fitness · weight loss

When it comes to weight loss, aim to be an alpaca not a unicorn

There are lots of alpacas…

There are lots of alpacas. Here’s a herd. Or is it a flock? They’re in Peru. Photo from Unsplash.

But unicorns are rare. (Not the kind of unicorn that Rachel Lark sings about at 18:40 on the Bawdy Storytelling show.) The kind of unicorns I’m talking about are weight loss unicorns. Weight loss unicorns are those rare, mythical people who lose weight and keep it off for an extended period of time.

Alpacas are more common. Alpacas are people who lose a small or moderate amount of weight and manage to sustain that weight loss.

Some alpacas also have wild haircuts

When we get into the debate about whether or not diets ever work and whether long term weight loss is even possible, part of what’s at issue is which standard we use. It turns out that almost no one loses a very large percent of their body weight and keeps it off forever. But quite a few people do lose some weight and keep it off.

Here’s Yoni Freedhoff writing about a study of people who lose weight, “It’s quite heartening to see that after 8 years, for 35% of the DSE control group, 3 1-hour group talks a year were sufficient to help fuel a sustained weight loss of 5 percent or more of their presenting weight, and for 17% of them, enough to fuel and sustain a greater than 10 percent loss. ”

In my older post about this stuff I wrote, “There are at least two different ways to measure long term weight loss success. We can focus on those who maintain a goal weight or on those who maintain a weight loss of just five or ten percent of their starting weight. By that more easygoing measure, I’m in, I’m a success story. Lots more people are in even if we don’t typically think of only losing 5-10 percent of your body weight, a weight loss success story. Call the people who meet standard 1, getting to goal and staying there, the unicorns. They are rare. Far more common are people who meet standard 2, exotic but not unfamiliar. Call them the weight loss alpacas. ”

Rethinking success is part of Freedhoff’s pitch too. He writes, “What I’m getting at is that I think what makes maintaining weight loss seem “almost impossible” are the goal posts society has generally set to measure success. No doubt, if the goal set is losing every last ounce of weight that some stupid chart says you’re supposed to lose then the descriptor “almost impossible” may well be fair. On the other hand, if the goal is to cultivate the healthiest life that you can honestly enjoy, subtotal losses, often with significant concomitant health improvements, are definitely within your reach. ”

I know it’s less sexy. Change the way you eat for the rest of your life, exercise regularly, and you can maintain a weight that by society’s standards still counts as fat! I can’t see that up on a poster somehow. And yet….it’s better news than many of us are led to think by the blanket talk of “weight loss is impossible”and “diets don’t work.”

So should we aim to be be an alpacas instead of unicorns?

Well, you’re more likely to succeed.

Gina Kolta writes in the New York Times, “Anecdotal reports by people who have succeeded in keeping weight off tend to have a common theme: constant vigilance, keeping close track of weight, controlling what food is eaten and how much (often by weighing and measuring food), exercising often, putting up with hunger and resisting cravings to the best of their ability. Those who maintain a modest weight loss often report less of a struggle than those trying to keep off large amounts of weight.”

There are also health benefits. See More in praise of moderate weight loss.

And me, I’m coming to understand this debate between those who think diets work and those who don’t as being partly about different things.

habits · new year's resolutions

To resolve or not to resolve? You decide

EMM, not Emma.

We share a lot of Emm’s positive art on our Facebook page and you can support her on Patreon .

[Drawing of a cactus saying “It’s okay if you don’t want to make a New Year’s resolution.”]

But if you decide “yes” and go ahead and make resolutions, there’s lots of good advice about making them stick. Lots of it is even the kind of advice we like to give around here. Here’s 5 things that I find make a difference.

1.Start small. If you’re not going to to the gym at all, don’t resolve to go everyday. That’s likely too much. Pick something more manageable, like 3 or 4 times a week. See Best advice ever (in Tracy’s world): start small.

2. Pick things you can control (habits, not outcomes). My fave app for habit tracking is called 7 Weeks (thanks TT!) but there are lots of good ones out there. Here’s a list of 24 best habit tracking apps.

3. Don’t overwhelm yourself. As tempting as it is to think “whole new me!” it’s probably best not to set out to learn to meditate, improve your French, quit smoking, make your bed everyday, pack your own lunch, read a novel a week etc etc all in one year.

