eating · fitness

Comfort eating– it’s not gonna kill you, and may even be beneficial (says science)

The holiday season is in full swing now, replete with holiday foods.  At my sister’s house, this means a big ham, loads of cookies, pimento cheese for crackers, and other really rich foods that we don’t eat much of other times of year.

The holiday season is also hectic.  For me this means parties and fun holiday events, the frenetic pace of turbo-grading, getting ready to fly to see family with a large checked bag of gifts (trying not to forget my toothbrush), and then hanging out with them, not in my home eating and activity environment.

Enter comfort eating.  I kind of hate this term, because it’s super judgy.  I mean, we eat.  Food comforts us sometimes.  We enjoy that feeling of satisfaction from eating the food.  What’s the problem?

Health and medicine folks often talk about comfort eating as eating in response to loneliness, anxiety, and sadness.  The idea is that comfort eating represents a mis-match of sorts:  we feel a certain way, but our response is confused.  Instead of eating, we should (according to one of three gajillion websites on this):

  • phone a friend (or text if phoning is even more stressful)
  • relax and stretch
  • write in a journal
  • sleep
  • rant
  • make a list
  • breathe

Right.  Oddly enough, plopping down to write in a journal seems like a less feasible and efficient response than a brownie when I’m at yet another party, overtired and under-exercised.

But it’s comfort eating!  It’s so bad for you!  You MUST find something else to do, as it will kill you in the end.  I mean, this is serious– so serious that the internet is filled with all sorts of lists containing every possible thing you might do INSTEAD of eating something to comfort you.  And their ludricrousness is in proportion to the panic that the very idea of comfort eating provokes. Like this:

A big list, saying DO THIS instead of snacking, with sublists-- need something to do?, and are you really hungry?.
A big list, saying DO THIS instead of snacking, with sublists– need something to do?, and are you really hungry?.

Someone must be really worried about what might happen if people got it into their heads that comfort eating was a viable response to, well, discomfort in their lives.  And the idea that I should do ANYTHING– including learning 10 yoga poses or cleaning out my closet– rather than eat a donut says more about the list-makers than the comfort eaters themselves, don’t you think?

Is comfort eating  all that bad for us?  As usual, the answer is complicated.  But a new study came out this month by UCLA researcher Janet Tomiyama and her colleagues, concluding that

“Comfort eating—irrespective of consuming high-fat/sugar food—may be associated with reduced (my emphasis) mortality in older adults because it may promote greater body mass, and greater body mass is associated with lower risk of mortality (me again with the emphasis) in nationally representative samples. Interventionists might consider both beneficial and detrimental aspects of comfort eating across the lifespan.”

Yes.  this.  I had to read it through carefully again myself.  Here’s the deal.

We know that people of every age engage in comfort eating.  It reduces stress responses. There’s also some evidence that it may contribute to poorer metabolic health (i.e. insulin resistance, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, some other conditions as well).

Less research has been done on the effects of comfort eating in older adults (generally this means over 50).  Tomiyama and her group’s results are surprising to the general public, as they show both lower all-cause mortality risk for comfort eating among older adults, and  they show that high-fat/high-sugar content consumption doesn’t increase the risk:

…regardless of how much high-fat/sugar food participants consumed, greater comfort eating was related to lower odds of all-cause mortality because it was associated with greater body mass,(my emphasis again) which may be important for longevity in older adults.

The paper itself is pretty interesting, so check it out here if you like.  They raise a bunch of questions, too, like:

  • What are the psychological and physiological effects of comfort eating via meals vs. snacks?
  • Are the stress-reduction effects of comfort eating (e.g. reduced cortisol production) more important for health in later life than earlier in the lifespan?
  • Do older adults tend to comfort eat healthier energy-dense foods than younger people do? If so, why?

Of course, as they say, all this is strictly academic… What does it mean for us at this time in the winter season?  Not so much.  We do what we do, and you do you– I’m not offering any advice at all.

But science is saying clearly in this case that comfort eating– a ubiquitous, feared,  much vilified practice– may actually play some adaptive health role for older people.

Of course we can all own our particular eating practices, and can tell people to mind their own beeswax if they try to steer us away from the cookies and toward the celery, citing health concerns.  But it doesn’t hurt to have science on our side.











