fitness

Stop “looking for results from working out” and kick guilt to the curb

Content warning: post includes talk about dieting and weight loss

I’ve been working out regularly for close to 20 years. That still amazes me when I think about it, because for the first 30 years of my life, I was not an active or fit person. I hated gym class, smoked on and off, hated my body, punished it with diets, binging and wished it would be different.

When I started working out regularly, it didn’t change my perspective about my body overnight. But I didn’t focus on my body’s shape as the primary reason I was working out on a regular basis. And, over time, it has become the least important reason for why I get my sweat on. I focused on:

  1. Amazement at what my body was capable of doing (you can spin your ass off for 3 hours and still feel like you can keep going! You can run a WHOLE MARATHON! Aren’t you lucky you’ve been given a body that can do these things!).
  2. This may be a bit controversial, but at first I was a little surprised at how well I could keep up to the people in some of my classes who were smaller. My brain, conditioned to think smaller was always fitter, learned many times over, that this was not the case. Not for me and not for those with larger bodies, who would often whip my butt in class. Learning this, added to my understanding of how little someone’s appearance relates to their level of fitness.
  3. How much stronger my body felt.
  4. I did enjoy how my body felt firmer. But that is not something that always happens. And bodies of all shapes and sizes can be firmer.
  5. How much my mind benefitted from exercise. It’s still my number one factor. I always say that if I don’t exercise for a couple days “I don’t feel right”. It’s just a fact. I can get too much in my head. I can get too anxious. I can get tense for no particular reason. I don’t think I’ve ever exercised, and not felt noticeably clearer afterwards. Lighter. My chest unclenches. My outlook on my day improves. It’s often stated but not overstated. Exercise is completely beneficial for my mental health (this is not to say that if someone needs other medical interventions, such as medication, that exercise is a substitute for medication).
  6. Helped me quit smoking for good. Knowing I was going to run in the morning, stopped me from going for that cigarette one last time. As I got older, and found that alcohol made me more tired the next day, it also stopped me from going for that 3rd or 4th drink.
  7. Community. Exercising, regularly, allowed me to meet like-minded people. It’s a reason to smile and say Hi to familiar faces. It enables you to see that fitness comes in all shapes and ages and demographics. The pandemic has made the importance of this connection even more evident.
Nicole doing a push-up on dumbbells, in the park. Enjoying what her body is capable of, the weather, the scenery, the camaraderie and so much more.

My experience of body hate and disordered eating is not unusual, unfortunately. Aspects of these experiences can be attributed to diet culture and, particularly, North American views that part of being a successful woman is taking up as little physical space as possible. I am not going to go into the evils of diet culture and why we shouldn’t succumb to these pressures. We’ve talked about this many times on this blog. It’s not news.

black script on a light acqua background with the words “Just say no to diet culture”

But, I’m still surprised at how often, women I know, from all walks of life, all shapes, ages, levels of education, etc., say things like:

  1. I have been eating “better”. I feel less guilty. Or, the opposite.
  2. I enjoyed girls’ night last night, but I need to be extra careful today.
  3. There’s no point in me working out until I get my diet together, because I don’t see results until I eat better.

Variations on all of the above. It’s not surprising that these thoughts are so common, when all around us is “advice” about “Why you might not be seeing fitness results”.

An ad for a fitness coach, showing a young, white woman running in grey shorts and light aqua tshirt, with the words “why you might not be seeing fitness results.

I’ll tell you why some people “may not be seeing fitness results”. They are only looking for one factor. Weight loss. When there are so many other results from fitness, that are much more important.

I can tell you from my own experience:

  1. No amount of guilt is going to steer you in the direction you seek (whether you should be seeking that goal or not).
  2. When you stop looking for visual results from working out, you will notice a whole host of other results from exercise.
  3. If you focus on the visual results of exercise, it may hinder you. It may prevent you from exercising. The “what’s the point” mentality. I don’t want this way of thinking to stop you from enjoying all the amazing benefits that come from regular, intentional movement.

Some of my friends or family who know me might say, “That’s easy for you to say. I’ve noticed you’ve lost weight recently”. This I would address by saying, (1) Losing weight isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes it means you’ve lost muscle tone. Sometimes, losing weight means a person has been unusually stressed or unwell. In my case, I currently feel neutral about losing weight. It’s neither good nor bad. Nor was it my goal. (2) My exercise schedule hasn’t changed much over the years. Sometimes, I’ve been bigger. Sometimes, I’ve been smaller. (3) I eat how I enjoy eating. I happen to have lost weight recently. Because of the pandemic, I have also been doing less heavy weight on the rig. That may be part of it. The way I eat, and my weight, may fluctuate. But one thing is for sure, the way I eat does not involve guilt, body hate, praise or other virtues about my food intake. I am not punishing myself. I make sure I am satiated. I try not to overthink things. How others may enjoy eating, without assigning virtues to the food, may look completely different. And their bodies may look completely different and be equally as fit. You can’t tell how fit someone is by looking at them and you can’t tell how kind someone is to their body by looking at them.

