Silencing my Mental Food Police

CW: this post discusses my relationship with food. This isn’t about whether someone should eat to lose weight or not. It discusses disordered eating.

I find myself wondering these days if certain things about me are “basic”. My over-posting of pictures of freshly baked sourdough bread or Saturday brunch. My over-sharing on social media, in general. My decades-old pondering about what sort of career would be meaningful and purposeful for me and my chagrin over earlier life choices that relate to the choices I have in that area now. Another area, I think is so tired and should be old news is my decades-old brain battle over food and whether it’s a friend or a foe. I believe that none of us are served by diet culture. I like the idea of mindful eating, but it’s not something I feel I do easily. I am also very aware that there are real issues in the world relating to true hunger and lack of food security and my food issues are only one of my existing privileges.

My brain has two sides doing battle when it comes to food. One side loves food. That’s the side that loves to cook and bake; take chef classes; recreate dishes enjoyed elsewhere; plan trips around good coffee shops and interesting restaurants; and share pictures of my food. The other side monitors food. That’s the side that keeps a mental log of what I’ve eaten. It’s not intentional. It’s ingrained. Whether I “should” be eating a treat or not. The side that’s prone to feelings of annoyance and guilt towards myself. At different stages of my life, annoyance was more often disgust or shame. That side has evolved and quieted over the years, but it’s still there.

When the two sides collide, there can be some bingeing involved. Quick injections of savoury chips or sour and sweet candy. The collision happened more frequently when I lived on my own. When I had more time to sit in my thoughts. To succumb to my tiredness. To try to fill a seemingly empty pit in my stomach that could only feel something if it were filled to the brim. There was a very brief period in my late teens, early 20s when I experimented with purging, but thankfully I was more angry with myself for the purging than the bingeing, and it didn’t stick.

Collisions happen less often these days. I try to ignore the food critic in my head. I think of it as active meditation. If I have an unhelpful thought. I try to let it pass. Unjudged. And then relax and let myself enjoy what I choose to eat. Which is often salads and hummus and tofu and rice. It can be a slice of freshly baked bread or a sugar crusted scone. It might be a bowl of nutella gelato topped with sprinkles or a bag of sour candy or pungently flavoured chips.

Old habits are hard to break. It makes me think about what is feeding my hunger. Sometimes I am ravenous because I am tired. Sometimes I am premenstrual and the cravings are physically present. The tingly skin. Longing in my throat. Craving sugary and saltiness, a little at a time and over and over again until my cravings have subsided. More often than not, a small amount of something will satisfy my cravings. No binge required.

The hunger could be more psychological than physical. It could be from a place of restriction. Or, it could just be physical hunger. And it’s OK to feed hunger.

The food-loving part of my brain was weaned on celebrations revolving around well-made, delicious, comfort foods, passed down through generations. Food can elicit feelings of love and warmth in these situations. It has an ease in the kitchen around certain tasks. It finds comfort and joy in each stage of making a delicious meal. It loves seeing people enjoy the food I’ve made.

The critical part of my brain was conscious from an early age that society might think I was not the “ideal” size. There as no such thing as an ideal size, but my young self did not know. The critical part of my brain encouraged me to start dieting when I was around 12. Started monitoring how many french fries I ate at lunch with my friends. Fed a steady diet of glossy ’80s magazines about the correct way to look. That side of my brain made the warmth and love derived from food complicated. It made family functions stressful for awhile. It made my brain fill with silly slogans from diet culture, such as “nothing tastes as good as thin feels”, which is, of course, utter bullshit, but the point is that crap made eating for the joy of it, and nothing else, very complicated (at least in my brain, if not in reality).

A glossy, 80’s magazine cover – Glamour Magazine with not helpful tips, such as “5 Stay-Slim Strategies” for the holidays (oh, how little has changed!)

I remember a time in my 30s I had convinced myself that it was a good idea to go to a diet clinic where they help you lose weight by making you blow into an oxygen machine, which apparently tells you how many calories your metabolism normally burns, and based on that they give you a diet plan to follow. The diet plan was simply a calorie restriction plan that accounted for your regular metabolism plus any activity you were doing. In addition to that, you met with the doctor in the clinic, who talked to you about the psychology of your habit with food. This doctor was on a popular show on a cable network at the time, so he must have known what he was talking about… I remember it was getting close to my birthday and we talked about having a treat for my birthday, which he was in favour of, until I told him that the treat I wished for was fish and chips. He proceeded to tell me how fish and chips was the worst possible food on the planet because of the trans fats that were generated when frying the fish. Yes, this doctor believed that one meal of fish and chips was a big mistake. I was so brainwashed by him that I went and told my friends, that unfortunately, I couldn’t have fish and chips on my birthday because they were the “worst food” for you ever. They laughed at me, just as much as they should have. What a wasted birthday meal that was!

