Nap time! (Late to the party for #NationalNappingDay)


I love naps. I’m such a good napper (can sleep anywhere, anytime–sleep is my super power) that Sarah gave me t-shirt that reads “I’m a professional naplete.” See above.

I was happy to read this week that good news that naps can lower your blood pressure.

The study showed that midday sleepers had a 5% lower average 24-hour ambulatory systolic blood pressure compared to patients who did not nap at midday. Even though this might seem like a minor difference, the lead researcher Dr Manolis Kallistratos said at the conference that even this small decrease “can reduce the risk of cardiovascular events by up to 10%.” So a tiny drop is still of great significance.

Even better for the siesta snoozers, the study showed that a longer sleep was associated with a higher drop in blood pressure. One hour was found to be the time needed for the best results.

Kallistratos noted that there were a few limitations in the study that would be worth addressing for future research in the field. For starters, the study was only observational. It has to be assumed that it is the midday nap that is producing the positive effects in the patients, and not some other uncontrolled variable. Kallistratos is confident that this is the case since the blood pressure drop pattern seen at midday is similar to the drop people experience when they sleep at night.

The second is that the hypertension symptoms in the study participants were very well controlled, but that might not be the case for everyone. So in future it could be worthwhile including participants whose hypertension was not so well-controlled, as Kallistratos thinks they could experience an even more significant blood pressure drop with a daytime doze.

It must also be noted that a nap is superior to just resting. Kallistratos commented that the biggest drop in blood pressure kicked in just before the REM phase, which suggests actual sleep is required to lower blood pressure to the levels observed.

“Μidday sleep is a habit that nowadays is almost a privilege due to a nine to five working culture and intense daily routine,” said Kallistratos. However, given the potential benefits, making time for a midday nap might be an idea to sleep on.

I’ve been blogging about napping for while. My first post about it was five years ago. It was long enough ago that my hair is still brown (!) and the dog I’m napping with is my dearly departed Olivia (miss you so much!), not Cheddar.

eating · eating disorders · family

Eat me, drink me: Philosophical reflections on our attitudes about children and food*

*That’s the title of a talk I have a few years ago at the Vermont Food Ethics Workshop.

Recently I started thinking again about children and diets, in light of the whole “summer Weight Watchers for free” thing. I blogged first about what’s awful about that idea and then about what we might do if not Weight Watchers.

But I’m also interested, as a philosopher who writes about children, in our cultural ideas about children and food. I’m interested in our romantic ideas of children as “natural eaters,” on the one hand, and as out of control eaters, wantons, on the other. Think Cookie Monster! We project a lot of our ideas about childhood onto child aged eaters.

(Jenn Epp and I wrote a paper on similar themes about children and sexuality. Again children are cast as either out of control, sexually depraved creatures who need to be watched and patrolled or they’re perfectly innocent and naive and in need of our protection. )

In the context of food and dieting, our fear of childhood obesity makes us want to control childhood eating because of this idea children have no willpower and at the same time there’s this popular parenting idea that if we left children alone to graze, they’d make nutritious choices and never eat too much. Both ideas, I argued, in the talk I gave at Vermont are mistaken.

As usual the truth is somewhere in between. As is often the case popular views about children aren’t really about children. They’re about adult preoccupations and fears that we project onto children. We either idealize them or make them int our worst fears. Nowhere are contemporary parenting debates more fraught than in arguments about what and when to feed children. My kids mostly missed the great juice box wars but I don’t envy today’s parents.

Children aren’t that different from adults. It’s not that we corrupt them and that they start out as natural intuitive eaters. Children prefer sugar, fat, salt when given healthy and unhealthy choices to choose from, and will not choose healthy foods automatically. Given healthy food choices they are pretty good at moderating amounts.

Many people swear by Ellyn Satler’s moderate advice to parents which involves a division of responsibility between parents and children. Parents are responsible for choosing what foods to offer and children choose how much and whether to eat.

On her view, the parents are responsible for providing regular (healthy) meals and snacks, cooking and preparing the food for young children, serving it to children, and making the family eating experience pleasant. Children are responsible for deciding WHAT they want to eat on their plates, HOW MUCH they eat, and WHETHER THEY EAT at all.

My worst time as a parent worrying about food was when I had one child who was significantly underweight and another who was significantly overweight. I actually had a family doctor suggest that I prepare the kids different meals. You know, skim milk for one kid and whole milk for the other. He even suggested that I send the overweight child to bed early and offer the underweight child cookies and ice cream while watching videos. I looked at him asked, do you even have children?