Sam goes to the Pink Market and finds out about the change room project

Against a pink background a hand holding a mason jar with fairy lights
Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Last weekend I was happy to attend  PINK XMAS: a PINK MARKET Queer Craft, Fashion, Art and Lit Fair at The 519, Toronto’s LGBTQ community centre.

I bought lots of gifts but I was also struck by this poster.

Ever since a gender non-conforming friend told me her story of never changing at the gym and only working out at places where she can arrive in her fitness attire, I’ve been thinking about posting about gender and inclusion in change rooms. In my friend’s case it means she doesn’t swim, despite loving swimming. (And nevermind trying to track down bathing suits for gender non-binary people.)

You can read more about the project associated with this poster:

Change Room Project promotes tolerance in the locker room

Change Room Project highlights the LGBT experience in locker rooms

There’s a brochure here.


Sam’s year in not biking so much, feeling bad about it, and resolving to do better

Each year Strava makes users a movie and I’ve been watching on Facebook as friends share them. As a group my friends sharing their Strava videos ride a lot. The slackers are riding about 5000 km in a year and the keeners upwards of 15,000.

Here’s my Year in Sport. It also tells you handy things like how many QOMs I got, 2! Also, I got 84 new PRs. It tells you that David was my most frequent riding partner, followed by Sarah. The longest ride I did was on the bike rally, 130 km. And the ride I did with the most other people on it was New York’s 5 Boro Bike Tour. Of course.

But the stat that’s depressing me is how many kms I rode. This year I didn’t crack 3000. Wow. That’s not very much riding. In past years I’ve had a goal of 5000 km. While I haven’t always made it, I’ve come close

But this year there was no going south for bike camp in March and no cycling holidays either. I missed lots of the weekday rides in London due to my sabbatical in Toronto.

I did make most of the bike rally training rides and the rally itself of course. I even wrote about what it was like to do the bike rally without enough training.

I wasn’t as prepared as I had been in past years. In other years I’d ridden in Arizona, in Manitoulin, or gone to bike camp in South Carolina. In other years, I’d trained with a cycling coach doing weekly interval drills, speed work, and fast rides. This year I’d done none of those things.

Yes, I’d gone lots of training rides but in past years I’d found the bike rally pretty easy. I overshot the mark in terms of training. I arrived at camp in pretty good shape, not too tired, and easily ready to ride the next day. That’s the difference between being able to do it and having it be super enjoyable. Not this year. I knew I could do the distance but that’s about it. It was hot and hard and the days were long. This year I had to work at taking care of myself, eating well and sleeping as much as I could. I was often in bed at 9 pm missing out on social stuff because I knew I needed my rest.

I survived the bike rally. After many years of riding, I had lots of bike fitness in the bank. After the rally there was no Three Port Tour and no Halton Gran Fondo. Instead, there were canoe trips and some biking and boating weekends.

The year, well, it was what it was. But I have goals for 2018 and they involve riding a lot more. My goal for 2018 is to ride 4000 km. You heard it here first.

How about you? Do you set yearly mileage goals? If you’re a cyclist, what are they? How do you feel when you don’t make them?

fitness · motivation

My Gift to Me (no wrapping required)

I was busy yesterday so I didn’t get to read Sam’s post until just now. This wasn’t written in response to hers, but I think it complements it nicely. I’m definitely not aiming to be in peak anything by January but fitting in some more fitness is how I *want* to enjoy my holiday time. 

My (non)schedule is one of the major obstacles in my efforts to establish a daily exercise plan. It’s not that I am ‘too busy’ to exercise every day, it’s that my days are a bit of a jumble and I have trouble eking out a regular time to move.

I’m self-employed, I work from home, and my family starts school/comes home for lunch/after school at a variety of different times.* My kids are mostly able to manage their schedules on their own but, they’re still teenagers, and so they often need my support to keep things moving. Then, during the afternoons and evenings there’s homework, and projects for the boys, and projects, meetings, household management, taekwon-do, and volunteer work for me. And, of course, my husband has his own business, and sometimes his work schedule affects the rhythm of when and how all of the rest of that can happen.