Exercise has helped my relationship with food. And I don’t mean in the “justifying my food” way, or in the “calories in”, “calories out” way. I mean that over the years, the more exercise has become a regular part of my life, the more it has helped me feel the good things in my body. It has made me feel strong. It has made me feel capable. The endorphins or generated serotonin help me forget about caring about what I eat or don’t eat. Choosing communities to work out in, that don’t focus on nutrition plans and trends, has helped me to block out that noise that I hate. I have long told myself that if I workout regularly, eat a balanced diet, including occasional treats, whatever that looks like is “A OK”.

It still takes a lot of blocking out the noise around me. It takes blocking out “wellness” plans being touted in the corporate world. It takes blocking out friends and family talking about how keto was the only way they can lose weight after 40. It takes ignoring the stupid jokes about the “Covid 15” that don’t help anyone. Perhaps, the key is not to try to “block” the noise, but to let it pass unjudged.

I’m OK with being “basic” in areas such as social media shares. But I’d like to live more what I know when it comes to not being driven by the food police in my head. I feel much more balanced about food, in general. But the food police are not totally silent, no matter how much I know better. The food police mentality, no doubt, still leads to moments of insatiable hunger. I’d like my default response to be “so what”. Satiate the hunger. OR I can choose not to. The choice is mine. But ditch the self-judgment. Hunger and food aren’t the problem. The way I look at hunger and food are the problem. The way society looks at female hunger is the problem. There are much more important tasks at hand than worrying about it. I’d like to fire the food police in my head once and for all.

Nicole P. lives and works (at home currently) in Toronto with her husband and 2 dogs. She loves movement in the forms of running, weight lifting, park conditioning works, and long walks. She’s looking forward to making delicious food for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) this weekend, although on a much smaller scale, because Covid).

Dreams and Stress

I’m in Montreal. Sitting in a picturesque location. Enjoying my last few minutes before heading back to Toronto via train. I calmly get on the train, but then realize I hadn’t bought a ticket. A friend I rarely see passes by me as I rush to the ticket booth. The agent in the booth tells me I’m too late, the train is leaving. I shout “let me try!”, so he sells me a ticket and I run back to the train, which is leaving the station. The next train is not for 3 hours, which for some reason causes me to feel a great sense of panic.

Then Gavin gets up to go to the washroom and I do the same. What a weird, stressful dream.

I’ve been having a lot of “stressful” dreams this week. I put stressful in quotation marks, because, really, what’s so stressful about being stuck in Montreal for an extra three hours. But I remember the great sense of panic I was experiencing in my dream.

What is the meaning of these stressful dreams? What is the cause? I am typically a good sleeper. My Fitbit has confirmed this since I started using it a short while ago. I rarely have trouble falling asleep and I typically sleep a good 7-8 hours, minus a few trips to the loo (sorry, insomniacs). My ratio of light/awake/deep/REM sleep is within benchmarks (although, interestingly, some nights feel so well rested, with lots of deep sleep, and the Fitbit says otherwise). This is a good thing, because I am also one of those people who does not function well at all, with less than 7 hours of sleep. A couple nights in a row of less than 7 quality hours of sleep, and I am in a fog, irritable, and likely feeling like I am getting a cold.

If you search “What is the meaning of my dream” on the internet, you’ll find everything under the sun. Some articles listing the most common dreams. Some describing meaning. Others explaining that they typically do not mean anything. The general consensus is that they should not be taken literally. The practical part of my nature doesn’t put too much thought into them having any real meaning.

But I do wonder if the stressful dreams correlate to stress I am not identifying properly in my day-to-day life. Stress that I am not dealing with in a healthy way. Or, like most things these days, I will blame the stressful dreams on hormones. Poor old hormones have such a bad reputation!

I used to have night terrors when I was a child. I read some where that approximately 6% of children experience night terrors. These typically happen in the late stages of “non-REM” sleep, as opposed to the REM state, where nightmares happen. The causes are thought to be:

  • Sleep deprivation and extreme tiredness;
  • Stress;
  • Sleep schedule disruptions, travel or sleep interruptions; and
  • Fever.

Night terrors result in the individual waking up screaming or flailing. My Mom is all too aware of these night terrors, as she was typically the one who came to calm me down as I’d be ripping wallpaper from the wall, and then calmly going back to sleep as if nothing happened (while I’m sure my Mom and the rest of the household was up for awhile after).

I haven’t had any night terrors as an adult, save for the one time when I was barely an adult, in my early 20s, and my sister and I had just moved into an apartment in Windsor. I was starting my first year at the University of Windsor and Janine was starting at St. Clair College for Dental Hygiene. It was our first night in our new apartment. Apparently my body was stressed about this new experience, in a new city, starting at a new school. Janine and I were sharing a room, which we’d never done when we were kids. So when I woke up screaming, she couldn’t put her blanket over her head as she used to do. She came to calm me down at the wrong time and in my flailing state, I inflicted wounds on her leg. Thankfully, for both of us, that was the last time that happened.

