To ‘Bit’ or not to ‘Bit’? (Guest Post)

by Ange B

A few weeks or so back I was wondering whether an activity tracker would be a worthwhile purchase. I am generally wary or gadgets and so, when I first heard about these new super-charged pedometers my initial thoughts were that they appeared to be yet another way for people to compete, compare and generally feel they’re not doing ‘enough’.

That was a year ago and at the time I was struggling with both anxiety & fatigue as a result of a mistreated thyroid disorder. Not wanting to set myself up for another failure, I stayed well clear of the gadgets and the hype. A year on (and thankfully, chronic anxiety and fatigue free) I have come around to another line of thinking. Or perhaps, I believe I now possess the tools I need to prevent this little tool taking over my life. These being, an appreciation for my health, love for my strong resilient body, recognition of the (awesome) things I have already achieved, and the acknowledgement that, after years of inactivity due to illness, slowly slowly is the best way (for me) to get “fit” again.

So why a Fitbit? The purchase decision came down to comfort. I really don’t like wearing anything on my wrists, so it had to be light and comfortable and the one I chose is barely noticeable. I really hadn’t thought much beyond the pedometer function of these devices when doing my initial research, though I thought the sleep tracker could be an interesting function.

I have subsequently discovered that the sleep tracker is a fabulous tool. I am still terrified of tired days – days where I wake up with a (seemingly) inexplicable fatigue and the fear that I’ve regressed. I had one of those days recently, and when I consulted my sleep tracker of the 8 hours I had thought I was asleep my ‘Bit registered 2 hours of restlessness throughout the night. Easily accounting for the fatigue the next day and giving me great peace of mind – and the motivation to continue to work on my sleep hygiene to achieve 8 hours= of proper rest.

fitbit

The other bonus feature is the vibrating alarm. Having to  take medication twice daily at specific times I had relied on my phone alarm, but I much prefer the silent reminder buzzing away on my arm. It’s handy too as I’d often miss the phone alarm when it was on silent in my bag or in another room.

Now that I’ve had the ‘Bit for a little while I can say that we’ll be good friends lil ‘Bit and I. What I have realised is that I easily average 12,000 steps per day. This movement, combined with a consistent routine of strength work, swimming and cycling throughout each week will get me to my first set of fitness goals. Most importantly, I’ve realised that the ‘Bit doesn’t care, non-judgemental little machine that it is. It doesn’t care that one set of 2000 steps was to go and get hot chips (because Saturday is hot chips with dinner day), or that, at 9 pm the other night I wandered down to the pub for a drink with a friend (because it was 34 degrees at 9pm and there was no sleeping to be had in that kind of crazy hot weather) it just cares that I walked.

AB

Ange is a health sciences student, public servant, cat owner, avid reader of other people’s blogs, HAES advocate with a 5 year plan to finish a half ironman! She lives in Adelaide in South Australia.

Hygge vs The Winter Blues (Guest Post)

Spoiler alert, hygge is winning 🙂

Like many folks, I often find February a very difficult month. As I’m writing this post it’s -25C in London, Ontario and we’ve about half a meter of cold, squeaky snow on the ground and it is definitely February.

Natalie inside, -25C outside

 

The thing is, this year, I feel great in February. Usually by now I’ve lost all motivation to do much of anything. The 2 weeks of vacation in December is far behind me and time with my kids in March seems very far away, but not this year. This year I decided to stack the deck for my fitness and my mental health by learning from some of the happiest people in the world who also happen to have a very long, dark winter, the Danish.

Last fall I read about Danish hygge, the practice of being cozy, warm and in good company as a strategy for being happy in winter. So I started with inviting people over to spin at our house on weekends that rode with me in the fall.

Randonneur Dave and I sweat while my beloved takes a photo.

Randonneur Dave and I sweat while my beloved takes a photo.

I made sure to bake yummy muffins and scones, because after that hard work I think food tastes even better. Plus I find spinning indoors really mentally demanding on my motivation, good company and food help a lot!

thug Kitchen's Blueberry Lavender Scones and Post Punk Kitchen's The Best Pumpkin Muffin

Thank you Sam for introducing me to Post Punk Kitchen’s The Best Pumpkin Muffins, they happen to be vegan AND the easiest and tastiest muffins ever, clearly THE BEST.

So here’s to great friends, food and fitness keeping the winter blues at bay!

 

Five thousand followers!

