Is body acceptance ever wrong? More chiding research comes our way

quote from Henry David Thoreau: "I stand in awe of my body".

It’s been a busy spring for body weight researchers.  I’m still working hard to catch up on the latest publications.  A recent article to come across my (virtual) desk is one from JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), with the intriguing title “Change in Percentage of Adults with Overweight or Obesity Trying to Lose Weight, 1988–2014”.

If you’re in a big hurry right now (maybe you’re trying to get out the door to ride or run or walk or go somewhere, in which case I promise not to delay you), here’s the takeaway:

From 1988 to 2014:

  • More American adults are overweight or obese (that is, have BMIs 25–30 and 30+).  No news there.
  • Fewer of these adults with BMIs 25–30 and 30+ are now reporting trying to lose weight. Hmmm.  Possibly interesting.
  • The authors seem very worried about this trend.  They think it’s a potentially bad thing.
  • I am not worried about this trend.  I think it might be a good thing, or maybe just a thing.

Now, if you’re not on your way outside (it’s a gentle sunny spring morning here in Boston), here are some of the details (both about what they said and what I think about it).  If you’re a data person, here are some numbers:

From 1988–2014:

  • The percentage of adults with BMIs 25–30 and 30+  increased from about 52% to about 65%– from about half to about 2/3 of the population.
  • The percentage of those adults (BMI 25 and above) who reported trying to lose weight declined from about 55% to about 49%– not a big drop, but it’s notably lower.
  • The article reports prominently that group with the biggest decline in weight loss attempts is black women, with a change from about 65% to about 55%– a 10% drop in weight loss attempts.  It reminds us that this group also has the highest incidence of BMIs 30+ (55%).
  • White men as a group also declined in weight loss attempts– a 6% drop (46% to 40%).
  • Also found in the table and in one sentence in the article is the fact that white women as a group also declined in weight loss attempts, by a bit more than 10%.

If you’re still reading (in which case, thank you; I do appreciate it), here are some messages in this article that struck me full in the face (and not in a good way).

First, the article seems really worried about the suggestion that the range of socially acceptable body weight is increasing.  They say this explicitly:

If more individuals who are overweight or obese are satisfied with their weight, fewer might be motivated to lose unhealthy weight.

Later on, they try to explain this phenomenon:

This observation may be due to body weight misperception reducing motivation to engage in weight loss efforts or primary care clinicians not discussing weight issues with patients.6 The chronicity of obesity may also contribute. The longer adults live with obesity, the less they may be willing to attempt weight loss, in particular if they had attempted weight loss multiple times without success.

Body weight misperception?   In this context it means that people think their body weight is just fine, when really it’s not. The authors suggest that people might mistakenly believe their body weight is okay because their health care provider hasn’t told them that it’s not.  And people might accept their bodies as fine because they’ve tried to lose weight, failed, and thus given up that fruitless pursuit in favor of a more profitable one, namely accepting their bodies as they are.

If body acceptance is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

But the medical literature just doesn’t agree.

While looking over this paper, I came across a 2010 article called “From ‘overweight’ to ‘about right’: evidence of a generational shift in body weight norms”.  This article seems to say that if people stop trying to lose weight and accept that their bodies are “about right”, bad things will happen.  From the 2010 article:

Such complacency among overweight and obese individuals may limit the effectiveness of public health campaigns aimed at weight reduction and associated improvements in health outcomes, including efforts to raise awareness of BMI thresholds for overweight and obesity.

In fairness, they do add:

On the other hand, there may be health benefits associated with improved body image, such as higher self-esteem and, potentially, a decline in the incidence of eating disorders.

Ya think?  Why is that not in the beginning of the article?  Why are we not celebrating and taking advantage of what could reasonably be interpreted as a nationwide increase in body positivity among lots of demographic groups?

