fitness

Running my way through election anxiety

Today is a federal election in Canada.  It’s a tense time for progressives.  Our relationship with our high school boyfriend Justin didn’t survive the first few weeks of university — he kept drunk-texting us and not showing up when he promised — and we were ready to break up with him by Thanksgiving.

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But the alternatives aren’t obvious.  There’s your tough, smart and committed aunt who’s off doing fabulous things and doesn’t make it to the family holidays, your sister’s mean and sullen boyfriend, the nice guy your cousin is bringing to dinner for the first time, the brother who is always off in the other room playing some super complex strategy game, and the drunk racist uncle who won’t shut up.  Canadians seem to be all over the map, it’s been a pretty ugly campaign, and the only thing for sure is that on Tuesday morning, we won’t feel anymore like the only major western country that can sit comfortably (and slightly smugly) knowing that we’ve resisted the tension and polarization that’s shaped politics for the past four years.

There is a lot of anxiety swirling in the air.  So how do we breathe through it?

Well, my first thought was yoga.  I haven’t been doing as much yoga lately, being obsessed with my feminist cross-fit style gym, punctuated by a couple of runs a week.  But the day before a tense election seemed like the perfect time to re-engage with Iyengar yoga.  So I looked up the schedule for the studio across the street, paid for a new set of class passes (ignoring the pang over realizing that my last set expired with a couple of unused classes), and trotted on over, mat over my back.

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I signed in, collected the pile of props iyengar usually demands, and lay down to quiet myself.  A few minutes later, I suddenly became aware that the room was filling up with people who weren’t grabbing mats, and then one of the studio owners came over to check in.  “Isn’t this Iyengar?”  “No, Cindy’s away.  This is a EATT training workshop.”  I stared, stupidly — “but I signed up online?”  “The website was wrong.”

(Note I’m not even sure he apologized — he’s not the reason I go to that studio).

The person at the desk did apologize and said they were giving me an extra class credit, and I slunk out of there, my mat under my arm, feeling foolish.  Nothing like lying on your back in the wrong class to bring back all the high school angst.

So much for breathing through the election tension.  But lesson learned:  there will be frustration, and unexpected detours, and moments where I’m going to have to bite my tongue.  Got it.

An hour later, that lesson showed up for real, when someone in my life told me they’d voted conservative in the advance polls, parroting a reactionary discourse about too many immigrants, liberals limiting free speech and giving in to identity politics, and oh, the debt!  “Why would you do a thing like that?” I said mildly.  Direct and clear.

I had work to do, but the angst was still swirling. It was the perfect October day, about 12 degrees, windless, sunny.  My body was a little sore from all the squats and suchlike all week, but I decided a run would shake out the anxiety.  I mentally planned just half an hour, just enough to breathe in some oxygen.

I started running and then…  I just kept going.  Over to the valley, and up through the secret pathway through the city.  I felt strong and I felt present.  The ground was under my feet, and my body and my soul let me put one foot in front of the other.  Step, step, step.

 

At my turnaround point, there was a lesson on the bridge:  LOOK BOTH WAYS.

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Got it.  There’s more than one perspective.  Other people have reasons for the choices they make.  Vilifying them isn’t going to help anything.

I let the familiar rhythm of running overtake me until an hour and 11 km had passed.  The longest run I’ve done in a few months.  Me, at my essence.

I ran up from the valley trail at Queen Street, where the Bridge of Wisdom had another lesson:  “the river I step in is not the river I stand in,” it says in comforting iron.  Every moment will pass. No moment will be the same as the one before:

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Got that lesson too.  Whatever happens, it will pass.

I got home, knees sore, body tired, and sunk into the tub.  Grateful for my body, grateful for my neighbourhood and my city, grateful to be reminded that I have the fortitude and clarity I need for anxious times.

(And PSA for Canadians still undecided:  this site aggregates different projections and identifies the best way to vote in your riding if you want to vote strategically:  https://votewell.ca/ Vote well!

**

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who voted in the advance polls, and changed her mind just before she made the X.

 

 

 

body image · Fit Feminists Answer · fitness · You Ask

Is my menopausal belly something to worry about?

