Pain free and loving it (Guest post)

by MarthaFitat55

Last month, with a week to go before departing on a long planned holiday, I felt my left knee bail on me. When I went in to the gym for my regular Monday training, the knee was still cranky. Some moves were great, and others were not.

My trainer and I tried different exercises, and at the end of the session, I limped to my car seething with frustration, worried about my upcoming mini break which would require a lot of walking, and feeling less than impressed with myself and my knee.

When the alarm sounded its wakeup call the next morning, I was tentative, fearful, and to be frank, img_4031scared. I stood up and took that first step, and then another.

Readers, I felt no pain. The knee worked perfectly. I did a couple of practice squats, and I stood up each time with wonder. The marvelous feeling continued through the day.

I could walk steadily, without feeling a hitch in my hip or my knee. I could lace up my shoes, be it sitting, bent over, or leaning. I got up from chairs — straight ones, soft and sinky ones, short ones, armless ones – and I didn’t need to hold onto anything. I even sat on my steps and got up from those without pain and without help.

Not only was my knee functioning, everything else was too. I was full of questions: Would this marvelous sense of wellbeing and functionality disappear? Should I stop doing all the things I had been doing in case I put a foot wrong and shifted everything out of whack? So what if I was fine now, what about when I was in a foreign country away from all my supports, and the pain returned?

I wrote my trainer, both elated and panicked. We reviewed the session, and also debated the possibilities arising from my ditching the old sneakers and wearing new ones with proper support, the addition of three to four servings of fish to my meals each week, to my getting more sleep.

In the end, we had no idea of what was the one thing that changed all for the better, but we had lots of thoughts on all the pieces that could have helped. The days passed pain free and I was mobile in ways I had not been for more than a year. I went on holiday and clocked almost 85 kilometres on my Fitbit, surpassing my 10K step goal each day to reach 15K to 25K. I negotiated stairs and sidewalks of all types. My body rescue pack, containing Voltaren, Aleve, lacrosse ball, and stretch band, lay unused in the suitcase.

When I started training back in the late fall of 2013, I expected stiffness and muscle soreness as part of the deal. When my hip joint, my shoulder, and my knee went rogue though, I did not expect to deal with pain long term.

As the joke goes, “what’s best about beating your head against a brick wall is how good you feel when you stop.” Though I had been mobile in recovery and after, I did not realize how pain had become a new constant in my life, low grade as it was, until it stopped.

Women often suck it up when it comes to pain and illness. Those of us who have borne children learn techniques to deal with pain. We soldier on through illness to cook, clean, parent, manage the appointments, meet that deadline, finish that project, etc. Even in positive gym environments, there can be messages about pushing through the pain being a sign of your growing strength.

I think we have to stop that message train in its tracks. Pain is your body’s signal saying something is wrong, and if you get used to it, you may not pay attention in time to prevent further or greater injury. You may over rely on medications to deal with the pain, and unknowingly cause other issues. For example, I had no idea taking certain pain relievers like ibuprofen and naproxen caused spikes in blood pressure.  And if you are incubating an ulcer due to a high stress lifestyle, those same meds can also be a problem.

This new knowledge about what recovery means for my body has fueled my desire to keep going on my fitness path. Yes, I still get tired, and I still get muscle soreness after learning a new exercise or moving to a new volume level, but not having any pain is the best feeling. But I believe the work I have put in on strengthening my core and on relearning how to sleep and rest effectively has made a difference, not just physically but mentally too.

Martha is a writer and columnist in St. John’s. Her body rescue pack is enjoying a well-earned retirement.

Sugar on my tongue: In defence of the sweet stuff

image

If your social media newsfeeds include fitness and nutrition sources, you’ve likely read You’ll Stop Eating Sugar After Reading This Post. From the aptly named Babble.com, it went viral, as they say, this past week.

Here’s the short version: Sugar is evil, it will kill you, blah, blah, blah.

Now if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you know we’re not fans of thinking of some foods as off-limits and we especially hate the language of “good” and “evil” when it comes to food choices. See Tracy’s past post Why Food Is Beyond “Good” and “Evil for a clear articulation of why that’s so.

While there is no doubt we, as a society, are eating too much sugar (the American Heart Association recommends 9.5 teaspoons a day but the average American adult eats 22 and the average American child 32–no Canadian stats close at hand) I’m very leery of approaches to food and nutrition that involve demonizing some foods and banishing  them from our diets altogether. There is a handy info-graphic about sugar and its over-consumption here.

