Fat, fit and fashionable? Not quite

In the last couple of weeks, Sam and Catherine have written about the no-buy project they started July 1. I joined in, because why not? I have been working on being a more aware consumer, looking at limiting my carbon footprint, and reducing waste, recyling more, and repurposing what and where I can.

I have so far stuck to my goal and made only two unplanned purchases. After I rolled my ankle pretty badly in August, I was advised to wear shoes with proper support for my active days. I ended up buying a pair of heavy duty walking shoes and a decent pair of workshop shoes. I was assured this was an acceptable exception.

Truth be told, the no-buy challenge has meant I haven’t bought shoes. Sure I bought two pairs as a result of my rolled ankle, but they were serviceable, not pretty. I really love shoes. It hasn’t escaped me while I am stuck with size limits when it comes to fashionable clothing, footwear doesn’t really discriminate against anyone. There’s no plus-size shoe section with dull colours. No one says you can’t wear a slingback if you are a size 18; no one has pronounced an edict against Lizzo for her fantastic heels.

My other unplanned purchase came on holiday. A friend took my mother and me shopping. I bought a top and my mom bought one for my birthday. I had a pang when I realized I had broken my no-buy pact but the fact is where I live it’s hard to buy nice clothes for the curvy body I have been blessed with and I was really happy to find something lovely that made me feel good when I wore it and didn’t cost me my first-born. I realized that often I buy clothing because it fits, it’s reasonable, and is available not because I feel good in it.

So when Sam shared this article about progress vis-a-vis curvy models and plus-size clothing, I was intrigued and puzzled. Apparently, there’s been a resurgence in fashion houses focusing on very sleek, lithe, very flat bodies with prominent ribs and pronounced abs. While there has been an increase in designer clothes offering plus sizes, they tend to stop at size 20, and the curvy models they have been showing on the catwalk are around size 12 or 14 (think Marilyn Monroe). Some chain stores like Old Navy have stopped carrying plus sizes in-store and online access has been challenging as well.

Haute couture has focused on how the fabric looks on the human body. It certainly can inspire and support innovation. However, we cannot ignore the fact that fashion’s extreme focus on thin, almost anorexic models has been a constant. What’s still most attractive, most acceptable, and most desirable are not rolls, folds, and soft bellies but sleek limbs with tight planes and angles.

We also know that in many spaces, training and fitness activities are not seen as a path to wellness but as the route to thinness. We may be seeing defined abs on the catwalk but with what effect? If only certain bodies can meet the criteria for what is fashionable, what does it mean for those bodies who do not? And by extension whose communities are represented and whose are ignored?

One of the things I really like about the article is that it recognizes the complexity of the issue. We need more conversations on what this means for fitness, body image, consumerism, and representation. We need more choices we can consciously buy into on multiple levels.


MarthaFitat55 is enjoying all the things she’s learning.


How much water should we drink to be hydrated? (Round II)

A little over two years ago I wrote a post about how much water we should be drinking. You can find it here.

Image shows a household tap with drops of water falling. Photo by Jos Speetjens on Unsplash

Recently NPR posted a myth-busting article about water myths and human bodies. The five myths they tackle include:

  • Myth #1: You need to drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
  • Myth #2: Caffeine makes you dehydrated.
  • Myth #3: We need sports drinks to replace salt and other electrolytes.
  • Myth #4: Drinking water can help you lose weight.
  • Myth #5: Dark-colored pee means you’re dehydrated.

I knew about the first one and the third, and had held suspicions about the second. The rest however surprised me. In fact, I thought I had heard all the tropes about weight loss but drinking water to lose weight was one I had not heard of.

The article does a nice job explaining some of the latest research findings and evidence to debunk the myths, always a useful approach given the misinformation we can encounter in health, fitness, wellness, and nutrition.

MarhaFitat55 is always interested in reliable health information we can use.


The lights are bright …

We are moving steadily into fall in the Northern Hemisphere. Soon we will roll back the clocks and it will be dark by the end of the average workday. Factor in rain, sleet and snow, and both mornings and evenings will be darker earlier and longer.