We love it when we get questions from blog readers.  This one came in last week:

There’s a general recommendation that women keep their waist circumference to 35 inches or less, because of associations with metabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance. It seems at mid age this becomes more of a concern.  What’s Fit is a Feminist Issue’s perspective on this?

Kitty inspecting her waistline

 

Here’s how I read this question:   we’ve all heard that carrying more of your weight in your middle (“apple shaped”) is a bigger risk for heart disease, diabetes and other metabolic issues than carrying your weight in your hips, bum and thigh (“pear shaped”).  This belief has been around for a while — I’m old, and I remember learning this in high school.  So I think the questions are — Is there evidence behind this recommendation?   When we hit menopause, we tend to accumulate more fat in our middles — so are we at bigger risk for cardiovascular disease at menopause?  Is there a specific guideline?   Is there anything we can to do manage our fat distribution with an eye to preventing heart disease?

Turns out, this is a super not easy question to answer. 

Screenshot 2019-10-18 15.28.46

I went down a few rabbit holes here, but I’ll try to break it down.

(But first, a quick note about gender terminology.  When I write about menstruation, menopause, vaginas, etc, I try to be conscious of recognizing that there are a lot of vagina and uterus-having people who don’t identify as female, and to de-gender my discussion as much as possible.  I’m finding this hard to do in looking at this research, because it’s strongly correlated to hormones that are categorized as male and female.  It’s also taken decades for science to begin to study gender differences around issues of cardiovascular disease at all, and I have yet to see one define what how they ascribe gender to their participants.  Given all of that, I’m going to sometimes use “women” and “female” here, because it’s what the research refers to, knowing that I am generally referring here to people assigned female at birth (AFAB), who are not taking testosterone and who are experiencing a naturally occurring menopause at mid-life).  

Why does where your body stores fat matter?

  1.  The apple/pear thing is technically called Gynoid-Android fat distribution patterns
    Screenshot 2019-10-18 15.54.47
    Lizzo is a great example of a pear shaped body
    Gynoid — or pear — is, as you would discern from the name, more typically associated with women, with the belly-prominent fat storage (Android/apple) more associated with men.
  2. Gynoid fat distribution is controlled by female reproductive hormones, and android fat storage by testosterone.  
  3. Gynoid and android fat patterns aren’t just about where they show up on the body but where they show up in relation to your organs.  Android fat storage can compress and restrict blood flow to your vital organs and can be a risk factor for both insulin resistance and heart disease.

 

How does menopause affect fat storage?

As a general rule, as AFAB people reach menopause, they tend to gain weight.  A large percentage of this weight tends to shift to an “android” pattern, because hormonal changes make it harder to store fat around their hips and butt.  In other words, even if you didn’t have much of a belly before menopause, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll develop one after.  On average, people accumulate abdominal fat after menopause twice as fast as before.

Does post-menopausal waist size correlate to cardiovascular and metabolic risk?

I waded through a sea of science to try to get an answer to this, and the bottom line seems to be:  maybe.  probably.  sure.  What is true is that women tend to develop cardiovascular disease on average 7 – 10 years later than men — but it’s the highest cause of death in women over the age of 65 years.  Estrogen seems to have a regulating effect on several metabolic factors, which lessens at menopause.  So menopause is associated with a greater risk for heart disease and metabolic syndromes.  And women with diabetes are at greater risk for heart disease than men with diabetes.

But it is not entirely clear whether this risk is generally due to aging and changing hormones, or fat distribution patterns.  

Do I have to worry that my middle aged belly is going to cause heart disease or diabetes?

I am not a doctor (except of patterns of words), but from what I can tell, the size of your tummy is a bit of a red herring — except that visible changes in your metabolism are a reminder that cardiovascular risk increases as we age, and women’s profile for that risk is different than men’s. 

Historically, women don’t tend to know their own risk of heart disease, and clinicians tend to under-recognize symptoms and risks in women.  So it’s important to be aware that risk rises at menopause and pay attention to things like blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.  They’re imperfect but important indicators of changes in your body.

What about hormone replacement therapy?

HRT in post-menopausal woman does help protect against intra-abdominal fat accumulation — but there is no evidence at this point that it reduces menopausal cardiovascular risk.  So it might make you feel better in different ways, but it doesn’t change your risk. 

So what do I do?