I’m not having night terrors now, but I am wondering what’s causing my stressful dreams. Is it the aforementioned hormones? Covid-19 and the impending second wave? Is there something I can do to have less stressful dreams?

I found this list of suggested preventative measures:

  1. Meditation (I should do more but I’m better at “active meditation” than sit and
    breathe meditation);
  2. Deep breathing (see above);
  3. Relaxation techniques (suggestions?);
  4. Art therapy (this is actually intriguing to me. I’ve been thinking about learning knitting or crocheting);
  5. Exercise (I have that covered!); and
  6. Other activities that can ease your stress (gee, thanks, that narrows it down!)
Turquoise yarn with knitting needles scissored through the ball of yarn.
Would a new hobby help Nicole’s stress sleeping?

Readers, do you find any correlation from real stress in your daily lives and noticeably more stressful dreams? Do you do things while you are awake to calm your dreams? Do you believe your dreams mean something?

Nicole P. is looking for ways to reduce frightful sleep.

Rest is a Productive Activity

“I can’t swallow.” “I think I have a fever and chills.” “Oh, and my head, OW.” “Should I cancel my park workout this morning?” “I don’t think I have Covid, but…” “Maybe, it will make me feel better?” “Don’t be a bad citizen – cancel.”

These were thoughts going through my head a couple Saturdays ago. It started with a sore throat Friday morning, which I attributed to seasonal allergies. I take antihistamines every day from late July until the first frost in October, every year for as long as I can remember. A sore, scratchy throat is often one of the symptoms of my ragweed allergies. But by Friday night, I couldn’t swallow. On Saturday morning, I had fever and the chills. And, my head hurt. Clearly, not allergies. The pus in my throat told me it wasn’t “PMS Flu” either. I still wondered if going to workout was possible, and whether it would make me feel better.

This is crazy at the best of times. I would advise a friend with similar symptoms to rest. During a pandemic, the responsible thing is to stay away from other people, when you have symptoms that MAY turn out to be “the virus”. But, I have a hard time accepting that I can’t go workout. I also have a tendency to doubt myself when I feel sick. Is it in my head? Am I just tired? Why do I have such a hard time believing I’m sick when there is evidence that I am?

I think I was taught to “push through”. Early in my career, it was the norm of people around me, at a busy law firm, to come to work, no matter what. You don’t feel well? Bring your medication, lots of tea, suck it up and get your work done. A family member passed away? We are sooo sorry. Are you able to stay late tonight and help with this Closing? That was the “work ethic” I became a career person in. It sounds harsh. It was a different time. Companies have become much more aware of healthy work-life balances, and don’t push these types of environments as much (or maybe I’ve just been away from a law firm for too long). The insurance company where I work has a great culture, committed to “People First”). But it’s still part of my “moral compass” to make sure I’m “really sick” before I take time off. I think that pours over to my fitness routine.

It’s not only corporate culture that contributes to a need to persevere in the face of illness. I’ve mentally applauded a friend or family member’s profession of “rarely taking a sick day in decades”. Many of us have boasted, while at the gym, that we felt a little off, but it was definitely worth it to be at the gym. A good sweat can cure almost anything, after all.

We’ve all been exposed to ad campaigns, such as Nike’s “Just Do It!” If I am a true athlete, I will just do it, right?

“Just Do It” in Black Letters on a light grey background.

Much of the above is not true. It is not necessary to “push through” if you are sick. There may be exceptional circumstances where that is the case. But for everyday activities, including workouts at the park. This is absolutely not necessary.

On this particular Saturday, I stayed home. I was sick enough to know better. Turns out I had Strep throat. I did get tested for Covid-19, and the test was negative thankfully. I’m not sure how I managed to get Strep throat, while diligently social distancing and wearing my mask inside public places. I can’t remember the last time I had it, or any infection that required antibiotics, other than the UTI I had a couple months ago. Prior to that, it’d been decades.

Even with the knowledge that I had Strep throat, I still felt it was a “challenge” every day to “do nothing”, exercise-wise. That meant no park workout on Saturday. No long run on Sunday. No virtual strength and conditioning class on Tuesday. No exercise endorphins. No long walks with Gavin before dinner. Another reason for me not to walk the dogs…not that I need one…thank you, Gavin.

Every day I would do a body scan in the morning. Do I feel well enough to exercise? No. I’m still more tired than usual. A bit nauseous (perhaps, from the antibiotics), a running headache, etc. I was still working. Working from home, makes it much more viable to work while sick. It was a busy week at work too. Plus, I had an exam to write. I needed my energy for that.

“It’s OK if you don’t have the energy” in a yellow circle with a orange and blue turtle at the bottom of the circle.

Part of me still felt like a slacker. Where does this come from? It’s ridiculous. Why is there a small part of me that still fears that if I miss several days of exercise I will fall of the wagon for much longer period? This has not happened since my twenties, and yet that fear is still there. There is a very low chance, barring physical challenges, that I will suddenly forget how much better I feel on a daily basis, with regular movement.

