My Fit Prime Minister (Guest Post)

So Justin did it again and “photobombed” an event. This time, he was “caught” running through a group of teens taking prom pictures in Vancouver. Another time, and as referenced in that CBC article, he had “photobombed” wedding pictures, shirtless that time (why not in Vancouver Justin? Oh well).

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Why all the quotation marks you will ask? Well one line caught my eye in the CBC article. Adam Scotti, photographer to the prime minister, tweeted his pic of Justin running through the crowd, supposedly unnoticed by the teens.

So this was not as impromptu as it is meant to look. It is not as if Justin just decided to go for a run, on his own (which is what the earphones are meant to suggest), just like you and I leave the house and may run into a gathering of teens or a wedding photo shoot. The photographer to the prime minister was there and probably some security people, or one would hope. This is all part of an operation to make us swoon over Justin and how much of a people person he is. That he is that is not debatable especially if we contrast with many other politicians, including our previous prime minister. But there is a lot of fabrication that goes into these images.

However, that is not my point today. I have been meaning to write on how public figures, including politicians and country leaders, impact our perception of the importance of exercising and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This article in my Twitter feed this morning made me do it. So here it is.

Yes I will continue to swoon over Justin, not because of his good looks and charm, but because he keeps healthy habits and does look fit. He exercises regularly and obviously values a healthy lifestyle. His yoga buff wife, Sophie Grégoire, also appears to hold the same values (why the shoes Justin?).

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Our prime minister runs, boxes (Guest blogger Rebecca Kukla even boxed with Justin as reported here), does yoga, planks on random counters or tables, etc. He is one active guy!

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I swoon over Justin for such things just like I did for Michelle and Barack Obama when I would come across pictures of them engaging in fitness activities. I certainly aspire to be as strong as the former First Lady.

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In Quebec, Dr. Gaétan Barrette, the minister of health, was quite heavily criticized and very badly mocked for his weight. The amount of fat shaming that occurred was simply appalling. Since 2012, Barrette has lost a lot of weight. He has explained that this was a challenge he took with his son who appeared to be following his path toward obesity and they both engaged in a radical lifestyle change involving changes to nutritional habits. The change is major as one can see.

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People have congratulated the minister of health over this change. He appears to be healthier and this may be even more important for him in a leadership role as minister of health. Now we know that size is no measure of health (many posts on this blog have discussed this).

But that a leader would appear to value a healthy lifestyle by adopting an exercise regimen and good nutritional habits seems to matter to people. When one does not, as Barrette presumably used to and especially in his role, he became a target of criticism. Now fat shaming is never right and he was the victim of a lot of that. I am happy to read that he did not engage in his lifestyle change in response to that. But this example can inspire others.

I use the word example with caution here. “Before and after” pictures often serve to shame individuals who appear more like the “before” picture and serve to point to their “failure” to achieve an “after” look. But I do think that active, fit looking and presumably healthy leaders can serve as role models to populations who are subjected to the flow of pictures of these leaders. It may inspire people to engage in a bit more activity, even just for the fun of it.

I would be interested to read a study that would look into the correlation between the level of physical activity engagement in the population and that of their political leaders and whether a fit leader directly impacts fitness choices by the population. Similarly, a study that would also correlate the pursuit of healthy nutritional habits between the population and its leaders would be interesting as well. This, in light of reports of Trump’s predilection for junk food, may be worrisome for a population that has been struggling with health issues for a long time.

Did things improve under the Obamas? I don’t know and 8 years might be too short a period to tell. Will a fit Justin make us all fitter and possibly healthier Canadians? Maybe. In the meantime, I will continue to swoon and be inspired.

Free the bellies! (Guest post)

So I am just back from vacationing in Cuba (I know, there are worst things to do in April). And I did it! I bought 3 bikinis and actually packed them and wore them to the beach. My tankinis tried to come along. They were calling me from the closet where they are stored with an old one piece. They were trying to convince me I was making a mistake. I stood fast and refused to take them. What a great decision! This April I freed my belly!

Last summer Natalie published a really inspiring post on her bikini body. I commented back then that I was going to do the same for my next vacation. I failed at that because I went to Mexico in December and wore my tankinis. I convinced myself that I had lacked time to go bikini shopping. My options are limited to a specialty store because of my size which is not catered by regular stores so it is not like it would have taken me days to visit all the stores and choose from, oh so many options! So even though I told myself a tale of lacking time I really simply chickened out. Why? Body image issues!

The last time I exposed my belly in public was some 25 years ago. I enjoyed my day at the beach wearing my two piece and then pictures came. Those were the days when you actually had to take the roll to the pharmacy for processing and pay .99 cents for an extra set of your 24 pictures. So one week later, when I saw the pictures of myself enjoying myself in the water and with family I was unhappy with how I looked. Why? I did not look like a model wearing a two piece (who does? models do). The comment of my then spouse that maybe I was too old now to wear a bikini sank in and confirmed that as of then I was going to embrace one piece suits (another of many reasons why that person is an “ex” now). From then on I only wore those or sometimes even shorts and a t-shirt, perhaps even a long-sleeved t-shirt.