4. Don’t aim for perfection. It’s not all over if you miss a day, or even a week. People like all or nothing thinking and tend to say “well, that’s over.” But you can keep on going.

5. Reach out! Lots of us like some kind of accountability. Find other people who share your goal and check in with them.

Also I think it’s worth reading Gretchen Rubin’s piece on resolutions, those of us who hate them, and how to do better by lightening up. I also like this article on resolutions recommended by therapists.

218 in 2018 · fitness

218 in 2018– today’s the day

We’ve all been reading about (and we’ve been posting) year-end reports about various fitness challenges for this year. After trudging through my messy relationships with challenges, I’m pleased to say that I’m now going to finish one.

Today is the day I hit magic number 218 in the 218 workouts in 2018 challenge. Let there be much rejoicing!

A silhouette of a woman jumping for joy on a beach. It's not me, but it would be if I were there.
A silhouette of a woman jumping for joy on a beach. It’s not me, but it would be if I were there.

How on earth did this happen, I wondered. I’ve quit fitness challenges with wild abandon in the past. They’ve always felt confining, judgy, and way too hard– I felt like if I missed the mark one day, it was O-V-E-R. Of course this all-or-nothing thinking is exactly what we try to push hard against in the blog. So, when I saw Sam and Cate and other sporty friendly feminist Canadian friends on the 218 in 2018 challenge, I decided to sign on.

So, how did it happen this time for me?

First, I just committed to documenting what I did, not looking too far down the road, but just doing what I was doing. I got a late start because I had pneumonia in January; that meant I didn’t really get moving (literally) until late February. But I did get moving. And kept moving.

Second, I successfully incorporated at-home yoga into my life. I’m all set up with mat, blocks, strap, and an attractive bright orange bolster in my living room. I have some favorite yoga youtube channels (check out bad yogi, yoga with Kassandra, and yoga with Adriene if you’re interested), and enjoyed mixing it up. I also discovered yin yoga while on a vacation work trip in Tucson, Arizona in July. It’s transformed my life– I love love love it.

Third, I internalized the view that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Or, for those of you who prefer graphic explanations, this:

A graph showing a curve where good enough is close to the x-axis, and perfect is never-gonna-get-there...
A graph showing a curve where good enough is close to the x-axis, and perfect is never-gonna-get-there…

Just doing some purposeful movement that I scheduled and carried out that day was the plan. It didn’t have to be epic (and rarely was). But it happened, and it happened because I-DID-IT. Yay again!

Finally (and this is the best one, so read on!): I decided to let what I counted as a workout be relativized to my physical/mental state, my schedule, and what was within my grasp for that day.

What does this mean? For instance, after I sprained my ankle, I did yoga on my bed, as I wasn’t able to get up from my yoga mat without help. I also did stretching and upper-body work during this period. Last week during a Christmas trip to see family, I offered to do dog walking to get a mellow workout in for the day. I walked two dogs multiple times– thanks Baxter and Kiwi! When I had a busy work day, I parked far away across campus so I could get an a 40-minute walk (to and from my car).

Yes, I also had some long bike rides, some hard bike rides, some hiking, swimming, etc. Those were fun, and I want to do more of them. But this challenge provided me with daily motivation to find some (even a little) time for exercise, movement, physical effort, no matter what state I was in.

Today I’m walking to and from my yoga studio to do a 90-minute restorative class. It’s not vigorous. That’s okay. It makes me feel great in my body and keeps me moving. That’s the point. And how does this make me feel? I’ll let this unlikely result of my image search for “218” get the last words:

A homemade green poster/it (I can't tell) saying "218 rocks for woman". Yes, that about sums it up.
A homemade green poster/it (I can’t tell) saying “218 rocks for woman”. Yes, that about sums it up.
advertising · weight loss

Where are Sam’s weight loss ads?

Yes, I know I’ve complained about them for years. And mostly, during the year, I don’t see them. But this year, for the very first time, they don’t even seem to be making a New Year’s appearance.

My Facebook newsfeed is full of ads for accountability journals and productivity tools. Where are all the January 1st weight loss ads? Has Facebook declared me too old for them? (Is that a thing?) Too feminist for them? (That seems too sophisticated for a social media tool to get.) Too career focused to care about my weight? It’s liberating and puzzling all all the same time.

