if they don’t come about for reasons that I think are the right reasons. But that argument, between results and motives and their moral significance takes us right into the deep end of moral philosophy, so I’ll stop here and go enjoy my buckwheat waffles and green smoothie!

Plant Strong Resources:

Living Plant Strong


accessibility · cycling

There’s electric bikes and there’s electric bikes: Why one kind of them is making me grouchy

I have a new pet peeve as a cyclist and it’s a switch from hating on cars and inconsiderate drivers. My new least favorite vehicle is the e-bike. I especially hate them on the bike path. The other day I saw one on the bike path towing another bike (the regular sort) with a rope between them across the path. I wasn’t thrilled when I wanted to pass and couldn’t because of the rope barrier.

To be clear, these aren’t your European electric assist bikes. Regular bikes with e-assist seem like a terrific idea. I had a friend in Canberra whose father got e-assist so he could keep riding into his 70s and still cope with the hills. I have another friend, in Germany, who commutes by bike and hates arriving sweaty and e-assist made that possible. But in these cases they’re riding regular bikes and most of the time aren’t using the motor.

The ones I hate are like bloated overgrown scooters on steroids with vestigial pedals. As far as I can tell no one actually uses the pedals. They’re just there to make the thing legally a bike. As the ad for e-bikes at a shop near my house says “Ride with no license, no insurance, and no registration.” Great. I know they are better for the environment than cars and for that I’m thankful.

Here’s the Ontario governments FAQ about e-bikes.

What do you think of them?

Against: No pedals? Get out of my bike lane

For: Please, stop hating on e-bikes

cycling · family · fashion

How many bikes is too many?

It’s spring finally, the season when a young (or not so young) woman’s heart turns to bicycles. That’s the way that saying goes isn’t it?

Cyclists all the know the formula for calculating how many bikes you need to own. It’s n + 1, of course, where n=the number of bikes you currently possess.

But my household has a different rule and unfortunately we’re maxed out on bicycles at the moment. We’ve set a household limit of fifteen (3 per person)  and I already own more than my fair share: road,  cyclocross, fixed gear road bike, mountain and track….

Since my partner and I are both cyclists we needed a limit because otherwise each time one of us would need a new bike, so too did the other, and so the bikes went forth and multiplied.

People with non cyclists as partners have the terrible task of having to argue for each new bike. For some excellent advice on argumentative technique see the Fat Cyclist’s column on how to justify your next bike.

I’ve also overflowed our outside bike cage (that’s where the “place de cyclistes” sign can be found, thanks Dave and Gillian!) and I keep my best bike in my office. I joke that the romance is over because it used to live in my bedroom but I’ve moved it to less intimate quarters.

And really, I don’t need a new bike. But my eye is taken with the girly cruiser bikes in pastel shades with baskets and bells that come out on warm days. They look suitable for wearing with sun dresses and riding to coffee shops and the market on sunny spring days. I know I’m in trouble when I start browsing Copenhagen Cycle Chic, a fashion blog featuring bikes.

Truth is though, I like speed. I know from past experience of renting cruiser bikes that I’ve tried hard to make them go fast. And I hate being passed. So for now I’ll just look and admire.

I do like cargo bikes though…

What kind of bike are you lusting after this spring? And how many bikes do you think is too many?


What is a cruiser style bike? Here’s some examples:



diets · eating · men · sports nutrition

Thug Kitchen and bro nutrition

The Saveur’s best new food blog of 2013 is Thug Kitchen.

The blog’s tagline is “EAT LIKE YOU GIVE A FUCK.”

I’m amused by this twist on macho nutrition. I like that it’s not your usual manly foods. (See here and here for posts on food and masculinity.)

I’m going to write later about the language of “plant based” and “plant strong” versus “vegan.” What I like about it is that you can say you eat a “primarily plant based diet” and there’s no assumption you’re just a lousy vegan! Amber at Go Kaleo eats this way too. She writes:

“I live in a temperate climate with a year-round growing season that supports a rich and varied plant based diet, so that is what I eat. It is also how I enjoy eating, and it supports my value system of using the fewest resources possible to support my needs, so that there is more for everyone to thrive. These things are important to me. Others have different tastes and values and other climates support different food systems. There are some places on earth where animal foods require fewer resources to produce (or import) than plant foods; climates like that would more sustainably support an animal foods based diet.”

