219 in 2019 · 220 in 2020 · 221 in 2021 · covid19 · fitness · habits · motivation

Workout guilt (no not that kind)

Image description: two canvas tote boxes tucked under two stacked chairs, yoga mat rolled up and stashed beside the chairs, yoga two wood and two foam yoga block between the canvas totes, two kettle bells in front of the blocks, blanket on chair. (Tracy’s home workout equipment)

Usually when people associate guilt with working out it’s guilt over NOT working out. I don’t agree with guilting ourselves over that but that’s not what I want to talk about. Instead, there is a new kind of guilt creeping into my awareness since I started being a part of a group that tracks workouts. This year it’s 221 in 2021. The fact of counting our workouts generates no end of hand-wringing, especially among people who are new.

I get it. When I first started I wanted to know what people “count.” But it’s only since COVID that I’ve noticed people expressing guilt that maybe they are counting too much. I mean if I count a Sunday 10K run as one workout, does a 20-minute walk at lunch count equally? If I counted a vigorous hour at the yoga studio back in the days before COVID, does one of Adriene’s 10 or 15 or 20 minute practices count?

Some people have an idea that it has to be at least 20 minutes to count. Many, including me, work with the idea of deliberate movement. But even then, I often will combine a short walk with yoga of whatever length as one, even if they were both deliberate and at different times. I do this because now that I am working home, almost every time I move it is deliberate. Sometimes I make myself do a short yoga session or go twice around the block or do a short run with hill repeats at lunch just to move. I don’t use a fitness tracker, but I bet I’m not reaching 2000 steps some days. That is not how I used to live pre-COVID. I used to walk a lot. The workouts I counted were at least 45 minutes because I didn’t really do other kinds of workouts back then.

I think there is a worry lurking behind some of the stress people are experiencing over counting too much is that they are somehow cheating. But cheating whom, I ask? There is no prize. There is no “system” to “game” here. All we are doing is tracking workouts. And to me, if someone deliberately works out, then yay! That’s a win.

It’s hilarious actually because lately I’m doing Superhero workouts 4-6 times a week, yoga pretty much daily, and a run or a walk every day. In January I counted them as three separate things most days. Now I’m more likely to count the superhero workout as one, and the yoga and walk or run as one.

It’s the end of February and I just hit 110 workouts. That seems somehow impossible, almost halfway to my annual goal. In fact, I’m bored of counting my workouts. If the point of it was ever to get a habit going, then I’ve achieved the goal already. And now it just feels embarrassing or something to be racking up so many workouts.

I wondered whether this was a “woman-thing” where we deny our achievements and want to downplay them. Kind of took me back to when people were all impressed when I signed up for the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon and I would say “it’s just a little triathlon, not an Ironman or anything.” Why do we do that to ourselves? It was a big thing to me, never having done one before! I was terrified and I did it. Yay me. No need to downplay it. Is that what’s going on now with the guilt of counting deliberate movement as workouts during COVID?

We are living through a global pandemic. We are housebound, sometimes in an actual lockdown. We are doing our best to show up for hour upon hour of virtual meetings for work (well, this is my reality) and stay upbeat even when the idea of one more hour on zoom is soul-crushing. We haven’t been able to sit down to dinner with friends since the patios closed last fall. We didn’t see our families for Christmas. We wear masks to the grocery store. We’ve lost family members and friends and not been able to mourn them together in person because of COVID restrictions on travel and gathering and touching one another. We have been unable to make solid plans. We don’t know what life will look like post-COVID.

We have cobbled together home workout spaces over time, tucking our yoga mats and dumbbells in the corner when we’re not using them to make space for our (albeit truncated) daily lives at home. We are actually using that equipment (remember back in the day when we bought stuff to workout at home and it just gathered dust? Remember?).

Given all that, it’s pretty darn awesome if we do something active on purpose. Maybe we’re on track to 650-700 workouts this year and without COVID we wouldn’t be. Silver linings and all. Go us! Let’s check the guilt at the door.

220 in 2020 · fitness · Happy New Year! · new year's resolutions

Opening up the goals for 2021: let’s see what we can do…

Dateline: Dec 31, 2020. Location: Catherine’s laptop. I posted my last of the 220 workouts for 2020. See below:

My 220th posted workout for 2020– a soggy dog walk, some yoga and meditation. It did the job.