The Getting Stuff Done planner looks pretty good but it includes food tracking and exercise tracking and I hate mixing streams.

Also, all that pink. But look! It comes with a rose gold pen. But is it a good pen? (Friend David says “no.” He says, “It’s a free pen. There are no good free pens.” He’s a serious pen snob though and I’m only a moderate pen snob, more particular than anything else I’d say.)

Do you have any great tracking tools, whether for productivity generally or fitness specifically to recommend? I like both paper and electronic, for different purposes.

Image of red “getting things done” book and an acer notebook on a white cloth background
Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash
cycling · winter

Winter Riding: what you do when the snow won’t come

This time last year, we were under several feet of snow here in Southern Ontario. I know, because Facebook told me. Here are some images from 29 December 2017 that Big Brother Zuckerberg shared with me as “memories” a few days ago.

A photo of a black collie mix (Emma the Dog) standing on a snow-covered rail bridge in the woods.
A snap of Kim, a white woman wearing large maroon-coloured sun glasses and a red and white toque, bundled in a black parka, smiling into the snowy wilderness.
Emma the Dog contemplates the waterfall to her left, on the snowy path in the woods.

This year, no such luck. Today, it’s 10 degrees Celsius and raining, and Emma the Dog is hiding in a mucky hidey-hole in the garden. (Cheers, Emma.)

Last year, with all the snow and my glamorous new snow shoes from Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), Emma and I got all kinds of exercise out on the rail trails around our home near Toronto. Walking in snow shoes is both incredibly fun and an amazing workout for the hamstrings and calves.

This year, I’ve been alternating taking Emma for extra-long no-snow walks in and around our many protected escarpment woodlands, riding my bicycle trainer while watching The Good Place on Netflix, and walking the escarpment stairs for a nice glute and quad (not to mention cardio) workout.

And then, of course, on dry days, when the temperature is zero or above, I go for that painful mixed blessing: The Winter Road Ride.

I know Sam has been enthusing on the blog recently about the joys of winter riding (in all its unexpected, stolen glory), as well as the pains of having to clean the darn bike when it’s over.

I share both her enthusiasm and the annoyance re the cleaning. But I also feel other things around winter riding, which I thought I’d share with you today in case anyone else in the community rides in winter and wants to commiserate.

1. Winter riding reminds you that just because it’s nice outside when you go to get the mail, doesn’t mean it’s nice outside for three hours/75km.

It seems like a great idea at the time. You walk the dog and it’s cool but not cold, cloudy but dry, only a bit breezy. You decide to suit up.

One of those cheeky cards, this one featuring a young woman in a parka holding ice skates, reads: “I’m over the cold already and it’s not even that cold yet.”

You climb the 150 or so metres out of the lake-side valley in which you live and are winded and cursing yourself when you finally get to the top of the escarpment and can finally start riding properly. In summer this climb is annoying but OK; today, though, you are already pretty cold and wondering what made you think this bike ride was a good idea.

You get onto “flat” land (all “flat” land to the north and west of me is a false flat, until it’s a swoopy downhill and all your cares are forgotten – roughly 35km in). You start to pick up speed. Then you wonder why “pick up speed” means you’re going 26.5kph, rather than your more usual 28kph…

2. You’re generally slower in winter for lots of invisible reasons. Because of this invisibility, you see your average speeds drop, feel demoralized, and then get even colder.

Yes, I know some people argue it’s a myth, but I’m firmly on the “big temperature drop = not insignificant speed drop” side of things. I’ve got years of riding to demonstrate this anecdotally, plus there’s a very good reason why club ride start times inch upward as the temperature drops. Cold weather riders experience drag from poor air density, rolling resistance, and extra layers of gear worn against the cold. Plus, it’s typical not to pump those tires up to max in winter, to ensure you’re in a better position to navigate winter obstacles and debris on the road.

(Want to know a bit more of the science? Here’s a pretty good article by the folks at FitWerx, a top-rated bike shop in the northeastern US.)

I typically roll at 27-30kph, wind and incline depending; my average solo speed is usually 27-28kph in summer, accounting for anywhere from 400 to 800 metres of climbing (and the attendant gleeful rolling back down again at top speed). In winter, my average speed drops to 25-26kph – partly for all the reasons noted above, but also because the wind feels sharper and colder (and thus less motivating to push through) in winter, and because, given the time of year, I’m not riding for all-out, Strava-busting goodness; I’m riding to build my base and stay in my tempo (mid-range aerobic) zone as much as possible.

