Are Functional Mushrooms really “all that”?

It’s not a new thing that functional (medicinal) mushrooms are trendy. A couple years ago, a barista was promoting a new line of coffee to me which included different types of mushrooms that claimed to cure a number of ails. I tried a bit for about a month and shrugged it off as a fad and one that didn’t seem to deliver what it purported to do (for me). There was Cordyceps for “Performance” (mood and energy boosting!) and Chaga for “immune boosting” and “anti-inflammatory properties”. Lion’s Mane for “regulating blood pressure”. These coffee blends didn’t taste as good as the beans I usually enjoy and I didn’t notice any “stress relief” or “mood elevation”.

Whenever I feel tempted by the pitch before me, in spite of my innate skepticism, I do a quick search online to see if there are any worrying side effects and there didn’t seem to be anything too troublesome. I also recall ordering a latte at another joint offering the beneficial properties of these “magic” mushrooms (who doesn’t feel tempted by “hormone balancing” and “anxiety relieving” claims at 50-something?). Unfortunately, that magic latte made me feel a little nauseous afterwords and it seemed to spur on a hot flash well before I was getting them regularly. Perhaps, my body’s way of saying “JUST STOP WITH THIS SHIT”? I opted to stick with my usual Americano from then on (still, always magical for me).

Medicinal mushrooms fall into the category called “Adaptogens”. According to UCLA Health, “Adaptogens” are “herbs, roots and other plant substances (like mushrooms) that help our bodies manage stress and restore balance after a stressful situation“. Full disclosure, I have been taking maca for years, which is apparently an adaptogen. Am I leery of the claims made about maca? Yes. Do I still take them because I haven’t noticed any ill side-effects and they were recommended to me years ago by a naturopathic doctor and I am a creature of habit. Yes. Am I wasting my money taking maca? Possibly?

The other day I noticed someone on LinkedIn, of all places, promoting her company’s (“healthy fat chocolate”) partnership with a medicinal mushroom company. The post on LinkedIn claimed the following:

Adaptogens are hot and here’s why:

– they help us manage stress
– maintain balance (homeostasis)
– strengthen our internal systems which
– promotes vitality
– stabilizes mood
– improves focus and performance

I was somewhat surprised to see such emphatic claims by a successful CEO on LinkedIn. It kind of irked me. The absolutism of this type of marketing led me to do a quick search “proper science about medicinal mushrooms”. I’ll admit, “proper”, isn’t a scientific term.

I found an article from “Harvard School of Public Health” about the nutritional benefits of regular mushrooms (not medicinal), in general. I found a Guardian article from 2019 that discusses some of the promises of medicinal mushrooms, that are still being studied, but the line that stood out from this article was “There’s a dearth of evidence from clinical trials on whether those varieties help prevent or treat disease in humans.”

Of course, there are number of questionable “science journals” that talk about the benefits as if they have been proven but I couldn’t find anything from what I would think of as reputable sources that confirm the science behind the claims.

I am not a scientist and I didn’t do extensive research. Medicinal mushrooms may have promising benefits. They may not. Like most “wellness” marketing, the claims appear to be over the top to me and I don’t see myself jumping on the bandwagon in any real way, any time soon. I would suggest caution even in the face of slick business marketing.

What do you think? Are you sold on the magic of mushrooms? I’m sure there are many who disagree with me. Perhaps, who even have science to back them up.

Nicole P. on a stress-relieving jog around Chicago’s lakefront path on a quick trip recently.


September is the real “new year” – what does this mean for your routines?

Ahh, the mornings and evenings are cooler but there are still warm days ahead. Labour Day Weekend is practically in the rearview mirror. Young adults may be starting a new school year away from home for the first time and are thinking about a whole new program and where they may fit in some exercise. People are coming back to their regular routines after a summer of taking it a bit easier. Others have regular routines and they want to enhance them, keep it up, or maybe even tone it down a bit. Everyone has different goals, but September can be a good time to consider what they are.

September can feel more like a new year than January. Some of us celebrate the beginning of a new year on the Jewish calendar each September (and sometimes October) so that’s an added feeling of renewal.

Perhaps you have decided this is the time to start a new exercise routine? Why not add in another new regimen at the same time as everything else needs to line up in a row? You may choose not to do this. If so, go ahead and ignore the following advice and enjoy your cardamom-kissed tea and put your feet up. But some are getting out their day planners as I write this.

It may well be a great time to add in a regular habit along with the new drop offs, class schedules, calendars full of meetings. If you have a regular habit, what can you add in or swap for something else, to spice things up? What can you remove from your schedule that’s not serving your goals anymore? Doing these things can help support your mental and physical well being when life is busy.

What are things you can consider while you are making plans for the “new year” ahead?:

  • Write down your plans;
  • Review those plans and then really think what is realistic and what is not – take out what is not;
  • If you know you are not going to have an hour in your day but can fit in a few sessions of 20 minutes, spaced out throughout the day, plan for that adjustment. Don’t try to schedule an hour every day, if that is going to be impossible.
  • Consider what fitness means to you and what works for you. Is there a hobby you used to enjoy that you’ve been meaning to start up again (roller derby, hoola hooping, orienteering). Do you LIKE exercise classes? If yes, do you prefer virtual, in-person, small group, larger gym? Is nature your gymnasium and you’d rather focus your energy on a trail or on the sidewalk?;
  • Put those new plans in your calendar. Whether it’s booking exercise classes or time for a hike and setting aside that time in an app or your Google calendar or an old fashioned wall calendar, make those plans part of your schedule;
  • With respect to the plans in your calendar, be flexible, but also respect those plans. Your friend wants to meet for lunch on Saturday, but you have an exercise class planned for 9 am? Make it a later lunch so you don’t feel too rushed and more likely to opt out of the class. Or suggest another day for the lunch until that 9 am class becomes an ingrained part of your day. Don’t feel guilty about it. Looking after yourself is just as important as socializing;
  • If you are starting a new fitness plan, make sure you are nourishing yourself properly. Don’t worry about what you shouldn’t eat. Actually, don’t worry. Just try to get a lot of fruits and vegetables and enough protein and carbs that you feel satiated. Try to stay hydrated (and also don’t worry if you don’t get 8 glasses of water a day – just drink water or other beverages that make you feel hydrated throughout the day;
  • Cut yourself some slack. If you miss a day’s fitness plans, put it out of your mind and try to keep the next day’s plan. Don’t dwell on what you missed;
  • Don’t create unrealistic goals. Don’t look for “results”. Trust me on this. Just take “results” out of your head and focus on making exercise a habit. If someone starts providing unsolicited advice about results and how you can go after them, tell them that is not your focus and bye.
  • Find a fitness buddy. Whether that person actually works out with you or they are there to encourage you to get to your fitness plans, by text or on the phone, find someone who respects your new plan and is there to encourage (not push) you;
  • Try to get enough sleep. It’s always important to get enough regular sleep, but especially when you are adding a new fitness routine, don’t cut yourself short on your sleep;
  • Be flexible – you decided to try a particular class and after a couple weeks, you just aren’t feeling it, try another class or another option for that time. There isn’t one way to reach your goals, give a few different things a chance before you find something that you enjoy and that sticks;
  • Plan rest days. At least one day a week, plan it as a rest day. No matter how excited you may feel at the new found energy, enthusiasm and incentive to fit that new fitness regimen in every day, make sure you plan a rest day. They are just as important as the active days for your overall well-being; and
  • Think about safety. What gear do you need to keep yourself safe? If you are starting a new walking or running program outside, for example, do you need reflectors? Do you need to remind yourself to look both ways if you are running in an urban area? This may seem trite but safety is important and don’t forget it.

If you embark on a new fitness plan, there may be varying results. You may find a plan that works for you and for which you are fairly consistent with for years to come. You may embark on a new fitness plan and life throws wrenches in your plans and you need to adjust, re-start, re-plan, re-assess. That is OK! Part of the fun, is finding what works for you, and in the process, finding those days, whether regular or interspersed, that pepper your life with feelings of strength, stress relief, a clear mind, renewed incentive, or reminders of what works for you and what doesn’t, and therefore, a better understanding of yourself.

Good luck planning your fitness plans for the “real New Year” in September!

Dear Readers, do you have any tips for anyone starting a new fitness plan this fall?

Nicole lives in TO and has a regular fitness routine of running, HIIT/strength classes, walking a lot and a bit of yoga and other things.

Music as a Quest for Quiet

Portable music has never been on the checklist of items I need for my run. In order to benefit from the active meditation that a long run provides me, I need the quiet mind. Letting my thoughts run their course while I work my body through the motions of a long jog, seems like good medicine. Over and over and over again until the repetitive thoughts are tired out and there’s room for mantras and epiphanies or just a sort of acceptance of what is. Whether it’s a day where the elements do not make for incentive to get out there or my body is tired, either physically or mentally – or – I am full of energy and the sun is shining and happy thoughts feel manic, the the quiet mind produced by body work feels necessary.

Similarly, when I walk to wherever I’m off to, which is often, as I walk mostly everywhere I go, I never thought I should listen to music. Whatever the tech was of the day, Walkman, Discman, iPod or iPhone, I am not sure why, but I never took advantage of their uses.

I listen to music in the bath or the car or when I’m cleaning the house, but, not, while exercising.

Part of the reason, I didn’t use my phone for music, in recent years, was because it had long been well past it’s best-before-date and the battery often died within an hour of being unplugged, even if simply idling in my purse. About a month ago, I did one of the things I don’t enjoy doing (shopping), and I visited the Apple store for an upgrade.

With an updated phone in my possession, I started wondering if I should consider using sound as a buffer from both external and internal assaults to my nervous system. Externally, living in a city can be wonderful. It’s easy to walk places. The motion of living, in it’s many forms can be comforting to an urbanite like myself. But, increasingly, distracted and oblivious drivers and pedestrians, numerous construction sites, and other realities of a busy city, have become triggers for me. Internally, the hormonal shifts happening within my body, at this time of advanced perimenopause (I’m not sure “advanced peri” is a clinical term, but I’m not “officially” a year without a period, but I’m well on my way, and do I ever FEEL like I am in menopause) are like assaults to feelings of ease some days, and I am doing all I can to deal with these new feelings. Combine the internal assaults with the external ones and could I ever use some music. Or, some uplifting chatter.

I have also never enjoyed “talk radio” and I have been slow to warm to what often seemed like the formulaic quality of podcasts. However, about a month ago, I started listening to podcasts on my walk to work. I’ve always been worried about safety, if listening to music or similar while walking in the city. I feel as though I need to be alert to cars a lot of the time. But, I figured I could practice both listening to something, and still, paying attention to traffic. I started listening to Julia-Louise Dreyfus’ podcast, Wiser Than Me. I’ve also listened to some episodes of 99% Invisible (and learned a lot about the “Frankfurt Kitchen” and Margarete Schutte-Lihotzky). While being moved by Julia’s discussions with Ruth Reichl and Gloria Von Furstenberg and others, it does seem to help me keep my nerves at bay. Other human beings are not as annoying as they could be. Or, perhaps, I am not as annoying in my anticipation of disturbances to my peace of mind.

