fitness · running · training

They’re All Good Runs: A Case for Autoregulation

When you go out for a run or ride, how do you decide how long you will go, how hard, or how fast? Less time lifting weights these days has meant more time running for me, and I’m approaching it a new way–I’m using autoregulation to determine my goals for each outing. For any activity, autoregulation is allowing data from the experience in the moment to determine your outcomes for that event.

Choose your datapoint. Autoregulation does not mean “go for as long as you feel like.” I’m not just running until it doesn’t seem fun anymore. Honestly, for me, the first mile has always been rough, with my body telling me all about how I’m making it do something it isn’t well-designed to do. It can take even longer for my breathing to even out. If I were to use these cues to tell me when I’m done, I’d never run more than half a mile.

What I have learned, though, is that while I may sound like a freight train as I puff down the middle of the road, my pace can remain pretty steady. I start my runs these days around an 11-12 min/mile pace. If I get feeling really loose, maybe if there’s some downhill bits or someone annoys me and I get a surge of adrenaline, I can speed up for a while to perhaps 9:30-10 min/miles.

So, that’s the datapoint I use to autoregulate my runs; I check my pace. As long as I’m running faster than a 13 minute/mile, I keep running. And when I see my pace drop below 13 minutes/mile for a couple checks, I’m done. Usually, my pace drops off really fast. Sometimes that happens after a shorter run, maybe 1.5 miles, sometimes it takes longer. However long I go, I know I’ve gone a distance that challenges me without overdoing it and without cutting myself short.

Choose your route. Obviously, a potential downside to this method is ending up some distance from home and needing to walk quite a ways back. Until my distances become consistently longer, I’m keeping pretty close to home. I started my runs as loops around the perimeter of a beautiful, historic cemetery a few blocks from our house. I can run one loop, about three quarters of a mile, or any distance longer than that without ever being more than a few blocks from home. As I’ve gotten stronger, to mix it up, I also run through the neighborhood along a 3-mile loop. If I can only run one side of the loop, I’m still only a little over a mile from home, which is a nice walk to cool down with.

Celebrate each run. I think the best part of this strategy for me is that it’s reduced the stress of feeling like I need to accomplish something specific on my runs. When I first got back into it at the start of Stay Home Save Lives in March, I gave myself the “add 10% to the distance” rule and tried to adhere to it week to week. It was fine at first, but then, maybe 5 or 6 weeks into it, I hit a wall. I couldn’t run further. I’d try to push through it, and my stomach would start to roil, my legs would ache, my heart rate would spike, and my pace would slow down to slower than if I’d been walking. It felt bad, and I didn’t feel successful.

When I started to give myself permission to just run until my body said stop, the distances run to run varied more, but each run felt better. I didn’t push myself to having a sour stomach all day. My hip didn’t ache for the next week. I had energy for my lifting the following day. It was better. And after a while, the distances started to tick upwards again. It isn’t linear. Every run isn’t further than the run before it. But the trend is slowly becoming longer and longer, and there are moments when it really feels good again to be running. That is why I’m out there in the first place–I want it to feel good, I want to feel good.

This week, I ran just over three miles for the first time in years. There were periods during that run that it actually felt easy. I’ve always laughed at the advice to keep it at a “conversational” pace. Running and conversation have never been in the cards for me. However, for a block here and there, I think I COULD have had a conversation! When I checked my pace, I was surprised to note that I hadn’t slowed down, I was still trucking along around 11 min/mile. So I kept running.

Autoregulation has been a welcome tool for me to enhance my running endurance during these challenging times. It allows me to listen to my body; it gives me a goal that I can pursue without judgement. It has taken away a stressor (externally derived goals) while still allowing me to challenge myself and improve over time. I am so grateful that I can run, and now I am really enjoying it again.

Photo description: Feet in grey and orange running shoes, ascending concrete stairs.

Your turn, dear reader: How do you decide when you’ve gone far enough? Do you predetermine distances or use autoregulation to decide how far to go? I’d love to hear from you.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found ignoring her ragged breathing, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

health · illness · sex

Sex and Trauma After Hysterectomy

CW: This post addresses trauma, flashbacks and PTSD, although it does not directly describe traumatic events. Sex and personal anatomy are referenced.

Six weeks after my hysterectomy, my gynecologist gave me the OK to return to all physical activities–including sex. And a few weeks after that, my husband and I found an opportunity to explore what that meant. I was eager to enjoy a regular sex life again. Before the surgery, while I hadn’t had any pain associated with intercourse specifically, I was afraid of potentially magnifying the pain I was already experiencing. I also felt increasingly alienated from my reproductive system as the months dragged on before the surgery–like my uterus and the surrounding architecture were fighting against me, forcing this mutant litter of fibroids upon me, despite my lifelong disinclination to ever becoming pregnant.

But instead of easing our way back into a regular sex life, I found myself heading into becoming frozen–stuck in place, nearly nonverbal, unresponsive as a possum hoping you won’t drive over it in the middle of the road. I managed to softly say, “no, no, no, no, no,” and everything stopped.

This was the first sign I had that something about the hysterectomy had been emotionally traumatic for me.