We call this just-in-time delivery.

You might think, well, that’s 2020 for you. However, looking back on my posted workouts in 2019 and 2018, my last workouts were all after Christmas. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it does point to a pattern. I have moved through the past few years in fits and spurts, with more dormancy than I would like (as I also know that, *for me*, regular activity coincides with greater functionality and well-being).

So, I’m making a change this year. Even though I’m very happily ensconced in the 221 workouts in 2021 (with the goal of 221 workouts), I’m not making a specific schedule for how many times a week I do cardio, strength training, yoga and meditation (my current lineup). Rather, I’m going to see what I can do this week in these categories, based on my sleep and work schedules, general mood, etc.

You might be thinking:

Say WHAT?!
Say WHAT?!

Hey–I’ve got science on my side! Here’s the Conversation on this topic.

Generally we’re advised to set specific, or SMART, goals (where SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound). Aiming to walk 10,000 steps per day is a common example.

That’s why you might feel you’ve failed after “only” recording 9,000 steps when your goal was 10,000. In reality, 9,000 steps might actually be an achievement (especially on a busy day) — but because you didn’t reach your specific target, it can feel disappointing.

Yeah. I can relate.

One alternative is to set what’s known as an open goal. Open goals are non-specific and exploratory, often phrased as aiming to “see how well I can do”. For example, professional golfers in one study described performing at their best when aiming to “see how many under par I can get”. One participant (in a study) said open goals “took away the trauma of failing”…

Oh yes– no trauma of (feeling like I am) failing. I am down for that.

To set your own open goals, think first about what you want to improve (for example “being more active”). Then identify what you want to measure, such as your daily average step count. Phrase your goal in an open-ended, exploratory way: “I want to see how high I can get my average daily step count by the end of the year.”

Excellent! Here’s my open goal: I want to see how many times in a week I can engage in three types of activity:

  1. cardio activity; my current modes (for January) are: ride trainer, walk outside, or do Body Groove dance-y 30-minute video.
  2. yoga; I can do live zoom classes through my local studio Artemis, or Yoga with Adriene, or Bad Yogi videos, all of which I love.
  3. strength training– so far what is easily accessible to me are the NYT 6 and 7-minute workouts, the Bad Yogi strength training program (which I bought a while back but didn’t really get to), and whatever else comes to me. You can see I’m in the initial stages of the “let’s see what I can do” mode.

For now, doing anything in either cardio or strength training or yoga/meditation counts FOR ME as a workout. As I get stronger, I may adjust the way I count them. I may restrict to more purposeful workouts on the bike (e.g. trainer, road bike ride) or just count workout days, regardless of how many types of activity I do in that day. We shall see; I’m leaving it open.

Readers, what are you doing about activity or movement, now that we’ve tumbled into 2021? Are you all about the scheduling? Are you staging goals? Are you planning by the seat of your pants? I’d love to hear what you’re thinking.

220 in 2020 · 221 in 2021 · cycling · fitness · motivation · winter · Zwift

Start as you mean to continue: Sam’s happy new year rides

New year’s eve
New year’s day

A friend asked for advice the other day. Not in a serious way, in that Facebook joking way, asking for random advice about anything.

I need some advice. Not about anything in particular. Give me random advice.

My advice giving theme for her was grandmother’s advice. In my family that’s things like ‘take care of the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’ and ‘an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after.’

The other grandmother favorite of mine is ‘start as you mean to continue.’ I think I’ve even blogged on that theme before. Let me go look… Why yes I did. It’s here.

What I like about it is the thought that you should just begin.

“Don’t make big plans for your future self. She’s busy and easily distracted. Instead, do it now, whatever it is. Make it routine, part of your everyday. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike.”

So on New Year’s Eve I was part of a small but mighty team riding up the Road to Sky, the climb portion of which is Alpe du Zwift. I’d never done it before and now I have a baseline time to beat. It was a team time trial but we didn’t make much effort to stay together once the climb part of the ride began.

Tough going but lots of encouragement and conversation kept me pedaling.