Occasionally, I mention my thoughts about food and exercise, around people who indicate they are upset with themselves because of how they have been eating. I try to gently remind them that beating themselves up isn’t going to help. My thoughts are clearly not that influential. But, I feel the need to try, because it is my sincere wish, that people understand two things about food and exercise:

1. Only do things out of love. You will only be content with how you eat, if you love yourself. If you choose what you want to do because you love yourself. It sounds corny, but it’s true. Nothing good comes out of hating yourself. Ever.
2. Exercise benefits you with mental clarity, strength, joint health, managing things like blood pressure and blood sugar (sometimes, that doesn’t mean you still won’t need medical intervention, it’s not one or the other, in all cases), and so many other things, REGARDLESS OF HOW YOU SEE YOURSELF IN THE MIRROR. Don’t lose all those other benefits, or let that one thing prevent you exercising. PLEASE. Is that too much to ask?

I long for the day when work meetings, backyard bbqs, and social media threads, refrain from feelings of guilt about food, and espouse the virtues of exercise beyond how people see themselves in a mirror.

This is what will happen if you stop “looking for results from working out” and kick guilt to the curb:

You will appreciate exercise for more important things that add up to overall wellbeing. And, it’s more likely to become a regular habit (not just an occasional reminder to “fix” yourself.

You will be kinder to yourself. If there is one thing this pandemic should have taught us, is that it is important to be kinder to ourselves and others. It should not have taught you to deride yourself or to be ungrateful to your wonderous living being because of outdated, unhelpful, time-wasting, life-wasting, brain-wasting societal norms.

Nicole P. is determined to make choices for her body out of love.
fitness

Sneaking out for a yoga class in the park

I snuck out for a gentle yoga class in the park today.

I woke up a little bit groggy. Perhaps some pollen in my eyes. My husband is in Ottawa for a couple nights and I felt a little out of sorts last night. It’s funny how even a small disruption in our routines can make us retreat to old feelings of anxiety and aloneness. One of the dogs got up at 5:15 to go downstairs and throw up (he’s the especially nervous one, when one of us is not home). I managed to get another 45 minutes of sleep after cleaning up, but was still feeling cloudy.

I wasn’t planning on any intentional movement today as I had two days in a row of strength and conditioning class. Saturday was in the park. Sunday was virtual. My hamstring has been a bit annoyed with me lately and I am trying to give it a bit of a break from long runs (not easy for runners to let go of our regular run days).

Scrolling through my newsfeed, I noticed a “slow flow” yoga class scheduled for the park near me. I knew I had a light meeting day ahead. I calculated in my head, can I walk the dogs, log into work, get a few things done, make it to class and back in a decent amount of time. I figured I could. One of the benefits of working from home, is that if I take some time for me during the day, I can make up for it later on, if necessary. Those nagging minutes that need to be finished can wait.

I got to the park and introduced myself to the instructor. There were only two other women there. They were having a conversation about easing back into things. The ways this can be stressful after closing ourselves off during the pandemic. I know I am trying to manage how much I do as we re-connect. Too much at once doesn’t feel right. But I am grateful for every little thing we can do again. Even doing exercise in park (which wasn’t allowed again in my city until a few weeks ago). In fact, today is 2 weeks post second vaccine. I am so grateful for full immunity. I feel lighter already. Looking forward to lunch, indoors, with family soon. Back to the women in the park, we all agreed it felt too soon to re-schedule cancelled overseas trips.

As I lay down my mat, I noticed how perfect the weather was. Sunny with a bit of shade. Warm, but breezy. I could feel the grass underneath my mat. The instructor took us through some gentle exercises to wake up our toes and feet. This was followed by really gentle movements from head to toe. It was perfect. The clouds had separated. Just what I needed today.

As a bonus, today was the first day of “CampsTO” and there were a few small groups of young campers walking by. One of the kids told us that he too does yoga, in his basement. A dog came by and did shavasana with us. These small, but meaningful signs of the city going back to normal activities after a stressful year, enhanced the lovely escape from the work day.

As I walked back home, I picked up coffee from my favourite place. I enjoyed its subtle taste of walnuts as I appreciated the gorgeous weather, and wished for a moment, that I could stay outside instead of go back to work. But, there’s always part of me that knows that a little taste is often just what you need to appreciate the goodness.

Sneaking out to yoga in the park was a perfect choice. What will you sneak into your day?

Nicole P. is looking for ways to sneak goodness in her days.
fitness

Sneezing while walking: middle age lessons

The other day I was walking back from my friend Barb’s house. There and back was about 15km. It was lovely, early June, walking weather. I felt great, even with the mild hamstring soreness I’ve been experiencing lately (time to re-focus on strength exercises, specifically my glutes).

Going for long walks is one of my favourite things. Long before Covid, walking has been my preferred mode of transportation, as long I have the time and the right shoes. My husband’s also become an avid walker. He’s a convert to “walking provides endorphins” and tries to get as many steps in as possible, each day, which can be anywhere from 10,000 to 35,000. We love to walk.

Going back to my return walk from Barb’s, this is when I discovered why it might be time to change my style of underwear… For as long as I can remember, I’ve been wearing lacy ones, the kind that don’t have much to them. They fit fine. I think they still look cute. At 49, I’m no stranger to feeling a sneeze coming on, particularly while walking, and engaging my pelvic floor muscles to prevent a mishap. Well, on this day, the mishap was not to be avoided. And my flimsy, lacy undies, under my sporty summer dress, were not enough of a barrier to stop a small trickle down my leg. UGH.