Rainy window at night with lighter blue lights in the distance. Photo by Julius Drost on Unsplash

This isn’t a post about depression and managing SAD, although there is way more written about it now than when I first learnt about it 30 years ago. No, this post is about safety and outdoor fitness.

I used to be a runner. My favourite time to run was early in the morning around 6 ish. But when I first learned to run, it was in the evening and in a group. Nonetheless, one of my running classmates gave me a safety vest to wear after the first week as I had nothing reflective. Even in a group, safety and visibility was paramount.

A few years after, when my knees said enough, my running days converted to trail walking. Other family members took up walking or biking to get to work or school. I could walk mid day but other family members encountered less than stellar conditions before nine am and after 4 pm in the fall and winter.

One evening I was leaving the supermarket and encountered a group of runners wearing a variety of neon tubes that changed colour. I was entranced. The runners were lit up like Christmas trees and there was no overlooking their presence.

I rolled down the window and asked where such wondrous items could be found. On the Internet of course. Thus informed, I went home, searched, purchased, and duly waited for its arrival.

There’s any number of styles and sources available now. Mine is easy to put on and easy to use. Not only do I get a choice of colour, I can also set the lights to flash intermittently.

Now I am fully aware that I cannot rely on my light-up vest to be 100% responsible for my safety. Like any person who identifies and lives as female, personal safety is second nature when engaging in the activities of daily life including fitness. Individuals who identify and live as men have only visibility to worry about for the most part.

For example, if you are a runner, you may think about changing your route or letting someone know your route and the usual time it takes for you to complete it. You may decide to rearrange your work schedule so you can work out at mid-day instead of the early evening or morning. Perhaps you plan your workouts to coincide with the best bus schedule or maybe you have been eyeballing the new safety alarms that screech louder than a toddler thwarted on the playground.

We worry about safety when we take on new fitness activities. Have you got someone to spot you with weights? Have you learned how to use the machines properly? Do you understand how to adjust for modifications in yoga or Pilates? But how many of us engage in safety practices without consciously thinking about them?

My decision to purchase a light-up vest was a conscious safety decision. My need to be visible and safe was not just rooted in wanting to avoid being hit by a car, but it was linked to all things I do to be personally safe, many without consciously realizing why I was doing them.

I’m curious: what are some of the things you do to be safer when the seasons change? Let us know in the comments.

MarthaFitat55 lives and works in St. John’s, NL.


Breastfeeding? Exercise is good for you

Last summer we heard about Olympic athletes who faced obstacles to their need to breastfeed their children while participating in the games. Spanish athlete Ona Carbonell described the rules imposed by Japanese officials as dangerous and impractical. Because it is World Breastfeeding Week, a yearly event promoting breastfeeding and its important role in food security and infant nutrition, I thought I would highlight some of the things you can do while breastfeeding, including physical exercise and other fitness-type activities.

A white woman sits under a tree breastfeeding her child in a park. Photo by Dave Clubb on Unsplash

If you’ve had a baby and are breastfeeding, either through direct nursing or pumping, you may have wondered about the impact of exercise. LaLeche League offers peer support worldwide to nursing parents. The organization says regular exercise offers physical and mental benefits and notes even moderately vigorous exercise won’t affect milk supply. They offer these helpful guidelines:

  • 1. Wait until your baby is at least 6 weeks old or more. (Give yourself time to recover physically!)
  • 2. If you had a cesarean section you can usually start exercising 6-8 weeks after birth. However, you should talk to your healthcare provider before beginning any type of exercise program.
  • 3. Start slowly and gradually. (Perhaps you had a pretty active lifestyle before baby; however, even if you are very fit, don’t start where you left off.)
  • 4. Be sure to consume liquids to replace those lost by sweating. (Be sure you drink a glass of water every time your baby feeds regardless of your activity before or after.)
  • 5. You may wish to wear a supportive, or sports, bra for your own comfort. (I second this. Extra support is essential.)
  • 6. Some kinds of exercise, such as walking, can be done with your baby.
  • 7. You may also find post-natal exercise classes in your area that allow you to bring your baby with you. (I attended some baby and me classes at my local Y which was great for getting back into physical activity and also connecting with other new parents and their babies.)
  • 8. Walking briskly, mild aerobic exercises and water exercises are ideal in the beginning.
  • 9. Monitor how you feel during and after exercise and let this be your guide for how much to do. Some moms find they can regain their fitness and stamina levels quickly after birth, and others take longer.