Never mind that I had had great fun that day wearing my bikini at the beach and that I am smiling and laughing on all pictures (I just looked at them again and I truly look like I was having a lot of fun). But the body issues took over and tainted the memories of that day and the perception of the pictures and the body on display. Reading Natalieh’s post last summer I went back to the pics and thought: heck (actually it was more something like: screw this bullshit!). I chickened out in December and regretted that. So this time, one week before leaving, I went to the store and bought myself what I needed and resisted my inner narrative that my body is not to be exposed.

That first day, I put on my favourite of the 3 to help myself. It also helped that I recently got a great ribcage tattoo that I want the world to see (I had actually shown my belly to many more people since I got it than I did in the last 25 years just to show off the tattoo!). I put on my beach cover up and went to the beach. And then there was that great, frightening but mostly great, moment of taking the cover up off. What I felt? Great! I felt free!

Freeing my belly also felt like freeing my mind. The feeling of wind and water caressing my belly skin was fantastic. I am never going back! Screw the tankinis and my one piece with them. Screw narratives that say bikinis are for the young, thin, and flawless. I am strong and healthy but not thin and flawless and that is perfectly alright! I never felt as sexy as embracing that. Not that that was the goal but rather a surprising outcome, surprising to me anyways.

So please, if you have not done so yet, free your belly! You will feel great in so many ways! And thanks again Natalieh for your great post that triggered this.

This is my fave red number. I am not in it because I suck at selfies and was by myself so no trusted photographer available.

PS: Don’t be surprised if you find me wearing my bikini top with my shorts working in my summer office when we experience Southern Ontario heat this summer. Once you have freed a belly, it remains free!

On doctors, BMI, and other bullshit (Guest post)

This week I had my annual visit with my doctor. I am doing great and really only need a renewal for my prescription of Ventolin for stress-induced asthma for when I run. I have never felt healthier in my life and have lost 35 lbs in the last two years thanks to a radical change in diet as well as workout intensity and regularity, including running (which I love).

I had a little smirk on my face when my doctor opened up by saying “You have lost weight”! What girl has not internalized this kind of discourse that requires of us that we be tiny and light and occupy as little space as we can?

So I was pretty happy with myself until the end of my exam where he asked how tall I was. I knew what was coming. I said: “Look, we are not going to get into BMI stuff because we both know it is bullshit!” He knows me and he knows I can be stubborn but also well-informed. So he asked: “How so?” My answer, of course: “Anyone who is muscular is going to bust the BMI and I am very muscular.” I thought this was going to be the end of it. No!

He pulled out a measuring tape and measured my waist and determined I have to lose 2 inches! On what basis I do not know. Now I am not going to claim there is no flab on my belly that I would not love to lose. But 2 inches? What he recommended? Doing abs! Ok, seriously! I went into how I strength train and run and do abs and can do 2 minutes of planking, no problemo! He said to try and asked: “You feel healthy?” Hell, yeah! Parting words.
I was really miffed by that whole thing because I am a very active person! I will not starve myself to lose 2 inches of waist measurement and I will not stop drinking, thank you very much. I probably do more exercise than most people, including my doctor, and I do feel the healthiest I have ever felt and the strongest! So what gives?

What I did when I got home? Ran to my closet to try all my pants to see if I had gained any unwanted weight and expanded in space. Because girls can’t, right? Of course everything still fits fine and no need for shopping (bummer). But I was still in the gym this morning busting my butt out with intervals and circuits because … that 2 inches gotta go.

With all of that being hyper conscious about all of these things and rejecting such fundamentally flawed discourses about women’s bodies, why can’t I just shake it off? The power of socio-cultural construction is indeed tremendous. And this is why we need to discuss such issues, be supportive of one another, and insist on being proud with feeling good.

It’s easy to get lazy! Return to training during or after a cold? (Guest post)