I’m not going to defend sugar or take on the claims from Babble, but I do want to share with you a post from someone who has. Here’s Healthy Urban Kitchen’s response: 25 Things You Should Know About Sugar

I won’t rehash all 25 myths and the myth busting responses but I will include 22 as it’s a personal favourite and it’s a myth that lots of friends believe even though there’s no evidence to support it.

22 Sugar is Affecting Our Kids

Citing a single study about preschoolers and sugary drinks doesn’t support the idea that sugar as part of a balanced diet has any adverse effects on the behavior or cognitive abilities of kids.

a) ‘Although sugar is widely believed by the public to cause hyperactive behavior, this has not been scientifically substantiated. Twelve double-blind, placebo-controlled studies of sugar challenges failed to provide any evidence that sugar ingestion leads to untoward behavior in children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or in normal children. Likewise, none of the studies testing candy or chocolate found any negative effect of these foods on behavior. ‘

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8747098

b) Does sugar make children hyperactive?

http://news.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/hi/health/newsid_7789000/7789412.stm

If you want to understand why parents believe this, look no further than the power of fear-based articles like these being widely shared and the Pygmalion effect: the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform.  When kids are primed to bounce off the walls because they ate sugar, most will take the opportunity to let loose.

Here is an older post on the alleged evils of sugar from one of our favourite websites Go Kaleo.

Sugar Isn’t Evil: A Rebuttal

Go Kaleo: “Sugar is not THE problem. Sugar may be (and probably is, under some circumstances) A problem, one of many. But if we’re going to treat sugar as THE problem, and then ‘solve’ that problem by simply eliminating sugar, we’re missing the forest for the trees. Well, for one tree. A bush really. Inactivity is a bigger problem than sugar, and fixating on sugar gives the inactivity a free pass. To improve metabolic health we really need to address all the problems. Don’t get hung up on Sugar As The Bad Guy. You cheat yourself out of vibrant good health, and miss out on some yummy and perfectly appropriate desserts.”

And while Healthy Urban Kitchen and Go Kaleo sound all polite and reasonable, Melkor (another favourite Facebook fitness and nutrition skeptic) isn’t that restrained.

Melkor writes:

Better headline: You’ll Stop Reading Babble.com After Seeing Them Give Airtime to This Codswallop.
This new anti-sugar article that’s going around is 100% incorrect. It is false, every bit of it, it’s the perfect example of fear-mongering. It is supporting an upcoming documentary called “I Should Be Embarrassed for Believing Shit I Didn’t Research”. I’m writing a rebuttal now…
Photo: This new anti-sugar article that's going around is 100% incorrect. It is false, every bit of it, it's the perfect example of fear-mongering. It is supporting an upcoming documentary called "I Should Be Embarrassed for Believing Shit I Didn't Research".<br /><br />I'm writing a rebuttal now...
Finally, if you’re searching for more science in your assessment of sugar, read Scientific American’s Is Sugar Really Toxic? Sifting through the Evidence.  (tl;dr: it’s a mistake to call sugar ‘toxic’ but we’d be better off eating less of it.)
See also In defence of sugar in The National Post.
No shortage of evil sugar images!
sugar-devil
sugar
evil sugar

Feminist Reflections on Extreme Eating and Extreme Not Eating: Feeders, Pro-Anas, Pro-Mias

feminism-3I first saw the story of Tammy Jung, a young woman who is intentionally gaining weight in order to attract an internet audience, posted on the Feminism subreddit. Tammy’s main audience is the “feeder” audience. Feeders (from what I understand based only on what I’ve garnered from the internet), including her boyfriend, gain sexual pleasure from over-feeding their partners and making them gain weight.

In the scheme of “feeders,” Tammy and her boyfriend are small potatoes, with her weight at around 250 pounds at the moment of the article. According to this report, Susanne Eman, 728 pounds, is eating 22,000 calories a day in an attempt to become the Guinness Book of World Records heaviest woman in the world.

The person who posted the story originally asked: How do you tell someone like this they are wrong without fat-shaming or is this okay?”  A flurry of subreddit discussion followed.

Granted, the original source was the UK’s Daily Mail, which I take it is — ahem — not a highly regarded news source.  I found more on the Huff Post “Weird News” site. So yes, I know, I know, this is not the most well-researched post you will find on our blog.  But bear with me because I find the original poster’s question to be worth thinking about, first, for its assumption that Tammy is doing something wrong, and second for its concern that to call her out on it might be fat-shaming.

I want to think about that, and also to think about whether this raises any other relevant feminist issues.