One more point, which I can’t do justice to (I promise to address this in a future blog post):  the authors emphasize the decrease in weight loss attempts among black women, when in fact the decrease among white women is almost exactly the same.  It is true that the the black women as a group have a higher incidence of BMIs over 30 than white women as a group, which the authors also pointed out.  The implication is that this means that it’s worse (medically) for black women to be body accepting than white women.

Argh.  There’s something really wrong going on here.  To unpack the wrongs will take some time and more research.  I promise here that I’ll do that and report back.  But you’ve been alerted– the ways research like this gets reported treats racial groups differently, and that has all sorts of ramifications.  I’ll leave this here for now, but will return to it soon.

Ending on a positive note, as it’s just too pretty a day to stay negative: This blog is all about the joy to be found in celebrating our bodies, taking them out for spin, and feeding and caring for them, as we want them to work for us throughout our lives.  Body acceptance helps us function in all sorts of ways– physically, emotionally, sexually, socially, intellectually, etc.

So readers, I love you all just the way you are…

 

 

Managing my persnickety piriformis 

I joke that I carry my work stress in my shoulders and my family stress in my hips. I’ve been seeing a chiropractor once a month for many years to help manage joint and muscle pain. 

Often what causes me the most grief is my right piriformis. It’s a small muscle under the gluteus medius that wraps from the lower side of the tail bone to the top of your thigh bone. It’s the spot that aches in pidgeon pose. That little muscle does a lot of work when I sit, walk, run or ride my bike. 

Lately it’s been hurting a lot more. Part of it is from the lateral movements in the exercise class I go to. Another contributing factor is I’m a side sleeper so I rest on my hip. 

In addition to seeing a chiropractor I also get massages. I’m so grateful to have those two touchpoints in my month where I pay attention to how my body is doing. After an adjustment or a massage I feel the lactic acid flood the now relaxed muscles. My range of motion waxes and wanes between those visits. 

I decided I needed to do more as the pain has become more bothersome, waking me up in the night, causing me to grunt when I stand up out of my chair. 

I cobbled together a yoga flow that helped me. It covers the basics and warms up my hips before a good stretch. I love starting with Cat/Cow. It’s a great way to check in with my back and hips. I go into Threading the Needle on both sides, Child’s Pose, Downward Dog, Lunges moving back and forth, Pidgeon, Firelog pose and Cradle the Baby. It’s at times uncomfortable but I feel so much better after. My sleep has improved. 

I also found this great tutorial on dealing with piriformis pain. 

https://youtu.be/dl474z1bhnk
Sadly Kai Wheeler seems to no longer be producing material. I love her approach and instruction. The routine takes about 20 minutes and has been a good morning routine. 

A selfie of Natalie wearing sunglasses and a blue backpack. The smile lines on her face frame a slight grin, like she has just let you in on a very funny joke.

A selfie of Natalie wearing sunglasses and a blue backpack. The smile lines on her face frame a slight grin, like she has just let you in on a very funny joke.


My hip is still achy but I’m hopeful taking the time to care for it will give me some relief. 

Working it on the hoof

I woke up this morning with the running tally of all the stuff on my plate scurrying through my brain: a PhD dissertation to read, a journal issue to get out the door, other graduate student work to assess, a manuscript to read and evaluate for an academic press, plus, oh, you know: my own research, writing, and teaching…

AAGGHH!!!!!!!

Every April this happens: term ends and I think to myself, with no more prep and students to deal with I’ll have SO MUCH TIME! The problem is that, way back in January, I had the same magical thoughts. And that’s when I said yes to a bunch of extra stuff, due in April, that I haven’t got the time to do now because I said YES! to so much stuff that’s due in April.

Cue office chaos.

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Then there’s the OTHER problem with April: the weather has turned fine! So I want to get out on my bike, out on the lake, just be outside. Marking outside is ok, sure, but playing outside is much better. Finding the work-life balance is more imperative than ever when it’s 23C and sunny, with minimal wind.