So, this Sunday, I decided to try listening to music, while running, for a change. I don’t have AirPods, so I used my iPhone headphones and secured my phone in my running belt. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but this morning’s run hit all the right marks. Early teen Nicole, who left her gym uniform at home and who didn’t like to run across the street, is still amazed that she finds bliss in running. But there it was. The sun was shining. It was early and quiet in the city. There was a lovely breeze. And, I was listening to music. I think the music may have made my stride a bit slower, actually, but who cares?! At one point, I even felt like putting my arms up, in the victory lap way, as one does when they cross a finish line. I wasn’t anywhere near the end of my run, but I felt like lifting my arms and taking in my surroundings, in my stride. I did so, momentarily, and then wondered what other’s might think. Then I thought, don’t make yourself smaller, raise your arms. I did so, a couple more times, briefly, but I think I need to practice that, without feeling self-conscious. I still felt a bit like a nerd. But, a happy one. Also, I like nerds. We could all embrace more of the nerd side of our beings.

A portion of Nicole’s run along Coxwell Avenue. Maybe doesn’t capture the bliss of the weather and the moment but it was perfect. Pictured is the sidewalk ahead, with grass to the right. A blue painted cement wall to the right. A bride/overpass ahead and some trees lining the road. Blue skies above with a couple airy clouds.

I wasn’t sure if I would still need my mantras at a certain part of my run, but about 3/4 of the way through my run, I found myself still saying my mantras to myself, beneath the music. I found that interesting. I can use both the music and the mantras at the same time. Embrace. Thank You. Etc.

One of the reasons I never took up music while running is because I don’t want to become reliant on it. My plan is to still have “music-less” runs. Perhaps, my shorter runs during the week. I’ll experiment. But, I enjoyed my melodic journey this morning. I may need to go shopping and buy some AirPods.

Nicole P. is discovering music as a way of quieting her mind while moving.

CityShred with Friends

I had so many reasons not to participate in CityShred in Toronto on July 16th, described as, “the EPIC group-training experience that challenges you to push your limits, work as a team and SHRED limited beliefs, together is BACK for the BIGGEST SUMMER SHRED TO DATE.”

My gym, Move Fitness Club, shared the information with its members, explaining that they were going to have a booth at the event and encouraging us to join in the FUN!!

The athlete in me was intrigued by the idea of a different, intense, workout, to shake-up my very regular routine. If some of my workout buddies would be there, all the better. The other side of my brain worried pictures of the event hinted at a much younger, influencer, crowd. Also, there are certain activities I know I have no interest in participating in – I don’t want to climb walls – for example. The pictures of previous CityShred events seemed more of a very intense conditioning workout than an obstacle-style course, which I imagined I would love. Also, I have long believed that shaking things up doesn’t have to mean doing things OUTSIDE of my comfort zone. It can mean amping things up and new things WITHIN that zone. So if I went to the event and I could do most of it and decided not to do the odd thing, it would still be worth it.

Planning to participate in the event, for me, meant considering my usual workout schedule for the week and switching some things around. I didn’t want to do the usual Saturday conditioning class at Move, the day before CityShred. Sometimes parts of my body are still sore after my Thursday (run), Friday (strength), Saturday (conditioning) workouts and, not knowing what was ahead for me on Sunday, meant I was being cautious. It’s one thing to do my usual long run on Sunday. Another, to do new things, with sore muscles. For a routine-oriented person, like myself, changing up my overall schedule can be a bit anxiety inducing but is also part of the point – something different.

Speaking of potentially sore muscles, I also made sure I did some “runner’s yoga” on Saturday.

Details for the event said that it would take place from 8:30 am to 2:00 pm. It was at Varsity Stadium in Toronto, which is a huge football field that is part of the University of Toronto. The doors would open at 8:30. They encouraged people to get there early as the first 400 entrants would be given the swag bags and there were TLF Athletic Apparel Outfit for participants, while quantities lasted. The workout was supposed to go from 10 am to 12:30 pm, with a “burpee challenge” at 9:30 am, which I wasn’t planning to participate in because I didn’t want to burn myself out before the main event. Looking back, I think I should have participated in it, even for the personal challenge, which involved pairs doing as many burpees as they could for 10 mins straight. The winning pair completed 400+ burpees and won $2000. I wouldn’t have jumped to near 400 burpees, but I might have had fun trying.

On Sunday, I awoke with a feeling of anticipation, at 5ish. That’s not far off from when I typically get up for my long run, around 6. I had my coffee and a protein bar, organized my things, relaxed and started off on foot to the event (according to Google, it’s 4.9 km) around 7:30 am. I arrived at Varsity Stadium at 8:20ish and there was already quite a long line up at the entrance. As I waited, my friends started to arrive and joined me in line. Laura, Kat, Sanu and I were in the line together. Rose, Marina and her sister arrived a bit later and met us inside at the Move booth, which was staffed by our wonderful and long-time coaches, Barb and Bethany, as well as with new staff member, Sara.

It seems the line to get in took much longer than the organizers anticipated. The people working the swag desk seemed a little overwhelmed at the volume of people trying to get their right size. We didn’t get past the registration/swag pick-up/outfit pick-up until almost 9:30 am. Those of us who arrived earlier were able to snag these items, but anyone who arrived even 10 min after us seemed to have lucked out. The swag bags contained the typical fitness event items, of different hydration packets, protein snacks, coupons for products sponsoring the event. If you were able to get the swag bag and outfit, those items alone covered the entry fee of $40.

Once inside the stadium we had time to walk around the booths and try some samples. I enjoyed one of the products so much that I bought some online later to use at the office. Polar Joe is marketed as a functional iced coffee with a good amount of protein. I have been looking for something to tie me over in the afternoons at work, so that I don’t feel the need to go out and buy another Americano Misto that day. I certainly was their target audience!