This article from Today’s Parent also offers some useful firsthand advice if your fitness level is beyond beginnner. I was on maternity leave post recovery from birth in early spring and summer which also made the temps ideal for working my way back into regular exercise. I also found walking with my baby in a carriage or stroller to be easier than babywearing and it was a great way to spend time with my partner and family. If you are pregnant and planning to breastfeed, I hope this post offers some insight into how you can maintain your fitness too.

MarthaFitat55 enjoyed her breastfeeding experience and was very grateful for all the support she received to make it possible.


Rest and recovery

We talk a lot in fitness about rest days, or recovery stages. If you’ve trained hard for an extensive period of time, you are encouraged to taper or rest so your body can increase its capacity.

Image shows a stripy cat asleep on a bed with white covers. Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

I like how fitness programs alternate days for working different parts of the body and I really like how recovery is not only supported by rest, but also by a change in action (or inaction, if you refer).

Perhaps it’s because I am a post-menopausal woman, and my sleep rhythms are all disturbed (hello 3 am wake-up call) but I have now embraced active rest, or napping as people often call it, as a useful and restorative part of my daily life.

SamB turned me on to the Nap Ministry, founded by Tricia Hersey, who believes strongly, fiercely, that napping is more than a means to catch up on sleep, it’s a form of resistance.

We need to rest, and not by passively catching a few winks on the train ride home, but by actively choosing to hit the pause button on our day. In the same way I schedule my training sessions in my weekly calendar, I have now added a 20-minute power nap. I’ve found it better than meditation as a means of recharging my brain cells.

Hersey writes: “Rest must be central to our reimagining of everything in our daily existence, including our work.” If we can take a coffee break or lunch break, why not a nap break?

So how about it: can you find a 20-minute window in your day to choose rest? What might be keeping you from napping? What do you like best about napping? Let us know in the comments.

MarthaFitat55 is a nap convert and considers it an integral part of her fitness routine.


Making history in sport

On August 4, 2022 women were finally allowed to race the full course at the Regatta. Known previously as the men’s course, the long course is 2.45 kilometers compared to the short course of 1.225 kilometres.

A person holds a paddle with water and sunlight in the background. Photo by Diego Gennaro on Unsplash

The Regatta started in 1816, and 40 years later women were allowed to race for the first time, but only the short course. Historically, there’s been no reason available for women not to be allowed to race the long course. except for sexism.

The recommendation to eliminate gender-based distances came in January after the race committee elected its first female president and vice president. While the short and long course races will have segregated teams for now, the gender markers for distance are no more. The committee confirmed its decision to include women in long-course competition after a trial run in June.

There were four women’s teams signed up to race the long course while no men’s teams signed up to race the short course. The winning team in the women’s long course race set a time of 10:28.70, still better than the fifth place finisher (10:43:31) in the men’s long course championship race.

I rowed for two years in the Regatta. It’s a great sport and I learned a lot. While women have been dominating the sport for a while, even in the early 2000s, I heard lots of snide comments that women participated only because it was a social event or a way to get fit. One sports writer even went so far as to say the only serious races were the morning ones and the championship races; the rest were social rowers.

The short course is a hard and fast row, averaging between five and six minutes, compared to the long course. It makes sense that different strengths, different training approaches, and different racing strategies are required. None of that is gender-based. It would be like saying only men can run a full marathon and only women can run a half. Both lengths have their own merits and records and any gender can run either.