We raced down together at the end and laughed a lot. Thanks friends!

I entered the workout in the 220 in 2020 group this way, “Epic last workout of 2020. Climbed Road to Sky in a team time trial including 1000 m of climbing on Alpe du Zwift.”

The next morning, January 1, I joined in on a meet up organized by some teammates to ride the full PRL (Prudential Ride London) course, about 173 km. I joined in for the first 30 to meet my weekly 160 km goal. They abandoned the meet up version once the rubber banding in Zwift which keeps riders of different speeds together went wonky. For me it meant starting the new year with another 400 m of climbing. Box Hill twice on the first day of the year!

Now we’re off to Prince Edward County and the farm for a couple of days. There’ll be walks in the woods and some Yoga With Adriene. We had hoped for fat biking but there’s no snow here. That will have to wait until we come home to Guelph.

Welcome 2021.

I’ll write about plans for the year later but for now I’m starting as I mean to continue, with Zwift, supportive teammates, yoga, and time outdoors in the winter sun.

There’ll also be more home weightlifting now that the weightlifting son has moved home for the semester.

As always, here’s Cheddar watching me ride!

Cheddar watching Sam ride
220 in 2020 · fitness · fitness classes · motivation · online exercise · training · walking · yoga

It’s not “just” yoga or “just” a walk: it’s a workout

image description: Selfie of two women, Violetta in front, long dark hair with highlights, smiling, white t-shirt; Tracy in back, smiling, with sunglasses, medium length salt and pepper hair, red and black top, black coat, camera strap visible; field and trees in background. (we had just finished a two-hour physically distanced hike with others). Photo credit: Violetta.

The other day I didn’t have the energy for a run, so I checked in with my out-of-town running buddy, Violetta, and said I might “just” do some yoga or “just” go for a walk. She said she’d been feeling the same that day, but that she wanted to stop putting “just” in front of these choices, as if they are somehow lesser, inferior, or slack options that we need to apologize for. I agree. Indeed, I even thought it as I was texting the “just yoga” message.

I know I’m not the only person who imposes conditions on the types of activity that it’s “okay” to count. I’ve blogged about this before (see “What counts?” and “More than six years later and Tracy has the same questions about what counts”). And it has come up again and again during the “220 in 2020” group. That’s a group where we keep track of our workouts with the goal of doing 220 by December 31, 2020. Next year the goal will be 2021. Today I logged my 408th workout of the year. I have fewer questions about what counts.

2020 is the year where movement has become a part of my daily routine. Almost every day I do something intentional, whether yoga, a zoom weight training session, a run, a walk, a hike. And sometimes the very goal of daily movement is what gets me moving. It used to be the 220 in 2020 but I’ve long since surpassed 220, so the goal had to shift away from a total number and more to “something every day,” away from outcome and towards process or maybe a habit checklist type of approach. Workout? Check!

Just because some of what we do is different in level of exertion or the amount of time we spend on it from some of the other things we doesn’t mean it’s less than. During the pandemic more than ever it’s become important to me (and I know I’m not alone in this) to be intentional about movement because some days, if I wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t even reach 1000 steps. I go from my bedroom to the kitchen to my home office to the kitchen again all day. At night I sit down to read or watch something. And then I go to bed. I go out much less than I used to. Because it requires choice, I’m at the point where intentional physical activity that I wouldn’t otherwise choose to do “counts.”

Even as I say that I am aware that there is a level of self-shaming that so many of us engage in when we compare. And it’s not always when I compare myself to others who I regard as more fit, stronger, faster, more active, or more committed to what they do. It’s also when I compare what I did yesterday in my one hour sweaty, kick-butt Superhero workout to what I did today (a 3K run and some gentle yoga). They’re all workouts. They all count. I’m not cheating when I track them.

It’s interesting to me to look back on my angst over the years about what counts because I don’t feel that anymore. I have a solid sense of confidence that I get to decide on my own criteria, and that it doesn’t make sense for me to think that every workout has to be equal to every other workout in its demandingness for it to legitimately count.

And it’s also okay, even necessary, at least sometimes to choose rest. That’s a healthy choice, too (even if it doesn’t count as a workout).