After bits of samples of energy snacks and drinks (and trying not to enjoy too much before the workout which wouldn’t have been good for my stomach) the warm-up appeared to be underway, about 11:15 am, so a bit later than anticipated. Our group got ready to go on the turf. While fun, the warm-up turned out to be a series of gym spotlights, with trainers talking about their coming-to-fitness stories, before doing a bit of a warm-up. It felt a little stop/start/stop/start and it would have benefited from the use of the big screen because it wasn’t always easy to see what the trainers were doing enclosed within a circle of people. The stories were inspirational, for sure, but I would have liked a more continuous warm-up to keep the energy going and think organizers might consider telling their stories during the workout rather than before each segment.

At this point we joked we needed to think of this event as a “fitness festival” more than an intense fitness workout event. As a fitness festival it was ticking a lot of boxes. Swag, samples, inspiration, bits of movement.

After the 30 minute warm-up we started off as a group running the track 2 times before getting into groups in a line behind several rope ladders (on the ground on the turf) for a series of drills. There was another set of track running in between drills. We were encouraged not to bring our water bottles on the turf to avoid tripping hazards. For someone, like me, that was a bit of challenge, not having my water bottle with me, while exercising, particularly in muggy weather. Luckily, while muggy, it wasn’t particularly sunny, so it was manageable.

Bethany commented how amazing it was to see everyone (organizers said 1500 were there but seemed more like 800 in person) running together around the field. The feeling in the crowd was collegial. It didn’t feel super competitive, which is great. It felt very motivational for all levels. It felt mostly like an easy jog for me. Our small group is fairly homogeneous, given that we are a women-focussed gym, but the overall group did seem diverse. More diverse in colour and gender, than in age. I would say the age range was mostly somewhere around 30 with some much older (like me) and some a little younger. Even though I am much older than 30-something, I didn’t feel like I stuck out in the crowd. It felt as though if you were there to participate and have fun you were welcome. It’s possible, that if this type of message was more widely broadcast, these types of events would attract more older life athletes.

The drills were the toughest part, in the way I enjoy. They reminded me of our Move’s outdoor conditioning workouts, which we did a lot of during the pandemic and which I loved. This part did feel a little more competitive for me in the way that I grew conscious of trying not to hold people up on the ladder behind me. People were good about running around others, if necessary, when sprinting, etc. There were side shuffles, hops, bear crawls, sprawls, and did I mention sprinting?

When we left around 1 pm, I felt like it was a good workout, although not my toughest by far. I thought I would want to still go to my regular gym class the next day and signed up for my usual 6:30 am class. But, as the day went on, reality set in and I felt my legs stiffen up. I realized I would be better off giving them a break the next morning. That’s one of the things I’m trying to get myself to accept. It doesn’t come easily to me, but my legs would benefit from a rest day. I keep reading about the benefits of rest days to make sure my brain understands it and makes peace with the concept. I do notice, after days of intense workouts, my body seems to get a bit more agitated, without a rest day, and that seems to defeat the purpose of the mental health boost I have always gotten from the exercise itself. Rest, here and there, seems to be the key for balancing agitation at this stage of my fitness journey.

Our little group of gym buddies enjoyed the day together and we all commented how nice it was to do something together outside of the gym. I’ve mentioned before, and I’ll mention again, one of the reasons I enjoy my routine so much, is the friendship and community I derive from the small group of regulars (and coaches) I see regularly.

All in all, the “fitness festival” was a great way to spend half a Sunday and was indeed a little shake-up to my routine.

Nicole P. lives in TO with her husband and two dogs and is likely going back to her exercise routine this week.


TikTok girl dinner trend

Content warning: this article discusses my own disordered eating, to some degree.

Until Sam shared The New York Times article, Is It a Meal? A Snack? No, It’s ‘Girl Dinner’ with the blogger team, I hadn’t heard of this latest Tik Tok Trend. I confess, I barely use TikTok. I have seen my fair share of TikTok food trends, however, as they are EVERYWHERE. You cannot be on social media without coming across some mention of a TikTok food trend. It’s easy to see the appeal of quick flashes of images that distill what may seem complicated to some down to a simple, manageable process, as inspiration. I have tried to “get into TikTok” but it just hasn’t stuck for me.

sliced apple beside sliced cheese and sliced apple on brown wooden table
A person standing before a wedge of brie, cutting a small triangle. Surrounding the brie is a small triangle of orange cheddar, a strawberry, a cold cut, a few blackberries and an apple. Perhaps preparing a “girl dinner”

With the girl dinner piece in the NYT, it describes a girl dinner as “akin to an aesthetically pleasing Lunchable: an artfully arranged pile of snacks that, when consumed in high enough volume, constitutes a meal. It goes on to describe the girl dinner as a mini charcuterie board (to me) – some kind of fruit, a block of cheddar, sliced salami, a sleeve of fancy crackers and a dish of olives. “Girl dinner is “both chaotic and filling”, as one TikTok commenter put it, requiring none of the forethought, cooking or plating.”

As with many of the TikTok trends I’ve seen, they are hardly creating something new. More often than not, they are simply giving a new name to something that has existed in some form for eons. I rarely pay attention (unless trusted food friend tells me one may be worth trying) but when Sam shared the NYT article, the gendered term, “girl dinner”, gave me pause for thought.

The origins of the TikTok girl ginner Trend seem simple enough. Olivia Maher, a showrunner’s assistant currently out of work because of the writer’s strike, posted a video on TikTok this spring extolling the virtues of a humble, medieval-peasant-inspired assemblage that she called “girl dinner”.