As we preach often on this blog, weight is not the issue to focus on.  If you want to lower your risk for heart disease as you reach menopause, the biggest “bang for your buck” seems to be:

 

Until I did the reading for this post, I didn’t really know how much risk of heart disease changes at menopause.  What was news to you?

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Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and jumps around in Toronto.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fitness

Should I be worried about vaginal atrophy?

Last week I wrote a post about how the Bot Ad Overlords and my friends crowdsourced me a new anxiety: incontinence. I alluded to another worry that’s coming close on its heels: vaginal atrophy.

Or, as the New York Times recently called it, “the incredible shrinking vagina.”

What exactly is vaginal atrophy?

Essentially, as your estrogen levels drop during menopause, the “skin of the vulva and vagina become thinner with a loss of elasticity.” Labia minora can also shrink. And all of this is commonly accompanied by dryness, or, other symptoms during sex, “loss of lubrication, an uncomfortable sandpaper-like sensation, pain, difficulties achieving orgasm and even tearing of the vagina or vulva. There is also an increased risk of urinary tract infections.” Oh — and also according to the NYT — “as estrogen is crucial to maintaining the bacterial colonies of the vagina, there can also be a change in the type of bacteria, which can lead some women to notice a change in their typical smell.” This delightful array of symptoms is formally known as “genitourinary syndrome of menopause” — or GSM.

I think I speak for all of us when I say:

So what to do? What to do?

That link to the NYT piece has some basic suggestions, including obvious things like unscented soap, lube and vaginal moisturizers. But these are about managing symptoms — to try to do any prevention, you need to explore with your doctor about whether different pharmaceutical options, like vaginal estrogen creams etc., are a possibility.

This is where the feminist piece comes in for me: short of asking me “are you still having periods?” my doctor has never raised or mentioned anything about peri-menopause, my aging uterus or dwindling hormones — let alone my shrinking vagina. (I’m working hard here not to start to mentally distance myself from my discomfort here by using terminology like “my petrifying pussy” or “languishing ladygarden.” I never use those kinds of terms, but my inner voices are all like, eek must make this a joke!) It’s one of those not-talked-about things.

We were talking about this NYT piece the other day and Susan pointed out that if things are going to shrivel, by the time you become symptomatic enough for a doc to treat it as a thing, things are already shrunken, and you’re managing symptoms, not preventing anything.

So this is my little feminist rant for this: older vagina-having people are sexual beings, and it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to want to preserve your juiciness. Docs aren’t going to offer anything until it’s a problem. Topical estrogen seems to be a (relatively, of course) safe option to prevent shrinkage. Seize your own destiny on this.

What’s up next in the “Icky Things my genitals might do” series?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and ages and frets in Toronto.
fitness

Am I leaking? How do “they” KNOW?

It all started when I posted a not-so-humble brag that I had deadlifted 170lbs.

IMG_1074Well, back up. Maybe it started when I ordered the Fancy Bra for Curvy Women that facebook and other social media bots kept throwing at me. It came with a bonus pair of underwear, which somehow led me to their “leakproof panties.” Spoiler: that stash of one bra and two bikini panties arrived in a seriously overpackaged box, provoking a full wave of climate change anxiety, and the bra didn’t suitably contain my boob flesh . Also, I may still be menstruating at the age of 54, but I don’t really need to start experimenting with new period products, do I? It’s this kind of reckless impulse purchasing which also led me to purchase a cross-body bag in the middle of the night because I saw Meghan Markle carrying it on her South African tour when I couldn’t sleep. But I digress. (And it’s a great bag).

So there I was, lying in bed, body still tired from my 170lb deadlifts the night before (did I mention the deadlifts?), scrolling through FB and innocently clicking on a link to a Guardian article for today’s dose of gloom and doom. And there it was.

Peri fit. The perfect toy for middle aged ladies: a vibratory thing you put in your vagina and squeeze, to strengthen your pelvic floor, tracking your progress by how quickly you manage to race a little car around the track on the phone app. (I think you can also squeeze to lift a little butterfly too).