Do you consciously or unconsciously rank certain activities as superior or inferior to others? Do you discount some of your workouts because they’re not “demanding enough?”

[Shout-out to Violetta: Happy birthday, my friend!]

220 in 2020 · fitness · motivation

Upping the ante? Sam wonders why

I just logged workout number 371 of 2020. I was aiming for 220 but obviously I’ve overshot the mark.

Now people are asking me if I’m aiming for 400. There are twenty five days left until 2021 and twenty nine workouts to 400. That’s one workout a day everyday plus four days with a bonus workout.


And you know what? I could do that. But I’m not sure why I would. I had a goal of 220 and I’ve surpassed it. Yay! There’s no need to up the ante.

I mean it might be that I do make it to 400. I’m riding my bike most days on Zwift. I’m using the TRX and the kettlebell a couple of days a week. I’m also walking Cheddar and doing Yoga with Adriene.

Clearly I’m not opposed to working out more. It’s just that I want to resist the need for perpetual MORE. I posted similar ambivalent thoughts about upping my annual bike distance goal.

If I get to 399 and I’d rather be reading a book or I’m making progress on my writing or I’m baking some cookies, I expect I’ll feel okay to just let it go.

Enough is enough and that’s okay too.

218 in 2018 · 219 in 2019 · 220 in 2020 · fitness · habits · motivation

Want to join our merry band for 221 workouts in 2021? Here’s how…

A number of us here on the blog have been aiming to achieve 217 workouts in 2017, 218 workouts in 2018, 219 workouts in 2019, and 220 workouts in 2020.

Catherine blogged about it earlier today in her post Three year-long workout challenges: any lessons learned?

In a move that will shock absolutely no one, we are all doing it again for 2021. There are actually two Facebook groups now, the original group and a somewhat smaller feminist spin off. That said, there are feminist bloggers in both groups and some of us like staying in touch with people in both groups and have stayed a member of both groups.

I asked Jason, the founder of the original group about new members for 2021 and he wrote back right away, “I’m indeed planning on 221 in 2021 and I’m always happy to have more like minded folks join our merry band.”

Cheryl, frequent guest here, said the same, “I’d be happy to have more folks join my group. Or folks can search 220 workouts in 2020! (Fit Feminist edition)”

How do you join?

Jason writes, “Here are the generic instructions on how to join a Facebook group. Per usual I will keep the group name 220 workouts in 2020 until January 1st when I’ll switch it to fit the new year. How do I join a Facebook group as myself or my Page? From your News Feed click Groups in the left menu. In the search bar at the top, enter some keywords for the group you’re looking for. Select the group then click + Join Group below the cover photo. Select whether you’d like to join as your profile or your Page and click Join Group.”

What’s the idea anyway?

Here’s the description from the 220 in 2020 group:

WHAT: The idea is simple. In 2020 there are 365 days. We are going to challenge ourselves to workout 220 times in those 365 days.

WHY: (1) Consistently doing deliberate exercise is one of the most important factors in developing good health and fitness. (2) Choosing to complete a workout or not is something we can control.

HOW: (1)Workouts are defined as any form of deliberate exercise/movement. Some examples are, lifting weights, doing gymnastics, a CrossFit WOD, a hike in the great outdoors, practising a martial art or yoga. Taking a dance class or playing rec softball with the folks from work also counts. Do what inspires you to move your body. (2) Use a spreadsheet, a habit tracking app, or a notebook and give yourself a checkmark for every workout you complete. (3) Share your progress with the group.

See you there!

Count with us!
220 in 2020 · fitness

Three year-long workout challenges: any lessons learned?

This is my third year in a Facebook workout challenge group. The group, 220 Workouts in 2020 (whose members include Sam and Cate, among others) started up with 216 workouts in 2016. I joined the party on Jan 1, 2018, for 218 workouts. I hung in there for 219 workouts in 2019. And now, on November 29, 2020, I’m 30 workouts away from my goal. With persistence, I’ll hit 220 by Dec 31.

So I got to wondering, what have I learned from being in this group for 3 years now?

Luckily, I’ve posted about the group a bunch, so looking over them has jarred my memory.

