fitness

Don’t put a serving of guilt on that

CW: this post talks about diet culture and eating plans

Every two weeks I write something for this blog. I write for this blog because I am passionate about fitness and how it can enrich women’s lives. Particularly women who might not otherwise expect it to enrich their lives, or who have felt left out of the mainstream fitness community in the past. If I can inspire one other woman who doesn’t see the benefits of exercise, or see themselves as someone who is fit, to see themselves in a bit of what I say, and to incorporate more movement in their lives, and derive a sense of fulfillment from it, I would be a very happy person.

Sometimes I wonder why I should write about fitness and health, when there are so many other pressing issues in the world. Particularly, right now. When I see Covid-19 variants appearing is scary ways, people are affected by lockdowns, health scares, illness and death of loved ones, war, homelessness, racism, and so much more, what right do I have to take up space writing about fitness and health?

blog, blog, blog – blogging concept on a napkin with cup of espresso coffee – Nicole is wondering whether it is beneficial for her to be writing about health and fitness right now.

But then, in a lot of the learning I am doing lately, one of the things that comes up about dealing with all the aforementioned concerns, is building resilience. And part of building resilience involves making space for one’s own mental and physical well-being. So, while it might seem trivial to talk about these things regularly, in the face of other more important concerns, I do think there is value in considering how to maintain one’s own sense of well being, so that we are able to handle everything else coming our way, and also have the strength to be of service to others, however we can do so.

A woman is sitting cross-legged on a dock by a lake and meditating – possibly building resilience.

Why am I considering these things? Because I want to talk about guilt and diet culture. I am asking myself what value I can bring to this conversation? What right do I have as a white, able-bodied, conventionally average-sized woman, to talk about this further?

I’m not sure I do have a right. But I do have feelings about it. And I think that others may share my feelings, whether they relate to my social identities or not. And perhaps, what I have to say will help others with not feel guilty about their emotions. Which, as I say later on, is a useless emotion. Also, selfishly, putting my overly-analytical thoughts down on paper helps me work through them efficiently.

Who hasn’t been there? You’re on a Zoom call and colleagues are making idle chatter about what they are eating and not eating. One person might say they feel guilty because they had McDonald’s for breakfast. Another might be proud of themselves because they had overnight oats with chia and cacao nibs. And I’m trying to prevent my eyes from rolling.

Guilt is a useless emotion. It is often a default one. But, when is it helpful? Whether it’s someone feeling guilty while educating themselves about social justice causes, or whether or not they have called someone, or whether or not they should eat something, guilt is not the emotion that is going to inspire the person to make sound decisions.

Even though I have always been obsessed with food, I have never enjoyed hearing people talk about their eating plans. I don’t mind sharing a recipe or two. But I try not to assign virtue to what I’m eating and I don’t enjoy hearing others talking about their eating habits in this way. Sometimes this feeling is heightened. I might have been in a particularly sensitive phase and I wasn’t feeling good about my own eating or I was feeling good about where I was and I really didn’t want to hear the external noise.

When I say I have always been obsessed with food, I mean it in the sense that I am always thinking about what I will be eating next. This isn’t always in a “diet” sense. It’s often simply in an “I love food and planning what to eat next” way. I am chef-y about my food. I also try to balance nutrients. I listen to my body about what makes it feel good. I enjoy baking on occasion and I mostly enjoy giving it away to add a little sweetness in others’ lives. I have a keen sense about how to translate something I’ve eaten at a restaurant or elsewhere into something delicious on my plate. I remember vacations based on what I ate and where. I plan those eating excursions in advance too. My quest for delicious food can range from vegan, vegetable laden meals to an expertly made croissant, to a locally made cuisine. I might not remember the name of the town we were in, in Turkey, but I remember the name of the dish made by local women called gozleme. Not to mention the surprising bibimbap made by a local Korean woman living in a small seaside town in Turkey, after days of delicious, but repetitive meat skewers and veggies.

There have been times that my obsession about what I ate hasn’t been healthy. I’ve talked about some of my disordered eating in previous posts. But for the most part, I think I’ve objectively been steady about how I eat for a long time now.

Tracy wrote an excellent post about Why diet culture harms us. I enjoyed this post and I agree with many of the points Tracy made. But I was also left with some mixed feelings. Should I feel guilty that I feel better because I HAVE changed the way I eat in the last few months. If I’ve changed the way I eat and I feel better, does that mean I’m subscribing to diet culture. I don’t think so as long as I’m not proselytizing about what I’m eating, which I don’t think I am. And I am not interested in doing so. Some people have asked what I am doing and I will answer, but try to keep it related to how I feel and why, not about the weight loss that has also occurred, but which is not the driving factor. Tracy’s post talked about Health at any Size (HAES) and so does this wonderful article. Advocating for HAES makes a lot of sense to me.

I’ve mentioned my husband’s sugar was a bit high a few months ago. It was an opportunity to look at how our eating had been over the summer. Like many during the pandemic, we had been enjoying our fair share of comfort food. I still have a fond place in my heart for the Death in Venice Nutella Gelato! I have no doubt I will enjoy a bit here and there, in the future.

Because of Gavin’s lab results, the chef and wife in me set to work changing our meals. I felt inspired to eat the same way for two reasons (1) it’s easier if we are mostly eating the same meals, and (2) there is a strong incidence of diabetes in my family so I figured it couldn’t hurt.

It was important to me to do it in a way that I felt would be sustainable for us. There is a lot of consideration put into how satiating a meal will be. I removed the obvious, excessive, snacking. I changed the regular sourdough loaf I was making to a rye/spelt version. My husband hasn’t eaten rice, regular bread, etc. since we changed our meals. I don’t eat these things for the most part right now, except for the once a week sushi takeout. We do still eat potatoes, but mostly sweet ones. And we don’t go for seconds as much at dinner time. No drinking has been a factor also. I also tried some new recipes that we like for things like tortillas made from chickpea flour and cloud bread, which are mostly made from meringue. A lot of the things we’ve tried have been delicious and haven’t felt like a form of deprivation. Actually, I haven’t felt any sense of deprivation.