Then, if you factor in my ADD (prioritizing, distractions, schedules, and recovering from interruptions are a particular challenge for me), it’s obvious why I end up struggling to see how everything can fit into a given day. To expand on what I said above, I have time to exercise every day.  I just get so caught up in work and details and interruptions that I find myself annoyed when I run out of day and have to go to bed.

Now, I do okay, overall. I do a fair bit of walking – even though my youngest son no longer *needs* me to walk him to school, I use his schedule as an excuse to get out of the house and go for a short stroll. I go to taekwon-do twice a week.  I practice at home, and I do stretches and yoga, and the like, but it’s not regular and it’s not intense.

I feel my best when I work out daily but somehow that fact escapes me as I make decisions about what to do next in any given day. That overall feeling of well-being gets lost in the shuffle of daily priorities and I don’t like it.

That’s why I have decided that I am gifting myself a habit-establishing fitness routine over the holiday season.

The author's fitness gifts to herself - a pair of red hand weights, a hula hoop, a green yoga mat with a red bow on it. A small stuff santa is sitting in front of it and a string of star-shaped lights are draped over the hoop and weights.
On the first day of fitmas, my true me gave to me…
I know that a lot of people find it hard to stick to habits this time of year but for me, the break from daily comings and goings is an opportunity rather than an obstacle. I know what my next couple of weeks are going to look like and I have very few external forces shaping my days. Or, to put it another way, *I* can make everyone wait while I finish my workout and no one will end up with detention as a result.

I’m not going to try anything drastic, and I will be realistic. I’m just going to do at least 30 minutes of movement in the rec room every day, as soon as possible after I wake up. The plan is to alternate between yoga, taekwon-do practice, strength training, and cardio but I will do whichever one feels most fun on a given day.

This isn’t something I *must* do, it’s a gift to myself.

Happy Holidays, me! Today’s present is yoga. Enjoy!

* I have people leaving my house separately in the morning in time to get to work/school at 8:10, 8:15 and 8:30. One person has lunch from 12-1, another from 12:20-1:10. My kids finish school at 2:10 and 2:30. That’s a lot of coming and going.

PS – Happy Holidays to all of you! No matter what you are celebrating or not celebrating, I hope these last few days of 2017 find you at ease. I wish you joy and I wish you fun. See you in 2018!


Should you take the holidays off your usual fitness routine?

A friend on Facebook was fretting about this article in men’s fitness about what happens to your body in two weeks with no exercise.

The thing is, fitness isn’t all one thing.

Strength takes awhile to decline. But running fitness? That’s sad.

I remember once when a professor from Kinesiology came to speak to my group at the Running Room. It wasn’t particularly motivational. He was talking about fitness declines. Running is the worst, he said, for how fast you lose speed and endurance. He was also a runner but even he agreed that training for strength is better in terms of staying with you.

Ditto the person interviewed for men’s fitness.

Here is exercise physiologist and coach Scott Weiss,

“Aerobic and endurance fitness reduce a lot faster than muscle mass—it’s the performance factor that is reduced the fastest,” says Weiss. Physiologically, the changes are stark, too. Weiss says: Stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped out of the heart to the body) reduces, the size of mitochondria (the power plants within a cell, linked to fitness health) reduce by almost 50 percent, heart rate increases, cardiac output reduces, and your VO2 max—or the maximum volume of oxygen an athlete can use (a gold standard of physical fitness) decreases about one percent a day. Another setback: Your lactate threshold—or how hard and long you can work out until your muscles tell you to stop—begins to drop, says Holland. (This stinks because working out at or close to your lactate threshold is a great way to build fitness; if yours is low you won’t last very long, and thus you’ll reap fewer benefits from a gym session.) “You begin to lose endurance capability as well as the ability to perform at higher intensities,” adds Holland.

But, but, but…

Who needs to be at their speed peak in January? Is anyone racing in January? If you are, then maybe don’t take two weeks off. But most of us aren’t.

Also, yes you lose fitness but it’s a process, a journey and peaks and troughs are all part of it. It’s not up up up, fitter and faster, all of the time.

It’s also about having a well balanced life. For me that includes festive meals, time with family and friends, church on Christmas Eve, snuggling on the sofa watching The Hogfather, hot tub time, presents, cookies, new books to read in bed, playing cards and new board games.

Also, dog hikes in the snow but maybe not this year with my injured knee.

