covid19 · diets · eating · fitness

Has Pandemic Weight Gain Helped You Notice Your Own Fat-Phobia?

Feature photo credit: GR Stocks via Unsplash

CW:  Talk of weight gain, negative body image, and the potential for intentional weight loss

I’ve put on some additional body fat this year.  I’m not totally ok with it.  I mean, I’m OK in the sense that my world isn’t coming to an end, but I was more comfortable in my body when it was smaller.  And the habits I had that kept me at that smaller size were absolutely healthy, sustainable habits for me.  Until they weren’t for a while.

I’m going to say some things that I know aren’t in alignment with everyone in this community, starting with the fact that I’m ok if you have decided you’re more comfortable in a smaller body. I don’t think that feeling is always problematic.  However, I do think we need to examine the reasons why we are more comfortable and make sure we’re being honest about what we have control over and that our reasons for wanting to be smaller that are based upon our own values, not someone else’s.  

After all, what if you do some soul-searching and realize you have a belief that being a bigger size makes you less successful?  What if you feel less attractive or less worthy in a bigger body? Most likely, these are not beliefs that stem from your own values but rather a reflection of internalized fat-phobia.  So, when you notice this bias, approach it with curiosity, and then decide how you want to live your life and what kind of world you want to live in.  If it’s important to you to address this internalized fat-phobia, then there are things you can do to counteract it.  One of them isn’t being mean to yourself for realizing you have work to do.  I think unlearning fat-phobia and misogyny are lifelong processes, just as unlearning and dismantling our complicity with White supremacy will require a lifetime of attention and learning.  I’m ok with that.  These are complicated challenges, and we are co-creating new societies and cultures.  That work will take time, and it is appropriate that it does.

So, I’m not gonna get down on you, or myself, for noticing some shame about the changes in our bodies.  I’m also not going to say that the only solution is learning to accept our bodies larger.  We can choose that solution.  It’s on the table to do absolutely nothing to intentionally change size and to instead focus on feelings.  In fact, if you or I decide we aren’t ok with this larger size, we will still need to deal with these feelings in order to find a healthy, balanced approach to changing things.  The lifestyle and habit changes that come from a place of shame or self-judgement are not going to be changes anyone would want to sustain.  Who wants to live in perpetual self-punishment?

Doing the work of learning to accept ourselves without judgement, even when we’re currently uncomfortable in our bodies, will likely take some time and reeducation.  We must notice our feelings.  Question the beliefs that they stem from.  Learn to reframe our thoughts.  It will take time and patience for this process.

I am bigger that I was a year ago and for a long time, it was really uncomfortable for me–physically and psychologically uncomfortable. I found myself feeling like I’d failed, like I was less valid. 

However, I’ve been working on building up my healthy habits again and finding new mindsets that help me see the work I’m doing, not just a measurement against some false finish line. One of the biggest lies of diet culture is that the only changes that matter are big changes and the only changes in our bodies that matter are dramatic transformations. I’ve been working on noticing my internalized fat-phobia–how often I’m so much harder on myself than I would be to anyone else, expecting myself to make big, dramatic changes, and I’m working on counteracting this narrative in my head. As a result, I’m feeling pretty good right now.  I’m a tetch smaller than I was a few months ago, but that doesn’t compare to how it feels to being able to move again without pain in my joints.  It doesn’t compare to how it feels to be eating in ways that gives me more consistent energy–not bouncing between loaded down and overfed, and hungry and undernourished.  I’ve made this progress because I’ve given myself credit for the work along the way, even when it seemed small or “insignificant.”

For me, this work is about how I feel in my body every day and having the freedom to pursue the life that I want to live in this world. Feeling good IN my body is helping me feel better ABOUT my body.  It’s helping me counteract my internalized fat-phobia, showing me the strengths of my body rather than focusing on perceived weaknesses.

It’s ok to notice that you’ve internalized fat-phobia.  In fact, the only way we can address it is by acknowledging it.  Shaming yourself, or someone else, for participating in the dominant culture isn’t going to lead to lasting, healthy solutions.  Do the work to learn to accept yourself, your body, and your thinking as you are right now, as a work in progress, and then find solutions that work for you from that place of love.  

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found questioning her beliefs, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

diversity · fitness · inclusiveness · strength training

The New Gym Rules

Feature photo credit: Alora Griffiths via Unsplash

As gyms around the world are slowly reopening this year, I welcome them to take this opportunity to restart with some new ground rules and expectations for their patrons in order to make it a more welcoming space.  As they existed pre-COVID, most gym cultures that I experienced were sometimes fine and sometimes extraordinarily problematic. They were deeply gendered spaces with unspoken rules about who belonged where. Uncomfortable exchanges as men stared or leered at me, ignored me and took my equipment, or talked down at me to “explain” something or “help,” were common. I’ve heard stories of men recording women while they lift. Of people with physical disabilities and older people being ignored or belittled. These experiences keep people from returning for the next workout.

So, I ask gym-owners take an active role in creating new, more positive and inclusive environments at their gyms. Post these expectations and then draw a hard line–folks who fail to comply will not be welcome to remain lifting there.  Commit to building a sustainable community for everyone!