If this whole scenario doesn’t say Peak 2019, I don’t know what does. (Well, maybe if it came with avocado toast. I heard a guy in a coffee queue the other day talking about his avocado delivery service where you get three at a time, in different stages of ripeness, one for today, one for tomorrow, and one for the next day. But I digress again).

avocado-toastActually, now is probably a good time to show you the avocado toast I ate as a snack before I deadlifted 170lbs.  Super yummy.  I love my neighbourhood.

Okay, so leaking.  So after I got the ad for the app for leaking middle aged ladies, I posted something on FB about being Indignant that The Algorithms didn’t recognize my superlative fitness, instead categorizing me as a sagging bladdered aging woman.

And oh, the response!

Turns out, the 170lb deadlift may have TRIGGERED the ad.  Many people showed up to let me know that heavy lifting can *cause* incontinence in women.   (And another friend, a pilates and alexandra technique teacher, messaged me to let me know my form was off in the lift and I was tucking my tailbone too much.  But again, I digress).

Women who lift showed up to share their links and stories about peeing during workouts, and their workarounds.  (I didn’t actually ask for that, but okay!)  Sam noted that she had written about this a few years ago

So okay.  Was that imperfectly formed but still impressive 170lb dead lift a bad thing to do for my bladder?

Well, it depends.  Apparently, lifting weights CAN strengthen pelvic floor muscles.  And it looks a lot more impressive to post on instagram than chasing a butterfly around a screen with my vagina.  

But — it can also strain them. (The long list of things to avoid there is, like, everything I do, three times a week). 

The bottom line seems to be — yes, stress incontinence and pelvic floor prolapse (urrg) can indeed be caused by weightlifting (for women AND men).  

Pelvic floor strengthening exercises — either good old fashioned accessory-free kegels, or tech-assisted routines like the racecar app thingy and these cute little vaginal weights — are all good things to add to your roster.

 

So I literally had no idea about any of this when I picked up that 170lbs.  I guess I should be grateful to the AI ad trolls and my super smart friends for making that link for me.  Thanks Kindly Bot Overlords!  (And thank god I have those leak-holding underwear now!)

So here is my friendly PSA to the world, from one of those links:  If you leak urine while exercising, consult your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Leaking urine is common, with one in three women experiencing UI at some point in her life, but it’s not normal.

Meanwhile, I wrote to the maker of the butterfly thingy and asked for a trial version to test it.  For you all.  The things I do for this blog.  

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on  vaginal atrophy!

 

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who squeezes and lifts in Toronto. Here is the 170lb deadlift. Critiques of form are welcome.

fitness

Making friends with your inner critics, part 2

I wrote a post last week about “making friends with your saboteurs” — those inner negative voices that show up to trip us up when we’re trying something new, or hard, or laden with emotion for us. It prompted a lot of discussion in all the spheres — comments here and on facebook, an in personal texts with my friends — so I wanted to circle back on one of the themes: sometimes what the voices are trying to “protect” us from is pretty hard to figure out.

do your inner critics sound like a monkey whispering behind your back?

A few of the comments about this included this one, from Bettina: “When it comes to fitness, my own internal gremlins like to tell me “You’ve been doing this [insert bouldering, swimming, running as appropriate] for so long now and you still suck/can’t do this/are ridiculously slow”, or “you’ll never be able to do this”. With the latter, I recognise it “protects” me from trying and failing, but what the former is trying to keep me “safe” from, I don’t know.”

And Sam: “I like the idea of thinking of my inner critics as protective but I’m not sure that’s really what they are up to! Where did those voices come from? Where did they get their peculiar script? I’m not sure we just disagree about what’s best for me!”

And from Emily: “I have similar gremlins (or hedgehogs!) as the ones you describe. While I’m not sure what they’re trying to “protect” me from, sometimes I’m able to channel my frustrations with not being “good” enough into motivation to work on specific skills that I want to be better at. I also try to remind myself that my standards for myself have gotten higher as I’ve continued to participate in various sports and activities – beginner-me would be impressed at some of the things that current-me thinks I suck at.”

And — in a slightly different vein (no pun intended!), from clubschadenfreude: well, evidently they were trying to protect me from a “primary exertional headache” that I got on my second class. Holy cats, I’ve never had such pain. Went to see the doctor about it and he gave me percocet and scheduled a CAT scan.

