I came across a hashtag on Instagram while seeking holiday baking inspiration. It annoyed me no end, and it also made me sad. Titled #MakeEveryoneElseFat, the photos feature treats of various kinds.
I don’t understand the hashtag. I don’t make treats to undermine anyone’s diet. I bake treats at Christmas because I enjoy it and I want people to enjoy a simple pleasure during the holidays.
This year I want to say to people I am not the food police. Eat or don’t eat. I do not need to know why you don’t want to partake in dessert or any other food for that matter, unless you are at risk of an unpleasant, life threatening allergic response.
I’m sure people feel they are being polite when they want to explain it’s not you, it’s them. But as I taught my child, just say “thank you, I’m full,” or “I’ve had plenty, thanks” or “I don’t really care for X but I will try Y.”
No one will give you a medal if you resist the call of the cookie, and no one will judge you if you don’t. At least not in my house. All I want is for you to have a good time, to chill, and not feel any guilt about anything.
It’s not even December 1 and I have been seeing a non-stop stream of ads, posts and recommended links on all manner of cleanses. Some are short, some are long, some are liquid, and some are minimal. All are useless.
Timothey Caulfield at the University of Alberta debunks the latest holiday cleanses in this article. Caulfield writes:
The idea that we need to cleanse and detoxify our bodies seems to have become a culturally accepted fact. This feels especially true around the holidays which are associated with heavy foods and even heavier shame about what that turkey and gravy and wine might be doing to our insides. After a weekend of indulgence, wellness gurus cry, your body is begging for a detox. But is it?
While there is something to be said for countering a week (or two) of indulgence with lighter fare, unless you were born liver-less or you lost your liver along the way, the human body has its own detox system right inside you: the aforementioned liver and kidneys.
There’s a huge market out there and if you build it, make it, sell it, they will come. The promises are endless but the long and short of it is simple: today’s cleanses and detox programs are primarily designed to relieve you of your money.
The sellers of these cleanses rely on fear and vanity, and also on society’s preoccupation on thinness. The messages are often wrapped upin social beliefs about health and wellness.
We empower people to take charge of their health, especially women who are often responsible for managing their well being along with those of their families. Who wants to be known as someone who does not care about their health? Not me.
While the social imperative to diet, to cleanse, to eat clean is present year-round, there seems to be special pressure in December to do any number of things to ensure we have the perfect body.
All the ads I have seen lead me to believe that we must cleanse the body the same way we cleanse our homes for special occasions this time of year. In January, when the new year has begun and we barely have had time to vacuum the pine needles and expunge the last piece of glitter from our homes, we get a different chorus but still with the same tune.
I suggest, if we are to cleanse anything, it is these sorts of unhelpful and unhealthy approaches to wellness.
So if you are confused and challenged by all that you see, remember this: everything in moderation. Your body will do what it needs to do. Fuel it appropriately. Move lots (preferably outside if it isn’t blowing a gale). Get lots of sleep. Drink lots of water. Have fun.
It started slowly last spring. I kept seeing references to plogging, a made up word that means picking up trash while jogging. Then a couple of friends talked about how much trash they picked up on their walks during their holidays.
By the time I saw a company video about a employee who adopted a stretch of road near his house that was part of his daily walk, I was starting to understand there was a bigger idea happening here than just trash clean up.
Community clean up is not new. Scouts, companies, schools and so on often organize group clean ups. One year my son’s scout group retrieved an office chair, a computer monitor and a bicycle from the waterway near his school along with filling multiple garbage bags.
Nor is the idea of linking physical activity with a community goal new either. After all, we have multiple rides for AIDS, sight, and MS; we have walks for cancers of all kinds, and we have other things like charity golf tournaments that link doing good with being active.
As with any new idea, there are those who don’t want to get involved. There are many, many comments on this one piece where the author indicates her complete lack of desire to plogg, but I admit I am more than a little horrified by her privilege and her class assumptions.
Still, maybe we should ask why plogg at all?
I quite like the idea myself. Where I live, we have quite beautiful trails, wild countryside, nice parks, and pretty decent roadways except for the garbage which covers the ground in all directions.
The fact that I live in a place where high winds are pretty much an every day occurrence means stuff gets around. If we all carried a small bag to collect garbage, that would make a big job easier to manage.