But first, let me put something else on the table as contrast, something so disturbing that, like the thigh gap stuff that’s out there, I can’t bring myself to include the link.  It’s the world of the pro-ana and pro-mia communities, that is, communities that are pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia and think of these not as diseases but as lifestyle choices.

Taken together, Tammy Jung’s intentional quest for obesity and the pro-ana and pro-mia followers’ intentional quest for thinness via starvation present an interesting study in contrasts.  They are the equally disturbing ends of the eating as a form of body-modification (or body-control) continuum.

The discussion about Tammy Jung and fat-shaming on the feminism subreddit had some interesting dimensions to it, but a lot of them side-stepped the fat-shaming question altogether in two polar opposite ways. On the one hand, lots of people said that it’s her choice, she gets to do what she wants, and no one has a right to challenge her goal of becoming 420 pounds.  On the other hand, other people criticized her decision on health grounds, saying that she is intentionally killing herself, and she shouldn’t have a right to health care insurance.

One person said that if we saw a similar story about a young woman intentionally starving herself on the internet to make money and satisfy men’s sexual fetishes, we would have more to say about it.

I have mixed feelings about her quest.  I like that she feels sexy despite being, or even because she is, obese by society’s standards. I like too that there are people out there who find that sexy. Her desire to be paid for her weight gain by admirers who fetishize it is a form of sex work, broadly construed. I have no strong reservations about non-exploitative sex work and believe that it is possible to engage in sexual activities and pursuits for money (i.e. as work) without being exploited. That is not to say that exploitation never happens, but it isn’t an inherent feature of sex work (see philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s fabulous chapter on sex work in her book Sex and Social Justice for a compelling discussion of why sex work ought to be considered work).

It’s a simple fact that from a health perspective, what Tammy is doing is very likely to shorten her life. Her doctor has said as much.  But it’s not clear to me that we have an imperative to be healthy. And it’s also not clear to me that resorting to a claim about health risk isn’t a covert way of fat-shaming.

We’ve seen in past posts that the assumption that people who are larger than average are necessarily unhealthy or unfit is false.  Moreover, do we really have a right to judge people for making choices that don’t promote health or longevity, or that involve risks?

Despite my concern about invoking health as an imperative, I confess that it is the slow suicide, bad-for-your-health feature of anorexia and bulimia that make it so difficult for me to read “tipsheets” that outline in painstaking detail how to starve yourself or how to make yourself vomit — and in both cases how to hide this from friends and family.

Beyond the physical health of it, I see both extremes as fostering psychological obsessions with food and body. Whether the obsession is with gaining or with losing extreme amounts of weight, the pre-occupation with food and body is not healthy. In fact, both anorexia and bulimia are regarded as eating disorders, illnesses requiring treatment.  The same might be said of extreme overeating.

The choice issue enters into the picture because the women themselves frame their behavior as chosen. Let’s say for the sake of argument that they are engaging in this behavior by choice. Do we have a right to pass judgment on these choices? That is, is it correct to assume that there is something wrong with those choices?

Eighteenth Century philosopher Immanual Kant argued that among our moral duties included duties to self.  He believed that suicide was wrong and that, on a more positive note, we had duties to “promote our own talents.”  So, according to Kant, not only is it wrong to kill yourself, it’s also wrong to do things that hinder the development of your personal gifts. Roughly, Kant believed that no one could consistently engage in self-defeating behavior (this really oversimplifies his point, I confess, but that’s the gist of it).

I disagree with Kant that suicide and not developing our talents are morally condemnable. But I do think that we can back off from the moral judgment while still recognizing that there is something disturbing or even just plain sad going on when anyone engages in behavior that fosters obsession and is overtly self-destructive.

Do I want to go so far as to say that these women should not be able to make choices about how to treat their bodies?  Is it not a significant part of feminist ideology that women are in control of their own bodies and ought to be permitted to choose as they see fit?  Absolutely.

There are all sorts of choices that women ought not be denied and that yet, at the same time, do not help the cause of women’s equality. Think of these choices not so much in terms of their impact on the individual women who make them but rather in the broader context of social structures that systemically disadvantage women and stand as obstacles to women’s equality.

Starving ourselves as a lifestyle choice promotes a bodily aesthetic that puts women’s lives in peril. Much to the misfortune of women living in the Western world at this historical moment, that aesthetic is represented in media as normative.  Therefore, if starvation for women is indeed a lifestyle choice, then it’s a choice that is just plain bad for women as a group because it buys into rather than challenges normative femininity as ultra-thinness.