Instead, I continued (mostly) preparing family meals and letting the kids choose what they ate. In their teens one pursued ballet and modern dance, the other rugby and football. You can guess which one did which. Today, in their early twenties they are both of normal weight though at the opposite end of the range.  But even if one did end up “too thin” and one “too fat,” I hope I’d have the peace of mind and commonsense to recognize that bodies come in lots of different shapes and sizes. They’re my children after all.

I want to tell my friends with young children to relax. Children aren’t perfectly pure creatures that you need to worry about spoiling but neither are they monsters who you have to control.

Are you a parent of young children? What’s your approach to feeding children? Do you worry about their food choices? 



Sleep! Or Happy National Napping Day!

One thing I am learning about this job is that I am “on” a lot more. I need 8 hours sleep a night to do it well. Usually I get that much on the weekend and then manage 6-7 hours a night during the week. It’s not enough.

These days I arrive at work to a fully scheduled day. There are no breaks unless a meeting ends early or if I arrive somewhere before the “travel time” between meetings allotted in my schedule is over.

There are two challenges: One is being with people all day. I say I’m a well disguised introvert. But this schedule taxes my disguise. The other is the issue of finding time to prepare for meetings or do the follow up after.

So easy, right? Get enough sleep.

Part of the problem is that I am not yet living in Guelph 7 days a week. Instead, my weekends are spent helping the family with house renos and packing up all the London stuff to get the house ready to go on the market. There’s driving between cities and they’re busy weekends with lots of physical work in them for everyone. I arrive back in Guelph late, late Sunday night and get up early Monday morning, not exactly ready for my busy weeks.

I’m going to commit to a weekday 10 pm bedtime for awhile since my weekend catch-up plan is no longer working.

Yawn! Hoping to avoid being like this kitten in meetings today.

disability · fitness · injury

When exercise isn’t fun: Sometimes it’s boring and repetitive, painful, and not the least bit joyful

My new physiotherapist tells me that I’m tough. She also says I’m determined.

That’s the kind of praise I need these days.

Because contrary to our usual message, I’m not exercising these days because it’s fun or joyful or at all social. I’m doing a lot of boring, repetitive, sometimes painful exercises, mostly by myself, in order to regain basic knee function so I can do things like climb stairs and get out of chairs without grimacing. I’m also making time for it when I am super busy and when the exercising part doesn’t feel like a reward at the end of a long day. It’s more like punishment.

So when Tracy wrote yesterday that “our number one piece of advice for anyone is to find activities that you enjoy” I admit that I kind of flinched. Because my life isn’t like that right now. Right now I am doing a lot of physio. My knee hurts. I’m resolute and determined to get back on my bike even though I’ll never run or play soccer again. Aikido? Maybe. I’ve got hope for cycling. We’ll see. I’m in mourning a bit for my former self!

In my Facebook memories newsfeed a happy photo came through of the Run for Retina 9 years ago. It’s me and cousin Tara doing the 5 km. Look at our smiles! Look how happy we are!


I’m not sure why I am telling you all this, except to find company and to reassure those of you, who like me, who are in pain, that you are also not alone.

I do exercises to support my knee function to my pain tolerance and then it’s all ice and ibuprofen after. I’ve missing the Fowler Kennedy game ready ice and compression thingie. I want one for home!

Yesterday, I was balancing and marching and doing squats on a bosu ball. See here for how that helps.

So contrary to our usual message of “if you don’t love it, don’t do it,” this is me saying, it’s not always fun or joyful or social and sometimes you need grit and determination and you do it anyway. That’s part of my character, a big part of who I am.

What was Tracy’s message last week, life on life’s terms? Something like that.

aging · athletes · cycling · injury

Bonus mini blog post: Sam sees some hope when it comes to her knee and riding a bike

I know many of you have been following the saga of my knee with interest and concern. I feel like I’ve got a whole community watching out for me and wishing me well and cheering me on.

Tonight something really good happened.

Here’s what I posted on Facebook.

Feeling hopeful. Really hopeful. First time on the spin bike without any pain when pedaling while standing. No pain while using big gears either. Phew. There’s hope.

The last time I went to a spin class I could spin in easy gears well enough but it hurt to put resistance on and it hurt to stand. So I didn’t do those things.

But today, nothing. It felt fine. I kept stopping, expecting it to hurt but nothing. I did sprints. I did hills. I did max wattage drills. All felt good. Well, except for the getting sweaty and out of breath part.

It was only a 45 minute class, not the 90 I’ve usually been doing over the winter but I walked home after feeling happy and strong.

And actually I felt so good I stuck around for the 30 minute core workout after.