A pop art style picture of a woman in a purple top, red lipstick, blue eyes open wide and the caption “OOPS!”

Thankfully, it was warm, which means it dried quickly. And, I was on my way home, where my plans were to immerse myself in a hot bath and read my book (Crying at the H Mart, a very well-written book about the author losing her Mom to cancer prematurely). No one was around. If I had not mentioned it here, no one would know it happened! It did get me thinking that maybe I should be wearing better protection when wearing a dress in the summer! Other people could be around the next time it happened and that would be quite embarrassing.

I guess this is one of those things one learns from experience. I guess, in addition to doing “reverse kegels” for pelvic floor health, I should be doing more regular kegels. Perhaps, I haven’t been paying enough attention to my pelvic floor after all.

I’m also going to try out some new underwear. Maybe some sportier ones that aren’t too much bigger but more of a barrier. I understand now why Knix have leakproof options (not just for periods!).

If anyone has any suggestions, particularly for strength exercises that might help, now’s the time to send them my way!

Edit: After posting this yesterday, Sam sent this article my way. I like it because it provides a few basic exercises at the end: https://www.drstacysims.com/blog/worried-about-wetting-yourself?fbclid=IwAR0O-7Yz_RHmZpq7kBjHOSotLRZ-rj8eAY2WF–XRVz5_6wuQNBai3dUQmw&_sm_vck=QfJsssQSnMHjN4J4R5sVvPV0T7LPL7rp0stLFWqSJRsssp8pWSTn

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs. She loves to run, do strength workouts, walk (but without mishaps).

fitness

Are you a runner?

Do you run? Then you are a runner.

Whether you run a mile a day or you are training for a marathon. If you are smashing PRs or going slow and steady. Whether it took you 3 hours to run a full marathon or 5 (that would be my full marathon average). Regardless of whether your running shorts are a size 6 or 22. If you run on a regular basis, you are a runner.

The other day, I was watching the British television game show, Pointless, as my husband and I often do, when we don’t feel like watching an intense drama or dark comedy. Each contestant typically provides a little tidbit about themselves, as an introduction, before providing their first answer. On this occasion, a woman said “I love to run. I run 6 miles a day and I’ve run two half-marathons.” Then she gestured up and down her body and laughed, mockingly at herself, and said, “I know I don’t look like a runner.” The host, Alexander Armstrong, said, “who wants to look like a runner anyway?”

Aside from Armstrong’s response being rubbish, I said to Gavin, “ugh, it’s sad that she feels she has to qualify it. She should read Fit is a Feminist Issue!”

I used to do this too. Many times, mostly in my thirties, when I was still surprised by myself being a runner. If it came up in conversation that I was training for a marathon or similar (as it often would, because, hey, I am a runner), I would say the same thing as that contestant, “I know I don’t look like a runner.” Giggle, to make sure others knew I might be preposterous too, for calling myself a runner.

I’ve talked before (my first guest post on FIFI) about my Imposter’s Syndrome around fitness.

Here’s the thing. If you run, you are a runner. If you swim, you are a swimmer. If you do any sport on a regular basis, I would argue you are an athlete. You don’t have to perform at the top of your sport, to be considered an athlete. To me it has more to do with the importance it plays in your life and the consistency with which you practice. Let’s stop apologizing, minimizing, qualifying anything relating to ourselves (this extends beyond fitness), especially based on a false notion of “what a runner looks like” or “what fit looks like”.

Believe in yourself. Don’t make something you enjoy so much that you mention it as part of your bio, a joke directed at yourself. The more people say “I am a runner” or whatever sport they participate in, in a way that isn’t up for question, regardless of their outward expression, others won’t question that expression either.

Oh, and to Alexander Armstrong, I love looking like a runner.

I AM A RUNNER
Nicole P.
fitness

The luxury of attaining a meditative mind while running

When I run I seek that feeling I’ve felt many times before. The mindless forward trotting. The active meditation. It usually happens midway through a run. As a morning runner, I often finding myself waking up in the first 1-2 kilometres of my jog. Also, because I run in the city, there is not always an opportunity for a mindless flow. I have to stop at red lights and for cars backing out of driveways. I have to remain alert to the city hazards. Until I get onto the recreational path on Lakeshore. Here, I can run without worrying about many things. It’s often where I find my stride and my meditative mind. Somewhere after acknowledging my stiff legs, reminding myself I love this movement, if it’s feeling like a sluggish day, and perhaps giving myself the encouragement of “I Am I Can I Will I Do”, if I’m lucky, I’ll realize I’m in the quiet mind, body working in unison stage. The runner’s high.

But I am learning this is a luxury for many.

As a woman, I do have to be alert in certain circumstances. And, I never run too early when it’s dark. But once it’s light out, I rarely think about how I may appear to others or whether I may be perceived as a threat to others, in a way that could end up being a threat to me.

A white woman with long, straight, dirty blond hair, black tank top and multi-coloured tights, mid-stride on a trail.

I have thought about this, when hearing about tragic and unnecessary violence perpetrated on Black runners. For example, when I heard about Ahmaud Arbery, a 25 year old Black man who was running through a Georgia suburb in February 2020, when he was pursued, shot and killed by two white men (a father and son) with guns. Cate wrote about this in this post.