What I worry about it is the distancing oneself from vegan politics and the concern for animal welfare. But, as I said, more on that and the politics of “plant strong” later.

Back to Thug Kitchen, home of tasty plant based cooking, nutrition tips, and foul language.

From their FAQ:

“where the fuck am I?”

“what is thug kitchen?”

“are you vegan?”

THERE AIN’T NOTHING ZESTY ABOUT A DRIVE-THRU DIET. Kick those Dorito-dusted cheese ditches to the curb and park your ass in the kitchen.  You don’t need those tacos misérables, TK has your back.SWEET POTATO AND PINTO BEAN TACOS3 cups of cooked pinto beans (about 2-15 ounce cans)1 teaspoons of coconut or olive oil (whatever you already have)½ cup veggie broth or water2 teaspoons smoked paprika or chili powder2 teaspoons blackstrap molasses (this has a bunch of fucking iron in it and is near the maple syrup at the store)2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar or lemon juice2-3 garlic cloves 1 pound of sweet potatoes (this should be about 2 cups when you chop it all up)½ of a yellow onion1 teaspoon coconut or olive oilsalt to tastesoft corn tortillas*whatever toppings you got Warm the first teaspoon of oil in a medium pot. Add the beans, broth, smoked paprika, molasses, vinegar, and garlic. Get it to start bubbling slowly for about 5 minutes and then turn off the heat.Chop up the sweet potato and onion so they are about the size of a pinto bean so you’re not taking any confusing bites. Warm up the oil in a large skillet or big-ass pan and add the onion and sweet potato. Cook them until the onion is getting brown and the sweet potato softens up. Add the beans and whatever broth is still in that other pot you already forgot about. Cook this mixture on a medium heat until the potatoes are soft enough for you. This should take 5-8 minutes. If it starts to look dry, add some water. Add salt to taste but don’t go fucking crazy.I served my tacos topped with lime juice, shredded lettuce, radishes, white onion, green onions, and jalapenos but add the shit you like.Makes 8 tacos*to avoid GMO corn, buy organic

body image · diets · eating · fat · fitness · running · swimming · weight lifting · yoga

Reflections on Setbacks

Disappointment concept.I had a demoralizing experience at the bod pod earlier this week. The bod pod measures body composition (lean mass to fat ratio).  I went once before, in September.  And since getting leaner is one of the goals I have, the bod pod is a good way to get an objective measure on that.  Tuesday’s result: I’ve lost 2 pounds of lean mass and gained 4 pounds of fat since September.

I had some reservations about going to the bod pod at all. First, I’ve been following the intuitive eating recommendation of staying away from the scale. This has been a great freedom for me and has released me from years of obsession with food and weight. That alone is a great success for me, not one I will trade in, even for a few pounds.

Second, I know for a fact that I’ve fallen out of routine lately, with both my running and my weight training suffering for it.  Backing off of the weight training is likely a key explanation for my loss of lean mass.

Third, I don’t think I’m getting enough protein. As explained in my last post, I’m making an effort to get more.  That post yielded some good advice. I’m tracking protein for a little while anyway, until I get on track. I’ve got some distance to go. Yesterday I fell short of my 100 grams/day goal by 24 grams.

So I have the explanation for why the decline in lean mass and increase in fat.  Today I’m feeling okay about it but I have to say that on Tuesday and yesterday I felt pretty discouraged.  I remember that feeling from when I used to weigh myself regularly.  Given that I’ve fallen out of my routine, I probably didn’t need the bod pod to tell me that my lean mass hasn’t increased and that my fat has increased. In fact, that little voice in the back of my head was telling me to cancel the appointment.

The thing was all made worse by the fact that the bod pod guy assumed that I would feel discouraged and went into a long list of suggestions about what I should or could do about it.  These ranged from relatively sound advice about working with a sports nutritionist or following the Precision Nutrition plan, to eating all of my food within a six hour period each day between 4 p.m and 10 p.m. (!!).  I really just wanted to get out of there at that point, but he’s a nice man and I didn’t want to be rude. At the same time, I wasn’t seeking his input, just the results of the test.