There is tons of evidence out there that rest is beneficial for you. It’s beneficial for your workouts. Nevermind when you are sick and your body needs to recover. My fellow bloggers have talked a lot recently about “active rest”. Cate, here. Martha, here. Tracy, here. But, I’m talking about total rest. Give into it. And maybe, I don’t need to be sick to accept it, once in awhile. Total rest is also good for the soul. Maybe…

Black lettering on a white background. Title says “Friendly Reminder:” Underneath a teacup it says “It’s perfectly okay if the only exercise you get today is flipping the pages of a book or stirring your tea or smiling with friends. Wellbeing means your WHOLE body. Make sure your soul is getting as much exercise as your glutes.” By “Unknown”

I did get back on the wagon. I started my virtual workout on Thursday, telling myself I would take it easy. Turned out, I didn’t need to. I was still feeling nauseous, but the workout did make that go away. I went to my park workout on Saturday, and felt so much better, thanks to those antibiotics, and to allowing myself to fully rest.

What about you readers? Do you let yourself rest, when you are not feeling well?

Nicole P. lives, works and works out in Toronto. And takes time off, when necessary.

Running with Stage 2

A couple weeks ago, it was announced that Toronto could enter Stage 3 of “reopening”. Most of Ontario entered Stage 3 a couple weeks before that. Given Toronto’s population density, it took a bit longer for the numbers to be low enough to be “granted” this status. You’d think I’d be happy about this. After the early period of Stage 1, where it felt almost criminal to go out for a jog, and I was getting used to doing my Move fitness conditioning and strength classes in my living room, and ordering in take-out felt novel and was a glorious reprieve from cooking, Stage 2 was a breath of fresh air. Literally. I no longer felt devious going for a jog. Somewhere in Stage 2, Move started offering park workouts which I felt completely safe and comfortable enjoying, and LOVE doing. Gavin and I could go for long walks together. For most of Stage 1 we avoided walking together because it felt too hard to social distance properly with others on the sidewalk.

But I was feeling anxious about Stage 3. It is not hard for me to feel a bit anxious. One of my favourite ways to deal with anxiety is to practice avoidance (see driving on the highway). It works best to alleviate the pressure in my chest. So, I decided that I would stay in Stage 2. One of the things we can do in Stage 2, is eat on a patio (physically distanced). I haven’t even done that yet because it’s still enjoyable to get takeout and eat it on my own patio. And I typically love dining on patios. Eating, in general, in restaurants, and enjoying good food, is one of the highlights of my life, seriously. I remember vacations based on what I ate, where and when. But I digress. I decided I wasn’t ready to eat inside a restaurant any time soon. I have come to enjoy my virtual and park workouts, and continue to enjoy my outdoor running. I miss lifting heavy weights inside the gym. But I don’t feel comfortable yet going inside the gym, even with clearly defined precautions.

Nicole and gym mates jogging on the spot with a band secured to their hips and tied to a fence in the park.

I was repeatedly declaring to friends and family that I was happy to stay in Stage 2. Kind of a pre-warning that I would be the joy kill who would be saying no to certain things. I have good reason to feel this way, given that the greatest risk has been shown to be prolonged exposure to others, in close proximity, inside. It’s not only myself I am concerned for; I want numbers to stay low for everyone. For my ageing parents, for essential workers, to allow for safe circumstances for re-opening of schools. Selfishly, so that one day in the future, Gavin and I can reschedule our honeymoon.

Then I started feeling that perhaps I was being obnoxious. Should I feel guilty that I am comfortable in Stage 2? Was it my Jewish guilt rearing it’s head? Or, was I exhibiting my privilege, the privilege that allows me to be comfortable in Stage 2?

A cartoon (credit: Credit: Richard Jolley via CartoonStock) with “Pontius Pilates” washing his hands and saying “And wash those hands in slow easy movements…feel the guilt and stress flow away…

Throughout the pandemic, there has been data showing that Covid-19 was affecting lower income neighbourhoods and people of colour disproportionately. Some of the reasons that I’ve seen mentioned are that more people in these neighbourhoods tend to work in essential services (and have had more risk/exposure) and live in more densely populated areas where it is harder to social distance. When Toronto released a map showing Covid-19 numbers by postal code, it was clear that areas that were lower income, and that had a larger number of closely-situated apartment buildings, and less green space, had the highest numbers. And this article explains some of the reasons that Black people and other people of colour make up 83% of reported COVID-19 cases in Toronto. I have privilege, white privilege, because these factors haven’t affected me the same way.

I have been thinking lately that I even like my new routine. Feels weird to think that, in such strange times. I miss close gatherings, hugs, travel, concerts, putting on pretty work attire and planning for the future without wondering if things will be possible. Yet, I have been fortunate to be able to work from home, and the company I work for has confirmed we will be working from home until January 1, 2021, at the earliest. I have been able to maintain my exercise routine. The spring and summer months have made getting outside, and not feeling too restricted, a joy, even without trips outside of the city. Both my husband and I are working and are not worried about finances. My “extroverted introverted” nature is a bit relieved not feeling as though we have to be making plans all the time. Thankfully, everyone I know has remained healthy (poo poo poo). But not everyone has been so lucky in Stage 2.