A Black runner I follow on Instagram, recently shared an IG video from Christopher Rivas. His video explained how he feels as a BIPOC, running in Los Angeles. He describes how he doesn’t get to that runner’s high, because he spends most of his time, while running, thinking about what others are thinking about him and whether he is safe.

And, lest we Torontonians think this is an American problem, a BlPOC woman I follow on Twitter shared the following the other day:

“Went to the Scarborough Bluffs with the boys this morning. There was a ton of white people who were absolutely terrified of us. One white lady jokingly said that we looked like a gang…it was funny to her.”

For a second, I was surprised. I thought, who would say such a thing? But I know enough, to know, that I have the privilege of thinking this type of behaviour doesn’t exist in Toronto. It’s a sad reminder of how much work there is to do to support people who have to endure this type of racism, over and over, again. And the problem is Canada-wide, as this man eloquently describes in his article about being a Black man in the Canadian wilderness.

If one looks for information, they will see that this is a well documented and regular problem for BIPOC in the outdoors. There are lots of tips about how to be a better ally. The woman who tweeted the information posted above about the Scarborough Bluffs incident, mentioned in another post that allies can speak up when witnessing these types of situations.

Here are some links to resources about how to be an ally outdoors:

https://www.audubon.org/news/how-you-can-be-ally-outdoors

https://www.trailspace.com/blog/2020/06/03/diversity-inclusion-being-an-outdoor-ally.html

https://thegreattrail.ca/stories/10-instagram-accounts-outdoor-enthusiasts-come-outside/

I can’t be completely blissful with my meditative high, until I feel that the majority of people feel just as comfortable while participating in their outdoor activity of choice. I am committed to continuing my learning and finding ways I can speak up, acknowledge, follow and help those that seek to do so.

Nicole P. lives in TO with her husband and 2 dogs. Her favourite forms of fitness are running, HIIT style weight and conditioning workouts, long walks and indoor cycling.
fitness

Fitness while waiting for the world to change

What’s working for me these days? Alongside the noise of frustration about the continued pandemic, fitness is working for me. It continues to lift my spirits and provide energy. Walking and running also give me good reasons to get fresh air and see my neighbourhood.

Strava lets me know that my running pace was recently between 6:45 – 7:15/km and now my average is between 6:15-630/km. I don’t know why I’m running a bit faster, but I like it. I enjoy my runs, regardless of my pace. Especially this time of year, when the mornings are lighter, warmer and I can wear my running shorts. It feels freer than winter running with the many layers. And, much freer than much of the activities that are allowed during the current lockdown. I also wear a mask these days, under my chin if no one is around, but I pull it up if I can’t keep my distance from others. I don’t want others to feel stressed about me running and breathing near them.

Spinning on my indoor bike, has been gratifying too. I’ve mentioned what I like about some of the instructors here. D’Ercole’s “I Am I Can I Will I Do” has followed me on the running path as well. I’ve always said things to myself, such as “this is the best part of your day” when I’m feeling the burn in the later kilometres. Lately, I’ve added “I Am I Can I Will I Do” when I’m trying to keep up a faster pace and my lungs fully engaged. Also, I try to remind myself to smile. Either on the bike or on a run. It really can help when feeling tired and negative thoughts are seeping in. Side note: It’s OK to tell yourself to smile. Not OK to tell another person to smile.

Nicole in sports bra and biking shorts, heart monitor strapped to arm, ready for morning spin on bike to Peloton app (this was Jenn Sherman’s 45 minute mixed tape ride)

In January I did Yoga with Adrienne’s 30 day challenge and I enjoyed it. Since then, I’ve been less consistent. I’ve done the seasonal 108 Sun Salutations and a couple flow classes with my favourite yoga teacher, Lisa V. Her classes often feel like a combination of yoga and strength training so I should probably do more of them. As I’ve mentioned before, as much as I enjoy yoga, it’s often the first form of fitness I let slide.

Since I can’t workout in the park right now with a group and I haven’t been able to go inside a gym like most people since the Before Times, I have still been doing virtual strength and conditioning workouts once or twice a week. Some days, Zooming in for fitness feels a little too much with all the other virtual meetings. But if I get there, I still get a good workout. I don’t see going back inside a gym until we have herd immunity, so it’s important I figure out ways to get my strength training in at home.

The thing is, I need to find another virtual strength and conditioning workout. The gym that I’ve been going to for about 5 years, and continued with through virtual and park workouts in the last year, has made some choices lately relating to how they are handling the lockdown/stay-at-home order. They are choices that I can’t support. I really love the workouts, am fond of some of the coaches and have developed friendships with other members. It’s been very helpful to see friendly faces at the park and on screen. Making this decision truly saddens me. But, while I see that our ICUs are full and they are opening up adult ICUs in Sick Kids Hospital and critical surgeries may be cancelled, seeing some of the rhetoric posted by one of the coaches who manages the place was upsetting. Cate alluded to it in this post. But, even worse, they’ve now posted this:

I don’t think I need to explain that I feel for gyms that have been hard hit by the last year. But, throughout the year, I have seen many other gyms make hard, but ethical choices. I’m not sure if this is legal or not, but it doesn’t seem ethical to me. Not alongside the conditions in hospitals that I described above. Not while teachers and parents are feeling the brunt of having to continue to go back and forth between in school and virtual learning. Not while young people are suffering mentally. Going inside a gym at this time, with the risk of airborne aerosols in such an environment, with the guise of mental health, is not right. It may not be ideal for some, but they can help address the issues they claim to be concerned about by encouraging more walking, running, sprinting (socially distanced), providing more at-home programming, understanding that there other ways through this. Not to mention the risk to the staff that will be working in this environment. And the frustration of many, including myself that this type of behaviour is contributing to the feeling that we are never going to get our numbers under control and the very thing they are so upset about (lockdowns that are affecting their business) are never going to end.

