advice · covid19 · dogs · online exercise

Lessons from the Pandemic: a farewell post

As Sam mentioned a few days ago, we’re rejigging the schedule here at FIFI, and as part of that rejig I’ve decided to step away for a bit. It’s been a long few months and I’ve struggled like others; I’ve been cushioned from health and financial blows, thanks to the grace of good government and the privilege of a secure job, but emotionally this has been a roller coaster. I need some time to take stock, and I don’t do that well online.

As I was walking with my dog this afternoon, gorgeous fall colours glowing in the sunshine, the wind whipping past us with just a hint of Old Man Winter to it, I started to think about what joy simple, solitary walks give me, and how I’ll look forward to them as we all lock down, to different degrees, in the months ahead. No matter what happens I know I will still be able to leave my house with my dog three times a day, even if I must do so completely isolated from others. (And obviously: not if I’m ill myself, which I pray will not happen.)

The pandemic is no blessing, but it has had some real teachable moments for me. These crept up on me over the summer and are more and more tangible as everything churns up again now. I’m glad to have these moments with me, as reminders of the good inside the terrible, for the winter ahead, and I thought as a farewell-for-now post I’d share them with you.

Chewy the dog chilling with his toys on the sofa; now THAT is what staying in looks like. Image from Unsplash.
  1. The internet has a lot of great gyms in it. This is the most pleasant discovery COVID has brought me. I can work out multiple times a week for a very affordable rate in my very own kitchen, and I can reap the benefits of amazing feminist energy over Zoom, even if the connection is sometimes unstable. The strength I glean, both physical and emotional, from the wonderful people I’ve linked up with on the fitness web goes some way to making up for the connections I’ve lost or had to pause IRL.
  2. If your home is a safe place, it’s quite wonderful to have permission not to leave it. I always thought I was a full-on extrovert, but no; COVID has helped me realize how much I like not having to leave my house very much, or go very far. I felt a strong pressure to be social in the before times, but honestly social environments are stressors for me. I get performance anxiety. And I’m a hyper-vigilant anxiety sufferer, so the more people in a place and the more formal the event the harder it is for me to keep my eye on everything and make sure everything and everyone are doing ok. Not having to go out and perform Public Kim so often is a huge relief.
  3. If stuff goes wrong so what? It’s a pandemic. I find I learn this lesson best from my students. We’ve had to adjust to A LOT over the last couple of months and they are having to adjust to 5x as much of it as any one of their instructors. When stuff goes wrong in my wacky hybrid/Zoom classroom, I remind us all that it’s going to be fine if we just roll with it. I show them compassion and they show me some too; when the tech dies or the breakout rooms get messed up or, you know, name a thing, we try to laugh about it. Learning to laugh and then carry on imperfectly when things go wrong is also a good thing to take from university.
  4. Incidental movement matters. Boy does it ever! My first day back in my campus office and a real-life classroom last month reminded me what walking around a four-story building all day does for your step count. Finding ways to incidentally move at home is harder, but still totally doable (see dog walking above). I think I might download a step counter app because data helps in a situation like this. And the more I move, the better I feel about everything.
  5. Bodies change, sometimes because the world has changed, and that’s just fine. I’ve put on weight these last few months, though it’s not all COVID-related. Mostly I think it’s aging, the slowing metabolism that brings, and the decision I seem to have made to say to heck with the notion that certain foods are contraband, or only permitted after a killer workout. I love food and my partner cooks beautifully; I enjoy eating and also, um, it’s a pandemic. My body is changing because it is aging, because the routine ways we are usually permitted to move in the world are currently under duress, and because the stress of the situation is something else. I’m working hard on looking in the mirror and reminding myself that I am here, I am loved, and I am proud of my delightfully imperfect body. It is hard work – after a lifetime of terrible body and self-image issues, it can’t not be – but I’m really trying.
Me (in a purple fall jacket) and Emma the Dog (a Black and Tan shepherd-crossed-with-something) during a fabulous autumn walk last year. We are on a park bench (me sitting, Emma standing, ears in curious mode, mouth open in anticipation) and the ground is a blanket of orange maple leaves. I seem to be saying something like “Emma! Look at the camera!” because Emma is NOT looking at the camera. She is looking at HORSES.

So that’s me for now, then; thanks for all the reading, friends. I will be guesting in this space again sometime soonish, I wager, but until then I wish you all a very safe autumn and the very very best to those of you heading to the polls. Thank you for keeping moving.

Kim

advice · body image · fitness

Does being body positive mean you have to like your own body too?

body

A friend recently posted the following on Facebook, “pro tip- when you shit talk your body, you are shit talking everyone’s bodies. lay off that shit homies, it gives me the sad/mad/bads.”