In 2018, I finished just in time, on Dec. 31. I credited my completion (in this post) to the following:

  1. I just committed to documenting what I did, not looking too far down the road, but just doing what I was doing.
  2. I successfully incorporated at-home yoga into my life.
  3. I internalized the view that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Just doing some purposeful movement that I scheduled and carried out that day was the plan.
  4. I decided to let what I counted as a workout be relativized to my physical/mental state, my schedule, and what was within my grasp for that day.

Here’s a bit of what I said at the end of 2019:

Finishing things is generally hard– at least it’s hard for me. I tend to run out of steam/time/interest before the end, so it feels like a giant slog to complete big projects. However, this case is different for a couple of reasons: 1) I’ve made it so that any physical activity I decide to do counts, so I have oodles of options; 2) I’m not alone in this challenge– I’m in a FB group where others are doing their thing and supporting each other.

Now here we are, at the end of November, in the weird, strange year which is 2020. What have I learned that’s new?

First: Regular exercise has been hard for me these past few years. There have been different reasons: illness; injury; and this year, COVID-induced paralysis and despondence. This is my real challenge, moving forward– developing increased capacities for maintaining schedules and the clarity to own what my priorities are, which includes movement.

Second: If I want to move more, I have to do less in other parts of my life. Maybe less work, maybe less social planning– that’s not clear yet. But the fact is, I’ve been squeezing in workouts rather than letting myself block off the time to do them. Just making a schedule isn’t the answer for me. I think the answer has to do with letting myself NOT do some things so that I can do others.

Third: Yoga is my best friend among all of my movement acquaintances. It is there, in my living room, and its possibilities are endless. And even when it doesn’t feel good, it feels good to do it. I’m always happier having done it.

Fourth: I want to renew my close friendship with cycling in 2021. The relationship will be different: I’ll likely be riding shorter distances, on the lookout for scenic and kinder, gentler routes. And an e-bike is probably in my future too. But I miss it– I miss riding in every season, riding and feeling good on the bike, riding and feeling bad on the bike (but riding anyway), riding with friends and by myself. Again, if I want to make this a priority, it will demand some of my time. And that will have to come from somewhere.

Fifth: I continue to love sharing my activities with a group, and reading about their daily activities. It’s impressive, humbling, sometimes amusing, and inspiring (in the best way).

Sixth, and finally: I want to continue posting workouts and reading about workouts as long as I’ve got the oomph in me. So, sign me up for 221 workouts in 2021, folks!

Readers, how do you feel about workout groups you’re a part of? Have you enjoyed them? Dreaded them? Left them? Started your own group? I’d love to hear from you.

219 in 2019 · 220 in 2020 · fitness · habits · motivation

On Becoming “Someone Who Does This Shit” (Guest Post)

Last week I read the book Healthy as F*ck by Oonagh Duncan, which focuses in large part on how to create and sustain habits that work for you to support your health. Near the end of the book, she talks about identity and the strong need that people have to stay consistent with our own definitions of ourselves. The context here is how reinforcing our healthy habit loops helps strengthen our identity of being “Someone Who Does This Shit” – whatever that shit may be.

It occurred to me after reading this that being a person who exercises regularly has become a solid piece of my sense of self, and I can tell you most emphatically that in the past it was not. As recently as 2 ½ years ago I struggled to get myself to be physically active – it was something I sometimes did (and had a hard time with), and it was not part of my self-concept. And now here I am, someone who strongly identifies as a person who moves.

This transformation has happened for me gradually since July 2018 when I read Sam and Tracy’s book Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey, and decided that I was ready to make some real changes. My first step was taking up running that summer, then I took part in a Fit is a Feminist Issue challenge in the fall, and in the new year I started a 219 workouts in 2019 Facebook group, which rolled over into a 220 in 2020 group. In 2020 I also started working out regularly in group sessions with an awesome trainer (Ali MacKellar) whose approach reflects my values and who creates community around this work. Building my fitness habits with the support of other fit feminists has been instrumental in making this change possible for me.

So after finishing the book and realizing that movement has really become part of who I am, I sat down and did some math based on the tracking from the 2019 and 2020 groups.