I only enjoy wallowing in the negative for a short time.  So I spent that evening and yesterday feeling discouraged and demoralized, a little bit hopeless and a little bit helpless, frustrated and sorry for myself. I shared my tale of woe with Sam, who is always great at lending an empathetic ear and seeing the positive side of things.

What good can I glean from this setback, if that’s even what it is?  The first question is of course this: is doing a bod pod measurement a useful thing for me to do, given my aspirations to stick with intuitive eating?  I’m not so sure it is. I think for the time being I would do better not to monitor my “progress” in this manner, but instead to stick with a few performance goals that I can feel good about.

To that end, I’m getting back on track with my running now that the weather is a bit better. I start a clinic with a local running group this evening.  It’ll be my first experience running with people and I’m kind of excited about it.

The other issue is my resistance training.  I’m not pushing myself as hard as my trainer used to push me. That’s I guess the main reason we hire trainers, isn’t it? But I’m not interested (at the moment, anyway) in going back to the training studio.  It’s a lot of money and I have enough knowledge to figure out my own workouts. It’s the motivation factor that I need to get back.  I’ve got to mull that one over a bit. I could start training at the Y again. I have a membership already because of the pool, and I have fond memories of the camaraderie of the gym.  Maybe.  If I can’t get my home routine back on track over the month of May, then the Y is an option.

And then there’s the issue of what IS working. Sam reminded me that, for me, getting over the food obsession and letting go of the scale are significant changes.  The bod pod result made me question everything for a short time. I started to think that intuitive eating wasn’t “working.”  I even felt drawn to go on some sort of diet, but then remembered that diets don’t work. The fact is, intuitive eating is working just fine.  Other than that I now feel it’s time to focus a bit more on high protein choices, I’m doing well with the intuitive eating approach.

A brief reflection on “what went wrong” yields that the main issue hasn’t been food (other than that I could get more protein) but training.

Being fixated on the numbers that the bod pod gives me isn’t much different from fixating on the numbers on the scale.  I’ve learned that it’s really difficult for me to react well to a reading that isn’t as “good” as I wanted it to be.  Yes, it’s information, but is it the sort of information that I really need to have in order to achieve my fitness goals?  I’m not so sure about that.

Re-grouping, I plan to stick to my original commitments: running 3 x a week; resistance training 3 x a week; yoga 3 x a week; swimming 2 x a week; leaving the car at home more often, opting to walk or cycle instead.  That’s a good re-start.

Once I have the routine back in place, I can think about upping my performance goals.  I like the strategy of gradual progression, adding just a little bit each day or week.  For example, instead of swimming for 25 minutes, swim for 30; or make a few of the laps sprints. Instead of doing 20 kettlebell swings, do 22.  That sort of thing. Subject matter for a future blog post.

For now, I’ve got to be somewhere soon, and if I’m going to walk instead of drive, I need to hit the road!

[image from Bigstock]

diets · eating · overeating

Hack your nutrition

So if i trust my body, but not 100%, what can I do to steer me, in a non restrictive way, to better food choices?

I’m interested in hacks, that is, in quick and unexpected fixes for hard problems.

Mostly what I’m interested in are changes in environment that influence choice. Cass Sunstein in his book Nudge outlines a variety of ways in which structuring choice situations differently leads people to better choices (as judged by their own lights) without making rules that govern behavior. You can read about Sunstein’s libertarian paternalism here.

Here is a great example from that book, one which actually concerns nutritional choices. The study concerned people selecting food from a self serve cafeteria. The intervention was intended to get people to choose more fruits and vegetables without coercive measures. All that researchers did was change the order of the food being selected. Putting fruits and vegetables first meant that people chose them and left less room on their plates and trays for processed alternatives.

What changes in our lives can we make that are ‘nudge’ like? I’m not talking about restrictions. Calorie restricted diets don’t interest me and I’m not convinced they work. Instead, I’m interested in environmental approaches that change the choice scenario.