The basic idea is that body love requires self acceptance. It’s not enough to love the bodies of others. It’s not enough to embrace diversity where others are concerned. Loving all the bodies includes your own body. Because even if you are just holding yourself up to some higher standard than you hold other people, you’re still holding that standard.

I had a friend once detail the exact way her abs needed to look for her to feel comfortable wearing a two piece bathing suit. I felt the need to tell her that I wore a two piece bathing suit. She said, “Oh that’s fine. I don’t care how other people look. This is just about me.” But that didn’t make me feel any better. I looked awful, no doubt, by her standards, she just didn’t care.

I have some thoughts about this:

Surely, one might say, it’s okay to set high standards for oneself? To ask more of oneself. But no actually. Note the language.  Listen to what you’re saying.  By using the word “higher” it’s clear that you’ve still got a metric, and probably, honestly you’re still applying it to others too.

Suppose you’re not though. Suppose you really do think that a diversity of body shapes and sizes are fine for other people but for you there’s just one way it’s okay to be and unless you’re there, things are awful.

It’s possible to hold both of those ideas.  But probably you still ought to be quiet about how you feel about your own body, knowing it will make others feel bad. Need to talk about your body shame and self-hatred? Check in with friends to make sure it’s okay. But it’s probably best to find a trained listening and helping professional.

Some more thoughts:

Maybe we could come to feel better about our own bodies by recognizing that in the bodies of others it’s not perfection we’re attracted to.

Maybe it’s better to think neutrally about your own body and the bodies of the others. Body neutrality is Tracy’s preferred position.

Maybe we’d also all do better just caring less about looks.

Maybe we ought to think of body image as a group project, a community commitment.

Also, you might wonder why a fitness blog spills so much ink on body image. Here’s why.

The pictures here are from Emm Roy. You can follow her positive art on Patreon.

image

advice · death · disability · Fear · health · self care

8 Lessons for Living with Uncertainty From a Perennially Vulnerable Adult

I get it. You’re facing down the barrel of your mortality right now, and the mortalities of your parents, grandparents, children and other people you care for. It sucks. Random, horrible things can happen and change your life forever. Or end it. But this isn’t news. Life can change in an instant, and it can be completely out of your control, and that has always been true. The only difference is now you are being forced to face the reality you could comfortably deny as long as your life was banally humming along. Welcome to my world.

At the age of 24 I went from a healthy, active person to someone with a disabling, life-threatening immune condition. Random chance, totally bad luck, threw me a curve ball that kept me in the hospital for a month, left me missing a big chunk of one lung and unable to walk up a flight of stairs without assistance. I spent 8 months on high-dose Prednisone and three years after that on weekly chemotherapy drugs to keep my body from attacking itself and killing me. I hate stories about how some horrible cancer diagnosis “was the best thing that ever happened to her” or how some terrifying ordeal “helped him have gratitude for the important things in life.” I don’t think my immune conditions (I’ve developed more over the years) have made me a wiser, better person. But I have learned from the experience, and I’d like to offer you these potentially comforting observations I’ve noted along the way.

The hardest part is the not knowing. It took about half a year before I had a diagnosis. Even with a diagnosis, the prognosis was up in the air. At one point I was told that I had only a 50% chance of living past 5 years. Later on, I was told they really didn’t know, there was just too little data to base any predictions upon. I believe that knowing is always easier than not knowing. How do you live your life day to day when you can’t plan for the future? You will make very different decisions when you know that something is temporary than when it may be indefinite. Coming to a place of accepting that you don’t know, living in the moment while planning for the future is the best balance I can suggest. For me, I have had to learn over the years to consider my barriers and limitations as flexible unknowns–I have to push against the boundaries to test them–is this a real limitation or simply something I feared would limit me? It’s a constantly moving target, and I’ve learned to be flexible as situations have changed.

Your life is at increased risk. You can get used to it. In fact, if you are going to get on with your life, you have to get used to it. We can only hit the pause button for so long, and then we need to get back into the swing of things. You will need groceries, a paycheck, a new pack of underwear. I live my life every day with the awareness that my condition can come back. Every time I have a cough, I have to consider, “Does this feel more serious than just a cold? Am I being irresponsible if I wait it out before going to the doctor?” Every little aberration in how my body moves and feels carries a heightened awareness to it, and yet, I don’t go around constantly anxious about my future. I notice it, I pay attention, and then I move on. Most of the answers to my questions come with time and patience. If you can avoid insisting on instant reassurance, you will find that you fare better.