I recognized the feeling. My therapist and I had identified that I had many of the markers of PTSD long before the hysterectomy. I can be jumpy for no reason, startled by everyday noises. I can experience emotions disconnected from the present moment–overwhelming dread being the most common. I get heightened into fight or flight at the grocery store, or walking down the street, or driving, and have to work my way back down into my emotional window of tolerance. In these moments of panic or dread or rage, I know that they don’t make sense. I’m aware that they aren’t a true response to something in the present, but a ghost of terrible moments in the past.

But while I knew this about myself, I was not prepared for it to get worse with surgery. Nowhere did I read that this can be a risk, and it seems especially surprising given my past traumas are not sexual. Many of the resources I found as I prepared for the surgery mentioned that many women mourn the loss of their womb, that connection to motherhood in their bodies. I get that, but I wasn’t concerned about it for me. I have never wanted to be a mother, and I’ve always viewed my reproductive system as a sort of vestigial set of organs, that maybe protects my heart and definitely inconveniences me one week out of every month.

My surgeon knew of my PTSD symptoms as well–she got a firsthand look at them on our very first appointment. Her office is unfortunately located in a hospital associated with some of my past trauma, and from about two blocks away, through the entire hour-plus visit, and until I was able to leave, I was in a full-on panic attack flashback. I hyperventilated, found myself crying, and felt totally overwhelmed by the emotions flooding over me. Honestly, I felt completely ridiculous trying to explain to the nurses why I was so clearly struggling with self-control. For the next visit, they prescribed me some Xanax to take before I arrived.

Past traumas increase our risk of future trauma. Our nervous system remembers the feelings of threat, hopelessness, dread and loss of control. It is not a surprise that I was at increased risk of new trauma, but I am surprised that a procedure performed completely under anesthesia can result in trauma. According to my therapist, our bodies can remember what our conscious minds cannot. She equated it to the feelings you have when a tooth is extracted at the dentist–thanks to the novocaine, you don’t feel pain, but your body registers the pressure and physical trauma of the loss of a tooth. And so, apparently, my body registered the hysterectomy as a threat, and now I am finding myself urgently needing to protect myself from future perceived threats.

Now I am startled by simple, intimate experiences. I’ve had to ask my husband to ask permission before he reaches out to stroke my back or leans in for a kiss. Without the “warning,” I can’t breathe through my startle response and reorient to the present moment. Sex scares me. Even the thought of a nonsexual item like a tampon entering my vagina makes me feel anxious–my breathing becomes shallow, my heart starts to race. I am increasingly on edge, so much closer to fight-or-flight than I was before.

You might be asking yourself how common this is. In an admittedly cursory search, I didn’t find a lot of information, but this very recent study found 16.4% of participants experienced multiple symptoms of PTSD 2-3 months after hysterectomy. This older study from the Mayo clinic found a smaller, but robust, increase in the number of people showing signs of anxiety and depression after hysterectomy than compared to a similar population who had not had a hysterectomy. Now, neither of these studies can show us causation–does getting a hysterectomy make people more likely to develop these mental health concerns? Or is it that certain mental health conditions or predispositions make it more likely that someone gets a hysterectomy? Since we can’t do placebo hysterectomies on half of a cohort and then see if there’s a difference in prevalence of PTSD symptoms, I’m not sure how we can suss that out.

Regardless, I can’t help but believe that people would benefit from knowing about these risks in advance. At a minimum, people like me with a history of trauma could potentially work with their mental health professionals in advance to develop a treatment plan, should it be necessary. That is why I’ve decided to write about it, even though it feels very personal. It would be my hope that more patients and doctors can be aware of these risks and be encouraged to talk about them.

It has been a year since I first wrote about my hysterectomy here. At that time, all I was concerned about was my physical health and fitness afterwards–I wanted to stay as strong and physically resilient as I could as I healed. Those physical concerns are in the past now. I can lift however I want. I can run without pain. But I’m still dealing with the consequences of my hysterectomy, and I can’t help but wonder how long these new ghosts will haunt me.

Photo description: a pathway leading towards a sunset or sunrise.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found reorienting to the present, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

feminism · fitness · men · sexism · strength training · weight lifting

Women are ‘Someone,’ Too

“Let’s say someone wants to squat 500 pounds. It’s a big goal, but not unachievable. Lots of people get to 500 pounds these days.” (1)

“If you keep your bodyfat percentage too low, you’re not going to build as much muscle. If someone is trying to stay around 8% bodyfat, your body is going to want to partition more of that energy towards fat storage.” (2)

I love lifting weights. I enjoy the exertion, the challenge, and the self-confidence that it brings. I’m not alone–women are a growing number of the competitive lifters around the world. Women participate in competitive physique, strong”man”, weightlifting and powerlifting. And this reflects a boom in interest amongst us non-competitive folks, too, likely at least in part fueled by the popularity and accessibility of crossfit in the last decade.

And yet, the mostly male-dominated media space has not caught up. When lifters are discussed, there is an overwhelming tendency to treat “lifters” as synonymous with “men.”

And to be perfectly frank, it’s starting to piss me off. Every time a guy says “someone” and what they really mean is “men,” I want to yell, “HEY, I’m SOMEONE, too!”

I want to see myself in the programs put out there. I want trainers to give me potential solutions to the challenges I face in reaching my goals. I want to know that my needs and concerns have answers. I want realistic metrics to which I can compare myself and help with goal setting. In short, I want representation.

Instead, there’s an endless parade of articles and other media around men’s insecurities and challenges–how to get 6-pack abs! Build your squat to 3x bodyweight! How to get to 12% body fat and stay there!