We were chatting about environmental changes lots at the implicit bias conference I was attending on the weekend. One slogan, used by a social psychologist, caught my ear: automate, don’t ruminate. Make good choices easy and automatic. Setting yourself up to think too much is more likely to lead to failure.

We know this of course from the literature on habit. I’ve written here about how good habits are key to change. So it’s not about harsh rules and struggles, deep thought and massive amounts of will power.

But what sorts of changes might we made regarding nutritional choices?

Precision Nutrition has a number of habits they encourage people to establish. Eating when hungry, eating slowly, eating to 80% full, eating protein, vegetables and healthy fats with every meal, choosing better carbs.

Like the cafeteria example, we might think in terms of eating veggies first. Some people recommend eating vegetable soup before each meal. That sounds tedious to me but I do eat raw chopped veggies before dinner on most days. I don’t eat standing up or while doing something else. Vegetables are an exception to that general rule.

I also try not to bring food into the house I don’t want to eat. John Berardi at PN urges people to clean house and get rid of food that they don’t want to eat. He jokingly says that if you bring food into your house odds are that sooner or later you or someone you love will eat it.

I agree with Tracy that there are no ‘evil’ foods but there are annoying foods that I inevitably eat more of than I would like. It’s not that they’re a great treat. I’m a big fan of delicious treats. These are foods I’d rather not eat but can’t resist if they’re there.

Tracy is skeptical about claims that we’re addicted to certain foods and I agree but at the same time there are foods that seem engineered to get me to eat more than I want.

There’s also a number of tools to help you eat more slowly. The the hapi fork isn’t for me but some people also have success slowing down by eating with their non dominant hand. Others use chopsticks, if that’s not familiar cutlery.

Why eat more slowly? It’s tied to the 80% idea. It takes awhile for our bodies to recognize how much we’ve eaten

Others like to eat using small plates and small forks. The small plates encourage us to take smaller servings and to feel like we’re eating more. The smaller forks just slow you down.

My family jokes about the American cutlery we bought. The spoons are enormous. No one wants to eat using the tablespoons and the teaspoons are just about the right size for cereal, etc.

Dish colours also make a difference in how much you eat. Aiming to eat less? Worst are dishes the same colour as the food you’re eating. Better are plates a different colour than your food. Best of all are blue plates, possibly because no food is that colour.

Read about blue plates here. I own blue plates but I didn’t buy them for that reason.


The only restrictive rule I’m trying to adopt is limiting dessert to twice a week. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Do you have any nutritional hacks or tips that you like? Please share.


diets · eating · sports nutrition

How to Get Lots of Vegan Protein

tofu scrambleAfter following Go Kaleo for a while and now reading her new book, Taking up Space: A Guide to Escaping the Diet Maze,  I’m 100% convinced that I need to make more of an effort to get more protein if I have any ambitions in the strength/body composition department.

Yes, I still want to follow the intuitive eating approach. And yes, I still reject the idea that fitness is about achieving a certain aesthetic. I think both of these beliefs are compatible with aiming to get more protein into my daily pattern of eating.

Intuitive eating doesn’t mean paying no attention to what I eat. In fact, the last principle is “Honor your health with gentle nutrition.” Ironically, now that I’ve lifted the restrictions, I have pretty much no strong food cravings.  This makes it much easier for me regularly to make choices that have good nutritional value. I find myself attracted to whole foods in any case.  But I need to think more consciously about where I’m getting my protein.

Aiming for a leaner body that has a different lean mass to fat ratio than what I have now doesn’t need to be about looking a certain way. For me, it’s more about feeling strong and energetic. That in turn helps me enjoy my chosen activities more and feel as if I am experiencing positive gains from them.

I’m vegan. That means I avoid any animal products to the best of my ability.  I’ve chosen it for ethical, not health, reasons. As far as what I eat is concerned, that means no meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, or honey. I’m okay with these omissions and do not miss anything on the list of non-vegan choices. But I am finding that my strength training program and the concomitant increase in lean mass just is feeling stalled.

It could be because I’m almost fifty (that’s no secret!), so any changes are going to come more slowly. But more likely it’s because I’m not getting sufficient protein to fuel the fire. If Go Kaleo is correct, then we all should be getting one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.  For me, that means more than 125 grams of protein daily.  The way I’m eating at present makes that a stretch on most days.