This morning just after 6 am the five thousandth person signed on to follow our blog. Wow!

Thank you for reading and following our blog!

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Weight Loss, Body Hatred, and the Possibility of Other Motives

We spend a lot of time on the blog talking about body positivity and self-acceptance.  But sometimes we also talk about weight loss.  Whether it be for performance reasons, as I’ve discussed (with some skepticism that it makes it “okay” to have it as a goal) and as Samantha thinks about re. her cycling or to get the blood pressure in check, as Natalie has done, there are reasons other than normative femininity to lose weight.

But some people think that as a feminist blog, we should never ever talk about weight loss as something to aim for. Weight loss is associated the the pressure to be thin, oppressive norms, and a generally negative opinion of fat, fat bodies, and fat people. I

Not only that, but we have always taken a strong anti-diet position on the blog. Diets don’t work. The staggering statistics in support of their inefficacy speak for themselves. Almost everyone who successfully loses weight with restrictive dieting gains most (often more) of it back over time. Sometimes it takes a few years, sometimes just a few weeks. It depends on the method — fad diets and highly restrictive approaches to weight loss have the worst outcomes.

And if diets don’t work, why are doctors always pushing us to lose weight anyway? They give all sorts of unsolicited advice, making body weight monitoring a regular part of ongoing medical care even for people who aren’t having any health issues at all.

We reject the whole BMI thing.  And both Sam and I promote the idea of finding activities you enjoy and getting out and doing them, no matter what your size and without having weight loss as a focal point.

We care about metabolic health, and are more likely to encourage everyone to eat more, not less! In fact, I’m not sure we have any posts that encourage people to eat less.

We’ve written about all of this and more. And yet sometimes we talk about weight loss.  And a few people have let us know that it disturbs them. That it indicates to them that we’re not “feminist enough.”

I’m not big on defending myself as a feminist, either to anti-feminists or to other feminists.  But what I want to say here is that Sam and I aren’t just feminists. We’re actually feminist philosophers.

Now, not all feminist philosophers believe exactly the same things. But one of the things that makes us fairly compatible is that we’re both fairly moderate and open to other ways of seeing things. This means that on our Facebook page, for example, we’ll sometimes post content that we don’t agree with,. We might do that just because it makes an interesting point worthy of consideration OR because it’s clearly getting something wrong in an interesting way.

But the real question for me when we post about weight loss, at least where feminism is concerned, is: are their any legitimate reasons for wanting to lose weight, reasons that have nothing to do with hating our bodies, trying to fit normative ideals, or even worse, hating and punishing ourselves.

And I think the answer to that is pretty clearly “yes.”

I think we’re right to be skeptical about medical reasons even though in some cases it could make a difference.  The fact is, so does getting active and developing healthy eating habits.  Weight loss could be a by-product of that, but setting it as a primary goal is probably going to be self-defeating anyway.

Then there are the performance reasons that athletes obsess about. I blogged about racing weight not too long ago. And Sam has talked about wanting to weigh less so she can fly up hills more quickly. In my post, I worried that after a couple of years of liberating myself from weight loss as a goal, aiming for “racing weight” or any kind of weight-related performance improvement could take me back to old bad habits associated with dieting: poor body image, weight obsession, worrying about food all the time, berating myself for eating.

I also worried that you can dress it up anyway you like, but aiming for weight loss for whatever reason is going to have the same results. Wanting to perform better doesn’t mean your weight loss is going to be any more lasting than if you did it for other reasons. Athletes don’t even expect to maintain their race weight or the weight they will compete at on game day through the entire year. It’s seasonal.

So I guess I have my worries about that too. Yes, we can have non-body-hating reasons to want to lose weight. And in the end, I think those reasons can be consistent with feminist ideals. But having different reasons doesn’t change the facts about sustainable weight loss.

Sam has blogged about weight loss unicorns before. They’re the people, and we all know some of them, who lose weight and keep it off. They’re unicorns because they are rare.

And even if someone has reasons for wanting to lose weight that are consistent with feminism, I myself avoid entering into any conversation with anyone where my expected role is to praise them for their weight loss efforts. I pretty much never do that because, as I blogged about here, I do not believe “You’ve lost weight, you look great” is a compliment in polite society. Rather, it bespeaks a kind of body policing. It’s really hard to be explicit about noticing someone’s weight loss (or gain) and not be engaged in body policing.