On the other side of this, force-feeding ourselves in order to gain attention and for the express purpose of appealing to men with a particular fetish also puts women’s lives in peril.  In this case, the systemic issue is less that it promotes a normative aesthetic (clearly, obese women’s bodies are not normative in the present cultural context) than that it promotes the idea that we should shape our bodies according to male desire.

I do not mean here to be negatively judging men who find large women attractive. Instead, we need to question the idea that women need to take extreme measures to modify their bodies so that said bodies are attractive to men.

Ultimately, then, to the extent that these extremes are defended as choices, I believe they are (a) choices women have a right to make and (b) choices that are bad for women in general because of the social messages they perpetuate.  They can make them, but for the sake of all of us, I really wish they wouldn’t.

[photo credit: MSU Grad Life]

Moderation Won’t Work If You’re Addicted, but Are You Sure You’re Addicted?

sharma-obesity-chocolateWhenever I talk about moderation in eating, I always hear from people who have at least some foods that they do not believe they can moderate. These foods are usually things like potato chips and cheesies, cake and cookies, nuts and pretzels, chocolate and ice cream.  To a lesser degree, some avoid things like pizza and french fries for similar reasons. They can’t eat just a little bit.

My initial reaction to this claim of the inability to moderate is skepticism.  The intuitive eating approach that I’ve been following lately, and that has miraculously freed me from all rules about food and from overeating pretty much anything, works on the premise that when we release ourselves from the idea of forbidden foods and eat what we want, when we are hungry, in a mindful fashion until we are satisfied (not stuffed, satisfied), we will achieve a peaceful relationship with food.

“Peaceful” may seem an odd way of describing it, but if food has been the enemy for many years, as it has for many chronic dieters, then making peace with it is a huge achievement.  The intuitive eating approach does not require that we cut out any particular foods altogether.

And it pretty much promises that if followed in a committed manner, with a firm resolve never to diet again and to stop monitoring your weight with regular weigh-ins, even the most obsessive, chronic dieter, even those with severe eating disorders (whether they be at the starvation end or the overeating end of the disordered eating spectrum), will learn to eat what they want, when they want, in moderate amounts.

This has been my experience. But it doesn’t happen overnight. When the rules are first lifted, of course we feel giddy with the new permissiveness.  At that stage, it’s easy and fairly common to eat what we want when we want, but in amounts that exceed satiety. That is not what intuitive eating is all about.  The mindful eating part of the equation, which is also something Sam is practicing with her precision approach, is as important as lifting our judgments about good foods and bad foods.

So my first response is always to encourage people who are ready to do something radical and different in their relationship with food to think of it as a process. I urge people to believe that if they have patience and follow the guidelines, the foods that they thought might forever trigger them into binging have a good chance of losing their power.

But this outcome may not be possible for everyone with respect to every kind of food.  Why? Because it may be that in some small number of cases people actually have an addictive relationship with some foods.

I’m no stranger to the ways of addiction. It’s a serious thing that can take people down hard.  It wrecks lives, makes people miserable, and has a huge impact on those who suffer from it and on almost everyone in their lives.

In my experience, the minimum requirement for overcoming an addiction is total abstinence. So I am quite willing to believe that for some people, if they are completely out of control around certain foods, then moderation is not going to work.

The other thing I know about addiction is that it is not only about the thing to which a person is addicted.  Reaching outside of ourselves (for food or drugs or alcohol or more more of whatever it is) to change the way we feel, i.e. to feel better, even if only temporarily, is an ineffective coping strategy.  When we abstain from the so-called problem substance or behavior, we have not necessarily developed better coping skills or dealt with the core issues that lead us to seek solace in e.g. a bag of potato chips in the first place.

Abstinence is a means of beginning to address addiction, but it will not give anyone a full recovery from it.

Since I am not one to throw around the idea that someone may be addicted lightly, I want to suggest that the majority of us who appear to have certain “problem” foods in our lives might find surprising results if we took a risk and truly allowed ourselves to incorporate these things into our lives.

I’m not suggesting that you incorporate foods that you don’t even like, of course. I’m talking about foods that we wish we could eat but avoid because we can’t control ourselves when we are around them.

I have felt that way around all sorts of foods and no longer have that experience. This change tells me that thankfully I was not addicted. I was just caught in a cycle of diet and deprivation followed by rebellious eating.