I feel for the small businesses. The gym I love that has had to “pivot’ and function in unplanned formats, that don’t allow for maximum attendance. The independent restaurants and cafes, that make up the fabric of the neighbourhood that I love so much, have also had to survive on much lower numbers, in an industry where it is well known that the margins are razor-thin. I think about the businesses in the PATH (an underground network of stores in Toronto that prevents you from having to go outside in the winter (or in the summer if you don’t like the heat) if you work in the Financial District). The PATH may never be the same, if businesses shift more to work-from-home indefinitely. I think about my friends who are naturopaths, physiotherapists, artists, etc., who have been greatly affected by not being able to operate normally. They NEED Stage 3. And Stage 3 may not even help them, given it is still restricted because of social distancing. I feel for parents who need their kids to go back to school for both their kids, and their own mental health, in a safe way.

So while I am comfortable, indefinitely, in my workout zones, rather than standing in quadrants, spaced at least 6 feet apart, indoors, where there may be more risk of sharing droplets, I am happy for my gym that they can offer these services again. I am happy for the friend that is an avid exerciser who is craving the motivation and community found inside the gym. I am happy for the local businesses that can fight for their livelihood and that I will continue to support in the ways that I can.

I will try to keep my contentedness more to myself. I don’t want to sound smug. I will continue to look for ways to support the vulnerable businesses in this pandemic. I will continue to look for ways, both immediately and in the future, to help those in vulnerable work or living situations, so that they are not as vulnerable, now and in the future.

Have a great workout wherever you choose to do it. Just be safe (and where a mask, on your mouth AND your nose, if inside and not far apart).

Nicole P. lives, works and works out, in Toronto with her husband and two dogs.

Don’t Limit Yourself (Age Smaydge)

“I did try that gym for a few months and managed to barely keep up with the 20-30’s crowd, in much pain, but if they put in a slower class for us ‘mature’ gals, I might try again.”

A woman said this to me on a local Facebook page. She appears to be around the same age as me, based on her FB picture. She had posted a video on that local page, of a group of women (including me) warming up for a workout in the park across from her house. Her post was a variation of “Is there anything more annoying than waking up and having to watch people get fit on a Saturday morning, while I’m trying to drink my coffee and plan which cooking shows to watch.” It was clearly in jest. And, I mean, I love coffee and cooking shows.

A picture from the video shared by a stranger on Facebook, of a group of women, including Nicole, using bands to stretch their shoulders as they prepare for their main workout.

While other people joked about sitting closer to us and eating ice cream while we work out, I couldn’t help but comment that I was in that video and it was fun and she should join us sometime. Her response was the quote at the beginning of this post…..”if they put in a slower class for us ‘mature’ gals, I might try again.” Um, speak for yourself (I kept that to myself).

Now, I totally understand there may be reasons why some people want a slower class. And no one should be in pain when working out. There’s lots of legitimate reasons to take it easy. To go slow. Nothing wrong with that. Even if the reason isn’t based on an injury, or not having exercised in awhile, or just because you don’t want to. Just don’t blame it on an age.

Having gone to the gym in question for years, I know there are a number of women in the 20s and 30s range, but there are also a number of women, like me, in the 40s and 50s and older range.

My response was “hmm, I don’t know, I am in my late 40s and have been going for a few years. I find there are good options. If you ever want to just do a friendly few moves I can probably lead us through some things. No pressure. Just love movement. Happy Saturday!”

Don’t blame it on age though. Let’s not limit ourselves. Some days I have to adjust certain movements. Some days I have PMS, or my actual period, and I feel physically more tired, or stiff, or like my uterus may fall out of my body, and I modify things. But not because of my age.

Everyone has different abilities. But wherever someone is starting from, is a culmination of many things: athletic history, medical history, interest in and experience with, whatever activity they are choosing to participate in. Age can be a factor, but combined with the other factors as well, and relative to that person, not a limiting factor, on its own.

If I worried I was too old to participate in the park workout with my gym, here’s a short list of things I would have missed on Saturday:

  • a friendly chat with other women while waiting to workout;
  • stretching in a fun way, that I wouldn’t take the time to do myself;
  • working on my balance while I did a combination lunge and row on the fence;
  • challenging myself on weighted walking pulse lunges, that I would never do on my own;
  • giving myself an internal pat on the back for my rockin’ push-ups with plank taps;
  • being surprised that my beast hold was better than usual;
  • practicing sprints, which I am mediocre at (I am a slow, endurance runner), but which I should be doing anyway; and
  • enjoying the sun on my face while I stretched afterwards and the sweat poured off of me.

Whatever the proposed form of movement is, “Age, Shmayge”, I say. Figure out what you can safely do, something you enjoy doing, and want to do, something that benefits you, and do it. If you don’t like doing something, don’t blame it on your age.