This past year I’ve been undertaking an experiment: I’ve tried hard not to work on weekends (single mid-career academics like me succumb to the work-every-day temptation too much entirely; it’s bad for your health and sucks for your brain). I’ve also made a point of putting my own self first, even if it seems like I might be back-burner-ing some important work things in the process. (As my therapist says: no academic deadline is a hard deadline. Nobody will die if you take until next Tuesday.)

So that means, this year, if it’s a competition between reading that manuscript chapter and riding my bike on a perfect afternoon, the bike wins. I might go back to the chapter in the evening; or, it might wait until morning.

Nobody dies; more importantly, I return to the work refreshed and in a better mood, which means I’m more inclined to evaluate it fairly and comment supportively as I prepare my review.

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I want to stop here and check my privilege: I know that getting out on my bike or into the boat when I choose is something I am able to do because my caring responsibilities to other humans are currently minimal, and because I am fully physically able. But I also want to acknowledge the many different kinds of bodies – parent and child bodies, paraplegic bodies, cognitively different bodies – I see out on the trails and in the sunshine when I’m bopping around town and along the country lanes.

Getting outside, instead of sitting inside at our desks stewing about how nice it is outside, is better for all of us long-term. Let’s just do it – even if it’s just for half an hour here or there. Your body and your brain deserve it!

Kim

PS: I treated myself to a new bike, after five years on my dear old Ruby. She’s orange and grey and makes me feel as sprightly as a summer day. She will feature in my next post; meanwhile, though, here she is. The bar tape is my favourite bit! (She’s called Freddie, btw.)

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Big Fit Girl, a book our readers will love

Image result for big fit girl book

In Big Fit Girl Louise Green shares her fitness journey, advocates for a size inclusive fitness culture, and offers practical tips for getting started. Green is a plus sized athlete–a former runner and now boxer–and a personal trainer based in Vancouver. She personally got beyond thinking of exercise as thing one does to get thin, adopted an active lifestyle without a focus on the scale, and is now keen to spread the word.

More than 2/3 of women wear size 14 or larger yet our images of the fit, active person are inevitably of someone lean and small. Green started her fitness journey with a 5 km running program and along the way discovered all sorts of advantages to an active lifestyle that have nothing to do with losing weight. Green writes, “To weather the peaks, valleys, and plateaus of your athletic journey, you must base your success on more than just the numbers on the scale.  You are in this for the long-term, and exercise has many benefits that have nothing to do with what you weigh.”

Green’s book celebrates the plus sized active woman and encourages everyone, regardless of size, to find the active thing they love. Green writes, “Whether you are an avid walker, a triathlete, a ballroom dancer or an Olympic weightlifter, or if you aspire to be all those things and more, your presence  as a plus size woman working out in our society is creating a much needed shift. And because we don’t see women of size as much as we need to in advertising, television, movies, or other media, it’s up to us–you and me–to inspire others to join our ranks.”

The book is a combination of personal narrative, practical fitness and nutrition advice, inspirational messages and stories from larger women athletes, and body positive cultural critique and analysis. In fact, Green’s message fits in well with the message of inclusive fitness we try to share here on this blog. It’s fair to say that if you like our blog, you’ll like Green’s book.

One worry–and it’s a worry I share about my own writing– is that Green, like me, is at the bottom end of what counts as plus sized. Yes, we both have weights that fall outside the kind of normative thinness praised in contemporary North American culture. But we’re both the kind of big that when people talk about “fat women” in disparaging terms, they’re going to say to us, “Oh, I didn’t mean you.” Why does that matter? I wonder and worry about this a lot when I decide to count myself in, or not, in various fat positive circles. It does mean that some barriers that larger plus size women face won’t be ones that we confront.

Some larger women may say, “oh, it’s fine for you but I couldn’t do that.” Some of the obstacles in terms of finding gear, finding a sympathetic coach, and facing scorn may be much higher.

I also worry about a body positivity that is based on the athletic potential of larger women. Our bodies are worth love and respect even if we don’t work out, and don’t have health as a goal.