This is not to say a vegan diet does not offer ample sources of good quality protein. It just means that it requires some attention.  It’s not as simple as just grilling a chicken breast or eating a can of tuna (neither of which I can even imagine myself doing anymore).

My first goal is to get to about 100 grams of protein per day. To do this I need to make sure I’m getting good protein at every meal and every snack.  What does this mean in real food terms? I’ve done a bit of research and here’s what I have come up with.

At breakfast, I’m already getting a good 23-25 grams of protein by not changing anything. I put peanut butter on my toast or english muffin and soy milk in my morning smoothie, made also with a couple of scoops of pumpkin seed protein powder.  A cup of oatmeal with a cup of soymilk has close to 20 grams of protein. On more leisurely mornings, a tofu scramble is a fantastic start.

At lunch, I often eat soup or salad. The commitment to protein means making sure I add legumes or seeds (1/2 cup of kidney beans has 20 grams) to my salads and eat tofu (1/4 cup has 10 grams) or tempeh on regular basis.  Brown rice has protein (2.5 grams per half cup). The same portion of quinoa has twice as much.

For dinner, there are lots of different things to do. When I have pasta, I can make a blush sauce by adding some silken tofu to my tomato sauce and boost it even more with chickpeas or kidney beans.  Falafel is a pretty good choice. So are veggie burgers or veggie sausage, at least some of the time.  And I’ve already developed the habit of adding some beans to my tofu stir-fries. And I have a really tasty balsamic vinagrette recipe that uses cashews as a base instead of olive oil.

For snacks, I can dip my sliced apples in peanut butter or almond butter, have some hummus with crackers or veggies, or steam up some edamame.  If I want apple sauce, I stir in a few sliced almonds or soy nuts. Occasionally, clif bars or clif’s builder bars can ramp up the day’s protein intake, with 10 grams in a regular clif bar and 20 grams in the builder bars.  They’re very much like candy bars in other respects, so they’re not something I want to rely on daily.

There are also some surprises when I start looking at the protein in foods. It’s possible, for example, to find pretty good amounts of it in the pita bread and english muffins that I already enjoy eating.  I don’t want to use bread as my major source of protein, but it’s good to know that it factors into the protein equation.

Sadly, at least for the next little while, I’m going to need to track. I’ve been quite public in announcing that I am no fan of tracking — it is oppressive and represents to me all that is wrong with dieting (the monitoring, weighing, measuring, and counting).

But I plan to keep track for the next few days just to get an idea of what is actually required for me to reach 100 grams of protein in a day.  Using the strategies outlined above, which don’t really deviate from what I like to eat already but do require me to make conscious choices that include protein, it’s not as hard as I thought it would be to hit 100 grams in a day.  But in order to see whether I’m making it, I’m going to track my food this week.  I am pretty sure that I won’t need to track for much longer than that.

The biggest challenge is dining out at restaurants that have don’t cater to vegans. Lots of places will come up with something, but it frequently lacks protein. Today, for example, I had lunch at an Italian restaurant and had a spinach salad and the grilled veggie panini. They were both delicious but aside from the five or six glazed pecans in the salad, neither had much quality protein. The panini bread had more than any other ingredient. That’s okay once in awhile, but if I’m trying to hit 100 g a day, I can’t have too many lunches like that.

I’m also going to track my body composition at the start of this protein experiment. Tomorrow I have an appointment at the bod pod, and I will check in again after six months of making a conscious effort to get more protein.

Right now, I’m going to go steam up some edamame (9 grams) for my afternoon snack, and throw together a salad that includes tempeh bacon (6 grams for 3.5 slices), hummus (1-2 grams per tablespoon, depending), and sliced almonds (6 grams per 1/4 cup) thrown in with the mixed greens, avocado, sliced tomato and black olives.

I’m curious to see whether this focus on protein will make a difference in the results I see in my resistance training program.  If you have any more suggestions for protein-rich vegan options, please share them in the comments.

Meanwhile, bon appetit!


High Protein Vegan Recipes from Vegangela.