  1. Do not give advice or feedback unless requested
  2. Do not stare at or watch others lift for extended periods of time. 
  3. Absolutely no sexualized comments about other people’s bodies or their lifts
  4. Pay attention to who is using the equipment.  Make sure it is actually available before you take it/use it.  Equipment unavailable?  Ask to work in.
  5. Recording other people’s lifts will immediately get you removed.
  6. Racist, homophobic, sexist, ablist or other disparaging comments about groups of people will not be tolerated. 

Post these expectations right alongside the usual “wipe down the equipment” and “rerack your weights.”  Then, follow through.  If a patron tells you they were stared at, given unsolicited advice, or overheard a disparaging comment, take it seriously and address the person who made the unwelcome behavior.  Make it clear that you won’t tolerate behaviors that alienate members of the community.  

I get it that sometimes it’s about education and not willful harm to others.  It’s on you as the gym owner or employee to make clear boundaries and enforce them.  You’re going to need to use your best judgement.  There’s going to be grey areas.  Stating your rules up front will make these ambiguous situations better–everyone will be on the same page about what you expect.  

The rules will probably have to evolve as you learn more about what is problematic and how to reinforce norms that help everyone feel welcome.  That’s ok.  Update your poster every once in a while, keep learning, and show your members that you have their back.  Consistent enforcement of behavior norms will do more for the health of your business than ignoring problematic behaviors, which leave so many of our communities alienated from the gym.

I’m a queer, White woman with some physical limitations looking for a comfortable and accepting place to lift.  I’m less familiar with what other marginalized populations need in order to feel welcome in a space.  If I left something important out, please include it in the comments below!  

I look forward to lifting with all of you again!

Photo description: An adjustable incline bench and a rack of dumbbells. Photo credit: Brett Jordan via Unsplash

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher.  She can be found wondering if her neighborhood gym has survived being closed for over a year, picking up heavy things and putting them down again (in her garage for now) in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

diets · food

Want a Side of Self-Loathing with That?

Feature photo credit: Girl with Red Hat via Unsplash.

Any good food can be abused into the shame spiral of diet culture.  I have no problem with protein shakes, egg white omelettes, or cabbage soup.  Well, maybe I have a problem with cabbage soup.  Although borscht is good.  Anyway, B365 teaches it’s not the things we’re eating that makes something a diet but the mindset we approach it with, so I thought I’d play a game.  I have some old cookbooks, many of which are steeped in diet culture, and let’s see if we can take that diet food and make it a balanced, satisfying meal, yes?

Ok.

Book:  Food, by Susan Powter, (c) 1995

Weird diet advice:  Thicken soups with dried mashed potato flakes

Photo description: Recipe for broccoli soup, which includes 1 onion, 14 cloves of garlic, oil, water, 2 potatoes, 2 lbs of broccoli, some dill, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Recipe:  Broccoli Soup, p 373

I’m starting easy on myself.  There are actually recipes in this cookbook that I still use, decades after I stopped worrying about keeping my dietary fat below 15%.  But this soup seems, well, basically like sauteed broccoli in soup form.  Broccoli, garlic, some spices, and a couple potatoes.

So, to make this a balanced, satisfying meal I would add some chicken or tofu.  Maybe some cheddar cheese, too?  Adds some satisfying fat and some umami flavor.  Oh, speaking of umami, some mushrooms with the onions and garlic would be good and add a nice chew!

Book:  The Good Goodies, Stan and Floss Dworkin, (c) 1974

Weird diet advice:  Wax your cookie sheets and cake pans instead of greasing them to avoid added fat

Photo description: Liver and Onion Crisps recipe, in which they assure us that it isn’t a joke and it won’t taste like liver. Ingredients are 1 cup cooked brown rice, 1 oz. of fresh liver, and 2 tsp dried onion.

Recipe:  Liver and Onion Crisps (p75)

Ok, I’ve got my work cut out for me on this one.  I don’t even eat liver!  But, let’s say a person does and they’ve decided to eat it in rice crackers.  Seems like we could make it a more balanced meal with a hefty side of fruits and vegetables to make it more filling.  And maybe some cheese?  Or maybe that’s just so I can hide the taste and texture of the crackers.

Book:  Think Yourself Thin, Thyra Samter Winslow, (c) 1951

Weird diet advice:  Substitute mineral oil for vegetable oil when sauteeing. 

Photo description: Recipe for Fish Mold, including 2 cans of tuna or salmon, 1 cup cottage cheese, water, mayonnaise, lemon juice, galatine (sic), Worcestershire Sauce, salt substitute and onion juice, whatever that is.

Recipe:  Fish Mold

Yuck.  What was it about the middle of last century and savory gelatin things?!  Well, it’s high protein, so that’s nice.  Now it needs some fruits and veggies and some starchy carbs.  Maybe a big green salad?  And a pile of rice.  I learned living abroad that I could eat just about anything if I heaped enough rice on top of it before I chewed.