Weight loss and dieting have long been considered as oppressive tools, contrary to the liberatory goals of feminism. Besides blogging about it a lot I’ve also done a bit of philosophical work on the topic. For me, I know weight loss is a dangerous goal. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand why some people might want to lose a few pounds for reasons that are consistent with the aims of feminism, among which, of course, are the freedom to make our own choices without being condemned for them.

 

Spinning in the sunshine: Arizona bike tour in brief

I’m writing this on my way home from an Arizona bicycling vacation. The tour was run by Bike Escapades which partners with Southwest Trekking for the Arizona Sunshine Tour. It’s ranked intermediate to advanced in terms of difficulty which really just amounts to a judgment about terrain and distance.

See Arizona sunshine

And we’ve done this trip before. You can read about the 2010 version here.

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I love vacations with bikes. It’s hard to imagine bikeless holidays. Bike tours are a great way to see a new place, to work some fitness into your holidays, and for well disguised introverts like me it’s a terrific way to meet new people. You can be social and ride together some of the time or you can also just do your own thing. We did a bit of both. Also, and this is a big generalization I know, mostly the people who ride bikes are nice.

Who? We were a small group. There were twelve of us in total. Our guide, John and his girlfriend from out of town, tour operator Phil and his girlfriend Jane, “the fellows,” a farmer and a doctor best friends from Pennsylvania, “the ladies” friends from New York, and another New York couple. And us. All refugees of the bad stormy snowy freezing weather that’s been the norm in the northeast this winter.

We also had a couple of young guys with us from time to time who worked for the trekking company, either riding or driving the bus. Sometimes they cheered us on which irked Jeff but didn’t bother me so much. I’ll take cheering where I can get it especially when hills are involved.

Our ages ranged from late forties to mid sixties. And is often the case with biking tours, there was an incredible range of speeds, ability, and comfort on the bike.

What? Some people rode hybrids, most of us road bikes, either our own that we’d brought with on the plant or had shipped out there, or rentals. I brought my bike and Jeff rented due to complicated travel arrangements that involved cars and sailboats.

The bikes ranged from entry level aluminum frame road bikes that cost about $600 new to some beautiful $10,000 bikes that came with very snazzy cases. Mine’s somewhere in the middle.

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We did forty to sixty miles a day and it was totally up to each rider how much riding they did versus how much time they spent on the magic green bus. The magic green bus was home to our day packs, floor pumps, water, all variety of bars, gels, fruit, and snacks. We felt very pampered. Our guide got the bikes ready to go each morning, checking tire pressure, filling water bottles and checking over the bikes.

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Where? Beautiful scenery and changing landscapes, mostly quiet county roads. Our first night we stayed in Tucson and went over route maps and distance options.

Day 1 we rode in the Saguaro National Park with time to visit in the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. From there it was on to the Madera Canyon where we stayed in cabins amid wild turkeys.  Highlight of the day was the loop route through the park. For cycling options see here. And you can see our day on Strava here.

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Day 2 we rode up over to Soinota Valley. Climb, climb, climb! You can see the Strava version here.

Day 3 we rode to Ramsey Canyon for some hiking, through the beautiful Coronado forest and the US army base, Fort Huachuca. Big hills, some rolling, but all big! Check out my Strava profile here.

Day 4 maybe the easiest day, flat roads into Tombstone, the town to tough to die.

Day 5 into beautiful historic mining town of Bisbee. The locals looked to be a mix of old miners, affluent seniors, artists, and hippies.

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The places we stayed in ranged from beautiful old hotels, the Copper Queen in Bisbee, lovely bed and breakfasts like the Ramsey Canyon inn, more rustic cabins like in Madera Canyon, standard hotel rooms in Soinita and the utilitarian budget inn in Tombstone.

The food was pretty good, especially given the wide range of food needs the group. Obviously it varied from place to place. Bisbee was a high mark.

I like Phil the tour operator and I like John, the local guide. I get the sense he’s usually doing more rugged things, mountain biking and back country camping. He runs trips to Alaska and Mexico as well as Arizona. He’s funny, very blunt, and I’d trust him with my life. Those are good traits for an extreme adventure guide.

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I’ll be back cycling in Arizona next year I hope. I’d like to try some mountain biking and might organize a group to go with Southwest Trekking.

Hitting the Winter Running Wall

brick wall with snowI’ve had a draft post in the queue for a while now called, “Why Winter Is a Great Time for Marathon Training.” But you know what? I’m starting to question whether it is so great after all.