Most people facing their own mortality don’t have the benefit of a social circle that understands. Don’t take it for granted. When I got sick, I was alone. Only about 6000 people in the entire United States have been diagnosed with the condition I’m facing. Not to mention, my peers at the time of 20-somethings could not even kind of relate to my ordeal. Lucky for you, pretty much everyone around you is dealing with some version of the same fear right now. You can support each other because you understand your shared uncertainties. On the other hand, you are at higher risk than I was for “social contagion.” The downside of collective awareness is that your anxieties can compound upon each other, fear can beget more fear, and as social animals, we are built to mirror each other’s emotions. Compassion and empathy are important, but I encourage you to temper them with calm and mindful acts of support.

It isn’t helpful to let the current situation dominate your thoughts. Practice the discipline of reframing your thinking, and you will experience less stress. This would be an excellent time to limit your exposure to social media, too. You don’t need other people’s fear speaking voices in your head. For those of you who like that woo-woo shit, feel free to increase your focus on your “gratitude practice” right now. Me, I’m going to limit my exposure to the news and increase work on some neglected projects around the house. This seems like an excellent time to begin planning my basement remodel. This sort of intentional shift of focus gives me something productive to put my energies towards rather than stirring up fears of the unknown.

On a related note, don’t let fear be your guiding principal. Consider making important decisions when your mind is feeling more calm–like right after a good meal with some satisfying, slow-digesting carbohydrates in it. Your fear-based decision might be making people like me less safe, if it means you switch to antibacterial soap, for example, and increase the likelihood of superbugs. The panic that has led to emptying store shelves isn’t doing the community any good, either. Consider finding other ways to take care of yourself than giving in to the hedonic needs of your fear.

If someone near you gets sick, when it is safe to do so, literally embrace them and return them back into your life. I developed mysterious lung symptoms and a persistent, low grade fever just about the same time SARS was in all the news. When I was released from the hospital, we didn’t know why I had nearly died, but we did know it wasn’t an infectious process. Despite this, I was treated like a pariah. No one would hug me, hold my hand, pat my shoulder. People would literally take a step back when I told them what had happened to me. It was like they were afraid that my near-death would rub off on them. It was exceptionally isolating in an experience that already left me alone in so many ways. So I ask that you please, please, welcome back the folks who become sick. Love and support them, touch their hands, kiss them on the cheek, and help to reintegrate them back into your world.

You don’t know what’s going to get you. That’s always been true, you’re just now having to face it. I used to feel like I knew better than most people what was likely to kill me. However, even when my condition was quite severe, I still could get hit by the proverbial bus. That hasn’t changed, and it’s true for all of us. None of us know what is going to get us in the end. We can’t live our lives dancing around the edges, hoping nothing will ever take us down. We have to live the best life we can with the life we’ve been given. Uncertainty will always be a part of the equation. Part of making the best of it is keeping that in mind and keeping it in perspective. That’s how I live my life every day, and I encourage you to do the same.

Photo description: Two wrinkled hands, one bare and one with a black and white checkered sleeve, holding each other over a leather background.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them down again, and wondering when the gym will be closed, in Portland, Oregon.

advice · Book Reviews · fitness · motivation

The 100 Day Reclaim: Day 81-90, Three Fit Feminist Bloggers Weigh In

Three of us are reading Nia Shanks’ The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be.

Read about Day 1 here.

Read about Days 2-10 here. ‘

Read about Days 11-20 here.

Read about Days 21-30 here.

Read about Days 31-40 here.

Read about Days 41-50 here.

Read about Days 51-60 here.

Read about Days 61-70 here.

Read about Days 71-80 here.

Image result for 100 day reclaim nia shanks"

Catherine

As often happens, Nia’s observations and advice are eerily well-timed. Today I’m finishing up a big work committee project, and this week I’m wrapping up my hitch in a leadership role in my church. This means a lot of things that HAVE to be done NOW. It also means some looking back with regret that I didn’t do this or that, or I wish I had done something differently. With respect to the HAVE-TO-NOW items on my to-do list, we have day 83: “feeling like it” isn’t a requirement. With work, with physical activity, with cooking foods that feel healthy-to-me, I’m not always humming with inspiration. No. But that doesn’t mean that those things aren’t important to me. They are—they were when I agreed to them or planned them, and they are now. It’s just that life’s many vagaries and ups and downs are happening at the same time. So, am I going to finish that last letter and go to my yoga class today? I hope so (and if I don’t it certainly won’t be Nia’s fault.. )

Hand-in-hand with day 83 is the advice of day 84: be ready for expectation bias. We’ve all been there: we sit at the desk, the yoga mat, the bike saddle, the cockpit of the kayak, and…. Nothing. There’s no juice, no flow, no feeling of gusto. So we (meaning I) conclude that something must be wrong. Here’s the thing: it’s not. It’s that life thing again. This absolutely bears repeating and rephrasing and repeating again.