A picture of open -faced breakfast sandwiches made with cloud bread, turkey bacon and arugula and tomatoes

I’ve always resisted the low carb, low sugar trends. I am aware that there are studies that show people often can’t sustain these types of changes long term. Nor do many people want or need to make these changes. But for me, I have noticeably felt better. And my husbands blood tests came back normal after 3 months. And, because I’ve been trying to make things that are satiating, I believe this is sustainable for us right now. Being home all of the time actually makes it easier to manage what we are eating on a regular basis.

What also makes it easier, and potentially more long term, is I’m not placing value on our eating habits in terms of good or bad. We are eating this way because we are enjoying it and because of how we feel.

I am not saying these things to try to encourage anyone to make any changes.

The reason I am writing this is I don’t think one should feel guilty or proud or any virtuous emotion because of what they are eating OR because of how they are eating is making them feel. Does that make sense to you too?

Nicole P. is a bit tired and anxious about the state of the pandemic at the moment despite also counting her blessings. She tries to balance things with exercise, mental stimulation, connections and eating in a nourishing way. With no guilt.
fitness

What stories do we tell ourselves about exercise?

What stories do we tell ourselves about exercise. Are they helpful if our goal is to move more?

We are all aware of the health benefits of movement. But some seem to be hindered by stories they tell themselves. They talk themselves out of taking exercise seriously. If that person’s goal isn’t to move more, that’s fine. I’m a big proponent of “you do you”. But if they would like to move more (within their abilities) and are wondering whether they can shift the stories they tell themselves to help them do just that, that’s what I’m talking about today.

It’s not only the stories we tell ourselves. We hear stories from others, friends, family, media sources. It’s a mixed bag of good and bad influences. It can take a lot of work, but I think it’s important that we resist other people’s stories and figure out what we believe about ourselves and reinforce those stories.

A piece of lined paper with the question “What stories are you telling yourself?” Underneath the question are 3 lines “1., 2., 3.” with blank spaces for answers to be filled in.

I love exercise. The stories I’ve created for myself have helped make exercise work for me over the long haul. Even though I have created them, it is essential that they are rooted in truth. These stories have been a work in progress. I didn’t always believe every aspect of them. I questioned certain parts of them. But I reinforced the parts I truly believed in despite my own skepticism or socialization.

I know I had stories about exercise and sport, when I was a kid, that were not helpful.

I don’t like gym. I like art class, reading, some parts of science and math and drama. But not gym.

My gym uniform doesn’t flatter me (This was partly true).

The volleyball is going to hit my glasses. (This was also partly true).

I’m just not the type of person who (skates, skis, plays team sports). Where’s the hot chocolate?

People skating on an ice rink in the background and a yummy looking cup of hot chocolate in a glass mug, topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

These are stories I told myself when I was younger. They reinforced my dismissal of exercise as something that “wasn’t for me”. These stories prevented me from finding exercise that DID work for me. Until I was much older and started telling myself different stories.

It took some work to change the stories I told myself about fitness. It didn’t happen overnight either.

I am strong.

I am a runner.

I can do some things, but not all things. That’s OK.

I’m doing this for ME. No matter how shitty my day is, I have my exercise that makes me feel strong, alive, capable, present, enough…).

I don’t have to look like her to be fit. Fit has many versions.

All or nothing is nonsense.

Show up. Do what I can.

What I eat and how I exercise are separate components of my life. The only time they intersect is if what I eat will affect how I feel while I’m exercising. For example, there are certain things I am not going to eat before I go running. Anyone who has gone for a run, knows what I’m talking about. Choose what you eat before you run, VERY carefully, so you don’t HAVE the runs.

I am not exercising to atone for what I ate.

I bet I CAN run a half-marathon.

I bet I CAN EVEN run a full marathon.

It doesn’t matter that it took me 5 hours to run my first full marathon. I ran 42.2 kilometres, IN ONE PART OF MY DAY, no matter how long it took me!

Nicole finishing her first full marathon at the Toronto Marathon in 2007.

These are the types of stories I’ve told myself as an adult that contribute to my commitment to living a fit life.

I hear people tell stories that I don’t think serve them.

I haven’t been doing anything so what’s the point.

I am too tired to do anything (this may be true sometimes but not ALL the time).

It doesn’t matter at this point.

I don’t like to exercise. I mean, maybe you don’t. Or maybe, you haven’t found exercise that you like? Perhaps, because you think of it as exercise, and you have equated exercise with punishment, you automatically go to “I don’t like it”?

I need to wait until I’m eating better.

I’m just an all or nothing person and right now it’s nothing.

Lifting weights makes me bulky. (Yay, strong!)

No pain, no gain (ugh).

The last time I tried that I end up with a sore body part (and I didn’t find out why or how to prevent it next time).

I didn’t like that class so I won’t like others.

If I were thin, I wouldn’t bother (why??? exercise doesn’t always make one thinner, nor do I believe that should be the goal and what about the other things exercise DOES contribute to, such as FEELING better, physically and mentally)

I like to dance, walk, play tennis, garden, etc., but that’s not enough so why bother.

It’s too cold. I’ll wait until spring.

I don’t have exercise clothes I like (get a friend to help you find clothes you feel comfortable in. They don’t have to be fancy or expensive. My favourite running shorts for years were a no nonsense pair of cutoff sweatpants).

The list goes on.

Do you think you tell yourself stories that don’t serve you and your fitness goals? Do you have great stories that inspire your fitness goals? Can I help you create new stories? I’d love to hear your stories!