I often approach exercise by chunking up my activities into smaller bits. Taken all together I have a workout, and some parts don’t seem at all daunting split up in this fashion. Similarly, my gym often organizes fundraisers for non-sponsored athletes heading to competitions and every year, trainers and their clients chip in to support a family for the holidays. All of us giving what we can adds up to a big thing.
I see plogging in the same way. If everyone picks up a bit (or a lot!) of garbage, it doesn’t seem like a burden. When we do it as a group, the impact is more obvious.
We also know doing something every day outside that requires an effort is better for our health. Lots of fitness advice recommends engaging in at least a 150 minutes a week. That’s 2.5 hours. At first blush we might ask, where can I find that amount of time. If we chunk it up throughout the seven days, it becomes more achievable, realistic, and possible.
The beauty of plogging is if we fall into the camp of not seeing oneself as a gym person, a pool person, or even a running-the-trail-person, maybe joining with a friend or a group of friends to adopt a trail will help us get used to the idea of physical activity as an every day thing. Perhaps it will even lead some of us to become an environmentally aware person who does their bit for the planet.
I have a box that I keep sentimental bits and pieces in for safe keeping. There’s the usual flotsam and jetsam of life: a ticket to my first Broadway musical, the tassel from my high school graduation mortar board, a funny postcard from my mom, a plastic Mickey Mouse, my girl guide pins and so on. Hiding in the box are also two mementoes from two sporting events I participated in: my first ten mile road race and my first (and only) rowing medal.
I hear a lot about how everyone wins these days, from school yard sports days to intramural sports. But what if you signed up for a race and no one was there to see you cross the finish line? What if you forked over your cash, and there was no medal because they ran out? What if you registered hoping for a personal best and the timing mats were gone so no one, including yourself knows your official time? Or the most most worrisome, you were promised water stations and sign posts, and neither were available by the time you reached the designated areas?
Hard to believe but these are all true stories as reported in this open letter to race directors published a few days ago. That ten mile road race I ran back in 2003? You do run on a road, and for the first two hours, the race route is closed to traffic. Go longer, as many walkers and some slower runners do, and you have to hope for the best as the road re-opens and the cars move in. But is it really fair though that only the elite athletes get all the perks — the water, the cheers, the medals, the time chips etc?
I understand time limits and I know many of these races depend on volunteers and the goodwill of the residents in the neighbourhoods these races go through. I really do. The first year I ran the Tely Ten, back in 2003, there were about 1400 participants. In the 2018 race, there were almost 4100 runners, walkers, and wheelers. That’s a whole lotta people getting their fit on.
Even though there’s three times as many people, the actual time difference for the back of the pack has gone from three hours and 17 minutes to three hours and 33 minutes. That’s only a 16 minute difference. So why are the water stations packed away, the roads opened, etc?
Part of me suspects this is the kind of anti-amateur athlete bias we see in other sports. I still remember the dismissal female rowers got for their Regatta efforts in some media coverage. They were only in it to lose weight or look good opined a few, both on and off the record.
Perhaps the feeling is if you can’t train enough to keep up with those who can run a 10 mile race in under 90 minutes, you aren’t a real athlete? Maybe people think you aren’t committed to your fitness goals or you aren’t training hard enough to keep up.
Whatever the reason, there’s a growing chorus out there saying every participant should have the opportunity to finish a race on equal footing with the same treats, water, supports, medals and timers whether you lead the pack or bring up the rear. Especially if you have paid for the privilege of being in a particular competition.
While I wasn’t best pleased to discover there would be cars in the roadway as I headed into the homestretch of my first real race, I did get my official time. I cannot imagine the feeling of having run a race and learning I had been bumped from the chip because I wasn’t fast enough. I can’t imagine not having water on a super muggy race day and having to depend on the kindness of strangers or making sure I could carry enough to keep me going. I cannot think how I would feel if I lost my way on a race course because the signs got picked up sooner rather than later.
We talk a lot here in Canada and also in the US about the need to become fitter so we can reverse the trend of fatter kids and obese adults. We have started having conversations on how we can best support access to affordable modes of exercise and sport and make them safe and inclusive spaces as well. And yet, when it comes to events that help us set benchmarks and allow us to compete with others, why do we have to treat the back of the pack with less respect than those at the front?
As race planners look ahead to 2019, we have to find a way to make sure everyone has a chance to compete on a fair playing field. From rowing, I learned we all have to pull together to make the boat fly. It’s time we pulled together so everyone, including those at the back, get a fair shake too.