Anyway, anyway, enjoy! Life is short. Yes, stay fit but don’t let that goal suck the fun and the meaning out of the rest of your life.

How about you? Do you worry about losing fitness over the holidays?

Scenes from my favorite Christmas movie

accessibility · body image · fitness

On Being Naked In Public, #FridayThoughts #FeministFitness

This is a post about changing rooms. We’ve had occasion to reflect on them before here at FFI (for example, here and here), and I’d like to add my voice, and my questions, to the mix.

There’s a lot to say, in this moment of cracking and (I hope) crumbling gender binaries, about how we adapt our body images, and our images of others’ bodies, to a changing sex/gender paradigm. Getting comfortable with ourselves in our totally imperfect and non-binary bodies is only part of the challenge ahead; the other part is getting comfortable with the many different kinds of bodies around us, bodies whose hard-won privileges cannot any longer be denied.

A few weeks ago I found myself in Cate’s flat, asking her about gender-neutral change room etiquette. My question was prompted by my recent experiences in the changing rooms of the swimming pools I frequent.

My amazing new home town of Hamilton, Ontario has been renovating its swimming and recreation centres, and as part of that work has been installing gender-neutral change rooms. I do not identify as fluid, but I do identify as an LGBTQ ally, so I cheer this decision; I want to use the change rooms in order to show my support for their construction, and in order to show my support for non-binary folks using the space. Thus, when I went to a new pool in the suburb of Ancaster in early November, I bounced right on in through the middle door, without a second thought.

It was only when I was getting out of the pool and ready to shower that I started thinking twice about some of the complexities of getting naked, showering, and then re-dressing in this mixed space.


Two images of gender-neutral toilet and change spaces. The image on the left shows three brown doors with blue signs, one for “men”, one for “women”, and one in the middle showing figures of a man and a woman side by side. The image on the right (from the YMCA in Calgary, Alberta) shows the entrance to a clean-lined, white and blue locker space, with white figures and writing on a brown wall. The figures are of a woman, a man, and a wheelchair user, and the writing says “Universal Locker Room”. 

Now, let me be clear. I am very comfortable being naked in women’s change rooms, and I’m very comfortable with the idea of other women, including trans women, being naked around me. I’m also fine with men (and trans-men) being naked around me in settings where it is clear that we are in a non-sexual space and that the protocol is one of mutual respect along those lines (see below for more of what I mean here).

But as I was preparing to shower (and I LOVE my post-swim shower, in the warm water, joyfully naked after having pulled my tight swimsuit off) I realized that, maybe, not everyone in the gender-neutral change room in Ancaster would feel the same way as I do about public nudity. What if there was a man in the room who was comfortable with non-binary identifications but not comfortable with my nudity as a woman in a mixed space? What if there were parents with pubescent children of mixed ages who saw this space as also for them, but were similarly not comfortable? This is, after all, North America we’re talking about, and Ancaster ain’t exactly The Castro.

I posed the question to Cate: is it cool to get naked in a gender-neutral change room? Her response was measured but confident: anyone in that space is either fluid or an ally, and therefore should be comfortable with mixed bodies. Plus, it’s a change room: change rooms by definition are places you are allowed to be naked in public.

Are they, though?

It turns out this changing-room-nudity thing is a pretty culturally-determined truth. Cate and I feel a certain way, as do a host of my friends and colleagues, but we’re a particular demographic (fit academic feminists, for the most part, and many of us are white). Others clearly do not feel as we do. A town in the province of Quebec recently banned nudity in change rooms of all kinds in its public recreation centres; this is QUEBEC, people, aka the France of North America. And I’d be lying if I said I was usually joined in the women’s change room of various pools and fitness centres in my unabashed nudity; normally it’s all swimsuits, towels covering breasts, furtive scurrying, and ducking into changing cubicles.

Plus, I do get looks – sometimes.


Are locker rooms safe spaces to be naked in public? The image shows a woman, with long hair in a pony tail, dressed in a pink striped sports top and loose black running shorts, hiding in part behind a locker door.

I don’t mean to belittle the activity of covering up – not at all. As a woman who grew up with horrifically bad body-image problems, I understand very well why hiding and scurrying and ducking happens.