The physiology of someone born with female parts is different than the physiologies of people born with male parts. We have more essential levels of fat–requiring higher body fat levels in order to function healthfully. Our hormone profile changes how we respond to lifting, with only 5-10% of the testosterone of a typical adult man making building muscle a potentially slower process. Our smaller joints and bone structures change the size of our muscular potentials. Estrogen is protective in many ways, making women and other people who produce more of it, more resilient to higher-rep lifting, possibly meaning we require shorter rest periods. Some research on Olympic level athletes suggests that our abilities to recover even changes throughout our menstrual cycles. And none of this gets into the nuances of lifting around pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, hysterectomies, mastectomies and so many other experiences shared by so many people with a uterus.

But I’m not asking that every article, interview, podcast and blog post dig into all of these caveats every time they want to offer me 5 new ways to do push-ups. No, I just want the language used to be inclusive. I want pictures of strong people of all genders doing the work. I want it to be clear that I am a potential member of the target audience. So many trainers complain about how women are afraid of lifting weights, that we’re afraid of the barbell, that we’re afraid of the results we might get. But if 90% of the images we see are men on gear working on showing off that 6-pack, why should we expect a majority of women would be drawn to that? (To be clear, I have no problem with lean, muscular women with six-pack abs, I just recognize that they are a subset of the population.) We need to be represented in order to imagine it as a real possibility.

So in absence of another solution, I propose a simple test to determine if women are being acknowledged as people who do serious strength training. Blog post, podcast, article or interview, let’s call it the Hundtoft-Bechdel Test (3) which asks that fitness experts:

one. Directly mention women and/or include them in images.
two. And ensure that any goals and/or metrics referenced include those appropriate for women and other people born with a uterus.

So, back to the quotes at the top: “Let’s say someone wants to squat 500 pounds. It’s a big goal, but not unachievable. Lots of people get to 500 pounds these days.”

This may be true for men who lift seriously over time. It is not ever true for women. I just checked the current raw powerlifting records for women, and the drug-tested, open world record for squat for women is 502 pounds. So women are excluded by the speaker and he fails the Hundtoft-Bechdel Test.

“If you keep your bodyfat percentage too low, you’re not going to build as much muscle. If someone is trying to stay around 8% bodyfat, your body is going to want to partition more of that energy towards fat storage.”

The second speaker also fails the test, since an 8% bodyfat is nearly unattainable even by the most competitive female bodybuilders. It is certainly not a “walking around” level of leanness for most women, when it might be for an especially disciplined, genetically gifted, and/or possibly just highly neurotic man.

In comparison, a recent article on Nerd Fitness (on the Star Wars workout) passed the test easily. Images of women. No metrics of success that are gendered at all. Steve Kamb did a great job of using entirely neutral language so that any reader can see themselves in the article.

Another win goes out to a great podcast, Stronger by Science. In their recent discussion on gut health and training nutrition, they interviewed a female expert and used gender-neutral language throughout. When it was appropriate to specify male vs. female metrics, both were included.

A quick search of recent Bodybuilding.com training articles finds some sort-of wins and some straight up losses. For example, this article on shoulder exercises does a good job of using gender-neutral language, but fails due to exclusively using men in the images.

T-Nation fairs not even as well as that. There are many examples to pull from, but here’s a training article that even the title (“The V-Taper Workout and Diet Plan”) excludes women as a target. The “V-Taper” is a shape of shoulders and waist that is specifically identified as a desirable male attribute (think comic book Superman with his wide shoulders and impossibly narrow waist). Notably, the author never acknowledges that he’s writing for a male audience. Major fail.

Not surprisingly, women lifters and authors consistently do a better job including women. Some female trainers are directing their business at other women as their primary market, and so they explicitly include women in their media. However, there are also female trainers and bloggers who do a good job of inclusive, but not female-centric language. A standout example is Meghan Callaway.

Women lift weights. We like to track our progress and gauge our success against other lifters. We want to know reasonable goals for goal setting and to see ourselves represented in media aimed at folks who strength train. Representation matters, and it’s well-past time for fitness authors, podcast hosts, and trainers to make a more consistent effort to represent women equally in their spaces.

Photo description: The torso, arms and legs of a woman holding a weight plate in a gym. She is wearing a black t-shirt and shorts, and she has defined forearm and quad muscles.

(1) Maybe not an exact quote, but definitely the gist from a recent interview with Dr. Mike Zourdos on the Iron Culture podcast, which incidentally, is an awesome podcast! But I know they can do better with representation.

(2) Not going to link to this one, as the podcast I was trying out became so fat-phobic in a rant that I don’t want to encourage others to listen to it.

(3) Named in homage of and to give credit to the Bechdel Test which gives a simple way of identifying if women are present in film.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found reading about strength training, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

covid19 · racism

Systemic racism looks like the death of George Floyd, denying the science of masks, and our perspectives on dietary privilege

It is Saturday night as I write this, and two of my favorite communities in all the world are on fire. Sparked by yet another police killing of a black man, George Floyd, fueled in no doubt by frustrations at the dangerously inept federal response to the Covid-19 pandemic, protesters in my former adopted hometown of Minneapolis have been venting their rage at racial injustice. This wildfire has rapidly spread across the country, and we are under curfew here in Portland, as the city braces for a second night of violence. A lack of trust in science and experts has allowed this to happen. It’s fed the flames of division.