Logically, then, I can expect to be slower in winter, and That Is Totally Fine. But we are not logical creatures, us humans. We are rational, yes, but also deeply affective: how we feel shapes how we behave so very, very often. (Need proof? Um, you know where to look…)

So when I’m out on a winter ride, I’m already cold. And then I see my speed and go, oh feck. “I’m so slow today! What’s wrong with me??? Obviously I need to train more/better/focus harder/get me off this thing…”

3. All that gear adds weight, discomfort, awkwardness. As in: I CANNOT WAIT TO GET HOME AND PULL IT ALL OFF ALREADY.

Yes, riding at any time of year is a pleasure. And yes, if given the opportunity, I would DEFINITELY rather be riding in a pair of shorts and a lightweight jersey, with just my helmet adding a bit of extra drag.

Instead, winter riding requires the following:

  • basic shorts, not too bulky (but still really well padded!)
  • at least two, if not three, under layers (hello, wind chill)
  • a pair of thermal tights
  • a really good, insulated if possible, long-sleeve winter jersey
  • winter gloves (think ski gloves with a bit more maneuverability)
  • a cycling balaclava (to keep your head warm and also provide chin and mouth coverage if the wind kicks up)
  • a neck “snood” or equivalent (basically, a cycling scarf – mine is the fantastically-named Castelli “head thingy”, which I bought for the name alone and which I absolutely adore)
  • two pairs of socks, and maybe some hot pockets to keep your toes alive
  • shoe covers (an absolute must: cycling shoes are breathable, after all, which means the cold air gets in immediately)
A female cyclist, dressed in black winter tights and jersey and standing through a corner, models the Castelli Head Thingy, worn here around her neck (as I often do). Note: this is NOT me. This woman looks like she’s moving pretty quickly, for winter. Lucky her.

All this stuff adds weight, bulk, and makes usually simple maneuvers fairly awkward. There’s also, again, that all-important feeling that things aren’t quite right; it’s supposed to be a free-wheeling sport, this, with equal parts “wheeee!!!!!” and zooming along in a tight, fast formation. Plus just feeling the wind on your face and not going, “fecking winter wind so cold ARGH! WHY AM I DOING THIS!!!”


So here’s the thing. As long as it’s not freezing cold and snowy outside I ride my bike. I try to remember that I’m base-building and it’s winter and I’m trussed up like a turkey and it’s cold, so it will be OK but not AMAZING. If it’s a good day out (especially if there’s sun!) there is NO WAY I am getting on my bike trainer, Jameela Jamil or no Jameela Jamil. So winter riding and me are here to stay.

But it’s not going to be ace from start to finish. A lot of it is going to kind of suck, TBH. And I am definitely going to miss my snowshoes.

Please tell me I am not alone!

But, having said that, readers, I’d love your winter riding stories/thoughts/feelings. Do you avoid it? Love it? Notice a performance drop and feel bad about it? Notice a performance drop and not care? Thanks for sharing!

Happy New Year,



Riding in Victoria, Australia, in the heat

“There’s a heatwave in Australia!” People in Canada kept posting heat warnings for me on facebook, in between all of their posts about cross-country skiing and snow tubing. As I rode into Port Albert today, my final stop, it was 42 C — 107F. Most of my ride this morning, I was also fighting a powerful wind on a fairly busy highway, with no verge.

It was my 6th day of cycling from Melbourne east, more or less along the coast. I posted a little bit earlier about the first day or so, and about my 108 sun salutations on Christmas morning overlooking the sea. I don’t know why I decided I wanted to do this, exactly, or how I landed on Victoria. I just got it in my head that I wanted to do this, and cycling a notable distance like Sydney to Melbourne was too long for the time I had, and some people I knew like Melbourne, and a bike hire company for this region was the first one that came up in the google when I was searching. (Yes, this truly is how measured and well-researched a lot of my traveling is).