And there you go!  Three satisfying, balanced meals made from diet offerings.  Good foods and bad foods are about what you enjoy and what helps you live your best life, not mineral oil and gelatin.  

Do you have a favorite food that others might see as “diet” food, but you eat just because you enjoy it?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  Unless it’s fish mold.  In which case, no.  Just no.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher.  She can be found perusing old cookbooks, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

eating · food · running

Running Fuel:  Avoiding a sour stomach and what to eat after a run

Feature photo credit: Roman Koester, via Unsplash.

Does running risk upsetting your stomach?  Do you have to treat it tenderly when you get back home to ensure you’re comfortable the rest of the day?  How do you balance your nutritional needs with that overwhelming desire to live off of starchy carbs?

Saturday, I wrote about some of the meals and foods I can enjoy for breakfast that help me feel better during my runs.  Now, I want to address the post-run meal.  I come back from my runs ready to enjoy something, but not ready to eat.  I also want to reset my gut so I can enjoy more fibrous vegetables and satisfying meals with more protein and fats than I have usually put into that day’s breakfast.  Here are the “rules” that seem to work best for me post-run to help me avoid an upset stomach and get me back into my regular eating routines.

Rule one:  Have a recovery beverage asap.  I read somewhere that dehydration can add to that sour stomach feeling, and maybe it’s a factor for me.  So, I make sure to have some water with a little juice or other sugar in it right away.  I might not be ready to eat immediately, but I find having something cold and refreshing immediately following my run really helps me to get back to feeling normal faster. I’ve put two of my favorite ways to rehydrate below.

Rule two:  Keep food easy to digest for the next few hours at least.  Cooked veggies over raw, moderate fat, some low-fat meat is fine for a protein boost. 

Rule three:  Eat when I’m hungry just until satisfied, not until full.  After a run is not a time to stuff myself, which honestly isn’t a habit of mine in any case, but I have been known to keep eating when something is really delicious.  That overfull feeling doesn’t mix well with my post-running stomach.  It’s also not a time for a rich dessert.

If I follow these guidelines, I feel mostly normal and back to my usual eating options by the time for my afternoon snack rolls around.  I keep hoping that someday I won’t need to negotiate so much with my gut before and after a run, but after years of running, I’m beginning to think that this is just how my body works.  I enjoy running enough to keep doing it, at least one day a week anyway.  But if I couldn’t find a way to work with my eating challenges, I’m not sure that would be true.  I’m happy to have found solutions that allow me to integrate running into my weekends and still feel like I’m taking care of myself nutritionally as well.

Homemade Orange Sports Drink

This is my go-to beverage after a run.  I mix it up and either keep it in the fridge ready to enjoy when I return, or if I’m running outside of my neighborhood, keep it in the car to enjoy as soon as I get back to it.

Mix together orange juice concentrate with twice the cold water recommended.

Add a dash of salt.

If you’re a meathead like me, you can put your daily creatine powder in this as well, to check off that box for the day.

Stir or shake together until fully combined.

Ginger-Apple Frothy Recovery Drink

Ginger has natural happy-tummy abilities, reducing nausea and upset stomachs.  This is a great option for days when you’re really struggling to set your stomach right.

In a blender, combine until the texture of a slushie:

Candied ginger

Apple juice (or concentrate plus water)

Ice

Maybe half a frozen banana

Pureed Vegetable Soup

Whenever I get around to lunch, I want to get back to my full serving of vegetables, since I’ve avoided them before my run.  This soup really works for me.

In a large stock pot, add 1 tablespoon of oil and 4 cups chopped carrots, onions, and celery. Frozen is fine.  Don’t bother to chop anything really finely, because you’re going to blend it all up later.

Add another 4-6 cups chopped other vegetables of your choice such as more carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, zucchini, spinach, etc.  I also like to add a red garnet yam for the sweetness.  Again, you can “cheat” and just throw in some frozen veggies, if you want to save time.

Flavor with 4-6 cloves of crushed garlic and 1-2 tbsp fresh ginger root.  If you want curried soup, also add 2 tbsp curry powder, 1 tbsp each cumin and powdered coriander, and some hot pepper (to taste).

Cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until everything is very soft.  This can take an hour or so, but you don’t have to pay attention to it most of that time.  It can burn as it gets close to being done, so check on it every 5-10 minutes or so near the end and give it a good stir.

Add 8 cups of (preferably homemade) vegetable or chicken stock.

Use a stick blender to blend it all together until completely smooth.  Add salt to taste and adjust seasonings.  Allow to simmer a bit to combine flavors.

I freeze this in 1-2 cup servings and pull out one each weekend.  It makes 10-15 servings, depending on how much you eat at a time.  When it’s time for lunch, I add some shredded chicken and a dollop of Greek yogurt on top. I make it a balanced meal with some toast or a muffin on the side.

Do you have dietary “rules” you follow to help you feel good after a run?  Have a favorite post-run food?  I’d love to hear them.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher.  She can be found slowly cooking vegetables on the stove, picking up heavy things, and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Photo description: Not my soup, but someone’s lovely bright yellow-orange pureed vegetable soup with fresh herbs and pumpkin seeds garnishing the top. Photo credit: Monika Grabkowska, via Unsplash.
eating · food · running

Running Fuel: What do you eat beforehand to avoid a sour stomach?