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs and is exercising most days during lockdown
fitness

“Your bad habits can kill you,” Lebowitz says, “but your good habits won’t save you.”

The other day, I watched the new Netflix series “Pretend It’s a City” with Fran Lebowitz and Martin Scorcese. I enjoyed it very much. I know bits and pieces about Lebowitz. Enough to know that she’s a “cool, New York, writer”. Sometimes, she gets herself in hot water, as outspoken thinkers are wont to do. There are a lot of things about her that I can relate to and a lot I can’t. But she’s the type of person I just enjoy watching and listening to.

Things that Lebowitz and I have in common are that she’s a secular (or atheist) Jew, and we both love to read. Also, she rolls her eyes in a city (hers is New York, mine is Toronto) at the increasing lack of awareness of people that they are sharing space in a big city. My husband laughed and side-eyed me when Lebowitz stops and complains inwardly as a younger man cuts her off getting off the subway. But, despite our similar annoyance at certain aspects of city life, we both love our cities.

Black lettering on white background “Being Offended is a natural consequence of leaving the house” – Fran Lebowitz

Things that we do not have in common are that she’s much cooler than I am and has a much cooler persona and/or fashion sense. She’s a successful writer. She’s over 20 years older than I. And, she’s a committed smoker, which I, thankfully, gave up almost 20 years ago. She’s also a luddite, in that she doesn’t own a mobile phone, a computer, or a typewriter.

Even though I participate in certain group endurance sports, I could still laugh at her amusement, when a group of people were willingly pulling tires from a rope around their bodies through the streets of New York, as a form of exercise. Her comments on these types of challenges are also amusing, even though I can disagree with her and see the benefit of some of these types of challenges. Link here to some of her quotes from Pretend It’s a City, including the one about climbing a mountain.

A screenshot of Lebowitz from Pretend it’s a City with her quote “Climbing a mountain is a fake challenge. You don’t have to climb a mountain. Okay?”

Something she said, stood out to me, and had me agreeing – and disagreeing – at the same time. “Your bad habits can kill you,” Lebowitz says, “but your good habits won’t save you.” This quote comes from the discussion in the series about her anti-wellness stance, which I can relate to, to some degree, as I don’t believe a lot of the “wellness” industry”, as it has evolved, has anything to do with health.

I agree, and believe the science supports, that your good habits “might not” save you over the long haul. Unfortunately, luck or genes or terrible accidents may not be on your side despite your good habits.

But, day-to-day, which is often a focus of my posts, I think our good habits can save us. And, it’s one of the main reasons I exercise, try to limit my sugar, get enough sleep, do some yoga or active breathing, etc., on a daily basis. These habits save me on a daily basis. They save me from bad moods, hormonal changes, lack of sleep on other days, stress from work or living through a pandemic – in a city I love that is a “hot spot” for Covid-19 rates. They give me energy and a feeling of strength.

So, I say try to keep your bad habits in check. Keep your good habits at your side and in perspective. And go read or watch some Fran Lebowitz for some good laughs or thoughts that linger with you for days after for some ponderance on your own.

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs. She loves to run, do strength training, mostly in the form of HIIT, and is practicing daily yoga in short bursts this month. She is hoping her good habits save her day-to-day.

fitness

New Year, New Reflections

We are in the first week of the new year. What a year 2020 was. Every year there is push back to the idea of “New Year, New You.” But 2020 was the kind of year that has prompted more of this messaging. Lots of advice about being happy with just being. With surviving. Don’t worry about starting a new project or having a new goal. You are enough.

Black type on greyish white background, that says “you. are. enough.”

I have always loved the saying “you are enough”. It has helped me on low days. Days when I wasn’t sure if I was. I believe it. I agree that most people don’t need a “New You”. YOU are likely wonderful just as you are. But I don’t think New Year, New You is meant to be literal. It’s meant to inspire reflection if one wishes to reflect. And, if not, carry on without it.

In my case, towards the end of December I was finding some of the “F*ck New Year, New You” laments just as annoying as the push for newness itself.

“New Year, New You” isn’t an inherently bad idea. The problem is with the obnoxious way it pushes drastic changes. No, most people don’t need a “New You”. But, I don’t have a problem with a date on the calendar inspiring self-reflection and manageable, incremental, healthy changes. But then, I do enjoy lots of self-reflection – any time of the year.

I don’t wish to make radical change in any given year. And, for sure, I don’t think the idea that one should revamp everything in their life, because a new year has begun, is good advice. Or practical.

Most of us are well aware of the dangers of diet culture and the ineffectiveness (and unhealthiness) of the feast or famine style of eating. We don’t think it’s helpful to joke about gaining weight during a pandemic or to put too much value on the numbers on scale. We certainly know by now not to impart moral judgements on what we eat. And so it makes sense to push back a bit and offer different perspectives on society’s idea of what is healthy.

With respect to “New Year, New You”, I don’t have a problem with reflection or with the wish for self-improvement. The problem is doing something you don’t want to do. Doing what an advertisement has made you think you need to do. Buying into an all or nothing mentality. Or worse, spending your hard earned dollars on magic potions. Or, feeling pressured to do something you don’t want to do. Often, the images of what is “improved” is faulty also. Fuck ideals of what fit looks like.

A picture of Nicole working out in the park in 2020 and being fit.
Nicole in her sports bra and shorts, ready to do her virtual strength and conditioning workout in her living room, with Movefitness Club.

No, I prefer it if a person’s self-reflection helps them be confident with what THEY want for themselves. And then planning slow and steady, incremental changes, Which will usually win the day over anything drastic.

The exception to slow and steady for me would be when I quit smoking. I had to just stop. Exercise (mostly running) was a good way to distract myself from the nicotine cravings (after several tries over a few years). But I would not have been able to quit incrementally. I had to stop cold turkey in order to stop the habitual part of smoking. That doesn’t work for everyone but it did for me. And I would say that if someone’s goal this year is to quit smoking – GO FOR IT!