I have well and truly hit a wall with my winter training. Last winter I ran through the polar vortex.  I felt totally badass. But I was only training for 10K last winter. The longest run of the clinic was only 13K.

Marathon training isn’t like that.  Our long runs were at 13K way back in November. The climbed up, adding a kilometre here, two there, until we were (and are) routinely doing between 19K and 26K on Sundays.  Wednesday nights we do a short course but the bulk of it is hill repeats. Thursdays is always a 6K, and that sounds manageable, right?

That’s what I thought. But then two things happened. First, I was humbled by knee and hip pain, brought on by a tight IT band. That’s why I’ve renewed my commitment to Chi Running.  I say “humbled” because everyone says it’s when you jump from half marathon to marathon training that the injuries set in. Some people even think you can’t possibly do marathons regularly without experiencing pain and injury.  I balked at that.

I’m not one to stick with something that’s going to hurt me. So I’m focusing on technique and form to see if I can address some of the alignment issues that are at the root of this pain.

But the second thing that happened was this relentless winter.  I went from feeling badass at the beginning for running in snow. Footing can be tricky, and that’s not a great thing for me when I’m trying to maintain proper alignment, but I was doing it.  We’re not in Boston like Catherine and Rachel. We’ve had snow, but nothing out of the ordinary. But the COLD.

For weeks now it’s been super cold, at least -10C most days, and often with a windchill of between -25 and -35C. Today it’s -37C with the windchill. I know some people are skeptical about what the whole wind chill thing actually means. But I can tell you this much: when you’re out there running and there’s a frigid wind, your thighs burn, your face hurts, and it’s nearly impossible to keep your hands warm.

In regular winter weather, I almost always end up removing my gloves before the half way point of my run. But this year, I keep them on, I pull the sleeve of my thickest winter running top over my hands and then tuck them up into my windproof jacket. And it’s still brutal.

I had a week of respite in Miami and then the Bahamas. I had a beautiful 5K, no knee pain, along the boardwalk in South Beach.

When we got home on the weekend I was stoked to go running with Anita on Sunday. We had a one-day reprieve with temperatures climbing up to -5C in the afternoon. But I had to stay home and wait for our delayed luggage to get delivered (they gave me a SIX HOUR window!) and by the time it arrived so had my friends who were coming over to watch the Oscars.

And then the temperatures plummeted over night.  Back to -37C with the windchill and an extreme cold weather warning.

I’ve made a commitment to myself to do all of the clinic runs this week: Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday.  But I’m not excited about that. Between the worry about the knee pain and the worry about freezing, it’s just not as fun as I like it to be.

I could take it inside, but those long runs especially are a tough slog on the treadmill at the gym.

So that’s the wall.  Very much looking forward to spring!

Winter Biking: So Hot Right Now! (Guest Post)

by Rachel Brown

I’m not one of the majority who thinks herself an above-average driver. The past week I drove to and from work four times in a row, about 45 mins each way, and each day I breathed a sigh of relief when I got home and wondered when my “lucky streak” would end. Occasionally I’ve puzzled squaring all that with my crash record, which is absolutely zero (other than one dufus who rear-ended me in a parking lot). Then it occurred to me (maybe I’m not too swift): I probably haven’t had any accidents because I really don’t drive much. Four days in a row is almost unheard of for me. That’s because I usually bike.

All year. In Boston.

Now you may have heard that Boston has had a bit of snow recently, and that does make things more challenging. But it’s hardly ever not do-able. So why not seize winter by the tires?

Contrary to popular belief, the bicycle, when mounted in a winter street, is not an inherently skittish steed about to buck you off at whim.

ICE. Ice is the number one reason I hear from commuter cyclists who hang up their tires in the winter. It sometimes seems to me that there is a perception, once the mercury ducks under 32, that the road looks like this:

ice

 

But it almost never does. (If it does, stay home!) The roads here are salted like the dead sea, and ice doesn’t stick. It’s rarely an issue at least with city riding. There may be small pockets of ice here and there, but don’t turn or brake on it and you’ll be fine. (I admit that is easier to type than it is to believe sometimes, but it’s still true!) Some people feel more comfortable with studs when there might be ice. I don’t have much experience with them as I find they’re not usually necessary (and they’re heavy and slow), but they probably help at least a bit and if they make you feel more comfortable, go for it! (I think icy roads are actually more of an issue in warmer climes where less salt is used, but that’s another story… That picture there is in the UK!)