Over the holidays I was hit by a pretty bad cold. 7 days straight of very high fever, sore throat, congestion, and coughing. My immune system is hyper-reactive and the nukes were out to destroy the bug. But it did not work this time. It lasted its full 10 days. And now beyond the 10 days I still feel somewhat congested.
Despite all signs, I went out running on day 5. Admittedly, I did not have any fever that morning and thought “That’s it, I am winning this!” This was a very slow run even if I felt like I was pushing. And at the end of the day I could tell by how I was feeling that it had been a mistake to go out. Did it extend my cold? Who knows. This is hard to say. And advice out there on whether one should run or train with a cold is sometimes contradictory. Most will say if you have fever, don’t. But unless one has a working and reliable thermometer (I don’t) it can be hard to tell (add to the mix the occasional hot flashes induced by peri-menopause and, voilà! Is it fever? Is it a hot flash?)
So after that 5th day outing, I waited another 4 days before engaging in any training. During that time, one wonders: am I just being lazy? Surely I could (should?) push myself and do it. When I did train, it was indoors because I was still somewhat feverish and did not feel like running outside in the wet cold. So I did weight training and leg exercises. I thought: “good plan! This won’t go against my less than optimal oxygen intake because of my congestion.” That was without thinking about muscular weakness caused by the cold. I don’t think I have ached like this in a very long time! I went out for a run the next day and pulled something in my thigh. Good job! But again, I was questioning whether I was just being lazy. It is so easy to get lazy, right? Stay warm inside and lounge on the couch, reading stuff and watching some TV (and doing work on the computer). One gets maybe too comfortable? So out I went to run a 7km!
But there are times when your body just needs to be lazy. It needs you to rest and fight what it has to fight. While you are reading, watching TV, killing time on Facebook, your body is hard at work fixing itself. It may be easy to get lazy but it may be necessary at times. This was one such time and I did not listen to my body.
Training is fun and exciting. I know I like it. But I have to learn to be patient with myself when I am sick and need my energy to fight whatever is assaulting me. Mostly, I have to shut up that narrative that makes me think I am just being lazy and should suck it up. I have to go back to working out in a way that does not throw me back into illness. This means a gradual return, testing the waters so to speak. So I need to be more patient with myself. Oh! And I also need to get myself a proper thermometer!

Back to running! (Guest post)

Only one year and a half ago I could not run. I had been injured in my right hip for a little more than one year causing me to limp from time to time. This limited the type of exercise I could do. If outdoors, I had to walk or cycle (which I love) and if indoors, I would use an elliptical or stairmaster. But I really missed running. I find it fun and meditative. I started running again in January 2014. I signed up as a client volunteer for a kinesiology class on personal training for people with injuries (I have blogged about my experiences before). My training team was big on interval training and they started me on a program in which we would alternate a few running laps on the 200m track with different types of exercises (core, weights, stability). The first time we did it, I ran and walked only 9 laps, i.e. 1.8km. But I made it and without pain the next day.

Before continuing on my progress, let me mention the shoes. At the beginning of the training sessions I bought myself a new pair of shoes. And this is where I realized what had caused my injury. I found that out when I went shopping in a proper store with someone who knew about the difference between supination, neutral pronation and over-pronation. It turns out that the shoes I had used before getting injured were for over-pronators while I have a neutral foot. I had no idea about such distinctions. I purchased the right kind of shoe: Asics Cumulus is my shoe. It is interesting because I had had that model a few years before and was entirely comfortable with them. Then I had decided to go for a cheaper and different brand for some reason and running with a shoe for over-pronator had injured me. Proper shoes are essential.

So with proper shoes and a patient approach to increasing my running capacity, I slowly brought myself to run 3.2 km. We did intervals up until April. Intervals were a mixture of walking, running slow and sprinting for each lap. I continued with this approach over the summer and fall, attempting long stretches a few times. The first time I was able to run 5km I was so happy with myself. I had been back to running for a little over 6 months. And I felt good about it and felt no pain whatsoever. In the fall, I attempted something new: running down and up the Niagara escarpment at Brock University. The total run was 6km. I was amazed at myself. This was accomplished a little less than a year back into running. Progress has continued over the fall and winter and I managed to run 8.5 km including the escarpment climb the other day. I have said this before: YAY me!

The things I have learned and that have allowed me to progress are really important:

Proper shoes: see above!

Proper breathing: in winter 2014 one of my trainers noted I was not breathing properly. I worked on correcting that by running on a threadmill and focusing on my breathing only for about 2 weeks. Now I do it right without a thought.

Puffer: I suffer from stress-induced asthma and stubbornness. This is a bad combination as it led me to want to run without using my puffer. I foolishly thought that the day I could go through a whole run without using my puffer would be the day I would be in shape. That was ignoring a physiological fact about breathing and my asthmatic lungs. I was unnecessarily putting myself in a situation of respiratory distress with the hope of accomplishing something my body could not. I refused to follow my physician’s advice and use my puffer before the run. This was stupid. Now that I do use it before, breathing is easy. And so is the running.

Patience: there is really no point to try to go back to running by overdoing it. The 1.8km initial runs may appear insignificant but they were not. They were what allowed me to slowly but surely get back into it. The gradual increase in distance and the interval training incorporating slower and faster running have increased my running capacity both in terms of endurance and speed.

One year and a half later, I am strong, fast, efficient and can go as long as 8.5 km. Wow! Patience paid out as did listening to my body’s needs. My goal for the summer is drawing nearer every time I go out, for a short or longer run: 10 km here I come!