But what if we thought of changing rooms as places where we can be, kindly and respectfully, and above all safely, exposed to a variety of uncovered bodies of different sizes, shapes, genders, and racial backgrounds – helping to make that bodily difference normative, and even comfortable?

This might (might…) be one hope behind the increase in gender-neutral change spaces more broadly. In pools around London, UK, where I also spend a lot of time swimming, I’ve noticed this trend taking shape. Twice this year I’ve been at facilities (run by Better, a not-for-profit organization) where large communal change spaces have been installed post-renovation (one of these, I’ll note, is in the Olympic swimming centre that became a public facility after the 2012 games). The demographic in both of the spaces I’ve swum (the other is in Chelsea, the posh West London community) has been very mixed; as these are effectively public recreation centres (as opposed to private clubs), visitors run the gamut of colours and languages, as well as ages and social classes.

These gender-neutral spaces are fairly big, to accommodate all users, but they are not really all that spacious; this is because they are populated largely by banks of lockers and changing stalls, lined up in neat rows. The idea is that you choose a locker near a free stall, and shut yourself in to get into and out of your swimming costume. There are also shower/change cubicles, so you are able to shower fully, removing your suit, and then change before opening the door to the world. Implicitly, I take from the presence of these larger cubicles, you’re not meant to get naked in the open shower area. Certainly, I’ve noticed no nudity whatsoever in these mixed spaces on the many occasions I’ve now visited them.

I get what these kinds of “gender-neutral” spaces are about, I think: saving space overall, breaking down gender division (an identified social goal in the UK right now), and sharing space more equitably between men’s and women’s zones are all worthy goals. Yet I cannot help but notice, in each of these “neutral” spaces, the lack of true neutrality. Because these spaces continue to encourage the hiding of our sexed and gendered flesh in the change cubicles, they do not invite us to break down the hierarchies of shaming and valorization that attend to, for example, fit vs unfit bodies, white bodies vs black or brown bodies, and men’s bodies vs women’s bodies.

Nothing about our bodies or their place in our world is shifted by this kind of flesh-policing “neutrality”; really, we’re just being herded into a more efficient, multi-use spatial system.

Would I prefer the female/male/neutral triad of choices now available to me in Hamilton to the enforced neutrality in all-comers gender-neutral spaces? Yes indeed, if only because the choice, in the first case, is provocative: it requires me to do some thinking about where I want to locate my body, and why.

(It’s also essential, I think, for those transitioning to feel safe in a changing space. One that is clearly marked as non-binary, alongside other, more “traditional” gendered space options, is by definition such a space. Click here, for example, for an article on the logic behind UC Berkeley’s decision to build a non-binary change room in its campus gym.)

Being herded into a large mixed change space, with its pressure to get dressed and undressed privately, does little except make me both physically and intellectually uncomfortable. I’d argue that it diminishes thoughtfulness around what “neutrality” really means, suppresses rather than invites important questions about gender.

It leads directly to the twin expectations that a) we all must share public space equally (a seemingly good thing), but that b) we also all must necessarily occupy that public space individually, keeping our bodies (and the shame they still too often carry) to ourselves (in no way a good thing).

This strikes me as separate-but-equal logic, which I cannot get behind.

I’d like your thoughts on this, very much; I’m still mulling and stewing. But before I close, I want to present a third example.

In early December I gave a workshop in the German lakeside town of Konstanz, on the Swiss border. Konstanz has a gorgeous local thermal spa facility, which includes a large and extremely well designed and maintained sauna section. (Entry to the thermal baths and outdoor pools alone is, like the Olympic swimming centre in London, less than $10 – this is a public facility. To use the sauna [also publicly maintained] costs a fair bit more, though substantially less than comparable but much less nice places in Canada, such as Toronto’s Body Blitz chain. To say the Konstanz spa-sauna is good value for money is an absolute understatement.)

On my last day in the town, my colleague Julia and I spent the morning at the sauna, moving between steam room, plunge pool, saunas of three temperatures, and a wonderful “calm room” for relaxing with a view of the Alps in the distance.


An image of the 60-degree-heat sauna at Konstanz’s thermal spa facility; the picture is of a dark brown room with rectangular windows opening onto greenery, and the room is populated with curling light wood benches stacked in a rake for sauna users. The people in the space are covered in towels; in reality, these folks would be sitting on their towels naked, not wearing them. The spa’s website includes no nudity, although nudity is normative at the spa.