SLUDGE. Sludge is messy and unpleasant (you will be willing to trade a liver for a rear fender if you don’t have one fitted), but it’s really easy to ride in. And, perhaps counter-intuitively, narrower tires do better. Wide mountain bike tires can pack up the sludge more and you might slide; narrow ones usually cut right through to the pavement. Fortunately—since the riding is easy—sludge makes up a good percentage of winter riding.

PACKED SNOW. With real snow-covered roads a wider tire does better, but … I guess I’d only recommend it if you’re into mountain biking (and know how to do it). Because you WILL fishtail. But, how often do the roads actually stay like that? Not long enough, IMO … as a mountain biker, I admit that I DO find riding right after (or even during if it’s not too gusty) a snow storm super fun – there’s barely any traffic, what traffic there is tends to be proceeding gingerly at about 2 mph (except for the plows — watch out for the crazy plows!), and they will assume you’re insane so they’ll give you a nice wide berth.

Nice road!

nice road

TOO NARROW! It’s true, there just isn’t so much space on the road when we have to share it with a motherload of snow. But in general (there are some exceptions) the cars don’t actually pass you more closely than usual. You may have to be willing to assert your space more than you normally do, and the concept of a bike occupying a whole lane can freak car drivers out and make them slowly turn purple, but to date I have not had one actually run me down. In fact most are ok about it, particularly because the need to do this is often most pressing when the traffic—slowed down by winter-related crappiness—isn’t moving any faster than a bike anyway. Another problem with the narrow streets is that you can’t easily sneak around the line of pesky cars waiting at traffic lights. Do as I say, not as I do: be patient and allow extra time. On the flipside, there can be advantages. For example, I ride a two lane road to work; it’s now a 1.5 lane – better for me! Also, a snow bank won’t door you.

SNOW BANKS. Yeah, these are high in Boston right now. And driving round them is sketchy: you nose your car forward (I beep on my horn too because that’s what we do in Britain – all these snow-narrowed streets with the high banks? They’re essentially a regular English road with hedgerows, only colder) and pray nothing is coming. Biking round them is actually much better. Sure, the cars can’t see you (remember that!), but when you’re riding on most commuter bikes you’re pretty high up, much higher than in a car, and you can usually see THEM. So when you get to a corner you can see if a car is heading your way even if they have no idea you’re there. Use that knowledge wisely…

GEAR. This is a legitimate concern. You do need some stuff to make winter biking do-able, and a bit more to make it actually pleasant. I assume you all can more or less dress yourselves, but a few items that I find make everything better… 1) Full face balaclava and googles. Mainly for the cold, but if you ever happen to be riding in hail or ice pellets you will be MUCH more comfortable with the googles than glasses. Also, because they’re enclosed, googles don’t fog up like glasses when you’re stuffing everything up by breathing through your balaclava. 2) Rain pants. See above for sludge. Rain pants add warmth and make everything cozy better. 3) Lobster gloves and handlebar mitts. Some people do well with just lobster gloves, but personally when it’s super cold I like both. Because why not? 4) Fenders. That’s for your bike. See sludge again.

Other than that I don’t think you need anything fancy. Easy concept really: the less exposed skin, the happier you will be.

Of course, other than biking round town/to work, you can expand your winter options by fat biking on reasonably well packed trails or snowmobile trails:

fat

Or maybe by installing a PVC pipe with hose clamps so that you can carry your skis to the trailhead:

ski

Or by installing skis ON your bike:

skibike

(Ok, that’s not me. I haven’t done that. Yet.)

So why have I been driving? Well, it’s not really because of the snow (I would be riding if I still worked downtown Boston), it’s because I changed jobs and work got farther away. I’m not pretending I can ride 50 miles to and from work in the dark and snow. But usually I can bike a few miles to the train station, which is acceptable to me. This week the train is in “recovery mode”, and while I COULD wait 60 minutes on a cold platform for a train that may or may not arrive, I am fortunate enough to have a (fairly) reliable car. But I do wish the train a very speedy recovery!

Rachel is a plaintiffs’ class action lawyer in Boston, MA. She was formerly a philosophy professor, and likes to think she remains a philosophical thinker. She rides all sorts of bicycles, but her first love is mountain biking and she races regularly at the amateur level. She is also leader of Team LUNA Chix Boston Mountain Bike, which leads bike rides for women in the Boston area.