There’s a saying that children learn what they see, and at the boathouse, children, especially girls, the message learned was that endurance was a men’s skill. That’s simply not the case. In training, women, elite and amateur, rowed the long course to develop strength. Yes, it could be a slog, depending on pond conditions, but we weren’t ready for our fainting couches at the end of it either.

Yesterday’s long course race for women proved once again that gender does not limit ability.

MarthaFitat55 believes gender is not a reason to not try anything.


Why we need to stop diet talk

CW: diets, body image

Wednesday past I had just finished reading Catherine W’s lovely post about loving our bodies when SamB shared a news article on the increase of children dieting in the UK.

The image shows three dishes with salad bowls consisting of various vegetables and seeds. Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash

Briefly, the article reported that dieting behaviours among young children were up significantly: more than one in four children were dieting in fact. And coincidentally, the spike occurred following the launch of an obesity awareness program for children and youth.

Without a shadow of a blush, the paper also reported that there might be a problem with the messaging since the number of kids within healthy weight ranges were dieting too.

You think?

Kids are surrounded by images of purported perfect bodies. They learn how to manipulate photos and follow influencers. What could possibly go wrong with the messaging from a weight-based health program?

Context is everything. Even if weight-based concerns are motivated by a sincere wish for health, we know singling kids out for attention that is focused on their bodies is bound to go sideways.

There’s lots wrong with the sugar and fat-loaded foods that are marketed to kids. There’s lots to be worried about when it comes to kids gaining extra weight, or younger kids developing type 2 diabetes.

We are also moving less and eating more. There is also more poverty, and the lack of money influences food buying decisions, so poor diets are not necessarily driven by free choice.

I think we should be focusing on encouraging kids to be proud of their accomplishments, especially those that aren’t weight or image-based. Catherine’s post reminded me how often we are told to improve ourselves, as if we aren’t already good enough as we are.

Children learn what they see, and they aren’t seeing people who are happy with who they are, celebrating all the wonderful things our bodies can do. Instead of focusing on the numbers the scale shows, we need to focus on what self care and self love can do.

MarthaFitat55 lives in the east of Canada. She spent a number of years teaching media literacy to children and youth in the pre-internet era.


Making the best of marginal gains

A lot of my work overlaps with quality improvement processes. The most common question we look at: what small changes can we make to get better results?

Image shows two handsholding a red analog clock. Photo by Malvestida on Unsplash

Lately, I have been thinking about this concept in relation to another concept — tiny habits — which we have chatted about here on the blog. If you work in the business sector, you might know this idea as marginal gains.

It’s an idea that comes up in lots of training programs for elite athletes. When I first took up running, my goal was about speed. I started slow and kept being slow. Yes, my overall fitness got better — lung capacity improved, for example — but I didn’t make any significant changes in my speed. Long after my knees gave up the ghost and told me to try something else, I realized I had been chasing after the wrong goal.

Rather than speed, my focus should have been on recognizing the significant gains I had made on endurance and recovery. I might not have been the speediest, but by the time I stopped running, I could go on a 10k run and finish feeling pretty good physically (except for my knees; they hated it).

When I decided to make fitness a key component of my life vs an end goal, I didn’t set out to apply a QI approach to my training. In thinking back on various blog posts I have written about focusing one issue or another, I’ve come to realize that I was applying the concept of marginal gains to my fitness work.

I’ve taken on tiny habits to increase activity, sleep training, hydration, tracking, and active rest. When I look back at the past five years, there is a difference. I’m eating less meat and more legumes and grains (thanks Meatless Mondays!), I’m drinking more water, I notice when I fall off my sleep training wagon so I get back on more quickly), and I am doing more to reduce stress and have fun.

The biggest gain came with consistency. All these tiny changes done regularly have made a significant difference. Is there still more to do and improve? Yes. Most definitely. And I will keep on, one tiny change at a time.

MarthaFitat55 lives and works on the east coast of Canada.