Quit Smoking Reminder For Today On Paper Pinned On Cork Board

It doesn’t have to be a new year. It could be any old Tuesday. But, if a date on the calendar offers a reason for self-reflection and areas where one might benefit from some tweaking, I don’t hate on that idea. Also, it shouldn’t be EVERY Tuesday.

Many of us have habits that aren’t serving us well at the moment. In my case, I am not snacking as much or eating as much sugar. I am not anti-sugar. If sugar is working for you, enjoy. It wasn’t working for me and I am feeling better with much less of it in our lives.

We have much less alcohol in the house. My husband gave it up in June and I was never a big drinker. But at 48, I was finding that even a couple extra was making me more tired the next day and I don’t enjoy feeling more tired than necessary, so I’m happy now that I have a glass of wine or two every couple months, rather than every week.

Neither of the changes mentioned above were made at the beginning of the year.

I don’t plan on making any drastic changes this year. I think about goals I want for myself throughout the year. The start of the year is just a nice place to re-evaluate, to re-affirm what is important to me.

So the things I plan to focus on this year, as long as I am able (2020 confirmed we don’t always have control over our plans) are:

  1. Supporting healthy goals by continuing to cook nutritious meals that are satiating.
  2. Maintaining my exercise schedule (running, cycling, HIIT strength and conditioning) because it keeps me feeling good, mentally and physically.
  3. Stretching more. I only spend a lot of time stretching when my hips and hamstrings tell me I better “or else”. I need to put stretching in my calendar, in the same way I put other exercise in my calendar.
  4. Give my best in my studies. I am starting a new course, in a new program at Ryerson University (continuing education) this week. If you look up “procrastinator” in the dictionary, there might be a picture of me doing anything but studying. My goal is to not procrastinate with my new course. Also, I get overwhelmed by the bureaucratic part of University and I would like to be patient with that part of the work.
  5. Drink more Matcha. I drink a lot of coffee. Good coffee. I love it. But, whereas I used to drink 1 or two big cups a day, some days it’s been 3 or 4 in the pandemic. And, that’s before the nightly decaf ritual. I plan to replace #3 and #4 with matcha. Not only might it be better for me, I think it will make me appreciate and enjoy #1 and #2 more.

The key to all of the above working for me is that I am not a perfectionist. I will do my best. I will probably re-evaluate every couple months. Including other dates on the calendar that remind me to reflect (birthday, Jewish New Year, some Wednesdays…). I will be kind to myself. I support you being kind to yourself too. If saying “New Year, New You” makes you cringe, ignore it. But if you still want to reflect and tweak some habits that aren’t working for you, in all of your glorious self, I say go for it.

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs, Miggy and Barley. She wishes everyone a Happy New Year and hopes everyone is safe and healthy in 2021.
fitness

How you do anything is how you do everything – and other uninspiring quotes

I was riding my indoor bike one morning. It was a 30 min Tabata Ride that was coached by a Peleton instructor who peppily said “How you do anything is how you do everything”. I don’t think that’s helpful, I thought, and kept riding.

Later that morning, I was scrolling through LinkedIn and someone I know “liked” another person’s post. Lo and behold, it was someone praising the same quote. “How you do anything is how you do everything”. This person attributed the quote to another Peleton instructor who I’m not familiar with. Aside from not finding the quote inspiring, I doubted very much that the quote was originally penned by this instructor. When I looked online there were many guesses at its origin, but it is generally thought to have been inspired by a Zen Buddhist.

Black lettering on a wood-like background “How You Do Anything is How You Do Everything”. Anything and Everything are underlined and WTF? and Not Me have been added in blue lettering.

When I think of that quote, I think “wow, what pressure”. Pressure doesn’t motivate me. I get the idea that one should be present in every thing they do and be intentional in their efforts and do their best. But that doesn’t mean I do everything equally.

When I mentioned the quote to a colleague she said she thinks they are going for the “shame you into working harder” vibe with that message. When does shame work in this way? Shame definitely doesn’t make me work harder. Or do better.

cute cat with eyes wide and the saying “Please Spare me”

I like to have a clean house, but I don’t like to clean. Thinking that someone might discover my dusty floors, might make me slightly uncomfortable, but it doesn’t make me want to clean them more on a day when I have about 10 other things I’d rather occupy my time with. I certainly do not put the same effort into cleaning my house as I put into my relationships, or my work, or my workouts.

I’m not a parent, but I know enough about parenting to know that it’s possible to put the same effort into parenting, as the effort put into work, relationships, grocery shopping, self maintenance and other things.

I am not a CEO, nor do I have a similarly powerful position. Perhaps, people who reach such levels of power, are people who believe in the quote “How you do anything is how you do everything?” Yet, I find it hard to believe that someone in a C-suite position, would be able to put the same effort into each of their endeavours. Maybe there are people who are able to function perfectly on 4 hours of sleep and who have a rare, limitless, amount of energy that allows them to be a successful perfectionist in everything they do, from their morning workout, to making breakfast for the kids, to learning something new, to leading people, to caring for family members, to how they park their car. I mean we are talking about EVERYTHING. Perhaps Dolly Parton is one of these people?

A photo of Dolly with the words in pink “Praise Dolly”

But why is it necessary? How is this helpful? Who are these people that are completely present 24/7 and don’t give in to moments of laziness, half-assedness, mediocrity, when it’s acceptable to do so? I know I can’t be 100% all the time. I divvy up my energy and focus where I’ve determined it’s most valuable to me and others important to me.

And maybe it’s a better goal to put your efforts where they matter most. It’s more efficient. It’s more practical. It’s more AWARE of priorities, limitations, abilities.