Yay! There’s hope.

diets · eating · eating disorders · food · health

If not Weight Watchers for children, then what?

Regular readers know that I’m no fan (to put it mildly) of Weight Watchers. See I hate you Weight Watchers.

I think it’s extra awful that they are offering free summer memberships to children and I’ve written about that too.

(Added: Yes, it’s not just Weight Watchers. Goodlife Fitness does it too for high school students. FWIW, I also hate them.)

Yet, I can see the attraction. We know adults find it impossible to lose weight. That diets don’t work is a regular theme here on the blog.

Still, many people who agree that there is not much we can do about adult obesity other than helping people not gain weight in the first place, view children as the front line in the “war against obesity.” The thought is that if we can stop obesity either before it develops or in its early stages, we can avoid the health problems associated with overweight and obesity.

(Added: For those who don’t know the blog that well, I’m using talk of “obesity” and the “war on obesity” even though I think these are very problematic. See Catherine’s post with which I agree, “Obese” is a bad word—it’s got to go. I’m doing it because I think that even if that’s your framework you shouldn’t endorse dieting for children.)

What’s the problem then? Couldn’t children who are looking for help, who struggle with their weight, find some sensible advice at Weight Watchers? It’s got to be better than the semi-starvation plan that got me through high school. I lived for years on coffee, cigarettes (and, this was the 70s and 80s, we didn’t know better) bran muffins. We know lots of older children and young teens try wacky diets. At least Weight Watchers is all about regular food and includes all the food groups.

The big problem is that while common sense seems obvious, it’s actually not clear what works. “Eat less, move more,” sure, and what could be wrong with that? (James Fell says it’s bullshit and he makes me laugh.) But we don’t have a very good grip on the causes of obesity. Nor do we have a very good handle on what works to reduce childhood obesity. It’s definitely not as simple as “eat less, move more.”

If a medication had the same success rate as dieting—where ‘diet’ is behavior aimed at producing a calorie deficit by eating less and moving more—and a similar track record of bad side effects (including significant weight gain), there is no way we’d prescribe it to anyone, let alone children.

What do we know? We know what doesn’t work. Shame and stigmatization don’t work. See campaign takes creative aim at Georgia’s anti-obesity ads.

You might think who would recommend shaming, anyway? But bioethicist Daniel Callahan outright advocates shaming in his opinion piece, “Obesity: Chasing an Elusive Epidemic,” Hastings Center Report 43, no. 1 (2013): 34-40.

fat activist marilyn wann

What about labelling without shame, simply describing overweight and obesity without judgement?

However, even telling children they are overweight has bad effects

“A recent study by researchers at UCLA found that if girls had been called “too fat” by someone by age 10, they were more likely to be “obese” at age 19, and that the more people who told her she was “too fat” the more her chances of being “obese” increased. The study included controlled for income, race, childhood weight and puberty age.” See here.

Girls who are told by a parent, sibling, friend, classmate or teacher that they are too fat at age 10 are more likely to be obese at age 19, a new study by UCLA psychologists shows. The study looked at 1,213 African-American girls and 1,166 white girls living in Northern California, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C., 58 percent of whom had been told they were too fat at age 10. All the girls had their height and weight measured at the beginning of the study and again after nine years.

Overall, the girls labeled fat were 1.66 times more likely than the other girls to be obese at 19, the researchers found. They also found that as the number people who told a girl she was fat increased, so did the likelihood that she would be obese nine years later. (These findings appear in the June 2014 print issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics and are published online April 28.)

“Simply being labeled as too fat has a measurable effect almost a decade later. We nearly fell off our chairs when we discovered this,” said A. Janet Tomiyama, an assistant professor of psychology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science and the study’s senior author. “Even after we statistically removed the effects of their actual weight, their income, their race and when they reached puberty, the effect remained.”

See also “Adolescent Dieting May Predict Obesity and Eating Disorders” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2006.

Doctors suggest weighing children without judgement. It’s just a number. That’s all.

A set of swings with no one in them. Photo by Aaron Burden, Unsplash.

One other suggestion is to decouple inactivity and obesity and focus is on the inactivity side of the equation. There are obesity related reasons to care about inactivity but that’s not the only reason. There are also good reasons to decouple them. Efforts at improving activity (and nutrition) shouldn’t be measured solely in terms of impact on obesity.

There are no studies showing harmful effects of increasing children’s activity levels. Thin people need to move more too and overweight and obese people shouldn’t quit exercising if the scale doesn’t move

I think a similar focus on nutrition and developing a healthy relationship with food would be good regardless of its impact on weight and BMI.

But until we have a good handle on the causes of childhood obesity I think that guilting parents and shaming children has to end.