The bike hire company does tours, and they also have an app that lets you plan your own trip, and they will help with advice about where to stay. There’s also a series of old rail trails that have been turned into bike trails, which seemed sort of fun. So I put some time in Melbourne up front, and a road trip to the coast west of Melbourne for the last part of my trip, and stuck about a week of self-supported cycling into the middle. And rode from the centre of Melbourne to a tiny coastal village called Port Albert, with a pause to stay in a nice place for two nights for Christmas. (Which I spent riding to and then lounging on a glorious surf beach).

Here’s the thing: I was absolutely happy. But only about 25 km of the 287 or so km I rode were actually *enjoyable*. Getting out of Melbourne was beautiful along the waterfront but crowded with Sunday morning runners, and then the trails to the ferry dock to Phillip Island were hard to follow, beset with fences at every road, and very uneven. They would just … .disappear, and there was a lot of stopping and peering at my app. When I finally took to the road, there was no verge and a lot of fast-moving traffic.

My second day was short and again divided between a disappearing, soft trail and a slightly scary road. I stopped to enjoy the koala sanctuary, which was delightful — but the road was waiting for me again. And I missed the trail re-entrance at the big bridge and was genuinely anxious crossing with a big crosswind. Then just crossing the highway to get to the trail — really, a sidewalk shared with pedestrians — was scary.

My day “off” — riding to and from a nice beach — was again mostly trail, but with some ridiculously steep hills, with fences at the tops and bottoms. Unridable, and okay for pushing the bike without panniers, but impossible with it, digging my heels in while holding the heavy, awkward bike to keep it from crashing down. The fourth day retraced that route, then took me along a beautiful coast — first on a rail trail sifted over with deep soft sand, then on a slippery, hilly gravel road, then on a highway with no shoulder and speeding cars. Also, all the wind. And flies. I cut that day short at 50km — it was *plenty* considering how slowly I was going a lot of the time. My bike hire lady came and got me and drove me inland to a sleepy town for the night.

The next day was 98% rail trail — what I came for! — and not one moment of it was actually enjoyable riding for me. Hot, windy, soft and slippery pine needles under my wheels, finding myself going as slowly as 9km/hr with huge effort and then realize I’d had a long, indiscernible uphill. There was a delightful bakery at 10km where I got a scone and jam, and a sweet town at 35 km where I had banana bread and a conversation with a former park ranger who wanted to go to Canada to scout bears. “I love bears! See?” He showed me a necklace with a little cut out silver bear on it. He seemed lonely when I got on my bike and left.

Every time the rail trail crosses a road or a driveway, there is a gate to navigate, some to weave slowly around and some to open and close. There are signs to wait for stock to cross — cows are everywhere — and that means walking your bike through a fly-ridden patch of cow poo. Also, flies. Did I mention the flies? At one of these fences, I came across a couple out riding with a small terrier in a bike basket. “There’s a cow on the trail!” The man said. The cow and I ended up in a standoff for several minutes, until she decided I was acceptable to pass.

That day, I had pegged my lunch for at town at about 58 km, which had one small cafe. I got off the trail and rode up a baking hill to find it well and truly closed. I took myself back down to the general store and bought a banana, bottle of water, orange popsicle and a bag of potato chips. I ate my “lunch” standing beside my bike as two or three people came to the store, all of them getting out of cars and entering the store barefoot.

The final 12 km for the day were windy and hot and I kept hallucinating more cows or dogs on the trail that turned out to be tufts of grass. My destination that night was a “hotel motel” in a cross-roads village that had been very difficult to book, and which looked like it hadn’t actually been open since 1969. “Inquire at bottle shop,” the door said. “When bottle shop locked, come to pub,” the bottle shop said. In the pub, there were two guys who looked like they’d been there since 1979, arguing about how many people live in melbourne and watching horse racing on tv. Finally a young bartender came out, assured me there was indeed a room and gave me a key. I had a tiny “pot” of beer before taking myself to my cinderblock but clean room. The fish and chips in pub later were just fine, and the nice lady Tracy in the shop across the street gave me a good coffee and a cheese and tomato sandwich for breakfast.

My final day was short — around 30 km — and was mostly on a somewhat busy highway, again with no shoulder. Despite what Angela the bike hire lady had told me, it was pretty flat. But — windy. Oh. So. Windy, again with the gusty cross winds. It was also so hot that I stopped every 3 or so km to have a good drink. Finally, I turned off the highway — for 8 km of delightful riding. Flattish, not busy, good road, trees and shade. No cows, no fences.