The type of thinking espoused by this quote, holds the idea of achieving greatness as the ultimate goal. I think a lot of us can agree that it’s healthier for a lot of us to achieve goodness and balance. Greatness in that balance. Thinking a successful life is only one that achieves greatness in everything is what can lead to a lot of unfulfillment and disappointment.

That doesn’t mean I don’t consider my actions in less important situations. But all moments are not equal. How I do anything is definitely not how I do everything. Nor should it be.

Other motivational quotes I don’t find inspiring while exercising:

The dreaded “you’re here to burn off those calories” – no I’m actually not. I’m here to raise my heart rate, to clear my mind, to gain energy. A whole host of other reasons.

“You can do better than that.” Sometimes yes. But not always. Some days. Some moments. What I’m doing is just enough. It’s perfect.

Sam wrote about Lies fitness instructors love to tell to cheer us on, 4 years ago.

I have my own motivational quotes in my head that help me at times:

When I’m running and I’m in the tough stretch of a long run, I find telling myself “this might be the best part of my day” helpful. Gavin found that funny when I mentioned that once before. It’s not a diss to other parts of my day or other people in my day. It just means that I love running. I love how it makes me feel, even the hard parts. So I want to appreciate that part of my day.

“You’re here.” This one is so simple. I showed up. I’m doing what I can do. I find that inspiring in the moment to keep going. Especially on days where I may not feel my best and I wasn’t sure about arriving.

Show up (black lettering on white background)

The thing that bothers me the most about “How we do anything is how we do everything” is that this type of perfectionist thinking can lead to people not doing anything. It’s one of the biggest hurdles to getting people exercising. The “all or nothing” thinking that prevents people from doing what they can do, and benefitting from what they can do.

What do you think of this quote? Are there “inspirational quotes” you find annoying. Are there ones that work for you?

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs. She loves movement in the form of running, HIIT workouts, some yoga an indoor cycling an is not a perfectionist or Type A person, apparently.

fitness

You Don’t Have to Drink, Eat, Spend Too Much – even at Christmastime

Matt Haig, the author, tweeted this yesterday:
Matt Haig@matthaig1
Things it’s really ok not to do at Christmas if you don’t fancy it: – drink – eat meat – spend too much – take covid risks – see people who harm your mental health – break your routine – anything at all that makes your health worse. Compulsory fun isn’t always fun. Know thyself.

The underlying message of this tweet is a good reminder this time of year. You do you.

Black letters on white background “just do you” with a drawing of a heart underneath

You want to toast your friends with a glass of wine on Zoom, go for it. But, if you don’t drink and a client sent you a bottle of wine, you don’t have to open it. Maybe you prefer mocktails? Or you like to toast with coffee or tea?

Picture of a delicious looking blood orange mocktail

You want to participate in a virtual yoga/strength/zumba class at 11 on the 24th but that will make you late for a family Zoom lunch? Do your class and log in late.

Your friends and family are planning to ignore public health advice and gather over the holidays, when they should know better, and you are on the receiving end of a first class guilt trip? Know better and opt out. Covid-19 doesn’t care that it’s turkey time.

You’d rather watch the Small Axe anthology on Amazon Prime than see your uncle on Zoom who reminds you about your “awkward tween years”? Pop some popcorn and watch your show. Or eat cheese, if that’s how you like to do your streaming marathon.

A plate of sliced apples, popcorn, pretzels, marble cheese and chopped nuts.

Just remember that there is no time of year, including Christmastime, when you are obliged to eat, drink, do anything that makes you feel bad, in order to make someone else feel better.

Happy YOU for the holidays!

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs and enjoys movement and doing things she really wants to do, even at the holidays.
fitness

Small wins

I like to run up hills, but not down them. Running hills is one of the activities regularly included in our park workouts. Running up a hill I feel confident. My legs are strong. My lungs are capable. Walking down or running down, particularly if the grass is a bit wet and slippery, the questioning part of my brain kicks in and takes over. Often I’ll start walking down a steep hill and my brain sends signals to my legs to go VERY slow. Or just stop. To hell with pride and go down crab walk style. Or avoid the hill, even though I enjoy running up. That’s a loss. Not running up the hill.

On occasion, I have avoided the hill all together, because I feel awkward about my downhill issue. But, more often than not, I start off tentative, but I try. This results in me walking down slowly at first and then when I find my footing, going quickly, where it’s less steep. Once I’ve managed to do this, I can run up the hill. And, the run up the hill feels that much sweeter. It may seem like a little thing, but it’s a small win.

Also, I always “leaned into my heels” when going down the hill and on a slight sideways angle, thinking this would be more stable, but last week, once I got more comfortable, I realized I felt more sturdy if I put my weight more “mid-front” than towards my heels. A little learning exercise for my brain, not just my body.

Small wins are great at any time, but especially these days.

What about other small wins I’ve experienced lately?

Some days I wake up and feel inexplicably sad. Or tense or reactive. More sensitive to things I shouldn’t be. Perhaps, that day, I seem to care more about whether people are hearing me or respecting me. Or if they like me. Even if I know I’m not supposed to care (I thought 40 was a magic “I don’t care” threshold?). Do we ever really not care? I haven’t reached that level of evolution yet. Regardless, I’m not sure why I wake up that way. Not sure it matters if it’s chemical or hormonal or just a normal product of existence. We can’t experience the highs if we don’t experience the lows.

I can also be my biggest critic about my moods. I know how to navigate them carefully. How to give myself movement. Or more room to react to others when necessary. But, I will often question myself about why I feel that way. What right do I have to feel that way? I am SO lucky. I am healthy. In love. Seen by my partner and respected. My work is not a toxic environment, which has not always been the case. I live in a great place (both MY place and the city in which I live) and so many other things for which I am grateful.