6 High Protein Vegan Recipes from Shape magazine.

Protein Rich Vegan Recipes from

diets · eating · fat · overeating · weight loss

Listen to your body, yes, but with a skeptical ear….

Tracy has written lots about what works for her when it comes to food choices. Listening to her body rather than following a strict diet plan is the main piece of that. (See her post on intuitive eating.) She’s also not interested in seeking the advice of sports nutritionists (see here.) Largely she thinks our bodies know what they need and listening to our bodies is both healthier and less alienating than ‘mediated eating.’ We should eat what we want not what the latest diet plan or diet guru tells us to eat. See her post on fad diets here.

We hear this same idea from others too. According to Amber at Go Kaleo, we should listen to our bodies and let them guide us.

Our bodies are not the enemies. I like that as a slogan. The thing is I’m convinced my body is not my enemy. But I’m also not convinced it’s always my best friend either.

That said, I’m not as angry at my body as eat, drink, and run is. I’m not as amusing either. She explains why she doesn’t listen to her body in these terms:

“Because my body is kind of a little bitch.  Yep, this body is all about guarding its own shortsighted interests.  Go for a run, body?  Noooo…I asked the legs, they’d rather take a rest day! Eat some of that broccoli?  Noooo…taste buds want ice cream instead! Get out of bed and go to work?  Oh…I consulted the epidermis and it says that these warm covers feel just fine, so we’re staying put, KTHXBAI.” 

Go read the rest here. It’s very funny.

Mostly I’m in agreement with the intuitive eating idea, especially the claims that we need to make peace with food and end restrictive dieting.  I think self trust matters for women’s autonomy. Casting aside the advice of experts is liberating.

These experts tend to target women with their advice and treat us as incompetent idiots. They create incompetence and then sell products to fix the problem.

Like the woman centred childbirth movement–if you feel like walking around in labour, walk around– the intuitive eating approach teaches women that we know what’s best for our own health.

Shut out the outside noise–whether the noise is fast food advertising or nutritional advice from experts–slow down and feed your self when you’re hungry, stop before you’re full, and eat foods that appeal to you.

What’s great about trusting your body, especially for women, is its radical potential. And as I’ve said, I think lots about this is right but here I want to raise some doubts about intuitive eating, at least as it applies to my life.

The worries I have been be divided into two categories, the internal and the external.

First, let’s look at the internal issues with intuitive approaches to eating.

Our bodies often want things that aren’t the best for us. That seems obvious to me and there is an easy explanation of why this is so. In evolutionary terms death by starvation was a much more likely bad outcome than the health risk of being overweight, especially prior to childbirth years. We are creatures geared for feast and famine times living in an environment of all feast, all the time. We’re not wrong or mistaken to want to eat whenever food presents itself. Until very recently in human history that desire would have served us very well.

Our bodies also aren’t unitary desiring machines either. There are conflicts between well being for different bits of our bodies. What’s good for our brain may not be so good for our thighs. Our brain’s desire for sugar is fascinating and it’s in clear conflict with what’s best for us overall. See “Why our brains love sugar and why our bodies don’t,” here, in Psychology Today.

It seems to me to be a very romantic view of embodiment to think our bodies know what’s best. I’ve written before about the variety of ways that our bodies undercut our best efforts. See this post about our bodies scheming against our weight loss efforts.

Second, let’s look at the external factors. There is no ‘what I want’ separate from my environment. I crave cupcakes, when I crave cupcakes, because I’m in a cupcake heavy time and place. There are many places and times where I might have lived where I’d never crave cupcakes. Would I have wanted something else? Sure. I don’t crave or eat meat but in much of the world not eating meat wouldn’t be an option and probably I’d come to desire it.

On a smaller scale now this is true about the environment I create for myself. I don’t like potato chips very much and I don’t buy them or bring them into my house. But if they’re there I come perversely to want them. Our desire for food isn’t separate from our environment. And I think this is especially true for food that’s designed, like cigarettes, to be addictive. I’m looking forward to reading Salt, Sugar, Fat reviewed here in the Guardian.

My next post in habits and environmental cues looks at how we might intervene and help ourselves make better choices.