My 287 km from Melbourne to Port Albert made a shorter trip than many that Ive done, but the riding was *hard*. And with cycling, knowing what it’s actually going to feel like under your feet, what the bike will feel like, what the wind and air will do – it’s hard to imagine. My original plan had me doing 100 on the last day and that would never have done. I think I would have actually died.

I was a little disappointed to find that there was no real swimable beach here, but at 42+ degrees, I’m not going to be sitting on a beach anyway. I have a very nice harbour view room in a little inn, and there is a restaurant at the end of the pier for dinner.

I don’t know how it’s possible that riding that is never actually pleasant is so enjoyable — it was slow, and the bike was ponderous, and while some of the terrain was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, a lot of it was farmland with cows and little hills and bales of hay that could have been England or France or Estonia or Ontario. Turns out I really hate riding on trails — I don’t like gravel and I don’t like soft dirt. They are slow and they unnerve me. I was hot, and my knee hurt, and while I tried to be super careful with the sunblock, I got a bit of a burn on the edge of my bikeshorts the first day that ended up doing that gross sweat blister thing. I banged my shin on the right pedal every time I stopped and put my foot down to navigate one of the fences. I got a cold sore from the sun.

But I was 100% happy — making my way across an unexpected landscape on my own steam, carrying what I need with me, knowing that I can do what I set out to do, weaving my way through a world of kind and helpful people — there’s serenity and power and quiet joy in that, along with the absolute decadence of having a small beer in the middle of the afternoon and a well-deserved nap, overlooking a jolly little harbour.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto when she’s not wandering the globe.

Guest Post

Once upon a time there was a leather jacket (Guest post)

By Andrea Zanin

Once upon a time there was a leather jacket.

I found it for thirty-five dollars on the clearance rack at Neon on St-Denis in Montreal sometime in the early aughts. Short, biker-style, enough hardware but not too much. It fit like it was made for me, though it wrinkled in the curve of my lower back.

I wore it home from the store and then I wore it and wore it and wore it. In the summer, laid over my shoulders when the night turned cool. In the winter, zipped sausage-like over a t-shirt, a sweater and a scarf. It kept me warm and kept me safe and kept me feeling like a stronger, more gleaming version of myself than perhaps I really was. The feeling was so good. It shaped to the sharp inward curve of my waist and strained over the equally sharp flare of my hips.

Once upon a time I had cancer. It started with pain, just an always kind of pain, slow and syrupy, and eventually, as the years went by, louder and heavier until I was trapped under it. I cried with relief when they found cancer on my spinal cord because that meant they could make the pain stop. And, with spinal surgery, they did. For a while.

Until it came back. First the pain, sharper and more random this time, no slowness, only fragile quiet followed by attacks so brutal they left me shaking and sobbing. Movement was terror, movement might make it bite.

My body changed with this stillness. Grew heavy and stiff. The leather jacket was shaped to a former version of me, a less painful body. It hung in the closet and grew stiff as well.

Nothing appeared on a scan this time. Two and a half more years went by—years filled with nerve injections and canes and experiments with drugs that didn’t work—before the cancer finally showed itself. They opened me up again, extracted it again, stapled me closed. This time, they would not take any chances. This time radiation would melt the remnants lodged too deep in my spinal cord to slice away. Invisible energy would dissolve this strange glue gumming up my nerves.

Six weeks of daily zapping. Nausea and exhaustion. But eventually, no more pain.

It was hard to trust at first. Twenty-three years of pain doesn’t just… stop. Surely, there must be a catch.

My body grew. I felt weird all the time. Hot flashes, night sweats that soaked the sheets. My blood felt like sludge, moving reluctantly through my veins. My feet hurt all the time. My hair thinned. I stopped bleeding each month. My fingers felt tight, like sausages. Every system in my body was grinding to a halt.

Turns out that, as it melted the dregs of my tumour, the radiation fried my ovaries. Months of waiting on a doctor to believe me, weeks of waiting for tests, months more to see an endocrinologist, months again for the tiny purple pills to come up to full effect. Months of steady expansion. My body was huge. My leather jacket looked like it was made for a doll version of me, for a child, for a me that wasn’t me anymore. Seeing it in the closet, I mourned.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with fat. We need it for our bodies to work, for our brains to operate. Fat is functional, glorious and beautiful, and so are fat people. But I did not feel functional, glorious or beautiful. I felt awkward and unwieldy, like all my organs were taking up too much space, like my food sat in my guts for too long, like I couldn’t bend or stretch freely.