Lack of trust in experts has provided the permission structure necessary for white people to disregard the overwhelming research that supports the fact that we are dealing with generations of intentional policies and decisions designed to select who gets to pull on the levers of power. Generations of politicians, religious leaders, and other folks with power have created alternative interpretations of “the facts” to support their preconceptions that they are in power because they’ve earned it and because they are better suited to the work. Whole branches of pseudoscience were developed to justify the white, Euroamerican position of privilege, dehumanizing people of other backgrounds, identifying them as more dangerous, more violent, and less trustworthy. The entire field of statistics was developed to create mathematical models that justified placing white people as more civilized than other races.(1)

More recently, during the Covid-19 pandemic, we are debating the science of wearing a mask and how to safely reopen businesses. This is not separate from the issues of racial injustice above; rather, it is a direct example of the systemic practices that intentionally disproportionately harm people of color in the United States. Covid-19 is more dangerous for Americans of color–they are more likely to get sick, more likely to die, and more likely to face the economic hardships brought on by this new depression. When Trump and his followers insist on going about their business without wearing masks, they are endangering the health and livelihoods of their fellow Americans of color to a higher degree than for white Americans. They frame it as an argument about the science and about economic policy, but it is really about power and deciding whose lives and livelihoods are going to be prioritized.

And many of us people of privilege are asking ourselves what we can do. In the long run, of course, I will be voting for Biden for president. Although he wasn’t the person I was most excited to support, there’s no question that his administration would be the compassionate and science-based organization we need.

But we need to do more than show up in November; we need to use our positions of privilege to challenge the thinking of those around us when we witness a lack of science-based thinking. And this is when I connect all of this to our world of fitness. Regular readers will know that I’m pretty concerned about the preponderance of pseudoscience in the health and fitness sphere. It is literally harming people every day. But even bigger than that, I believe that our support of pseudoscience, distrust of experts, and tribalism in these non-political spheres of our lives supports these same tendencies in politics and society as a whole. And I believe that this is a very dangerous mindset to allow to go unchallenged.

If we allow ourselves to be siloed to only vegan, only palio, and only organic camps, we are preparing our minds for other types of tribalism as well. If we distrust medical experts when they disagree with our rationales to avoid certain foods, we are making it more acceptable to distrust experts when they explain why we should wear masks. If we believe we are superior because we eschew all grains in our diet while we insist that this is why we are enjoying better health than those around us, then we are more apt to believe that other positions of privilege are due to our own good choices rather than the result of societal supports, generational wealth and uneven distribution of resources. We must challenge our own thinking and the thinking of those close to us, if we are going to change the world for the better for everyone.

Being scientific doesn’t mean we can’t make room for anecdotes. Indeed, the best science is informed by careful observation of anecdotes in search for patterns and plausible explanations. However, we must temper our own enthusiasm for our own perspectives with information and data from the larger picture–this is what science can be very good at that our own minds may not be. It can help us suss out larger patterns than we may be able to discern through our own experiences alone. The data are clear–wearing masks reduces the transmission of disease, people of color are perceived as more of a threat than white people under similar circumstances, there are many ways to eat healthfully, and privilege has life-or-death consequences every day.

We must push back on this unscientific thinking in our own communities, if we are going to help create a more equal world. I will continue to use my position of privilege to attend protests, where I will be perceived as less threatening than my peers of color. I will continue to give money to causes that lift up voices of color in education, politics and business. And I will push back on unscientific thinking and reflexive distrust of experts in fitness, nutrition and health amongst my friends and family. Only through agreement on the scientific truths in our world can we know justice and know peace.

Photo description: Orange and purple sunset over Portland skyrises, the Fremont bridge and Mt. Saint Helens in the background.

(1) I recommend you read the Mismeasure of Man, by Stephen Jay Gould, if you are interested in learning more of this fascinating and frustrating piece of pseudoscience history.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found discussing uncomfortable realities, picking up heavy things, and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

covid19 · fitness · walking

Taking My Daily Constitutional, Miss Manners at My Side

Dear Miss Manners, I live in a crowded city during a time of pandemic. My only regular outing is my daily walk, to get some sunshine and enjoy some quiet contemplation. What is the best way to navigate shared roads and sidewalks while respecting social distancing? Sincerely, Walks Against Traffic.

If we are walking towards each other on the sidewalk, whomever is going against traffic should walk in the street. That way, any potential traffic dangers will be seen, and appropriate social distancing can be observed. Reasonable exceptions to this rule are people pushing strollers, those whose mobility are assisted by a wheelchair, and others with visible movement challenges. It is less clear to me how to navigate this situation when one of the people has a dog; however I’m inclined to believe that the rule still applies. But, I recognize that dogs can have rules of their own and they are not always as flexible in changing times as we would like them to be.

It has always been rude to walk aimlessly, staring down at your phone when there is any opportunity that another might need to walk around you. Nowadays, it seems nearly inexcusable. If you need to check your phone, respond to a text or change your music, find a driveway or other area you can step aside out of the way and take care of it. That way those who are sharing space with you needn’t feel alarmed that you are oblivious to their passing as you swerve into their space.

If you are walking with a friend, and you choose to maintain a safe distance from them as you walk together, prepare to have one person back off and walk single-file should someone be coming from the other direction. Expecting the approaching person to walk between you, and therefore be within contact of both of you as they pass, is unreasonable.