No slight to the individual, but when it becomes a wider reaching trend, one attributed to a gender, it may be useful to think if it’s helpful. Is the trend offering something useful? Is it feeding into problematic habits? I mean, if there are people out there who didn’t realize that if they are making their own dinner, and they are in the privileged position of having options, they are allowed to eat whatever they please, including an assortment of things that others may consider a snack, then I’m glad they have finally caught on. But, why does it have to be labelled a girl thing? I’m sure there are many guys who do similar things (and we wouldn’t call it a boy dinner). Too often, when something is called a girl thing, it becomes a negative association. It becomes “girly” or “silly”. See pumpkin spice lattes and turkey bacon, for example. This has been blogged about on FIFI here. In this case, it would worry me that this girl dinner trend is trying to appeal to the idea that women should eat smaller things for dinner. You will never see a trend called girl pizza which shows a woman ordering a small pizza with green olives, hot peppers and sun-dried tomatoes and eating the whole pizza while chilling on their own with Netflix.

I have done the girl pizza thing in the past. I would usually tell myself I was only going to eat half and then I would pick my way to eating most of it, maybe leaving a bit of the crust, in shame (see diet culture). I also ate the girl dinner. For a lot of my 30s, I would come home from a long day at work and eat canned dolma dipped into tzatziki or hummus. It wasn’t because I was a giant child who needed a form of Lunchable for dinner. No, I was single, busy, had agency to eat what I wanted and felt like eating. Some days I made elaborate meals for friends. Some days I felt like eating pizza. Some days I felt like eating dolmas and salads.

turkish grape dessert on dish
A white, rectagular plate with four dolma (stuffed grape leaves) Photo by Юлия Чалова on

I didn’t think of the ways I was eating as being related to being a woman. For sure, I have reflected on my eating habits over the years in relation to disordered eating and the unhelpful diet culture many of us women grew up in, in the 70s and 80s. The NYT article talks about the fear that the girl dinner is a form of masking disordered eating. But fans of the trend point out that it’s not about deprivation. It’s about enjoying the simple joy of snacks as meals. In my 30s, I was still struggling with forms of disordered eating. FIFI blogger, Diane, also shared this article, by Yoni Freedhoff about what he believes people are getting wrong about Ozempic. In it, he provided a good definition of disordered eating that is handy for my purposes here. He describes disordered eating as highly restrictive dieting that leaves a person battling hunger, cutting out their favourite foods or entire food groups, and involves a constant mental battle replete with perseverant and maladaptive thinking around one of life’s seminal pleasures which society claims should be doable if you just want it badly enough.

I certainly had rules in my head about foods I should and should not eat. I struggled with restriction and binging. But reducing it to how I ate snack-like plates, on occasion, for dinner, would be too simplistic.

If you are a snack lover like me, you probably enjoy ordering a variety of items at a restaurant so you can try a little of each, rather than one big thing. That’s what this girl dinner trend seems to speak to. The lover of snacks and variety for dinner. I just wish we could unleash it from a specific gender (and inherent implications).

On Twitter, I noticed Nigella Lawson tweeted, “And we call them Picky Bits”. Another person, Tom Hillenbrand, said that most Germans (note not only German women) eat like this every evening. They call it Abendbrot.

I prefer Picky Bits to girl dinner. Just me? Dear readers, do you like the term girl dinner for this trend? Do you worry about the attribution to a gender? More importantly, what do you like to snack on for dinner?

Nicole P. lives in TO with her husband and two dogs and enjoys running, HIIT workouts with a bit of spinning and yoga thrown in.

Ritual, Meditation, Solstice, Birthday, Day-to-Day Fitness

Several years ago, I started the practice of completing 108 Sun Salutations (asanas) at the change of seasons. The first time I practiced it was with a group at a local yoga studio for the Summer Solstice.

a woman in black tank top raising her hands
A white woman standing on grass, in a black tank top, long, curly, brown hair, arms reached overhead as if she is about to start a Sun Salutation or has just finished one and bringing her hands to prayer position.

Doing 108 Sun Salutations worked for me right away. I enjoy yoga and have practiced it, here and there, for many years. I wouldn’t call myself a yogi, but I do it enough that I can say it’s part of my regular practice. On the list of types of fitness I employ regularly, it is probably 3rd or 4th on the list. It gets done, but after I’ve gotten my run or my strength workout in. I am not always adept at the more advanced movements of yoga. For example, arm balancing and headstands (I blame the arm balancing woes on my hips that will not allow my knee to rest properly on my arm) but doing 108 Sun Salutations is firmly in my wheelhouse. I am good at push-ups and part of the vinyasa in a sun salutation involves a form of push-up. I enjoy doing repetitive, meditative motions. Long distance running works for me, for the same reason. Long distance running becomes a repetitive, meditative motion that applies balm to my, sometimes, worrying, anxious, over-thinking, lonely (in the past), angry, excited, human brain. Same goes for bread baking and pasta making (I really should do more of that).

There are a number of reasons that yogis practice 108 Sun Salutations at the change of seasons. A basic description is “Practicing 108 Sun Salutations is a meditative practice that connects the body, the mind, and the universe specifically when nature is undergoing a change. And coupled with this change in nature, yogis can start once again, fresh, renewed and inspired.”

Here’s a handy “vinyasa breakdown” for those not familiar with it. The vinyasa forms part of the Sun Salutation. This chart provides both modified and traditional parts of the vinyasa:

A white woman in a red tank top and black 3/4 tights, brown hair tied back in a ponytail, goes through portions of a vinyasa on a black yoga mat.

At the start of each 108 Sun Salutation attempt, I think of words I want to carry me through the process, perhaps the season ahead. When I started the practice this year, on June 21st at about 6:30 am, I thought “Pleasure. Health.” 

108 Sun Salutations often starts off a bit clunky feeling. Your body/mind is remembering the flow of bending forward, choosing a leg to go backwards first, lowering to the ground, rising in “up dog” and then flowing back to a down dog and deciding if you will step forward or jump forward.

This time was no different. It didn’t help that I also had a piece of paper at the head of my mat to check off 108 down dogs 108 (12 sets x 9) and was sorting out the best place to keep it, when to check it off in the vinyasa, without disrupting the flow.