I know why fat folks hate dietitians and doctors: because these professionals truly think losing weight is a kind of mathematics. Ingest fewer calories than you burn, and you shrink. And it is not mathematics. It is genetics, hormones, metabolism, trauma. It is dozens of factors. It is chronic pain and missing spinal bones. I will not starve myself or count calories. I will not give up dark chocolate or cheese. There is nothing wrong with my lifestyle. What’s wrong is cancer, what’s wrong is menopause dropping like a bomb in my body, what’s wrong is bullshit BMI and scales. I don’t care how much I weigh. Pounds are not a meaningful unit of measure. I want to be able to move. I want to digest properly. I want my systems to come back online.

I also know why movies created a thing called the training montage. It’s because the endless grind of transforming oneself, of healing, is boring as fuck. Doctors and pills, stretching against stubborn scar tissue, sweating to rev up a metabolism that’s fighting hard to stay sluggish. Frustration and tears. I want a body I can live with. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be me, a decade older, with more tattoos and a wearier soul. Thicker is fine. Stronger is great. But me. Can I get me back, please?

There is no success story here, no happily ever after. No thinspo or fitspo because shut the fuck upspo. I am not skinny and I don’t want to be. But after three and a half years of caring for this body post-trauma, of prescriptions and MRIs, of cycling every single day I can manage it, of yoga, of Epsom salts and magnesium citrate and digestive enzymes and vitamin B, of blood tests and ultrasounds, things have changed. I am not the me I was at twenty-three on St-Denis. But I’m a me I can live with. I’m a me that can move.

Tonight, I biked downtown, in the city I now call home, and went to try on leather jackets. I heard there was a clearance rack buried in the belly of a Yonge Street mall.

I slipped one jacket over my broader shoulders, and zipped it up over my heftier hips and fuller breasts. This jacket, inky and fragrant, dipped in at the sharp inward curve of my waist and hiked up a bit at the outward flare of my hip, which made it wrinkle at my lower back right over the place where scars now trace the line of my absent bones. Above the gleaming biker-style zipper, the collar brushed against the velvet nape of my neck.

Under the overhead light of the store, my face was sharp, cheekbones older. My crow’s feet crinkled in the mirror, and I said:

I’ll take it.

Andrea Zanin has written for the Globe and Mail, The Tyee, Bitch, Ms., Xtra, IN Magazine, Outlooks Magazine and the Montreal Mirror. Her scholarly work, fiction and essays appear in a variety of collections. She blogs at and tweets at @sexgeekAZ.

fitness · Martha's Musings · planning · swimming · training · weight loss · yoga

Strategic planning for the fit feminist

By MarthaFitat55

I work as a strategic planner as well as a communications strategist and trainer/facilitator. In the last few years, I have jotted down a series of goals as an informal strategic plan for myself. This year I decided to take a couple of days to be more structured about how I plan as I want to achieve some specific things by 2020. (As a side note, there isn’t anything really special about that date for me lifewise, but I like round numbers and that one appeals to me.)

I have five categories in my plan: work, home, family, relationships, and fitness. This isn’t a priority listing. My plan is a series of circles, and these overlap and separate over time.

When I first began working on fitness as a goal to get me to 55, it was pretty simple: I wanted to show up. Five years later, I still show up, but I have refined my approach somewhat. In past years, I have added learning how to do pull ups, how to get up from and get down to the floor, and increasing the weight on the bar for deadlifts, squats and bench. I also wanted to mix things up so I added swimming and yoga to the mix. The past six months have been busier than I expected with work and family commitments, and more times than I liked, fitness fell by the wayside.

Thus the need for a more focused approach, because I know when my life gets busy, the time I set for fitness can get chewed up by other Imporant Things.

I decided to apply the questions I use when I help organizations develop their own strategic plans. I ask three questions to get started: why do you want to do this? what will you achieve? and how will you make it happen? I then ask two supplementary questions: when will this happen and where?