But these are small worries about a wonderful book.

And hey, we’ve featured Louise Green before on the blog. See (Updated) Plus sized endurance athletes, we exist!

Canadian Running reviewed her book here.

Fit and Feminist reviews it here.

Oh, and here’s her TED Talk, Limitless: Let’s Think Again about Athleticism:

You can read more about the book in this CBC profile, ‘Big Fit Girl’ challenges body stereotypes with new book. Refinery 29 also reviews it, Lies The Fitness Industry Tells Plus-Size Women.

Big Fit Girl is published by Greystone Books. They’re also publishing our book  Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey in spring 2018. Maybe we’ll meet up with Louise on the book tour circuit and go workout together. I’d like that!

You can order the book from Greystone here.

And here’s what they’ve got to say about it:

In this kick-ass call to arms, Louise Green describes how the fitness industry fails to meet the needs of plus-size women and thus prevents them from improving their health. By sharing her own story of how she stopped dieting, got off the couch, and got fit, Green inspires other plus-size women to do the same. She provides concrete advice about how to get started, how to establish a support team, how to choose an activity, how to set goals, what kind of clothing and gear work best for the plus-size athlete, and how to improve one’s relationship with food. She also showcases similar stories from other women.

LOUISE GREEN is a plus-size athlete, a personal trainer, and the founder of Body Exchange, a plus-size fitness boot camp with seven locations in Canada. She has written for numerous publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Mail, Glamour, and the Huffington Post, among others. She lives in North Vancouver, B.C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you tried barefoot running on the beach?

Footprints in the sand along the shore of turquoise water and light surf.


Yesterday I woke up early and it was a beautiful morning. The wind had died down and the sun was out and I knew the beach would be perfect. 

The beach on Stocking Island is one of my favourite places in the world. The turquoise water is crystal clear and the white sand is soft underfoot. Best of all it’s practically deserted. I’ve never seen more than two or three  other people no matter what time of day. 

The surf can get fierce on this beach when the winds blow in steady from offshore. That happens a lot. So when the winds shift and die down, it’s inviting and not to be missed. 

We climbed over the ridge to get to the beach. That’s another cool thing about this beach–you can’t see it right away. You climb up and over a little ridge and then on the way down it opens up to this:

Grass opening up to white sand and beyond that turquoise surf.


Okay, now to the barefoot running. I’ve read lots about barefoot running and how to great for some people. Sam’s daughter Mallory for example runs barefoot. But it’s never appealed to me. In ordinary conditions i need shoes. This I know. But this beach is way too soft for shoes. You just can’t run normally on it. 

By chance one day last week we (Renald and I) discovered that if you run softly and briskly you can get a rhythm going that feels really good. The sand gives just enough that there’s no harsh impact. But it is firm enough that unlike with shoes you don’t sink right down into it either. 

So on this beautiful early morning we went back and ran barefoot on the beach. Other than a woman and her dog we saw no one. And then we dove into the beautiful water for a cool down. 

My sailing trip in the Bahamas is coming to a close and I feel good about the drins and drabs of training I’ve managed to squeeze in between the intensive R and R. 

Thanks for indulging me by reading my indulgent posts about vacation training. Heading back to the north soon, hoping winter is over! 

Have you ever run barefoot on a beach? Elsewhere? Did you like it? 

My mother the cyclist!

Regular readers of the blog know that I’m part of a family of cyclists. My daughter Mallory and I ride together a lot. See here for our most recent adventure. But I didn’t know that my mother, Kathleen Brennan, rode a bike as a child.

It’s not that she’s never ridden a bike. She did ride my old bike for awhile as a grandmother caring for grandchildren when my sons were riding bikes to school and needed accompaniment. My mum took care our kids while Jeff and I both worked from the time our third child was born. So I have seen her on a bike. It’s just that I’ve never thought of her as having a bike riding past.