We know diets don’t work. We know body shaming doesn’t work. It turns out that even naming the problem makes it worse. Children who are told they are fat by friends, family, doctors are more likely to gain weight.

So what to do?

First, don’t take them to Weight Watchers.

Second, help them learn to appreciate the bodies they have and the things that these bodies can do. Make movement fun and joyful.

Third, help children learn to cook at home and make family meals happy occasions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics new guidelines (see here) on dealing with weight and kids suggests getting rid of body shaming, weight talk, and dieting because it predisposes kids to eating disorders and to eventual weight gain as a result of disordered eating. Since the old way of trying to eliminate obesity tends to make people more prone to illness, there are also new guidelines including emphasizing exercise and nutrition, NOT body size.

That’s all I’ve got. How about you?

athletes · blogging · feminism · fitness

Meet the Fit is a Feminist Issue Bloggers

You can see our 2018 schedule here.

Tracy Isaacs posts Tuesdays and most Thursdays, writer, feminist, vegan, runner, sailor, philosopher, yogi, photography-obsessed, sometimes knitter, co-founder of Fit Is a Feminist Issue, co-author of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (launching in April 2018, published by Greystone Books).

Sam Brennan, posts regularly Mondays and Wednesdays, and randomly lots of other days and times! Philosopher, feminist, parent, and cyclist! Co-founder of Fit Is a Feminist Issue, co-author of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (launching in April 2018, published by Greystone Books.

Susan Tarshis is a feminist, therapist, parent and general know it all about a lot of things. She loves to hike with her dog, ride horses, ride a bike and do Pilates. She runs but doesn’t like that nearly as much. She is Associate Faculty with the Toronto Institute for Relational Psychotherapy. Activity is necessary for life, health and growth in all domains. Our access to it and our ideas around it are informed by our histories and social locations. Susan likes to engage in discussion of these domains with personal stories. Her blogs often explore themes of performance, joy, authenticity and even despair. In the end, her dog always saves the day.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto when she’s not roaming the earth. She works in the space of sustainable socially accountable change in health and education, and is particularly interested in fostering a greater culture of aging with the greatest mobility possible. She posts the second Friday and third Saturday of every month as well as other times when the mood strikes!

Martha lives in Newfoundland and posts here the third Friday of every month. Martha is a late 50s feminist writer and consultant. She has tried running, rowing, trail walking, swimming and powerlifting. So far lifting weights and practicing laps in the pool have stuck.

Natalie lives with 3 awesome humans as well as high blood pressure and Major Depressive Disorder. She is working on completing her BA in Women’s Studies from Athabasca University one course at a time. She tries very hard to be a hopeful feminist and enjoys debunking ideas around fat bodies by wearing a lot of Lycra. Natalie posts the first Saturday of the month.

Kim Solga was born in Montreal, Quebec, grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, and has lived across Canada, in the US, and in the UK. She is a feminist scholar of theatre and performance by day, and a cyclist and rower by evening/early morning/on the weekend. Her trusty dog, Emma Jane, keeps her honest by demanding three walks daily. Kim also blogs about teaching, performance, and activism on WordPress, at The Activist Classroom. Kim blogs on the 4th Friday of the month.

Bettina is a 33 year-old research manager with a PhD in Political Science. She lives in Heidelberg, Germany, where she works for a European research enabling organisation in the life sciences. In her spare time she swims, runs, boulders and generally likes to be active. She thinks fit is a feminist issue because all too often, exercising while female means being judged: too weak, too strong, too fat, too thin, too ugly, too pretty… you name it. It’s time to fix that, so we need a feminist perspective. Bettina blogs on the second Saturday of the month.

Catherine Womack, “Weekends with Womack,” our Sunday regular.

“I’m an analytic philosopher, retooled as a public health ethicist. I’m interested in heath behavior change, particularly around eating and activity, and how things other than knowledge affect our health decisions.I’m also a cyclist (road, off-road, commuter), squash player, x skier, occasional yoga-doer, hiker, swimmer and leisurely walker.”



Christine Hennebury, posts the last Saturday of the month. “I’m a writer, storyteller, and creative life coach from Newfoundland and Labrador. I’m a 2 degree blackbelt in ITF Taekwon-do who dabbles in yoga and Nia dance. I’m intrigued by the challenge of getting my body to do the things that my mind has already learned. Fitness is a feminist issue for me because I am much more interested in what my body can do than what it looks like. (After all, I am not a decoration.) I blog about taekwon-do, my inspirations, the challenges involved in building habits and learning new things, and the mental blocks to fitness.”