Image shows a spiral-bound, lined notebook with a fountain pen resting on a blank page. Photo credit: Aaron Burden, Unsplash

My why is pretty clear: I want to be healthy and active for a long time. My what is also pretty straightforward: I want to be fit and active. The how is also known: I like weightlifting, I enjoy the flexibility of yoga, and swimming gives me a way to connect with my body differently than the weights or mat can offer. I’ll be identifying some key benchmarks in these objectives, because measurement is a way to keep me focused and accountable.

My biggest challenge is the “when” as there are many demands on my time. The drafting of a strategic life planning document gives me the opportunity to make certain promises to myself and those promises are getting plugged into my calendar so I have away to be accountable.

Over the coming months I’m going to track how my plan is working. What are you thinking about doing in 2019 to keep you on track with your fitness goals?

femalestrength · weight lifting

Sam bench presses a young, male puma

You’ll recall from this post that it can be fun to measure weight in animals. For the record, I weigh about 3.4 wombats.

Photo of a puma. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

In the same spirit, I can bench press a young, male puma. Well, not really. Likely he’d be all wriggly and sharp clawed and would growl at me. But according to this that’s the equivalent in weight animal I’m picking up and putting down with authority. I was amused to find the calculator on Rebecca K’s Facebook wall this morning. She can lift a Wildebeest, it turns out. Who knew?

On my post about deadlift day I was amused to see that I could easily deadlift a black bear and that I’m on my way I hope to someday deadlifting a panda.

How about you? What animal are you picking up and putting down with authority?


When a workout “oops” makes you feel like a rock star

I was so very inspired by Cate’s Christmas morning 108 Sun Salutations, which I knew about the day before because she’s in Australia, so 16 full hours ahead. When she told me she’d done it, I committed to doing the same.

Being up in Haliburton, Ontario, where it was cold and snowing, I couldn’t very well do mine on a beach like Cate. But she gave me some tracking advice, namely, to keep track on a piece of paper. Great idea!

I announced my intention to my family, at which point my brother and sister-in-law (Dave and Ruby) offered to kick off the first set with me. I calculated that, according to the math, nine sets of 12 sun salutations would come to 108.

The first set felt quite exerting already. I appreciated the company, but knew I had a long workout alone ahead of me after Dave and Ruby finished the first round of 12 with me.

Despite having done the math and even announced that nine sets of 12 would do, I had the number 12 lodged in my brain. And so, somehow (and I can’t quite figure out how it happened that I didn’t figure it out until later in the day), I got the idea that I had to do TWELVE sets of 12.

At no point after I got that in my head did I stop to re-calculate or even think of what I already know … that 12×12=144, not 108. At the “halfway mark” of six, I circled my little tally. Only SIX MORE ROUNDS TO GO!

I was already feeling tired. And hungry. In fact, I had to go grab a muffin from the kitchen because I hadn’t eaten a thing yet and I was starting to get a head ache. “Funny,” I thought to myself when I looked at the clock and realized that if I was only halfway through, this whole undertaking was going to come close to two hours, “I don’t recall 108 Sun Salutations taking two hours last time.”

But hey, I knew I’d done it before, so I persevered on, marking my little paper with a tick at the end of each set of 12. I paused on occasion in between sets to relax in child’s pose for a few minutes. By that point, I had rolled up my yoga pants above the knees and was down to my sport bra on top because I was sweating so much.

Finally, I realized I was on my last set (of course, what I didn’t realize that I’d long since passed 108 and was on my way to 144). And since my form was starting to fall apart, I really focused on my form, taking my time on each sequence.

I placed my last tick on the paper, did some reclining twists, and settled into corpse.

Image description: white pad of paper that says at the top “The Business Inn and Suites” and has two tallies of six tick marks on it, each of the two circled. That’s Tracy’s accounting of her “108” sun salutations on Christmas morning.

Later in the day, when I was talking to my step-daughter and telling her about my 108 Sun Salutations, I heard myself saying I did 12 sets of 12. Right then and there it struck me — hey! That’s 144 not 108.

Yes, I felt ridiculous for getting the math so wrong. But guess what? I also felt like a rock star because if you think 108 sun salutations is a test of your endurance, try 144! In the end, I’m actually pretty impressed with myself for doing it.

Have you ever made a workout mistake that turned out to be a truer test of your chops than what you set out for in the first place?