Day 87—Fast or Slow?—is my favorite of this section. When I’m feeling pressured or tired (or enthusiastic or strong), my default setting is fast—well, as fast as I can. But “as fast as I can” isn’t sustainable. Yes, to meet that looming deadline, we push hard. To get up that last hill, we push hard. But we are not supposed to push hard all the time. Trainers tell us this, our mothers tell us this—it must be true. Thinking about what approach—fast or slow—we want to do today, or this moment, or this set, or this mile, or for this song is what Nia is suggesting. As always, slowing down and taking time to figure out what we want and what we need (which aren’t always the same thing—see day 83) will help make the decision much clearer.

I would like to write more about the other days, but I’ve got loads of work this week and some hard deadlines (including the one for this post). So I’ll close with following day 85—Play with what you have. I have to stop now. But see you next week for the triumphant conclusion of Nia’s book!

Sam

Day 82 is about the past. You can’t change the past but you don’t need to let it ruin your future either. Nia writes, “Improving your health and level of fitness, when distilled to its basic elements, is about eating nutritious foods most of the time and moving your body frequently and consistently.” But it’s not that simple and it doesn’t feel that easy. We know what we should do but we aren’t always moved to do it. Why is that? Part of the answer comes from our past experiences. Our past shaped our views of food, body image, weight, and fitness. There’s a lot to unravel there. Nia suggests that the past doesn’t define us and that we can choose differently starting today. She says, in an upbeat tone, you can always construct a new lifestyle. I’m not so sure about that. I think how hard it is to just ‘choose differently’ depends on the kind of childhood you had.

You don’t need to feel like it, says Nia on Day 83. We do lots of stuff we don’t feel like doing. Before I wrote this blog post I cleaned my bike and paid the electricity bill. I can assure that I didn’t feel like doing either of those things. I’d just gotten home from work. It’s been a long day. I’m hungry. But somehow, before I had my broccoli soup and grilled cheese (fancy weekday cooking!) I wiped the mud off my frame (chain cleaning to come later) and logged onto to my banking app and paid bills. I didn’t expect to feel good before doing these tasks. I just did them. Some days fitness is like that.

Fast or slow? On Day 87 Nia discusses the choice between fast and furious, change all your habits at once, fitness efforts versus slow, steady, gradual change. What I like is that Nia doesn’t assume slow and steady is better. Slow and steady, small changes suit a lot of people but I like that she recognizes that some people do better going big. The year I quit smoking, started to commute to work by bike, and learned to lift weights was a very big all-in year. There were some enormous changes in my life. They didn’t all stick but that year did set me up for a confidence about what my body could do. I still think it was a positive thing. I have the same fond feelings for the two year count down to turning 50 that I shared with Tracy and documented in our book Fit at Midlife: A Feminist Fitness Journey. Riding, rowing, running, soccer, CrossFit, and Aikido all at once. That was a lot. There was nothing small about that year. But I am happy to think of these things in waves and I loved that very big two year period.

Christine

As you can guess from my previous comments, there are many things that I love about this book. However, one of the things I love the most is how Shanks keeps the promises that she makes to her readers.

This promised to be a book about digging into your underlying mental challenges with developing a fitness routine and Shanks has really delivered for me.

She continues to deliver in Days 81-90 with an exploration of ways that our feelings and expectations can get in the way.

In Day 81 ‘Look Then Laugh’ she reminds us that it is okay to acknowledge that things sometimes go awry, despite our best efforts. We might as well be amused when that happens because there is no point in beating ourselves up about it. This kind of reminds me of that FB meme that encourages us to view our lives like a book or movie and to shout ‘Plot Twist!’ When things go wrong.

Day 82 ‘You Can’t Alter The Past’ – I really loved how this section acknowledges how our past affects our current perceptions and how we can become aware of what is happening and seek to change it. When I’m coaching people, I refer to this type of thing as ‘the stories we tell ourselves’ and encourage them to become aware of the stories and see which ones they want to keep. (That makes it sound incredibly simple – it is not- but it is the underlying principle of the practice.)

Day 83 – ‘Feeling Like It Is Not a Requirement’ – The fact that I didn’t need to feel like doing something in order to do it was HUGE revelation for me at one point in my life. I tell my writing coaching clients this all the time and I like the reminder here that we can apply this principle to fitness. Even when you have picked a fitness activity you enjoy, you won’t always feel like getting started but if you do it anyway, in whatever capacity you can at the moment, you will be happy you did. I like how she compares fitness activities to brushing your teeth – that’s always my go to comparison, too. We rarely skip brushing our teeth, no matter how little we feel like doing it, so it makes a good base-level example for this type of approach.