Julia advised me ahead of time that I needed no swim suit in the sauna area of the spa; it is considered inappropriate and unhygienic to wear one. Everyone changes into a robe or towel in the communal change room, then attends each of the saunas and plunge pools nude. This is traditional, and ingrained in German culture; the space of the spa is one where all bodies are welcome, and where nobody is to be leered at or commented upon inappropriately.

Of course this is not body nirvana: as Julia remarked, culture in this part of Germany is very homogenous, and all the bodies I saw were white and appeared to be non-trans (though I was not, in keeping with protocol, looking closely). How I’d feel as the lone person of colour, or lone non-binary body, in this space is a matter for another post entirely (or for a comment – if you have had such an experience, please let me know!).

What I can say, though, is that as a middle-aged woman with residual body image issues, I’ve never felt quite so at ease with my own body as I did in the sauna space. Young and old, male and female, fat and thin and in between; all seemed at ease in their bodies and fully accepting of the bodies around them. I found the resulting sense of ease permeated the space, generating a calming and welcoming affect that made the experience truly satisfying for me.

I found myself wishing we could infuse both Hamilton’s new gender-neutral change rooms, and the mixed/neutral change rooms of my London pools, with some of this embodied ease.

I’ll do my part, by continuing to use the new change rooms back home, and by being as naked as ever in them. I’ll welcome other naked bodies in turn, either with quick eye contact and a smile, or by not remarking on anything unusual – whatever works in the moment.

How about you? What’s your experience of gender-neutral changing spaces? If you’ve been at a public spa where nudity is common or expected, what was your embodied experience like?

fitness · winter

Welcoming winter– a solstice walk

Today is December 21– winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere (congratulations on the summer solstice, friends Down Under!) But here, especially in New England where I live, it’s the time of deepest darkness.  Usually I dread, resist, and do battle with the decreasing light, cursing the darkness until it starts to ebb and we get more sun.

This year has been different.  I’ve almost welcomed the dimness, the purples and indigos of the sky.  Even the long shadows at noon, with the dark yellow light, haven’t made me sad or resentful.  This year, the dimming down has fit in with my need to slow down psychically, physically, emotionally.  And I must say, it’s felt like one advantage of slowing down has been that there’s time and space to notice more.

I’ve noticed my need to be with friends, and spent more time with them this fall.

I’ve noticed how much I love to hear live music, and have been to some concerts.

I’ve noticed how much I like quiet sometimes, and have been nestled all snug in my bed earlier than usual.

I’ve noticed my need to commemorate the season, with others.

So, I organized a winter solstice walk today.  Two friends, Kim and Nina, who were free before sunset (which was 4:15pm today) came with me to Lone Tree Hill, part of the Belmont Conservation Lands.  We took a leisurely walk through partly snowy woods, down a tall tree allee, along a big meadow, and back down again.  Here we are:

Catherine, Kim, and NIna, all bundled up in winter clothing for a winter solstice walk.
Catherine, Kim, and NIna, all bundled up in winter clothing for a winter solstice walk.


I’m wearing my head lamp, which we needed on the way back.

The beauty of the day is hard to describe, and these pictures won’t do it justice, but here’s trying:

Walking at dusk is slow; you have to pay attention to your footing, and make sure you take the correct turns through woods.  We lingered, and I was sorry to leave.

Tomorrow there will be more light.  I’ll welcome it for sure, but am really glad I got to experience the shortest day with friends, in the woods, and now, with you, dear readers.

How do you feel about the shortest day, which is now behind us?  Are you enjoying your longest day?  Let us know.

competition · fitness

Exercising Under Neoliberalism (Guest Post)

Trott at Drumstick Dash, Broad Ripple, IN
Photograph of author smiling in a blue winter running hat and green official race shirt at start of a Drumstick Dash race on American Thanksgiving November 2017. Blue plastic arch indicating the starting line is in the background. People are milling about in front of arch.