Bicycles belong on the street. This is true if you are an adult or a child. It is not reasonable for a pedestrian to be expected to keep necessary distance from you when you are moving significantly faster than they are. Stick to the street and ride with traffic. Behave in a manner that is predictable.

Those who choose to smoke or vape should find a private location to do this, not to impose their fumes on others using public spaces.

If you are traveling as a pack–a large group of friends or family walking or biking together–consider how your group may be forcing the community to accommodate your desires to move together as a roaming hoard. Walk in small groups, spread apart, so you can observe the other guidelines listed here.

If you are driving through a neighborhood, observe all traffic laws. Yes, I know that there are far fewer cars on the road. However, stop signs and speed limits are there for people’s safety, and pedestrians, runners, and cyclists are in larger numbers these days. We would like to avoid being hit by your car.

Did I miss anything? 🙂

Photo description: Crowded streets and sidewalks in Albany, Oregon, circa 1905. Courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found taking a daily walk and doing bodyweight inverted rows from her kitchen table, as a form of picking up heavy things and putting them down again, in Portland, Oregon.

covid19 · fitness · habits · motivation · training

5 Motivating Things to Tell Yourself to Get Exercising Again

Finding it hard to get moving these days? Struggling to consistently work out with your routines thrown off? Consider telling yourself stories about yourself to help you get started and keep you going. It’s what I’m doing, and it’s really paying off. When I’m struggling to stay motivated, these internal narratives push me through to the next set.

“I never regret getting started.” This one is completely true for me, and for that matter, I almost never regret working out. Very occasionally, when I’ve been pushing too hard, or I’m coming down with something, or my life is exceptionally stressful elsewhere, I find that I just can’t finish a workout. But even then, I’m glad I made an effort. My body feels better, my thoughts usually feel clearer, and I like knowing that I did what I could. This story gets me into my workout gear and gets me to give it at least a start. I almost always finish.

“I’m an athlete and this is training, not just another workout.” This story (and it is a fiction in my case, albeit a powerful one) helps me focus on the task at hand. When the goal is training, the movement and intensity matter. I can focus on what muscles I’m using, the quality of the contractions, and on how my technique matters. Whereas if I’m just “exercising,” there’s some permission in my head to back off and go through the motions–after all, I’m still getting in my daily movement, so what does it matter if that last set was a little easy or sloppy?

“I am choosing to be a person who does this, it isn’t something I do out of obligation.” Yes, taking care of myself makes me a better wife, friend and daughter. I’m nicer when I take time to work out. I’m also decreasing the likelihood that I get certain diseases and conditions. But, I have a choice every day about continuing to do this work. And some days, I choose to take a break. It’s all ok, but it isn’t ok to act like someone is forcing me, because they’re not. When I tell myself this story, I reduce the rebel inside me that wants to say “Eff you” to the world and skip working out to “do whatever I want,” because this IS what I want.

“I am lucky I get to do this.” I cannot overemphasize how deeply motivating this story is for me. I have been physically disabled to the point that walking a block would make me lightheaded, breathless and in pain. It has taken me years, decades, to get to the level of fitness I’m at today, and I do not take it for granted. I feel so lucky that I’ve been given this time to push myself. This story reminds me to acknowledge this reality with gratitude.

“I’m at the gym right now.” This is a story I’ve had to start telling myself specifically during my home workouts these days. If I’m at the gym, I’m not checking email, doing chores, talking to the cats, or otherwise wasting time. The goal is to use the hour to get some lifting done so I can “go home.” Incidentally, I’ve started to tell this story to my husband, too. Now he knows that when I’m “at the gym,” unless it’s urgent, conversation and other interruptions can wait until I’m done. I am really loving finding some “alone” time even when I’m never alone in the house these days.

In the midst of the surreal realities of our current situation, I am finding the structure of my lifting to be a valuable tool for self-care. These stories, the mindset with which I approach my lifting, have become important to get me off the sofa and to my trusty resistance bands more days than not.

Your turn, dear reader: What are you telling yourself to help you stay motivated?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a (mostly online, and not very good at it, yet) middle school science and health teacher. She can be found using positive imagery and self-talk while pretending to pick up heavy things and put them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

Image description: Someone standing in white sneakers on a checked carpet.
covid19 · diets · food

Could Covid-19 be the end of Keto?

Over a month of isolation, and there’s still no flour at the grocery store. There’s been a shortage of pasta, beans and whole grains like barley, quinoa, and rice, too.

Shortages of staple, high-carbohydrate foods would suggest that most of us are actually not ready to give up on this very satiating macronutrient in times of crisis, and it has me wondering, could Covid-19 be the end of Keto?

Consider the overwhelming evidence brought forth on social media–photos abound of the beautiful pandemic baking occuring in households the world over. Suddenly, we are all attempting peasant loaves, coffeecakes, scones, and sticky buns. Sourdough starters are being fed and tended like emotional support colonies in our refrigerators. In this trying time when we need comfort, these gluten-laden delicacies are reassuringly there.

Perhaps a silver lining to the dark storm clouds of potential pestilence and social distancing will be a rational redefining of priorities towards common sense balance in our diets. Maybe the #firstworldproblems of odd dietary restrictions, their pseudoscientific rationales, and the tribalism that feeds upon it will be pushed back a few degrees, back to the edges and away from the mainstream. After all, instead of sorting people into silos defined upon which sources and what quantities of carbohydrate we consume, social identities are now being formed around how frequently we go grocery shopping and our choice of face covering.