Day 84 – ‘Expectation Bias’ – I appreciated that this section reminded us that our expectations of a fitness session can affect the results (and our enjoyment.) I think we can all use the reminder that expectations colour what we experience. For me, personally, this gets tricky because of my oft-mentioned challenges with self-perception. I have to remind myself to balance that ‘try it anyway’ with the yoga advice ‘meet yourself where you are’ so I don’t judge myself too harshly for what I can or can’t do on a given day. This isn’t a problem with Shanks’ advice, just a moment of self-reflection!

Day 85 – ‘Play With What You Have’ – This section was a solid way to keep ourselves from falling into the ‘if only’ trap and, instead, to focus on what we have available to us in the moment and make the most of it. I like the playing cards metaphor she uses here and I will probably adapt it for my coaching practice. I often have to coax people to match their expectations to their reality (i.e. if you only have 5 minutes a week to write, don’t be hard on yourself when you can’t produce a novel in a month!) so the more ways I can explain that, the better.

Day 86 – ‘Change The Rhetoric’ – I really liked how she advises us to remember that getting to exercise/focus on fitness is a privilege and a luxury and that workouts do not make us warriors or heroes. Those ‘epic person’ ideas can be useful to a point but they can also get in our way and give us a harsh view of those who do not (or cannot) do what we can.

Day 87 – ‘Fast or Slow’ – This was a good reminder that there are different approaches to fitness goals and that we all need to pick the kind that serves us best. In Day 87, she focuses on the difference between going ‘all in’ with fitness and eating changes all at once versus taking an incremental approach. Of course, there are many combinations of those practices that will work differently for different people.

Day 88 – ‘Self-Fulfilling Prophecy’ – For me, this section works very neatly with Day 84’s ‘Expectation Bias,’ Shanks is basically saying that by declaring what we can or cannot do before we even try it, we limit what might be possible.

I have seen this happen when I help students in Taekwondo (and I sometimes fall victim to it myself but I try to catch myself quickly.) Sometimes, people decide in advance that they will never be able to do a push-up/land a punch/ break a board and then they psych themselves out of being able to do it. As a step toward change, I try to encourage people to put the word ‘yet’ at the end of their pronouncements ‘I can’t break a board…yet.’ – it opens the possibility of being able to do it in the future.

When students say ‘I just can’t do…’ and there is no physical limitation on why they cannot, they end up grunting and groaning through any attempt and then they give up. That really doesn’t serve them well and it keeps them from learning how to improve.

Day 89 – ‘Friendly Reminders’ – Days 81-90 have been full of friendly reminders for me but this section really summed up a lot of especially good content from earlier in the book and this seemed like a good time to circle back to it. Reminders that you don’t have to ‘earn’ your food by exercising, that fitness practices should make you feel good about yourself, and that you can focus on mastering the basics first, were all very welcome.

Day 90 – ‘Own Your Personal Records’ – Ah, this is another time when my perception of my own efforts gets in my way! Shanks is advising us to celebrate our milestones (including milestones related to consistency) without putting any conditions on them.

So, she wants us to stop saying “I know it’s only a light weight but…’ or ‘I know it’s just 10 days but…’ and, instead, celebrate that we have had a victory of any sort.

I know that I do this with my own fitness victories and, for me, it ties into that whole ADHD thing of not being able to judge how hard I am working. So, I don’t want to make a big deal of something that is actually less that what I could do. Even though I might be proud of a victory, when I tell others about it, I might undersell it a little in case my perception of my effort is off.

I have to give this a bit more thought and see how I can take a more self-supportive approach.


Once again, I got a lot out of this section of the book and it has given me a lot to consider putting into practice. Even though I use a lot of this same advice in my coaching sessions, it is interesting and useful to see it applied in a fitness context and I look forward to seeing how I can make it work for me.

advice · Book Reviews · fitness · motivation

The 100 Day Reclaim: Day 31-40, Three Fit Feminist Bloggers Weigh In

Three of us are reading Nia Shanks’ The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be.

Read about Day 1 here.

Read about Days 2-10 here. ‘

Read about Days 11-20 here.

Read about Days 21-30 here.

Christine:

In Days 31-40, Shanks is getting further into some of the aspects of fitness mindset that I need to work on.

Day 31 is about how our repeated actions are investments in our health and fitness, some of which pay off quickly and some that pay off over time. This is really one of my sticking points. I’m not exactly looking for a magic bullet (and I don’t generally buy into the distractions she warns us against in Day 32) but I have a lot of trouble remembering that each individual workshop will add up to a positive result.

(This is an ongoing issue for me in many areas, I refer to it as a reverse forest-for-the-trees problem. It’s not that I can’t see the forest for the trees, it’s that I forget that the forest is made of individual trees and I get overwhelmed at the idea of trying to deal with the whole forest at once.)

For me, most of this section builds on the idea of investments. She reminds us that there will be setbacks and we might get sidetracked, but if we keep moving forward with purpose (not passion – Shanks makes some great points about the limits of passion on Day 34), and do things that support us instead of undermining us, we will find the fitness practices that suit us best.