Black letters on light grey background that say “You’re going to be fine, you always are”. Yes I will be. But please allow me a moment to express and display my sadness & discomfort. I know it will get better, but I need to also be honest and say my spirit is temporarily heavy and not have to hide it.

But it’s a small win when I can let myself just be and accept that it’s OK to have our own emotions to deal with. Even when the world seems to be in so much pain. Even when people are sick. Even when we miss people we haven’t seen in awhile, either because they are no longer here or because we are not able to see them.

I am not a religious person. But lately, I’ve been following a very progressive rabbi on Twitter, who I love, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg. I find her tweets very informative, educated, and sometimes, simply what I need to hear at the time. For example, this recent simple tweet (which doesn’t do her more informative tweets justice):


Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg@TheRaDR
: “Hey, we’re still in the middle of an ongoing mass trauma (or, well, several of them at the same time.) If you’re not OK… well, that makes sense. Be gentle with yourself, will you?”

A good, simple reminder for everyone.

I am very grateful for living in a time and space that allows me to feel my emotions safely and patiently. And that I’m able to keep them in perspective.

Another small win is the wisdom to know I shouldn’t care about the fucking frown in my forehead. I can’t help that there is part of me that doesn’t like it. That wonders if it makes me look tired or angry when I’m not. But I also know it’s not a fucking frown. It’s a sign that I’m alive. Ageing. But alive. And it doesn’t affect anything other than, occasionally, my ego. I think that’s a small win that I recognize that.

What small wins have you experienced lately? In fitness, mindfulness, or otherwise?

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs, loves fitness, food and small wins.

fitness

Exercising in a winter wonderland

I am not a natural winter-lover. I hated winter when I was a kid. Summer remains my true love. I partially attribute this to being born at the end of June. It was how I was acclimatized from an early age 🙂

I have been told stories of how I used to cry my head off when I had to put my snow pants on and go outside in the winter. As many Torontonians my age will say, winters were harsher back then. We had lots more snow. Or is it just that we were smaller and it seemed like more snow? I do remember a constant pile of snow lining Bathurst St., where I grew up, all winter long. It was MUCH taller than me all winter. Or at least it seemed it. We have had snowy winters in recent years, but there are many winters where we’ve had hardly any.

A photo from 1971 (I wasn’t born yet) of a Toronto blizzard. A person is pushing their car out of a snow bank. This is how I picture winter as a kid in Toronto.

As a teenager, I remember being too cool for hats and other winter accessories and running to the store at lunch with friends, and freezing, because we weren’t dressed properly. Not winter’s fault!

I don’t ski or skate. I am not good at things where my brain has to relinquish control to my feet. Particularly, on uneven surfaces. For this reason, typical winter sports didn’t helped me enjoy winter.

When did I start appreciating winter more? When I started running. I started running many years ago, in September. It was late summer, early fall, and I had just returned from a trip to British Columbia, where my aunt running head of me, while I walked, inspired me to start a running program when I got home. My first “race” was a 10K run in Ajax, a small city east of Toronto, in December. It was aptly called a “Chilly 10” or something like that.

So, my running program forced me to learn how to dress for, and embrace running outside, as the weather became colder and snowier. By the time I finished that first 10K, I was hooked on running and wanted to start training for my first half marathon. And while I hadn’t, yet, developed my aversion to running on treadmills, I preferred running outside. I enjoyed going places. Having a start and finish. Finishing at one of my favourite places for coffee is a delight.

It didn’t take long for me to notice that when I was dressed appropriately, running in the winter was pretty lovely. One of my favourite traditions which started that year, was running on Christmas morning. It’s always so quiet. And often, there is lightly falling snow. It feels so magical. Look at what a little “winter-lover” I became.

Is it Christmas morning? Not yet. This was Sunday morning at the park and those are tracks in the snow from my running shoes.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t choose summer over winter. I prefer summer, followed by spring, early fall and then early winter. I do not enjoy late fall because I find the adjustment to the darker days, harder and sadder, and I know what’s coming. By late winter, the joy in the season is getting old and I am ready for spring. Plus, in early winter, I can relish the idea that the days are starting to get longer, even if it is doing so at a snail’s pace.

My acceptance of winter running has spilled over into other areas of winter activity. When I was still going to the office for work, I walked most days. Even in the winter. People always found this surprising. But as long as it wasn’t exceptionally messy on the sidewalks (which isn’t typical in Toronto these days) and not one of the -30C with the windchill days, I’d much prefer dress for, and walk outside, than pile on to the stuffed streetcar. That’s just me. Although if we ever go back to the office, after this pandemic is over, I doubt I will be alone in this sentiment.

It’s old news that the pandemic has made exercising inside more challenging. In addition to running outside, I have been enjoying my outdoor park workouts with Move fitness club. There is a much smaller group partaking in these workouts these days. It’s not desirable to many. Each to their own.

A picture of our small group, between EMOMs (every minute, on the minute), in the park, last Sunday.
This day was not snowy but it was cold. And, I ‘m doing “pallof presses” which is the kind of thing that is good for you, but that I would never do on my own.

According to this article from Harvard Health, there are advantages to exercising outside, in the winter, including:

  1. “In colder temperatures your heart doesn’t have to work as hard, you sweat less, and expend less energy, all of which means you can exercise more efficiently.”
  2. “Winter workouts help you get exposure to sunlight, which may help ward off seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that some people experience during the winter months.”

The article also talks about things to be cautious about in the winter, including “While cold-weather exercise is safe for most people, if you have certain conditions, such as asthma or heart problems, check with your doctor to review any special precautions you need to take based on your condition or medications.”