Feature photo credit: Marcos Paulo Prado, via Unsplash.

What do you eat before a run?  Does what you eat impact how you perform?  

I struggle with a sensitive stomach on running days.  If I eat the wrong things beforehand, I get a sour stomach during and/or after my runs, which can send me rushing into the bathroom repeatedly and disrupt my appetite for the rest of the day.

Based upon my own experimentation, I have found a few rules for a happy gut and a good run.  Today, I want to share what I have found works for me before a run.  I’ll post later on what I do afterwards.

My eating “rules” for the meal before my run:

Rule 1: Eat something.  I run in the morning after breakfast.  I tried running on just coffee, and my energy tanked rapidly and the run just plain felt harder.

Rule 2: Don’t eat too much fiber.  One of my B365 habits is to aim for 2 cups of fruits and fibrous vegetables at each meal, but I make an exception for breakfast before my run.  Fruit seems to agree with me more than vegetables, but even then I need to be careful.  One apple or a banana is totally fine.  A cup of berries might cross the line into unhappy tummy land.

Rule 3: Focus on easily-digested starchy carbohydrates like hot cereals, bread, or yams.  

Rule 4: Avoid too much fat.  Fat slows down our digestion, and I don’t want too much food hanging out in my digestive track during a run.  So, I aim for enough to keep me satisfied and not hungry on the run, but not so much that I feel full or heavy.  

Rule 5: Get enough easily digested protein to feel satisfied. My preferred sources at breakfast are eggs, usually mixed with egg whites, and/or plain Greek yogurt.   

I let my gut tell me when it’s time to head out.  Some thirty to sixty minutes after breakfast, I need to use the bathroom.  When that business is done, I can safely head out to do the work.

Some menus/recipes that have worked well for me:

Oatmeal with apple (I’ve shared several of my recipes here), Scrambled egg/egg white, Greek yogurt, Coffee

Roasted sweet potato (with skin), Parmesan cheese, Scrambled eggs/egg whites, Coffee

All-in-One-Bowl Oat Bran and Wheat Porridge 

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together 1 whole egg plus 6 Tbs. egg whites (2 large whites), or two large eggs
  2. In a microwave-safe glass measuring cup, bring to a boil (2 min. in my microwave): ½ cup soy milk (or dairy, if you prefer) plus ¾ cup water
  3. Slowly pour the hot liquid into the egg mixture, whisking the entire time.  This tempers the egg and keeps it from becoming scrambled eggs.
  4. Turn on the heat to medium under the egg mixture.  When it returns to a near boil, lower the heat and whisk in, 2 Tbs. Cream of Wheat or other wheat farina product, and 3 Tbs. oat bran.  
  5. Cook at a slow simmer stirring frequently until thick, about 4 minutes.
  6. Stir in cinnamon, 1-2 Tbs. raisins, 1 Tbs. of peanut butter, and 1 cup other fruit as desired (chopped apple, banana, peaches, etc.). Heat through.
  7. To serve, pour it all into a large bowl, plop on top ½ cup or so of plain Greek yogurt and sprinkle with a little brown sugar.

Banana Nut Pancakes

I make my own “pancake mix,” which is really just all the dry ingredients from a favorite pancake recipe, mixed together in bulk and stored in a container in my cupboard.  My absolute favorite of the moment is from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book (multigrain with buttermilk), but I have also used the Joy of Cooking Basic Pancakes recipe many times (subbing in some whole wheat flour).  

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together: 1 mashed banana, 1 whole egg, 1 Tbs peanut butter or 2 Tbs chopped nuts, ½ tsp vanilla, a shake or two of cinnamon, and enough liquid (water or milk) for one serving of pancakes (¼-⅓ cup for the recipes I use).
  2. Stir in the dry ingredient pancake mix for one serving (½ cup-ish on my recipes).  Adjust the texture as needed.
  3. Cook on a hot griddle with a tetch of butter melted on it.
  4. Serve with Greek yogurt, a little real maple syrup, and a couple eggs/scrambled egg whites.

These have been my go-tos for breakfast before my runs.  What are you eating?  If you struggle with tummy issues on your runs, what keeps you satisfied but doesn’t upset your stomach?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found searching up new pancake recipes, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Photo description: A stack of pancakes and maple syrup on a fun glazed plate (with fruit designs?), a knife and fork. Photo credit: dazedream Via Unsplash
habits

A Peek Inside the Balance 365 Facebook Group

Feature photo credit: Jiang Xulei via Unsplash

It’s been 4 months since I joined Balance 365 (B365), and I am finding the private Facebook group to be a valuable resource.  When I started, I was looking for community but skeptical that it would be much of a learning environment for me.  After all, my background is in science and I’ve nerdy about fitness and nutrition a long time, and I’m a health and science teacher by profession.  I’m also a regular at my therapist’s office, so I’m no stranger to self-reflection.  And yet, there’s something wonderful about the shared values and goals of the women in B365.  It is a rare place where women celebrate each other without judgement or implicit competition.  And I’m learning about myself and my habits, too.