I like how she doubles down on the idea that food can (and should) be guilt-free. This is not a problem for me but I know it is a pervasive issue so I like that she is returning to it over and over.

Some highlights from Days 31-40 (these are the messages I liked in each section, not the title for the days):

Day 35: Focus on being a person YOU approve of.
Day 36 – Failure is an experience, it doesn’t define you. You decide what it means.
Day 37 – We should seek a fitness lifestyle that enhances our lives instead of dominating them. Bonus: The way she talks about what counts as a supportive action is especially useful.

I think that some people might find that this section repeats a lot of the previous messages, but in different terms. I found that there was a feeling of familiarity with some sections but it didn’t feel repetitive. Instead, I felt that she was adding a layer to her previous messages and some of them resonated more thoroughly with me this time because of the different phrasing.

There was, once again, a lot in this section that I can use to help me shape my approach to being more consistent with my exercise.

Catherine:

Investment. Purpose. Sticking to the basics. Supporting. Growth. These are some of the phrases Nia uses in days 31-40 that really appealed to me. It feels to me like she’s allowed us to freak out, get angry, shilly-shally around, and take some time to get used to this 100-day process. But now it’s time to settle in and focus on the work at hand—that most important work, which is us.

Day 31 starts with thinking about self-caring activities as investments, deposits in the portfolio of my own wellbeing. Immediately, I thought: hmmm. does Nia think that when I avoid exercise or miss sleep or eat poorly-to-me, I’m making withdrawals? Is my every move a plus-or-minus, to be totted up on a spreadsheet?

No, I don’t think she’s endorsing an accounting plan for self-care and self-esteem. During these 10 days, we are encouraged to look to our goals, our plans, our habits. We stick to what works. We notice what sorts of activities support us in our development of agency over our own wellbeing. Then do those more. When something doesn’t work, we look at it, and see how we can grow from that experience.

My favorite lesson was day 34, on recognizing that we don’t need to feel passion for something important all the time in order to keep doing it. What we have (or can have) is a sense of purpose. We form goals, which may be big and lofty and long-term. But progress toward a goal is inevitably made through mundane, ordinary activities: grocery shopping or food package ordering, laundering sports clothing and packing the gym bag, keeping track of winter cycling gear so it’s always handy, making those regular dates with friends to walk or cycle or swim or do yoga or have a cup of coffee. Consider these your inner postal carrier: remember, “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”.

Nia is encouraging us to bring the mail, just keeping bringing the mail. Okay, Nia, I’m on it.

Sam: I often think about writing and exercise in the same way. They’re both things I need to regularly and sometimes they can both be difficult to motivate. In my life it’s interesting that some of the strategies that work for one also work for the other. On Day 34 Nia reminds us to think of exercise in terms of purpose not passion.

If you wait until you’re overcome with passion and motivation, you don’t get around to moving or writing nearly enough. Make it a habit. Schedule it.

On Day 38 Nia suggests other goals for seeing progress besides fat loss. Fat loss, she remind us, is not the only option for tracking progress. I know this. I really know this. But sometimes I need reminding. Thks Nia!

advice · eating · food · research

Flip flopping my way down the grocery aisle

by MarthaFitat55

It’s hard to know what we are supposed to do these days. The most recent research suggests recommendations against red meat consumption are flawed, and it’s okay to plop a steak on the BBQ.

Published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the study says researchers have not been able to conclude definitively that eating red meat or processed meat causes cancer, diabetes or heart disease:

The World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer has indicated that consumption of red meat is “probably carcinogenic” to humans, whereas processed meat is considered “carcinogenic” to humans. These recommendations are, however, primarily based on observational studies that are at high risk for confounding and thus are limited in establishing causal inferences, nor do they report the absolute magnitude of any possible effects. Furthermore, the organizations that produce guidelines did not conduct or access rigorous systematic reviews of the evidence, were limited in addressing conflicts of interest, and did not explicitly address population values and preferences, raising questions regarding adherence to guideline standards for trustworthiness.”

Come again?

Three women of colour have shocked expressions on their faces.

I haven’t had time to read the study through, but let’s say that reaction was swift and blunt. After all, it was only last winter that Canada released its newly updated food guide recommending we eat less meat and more plant based options. I’m sure we are going to see more discussion because flip-flopping on food recommendations is something food scientists do really well.

Last month Catherine W looked at a study which assessed the life threatening properties of sugary drinks (aka sodas). Two years ago, the Independent trumpeted the value of sugar in maintaining our brain health. Apparently brains love sugar, even if our hearts, circulatory systems and pancreas do not.