I loved the comments, and the inherent puzzlement: how could this negative self-talk actually be something valuable? I had a conversation about this with my sister, who’s been a life/work coach for more than a decade. We agreed that there’s an inherent, sometimes confusing, paradox in that these things often show up when we’re trying to do something that we want to do — and many times, on some level, that we yearn to do. And that it’s rarely about this particular moment in time (although maybe, in clubschadenfreude’s case, her body COULD hear that something was off and she needed to rest). Your saboteurs really don’t care if you do grab this boulder today or go for this run — they are really commenting on the kind of person you are being when you do this thing.

A lot of the time, when we look at the narratives over our entire lives, we can map our saboteurs to specific incidents in our earlier lives, or the values — spoken and unspoken — of our cultures or families of origin. Sometimes, it’s really easy to see and map — I know that sometimes, when I’m trying to do something in the gym that I can’t seem to grasp (which happens at least once a week), I have a running commentary about my clumsiness, that I’m going to hurt myself, that I’m ungraceful. And I *know* that this is a story I put together over my life because of being told I wasn’t flexible or graceful at gymnastics and skating as a child, and all of those moments where my grandmother literally gave me lessons in how to sit like a lady, and my grandfather continually criticized the way my feet hit the ground — again, unladylike, ungraceful, too loud. So what is that saboteur of clumsiness trying to protect me from? Clearly, looking inappropriate, being foolish. And at another level — disapproval from people I care about — which of course means, being unlovable.

(The inverse also works remarkably strongly — I once found myself on a trip to the Arctic having to demonstrate that I could shoot a rifle — which I’d never done. As I picked up the ancient weapon leftover from WWII, family lore about how my grandfather was an excellent marksman somehow flicked at the edge of my consciousness, and I had this sensation of “the Desmarais family is good at shooting” — and then, I hammered that thing with confidence. And hit the target).

Sometimes the explanatory narratives aren’t so obvious, and sometimes they are terribly painful to actually unearth and look at. I had a colleague some time ago who had a steady stream of “reasons” why she could only work out by running slowly around her neighbourhood in the dark, wearing clothes that fully covered her body — she said she couldn’t go to any kind of exercise class because she was “always the worst person in the class,” couldn’t ride a bike because “my head is too big — they don’t make helmets in my size.” Her story clearly had an incredible flowering of shame — and her saboteurs were protecting her from scrutiny, from being shamed. Even as they kept her isolated, lonely and frustrated.

Using Bettina’s comment as an example, I can’t say what her saboteurs that are telling her she sucks or is slow are trying to do for her — it’s a deeply personal thing. But if I were having that set of voices, I would probably find some meaning in an inner tension I have about the fact that most of my adult life — since I was 30 — I’ve been a non-smoker, moderate drinker, more or less healthy eater and incredibly active. But before that, I was one of those artsy adolescents that scorned athletics as “unserious” (I ostentatiously read Sartre in the bleachers when forced to go to pep rallies), and then in my 20s, my health went off the rails. When I turned 30, I quit smoking, became a runner, went down 5 sizes and — in the eyes of much of the world — was a “completely different (much more desirable!) person.” And just as Sam has posted about the ambivalence of the weight loss she’s doing to prep for her knee surgery, I have a lot of inner conflict about loving the particular body and strength I’ve built over 24 years. Yes, it feels like me — but sometimes, relaxing into it, trusting it too much — that feels like I’m rejecting and not loving the younger part of me. I think my mean inner voice is somehow reminding me that the earlier version of me is still part of me, and was just as worthy of love.

Figuring out the origins of our stories can be helpful — and, from a coaching perspective, the origin doesn’t matter as much as understanding the role it’s playing now, and how that is limiting the fulfillment we really yearn for. Last week, I talked about making friends with my saboteurs, learning to appreciate them. My sister suggested going even deeper and really trying to figure out the “biography” or character of the saboteur — including figuring out its values and its fears — and how it hijacks your values.