Here’s what intuitive approaches get right. We don’t do as badly as we imagine we’d do if all food is available and nothing is off limits. And I think it’s right that lots of over eating stems from restricting our diets. Certain foods are held up to be both magically bad and desirable. And highly restrictive diets are destructive for just this reason.

But, for me at least, intuitive eating isn’t perfect either. After days without vegetables I come to crave them it’s true. But I doubt that left to my own desires I’d come to want enough green things. I also think that in small amounts we might eat more than we need in some cases and less in others. My own examples come from sports performance, not eating enough when I’m racing and eating too much on days when I do long slow rides. My appetite isn’t a reliable guide to what I need to eat to perform well.

Okay, what can we do? I think small changes in behavior and in our environment can make a difference. What sort of changes? These will be the topic of my next blog post.

Note it may turn out that for you, even small restrictions bring to mind the full on serious restrictions of heavy duty during, the way that tracking and nutrition counseling affected Tracy. If that’s right then I agree it’s best to stick with intuitive eating as a way of recovering from a history of dieting.

But as I’ve said in a few blog posts, it’s part of my goal to get leaner and to improve my nutrition. I’ll be listening to my body too but with a critical ear and strategizing about ways to get it what it wants while still meeting my goals and changing my eating habits.

Further reading:

When listening to your body doesn’t work, Part 1

When listening to your body doesn’t work, Part 2

(Mark’s Daily Apple)

Nia Shanks: Ditch the diet rules, listen to your body for optimal health

The most effective diet: listening to your body


athletes · racing · triathalon

Are Women-Only Races Sexist? No. Are They Good for Women? Yes.

bigstock-Water-Start-1455231In July, Sam and I are taking part in the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon.  It’s a women’s only event that happens annually.  The founder, Janet Bannerman, established the race to raise money for the local community and

 “to give the women the opportunity to have a race where they could feel empowered. They could compete against other women and feel comfortable.”

We might react more negatively to races for men only, wondering why they were excluding women. We might even go so far as to say that they are sexist because they discriminate against women.  Why should we regard women-only races any differently? To answer this question, we need to think about the reason for them.

The idea of spaces for women only has been around for a long time.  Author Virginia Wolff talked about the need for women to have “a room of their own.” She reasoned that the women of her day had been discouraged from pursuing an education, let alone having careers as writers, because only boys were expected to produce art or seek employment that might require an education.

In the sixties and seventies feminists sought refuge from the demands of patriarchy by setting up women-only spaces.  Rape Crisis Centres and Women’s Shelters often conceive of themselves as providing women-only spaces where women can feel safe from the threat of violence from male partners and family members.

Girls-only schools and women-only colleges and universities are premised on the often contested yet enduring idea that girls and boys, women and men have different learning styles and that girls and women are more likely to thrive when they are not sharing their learning space with men. Why are they more likely to thrive? Numerous reasons get cited, from same-sex schools having fewer “distractions” once the kids enter adolescence (if they’re straight kids, that is, which most of the research assumes) to girls-only or women-only environments providing them with more opportunities to participate and to lead.

They also assume that boys and men are more competitive, or at least that girls and women compete differently, less aggressively, than boys and men.  Whether or not that’s true, it’s widely assumed.

There is a great deal of evidence in the research on implicit bias that in co-ed environments, boys and men are taken more seriously in classrooms, tend to dominate discussion, get called on more frequently by their instructors.  This sends the subtle message that they have more of a right to be there. In a girls-only or women-only context, this tendency to pay more attention to the men cannot occur.

The reasoning for women-only and girls-only spaces flows from the assumption that they have been structurally and systemically disdvantaged by a society that implicitly privileges men. [this is not to say that male privilege is the only sort of privilege operating in our world — we might also note the existence of white privilege, class privilege, non-disabled privilege — for now I’d like to focus on gender].  Creating opportunities for women as a systemically disadvantaged group is not the same as doing the same for men, who already enjoy social privilege and entitlement in all sorts of public arenas, including sports.

Does the idea that women might thrive more easily in scenarios where men are taken out of the equation translate over into the women’s only racing events?  The founder of the Kincardine Triathlon says it gives women a race in which they can feel empowered and feel comfortable.  Other women’s only triathlons promote the idea of “racing with your friends” and “celebrating women’s sport with the beginner in mind.” It’s less about competition and more about solidarity.