BUT, if you are a person who simply cannot deal moderately with a food and need to abstain completely, then you might have an addiction. Cutting out the problem substance (be it crack or potato chips) only addresses the symptom. Addiction is much more all-encompassing than just being unable to stop using something or eating something or drinking alcohol.

If someone’s reason for being unable to stop eating peanuts is that they are addicted, then abstaining from peanuts might stop them from overeating peanuts, but it will not address the deeper issues that lead them to an addictive relationship with certain foods.

I know of one organizaton, Overeater’s Anonymous, that is dedicated to helping those with food addictions in the same way that Alcoholics Anonymous helps alcoholics deal with their alcoholism. It’s a drastic measure that from what I’ve heard includes a very restricted food plan (I don’t have first hand experience with OA, so that might not be the case).  Before taking it, I would explore less drastic measures, such as the intuitive eating approach or any approach that does not involve severe food restrictions and that encourages mindful eating.

I acknowledge that I am something of an evangelist, singing the praises of the intuitive eating approach to all who will listen. That is only because I have experienced an amazing, almost unbelievable shift in my relationship with food, weight and body image since embracing this approach on January 1, 2013.

I am relieved that my “food issues” were not about addiction, and that something as reasonable as the intuitive eating approach could have such a transformative impact on my life.

Coffee, the best tasting performance enhancing drug

I’m planning on teaching a course on sports ethics in the near future and one of the hot topics in that field is performance enhancing substances and the criteria we use to ban such substances in sports competition.

I’m very happy though that my favourite performance drug doesn’t run afoul of any of the rules.

Like many athletes, both recreational and pro, I love my cup of coffee before riding a bike, running, rowing…

Here’s two of my favourite exercise science reporters for the NY Times on the ability of caffeine to enhance athletic performance.

How Coffee Can Galvanize Your Workout

Gretchen Reynolds: Scientists and many athletes have known for years, of course, that a cup of coffee before a workout jolts athletic performance, especially in endurance sports like distance running and cycling. Caffeine has been proven to increase the number of fatty acids circulating in the bloodstream, which enables people to run or pedal longer (since their muscles can absorb and burn that fat for fuel and save the body’s limited stores of carbohydrates until later in the workout). As a result, caffeine, which is legal under International Olympic Committee rules, is the most popular drug in sports. More than two-thirds of about 20,680 Olympic athletes studied for a recent report had caffeine in their urine, with use highest among triathletes, cyclists and rowers.

It’s Time to Make a Coffee Run

Gina Kolata: Caffeine, it turns out, actually works. And it is legal, one of the few performance enhancers that is not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. So even as sports stars from baseball players to cyclists to sprinters are pilloried for using performance enhancing drugs, one of the best studied performance enhancers is fine for them or anyone else to use. And it is right there in a cup of coffee or a can of soda. Exercise physiologists have studied caffeine’s effects in nearly every iteration: Does it help sprinters? Marathon runners? Cyclists? Rowers? Swimmers? Athletes whose sports involve stopping and starting like tennis players? The answers are yes and yes and yes and yes. Starting as long ago as 1978, researchers have been publishing caffeine studies. And in study after study, they concluded that caffeine actually does improve performance. In fact, some experts, like Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky of McMaster University in Canada, are just incredulous that anyone could even ask if caffeine has a performance effect. “There is so much data on this that it’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s just unequivocal that caffeine improves performance. It’s been shown in well-respected labs in multiple places around the world.”

Run a marathon, chug a keg?

I was surprised to read the other day in Women’s Health that the most dedicated exercisers are also the biggest drinkers. According to Selene Yeager, author of  Exercise and Alcohol: Running on Empty Bottles people who exercise a lot tend also to drink a lot, far beyond levels we think of as healthy. I won’t recap the numbers, you can look at the Women’s Health story, but the trend seems especially pronounced for women. Yeager discusses the reasons why over the top exercisers are also over the top imbibers.

It’s not because they feel they’ve freed up the calories so they’ve earned their cocktails either. (That might have been my first guess.)

Instead, the researchers Yeager interviewed said it has to do with activation of the pleasure centers of the brain. “The downside of constantly activating these reward pathways is this: Your brain gets used to it and wants more, says Brian R. Christie, Ph.D., neuroscience program director at the University of British Columbia Division of Medical Sciences. So it’s not shocking that someone who craves a 10-K or a blistering CrossFit session will also readily down a couple of vodka sodas.”

This fascinated me because a)I’m a non-drinker and a pretty dedicated exerciser myself, and b)even when I did drink, I drank less, not more, while exercising lots insofar as this waxes and wanes. Athletic events that involve booze have always puzzled me.