The thing about doing 108 Sun Salutations, is that within a few vinyasas, your mind/body connection takes over and figures it out. At this point, I was in flow. The words of “Pleasure. Health” were still there, but other words such as, “Curiosity” and “Patience” emerged. I also started jumping forward about a 1/3 of the way in, which is not my natural inclination, but felt good, this time.

To me, this is where the gold lies. Whether it’s a long run or a set of 108 Sun Salutations, I may have intentions or ideas of what I want to focus on, but the meditative state allows my subconscious to bring out other areas that I may want to contemplate.

These words or mantras that form part of my inspired mind/body connection during movement practices, follow me though out my day(s).

Where can I use Patience in my day, with myself, with others, with work, with goals?

Where can I use the idea of Curiosity with my day, with myself, with others, with work, with goals?

Who doesn’t want good health for themselves and others? Who doesn’t want a pleasurable year ahead? But – what I might also really want to focus on is – Patience and Curiosity.

It just so happens that the Summer Solstice is 2 days before my birthday. Birthdays are another time for contemplation. The combination of the Solstice practice and my birthday offer me an opportunity to consider things that have passed and, potentially, what may be to come. To me the best reason to consider these things is to use the lessons to help be a better person, wife, friend, co-worker, etc. The contemplation and lessons are also there in my daily workouts and part of the reason fitness is so integral to my mental health, but, a yearly reminder is welcome to me.

This is what I know, on the week I turn 51:

  1. Career transitions are worthwhile;
  2. Acknowledging feelings relating to the subtle changes of a new “stage” of life is healthy;
  3. Despair is an emotion that becomes more present with age, whether it’s connected to anything real or, perhaps, residue from things bigger in worldview;
  4. The above comment sounds more serious than it’s meant to. It’s a recognition of these emotions, not something overwhelming or focussed on; and
  5. Continuing to use practices that are meaningful to me, such as completing 108 Sun Salutations or going for a long run or pushing that iron, is valuable for me because these practices provide inspiration for how to “be” in day-to-day life.

As another year around the sun passes for me, I am grateful for my regular fitness practices. As I say almost every time I run “I Am. I Can. I Will. I Do. Envision. Thank You.”

Nicole P. is grateful for another trip around the sun and looking forward to a year ahead of more fitness adventures, perhaps with some curiosity and patience involved.

Spring on the Path – Remember the Etiquette!

Spring is a wonderful time for outdoor runners, cyclists and other outdoor exercise enthusiasts. Even though I run and walk outside all year round, there is still a thrill, each year, when it’s warm enough for me to don my shorts and tank top, instead of my “cold weather tights and two layers and my toque”. There are other considerations in the spring and summer (sunscreen, chafing ointment on the inner thighs and upper arms if it’s a very long run in hot weather). But, that first run in the warmer weather season is freeing. The sunshine is perky. I don’t have to worry about whether the sidewalks and paths are going to be slippery from the last snow fall. Ahh, bliss.

Part of the Martin Goodman Trail that is a regular part of Nicole’s running route. There is a runner ahead in a white top and shorts, who is running on the right side. There is a cyclist going in the opposite direction, also on the right side. Both are practicing good path etiquette.

Until I hit the part of my route where I reach the “shared use recreational path” and I hit the “fairweather” recreationalists who don’t seem to know or care about the etiquette on such routes. It may not seem fair to blame it on the “fairweather” recreationalists, but it doesn’t seem to be a problem most of the year. It may just be a case of volume, similar to January at the gym. I welcome the fairweather fitness enthusiasts. There’s room for all of us. I know it’s not “my path” ….But, there are good reasons to understand and practice “shared use recreational path etiquette” while getting your natural Vitamin D.

From “”, “If you have ever wondered how best to engage with people you encounter on a hike, you’re not alone. Trail etiquette is mostly about common courtesy and common sense, both are especially important for maintaining a positive atmosphere on the trail.”

From “Ontario Trails Council”, “Walk, ride or cycle in single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy. Stay to the right of the trail and pass on the left.”

Aside from courtesy, the practice of staying to the right and passing on the left, is about safety. If I’m running to the right, and I come to 2 or more runners, walkers or cyclists, walking across the path instead of single file, I have to go far to the left to pass, further over to the left than usual. This is a safety hazard for bikes coming up behind (I do a shoulder check, but sometimes bikes are going pretty fast) and for bikes coming in the other direction, particularly, if the bikes coming in the other direction, are also, not advancing single file.

Typically, my long run happens early enough in the morning, so that there isn’t too much path disruption. But, every so often, particularly in the spring, there are running groups (dozens running together), cycling groups (again, dozens in packs) and new pals walking their dogs on the path, on extra long leashes or no leash at all. Welcome! Now, please learn about keeping to single file. It’s so much safer! Also, keep your dog close to you. A dog running in the path of a cyclist is never a good scenario. Same goes for toddlers.

Just this morning there was a dude (imagine what you will) running in the opposite direction on the wrong side. Meaning, I was running to the right of my side of the path and he was running towards me in my line of fire, rather than being on the opposite side of the path for those going in the opposite direction. He remained oblivious to me and I yielded and went around him. What occurred to me, was that, if I were another guy or a cyclist, he would have yielded, but because I am neither of those things, and he figured I would yield, he ignored me and the etiquette of the path. This annoyed me briefly and then I let it go.

I know I sound a bit curmudgeonly. I am an ardent rule follower. I get annoyed with (increasingly) distracted people walking and driving. People could use reminders about sidewalk etiquette too, but that’s for another time. It’s not surprising that I get annoyed with people using the path in a way that makes it less blissful. There will be people who read this and who think I am being silly and will ignore the suggestion. However, if some people read this and remember that there is an etiquette on such paths and think, “Oh! I forgot and I will try to remember” or didn’t know in the first place and keep it in mind the next time they go for a (walk, run, cycle) on the path, perhaps I’ve made a small difference in the overall enjoyment of pathways around the world….