So, my formerly beloved gym is not working for me right now, while I’m waiting for the world to change.

What’s working for you in fitness these days? For me, even in another lockdown, fitness isn’t cancelled. It’s just a little different. I would add fitness to this list:

A list of things not cancelled beside a drawing of a bear. Black lettering on yellow background. Examples of things not cancelled: sunshine, spring, love, dancing, imagination, kindness, conversations and hope.

Note: In the midst of worrying about when we will get our shit together in Ontario, and being frustrated with anti-science, anti-vax, anti-mask rhetoric (like the woman who yelled out her car at my husband and I that “wearing our masks outside would make this go on longer), I am encouraged by reading about amazing scientists, including this woman: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/08/health/coronavirus-mrna-kariko.html?fbclid=IwAR2Wb0huw_gCLQ6AwgyBtN-8nPazJY5rFglakSCzxZWdkTzDeO5jUSdosmE who laid the groundwork for the mNRA vaccines. Scientists like this are going to help see us though the finish line and beyond in this pandemic.

Nicole is trying to focus on the things that are working these days, including fitness.

fitness

When Being “Too Much” Is Just Right

On Monday, while I was riding along with Christine D’Ercole on the Peloton app, I was inspired. I am not always inspired by mantras while exercising. I enjoy D’Ercole’s classes because they tend to involve a lot of power (although I ride standing up more than she suggests) for a good chunk of time. She plays good music (today was New Wave with a bit of Goth), and I can relate to her, as a woman close to my age.

D’Ercole is also know for her mantra “I Am I Can I Will I Do”. I like this one and I will get back to it. Mainly, I’d like to talk about what she uttered today, “Maybe whatever you are too much of, is your best fucking thing?”

A photo of Christine D’Ercole doing a side lunge on what appears to be a wooden fence in a grey tank top and black athletic pants and white sneakers. Her hair is in a pony tail. She’s probably thinking “I Am I Can I Will I Do”.


During the ride, she said, something to the effect of “Have you ever been told you are too (loud, quiet, big, small, etc.)…what if that is the thing that makes you special (I’m paraphrasing)?”

When I followed her on Insta after class, I saw her repeat in her stories “Maybe whatever you are too much of, is your best fucking thing?”

MAYBE?

I have wondered this for awhile. I realized some time ago, that often labels people give others, aren’t necessarily bad things. If you are told you are opinionated, what does that mean? That you have a different opinion than others? Have you ever heard someone parroting what others are saying in a group, being accused of being “opinionated”? Probably not. It’s mostly used when someone says something that others in the group have not already said. It doesn’t matter if the group is loud, expressive, dominating, and you say it quietly, thoughtfully, carefully. If your opinion differs, it may be considered “-ated”.

I was often told, when I was younger, that I was too opinionated. It was mostly on a personal level. From people like my ex-brother-in-law, who would say this when he was spouting off his toxic bro comments and I had the nerve to respond.

I have been told this at other personal events when I listen to a number of people say things that I don’t agree with and ignore it and then, when it seems like the right opportunity, or I can’t take it anymore, I try to interject with some of my beliefs. It doesn’t matter how rational or informed my opinion is, often in response to uninformed hyperbole, but in certain situations, I’m cast as the one being “too political”.

Another part of my personality is that I really prefer to avoid confrontation. I am the person that will pay an extra fee that I shouldn’t, rather than call a customer service line, if I think it will be a stressful call (see internet service providers). So, for a long time, I took this criticism to heart and kept some of my thoughts to myself in many circumstances. Unless I was in a very safe setting, with like-minded people. I stifled myself.

Some of my learnings in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) space have helped me understand that if people are in the 20% of those who aren’t interested in what you are saying, you aren’t going to reach them anyway, and no need to raise your heart rate in those cases. But, there are 20% who are very interested. And, 60% who are interesting in listening, even if they are not ready to hear you. It’s worth sharing your thoughts with those people.

In a previous workplace, I would be asked to fill in the gaps in meetings, told this is exactly what was needed, and then told later on, that I should cut back on that a bit. Often, for the sake of quieter men in the meetings, who really weren’t interested in saying anything. I’ve also learned that this is not uncommon for women in the workplace.

I don’t know if it’s age or I’m increasingly surrounded by people who are interested, but lately, I share what is meaningful to me. I’m finding out that others appreciate it. People are seeking me out in ways that show me I have relational, coaching, facilitating skills that are derived from parts of my personality that have sometimes been described in a negative way.

Things that I’ve often been told I’m too much of – too much of a bleeding heart, too opinionated, too concerned about “being politically correct” ARE proving to be my strong point. I’ve been asked to do more and more work in DEI. I am being asked to help put together lunch and learns on things such as “Why Representation Matters” in relation to the “Boys’ Club”. Part of me wonders when I will be asked to cut back. To be less. But for now I love it. I am starting to believe that, perhaps, I am not “too much”.