One could hope that during this worldwide crisis, when scarcity has new and pressing meaning, we can contemplate the real challenges of hunger in our world. Those who live amongst us without enough are the hardest hit right now, as they ever are in challenging times. With our attention on the needs of the many, perhaps we are moving away from concern about the needs of the few–and their pursuit of beach bodies?

Maybe now, with our social circles condensed to those we most love, we are moving away from judging one’s diet from a moralistic point of view towards a more caring, compassionate and practical one? What is good food and bad food in such times? In a moment when one of the few joys we can share with others is pictures of our beautifully baked bounty, we can ask ourselves if what we are eating is nourishing us and providing for us in all the ways. Food is not only fuel. It is how we show we love one another. It is how we build and maintain community. It is comfort and nostalgia and an offering to the divine.

All of these needs are real and present today. And in this time of need, we are baking.

I choose to be hopeful about this preponderance of home-prepared patisserie. I choose to believe that in a time when we are reaching for any sign of control, instead of cutting ourselves off from this resource, we are embracing it. Instead of giving into food cult identity, we are coming together. I have optimism about the essential goodness of humanity, and we are eating bread again.

Photo description: a lump of bread dough on a peel in a ray of sunshine.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She is baking while missing picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.

eating · Fear · food · overeating

Food Scarcity as a Trigger, with a pot of lentils as an aside

CW: discusses food and eating behaviors, with references to dieting, food restriction and overeating

Do you find perceptions of scarcity triggering? I do. Food scarcity in particular, even the belief that it might become scarce at some point, can lead me to make self-soothing decisions like buying extra “just in case.”

I’m not truly hoarding food, but I’ve definitely got an especially well-stocked pantry at the moment. And chest freezer. And refrigerator.

And I’m settling into old habits like baking bread in batches, so there’s always some fresh sitting on the counter. Last night, when I made rice, I made a double batch. Now, I can freeze half of it just in case. And maybe now my lizard brain knows I will have rice, even though I already knew that, since I have several pounds of dry rice sitting in my pantry. But apparently, that primitive part of my mind needs the reassurance of cooked rice in my freezer right now.

I recognize that this is not a rational response. It is not in response to actual scarcity, but its perception. It’s true that when I go grocery shopping, I don’t have access to quite everything I want. However, suitable replacements are often available. My grocery store has instilled 2-can per purchase limits on precooked beans, and there are no dry beans to be found other than lentils, so I bought a couple pounds of those. My pre-pandemic meal preparations had me consuming 2-4 cans of beans a week. This week, I’m eating lentils. I have enough. But I can feel some uneasiness that I’m using them, like a part of me wants to just keep them on the shelf so I’ll know they’re there. I bought a whole, frozen turkey when there wasn’t any chicken available on one grocery trip. But I don’t want to cook the turkey. I want to keep it in my freezer, so I know I’ll always have a turkey.

This feeling of scarcity has led to some unplanned eating, too. It’s not so very different than the imposed scarcity that chronic dieters put themselves under. When we feel restricted, we tend to lash out and overeat eventually. Sometimes not so eventually. I am NOT restricting what I eat, except to recognize that when I eat something, then it is no longer available to eat! And so I suspect that is sometimes leading to me doing the counter-productive thing of eating ALL THE FOODS. I suppose I’m storing it in my body in preparation for the hard times.

These behaviors have long been a part of me–the uplanned eating and the food storage. Friends and family members have teased me for as long as I’ve been an independent adult for my tendency to can and preserve mass quantities in the summer and fall. I can freeze, dehydrate, can, bake, ferment and pickle with the best of them. For as long as I’ve had the resources to do it, I’ve kept 20-30 pounds of flour in my pantry. I keep bulk nuts in the freezer, and dried apple slices, candied orange rinds, and every kind of jam and jelly you’d ever want on my shelves. Every year, I put up apple and pear sauces and butters, whole seckel pears, pie apples, berries in wine pie filling (amazing!) and whatever else floats my boat. I have the habit of putting something on the grocery list the minute I open up the last back-up, so there’s always an extra bag of sugar or canister of oats. All of this was true right up to before our world was put on hold.

And yet, I still do not feel secure. I can see it in how I’m doing math every time I reach for something in the pantry. If I open this jar of berries, that leaves me only 2 more jars, how long can I stretch those out? Can I make them last until berry season again? Will I even get to go berry picking this year? If I make coq au vin for dinner tonight, that will be the last of the chicken breast in the freezer; will they have more this week, or should I plan on cooking something else so I can keep some chicken in the freezer?

I do not like feeling triggered in this way. I like to feel like I’m in control, and when I’m triggered, my more primal self is in the driver’s seat. And, of course, the fact that there are so many important things out of my control is in its own way triggering. I know, intellectually, that it’s going to be ok, but I wish there was a way to reassure my lizard brain of that fact. For now, I’m going to head down to the pantry and gaze upon my stockpile of homemade applesauce and try to contemplate abundance.

In case you’re eating lentils this week, too, here’s a recipe. It is loosely based upon one for Lentil and Barley Stew from the New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook (Jean Hewitt, 1971), which was a staple of mine when I was a vegetarian. Today’s version has ground turkey in it, which you could completely omit and still have a lovely dish of lentils.