First let me tell you that I move my body in lots of ways – running, cycling, and sweaty HIIT sessions, as well as walking, yoga, and bellydance. My loose criteria for what counts as a workout for the purpose of tracking is basically any form of intentional movement of 25 minutes or longer. Why 25 minutes? For the simple and not-at-all scientific reason that 25 minutes is the length of many of the Yoga with Adriene sessions I do. So it keeps things easy for me.

View of trees in foreground and Toronto cityscape in background, from an evening run in November

In 2019 I hit 219 workouts right at the end of December, which means I worked out an average of just over 4 times every week that year. Wowee, I thought, good job Cheryl!

So far in 2020 I’ve done 270 workouts as of November 15, which is an average of 6 workouts a week. Umm, I’m sorry, what?? I work out 6 times a week?? On a regular consistent basis?? Me?? I had to double check the math, as this seemed like this couldn’t be possible. And yet it is. As you can tell, this was actually a shocking realization for me.

Doing some form of intentional movement most days every week has become a regular part of my life, even more so during a global pandemic where there’s less incidental movement happening for me. Every week I make a plan for what workouts or activities I’m going to do and when, as part of the list of things that I just automatically do. Planning for physical activity, and following through on those plans, have become habits. 

Seeing these numbers drove home the realization that who I am has changed. For the first time in my adult life I am “Someone Who Does This Shit” when it comes to moving my body, and I feel really good about that.

I imagine that this has already been reinforcing my habit loop, as I have become a person who works out 6 times a week without being aware of it.  I wonder if the more conscious realization of it will reinforce it even more? 

I’m curious about other folks’ experiences around this? Is movement/exercise something you *do*? Or does it feel more like its part of who you *are*? And either way, how have you created habits that work for you?

220 in 2020 · family · fitness

From the trenches: postpartum re-definitions of “fitness”

Hi all, I’ve missed you! I went on parental leave from the blog at the end of July and gave birth on 21 August. But I’m back! For now it’s going to be once a month from me and I’ll most likely focus on my postpartum fitness journey most of the time.

It’s been quite a ride! From an emergency c-section (luckily everyone involved is doing very well) to figuring out life as a parent and starting an Executive MBA at the same time (thanks to Covid, all classes are online, which is actually extremely convenient for me), I’ve sort of been in a haze for the past 8 weeks since giving birth. Some days, I feel like I’m beginning to emerge from the fog, but other days are still hazy.

Of course, the c-section meant that I was completely off movement for a short while, but once I got out of the hospital, my midwife allowed the gentlest, tiniest postpartum exercises. Thus followed a complete redefinition of “fitness” and “workout”. I’m part of the 220 in 2020 challenge group, so of course the question of what to count as a workout came up. Initially I counted any sort of purposeful movement, even if it was just lying on my yoga mat for ten minutes doing pelvic tilts (not even lifts! Tilts!) and moving my arms about. Then I was also allowed to start walking, so I could add my walks.

After about 4 weeks, I started getting impatient. I was feeling good, and yet here I was doing pelvic tilts. I know, I know. A c-section is major abdominal surgery and You. Need. To. Be. Careful. But I feel like “careful” should be defined individually? For some people, pelvic tilts might be plenty. For others, maybe they can return to a bit more a bit earlier.

I decided to take matters into my own hands. I found a very gentle post c-section yoga video online that felt right, so I did it. I had to make some minor adjustments the first few times, but they were easy enough. My midwife also gave me more exercises. But they were still incredibly boring, so I needed something else.

And then I discovered MommaStrong, an online platform dedicated to postpartum fitness. I’ll write about it in a separate post because I feel it deserves one, but basically there are different stages you go through, starting with “Hazy Days”, an 8-week postpartum programme for the first weeks. The premise is this: 5 minutes a day, be gentle, and there are modifications even for when you’re holding a baby. I graduated “Hazy Days” yesterday, so I’m excited to see what the next stage brings.

Last week, my OBGYN cleared me for exercise and I’ve been doing slightly more challenging YouTube videos since. And in another 2 weeks’ time, I’m safe to go back to the pool! I hope it stays open, since here as elsewhere, there’s an uptick in Covid cases and everything feels very fragile right now.