Nicole P. is loving her Saturday morning park workouts.

Who Do You Think You Are?

I am the 8 year old who enjoyed swimming but refused to climb the monkey bars; who also loved learning and helping older kids in her school with their reading.

I am the 17 year old who once liked the idea of being Murphy Brown but found herself in a pattern of skipping classes and spending more time at her part-time job.

I am the 11 year old girl who detoured on her gym class run because she’d rather sneak a smoke than show up and play baseball with the rest of the class in the unflattering gym uniform.

11 Year Old Nicole with a pink “Ocean Pacific” long sleeve shirt on, jeans with a blue bandana belt, large-framed eye glasses, wavy brown, shoulder length hair.

I am the 27 year old woman with a hodge podge of formal education, but quick understanding and the work ethic of someone already working for 15 years.

I am the 15 year old who enjoyed the aerobics portion of gym, but felt clumsy in volleyball and other team sports.

I am the 24 year old choosing a career over finishing her degree. Yet again, choosing comfort zone over uncertainty, loneliness and a meager grocery allowance.

I am also the 31 year old who discovered she is a runner. And the 32 year old who realized she could run 21.1 km, on her way to running a full marathon.

Nicole finishing her first full marathon on September 30, 2007 at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

I am the mid-life law clerk with just enough positive feedback and encouragement and respect. Who took a chance and changed careers a couple times, to learn new things and hopefully find something to be passionate about. Well, passionate about besides cooking and fitness, which never felt like careers, but pastimes.

I am the 30-something single woman with deep feelings of inadequacy, finding community and self-acceptance through small studio gym workouts. Trusting that her body is strong and meant for strong work.

How do our own internal biases about ourselves affect us in our daily lives? Cate wrote about our saboteurs in this post (which also links my first Guest Post on FIFI about Imposter Syndrome).

We are shaped by our experiences. It makes sense that our brains take the easiest route to established experiences when encountering a given situation. How do we retrain some of those processes so that they take a chance on a different way of thinking, and perhaps a new experience?

I mean, the thing is, our brains lie to us sometimes too. I know enough at this point of my life, to know that every thought I have is not a true thought.

My own biases directed towards myself, stop me from attempting pull-ups, even though I have the upper body strength, trying handstands or doing step-ups from high places. But I don’t let those biases prevent me from giving it my all in other areas where I benefit (heavy lifting, challenging my cardio intensity, mingling with younger, more agile bodies in these settings).

In my career, I still struggle with deeply rooted feelings of inadequacy. And an inability to figure out how to get “unstuck”. Despite trying different things, putting myself out there, raising my voice more often when it feels uncomfortable, I often still feel like I am not living my full potential in my career and it’s mostly my fault. According to my brain’s learned patterns, it is my fault that work experience is not equal to education and I am not committed enough to work on the education part more. My brain tells me it is my fault that I’ve never been able to decide where I really wanted to focus on in my education, and therefore, not committing to anything to excel in. It is my fault that when I do get a chance to delve into something, contribute more, I always seem to hit a ceiling that feels related to my “position” and that I don’t really know what to do about it.

The difference between my biases in both areas is that with fitness, my positive experiences and biases prevent my negative ones from overshadowing them. Whereas, the biases in my career are not counterbalanced. But, I am always looking for ways to grow and move in a better direction.

I am also aware that because of my circumstances, being middle class in a comfortable environment, geographically, and closer to home, and also (although not by choice) because I don’t have kids, I have the luxury of being present enough in my life to ponder these things. I do not take this for granted.

At 48 I can’t help but think “what do I want to devote my mental energy to?” Where can my talents be best served? Do I have talents that I can use and feel fulfilled and useful? Why do I care about feeling fulfilled?? Why can’t it be solved with a great jog and some powerful pike push-ups?

How do you deal with your own biases about yourself? Have you learned ways of redirecting your brain away from biases that don’t help you?

Nicole P. is trying to get outside as much as possible this summer.


Can women focus and wear revealing workout clothing at the same time?

Sam shared an article with our bloggers, from the University of Toronto’s website. The article is about a study that “finds that tight, revealing workout gear can negatively impact physical performance”.

Did this study look at whether men who run without shirts on are slower? No. Did it look at whether men who wear tank tops instead of t-shirts at the gym show lower progress with their heavy lifts. No. Instead, Catherine Sabiston and Timothy Welsh, both professors at U of T’s ’s Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education (KPE), wanted to see if existing research that suggests women who wear tight or revealing clothing perform more poorly on cognitive tasks – as compared to women wearing loose or more concealing clothing – could be applied to physical performance as well. I’m not sure if there’s existing research that suggests men who wear tight or revealing clothing perform more poorly on cognitive tasks, but I doubt it.

Picture of a man running in shorts, no shirt.
A woman with blonde hair, tied in a braided ponytail, wearing a blue headband, sports bra and shorts, a pair of yellow with white sneakers, smiles as she lifts a purple dumbbell on both hands.