Not even a year ago in October (18, 2018), BBC Food published an article extolling the virtues of eggs, saying the humble egg has impressive health credentials. But six months later, in March 2019, the New York Times weighed in on the risks posed by eating eggs (TLDR: cholesterol will kill you!). The study found: Each additional half-egg a day was associated with a 6 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease and an 8 percent increased risk of early death.

In the 80s and 90s , we all ditched butter to embrace margarine because we were told the heart-clogging abilities of butter would hasten our demise that much faster (hey eggs, move over!). Butter has been somewhat rehabilitated since then because additional research says a little is okay given that margarine and other trans fasts are actually a whole lot worse.

Oh noes: buttered bread, a boiled egg and a cup of tea for breakfast! Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

In all seriousness, what are we to do? The reality is, as Paul Taylor wrote in the Globe and Mail in March 2016, dietary studies, flawed as they may be, have a huge impact on public health and can shape nutritional habits and food buying patterns. More of us are reading labels, questioning sodium content, and looking more critically at the food we eat even when it’s being marketed as healthful (Beyond Meat Burger anyone?).

It’s a good thing when we can become more critical, and it is even better when we can vary our diet to eat from every part of the rainbow. Everything in moderation so we can ensure all foods can fit (some better than others).

About that study tho — as an omnivore, I will still keep eating meat, but my family and I have embarked on meatless Mondays with a goal to to eat meat free at least two to three meals a week. I’ll still consider the latest study, but I will place in the greater context to understand its implications fully. How about you, dear readers? Are you easily influenced by the latest food research, or are you likely to go your own way regardless of the latest fad?

MarthaFitat55 is a writer in St. John’s.

advice · fitness

SOAP note on active women: outlook is promising

This week I learned a new acronym and phrase: SOAP note. Any readers who work in healthcare already know this term. It’s a method that health care providers use to write notes on a patient’s medical record. SOAP stands for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan. Roughly it involves getting a description from the patient about their current condition, noting the results of observation, testing and physical examination of the patient, offering some suggestions about diagnosis and possible causes of current problem, and finally a plan for treatment. Sounds like a reasonable system to me.

A friend of mine, who was headed out this weekend for a sea kayaking instructional workshop, was asked to write something about their “paddling philosophy”. Presumably the workshop leaders had something more in mind than “keep the cockpit mostly water-free and don’t lose the paddle”. My friend was temporarily flummoxed by this assignment, but then they remembered the SOAP note: why not do a self-assessment on their paddling?

I herewith present you: a paddling SOAP note, courtesy of my friend.

Subjective

  • 38 y/o F presents today for evaluation of paddling philosophy
  • She states she has been paddling for 4 years and would like to have the skills to go “anywhere reasonable” safely in a sea kayak and to paddle class 3 whitewater
  • Self-identified strengths include comfort in rough water, endurance, organization
  • Self-identified weaknesses include reading waves/timing, rolling, navigating complex group dynamics

Objective

  • Head – useful for decision making
  • Eyes – used for enjoying the scenery, situational awareness, and looking where the boat should go
  • Ears – listening to others for input and attention to their needs
  • Lungs – for talking LOUD on the water so others can hear
  • Heart – endurance to paddle all day
  • MSK – can paddle steadily at 3 knots and handle boat in moderate water conditions
  • Neuro – coordination for a pond roll 90%, combat roll 30%
  • Psych – gets anxious when in leadership/decision making roles or feeling judged

Assessment

  • Sea kayaker, intermediate, NOS
  • White water kayaker, novice, initial encounter

Plan

  • Continue to push self in organization / leadership / planning skills
  • Be intentional about paddling choices – group, route, conditions 
  • Fix lazy back deck roll
  • Seek out more whitewater specific instruction/coaching
  • Be safe
  • Have fun

I love how this lays out a profile of someone’s perceived strengths and weaknesses and offers ways to optimize on them, in this case by being safe and having fun.

Inspired by my friend’s SOAP note, I decided to do one on myself for cycling.

Subjective

  • 57 y/o F presents today for evaluation of cycling philosophy
  • She states she has been cycling for 15 years (most recently) and would like to have the fitness and fortitude and nerve to go places near and far comfortably on a bike, for errands, day rides and longer extended bike touring
  • Self-identified strengths include strong social support, way more gear than one human could possibly use, a life with time and resources, and overall good health
  • Self-identified weaknesses include fear and anxiety about stamina and perceived fitness deficits; a host of injuries in distant and recent past; inconsistent cycling habits as a result of some of those fears and anxieties; feelings of shame about fitness level