When I first became Chair of my Department, I decided that one of the things I wanted to do was offer a  broader range of social events for department members. As the parent of three young children, trying to have a an active lifestyle, I thought there was far too much focus on events that involved alcohol. “Wine and cheese” receptions and “pub nights” after talks are pretty much a mainstay of academic life.

Ironically the first event we became involved in was a 24 hour relay race, sponsored by a local brewery (profits going to area hospitals.) The Philosophy Department’s team three years in a row got ‘the most laps ran’ in The Labatts 24 Hour Relay, beating out The Running Room team, the fit looking folks from Goodlife, and even the Department of Kinesiology. I attributed our success to two things.

First, we roped in department members training for marathons to run the overnight shifts.

Second, we  adopted  a strict “no drinking until after you’ve had your turn running” policy.  This might seem obvious but each year I was shocked and a little sickened to see people trying to run while carrying red plastic cups of beer, slurping jello shooters between each 2 km lap, and then (of course, of course) throwing up on the path. Stepping over puddles of puke isn’t my preferred running style!

Yeager concludes that in moderate doses, exercise works to replace drinking, but that as the levels and duration of exercise pick up, so too does one’s drinking. I’m still mulling this over, wondering how I fit into the story. Interestingly, links after the Women’s Health article were to yet more articles looking at the unhealthy habits of the very fit. It turns out they have riskier sex, are less likely to wear sunscreen despite spending more time in the sun, and are more likely to suffer from eating disorders.

(We’re so fit we’re invincible!)

This made me wonder about another explanation for the bad drinking habits. Maybe there’s a maximum amount of concern for our health we can have and once we’ve used it up in one area, we’re less likely to care for our health in others. Recent research about will power shows it to be limited in this way. Disciplined writing means less disciplined eating apparently. Eat carefully at lunch but then you might fail to follow through on your commitment to working out that night. Again, this is the opposite that I would have thought. Like Aristotle, I’ve often thought that virtuous habits supported one another. And that excellence, like virtue, is a habit.

But maybe Aristotle is wrong.

Fitness “Goals”

When Samantha posted to her Facebook page some months ago that she wanted to be her fittest at fifty, the comments heated up about what the appropriate measures should be. Weight and BMI are obviously not great measures of general fitness. What about cardiovascular health or run times? Or cycling times? Strength has its own measures – how much can you bench press? How many push-ups can you do? Pull-ups? And then there are sheer endurance and sheer intensity—Samantha’s cross-fits workouts, for example, sound absolutely impossible to me.

I have goal-resistance because they have started to feel like traps to me, a chronic yo-yo dieter and sometimes obsessive exerciser. Between the ages 23-33, I worked out like crazy, spending 2-3 hours in the gym several times a week. I loved the feeling of strength that came from pumping iron, and my heroes and fitness role models were female body-builders like Gladys Portugues, Carla Dunlap, and Corey Everson. No, I didn’t have very diverse measures of what it meant to be “fit.” As much as I enjoyed getting strong, I was also after the aesthetic of the hard female body (not that I ever attained it). Aside: there is a fascinating discussion of the female body ideal for competitive body-builders in Pumping Iron II: The Women. In the early days of competition, they were torn between the standard of sheer size and muscle (Bev Francis) or of a more “feminine” body (Rachel McLish).

That’s why I like the yoga mindset so much – no big goals or competition, just a consistent practice. So when I discovered Iyengar yoga in 2000, I left the gym for a more gentle approach. Since then, until a few months ago, my two main activities have been yoga and walking with an occasional session on the elliptical machine. But over time, I have stopped feeling “fit.” My energy started to wane. Groceries began to feel heavier.

So in March I went back to the weight room and worked with a personal trainer to start strength training again, this time in addition to my regular yoga practice (Iyengar and hot, 3-4 times a week). My trainer got me back into running for the first time in over twenty years. I’m slow and I can’t run for very many minutes in a row. I started out with 2 minutes of running to every 1 minute of walking, 6 times, with a 5 minute warm-up at the front end and a 5-minute cool-down at the end. I’m now up to 3 sets of 7 minutes of running and 1 minute of walking, with the 5 minute warm-up and cool-down.

I’m not sure what I’m aiming for exactly over the next two years, but I can say this: before it snows, I’d like to be able to run for 20 minutes in a row without having to walk. I’m not sure what that will say about how “fit” I am. But it doesn’t seem to me to be the kind of aspirational trap some of my goals of earlier days were. I’ll see where I go with that and take it from there.