I made the discovery about my mother’s bike riding past this week when we had a basement flood. Boxes of old family photos were in the basement and Facebook friends know that we’ve been traveling down memory lane a bit. I keep taking pictures of photos and sharing them in Facebook albums (with family members’ permission, of course) before they dry all curled up. Our houses are interesting places to be right now as the old photos are being laid out on all flat surfaces everywhere to dry.

It turns out that my mum got her bike Christmas when she was 10. She lived in small town northern England, in Lancashire that’s part of a cluster of connected towns and communities–Colne, Nelson, Barrowford, Brierfield, and Burnley.

The photo below is from her school’s Bike Safety Rally in 1954 when she was 12. Notice the lack of helmets. But I love the smiling faces and her basket!

That’s my mother, Kathleen, on the far left.

I asked her some questions about riding a bike: Did she remember riding? Did she like it? Was safety a big deal for kids who ride the way it is now? Why did she stop?

Here are some of her replies, “Yes, I remember riding my bike. It gave me a certain amount of freedom. It was a big deal when I got the bike as it was new, a Christmas present. I remember being so excited as there wasn’t any snow and I could use it that day. No, I don’t think safety was as big an issue. We had the safety rally at school but I don’t remember getting much in the way of advice from parents as neither of them rode a bike that I know. Also, we never really had to use the main road, so many small local streets you could get into Nelson easily. I used to go to the library for me and Dad. I think there was equal riding for both girls and boys. I loved riding and for a while went to work by bike then I changed jobs and went by bus. I think I stopped riding when your Dad came on the scene. He had a motor cross motor bike and we used to go to rallies.”

Thanks Mum!

Spinning in the cold and the dark in Nathan Phillips Square, #thirty4thirty

Sarah and I had signed up for the 10 pm shift. It seemed like a better idea in the light and warmth of the day but we had dinner plans with a friend early in the evening.

We were ready to ride bikes on trainers in Nathan Phillips Square for an hour at the time I normally like to be settling down to sleep.  I knew my FitBit would scold me. Cate did too. Also, we were riding in a temperature that better matched warm blankets than outdoor exercise.

Why? We were part of the bike rally’s thirty4thirty spin-a-thon.

THIRTY 4 THIRTY SPIN-A-THON

“PWA’s Friends For Life Bike Rally will be honouring PWA’s 30th anniversary with a 30-hour “spin-a-thon.” It will be 30 hours for 30 years – that’s where “Thirty 4 Thirty” comes from. We’ll continually ride bikes on trainers, recruit, fundraise, and engage with the media, all with the Toronto sign and the reflecting pool right behind us. Through coordination with City Hall and the media, we’re arranging quite a bit of activity, building towards a major media event at 12 noon on Tuesday, April 25.

During the 30 hours, we’ll be telling the story of the 30 years of PWA and the nearly 20 years of the Bike Rally in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its effects on Toronto. We’ll do that through visual presentations, speakers, and special-guest spin volunteers.

We’ll also have incredible support from local bike shops, notably , who will be operating “pop-in tune-up” tents for commuter cyclists to get a quick tune-up or ask any bike maintenance, equipment, or sales questions.

This is an incredible opportunity to share the story of the Bike Rally and PWA broadly, and we’re very, very excited. Together, we can create an amazing event, attract more Participants, and raise more money.”

So yes it was cold and dark and past my bedtime. Yes, riding someone else’s bike on trainer without my clip in shoes had its challenges. But we got to chat with lots of people who stopped by to a)tell us that the Raptors won, and b)ask what we were up to and why. It felt really good to tell the story. It was also really nice to reconnect with the bike rally community of cyclists and support people.

And you’re part of that extended community too, blog readers who read about the bike rally, sponsor me, and in many other ways support my big summer ride.

You can sponsor me here. Thanks. I really appreciate it.

I also stopped by for the last hour, hour 30, to show support for people who’d be riding in the very hard rain all morning. Here we are, smiling but also cold and wet.