My new four-letter word

Image description: Four green letter tiles spell out the word REST against a white background.
Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

It’s been a weird two and a half years. I say that because my 2020 started with a wicked snow hurricane, and it just carried on from there. It’s also been a busy time even with the pandemic. Lots of family responsibilities, some new adventures (hello beautiful greenhouse!), and a few undesirable results of getting older (back again, wonky hips?).

I like coming up with ways to keep myself focused. I used to do it while studying (cramming) for exams in university and later when I needed reminders of anything I didn’t want to forget. Lately, I have become delighted with the alarm function on my phone and I made a novel discovery I could use actual songs from playlist to sound the alarms instead of the preset list of ring tones. If you hear Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill, that would be my reminder to do my piriformis stretches.

I got into doodling during the pandemic and found it a great way to track key insights from meetings. I give nicknames to my warm up exercises (I startled my trainer once when I asked them to check my form on the waitress exercise, so called because I felt like one holding a tray up high while balancing on one knee).

Mneomics is what they call these tips formally — they can be pictures, songs, acronyms — whatever helps you retain and retrieve information. I was chatting with a colleague and she commented about a discussion they had concluded at work, saying she hoped “they would give it a rest.”

Now you wouldn’t think an idiomatic expression would prompt a rethink about priorities, work-life balance, and so on, but it did. A rest is a pause, a space in which one refreshes, recovers, rejuvenates. If you give something a rest, you are suspending the discussion, allowing space for something else to move in.

I decided I need to give things in my life a rest too by elevating the things that matter. The next half of the year starts in two weeks and my focus is going to be on REST — Reclaim, Exhale, Stretch, and Time.

I’m going to reclaim my head space by reading more books and making more things. I’m going to focus on exhaling, remembering to breathe, focusing on deliberate movement, and maybe, just maybe starting meditation. I’m going to stretch more, and not just my body, but my mind as well. It’s good to challenge old ideas and try new things. Finally, I’m going to make time for fitness a bigger priority in my weekly calendar.

REST. I think the next six months are going to be good.


True Confessions

Last week I did a very bad thing. I didn’t mean to, but looking back, I am glad as I learned something very important.

Black and white photo shows cat at laptop with a Zoom meeting of cats. Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

The bad thing: I was working on a major document that required validation. It’s a very useful process whereby someone very skilled reviews your document and makes sure everything follows logically. However, I ended up sitting at my desk for pretty much the whole afternoon.

The thing I learned: when you sit for too long at my age (well any age really, but at my age, it is exceptionally bad), your muscles tighten, and when they tighten they pull at your bones. If you have a hypermobile hip joint like mine, tight muscles from sitting for too long without stretching result in very unhappy joints because they get pulled out of their rightful place, usually silently, often resentfully, and later, painfully.

Image shows white cat howling, a pretty accurate description of how I felt after sitting too long. Photo by Carlos Deleon on Unsplash

It’s been a while since I’ve done something this stunned to myself, but now I know. Previously my hips joints have sloughed off their restrictive socket layers when I have stepped into sinky snowbanks, leapt gazelle-like down uneven steps, or even turned over the wrong way in my sleep.

This Learning Moment (LM) reminded me how easy it is to forget everything when I am in the writing zone: food, drink, movement, conversation etc.

Luckily, there is a remedy. I have started setting alarms — chirpy buzzes, whimsical little tunes, exuberant and energetic rock songs — to remind me to get up and do one of my required exercises. (I have a whole slew of them. I can do them standing up, lying down, and yes, even while sitting in a chair. I know how many reps, how many sets, and how many seconds for each one.)

While I am working on paying attention more mindfully to my body cues, I have found the audio cues work better at interrupting my head space and since I have to shut them off using my phone, I have also renamed the labels on the alarms with the names of the key stretches I am required to complete.

I do feel a little like a jack in the box when the alarms go off; however, I can’t deny they have been helping. Perhaps in a month, the habit will be ingrained but until then, I’ll have an ear open for my alarms ready to put those hip flexors back where they belong.

— MarthaFitat55 is looking forward to the summer.