How about you readers? Do you think there are benefits to practicing path etiquette? Or, do you fall into the etiquette schmetiquette camp?

Nicole P. loves running, walking everywhere, HIIT/strength training and practicing good path etiquette.

Pull your hair back and put on your body glitter

For many of us, exercise is a constant quest for good vibes. Besides the obvious physical benefits, the thing that keeps us coming back, day-in and day-out, is the endorphins, often during and immediately after our workout, and also, the equilibrium that exercise provides throughout the rest of our day(s).

I do track some of my workouts using metrics provided by Strava and my FitBit. But, I don’t dig deep into the metrics. I don’t pay a lot of attention to splits or similar. I look at overall time and pace per kilometre. I do enjoy seeing where I was faster during certain runs but my motivation for running faster amounts more to sensory motivation. How did I feel in that run where I was faster? What did that stride feel like? Can I mimic that stride next time? I read this article yesterday, “A Longevity Doc’s Secret to Crushing it in Old Age“. While I find some of his advice moderate and helpful (albeit slightly ableist and tinged with a Type A lens) in some examples, where he talks about V02 max, my eyes gloss over and I know that I am never going to be calculating my V02 max as a metric,”You also want to be able to hike on a hilly trail? To do that comfortably requires a VO2 max of roughly 30 ml/kg/min. Let’s take a look at the results of your latest VO2 max test—and guess what, you only scored a 30. You’re average for your age, but I’m afraid that’s not good enough, because your VO2 max is also going to decline.

So what motivates me when it comes to exercise? There are moments in my decades-long journey that are entrenched in my psyche. The feeling during a long run where the body is in sync with the mind. The feeling of finishing a race. Having salt crusted on my face during long marathon training runs and knowing I look ridiculous, but being weirdly happy, even if sore. Those last few minutes in a spin class, decades ago, when the instructor would say OK, “close your eyes, put your head down and just GO!” and I would sprint like crazy to the finish line.

For that last one, at the time, the spin studio I went to didn’t yet have metrics tied to your bike. I preferred it that way (after experiencing the more modern version years later with the metrics/leaderboard). How much you were “giving it” was all based on your own feeling and perception. That feeling of letting GO and spinning your legs and the feeling in your chest and brain were pretty telling, however, and have left its mark.

A few years ago when I joined the band of people buying stationary bikes during the pandemic and using the Peloton app, seeking that feeling, was part of my motivation to use Peloton for the spin-style classes. I did find it in some cases, although perhaps not quite the same without being in a big, loft-like workout space, with dozens more people spinning alongside you and the carefully curated music playing loudly on the speakers. Yes, the Peloton classes provide curated music, but I often have it playing pretty low, out of consideration for my townhouse neighbours. I don’t have other spinners around me, but rather, my two dogs sprawled out on the couch.

I haven’t been using my bike as often and I gave up my Peloton app awhile ago when they increased the prices (combined with real life options opening up, just didn’t seem worth it). However, I started a new job a couple weeks ago and I am adjusting to a new schedule. I can still go to the gym a few times a week and run a couple days a week, but on a couple of the weekdays, when I need to go into the office, having the option of a bike ride before work is appealing, so I signed up for a “free month trial” while deciding if I want to recommit.

The first class I joined was a 30 min 90s ride and it served just the purpose I was seeking. And, as a bonus, the instructor, said at one point, “Pull your hair back and cover yourself in glitter and GO”. I appreciated that visual in the moment. When was the last time I dressed up to go out on the town? It’s been awhile. Not even sure I want to do that, but I can appreciate seeking that FEELING of liberation. Of no stress. Of no perimenopause. Of not worrying about multitasking with brain fog. I can seek that feeling of pulling my hair back and covering myself in body glitter and enjoying that moment. I hope I can seek that type of feeling well into my senior years. That will motivate me to continue exercising more than any V02 max calculation.

Nicole P. is enjoying her new workout schedule and using how she feels as a metric of success.

No need for springtime abs

It’s springtime. In Toronto, this means that the weather is all over the place. Some days the temperatures reach double-digits, other days, there is snow and ice in the forecast. Either way, I often wear the wrong clothes this time of year. Too warm while running and too cold while doing everything else.

Springtime means that some of us are thinking about family gatherings where we will eat chrain (horseradish) on gefilte fish and matzo ball soup or cabbage borscht. Others are thinking about their baked ham with all the fixings or the tofurkey with mushroom gravy or they are dreaming of semolina cake drenched in sweet syrup. Many are thinking about how to avoid THAT relative or THAT conversation at the dinner table.

Springtime also means that there is a high likelihood that people who haven’t been exercising as much as they’d like, during the winter, start thinking they want to get in shape for spring/summer.

A white round clock with black numbers and a light wood trim against a white wall. The time is ten to six. Is it time to exercise?

I think it’s great if people want to increase their fitness level. I am supportive of adding exercise to your life, either at all or more than you already practice. But for the love of spring gatherings, please know that you do not have to “go all out”. You do not need to try for “six-pack abs”. You do not have to go from 0 to 100. Not only do you not have to, but, you shouldn’t. It won’t be sustainable. You may injure yourself. You probably will think of it as a chore or punishment if you go too hard. It frustrates me to think that exercise, which should be enjoyable, is often practiced in a way that makes people think of it as punishment.

As someone who is committed to exercising, regularly, at all times of the year, I offer caution. A friend once said to me that your hair should fit your life, not the other way around. That advice has stuck with me. I think the same is true with exercise. It should fit your life. You shouldn’t have to mold your life too much to accommodate regular exercise.