The strange algorithms of Facebook brought Sam B’s post from several years ago–“Am I really lapping people on the couch?”–to my feed last week.  People like to talk about their athletic efforts and workout regimes in terms of how they are doing better than other people.  At the yoga studio where I practice they regularly say at the end of class, “You did more in the last hour than most people will do this entire day.”  This sentiment  suggests that I did something worthwhile because it was better than what other people are doing.

But I hesitate to just blame my fellow athletes for thinking about our physical efforts in this way.  This way of thinking is exercising under neoliberalism.  If liberalism underwrites capitalism through the idea that individuals bear responsibility for their position in the world and private property requires the protection of the government, resistance to liberalism came from workers organizing for their rights against the ownership class.  Neoliberalism demands that workers be considered as individuals, not as a collective with shared interests.  If labor opposed capital under liberalism by arguing that labor is the source of wealth production, under neoliberalism workers themselves are viewed as human capital, and as human capital, of being responsible for their own precarious situation that being workers puts them in.  As human capital, the workers bear their own risks.  Under liberalism, workers could demand that working conditions be improved to protect them because they argued that their well-being was necessary for wealth production.  Under neoliberalism, workers are made responsible for the conditions.

Consider for example what happens when taxi drivers become Uber drivers.  As taxi drivers, they could be on the same side with one another against the owners, collectively resisting for the sake of better pay, better conditions, health care coverage.  As Uber drivers, they appear more independent as owners but as owners all the risk falls to them. They are compelled to compete with one another rather than to collectively support one another for their joint success.

The competition of human capital is not to be more productive, as much as it is to show that they are worthy investments.  Precarious workers who should recognize that they have a collective interest are pit against one another in the drive to accumulate more assets that make them appear to be a better investment than their fellow equally precarious workers.  It’s difficult to see whether anyone is doing anything anymore for its own sake given how everything seems like it can become translated into an asset that makes one a better investment.  A pedagogy workshop I attended several years ago suggested that people could be encouraged to engage in various projects if we could promise them an online badge that could accompany their social media presence to identify them as someone who had done that project.  This is education under neoliberalism: doing more work without compensation just to show up as having invested in oneself and so being worth investing in.

This brings me back to the way we talk about working out and the way we are motivated to work out.  I like to talk about working out on social media—on a cold day, I’m proud of myself for running outside.  I find new forms of exercise interesting to my body. It makes me think of Spinoza saying, “We do not yet know what a body can do.”  That’s what I think when I’m in the middle of a Bikram yoga class in a 105ºF room at 40% humidity.  My friends are known to mock my regular mention of my running—“beepboopbeep.” I do talk about it a lot.  And I am competitive.  I think of it as competing with myself: to get out there on a cold day, to stay in the hot room for the whole class.  I literally cried in the last half mile of the Indianapolis’ Women’s Half Marathon a couple years ago when I realized I was going to beat my target pace.  I cried.

Under neoliberalism, we are motivated to direct the competitiveness to others.  Once we concede that we are human capital it is hard to escape this drive to accrue assets to ourselves and to show ourselves to be managing them well.  This is why the competition language works.  When I hear at yoga that I should leave the studio and be the best that I can be (alongside the contradictory assertion, “Whatever you are is always enough”), I recognize that these injunctions to be my best work because I occupy an insecure position as human capital (and even though my position is pretty secure, neoliberalism constantly drives to produce insecurity out of apparently secured positions).  The slow runner claims she is lapping the person on the couch because she needs to show that she is investing in herself better than someone else is.  Human capital’s affirmations are always negations of competitors.  Under neoliberalism, the exercising subject is human capital pit against other exercising subjects.

For this reason, I hesitate to blame the slow runner who is happy to lap the person on the couch.  I don’t want her to find her running worthwhile only because she is beating someone.  I want her to be fine with running slowly.  I want her to enjoy the running if she enjoys it and not to run if she is only doing so because she needs to show she is better human capital.  I understand the bind she is in.  And more, I don’t think she is the cause of the anxiety of the person on the couch. Both of them find themselves pit against one another in the drive to be a better investment.  The break from neoliberal human capital requires a general refusal to try to show up as a better investment and collective support and resistance against systems and policies that make us each worthy only by comparison.

Adriel M. Trott is an associate professor of philosophy at Wabash College.  She specializes in ancient and continental philosophy and feminist theory.  She lives in Indianapolis, IN and is trying to only work out when she feels like it.