I won’t lie, redefining fitness after giving birth is hard. There’s no time. A little person wants to eat from me about every two hours, and in the meantime they want to be held, changed, cuddled… My body is completely different after almost 10 months of pregnancy and giving birth. But slowly but surely, I feel like I’m emerging from the haze.

220 in 2020 · fitness · Guest Post · health

Getting a new perspective on self-care (Guest post)

So I have completed the “220 (days of exercise) in 2020,” 4 months ahead of schedule and am pretty damn pleased with myself. You should see my muscle definition!

I want to share a few thoughts I wish I had realized years ago because I spent the majority of my adult life struggling with weight loss and trying to make exercise part of that. As in, whenever I did any form of movement it was hoping that it would contribute to making my body smaller and more attractive. Sure, sure, healthy too but primarily smaller and more attractive. Thing is, exercise and weight loss are only loosely connected. Of course you can use it to burn calories and tip the scales in favour of weight loss but that’s not really the point because nutrition is the major determining factor here. And then of course the entire story of weight cycling and just how damaging that is etc.

Not all of HAES (Health at Every Size) is a good fit for me and the way I think about my body but the part of the HAES movement I can absolutely get behind of is this: large bodies still need to be treated well, just as medium sized or small bodies do. These things are independent of each other. Bodies need good nutrition; they need rest and they need movement. They need doctor’s visits and they need mental health support because being flooded with stress hormones 24/7 is a pretty damn damaging thing to a body.

So that is what this exercise thing is about, a part of the self-care puzzle. I used to buy into the idea that self-care is letting myself off the hook and eating whatever and how much I want to eat, relax on the sofa and have a good time with smoke and drink if I fancied it. But really there’s nothing self-caring or self-compassionate about it because at the end of the day no matter what stories we tell ourselves about it, that doesn’t change biological reality. Well at least I don’t buy into that whole “affirmation changing reality” thing.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is hard. First of all, it’s years and decades of thinking one way and then trying to change that. It takes time and effort and while I do have “an acre of greens” in the fridge as my partner lovingly mocks it, and have had for years, it’s really hard to get away from the constant barrage of treat food that isn’t really a treat given that it’s a daily feature, so more like a staple. There’s the time, money, effort and all those things. I have actually realized that working out regularly is easier than eating well regularly because for exercise you’re done at some point in the day. Complete a morning workout and you can feel good about yourself for the rest of the day, knowing that any additional movement is good and likely but still, you’ve done the thing. Eating well, relaxation, mental health practices etc are much harder because it requires a sustained effort throughout all waking hours and a litany of decision points. So, it’s hard and requires a mindset of learning and growing rather than all or nothing on/off the wagon thinking.

So what did I do this year for the exercise thing? I just started, focusing on the things I felt I could do. There has been a lot of walking and especially initially I did a fair bit of semi guided dance sessions. Body groove on demand is really really good for that because it is very inclusive of many abilities, genders, bodies and ethnicities. I felt very much represented by the cast in the videos and it was fun. It helped me gain some confidence in my ability to move and to show up, which in itself is maybe the most important skill to develop.

I then went through a series of programmes on daily burn, there are some beginner ones that helped with the whole thing of getting into the spirit of doing uncomfortable things. Like getting down on the ground and up again repeatedly or like sticking to the exercise for a few seconds longer etc. Then moved on to more demanding ones, I like kickboxing and circuit training, barre, yoga and pilates.

The rewarding part has been trying to increase my ability to do things. For example, there’s a pilates move I just can’t do so I found a ten minute video (on Pilatesology) that is a preparation for that move. Still working on being able to do a full push up, or burpee, clean lunges, and so on. It’s rewarding to feel stronger just for the sake of feeling stronger. And more agile, mobile, fit. Whatever size or whatever appearance.

Below is my gym. This, and a sports bra if you are of the booby persuasion is plenty. Onwards to 300!

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TabeaD is a university lecturer and enjoys gardening, crafting and making art. After struggling with her weight as a very large person for decades, she has started to increasingly explore ways to drop the struggle and make peace with her body while finding ways to be healthy and active. Over the years she has engaged in swimming, various forms of dance, tai chi, yoga and weight training although she has struggled with consistency and motivation throughout, which has led her to engage in “220 in 2020.”