I think it’s a great approach. I imagine the saboteur that tells me how slow and clumsy I am as having my grandmother’s voice — even though she never directly told me I was either of those things. But if I create a biography of that creature as my well-meaning grandmother, I can hear that its values are about fitting in, and not calling attention to yourself. Those values fit my grandmother — she grew up a dirt poor francophone in a huge family, and in three decades, class traveled to a life of company jets and the fanciest restaurants of the auto sector in the Mad Men era. She never spoke French to me except when she was braiding my hair and telling me “il faut souffrir d’etre belle” (to be beautiful you must suffer). The values of fitting in, following the “rules” of the Anglo middle class world — they served her. And I’m sure her secret fear was being found out as not belonging. She was trying to protect me from that — just as the voices of my clumsiness are trying to protect me from being denounced as being in the wrong place.

But those aren’t “my” values — and they don’t help me. But I can make friends with that voice, and let it remind me that not only do I want to belong in the gym, I do.

Thanks, saboteur. (And thanks to my sister, for her unfailing support).

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, lifts weights and ponders imaginary voices in Toronto.

fitness

Silencing your inner critics: making friends with your saboteurs

(Content warning for a small amount of negative self-talk about weight and food).

“I just tried to not let myself go into my head, not listen to those voices that would throw me off.” (A friend talking about staying grounded while doing a performance that wasn’t landing).

And yet, even when I would be finishing 3 hours of high intensity spinning, with energy still left to burn, there was still a part of me that figured that many of the “natural athletes” in the room secretly knew I didn’t belong.” (Nicole, writing about imposter syndrome in a post for this blog a couple of weeks ago).

We all know those inner voices. Sometimes they replay an actual experience from some point in our life — one of mine is a flashback to a guy snottily commenting on how they should “only let fit people on this hike” when I had a hard time climbing up a boulder on a nature walk at a provincial park. Sometimes they’re an amalgam of cultural voices — “sure you can lift 150lbs but you still look like a sausage in that dress, you’re not really fit.” And sometimes they’re a whole carnival we’ve created and perfected that replays until it’s almost an automatic loop.

I’m currently doing a formal certification program for coaching (life and work coaching, not sports), and learning to work with this inner chorus is a big part of our process. In my program, this set of voices is called our “saboteur” — the negative self talk that can show up when you’re trying to change something that matters to you — but that might challenge the “safety” of the status quo. I prefer to use the term one of my friends coined — the “committee of jerks in my head.”

I like labeling these voices jerks, because that’s what they are. They are like those muppet guys in the balcony who sit there criticizing and complaining about everything — the ones who aren’t exposing themselves or putting themselves at risk, just sitting on the sidelines throwing things.

When I’m working with clients and I hear statements like “I’m not as good at this as other people” or “I’m not the kind of person who could be that brave,” I hear a mental “click” that tells me there might be a saboteur at work. Most of the time, saboteurs are linked to pretty deep stuff — our deepest fears about our capability, lovability, fear of being alone. And they help us stay in the places where we might feel unhappy, but we feel safe because it’s familiar.

Statler and Waldorf, the old man muppets, laughing on a continual loop.

Learning to befriend our inner critics is deep stuff. In my coaching and consulting I do a lot of exploring and expanding different perspectives, encouraging people to actually talk back. One way that works for me personally is to be playful with it. Trying to hear your inner self-talk as coming out of the voice of the critical muppets is one way — you can then hold it at arm’s length, see it as something that doesn’t have to be a fixed, intimate part of you. See it as the meme it is — something glib that shows up that you don’t have to give real credibility.

Another thing I personally do is to picture my inner critic — the one who’s always trying to trip me up — is to picture it as a baby hedgehog that’s trying to get under my feet. I made a photo of a baby hedgehog my phone wallpaper for a while — reminding myself that I didn’t have to keep internalizing the fear that was constantly showing up for me, but I could see it as some external being I could have more control over. It’s actually a cuddly little thing trying to protect me — but I can hold it in my hand, be grateful that I’m being reminded that being where I am is “safe,” but I want something different. It actually works.

Cute baby hedgehog I chose to embody some of my deepest fears

I was thinking about saboteurs in the gym the other day, thinking about all of the voices over my life that have made me feel like I didn’t belong there — I’m not a natural athlete, I’m a klutz, I’m fat, I’m slow, I eat too much junk, I can’t translate verbal instructions into physical action, nobody wants me here, nobody likes me.. Fill in your own self-talk here. And then imagine it as a curmudgeonly muppet or a baby hedgehog. And see if that changes anything.