The group affirms each woman finding their own path and supports body autonomy–the solutions for you may not be the solutions for me.  What feels good and healthy for one person may not for another.  These values are reinforced with little sayings and mantras–”keep you eyes on your own plate,” (focus on your own choices, not on other people’s), “take the cherry with the pit,” (find what you can learn from a bad decision and move on), and “be a Grown Ass Woman (GAW),” (mother yourself with healthy boundaries and with compassion).

Every day, one of the coaches posts a recurring post for that day of the week.  Women post in the comments and sometimes you get a little love, or women comment and commiserate, or maybe a coach asks you questions and prods you to think about something in a new way. (Getting the women to advise each other is a great teacher trick, by the way. Every teacher knows that you learn the most when you have to teach others.) In addition to these daily, official posts, members can post their own questions and experiences.  They share what’s working for them, ask for help if they’re feeling stuck, and celebrate NSV (Non-scale Victories).

I’ve posted a handful of times.  I like to share the occasional recipe.  I often participate in the daily recurring posts.  A few weeks ago I got outside my comfort zone and posted a video of myself doing squats.  I wanted to experience the discomfort of being seen and face my chronic expectation that I am being judged and found less-than-worthy.  I have a deep well of perfectionism, and I know that to really find a healthy balance in my habits, I need to reduce the power of being motivated by my fear of how others might perceive me.  It’s been really powerful to just get used to knowing folks have seen me doing those lifts, knowing that they were flawed (my right hip slides around and my form can get wobbly).  And as a result of the conversations in the thread that followed, I’ve come to be ok with the fact that I’m working on all of it.

In this environment, which habits you are working on, what goals you set, and to what degree you are focused on the work is entirely up to you.  Another B365 mantra, “good, better, best” encourages folks to find the solutions that work best for them in the moment, not to just seek out whatever seems optimal on paper.  At first, this do-it-at-your-own-pace aspect of B365 can seem daunting.  There are always some posts from newer members asking where they should start and how they should decide what to do next.  However, I think a real benefit of this structure is that it really forces participants to figure out what THEY believe they can follow through on successfully, and holds them accountable TO THEMSELVES. None of us are watching them to see if they’re keeping in step with some arbitrary timeline.  

For folks who benefit from more structure and guidance, I assume that joining group coaching helps with that.  However, even when they’re enrolled in coaching, you see women post about goal-setting questions and to what degree they want to actively participate in coaching calls.  At the end of the day, it’s their job to figure out for themselves what they need and what they are willing to commit to.

The only habit changes that will work for someone and last for the long term are the changes that are rooted in the realities of each person’s life, their values and beliefs, and that reaffirm what they want for themselves in the present and in the future.  That is the work that women are doing in the B365 Facebook group.  Figuring out what fits, why it matters to them, and what they can do consistently.  It’s pretty cool to watch and be a part of.  I’m happy that I joined.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found sharing her favorite protein-filled snack foods, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Photo description: A fisherman in Myanmar balancing on the edge of his boat with a net upraised in one hand and pole in the other. I wanted an image of “balance,” and I thought this one was cool, even if it’s a bit off topic.
Photo credit: Guille Alvarez via Unsplash
blogging

On Lifting, Mental Health and Feeling Weird : Marjorie Celebrates 50 posts with FIFI

(Feature photo credit, Luca Onniboni, via Unsplash.)

In the last few years, I have had the pleasure of participating in this blogging community and this is my 50th post!  Before joining, I spent about 5 years writing for an audience of one.  I have written a cookbook and a memoir, totalling perhaps 600 pages, both of which are 75% crap and will never see the light of day.  However, all those hours of writing for myself helped me get up the gumption to try my hand at a public audience, and I am very grateful for Tracy and Sam providing the opportunity for me to contribute here.  And sometimes, I even write something worth reading.

I am especially proud of representing the female strength-training community.  As a queer woman, building strength and muscle feels like an authentic form of gender and personal expression, and I love being able to give voice to those experiences.  My first post on the matter, Doin’ My Part to Keep the Gym a Safe Space for Men, has been one of my most-read posts to date, and no wonder.  Unfortunately, issues of inclusivity and gendering gym spaces are still present and apparent, even in fitness podcasting for strength athletes, who I call out in Women are “Someone,” Too.  When I wrote Women, Are You Ready to be Weird?, I also addressed pressures we can receive from other women when our fitness goals start pushing against gender norms.  I wrote This is My Why hoping to inspire more women to explore what the pursuit of strength can give them.  