Lentil Stew with Turkey

one. In a large, heavy duty stock pot, sauté in a couple tablespoons oil and/or butter:
1 diced onion
4 large carrots, diced
4 stalks celery, sliced
1 tbs dried rosemary
4 cloves minced garlic
1 bay leaf

two. When the onion is soft, add 3 lbs. ground 93% lean turkey. Break it up with a wooden spoon so that it isn’t in big chunks.

three. Once the turkey is fully cooked and no longer pink, add
1 lb. green or brown lentils (not the red or yellow kinds that cook down into mush)
5 cups water, stock, broth, or a combination thereof
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes, with their juices

four. Bring stew to a simmer. Lower heat, cover, and cook at a low simmer until lentils are fully cooked, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This will be 9 2-cup servings for me, so I plan on portioning it out and setting some aside for my freezer so it’s available when I need a quick lunch, or you know, so I have it just in case.

Image description: A large pot of lentils, ground turkey, and vegetables. Maybe not very pretty, but it tastes delicious!

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found making fermented cabbage and using her bodyweight in lieu of picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.

eating · fitness · habits · self care

Marjorie Muses on Missing her Routines and Ruminates upon the Ramifications

I miss my routines.

Over the years, I’ve built dozens of routines that have improved my life–routines that make going to the gym nearly automatic, routines that make it easier to eat in a way that reflects my values, routines that increase my contact with other people even though my natural introversion can lead to isolation. These are routines built to increase my self-care, which honestly is a challenge for me otherwise. In the past, I found it hard to prioritize myself if in the moment I had to make a choice–right now, do I do what I need or what someone else needs? Most of the time, in the moment, I would more readily take care of someone else. But when these things are routine, when they are habitual, I do what I need to do for myself and I feel better for it.

But my routines have gone all to hell these days.

I am a teacher, and school has been closed down, possibly for the remainder of the year. In my life before pandemic, I worked too many hours, and I had to be very strategic to get everything done. I welcomed any bit of extra time to rest, connect with friends, and to mindfully plan the next busy day. I eagerly filled nonschool days with activities and self-care. But that was before businesses started closing down. And it was before it was unclear if I was making an unethical choice every time I stepped out the door.

And so now, with sort-of school slowly becoming a reality, I’m not quite sure how best to take care of myself. Would it help to get back to prepping my meals? (Some of my previous breakfast and lunch practices are posted here, if you are interested.) Maybe I’d eat better if it were all decided for me each day. However, every trip to the store has become an act of foraging for prefered staples–seeking out and competing for limited prized goods like beans, chicken and frozen broccoli. Inconsistent availability makes it difficult to plan meals ahead of time. And besides, giving myself some food variety is an appreciated source of entertainment right now.

Should I write down my “gym” and “running” days on the calendar and schedule them like appointments with myself? It might help to feel like I’m accomplishing something when I can check them off, but uncertainties in other aspects of life make it hard to know when to reliably fit those in. I started off pretty enthusiastically figuring out home versions of various lifts, but as work is coming back, and directives from the state and school district change on a daily basis, I can’t reliably determine when I have time for an hour of “lifting” on any particular day. And there are still days when I seem exhausted by it all, and the best thing for me is to let myself sit like a loaf on the sofa with a cat in my lap.

I acknowledge that some of the mini-habits are still in place. I’m still brushing and flossing my teeth. I did laundry, although it did not get put away as rapidly as it usually would have. I’m going for walks most days. I’m still mostly going to bed at my usual bedtime, and I’m enjoying sleeping in. I’m still eating a good amount of fresh fruit, vegetables and some protein at most meals (although there’s also a good amount of brownies, too). It doesn’t feel like enough, but it’s what I am managing to do right now. I’m trying to embrace an 80/20 mindset–80% intentional, 20% whatever. I’d be more comfortable closer to 92/8, truth be told.

I don’t have a solution to offer here. I feel like it’s important just to observe the challenge right now and to be kind to myself (ourselves) if I’m struggling to maintain my healthy habits and routines to the degree to which I prefer. I genuinely don’t mind being a little lax for a while, as long as it’s not indefinitely. And I think that’s where I get anxious and stressed–without knowing for how long this will be my new normal, I don’t know how important it is to develop new routines. I suspect we are in this for a long time, and so I want to find solutions that feel real and meaningful. I’m not there yet, but I am trying to believe I will be soon.

How about you, dear reader? Are you missing your routines? Have you found a new set of habits readily available, or are you still struggling to find them?

Image description: The unlit, Art Deco marquee of the Laurelhurst Theater. It says, “laurelhursttheater.com, closed for now, stay healthy & warm, support each other, take care of yourselves.”

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher who misses her students. She can be found using resistance bands while pretending she’s picking up heavy things and putting them back down again, in Portland, Oregon.

advice · death · disability · Fear · health · self care

8 Lessons for Living with Uncertainty From a Perennially Vulnerable Adult

I get it. You’re facing down the barrel of your mortality right now, and the mortalities of your parents, grandparents, children and other people you care for. It sucks. Random, horrible things can happen and change your life forever. Or end it. But this isn’t news. Life can change in an instant, and it can be completely out of your control, and that has always been true. The only difference is now you are being forced to face the reality you could comfortably deny as long as your life was banally humming along. Welcome to my world.