Black lettering “You Exist Too Much” on a colourful green, blue, yellow, white background

Recently, I asked FIFI bloggers what they think of as “self care” that’s not related to “fixing something” about themselves. I was inspired by an episode of Shrill. I may get more into this and share some of their thoughts in a later post. For now, part of self care for me is to stop worrying if I’m too much. If others think I’m too much. If I think about these things too much. Post too much. Am I too introspective? Too opinionated? Too concerned with doing things that are meaningful to me? Do I have the right to talk about certain things, based on my role, my education, my age, my demographic? I need to tell myself I am just enough of me. Let the chips fall where they may. People who appreciate what I am “too much of” will get it. Those are the people I want to reach.

Going back to D’Ercole’s mantra “I Am I Can I Will I Do”, as much as I enjoy doing some of the things I’m trying out (public speaking), I still have some nerves to contend with. And entrenched Imposter’s Syndrome beliefs that I need to work on. In addition to trying to think of people who have inspired me, in order to up my confidence, when I’m feeling nervous, I do like the idea of trying to believe “I Am I Can I Will I Do”.

See, some mantras, heard while enjoying a virtual spin class, can truly be inspiring!

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs. Fitness keeps her sane-ish.

What are you “too much” of? Are they are your super power? Go use your super power!

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Nicole and Christine have reactions to this article: “I Want to Look Damn Good When the World Sees Me Again”.

Sam shared this Atlantic article with the FIFI bloggers “I Want to Look Damn Good When the World Sees Me Again”. Nicole and Christine have some thoughts.

Nicole: I Want to Be Happy and Healthy When the World Sees Me Again

It’s been a year. While the end of the tunnel seems to have some unpredictable forks in the road, some people are starting to make plans for the other side of it. Me, I’m treading cautiously. I have been trying to take the approach of “one day at a time”. I’m not always successful. I can’t help but notice that a third wave was just declared in Ontario. That our vaccination roll-out leaves a lot to be desired. I’m also worried about people’s behaviour once some are vaccinated, but others are not. I see myself sticking close to home still for quite awhile. I’m still worried that everyone stay healthy and COVID-free.

Part of the author’s thesis is that he used to be fairly “healthy” based on his outward appearance and that he’d like to regain some of that outward appearance before he re-joins society. He describes getting back into fitness recently. Yay! I have no problem with getting back into fitness.

He goes on to describe the increased interest some fitness trainers have described to him about wanting to get back to that beach bod. That it’s heightened this year. This assures him that he’s not the only one who’s self absorbed.

Look, we are all a bit vain. That may look different for different people. I may not be proud of myself for it, but I am concerned about how I look in Teams meetings and would like to maintain a youthful glow that is probably not realistic.

The thing that bothers me is that focussing on getting that “beach bod” (which we all have, by the way because we have a bod, and just need to find a beach), is the idea that this translates to healthy, which it does not. He seems to have missed the memo that YOU CANNOT TELL HOW HEALTHY OR FIT A PERSON IS BY HOW THEY LOOK.

Teal font on white background: “Reminder: “strong” doesn’t have a look. Neither does “fit”. People who work out look all kinds of ways. from @it’sjennaj

The author does go on to include information about how focussing on weight, shame, etc., is typically not going to help people reach their goals and he realizes he may be more likely to be drinking a six-pack, than having one, at the end of this, but that his routine has made him feel less shlubby and better about his future self.

But he doesn’t really mean it, based on the title (or the accompanying photo of him looking at his penis while working out, but that may be the editor’s choice, not his).

Photo from linked article of grey (or blond?) haired man laying on red exercise mat with legs open, knees up, head up and a dumbbell in each hand, as if about to do a form of a chest press (while gazing at his penis).

I am one of the lucky ones, whose situation in the last year has allowed me to maintain my regular workouts. It has helped maintain my sense of wellness. It gives me my regular dose of endorphins. That doesn’t mean I don’t have days of sadness, lethargy, frustration at the world. And, the one thing that has kept me working out regularly for the last 20 years, not just through this pandemic, is by focussing on how movement and exercise makes me feel, not how it makes me look. It’s the only thing that has mattered over time.

At the end of this pandemic, when I can meet my friends in restaurants again, and go to my parents’ condo, go INSIDE, and give them both hugs, hang out with my nephews on couches again, I promise you that what I care about most, is that I feel happy and healthy. Not whether my abs are toned or my pants are smaller.

A photo of Nicole with her mother, youngest nephew and husband, pre-pandemic, close together in a restaurant.

Christine: I will Not Play Along with the Messages of How I *Should* Look.

My first reaction to this article was based on the title and the photo alone… I fear that I may have sprained something during my reflexive eyeroll.

The actual article was far better than I expected but it still makes me sad and frustrated to have this appearance-based framing for fitness and exercise.

I get that we live in a society where appearance matters far more than is good for us. This isn’t about any one person being vain or foolish, it’s much bigger than that, and we all have to participate in the society that exists while we work to create change. I know that some people work in industries where their appearance is, unfortunately, a bigger factor in their employability.

A photo collage of a Zoom meeting filled with smiling faces. (We included this because they look so happy and, of course, we hope they are avoiding the pressures described in this article.)