Now, I am not an academic. Out of all of the bloggers at FIFI, I am probably the least academic. Maybe I’m not down on why some studies are carried out over others, or why some research is considered necessary and other research isn’t. Nor am I an expert in setting up studies fairly and making sure they are carried out in a scientifically sound way. But I have some questions in relation to the point of this study.

A girl in pigtails, wearing black framed glasses, holding a book, with her arm raised. She has questions.

Why is this a necessary study? What good does it do to carry out this type of study? Do women need more attention from others about what they should or should not be wearing? Will it benefit society somehow for women to know that they may not do as many reps at the gym if they are wearing shorter shorts or a crop top instead of a baggy t-shirt and leggings.

The article quotes Welsh as saying, “It is thought that these differences may emerge because the tight clothing activates body image and objectification processes that may shift cognitive resources to the body and away from the task.” It also says, “Using a sample of 80 women, aged 18 to 35 years, the researchers randomly assigned tight and revealing athletic clothing to some women and loose and concealing athletic clothing to others. All participants completed the same visual-motor aiming task to assess measures of motor performance in time and space. In addition to the clothing, participants were primed to be conscious of their bodies via measurements of height, weight and waist circumference.” So my question here is, did they do the same study without priming the participants to be conscious of their bodies via measurements of height, weight and waist circumference?

Perhaps, the results are related to a persons predisposition to be primed for such distraction, rather than the type of clothing they are wearing.

Also, who decided what is revealing? I bet if you asked 20 different people, they would all have a different idea about what should be considered revealing.

And, maybe if the study included women over 35 you would have a different result also. Maybe women who are older, are less likely to be distracted by what they are wearing and are more likely to be wearing whatever they are wearing out of function? I don’t know if that is true, just a thought.

When I do my HIIT workouts I wear a tank top and tights. When I’m running in the spring/summer I wear shorts, a tank top, my fashionable 🙂 water belt and hat. The clothes serve a purpose. Keeps me moving easily. Wicks sweat away. Don’t rub me the wrong way. Personally, I wouldn’t be able to workout in baggy clothing as it would feel clunky and would make me sweat more than I already do. That said, I see other women wearing long sleeves, baggy t-shirts, etc. all the time and they seem perfectly comfortable. I also see women wearing short Lycra shorts and bra tops, and not only do they look comfortable, they are working their butt off. I can’t imagine them working out any harder than they are.

What about you readers? Do you think these types of studies serve any benefit? Help women perform better? Or does it sound like just another way of policing what women should wear, or feel comfortable wearing?

Nicole P. is enjoying her socially-distanced park workouts these days and not distracted by what she is wearing while doing lunge rows, sprawls and deadlifts.


Say Good Morning

I was in Collingwood, Ontario on Canada Day. It’s a small town about 2 hours north of my home in Toronto.

Picture of downtown Collingwood.

I love living in an urban centre. Small towns are perfect for little getaways though. One thing small towns do well, is fostering an atmosphere where people say Hello to strangers. Waiting in line for ice cream. Walking down the street. And runners say Hello to other runners.

I went for a run in the morning in Collingwood. One runner passing by said Hello. Then a group of runners said Good Morning, one by one. So nice.

A group of friendly runners.

It is not my experience that runners in Toronto say Hello or Good Morning (I rarely run in the evenings) to other runners. I tried for awhile. When I went to Victoria, early on in my running habit, I noticed this lovely practice. I also remember my Aunt Bev, who lives in Victoria, and who inspired me to start running, saying Good Morning to passersby on our jogs together in Toronto. She would look at them directly, give a big smile, and say Good Morning. Nice, I would think, but Toronto runners weren’t likely to say Hi back. But some would.

I have tried, here and there, to say Good Morning to fellow runners. But to no avail. Perhaps, it’s in my delivery. My Aunt expected a response. I don’t. Perhaps that shows?

A picture of a smiley face and the caption “Good Morning” on a lime green coloured background

To be fair, it’s not just Toronto. I don’t recall people saying Good Morning when I’d run by them in Guelph. Smaller than Toronto, but perhaps not really “small town”?

I understand why it’s not innate to Torontonians to say Hello or Good Morning to strangers. We learn to go about our business. Stay out of other people’s business.

I have found even saying Hi to neighbours, which I insist on doing regularly, is not always reciprocal.

In the beginning of the Covid lockdown, it felt funny to be outside. When we learned that we should stay 6 feet away from others, I noticed that people seemed reluctant to even look at each other on the street. Never mind stay physically separated. It was so nice if someone actually looked up and locked eyes, maybe nodded their head.

It is a treat when fellow runners acknowledge each other and wish them well. Especially in these uncertain, and sometimes stressful, times. Such gracious actions can go a long way to spread goodwill. I wholeheartedly endorse saying Hi, Good Morning, etc. to your fellow runners. Go for it. Give it a try. Even fellow Torontonians! Just don’t ask me to smile. That’s a whole other discussion.