Here are some tips for cold weather exercise from the article:

  1. Wear layers (I agree, this is crucial as it keeps you warm and gives you flexibility as you warm up to de-layer).
  2. Protect your head, hands and feet (where heat will escape most easily).
  3. Wear sunscreen on exposed skin (face). Yeah it’s cold but you still risk getting a sunburn, especially around snow.
  4. Stay hydrated.
  5. Choose a safe surface.

A tip I would add is to not expect it to be the same as working out in the summer. You may have to modify your workout. You won’t be sprinting up hills or doing step ups on slippery steps. But there are good alternatives (running on the spot and high knees) and change can be good for you brain, in addition to your body.

In my mind, there are pros and cons to exercising outside right now. They are (not an exhaustive list):

Pros

  • the ability to feel like you have “mettle”, “grit”, “tenaciousness” (good, old-fashioned, bragging rights – which is what Insta was made for, no?)
  • once you are warmed up, you realize “it’s not that bad”
  • it can be beautiful if there is snow, sun, other outdoor elements that you might not appreciate if you were not working out, outdoors
  • in the case of a group workout in the park (spaciously distanced, etc.), you get the camaraderie and incentive derived from others
  • you are working out! movement is good any time of year!
  • there are winter days that are definitely challenging. But slightly cold weather can be easier to work out in than 30 degree celsius summer days.
  • you get to wear cute winter hats and other gear

Cons

  • it’s not summer
  • you may get a little damp from doing things in wet snow
  • you are not snuggled inside with your book, coffee and dogs
  • you will become one of those people who post “post-workout” pics, when your endorphins are pumping, and you can’t help yourself
  • you may have to resignedly admit that some winter days are just as nice, if not nicer, than some summer days
  • you have to do more laundry, because there are more layers that need constant washing

I wholeheartedly assert that people should embrace winter movement, in any way, that they are able. What about you readers? Do you enjoy exercising outside in the the winter?

Nicole P. with her toque and women’s 416 run neck gaiter, on her way to her winter park workout.

fitness

Transgender Week of Awareness: Jordan at the gym

I recently became aware that it is Transgender Week of Awareness in Canada, which takes place during the week of November 13-19 this year.

Transgender Awareness Week brings trans people and their allies together to learn more about advancing advocacy.

I am committed to being an ally, and educating myself about how to do so in the best way, to any group that is seeking equality and facing oppression. This is not limited to being a trans ally. But this topic is near and dear to my heart, because one of my favourite people is a transgender woman. I was 22 when Jordan was born and she was one of the first babies I spent a lot of time with as an adult. Jordan gave me the nickname “Auntie Uh-Uh” because I sang Barney’s “if all the raindrops were lemon drops and gum drops, oh what a rain it would be”, and then you stick your tongue and sing “uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh”. Jordan liked to do my hair and play along with the children’s TV show Comfy Couch.

It has been a privilege to watch Jordan grow up and discover her true identity. She has always been an old soul and we have always had a special bond. When she told me that she is a transgender woman when she was 19, it did not come as a surprise to me. I believe I said something to the effect of “you are Jordan and I love you”. And then she told me more about her self-discovery process.

Jordan is now 26 and she is more inspiring than ever. I have watched, with admiration, as she has taken steps to become more comfortable in her body. She has done so with grace, determination and maturity beyond her years. I also know that it has not always been easy. I am sadly aware of the discrimination she can face, on occasion, from people who do not understand, or who “other” people they do not understand. In this respect, my instinct is to make sure she is OK and support her. I also feel it is partly my responsibility to help educate other people, when they are willing to learn, about the transgender experience. I would like to help people understand that transgender people are just like your friends and family members who you have known your whole life and who are the same people inside, regardless of how they express their gender. There is nothing frightening or strange about it if you take the time to understand. If nothing else, I hope people can learn to lead with kindness when facing something they do not understand and respect the wishes of the people involved who are asking for respect.

A beautiful picture of Jordan in an off-the-shoulder white sweater.

When I thought about writing something about Transgender Week of Awareness, for this blog, naturally I thought of Jordan, but also that the post should relate to the topic of the blog, which of course is feminist fitness and wellness. The gym is not always a comfortable or safe place for the trans community. This is an issue that has inspired many gyms across North America to create LGBTQ2-positive spaces. Alistair wrote about fitness as a trans man, for the blog, earlier today.

I asked Jordan questions about her experience at the gym and also if there is anything she would like to say about Transgender Week of Awareness. She graciously answered my questions below.

Nicole: How has your experience been at the gym?

Jordan: As a transgender woman going to the gym, my experience hasn’t always been easy…It has taken me years (four to be exact) to get to a place where I felt comfortable as well as familiar with my surroundings. At first it was really hard, because I wasn’t on hormones, I was a little more aware of my body, the gym clothes I could wear in comparison to other girls, and the right amount of makeup that I felt I needed to wear to feel passible while still appropriate for the gym. Over the years, since I have started on hormones, I can wear less face makeup and also have become a bit more familiar with my surroundings, so the novelty of being there and being transgender has faded. I like to keep to myself mostly at the gym, but I have acquired a few acquaintances in the changeroom – women who wave and we chat about our lives briefly – none of them caring about the news of my transgender-ness , just happy to see a familiar face – as it should be.

Nicole: Are there thoughts you would like to share about Trans Week of Awareness?

Jordan: Its great that Trans Week of Awareness exists, to help educate and shine light on the needs of the community. I am happy to live in a world where I am seeing change – slowly but surely – through lived experience as well as though the media. We have come so far as a group of people and a culture, being visible and accessible. However, there is a lot of work to be done still in the world.

I thank Jordan for sharing her thoughts for the blog.

If people are interested, here is a link to some great resources from The519 about being a trans ally: https://www.the519.org/education-training/training-resources/our-resources/creating-authentic-spaces/being-an-effective-trans-ally.