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Still learning! – On breathing and focusing (Guest post)

cdI have blogged before on what I have learned from my personal trainers. Once the term was over I was left to myself and felt somewhat like an abandoned puppy. True enough, my trainers have left me with a program and a wealth of information but it is not the same training on my own. Continuing to workout the way I did with them is a challenge: stretch enough, focus, push myself. If no one is there to remind me, it is tempting to go straight to workout without the stretching and as tempting to just hop in the shower once done (I talked about what I have learned about stretching here).

One thing I have learned from my trainers has been to focus: pay attention to my body when I set it in motion and work it out. The first time I went to the gym for a workout on my own, I had my iPod with me. There was no reason not to listen to music since I was by myself. Before training with my personal trainers, I had always used my iPod. But something interesting happened as I was returning to this old habit: a few minutes into my weight lifting, I noticed that I was doing it all wrong: mindlessly moving the weights around and not focusing on the strength and movement and what my body was feeling. I was also losing count and being distracted by the music. I simply unplugged! I have not used my iPod since then for my workout sessions, be they cardio or weight lifting. I find that I can concentrate more on what I am doing and feel I am getting better results this way.

Another very important thing I have learned in the last weeks of my training program was proper breathing while running. One of my trainers noticed that I was not breathing properly while we were running around the track. The running was always done with intervals: two thirds of the track jogging, 1 third sprinting. The sprints would put me out of breath completely and it was very hard to do multiple laps. I thought my stress-induced asthma was the sole culprit. Thanks to my trainer’s observation I found out that I was in the habit of breathing as fast as my running pace. This worked kind of ok while jogging but the sprints were a killer: try hyperventilating while running! He advised me to take longer, deeper breaths. I had to learn to dissociate the breathing pace with the running pace. Every running sessions after that I would just focus on my breathing, making sure to get the air way down into my belly and then completely out. I am also learning to breathe in through my nose and exhale through the mouth. I am getting better at it, every time I go out and run. It is making my jogging/running much easier, even if I still need my puffer to get me going (this asthma won’t cure itself).

I continue to apply what I have learned with my trainers, especially to be focused and to breathe properly. It feels great and I feel more powerful!

Stretch or bust! (Guest post)

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One other important thing I have learned working with personal trainers (see my post Rediscovering my Body: Personal Training) is the importance of stretching. I used to never stretch. Unless you count stretching for 30 seconds overall proper stretching. I used to go straight from doing nothing to exercise, and from exercise to shower. Heck, I am a busy girl and who has time for stretching, right?

Sometimes I feel like a Formula 1 but this is not because I feel high performance. Rather, I feel like I need a whole pit crew to keep me going and take care of my frailty (yes, Formula 1 cars are very fragile). I have a crew of massage therapist, chiropractor, and osteopath to keep the vehicle going and fix it when it needs it. But I have been forgetting the role of the driver in taking care of her vehicle. Stretching!!!

When I was a little girl, I used to really enjoy my grandparents’ yearly visits. Every summer, they came to stay with us for two weeks. For those two weeks, every morning I would do my exercises with my grandfather. He would turn on the TV to some American channel where women wearing leotards and their best smile would make us do various stretching and other light exercises for 30 minutes. Grandpa and I would do them together. Once we were done, grandma would bring us breakfast (an orange, a toast and a cheddar cheese sun for me) and we would watch The Price is Right.

My grandfather’s morning stretching routine was not only a vacation one. He did that every morning of his life. He was right. Stretching is good for you. Getting into a relaxed state and moving every limb gently, waking them up for the day to come is the best thing one could do for oneself. If one trains or engages in more strenuous physical activity more seriously than he did, daily stretching becomes an imperative as is the pre and post workout stretching.

For years I have disregarded stretching. I am very flexible. Who needs to stretch when one can touch their knees with their nose, right? Wrong. Or so my aching body has been telling me. When I picked up running again with my personal trainers in January, my right knee started bothering me again. I mentioned that to my massage therapist (pit crew member, see above) and she offered to work on my legs rather than my back. What she uncovered was a real mess, a situation which, as she said, has been building up for a long, long time. I suspect all the bike rides I have done over the years, ranging from 30 to 120 km, without stretching either before or after, are to blame. Also to blame are all the gym workouts, elliptical, stepper and other devices used without stretching whatsoever (or just a little, once in the shower). Other culprits: the jogging sessions wrapped up with mere walking, no stretching. All of that has generated issues for me that I could easily have avoided if I had stretched properly.

I have learned many things with my personal trainers. A very important thing I have learned is to start and end every workout with stretching. Dynamic stretching to start, static stretching to end. Just get those limbs ready for the effort, you will be better at it and then relax your muscles when you are done, you will feel better after it. In short: stretch or bust!