What do you do to silence your inner critics?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and talks to muppets in Toronto.

fitness

Workout #250 for 2019

Sam, Catherine, Susan, Tracy and I are all participating in facebook groups to track our workouts for the year, with the goal of hitting 219 in 2019. This is my third year doing it, and I’ve written about it many times — exploring what “counts” as well as the impact of counting and accountability.

Last Tuesday, I hit #250 for 2019 (a noontime #getstrong class, benchpress day) — and it made me pause and reflect on how profound the impact of participating in this group has been for me. I used to be a person who worked out a lot, but I think my default setting was day-without-a-workout and then I sprinkled in runs, spinning and yoga classes and trips to the gym, probably working out three times most weeks, if I’m honest. Now, I’m someone who works out pretty much every day, unless something significant happens to stop me. And that happened in less than two years.

Over those two and a half years, I’ve really tried to define what “counts” for me. It’s a very imprecise science, but here’s where I’ve landed: any episode of sustained physical activity that isn’t what I would normally do in my day. Riding my bike 5km to a meeting doesn’t typically count, because I would do it regardless — but riding my bike in the rain or cold, or to a meeting that’s unusually far away, does. (If I have a medium long commute, I’ll add some yoga or planks or something to make it feel like a set of activities). For the most part, I count one episode of activity as one “unit,” whether it’s 20 minutes of low key yoga or an 8 hour, 150 km bike ride. I believe it all evens out. (I also have an arcane system of half points, usually applied to something like a short self-guided yoga session or after dinner walk that I didn’t really feel like doing but made myself do. I give myself points for getting off my butt when I didn’t want to even if the actual output wasn’t particularly intense).

I know — it’s wacky — but it works for me. And even though I’ve been a person who works out regularly for 24 years, it has transformed my relationship with moving my body.

My first year doing the group — 217 in 2017 — I worked hard to get to 217, finally hitting it on Christmas day, then doing a few “bonus” workouts for the year. I felt pretty pleased with myself. Last year, after working out every day in July, I realized I could aim for 300 — and ended up at 302. This year, I’m well poised to surpass 300 — although I don’t really have a refined goal — maybe 325? (350 seems punitive and like it would lead to me not having enough rest).

Across the past year or so, there are literally only a handful of days where I just shrugged and didn’t work out at all because I “didn’t feel like it” — the days I’ve “missed” I’ve been sick, or traveling, or literally working 14 hours. There are almost no days where I haven’t grabbed at least a pre-bed 30 minutes for a quick 20 minute run or Yoga with Adriene. Now I have a little inner question mark of “what will you do today?” — not “what days this week might you be able to work out?”

Theory in action: this Thursday, I facilitated a huge, all day, complicated meeting in Ottawa. I had to be onsite at 7, then had to fly home later that night. The day before, I squished a 5 k run in between arriving and diving into prep, then the day of the meeting, at lunch, I put on my training shoes and marched briskly around a two bridge loop on the Ottawa river. It was a gorgeous day, with the parliament buildings right behind me (looking reassuringly solid despite the messy chaos of the news of the day — although I see that the wind made a haystack of my hair, lol). In the past, I might have managed the run, but never both the run and the 7 km walk.

I don’t take selfies of every workout, but looking at the ones I do have over the year, it’s a pretty amazing reel of me moving my body and moving through my life: running around my neighbourhood, and in Australia, Uganda, Lithuania and the south of France… yoga poses where I’m going deep into strength and stillness… hiking in Iceland with my niece, near Algonquin park, and in Newfoundland… stand up paddle boarding with my neighbour… riding my bike in Lithuania, Newfoundland and in the last leg ever of the Triadventure, which has been part of my life for so long… learning to lift heavy weights for the first time in my life in the feminist gym down the block that feels like such a powerful gift. The images are a kind of journal, and they’re a ribbon of affirmation: I am strong. I can move through my life with grace and power. I can make choices every day that feed my health, my mind and my soul.

What we actually do in our “219 in 2019” accountability group is simple: we list what workout we did and what number it is. There’s a bit of discussion and encouragement of each other, but mostly it’s just a record. But the impact of it on my life has been profound.

What kinds of simple habits have transformed your relationship with movement?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and moves her body in Toronto. She writes for this blog once a week.