At the age of 24 I went from a healthy, active person to someone with a disabling, life-threatening immune condition. Random chance, totally bad luck, threw me a curve ball that kept me in the hospital for a month, left me missing a big chunk of one lung and unable to walk up a flight of stairs without assistance. I spent 8 months on high-dose Prednisone and three years after that on weekly chemotherapy drugs to keep my body from attacking itself and killing me. I hate stories about how some horrible cancer diagnosis “was the best thing that ever happened to her” or how some terrifying ordeal “helped him have gratitude for the important things in life.” I don’t think my immune conditions (I’ve developed more over the years) have made me a wiser, better person. But I have learned from the experience, and I’d like to offer you these potentially comforting observations I’ve noted along the way.

The hardest part is the not knowing. It took about half a year before I had a diagnosis. Even with a diagnosis, the prognosis was up in the air. At one point I was told that I had only a 50% chance of living past 5 years. Later on, I was told they really didn’t know, there was just too little data to base any predictions upon. I believe that knowing is always easier than not knowing. How do you live your life day to day when you can’t plan for the future? You will make very different decisions when you know that something is temporary than when it may be indefinite. Coming to a place of accepting that you don’t know, living in the moment while planning for the future is the best balance I can suggest. For me, I have had to learn over the years to consider my barriers and limitations as flexible unknowns–I have to push against the boundaries to test them–is this a real limitation or simply something I feared would limit me? It’s a constantly moving target, and I’ve learned to be flexible as situations have changed.

Your life is at increased risk. You can get used to it. In fact, if you are going to get on with your life, you have to get used to it. We can only hit the pause button for so long, and then we need to get back into the swing of things. You will need groceries, a paycheck, a new pack of underwear. I live my life every day with the awareness that my condition can come back. Every time I have a cough, I have to consider, “Does this feel more serious than just a cold? Am I being irresponsible if I wait it out before going to the doctor?” Every little aberration in how my body moves and feels carries a heightened awareness to it, and yet, I don’t go around constantly anxious about my future. I notice it, I pay attention, and then I move on. Most of the answers to my questions come with time and patience. If you can avoid insisting on instant reassurance, you will find that you fare better.

Most people facing their own mortality don’t have the benefit of a social circle that understands. Don’t take it for granted. When I got sick, I was alone. Only about 6000 people in the entire United States have been diagnosed with the condition I’m facing. Not to mention, my peers at the time of 20-somethings could not even kind of relate to my ordeal. Lucky for you, pretty much everyone around you is dealing with some version of the same fear right now. You can support each other because you understand your shared uncertainties. On the other hand, you are at higher risk than I was for “social contagion.” The downside of collective awareness is that your anxieties can compound upon each other, fear can beget more fear, and as social animals, we are built to mirror each other’s emotions. Compassion and empathy are important, but I encourage you to temper them with calm and mindful acts of support.

It isn’t helpful to let the current situation dominate your thoughts. Practice the discipline of reframing your thinking, and you will experience less stress. This would be an excellent time to limit your exposure to social media, too. You don’t need other people’s fear speaking voices in your head. For those of you who like that woo-woo shit, feel free to increase your focus on your “gratitude practice” right now. Me, I’m going to limit my exposure to the news and increase work on some neglected projects around the house. This seems like an excellent time to begin planning my basement remodel. This sort of intentional shift of focus gives me something productive to put my energies towards rather than stirring up fears of the unknown.

On a related note, don’t let fear be your guiding principal. Consider making important decisions when your mind is feeling more calm–like right after a good meal with some satisfying, slow-digesting carbohydrates in it. Your fear-based decision might be making people like me less safe, if it means you switch to antibacterial soap, for example, and increase the likelihood of superbugs. The panic that has led to emptying store shelves isn’t doing the community any good, either. Consider finding other ways to take care of yourself than giving in to the hedonic needs of your fear.

If someone near you gets sick, when it is safe to do so, literally embrace them and return them back into your life. I developed mysterious lung symptoms and a persistent, low grade fever just about the same time SARS was in all the news. When I was released from the hospital, we didn’t know why I had nearly died, but we did know it wasn’t an infectious process. Despite this, I was treated like a pariah. No one would hug me, hold my hand, pat my shoulder. People would literally take a step back when I told them what had happened to me. It was like they were afraid that my near-death would rub off on them. It was exceptionally isolating in an experience that already left me alone in so many ways. So I ask that you please, please, welcome back the folks who become sick. Love and support them, touch their hands, kiss them on the cheek, and help to reintegrate them back into your world.

You don’t know what’s going to get you. That’s always been true, you’re just now having to face it. I used to feel like I knew better than most people what was likely to kill me. However, even when my condition was quite severe, I still could get hit by the proverbial bus. That hasn’t changed, and it’s true for all of us. None of us know what is going to get us in the end. We can’t live our lives dancing around the edges, hoping nothing will ever take us down. We have to live the best life we can with the life we’ve been given. Uncertainty will always be a part of the equation. Part of making the best of it is keeping that in mind and keeping it in perspective. That’s how I live my life every day, and I encourage you to do the same.

Photo description: Two wrinkled hands, one bare and one with a black and white checkered sleeve, holding each other over a leather background.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them down again, and wondering when the gym will be closed, in Portland, Oregon.