Sam has written about women-only cycling events, such as the Cupcake Ride and Heels on Wheels. One of her reservations about these events was the way they associate women on bikes with femininity rather than focusing on athleticism.  She acknowledges that if that’s what gets women out on bikes, then so be it, but laments the downplaying of cycling as a physically demanding sport.

The women’s triathlons that position themselves as fun events where women can feel empowered and comfortable don’t include pink cupcakes and high heels. In this respect, they focus on the triathlon as sport. Nevertheless, they down play the competitive aspect.

The “Race for Life” (a run to fundraise for cancer research) in the UK has a page on its website that addresses the issue of “women-only” for its event:

“We regularly review our events to make them the best they can be. Two years ago, we seriously investigated the possibility of including men in Race for Life. However, our research shows that a significant number of our Race for Life supporters would strongly prefer to keep it a female-only event as it is a unique opportunity for women to come together in a non-competitive environment within an atmosphere of ‘sisterhood’.”

Why is an event with only women attractive to women? This question has more than one answer.

I confess that in my own case, the idea of a triathlon is pretty intimidating. If I had to compete in the same race as men and women, I might feel just that much more intimidated. Why? It’s more of an attitude than anything else, hard to generalize about without seeming to stereotype. I’m more comfortable doing poorly in the company of women only. I don’t mind as much if I mess up, if I completely blow the cycling part of the race (which I fear is just what will happen), or if I take too long to make the transition from the swim to the bike ride.

I feel as if my women friends are more likely to say “great job!” regardless of my actual performance.  I know at least a few men who would be more inclined to say, in a well-meaning yet still demoralizing way, “you could have done better than that!”

As an aside, women aren’t always supportive and can also say the wrong thing in a way that hurts.  When I told a woman friend of mine who used to be quite competitive in 5K races what my time was in my first 5K, she laughed, or rather scoffed.  I immediately jumped in an felt the need to defend myself: “I wasn’t really competing. I just wanted to try it, with the goal of finishing the race.”

But generally speaking, a woman-only environment feels more like a “safe space” for taking risks. As I noted earlier, there’s a long tradition of women-only or girls-only spaces. We’ve spoken a lot on the blog about the statistics about sport. Women in general tend to be less represented in sports from crossfit to triathlons.  Certain areas of the gym, such as the weight room, tend to attract fewer women.  As philosophers, Sam and I like to press these facts and ask “why?”

One answer to the question of “why?” has to do with the kinds of expectations we have for girls and boys that lead us to socialize them a certain way. I wrote a whole post about why deeper social meaning of the color pink can be harmful to women. Ideals of femininity include soft, nurturing, supportive, non-competitive, and, more perniciously, weak and uncoordinated (as we see in the fact that “throwing like a girl” is an insult).

These assumptions about femininity have an impact on social expectations of girls and women and, in turn, on what we expect of ourselves.  So some of us enter these arenas (e.g. the gym, the track, the velodrome, the triathlon) with caution.  They tend to be dominated by men and we don’t always feel welcome.  We’ve blogged about this here.

Women-only events are a great middle ground between acknowledging that women are also entitled to engage in these activities, on the one hand, and that for many women these are new pursuits that might feel intimidating, on the other hand.  Participating with women only helps to take the edge off just a little.  And since few of us have fully escaped our socialization into at least some feminine qualities, these sorts of events do tend to be supportive and empowering. That makes them more fun and less stressful.

At the same time, I’m wary of spending too much time celebrating the idea that women don’t like competition or that we compete differently (in a more friendly way? in a way that is more concerned with how our co-competitors feel? in a less aggressive way? I’m not sure that’s always been my own experience competing with other women.). I’ve blogged about why competition can be a good thing for women. We don’t have to crush our opponents or relish in their defeat, but we can enjoy winning.

Competition can be healthy and enjoyable. We expect men to engage in it, but women should engage in it too.  Races are a great opportunity to do just that.  If women-only races, such as the Kincardine triathlon that we’ve signed up for, encourage more of us to engage in these sports they play a positive role.