But, that being said, I think it is good to be aware of when we are buying into those social pressures. And I think those of us who are aware should be more conscious of our framing when we are talking about fitness and wellness.

The only way we are going to change things is by fighting back against the social pressures around appearance. It’s not one person’s job to force those changes but our individual actions matter and they will, eventually, add up to social change.

Two Black women walking briskly with big smiles on their faces.

I appreciate that the author brought some differently framed perspectives into this piece but I think a different framing overall would have been beneficial AND, I wish that the publication had chosen a different headline, at the very least.

My fitness levels during the pandemic have been pretty much the same as they always have been. I am consistent in my search for consistency. My fitness challenges aren’t pandemic-related, they are ADHD-related and I’m still figuring them all out.

One thing I know, though, is that how I look to other people is not a factor for me.

I am not a decoration.

I am not here to be looked at.

And I will not play along with the messages of how I *should* look.

My fitness concerns start and end with how I feel, how strong I can become, and whether I can improve how effectively my body responds when I ask it to do something.

…You know, I’m beginning to suspect that I was not the target audience for this piece. 😉

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs and enjoys working out for how it adds to her overall sense of wellness.
A selfie of a white woman with chin-length light brown hair. She is smirking but in a friendly way.
Christine H. is a 3rd degree black belt in ITF Taekwondo and likes any movement that contributes to her commitment to fun.

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The Joy of Freedom Days

Sunday is Run Day. Saturday is Conditioning Day. Mondays and Thursdays are sometimes Indoor Bike Day (IBD). Wednesday mornings are Strength and Conditioning Day (SCD). Based on what’s available to me with classes and days I reserve for running, etc., I always end up with a pretty consistent workout schedule. But what about Freedom Days?

I’m not talking about Rest Days. Freedom Days could turn out to be a Rest Day, if that’s what freedom means to you on that day. But it could mean many things. The world is your oyster. That is the joy of Freedom Days. The main thing is you decide as the day goes, the movement you feel like doing in the moment. You are not restricted by a date or time in the calendar. You may be inspired by the weather, the amount of energy you have that day, good news or bad news that is shaping your moment.

drawing of a blue oyster with pink pearl inside and the writing underneath “the world is your oyster”

Fellow blogger, Marjorie, asked why “freedom” and not “unplanned”. I said because I think “freedom” sounds more intriguing for a blog post, and also, given all the rules and restrictions of the pandemic, who doesn’t yearn for a bit more freedom these days. And, as Mina mentioned, “freedom” has a sense of energy to it.

I had one such day recently. It was a rare sunny, February morning. Where the world was bright and shiny right from the get-go. Sure, it’s still a bit cold but the sun is so impactful by mid to late February. It warms my insides. My heart. My brain. It warms my life. And, yes, it gives me energy. I didn’t have a scheduled IBD or SCD or RD or CD. All of which can provide their own forms of joy. I had a flexible morning at work. I have an amazing boss, who encourages flexibility in the work day. I went to work, i.e., logged into my computer in my living room. I checked emails, responded to some, checked my calendar and realized I didn’t have anything pressing and I had a couple hours before my next meeting. I put on my mask, my hat, my coat, fingerless gloves and short walking boots and set out. Where to though? Wherever I want! FREEDOM

A photo of a young girl on a sidewalk, with a skip in her step.

Often I go east from my residence and circle back along the main street near me. But this day I decided to go north. So risqué. I bopped at an even pace, with the sunshine in my step, past the large park with the beautiful view of downtown Toronto. I didn’t even know where I was going. Would I go along the Danforth to Logan and back north? Would I cut east at Gerrard – or west at Gerrard towards Cabbagetown. I decided, mid-step, that I would run in to the grocery store about 20 minutes north, turn around and head back and pick up a coffee at a favourite local coffee shop on the way back (Rooster Coffee Shop – not my absolute favourite, which is Boxcar Social, but a very good one). I didn’t feel rushed to get back online. I wasn’t trying to fit in a walk or a run or something else. I didn’t have a specific time or kilometre goal. I was just being.

When I was back home and working, I was thinking, do I fit in some yoga later? Maybe, maybe not. I did fit in daily stretches. As I mentioned in a recent post, these have been prescribed by my pelvic floor physiotherapist.

Anyway, the joy provided by the freedom to do whichever movement I felt like, when I felt like, carried me throughout the day.

I highly recommend everyone find some Freedom Days. I wish you Freedom Days. I know it may be more challenging for some. If you have small kids, or you are an essential worker and you work shift work or many other reasons. But if you find yourself with time you hadn’t planned to do anything, and you decide to use that time with some movement that provides you joy – at your discretion – I really believe it will provide you with unquantifiable amounts of bliss-generating, creativity-enhancing and joy-inspired moments. And, we all need more of that type of energy these days.

Nicole on a fortunate Freedom Day on one of the trails outside Langdon Hall in October 2019.
Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs. She loves Freedom Days.

fitness

Nicole is paying attention to her pelvic floor

A couple of months ago, I started feeling a dull pressure on the left side of my body. Not my hip or knee or shoulder. No, I felt a weird pressure on the left side of my vaginal wall.

After a quick mind scan of what could be wrong with my body, a few ill-advised internet searches, and a reigning in of “jumping-ahead-of-myself fears”, I made an appointment with my doctor (GP) to make sure there wasn’t anything concerning going on.