If you feel you need to ramp up your workout because it’s spring – go for it. But keep it sustainable.

I fear people see the flower buds emerging and start thinking they need to belch off their spring feasts and go all out. That may work for some but I think it is much more realistic to make a plan. Start small. Do a little more at a time. Be prepared to adjust your original plan and tweak it. A regular, sustainable, exercise plan looks more like the steady up and down of a picture of a standard electrocardiogram reading than a picture of going up a mountain one-way. It’s more likely that there will be a regular habit a year or two from now with a measured, flexible, plan rather than a “get six-pack abs my summer” plan.

What does a sustainable plan look like? If you haven’t been exercising at all and you are thinking about taking up running, try a couch to 5K. If you have been regularly running a 5K, think about training for a 10K. I advise against going from nothing to training for a half-marathon. And, if you start a couch to 5K and you feel comfortable staying at 3-4K for awhile, then do that and move along when you are ready.

If you haven’t been doing anything and you want to start going to the gym, try a few out – perhaps try Class Pass or similar where you can try a few different gyms to see if they fit your personality, needs, pace, etc. Then once you find one that you really like consider buying more passes there. I advise against buying a year long membership at a gym that you haven’t tried out more than once. And, if you find you don’t like the gym atmosphere, try some at-home workouts. There are many apps and YouTube videos to choose from these days and they can be just as effective. You can also do your own body weight exercises at home. I may have shared a video about that recently.

Also, don’t try to do too many things at once. If you are trying a new training program, don’t worry too much about what you are eating – other than that you are listening to yourself when you are hungry. Eat things that make you feel good before or after you work out. Different things work for different people. Try to tune out the chatter in some gyms/fitness spaces about what you should or shouldn’t eat. It is rarely helpful information and making too many changes at once is often a recipe for disaster (well, not really a disaster but maybe finding yourself back at square one, which is also OK, because there is always opportunity to try again – with small steps).

You may be encountering “influencers” showing off their springtime abs and telling you how to achieve them. I am here to tell you that you don’t need “springtime abs”. No one “needs” a “six-pack” on their abs. There is nothing in my life that having “six-pack abs” would enhance. But – better focus, stress relief, more energy, better sleep, feeling stronger – all of these things are achievable over time and are sustainable over time. You’re more likely to feel all these benefits for the long haul if you start out small and build, as opposed to, “going out hard” or seeking some other unattainable or unsustainable goal that will only leave you more frustrated.

I came across the following advice on a stranger’s social media the other day, “You are not required to finish your work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it.”

Apparently this advice is from “The Ethics of the Fathers” a collection of wisdom from the Jewish Talmudic sages, in this case, Rabbi Tarfon, who lived and taught 2,000 years ago.

I am no where near a Talmudic scholar but I understand that the saying “You are not required to finish your work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it” could apply to your career, your family life, and so many other parts of daily life. I think it can be summed up in “enjoy the journey rather than focus on the destination”. Similarly, It says you have an obligation to labor, to continue trying and making your way through the world, in essence, making a difference (more likely meant for bigger implications than exercise but how we feel affects how much energy we have to put towards higher social endeavours). At the same time, the advice also focuses you on the effort, not the outcome. The main idea is the project, not the success. Success can be measured in many different ways and I think that is best left up to the individual. But, when it comes to exercise, I think it is wise to consider enjoying the journey, putting in the effort that works for you, that challenges you, for where you are at that moment, and not focus on an arbitrary and not always achievable outcome, such as the shape of a particular part of your body. You are more likely to allow exercise to become a regular habit if you focus on the benefits you receive while doing the work day-to-day and to make the journey manageable and inspiring, rather than, excessive and tiring. You may never have six-pack abs, but you may feel better, body and mind, from doing the regular work.

Nicole P. lives in Toronto and enjoys her regular exercise routine of running, strength and conditioning, yoga/meditation and walking everywhere.


Finding time to fit in exercise is self-care

We often talk about how finding time for rest is important and a form of self-care. We talk about giving ourselves permission to miss a workout. If we miss a workout or we couldn’t find the energy that day or life got in the way in a myriad of ways, we talk about being kind to ourselves and not overthinking it. Think about the next workout. Think about what you can do – not what you haven’t done. This is all true. However, it is also important that we think about finding time to fit in exercise as self-care.

It is often said that the caretaker (of children, parents, patients, clients, etc.) must ensure they look after themselves so that they are able to look after others. We try to mitigate our inclinations to feel guilty about carving out time in our days to look after ourselves.

I don’t think there are any circumstances where a person should feel guilty about finding time to exercise. If it’s something the person wants (and is able) to do, then, it is important and there should be no need to justify finding that time. Whether it’s an hour run or 7 min HIIT workout or a walk or a gentle yoga class.

Finding time to rest is important and a form of self-care but it is OK to know and to appreciate that finding time to exercise is also important and a form of self-care. If we want to exercise (and we are able to, physically, in that moment) and we want to reap the benefits – better sleep, clearer head, more energy, feeling stronger, more patience and more – we should consider it our right to find the time.

If you are starting a new job and you are unsure about taking time to exercise – I hope you give yourself the love you deserve and go for that swim.

If you are thinking about a loved one in the hospital and you feel guilty thinking about how to fit in your daily jog – I hope you ditch the guilt and lace up.

If you have kids going back to school after March Break and your head is stacked with lists of things to do – don’t forget to give yourself the gift of movement – in that list – even if it’s 7 min a few times throughout the day.

If you haven’t been exercising and you are finding it hard to picture yourself at the gym – perhaps try some of the movements you would have done at the gym – at home – try some air squats or jumping jacks or wall push-ups or whatever works for you to try and build your confidence.

I hope you find the exercise that works for you and the self-care you deserve – this week, this month, this year.

Nicole P. is selfish with exercise and fitting it in.