Martha gets her fit on through powerlifting and swimming.
Last month after almost eight months without a fitness tracker, I bought a new one just a day before I went on holiday. I had been missing my fitbit, which readers may remember that I used to track sleep, and with a return to swimming, I thought it would be good to get one that was waterproof too.
As with anything I undertake, I made sure I had a couple of “regular” days to see how I was doing stepwise, and then I was off. My average step count — if I do not think about moving in an active way– is about 5000 steps. When I travel, the count goes up since I tend to rely on public transportation or my own two feet.
I was happy to find that the counts steadily increased with each day, and about three days in, I was easily making the recommended 10K step count. In case you are unfamiliar with this concept, getting 10,000 steps a day helps you feel better, have lower blood pressure, and more stable blood sugar levels. These days though, the thinking is that we should aim for 15K because:
More recently, some researchers have suggested 15,000 steps might be even better. A snapshot study of Scottish postal workers found that individuals who walked an average of 15,000 steps per day had normal waistlines, healthy cholesterol levels, and a lower risk of heart disease.
Well, on my travels, I saw those Scottish postal workers and I raised them to 20K levels. In Fitbit language, when you make 5000 steps, you get a boat shoe award. Hit 10K, and you get a sneaker award, and 15K will net you the urban boot award. I collected those and in my last week and half, I was regularly collecting between 20K and 25K steps a day.
I did a rough calculation at the end of my trip and learned I had walked more than 300,000 steps in my three weeks, a record for me. But that wasn’t the only thing I learned. The first couple of days I experienced a wee bit of soreness in my feet as I ramped up the number of steps, but as time and I rolled on, that eased.
Since I have been back, my step count hasn’t been quite so stellar. And I have more stiffness and less flexibility. Part of that might be attributed to my return to more formal footwear, but I am inclined to think it is because I am moving less.
I also have a fairly sedentary job. As a writer, I don’t move around a lot, and that means I have to think about making sure some fitness activity is a priority for me every day. Enter the Fitbit again: I can set reminders to take a wallk or go up and down a flight of stairs.
The reality behind hitting your step quota is that more movement is better, and increasing the challenge or intensity of that activity is wonderful. Since I have been back from my break, I have been looking for ways to keep moving, whether that means bypassing the front door parking spot when I visit clients, taking the stairs both up and down, or taking a brisk walk of ten to 15 minutes.
The weekend after I returned, Fitbit sent me a message that I had achieved the Great Barrier Reef distance badge, or a total distance of 1600 miles. Totally I chuffed, I looked up the next badge, which is Japan, equal to another 289 miles. I may not get on a plane any time soon for my next hoiday, but walking to Japan virtually will be the next best thing.
— MarthaFitat55 lives in St. John’s. She, in fact, owns several pairs of sneakers, one pair of hiking boots, and a lovely pair of cherry red rain boots, but not a single pair of boat shoes.
We have had high humidex levels in my part of the country we call Canada. Some people think it’s all snow and ice all the time, but nope, we get heat here too. The past few summers we have seen increasing periods of humidity, the kind that I only ever encountered when I lived in Ontario in the mid 80s.
I’ve been lucky too that my training times up to now in previous summers have managed to avoid the periods of extreme heat. This year though, it’s another story.
That’s because the gym has been hotter than the gates of Hades. In fact, several times my trainer has deemed it too unsafe to train, it’s been that ridiculously hot.
When it is so warm that breathing causes you to break out into a sweat, what’s the next best option to keeping the wheels turning on the training train?
For me it has been swimming and yoga. I’ve written about my swimming adventures here, here, and here. But my return to yoga this summer after almost four years away has been a revelation.
My former yoga instructor offered an eight week yin yoga summer program, and despite the heat some evenings, I, in fact, found it quite lovely and rejuvenating.
First off, though, there were no goats nor kittens, nor were there beers or bottles of wine. This was not hip yoga, unless you mean the kind that would help me keep my hips in good nick so I can keep walking and climbing stairs.
Yin yoga is sometimes described as a passive practice because you tend to hold poses for longer periods (thus doing fewer of them in a session), but it is this holding which allows muscles to stretch and fascia to relax.
It is my favourite form of yoga because it brings you in touch on a deeper level with your breathing and your core. It also means you have to focus on stilling the distractions that keep knocking on your mental front door.