As is common these days, my initial appointment was held virtually. My doctor went through typical questions and then confirmed I would have to come in for an internal exam. Thankfully, nothing concerning was noted. I mentioned that I had been doing my own internet searches (apologetically, as I feel I need to be when saying this to my doctor) and that it seemed that my discomfort may relate to my pelvic floor and maybe a pelvic physiotherapist would be a good next step. I was surprised when she agreed with me (this isn’t how those conversations typically go – eg, I’ve read about estrogen dominance and I seem to have some of those symptoms, what do you think? I don’t believe in that).

After some investigation, I made an appointment with a local pelvic floor physiotherapist. Again, the first appointment was virtual. I have heard other women talk about their experiences with pelvic floor physiotherapists. They were usually women who’ve had a baby or two. I had a pretty good idea what they do and wasn’t sure how effective a virtual assessment would be. But, the physio quickly put my mind at ease. She was extremely thorough. Between questions, watching me do certain stretches and movements in my living room (fully clothed – phew!) and answering my questions, I left the consultation confident that she understood what my issue was, and that she could easily provide some assistance. The session was ended by making an appointment for the following week – in person – and with homework for me – stretches – no nothing like that yet.

Like a lot of people I know who are very focused with their workouts, I am not so focused on my stretching. I know it’s bad, but I am mentally done after a run or other workout and give a half-assed nod to a few stretches. So the stretches she gave me as homework, were a good reminder to do these more often. And that was part of our conversation, that in addition to my specific issue that I was contacting her about, I wanted to know if there were maintenance things I could do, to prevent further issues with my pelvic floor. One cannot reach their late 40s without knowing that there may be issues with their pelvic floor in the years ahead.

The exercises she prescribed pre-in-person meeting were: quad stretches, runner’s lunge, seated clam shell stretch, seated one-leg hamstring stretches, the glute one where you are lying on your back and have your foot in front of the other folded leg and pulling your thigh towards you and then another one that is similar, but kind of like a “half-baby pose”. As the physio explained, these muscles are all connected to your pelvic floor. And, as any of us who’ve experienced a muscle injury knows, it’s rarely about the one muscle. Weakness in one, will typically lead to injury in another. In my case, I have no doubt, everything is connected to my tight hips and hamstrings.

A poster showing a number of lower body stretches. Nicole has circled the ones prescribed by her physio.

On a relatively nice, sunny, February day, I walked to my physio appointment with my double mask and open mind. It probably helped that I had “met” the physio prior to this appointment that was about to become much more intimate. After asking me a few questions, she handed me the typical doctor’s office drape for the part of me that was about to be naked and I waited on the table until she returned for the exam.

This type of exam is never going to be completely comfortable, but she was very professional and had a confident manner that made me trust her. It wasn’t uncomfortable, from a pain perspective (I used to have painful Pap smears so it’s something I always prepare myself for in these situations), but I’m sure that can vary, depending on what the issue is. As she prodded and felt around and asked me to put my legs and feet in different positions, she explained what she was doing and why and what was likely the problem. She also started giving me my main homework. Reverse kegels.

We’ve all heard of regular kegels. Cate has written about tools for this purpose before on the blog. Many of us do them incorrectly. I have had other professionals explain to me how to do them. Not as “invasively”, but very specifically and it helped. This physio confirmed, with her hand in my vagina, that I was, in fact, doing them correctly. What I needed to learn how to do was “reverse kegels”. I was not a quick study in this regard.

With regular kegels, you essentially “zip up” your vagina, up as high as you can, to your navel, by strategically squeezing your vaginal muscles. With reverse kegels, I am to practice imagining that I am “opening my vagina”, at the same time that I am inhaling. These two things do not naturally go together. And, I am not naturally coordinated. It took me many tries and with her giving me different prompts – try with your mouth open, try in “baby pose”, when you practice at home, perhaps try in squat position – before she was satisfied with my efforts that I could practice on my own at home.

From a physiological perspective, the issue I am working on correcting or preventing from happening again, is my tight coccygeus muscle. The pelvic floor is a ‘sling’ of muscles, a bit like a small muscle hammock that runs between the pubic bone in the front, and the tailbone at the back. 

A picture diagram of the pelvic floor. It shows the puboccygeus and illiococcygeus.

Armed with this new knowledge, I set about practicing the reverse kegels, along with the other stretches I was now doing daily. This was a few weeks ago and the pressure I was experiencing has greatly improved. I went back for a follow-up appointment, where she confirmed the muscle was less tight and practiced the reverse kegels with me again to make sure I was doing them right. I have a follow-up appointment scheduled for a few weeks from now, but she said if I’m still feeling better, I can go ahead and cancel it. It’s just a placeholder in case I need it. I appreciate that she is not asking me to come back for more follow-up appointments if they are not necessary.

Why am I telling you about this experience? Because I think there is room for women to share more of these experiences, so that we normalize pelvic floor health. It’s an important part of overall health, including ability to engage in regular exercise, as we age, and we should feel comfortable talking about it. Also, if you’ve been thinking about going to a pelvic floor physiotherapist and were nervous about it, don’t be! I recommend it.

Nicole P. lives and works in Toronto, currently doing both at home, with her husband and two dogs. She loves fitness, learning and being with friends and family.