When I’m not writing about lifting, I am grateful to have a space to address mental health and to increase awareness of the cross-sections between mental health, physical health and overall wellbeing.  I have chosen to be open about my experiences of trauma, beginning with addressing how my hysterectomy increased symptoms of PTSD, when I wrote Sex and Trauma After Hysterectomy.  (My post on Keeping Fit While Healing from Hysterectomy still gets read by hundreds of people each month, suggesting we are all still seeking reliable resources on this issue.)  Since then, I have also tried to increase awareness of mental health challenges that can be exacerbated by the pandemic in No, “Everyone” Should Not Wear a Mask and to give perspective on these times when I shared 8 Lessons for Living With Uncertainty from a Perennially Vulnerable Adult.  Most recently, I offered up solutions to the challenge of getting started when I wrote about what works for me in Working Out When You’re Experiencing Depression.  It is my hope that sharing these more intimate experiences serves to destigmatize and normalize conversations about mental health, while giving voice for folks experiencing similar challenges and providing a window into those challenges for folks who are not.

Finally, I love having a place to vent my spleen when outrage strikes.  My favorite rant to date is Trigger Warning: Pseudoscience, when I had reached my limit for conspiracy theories and false information running rampant in the United States.  Perhaps less a rant and more an exercise in wishful thinking, I was taken by a similar muse when I wrote Could COVID-19 be the End of Keto?  And I wrote My Cat is Fat. So What?! after yet another veterinarian suggested putting my big kitty on a diet.

I see the work I do here at FIFI as an extension of my work as an educator and activist.  It is my hope that my readers find what I have to say informative, thought-provoking and inspiring.  I’m ok with not being everyone’s cup of tea.  I am opinionated and accept that voicing opinions means making some people uncomfortable sometimes.  I don’t like how internet conversations tend to lack nuance and promote us vs. them thinking, and I hope that I don’t contribute to those weaknesses of the medium.

Thank you for being a reader, for sharing your thoughts and support as I’ve written these last few years here at FIFI.  I look forward to sharing this work with you for the next 50 posts and beyond!

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher.  She can be found clacking away at her laptop, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Photo description: My favorite blog image I’ve used to date–four people posed together in tight white pants, bright shirts, and inexplicably with colored cellophane over their heads. Photo credit: Jimmy Fermin, via Unsplash.
covid19 · equality · vaccines

Marjorie Gets Her 2nd Dose of the COVID-19 Vaccine and Wonders About Privilege, Inequality and Scarcity

Feature photo credit: Mufid Magnun, via Unsplash

I am writing this on Sunday, and today I will receive my second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.  Previous to vaccination, I was “high risk” of serious complications if I were to become infected.  I am also White, financially comfortable, and privileged enough to have work that I can currently do from home.  I’m not convinced that I should have been prioritized.

I have multiple immune disorders.  Due to the first of them, I lived in the hospital for over 4 weeks when I was 24.  During that month, I underwent four lung surgeries.  They removed the middle lobe of my right lung because it had necrotized.  I had severe infections in the pleural space between my lung and the rest of my trunk.  My lung collapsed.  At one terrifying point, I woke up on a respirator in the ICU, choking on my own sputum, unable to speak or ask questions to clarify what was going on.  

Since these events, I have been on immunosuppressant medications off and on for years.  Prednisone, chemotherapy drugs, and others, each with their own side effects and complications.  I have been told by doctors that even off medications, I “should never assume that [I] have ever had a normal immune system.”  

In the last two decades, I have developed at least 2 other disorders with varying degrees of life-threatening implications.  I live my everyday life with the possibility that one of them will flare up and potentially do enough damage to put me back in the hospital.  Any of my body systems might become involved. Kidney or liver failure is a real possibility.  One of my conditions causes my airway to constrict more or less at random, making it difficult to swallow, and potentially, someday it may close off my ability to breathe.

I have lived with all of this threat to my life and well-being for nineteen years, and that is irregardless of COVID-19.  

COVID-19 scares me.  I’m afraid of becoming further disabled from yet another chronic condition that requires yet another round of trial and error, medications with their side-effects, and potential new limitations to my abilities.  I am afraid of piling on more uncertainty into my life.  I am terrified of waking up on a ventilator again.  My fears are justified.  I have a medical note from my doctor spelling out in stark and impersonal black and white that I am “at high risk of severe complications and hospitalization,” and therefore must be allowed to work from home for the “indefinite future.”

And still, from this perspective of fear and real danger, I wonder if I belong in this group of prioritized vaccination recipients.  After all, I can work from home, and I have the support of my physician helping make that happen.  My husband and I have enough resources to add ease and safety to our lives.  We order groceries for pick-up.  I have been able to buy and install a small gym in my garage to stay physically active.  It isn’t fun being isolated, but I know I can survive ok for a handful more months without significantly increased discomfort.  I’m not sure that is the case for many others with far less privilege than myself.

There are people whose work requires them to be in contact with the public.  People who are at higher risk for complications because they have less access to healthcare.  People of color, who are only about 20% of Oregon’s population, but are 50% of Oregon’s COVID cases.  Folks experiencing incarceration and folks in congregate care facilities, both have been the worst-hit by this pandemic.  I think these people are at least as deserving of early access to vaccines, but truly, I believe they should have been prioritized over someone like me.  

There are stories of White Americans with resources driving to smaller communities and filling up their vaccine clinics.  I suspect I know a woman who did this.  It disgusts me, the selfishness of this sort of behavior.  Those are the people that during the zombie apocalypse would throw you out of the truck in order to survive the hoard of walking dead pursuing you.  That isn’t me; I am getting my shots earlier than most because of my medical records.  I didn’t seek it out; my doctors sought me out.