The yogi chose a different quotation from her collection to guide our practice each night. One night she chose this one: I am my strongest when I am calm (Yung Pueblo). Even though summer yoga has been finished for almost three weeks now, that quotation still rings in my ears.
Our pace of life is one that is managed by multiple demands on our time from family, friends, work, community. I had returned to yoga because I wanted an alternative for the weight training hiatus. The effort of focusing reminded me how often those demands were like tendrils winding themselves tighter and tighter, sometimes even cutting parts of ourselves off from the whole.
I am my strongest when I am calm.As I write this sentence here, I feel the stress of my day leak away. It reminds me I don’t have to be buzzing madly like a bee from one flower to another. I can pick a moment, or a pose, and lean into it, think about what’s happening, and noticing the little changes that emerge or arise the longer I hold the pose.
Those eight little words are profound. It’s made me think again about what strength means. For me it’s been about asking for help, stepping back, pausing to breathe, feeling the moment, accepting a change in plans, approach, direction. These days, it has also meant I rest with an idea to see what happens, to understand what emerges from the stillness, and to feel the surety that comes from embracing the balance that comes from both the push and the pull.
I’ve learned that it is also more than figuring out how long I can hold it (hey there dragon pose), or if I can push it (nice to meet you flying dragon), or if I need to release it (thank you child pose). It’s about recognizing the power I have within and knowing it will still be there when I go back into the gym once it is cooler.
I am my strongest when I am calm. Yes. Yes, I am.
— MarthaFitat55 is embracing her best self and best life through movement and fitness.
This past month has been one focused on change. We went from a relatively cool June to a muggy July seemingly overnight and training in the heat has been difficult.
My trainer and I have been experimenting, from shifting when I train so I can manage the heat to trying different deadlift and bench approaches. I am still following my trainer’s lead regarding my program, and it’s a relief to let someone else take the reins of planning and directing. People hire me for my expertise in communications and let me take the lead all the time, so I’m perfectly fine relying on my trainer’s knowledge and experience to show me the way forward in the gym.
It’s a choice that has let me successfully continue with powerlifting as a training focus for almost five years. In that time, I’ve managed recovery from a hyperactive hip joint, a shoulder with attitude, and a knee that constantly whined for attention.
So when Vicky said let’s try a few things, I said okay and we carried on with me lifting heavy things and putting them down, albeit in some very different, challenging variations. We used bands, blocks, pins and posts. We took apart processes and put them back together, and not always in the same way.
I wasn’t always excited about change in the gym. I really worry about reinjuring various parts so I tend to look at new moves with suspicion and a decided lack of enthusiam. However, I trust my trainer and when she proposed deficit deadlifts, I said yes. When she added bands, I said yes, and kept my fingers crossed they wouldn’t snap mid lift. When she proposed pinch presses for bench, I said yes and hoped like heck it didn’t mean I was the one who got pinched. (I wasn’t).
Each shift made the lifts more challenging and I quickly mastered the new ways of lifting, despite how weird it all felt. Each shift meant I had to change the way I carried out my work compared to the traditional approaches.
I find deficit lifts challenging as everything tends to get squished the closer you get the floor and it isn’t so easy breathing either. I quickly discovered I needed a new way to fill my lungs as the heavier the bar the more energy and breath I needed.
I tried a couple of different moves and workarounds until I felt as comfortable as I would ever feel shifting a lot of weight around. I had to do the same thing with bench presses and squats too.
Well, those tiny changes had a big impact. After three weeks of tiny steps, Vicky brought me back to traditional deadlifts and bench presses. I’m thrilled with the results — new personal records in bench and deadlift for four repeats at 100 pounds and 200 pounds respectively.
When I think on it, all my progress has come from tiny steps: from making that first decision to hire a trainer and actually walk into the gym to the actual nurturing of trust in the process, the trainer, and myself.
Each stage builds on the next, creating a space where gains in strength and comfort are possible. Most importantly, I have seen changes in how I have made fitness a part of my life. I added swimming last year when my neighbourhood pool reopened and this summer I took up yin yoga.
When I did the latest survey on my Carrot app, I was delighted to see how much time each week is now devoted to a specific physical activity. The old joke asks “how does one eat an elephant? The answer: one bite at a time. Or in my case, one step at a time, consistently.