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs. She’s running outside, cycling on her indoor bike and doing outdoor HIIT classes, and otherwise, hunkering down for this pandemic winter.
fitness

Nicole’s evolution in eating, from pre-pandemic times to now

Before last March, when I was going to the office every day, my eating habits looked something like this:

Americano misto from one of my favourite indie coffee spots on the way to work.

Breakfast at my desk: either a muesli/yogurt combo I brought from home or a turkey bacon and egg white breakfast sandwich from Starbucks (with sriracha).

Lunch – “sometimes” I’d bring lunch from home, which would typically be leftovers from dinner since I’m not a sandwich person at lunch. A lot of time, I’d buy “nutritious” options from the food court – bowls from iQ, veggies and tofu with half the usual portion of rice from the Japanese place, bowls from Freshii, etc.

Dinner – before I was partnered off, I often ate salad and hummus or tuna, for dinner. With canned dolmades dipped in tzatziki. Or a lot of the toppings and half of a small pizza with sun dried tomatoes, green olives and hot peppers. I like to cook, but I saved it for company or weekend projects. But since living with another human being, I’ve typically made dinner most nights. Turkey meatballs in a glaze over rice with salad with a tangy vinaigrette. Noodles in a peanut, orange, garlic, soy sauce, with tofu or chicken. Roasted fish with roasted potatoes and/or other roasted vegetables.

Glazed turkey meatballs, roasted potatoes, broccolini and carrots and a quinoa dish.

Brunch on the weekend has always been my favourite meal. Shakshuka (eggs in an aromatic tomato sauce, sometimes with goat cheese on top and spinach) or breakfast sandwiches with interesting combinations or Pamela’s gluten free pancakes with a fruit coulis and yogurt and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.

A picture of shakshuka.

When the pandemic hit and we were home every day, avoiding the store as much as possible, I was cooking every meal. Like most people, I was baking more. Figuring out homemade sourdough bread. Sourdough bagels. Homemade pasta. Time-consuming dishes that I didn’t have time to make when I was out of the house for 12 hours a day. . Then when we could order takeout again, we started ordering special meals once a week. Or more. Seafood paella in May when we were supposed to be in Spain. Meals finished at home from a local French bistro. French onion soup. Decadent. Comfort food. Sushi, Thai and Vietnamese and Indian food. Delicious, fancy pizza.

A picture of sourdough bagels Nicole was making not too long ago.

Since I’ve been home my once or twice a day Americano misto has become 3 or 4 from our beloved (and fairly new) Breville espresso machine.

A black poster with a white coffee cup and white lettering that says “I Like Big Cups & I Cannot Lie”

Throughout the summer, we stopped drinking alcohol in our house. I was never a big drinker but that was a bit of an adjustment, in terms of cooking with alcohol and periodic glasses of wine when relaxing or with a nice meal.

Then my husband “really” got into gelato and we were snacking on delicious gelato from Death in Venice many nights. Add to that my monthly “candy nights” where I’d have a bag of sour kids and he’d have a bag of wine gums.

Then, my husband found out his sugar was a bit high about a month ago. Nothing alarming, but we decided to cut back on the snacking, lower sugar intake and refined carbs. I won’t get into that too much, because I know this can be a boring and annoying topic. I am not providing advice about what anyone else should do. But this obviously has changed our eating habits for now. And I love talking about food and what I am making.

I am still making sourdough bread about once a week, but I’ve replaced much of the regular flour with rye and spelt. These loaves don’t rise as much and are not as pretty but they are pretty delicious. Especially if you enjoy Scandinavian-style bread, which it reminds us of.

I’ve experimented with “cloud bread” which is made from separated eggs and a bit of cream cheese and have the consistency of meringue when freshly made, but become a bit firmer over the next couple days. We enjoy them as a sort of “BLT” with turkey bacon and an over easy egg and tomato. There are many ways you could use these.

A cloud bread sandwich with scrambled eggs and veggies.

Most days I start the day with oats cooked with a little frozen fruit and flax seeds and I add yogurt after it’s cooked, and sometimes banana, sometimes coconut or peanut butter or a tiny bit of honey.

Lunches are usually leftovers from dinner or big salads with the usual add-ins (tuna or egg or hummus, pickled beets, or hot peppers, onions, basically whatever tasty things are laying around).

Dinners are usually roasted salmon or cod or chicken or tofu. There are always a lot of vegetables – squash or cauliflower or wild mushrooms or eggplant or rapini. One big hit recently was “Lemon chicken piccata” which is breaded in a mixture of almond flour and tapioca flour and the sauce is made from coconut cream and lemon juice and grainy mustard and capers. I don’t have a picture of that, but I do have a picture of a big salad with pan seared scallops that was quite tasty.

A big salad with roasted veggies and scallops.

I’ve experimented with lower sugar baking too. I recently made cookies with coconut, almond flour and monkfruit sugar, that were delicious and a big hit.

One of the sites I discovered recently that is my new favourite is “elavegan.com”. I made delicious and super easy spinach tortillas from this site. They consist of spinach, tapioca flour, water and chickpea flour. I am not exaggerating when I say they were extremely simple to make. And they had a “foldy” tortilla texture and the taste from spinach was delicious. I used these with my own “waldorf-style” chicken salad which I made with pomegranate seeds, apple, almonds and walnuts, garlic powder, parsley, a little grainy mustard, mayo and greek yogurt, lemon juice and salt and pepper. It was one of my favourite recent brunches.

A collage – top is the chicken salad before blended. Bottom left is the spinach tortilla in the pan. Bottom right is the spinach tortilla filled with chicken salad.

My annual holiday cookie baking is coming up. I plan on making some of the usuals (rugelach, biscotti, macaroons) and experiment with the monkfruit sugar for some.

Has your cooking or eating changed during the pandemic? What are you enjoying these days?

Nicole with straight hair, which is a rare occurrence, especially during the pandemic.