I’m not saying all of this to be a hero.  I’m not trying to earn points by impressing you with my compassion.  I would love for you to ask questions, however, of your governments, to push for thoughtful leadership in a time of vaccine scarcity. I would love for all of us to sit with this discomfort and wonder what roles we play in perpetuating inqualities.  So many of us are so afraid.  It is reasonable, this fear, but fear isn’t the best place from which to make policy decisions for the greatest good. From that position, we will each do what is best for ourselves. I acknowledge, it is what I am doing. But I still recognize that what is best for me may not be what is best for us.

We have always been in this together.  The safety of each of us is interdependent upon the safety of everyone else.  We will only be able to return to “normal life,” when we have all been given the opportunity to be vaccinated.  Protecting ourselves isn’t enough to actually make us safe.  We see this as new COVID-19 variants spread around the globe.  Each unchecked population creates an opportunity for the virus to change and complicate the world’s recovery.  These results are not inevitable.  We have choices we are making, individually and at the societal level, creating them.

I will go get my second shot today.  It will be quite a relief.  I already feel safer knowing I’ve had the first round.  I’ve been told that in a month or so, I can expect to be as immune as anyone, with some caveats due to the unusual nature of the workings of my personal immune system.  I don’t know, yet, if or how this might change how I interact with the world, but I know that it will feel good to feel safer and less afraid.  I want all of you, and all of us, to enjoy that same feeling of security as soon as possible.  This period of recovery was always going to be messy and imperfect.  I hope that we all work to make it as fair and safe for as many people as possible.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found nursing her sore arm, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Photo description: With hands in blue gloves, someone is administering a shot into someone else’s arm. Photo credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
habits · self care

Working Out When You’re Experiencing Depression

Feature image credit: Anthony Tran, via Unsplash

I have experienced depression off and on for most of my life.  I also now experience symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder which can feel a lot like depression, with moments of low moods coming seemingly out of nowhere, triggered often by nothing of which I am aware.  It can be very difficult to maintain exercise and nutrition habits while feeling like crap for days at a time.  The nature of depression is to feel like nothing matters, to feel like life is beyond our control and out of our depth.  These are not motivating, inspiring feelings!  So what do you do if you find yourself feeling low and notice it impacting your healthy routines?

I try to start with some self-compassion.  My self-talk can be especially self-critical during these times, and it’s important for me to notice that and counteract it with less judgy thoughts: I’m doing the best I can; I’m just having a hard time right now.  These moments come and go and they don’t define who I am or how I live my entire life.  If I can remember this last point, that the feelings of low mood are just that, feelings, and by definition feelings are impermanent and changeable, it goes a long way to helping me feel ok with where I’m at in the moment.  It’s just this moment, not forever.

Related to this last point, I try to focus on what I am doing rather than what I’m not.  Most of us don’t throw in the towel on EVERY healthy behavior when we’re feeling down.  Still brushing your teeth and taking a shower?  Still eating breakfast and taking your medications?  Took some time to connect with your sweetie?  All these count and are good.  If you can talk yourself into taking a walk or doing 5 minutes of exercises, that’s great, too!  Give yourself credit for doing that much and know that tomorrow, you might feel up for more. There can also be an element of emotional inertia to these small behaviors, when I can find that doing one small thing for myself helps me feel more up to doing something else I know is good for me, too. 

Speaking of taking a walk, I have found that time outside is one of the most restorative things I can do for my mood.  I almost always feel better.  Sometimes, all I want is to sit on the porch or do a little gardening.  Even that much is a boost. Especially in winter, any moment of sunshine or even just a bright patch of clouds relative to the darker grey around them seems to help.  If your outdoor space doesn’t accommodate some gardening or lounging, or the weather is too miserable, try setting up in a sunnier window.  Put a comfy chair where your face will get hit with some light and take a moment to bask.

During moments of depression, it is especially important that we connect with others.  If you have a routine of exercising with others, even virtually, you may find that these connections help to lift your mood.  I’m very introverted and I don’t seek out a lot of time with others, but I still benefit from feelings of connection.  I try to spend more time playing or snuggling with my cats, to hang out with my husband, or to send notes to friends I haven’t heard from in a while.  Even exercising to a familiar old workout video can give me the illusion of company and help me feel better.  I also like to relisten to beloved audiobooks while I go on my walks or to put in the actors’ commentary for one of the Lord of the Rings movies to play in the background while I’m lifting!

Finally, I try to notice when my depression-related behaviors seem more unhelpful or counter to my long term goals and gently attempt to prevent them from becoming new habits.  I don’t expect myself to never soothe myself with food or to always go to bed right on time.  However, if I find that emotional eating has become more of a norm, or I’m fighting going to bed early enough night after night, then I try to gently redirect those behaviors.  I notice when I’m eating when I’m not hungry and consider if there’s something else that would feel good.  I notice that I’m staying up too late again and consider turning out the light 10 minutes earlier.  This isn’t time for drastic, life-changing transformations but gentle nudges back in the direction of my health and long term happiness.