“Stop Telling Women to Smile”
Nicole P. is going to practice saying Good Morning to fellow runners.


What’s Your Healing Ritual?

What’s your healing ritual? Mine is walking. Some might consider walking to and from work every day as more of a routine. But, it also has a healing, or spiritual aspect to it. It felt more like a ritual.

Part of Nicole’s typical walk to work in Toronto. The “flatiron building” in Toronto is centred in the picture.

I can still go for a walk during the pandemic. In the beginning of the lockdown, it felt very eerie to walk outside on deserted streets, where there was some uncertainty if one should even be out and about. But now, there is good information out there, to provide comfort that walking past people outside, not lingering, keeping your distance, etc., is pretty low risk. Not as low risk as some people behave, forgetting to social distance, as if we are in Stage 5, not in the cusp of Stage 2 in a Toronto. But, still, low risk.

Most of my walking these days is to run errands. Everything is within a 10-15 min walk radius. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not the same as walking to work every day.

Some days, with walking both ways to work, walking both ways to the gym, running errands, meeting people for social engagements (Remember those? Sigh), I could easily get in close to 25,000 steps in a day. That is a great activity boost, with or without my HIIT workouts and running. Now I walk from my second floor to my first floor for work. From the dining room to the living room (technically, same room) for my virtual workout.

I could get used to working from home indefinitely. But, I miss the routine of setting out fresh, on foot, in the morning. Enjoying the more sparsely populated sidewalks on the eastern portion of my route. And the bustle as I got closer to the financial district. At the end of the day, I may be a little mentally tired (or numb). The rush hour crowds near the office can seem a bit too much, but with each step away from downtown, I’d find energy that I didn’t know I still had in me for the day.

It’s not that every part of my daily walk was enjoyable. There are always reasons to be irritated. Mostly because people can be very irritating. But between absent-minded wanderers, entitled sidewalk hoggers, reckless drivers and flippant cyclists, would be pleasing city views, sights and senses unique to each season, friendly faces and courteous individuals.

A busy Toronto sidewalk, with people walking.

And walking the same route every day is meditative. At least for me. I love active meditation. I love long runs for the same reason. Other than being aware of traffic hazards, I am free to get lost in my head. Let repetitive thoughts move freely and not get stuck. I can explore my creative thoughts. Give angry thoughts an outlet with each step on the pavement.

I have other fitness routines. I still do my regular HIIT workouts. I still go for jogs and do some yoga. None of these things, save for the special 108 Sun Salutations that I do each solstice, seem like a ritual, the way walking does.

Do you have routines that feel more like rituals? What are they? Are you able to do them during this pandemic?

Nicole P. is looking for more opportunities for daily long a


Push Ups As Ego Boost

I participated in a company organized workout via Zoom, today (led by Maneki Fit). Typically I do my Zoom workout a few times a week with my regular gym. The company organized workout was scheduled around the same time as my usual workout. I wasn’t sure if I should do it, or follow my regular routine. I’m glad I shook it up a bit. Not because I don’t love the typical workout I do with Move Fitness Club. But, because it’s worthwhile to switch it up every once and awhile. Also, today felt like a bit of an ego boost. I am not above admitting that an ego boost can go along way in amping up the good feels derived from a great workout.

The Move workout typically involves 2 or 3 sets of EMOMs (every minute on the minute) or Tabatas, along with a warm-up or a cool down. We use whatever weights we have around at home for a lot of the exercises. It’s always a good, sweaty workout.

The Maneki workout was a warm-up, followed by 5 sets of 3 exercises (100 scissor jumps, 8-10 push-ups and 12 sit-ups). That’s it. Simple. I love repetitive things, whether in exercise, baking, making pasta, etc. Especially simple moves.

I was one of the few participants on the Maneki workout with my camera on. Since I am used to being on camera for the Move workouts, I wasn’t worried about it. I think many of my colleagues were not as used to participating in virtual workouts, so they chose to be off camera. So, the coach was often calling out me and a couple of other people that he could see on camera.

If I were doing Bulgarian split squats, or step-ups, it may not have been a good opportunity for my ego to shine. But push-ups and sit-ups and scissor jumps. Right up my alley. And the coach noticed. He called out my great form for the push-ups a few times. He liked the fact that I used one of my weight plates for the sit-ups. I enjoyed the shout-outs. I enjoyed being recognized for being good at these fitness things. It helps remind me, when I still have Imposter Syndrome, that I am a dedicated, and regular exerciser (still not sure if athlete qualifies).

Who couldn’t use an ego boost these days? A reason to feel as though you are not in an exercise plateau. Because things are starting to feel a little too similar day-in and day-out. It’s nice to have a distraction from the idea that maybe you are not doing enough in the world with the talents you’ve been given.

That’s it. I enjoyed the ego boost today through fitness. I hope you enjoy an ego boost today or soon, in whatever form it comes in.

Nicole P. is riding a wave of happy push-ups today.