Can an Ethical Vegan Gain Muscle? Yes!

Image description: Tracy with short blond hair, tattooed arm and a red tank is looking through the viewfinder of a camera, facing into a mirror, with an infinity affect. “Definitions” is in a green banner on the mirror. Let’s say the ethical / environmental arguments for adopting a vegan lifestyle (including a plant-based diet) convince you. You’re sure that’s the way to go if you care about animals enough not to want to contribute to their suffering, which consuming factory farmed animal products most certainly will. And you’re sure it’s the way to go if you care about the planet — we’ve all heard the one about the vegan who drives a Hummer having a smaller carbon footprint than an omnivore who drives a hybrid. It outdoes local and organic. If you care about the environment then plant-based is the way to go.

But a lot of people think that you can’t get stronger on a vegan diet. They think it’s inevitable that the quality of your muscles will suffer. When Sam and I embarked on our fittest by fifty challenge five years ago on our 48th birthdays, I had a young personal trainer who kept blaming my weight plateau on my vegan food choices. It was discouraging and I ended up having to let him go.

For the past two years I’ve eaten a largely vegan diet with only minor wandering off the path very occasionally (the wandering are for entirely unprincipled reasons but hey I’m not perfect). I’ve also been working out with a new personal trainer. He has never once called my vegan diet into question. Nor has he ever expressed any skepticism about my potential to get stronger and leaner.

And guess what? I am stronger and leaner than I was two years ago. My muscles are harder and I can do all sorts of things (pull-ups! Push-ups! Vinyasa flows without having to modify on my knees) I couldn’t do it struggled with a lot two years ago. This is despite frequent travel and no structured food plan beyond sticking to a plant based diet.

I am an intuitive eater who doesn’t deprive myself of foods I want. I hit the weights twice a week unless travelling. I run three to four times a week unless traveling somewhere where I can’t. And I go to one yoga class a week when I’m in town. I’m 53 and I’m the strongest, leanest and most Fit I’ve ever been in my life (even counting my mid-twenties when I worked out for three hours a day, four to five days a week).

This isn’t to boast (though I do feel good about it because well, it feels good!!). Rather it is to say “rubbish!” to the naysayers who challenge the vegan diet for its purported inability to support strength, lean mass, and fitness.

There are quite a few vegan endurance athletes (like Rich Roll and Scott Jurek) and even a new trend in vegan body builders (again, mostly men). So it’s not as if it can’t be done. You don’t hear a lot about women, but my case shows it’s possible to engage in a moderate routine combining resistance training with cardio and balance/flexibility training on a plant-based diet and get stronger. That’s without supplements either (other than occasionally B12 and a bit of pumpkin seed protein in my smoothies).

The main thing where some give is possible is on the protein front. Athletes can get by on more carbs than is sometimes recommended. A vegan body builder gave a talk at the London Veg Fest a couple of weeks ago and he said when he backed off of protein and focused more on whole foods and carbs he broke through a plateau that had frustrated him for quite a period of time. And in any case most of us aren’t trying to be body builders. We just want to support our activities and feel strong and energetic (I’m assuming).

Here’s an article that offers some tips for women vegan athletes opting for different protein percentages (they offer a range of three choices).

Are you a vegan athlete and do you have to spend a lot of time answering questions from skeptics?


Our Top Ten Posts in 2017 from 2017

Many of the top posts in 2017 were from years past but here are the top new posts in 2017 that were published in 2017.

blurry lights, outline of a Christmas tree
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash


No alcohol for 40 days: Facebook challenge turns into major lifestyle change (Guest post)

Undiagnosed eating disorders: another danger of our false assumptions about fit, fat, and food

Because if Christie Brinkley can pull it off, so can anyone, right?

Big Fat Myths, Or, Why So Many of Us Avoid the Gym (Guest Post)

Eyelash extensions made me feel ridiculous: more reflections on objectification and the feminine beauty ideal

How the Amazons got me to go to the gym (Guest Post)

Why I’m glad I stopped worrying about sugar and other weird food obsessions

Avert Your Eyes! (Guest Post)

Why I hate (yes, hate) going to the doctor and why I go anyway 

Things thin people might not think about, or why Sam rides her bike to the hospital