Feeling crappy sucks. But, there are things we can do to help us move through it and make it slightly less awful.  We will come out the other side; we will feel better again.  I’m going to keep trying to give myself the time and space to be where I am now to know that it is not where I will be forever.  When I can, whatever exercising I can do will help to reduce the impacts of my depression and trauma, and may reduce the length of time that I experience those feelings.  If you can relate, I hope you can also give yourself the space to do what you can do today and be kind to yourself along the way!

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher.  She can be found getting a little sunlight in her eyes, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Photo description: Woman sitting in a sunny windowsill reading a book. She is wearing a white tunic and boots. Photo credit: Thought Catalog IcU, via Unsplash.
diets · eating · habits · overeating

Diet Deprogramming: Diet Mindset and Time

CW and Note:  This is part of an ongoing, occasional series based on the work I’m doing as a participant in Balance 365.  You can read about my decision to join the group here.  Discussion of nutrition habits and diets.  Feature photo credit: Mick Haupt via Unsplash

Are you struggling to make changes to your nutrition without swinging between extremes–first you’re on a roll, aiming for optimal and then you’ve got a big case of the eff-its and eating ALL THE FOODS?  In order to make healthy, consistent changes to our nutrition habits, we need to have healthy, consistent thinking about them and find a way to reduce these swings in behavior.  If you were raised in a “Western” society, your thoughts have been influenced by diet culture, even if you’ve never been on a diet.  Diet culture and it’s equally problematic sister, dieting mindset, make it harder for us to make the consistent habit changes we aim to make.

Diets limit when you can eat, how much you can eat, and/or what you can eat.  Each one of these limitations creates patterns of thought that we might need to address in order to successfully make healthy changes to our nutrition habits.  Today, I’m going to address only the first one, how limiting when we can eat influences our mindset. Diets might say you can’t eat before or after a certain time each day, or when it’s ok to eat your next meal.  Even if you’ve never been on a diet, you’ve probably been told everyone should eat breakfast or avoid late night eating.  The coaches at Balance 365 teach that these kinds of rules create habits of thought, and therefore behaviors, that can contribute to diet mindset, and we must address our mindset, if we want to make long-lasting, sustainable changes to our behaviors.

Returning to my area of expertise, my own experiences, I can see that I sometimes have thoughts about limiting when I can or should eat.  I wrote this summer that I’d noticed that I was experiencing hunger between breakfast and lunch and was preventing myself from eating more because it seemed like I “shouldn’t” be hungry.  If I didn’t want to add a snack between breakfast and lunch, there were other options besides just going hungry.  I could change what I ate for breakfast to something more satisfying. Or, I could increase the size of the portions of some or all of what I was eating at breakfast.  Notice that in order to consider these options, I had to first be ok with the reality that I was hungry between meals and accept that it was problematic for me.  The dieting mindset showed up as invalidating the information my body was giving me, and telling me to ignore my hunger.  My solution this summer was to increase how much protein I got at breakfast–making sure I have eggs AND Greek yogurt most mornings.  Recently, I’ve also started adding kale or some frozen veggies to my eggs, and I’m finding that it is helping me feel even more satisfied and to have stable energy levels before lunch.

Another example of time-based restriction I’ve observed in myself is that I adhere to strict meal times.  I don’t ever remember deciding that breakfast is at 8:00am, lunch is at noon, snack at 3:00, and dinner at 6:30, but every day this is my routine.  I look at the clock, and use that cue to inform when I am eating.  3:00pm snack can be especially powerful, and I sometimes find myself anxious if I’m doing something that interferes with this schedule.  Diet mindset kicks in, I become worried I’m going to go hungry (another consequence of dieting mindset, fear of hunger and treating it like an emergency, worthy of a post all its own), and I begin to figure out how I can make that snack happen.  A downside for my health is that I often make less nutritious and less satisfying food choices when I eat in order to assuage my anxiety.  For now, my solution is to preplan some healthy afternoon snacks so I know I have options that will keep me satisfied without ruining my dinner, and I’m working on tuning into my internal hunger and satiety cues to determine when I eat, at least to the degree that I can within the confines of my job.  This is a bigger task, and I imagine it will require some time for me to become consistent with this skill.

Diet culture tells us to use external factors like time to determine when we eat.  Unlearning this element of dieting mindset requires noticing when we are limiting ourselves temporally, and finding solutions that work for us that address the underlying challenges.  How this shows up will be different for each of us.  For me, I’m noticing that I have strong feelings about when it’s ok to be hungry and when I expect to eat. I look forward to a time when I have fully let go of some of these restrictions and anxieties and have found patterns that support my health and help me feel my best in a sustainable way.

Have you ever noticed yourself using external, time-based restrictions on when you eat? Does it feel problematic for you? Is it a mindset that you’ve considered changing?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found noticing how she feels before and after meals, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Image description: Red neon sign in front of a dark, brick background. It reads “EAT.” Photo credit: Tim Mossholder, via Unsplash