Objective

  • Head – useful for developing and responding to reasons in favor of cycling on many occasions; is of standard size/shape for bike helmet to fit
  • Eyes – used to scan environment, most notably for other cool bikes on the road, plus interesting plants, flowers, farm stands on country rides
  • Ears – listens to hum of tires on pavement; mostly hears wind whistling through helmet instead of voices of other riders
  • Lungs – for talking LOUD at any time, any place; superior capabilities, in top decile
  • Heart – needs strengthening to endure long rides, long training periods, and long plateaus; has capacity for swelling with pride and love of the activity of cycling
  • MSK – can pedal steadily with minimal wobble; legs strong; core needs work to support neck and shoulders, which are relatively securely attached
  • Neuro – coordination for rapid moves in traffic, stopping on a dime at country farm stand for cider doughnuts
  • Psych – gets anxious when feeling judged, which is always by self, never by others

Assessment

  • Cyclist: intermediate, veteran, road warrior
  • Human: advanced, experienced; needs update of habits and refueling of self-esteem

Plan

  • Continue to throw leg over top tube and pedal as often as possible
  • Be intentional about finding cycling opportunities, big and small
  • Fix bikes when needed; self needs no fixing– is fine as is
  • Seek out more social opportunities to ride with friends anywhere
  • Be safe on the road and remind self that emotions are normal
  • Have fun
  • Find hills to ride down fast– this is why we ride our bikes!

So readers– what would your SOAP note say about you? Any thoughts? I’d love to hear them.

advice · aging · fitness · sailing

Meet 25 year old Sam: She got some things right but others very much not when it comes to fitness

Sunday we hosted an end of summer BBQ in our backyard. That meant Saturday we were cleaning the basement putting some summer things away, taking out others.

Okay, we were drying and putting away sails for the season. After Jeff’s DNF due to rudder failure during the Lake Erie solo challenge, Tin Lizzie is home in Guelph for the season.

Drying sails in our backyard

In the middle of cleaning I got carried away with a box of old photos and correspondence, as one does. I found a letter to my parents from 25 year old grad school me in Chicago, a relic from life before children. Also back before email and social media. I would write letters on the computer, print them, add physical photos and mail them off to my family in Nova Scotia.

What was striking about this letter though is that it captured the beginning of my fitness journey. Boy did I get some things right. Boy did I get others things wrong.

At 25 I wrote to my parents to say that:

1. I was hanging out with a 55 year old faculty member who still, at her age, rode a bike and played squash. At her age! Geesh, 25 year old me, get a grip. Now I’m that 55 year old professor who still rides a bike. I’m wondering what the 25 year old grad students think. Still!

Miss you Dorothy!

About 14 years after grad school, my daughter Mallory and I visited Dorothy in New Zealand. She was still super active, hiking, dancing, and playing tennis. I began to see the advantages of an active life.

2. I was riding my bike pretty regularly on the Lake Shore bike path, sometimes riding as far as 26 miles. I aspired to ride a century, 100 miles. There was a ride called the Chicago century, Chicago to Wisconsin, and I told them I hoped to do that the following summer. This is notable because I was riding a pretty heavy hybrid bike back then. Also my beginning cycling ambitions were about to be interrupted by baby 1. Hello Mallory! It would be about 15 years before I rode a 100 miles. I didn’t do it on a hybrid either. The funny thing is until finding this letter I had no memory of distance ambitions prior to getting my first road bike in my 40s.

I couldn’t find any grad school pictures of me on a bike. No cell phone cameras yet. But here’s sleepy me and baby Mallory.

3. I was doing aerobics classes in the gym in our building, River City, three times a week and between that and bike riding feeling pretty fit.

“I surprise people a lot in the aerobics class because I’m far from skinny, a pretty constant size 14, but I can do the full 90 minutes with lots of energy and enthusiasm. Some new people, about half my size can’t, and I think that shocks them. I’ve heard women behind me making comments to that effect. I think it’s good to break the tight association between being thin and being fit.”

Go 25 year old Sam! Size 14 then, same now.

4. I was out on the water pretty regularly on boats of various shapes and sizes and configurations due to Jeff working for Sailboat Sales in Chicago. I went lots of years in the middle without sailing and now with Snipe racing at Guelph Lake and sailing Tin Lizzie, it’s back in my life again. A special surprise finding this on a day I’m busy flaking sails once again.

Dear 25 year old me: You will eventually ride a century. At 55 you’re still singing the “fat can be fit” song. And your views about aging will change.

River City. One of the places I lived in Chicago while attending graduate school there 1988-1993.
25 year old me, sailing.
25 year old me waking up on the boat, peeking out of the companionway in the morning.
Continue reading “Meet 25 year old Sam: She got some things right but others very much not when it comes to fitness”
advice · Guest Post · strength training · weight lifting

“Just trying to be helpful?” How to know it’s ok to offer me advice at the gym

If you see me doing something at the gym that I could maybe be doing better, I would like you to hold your tongue unless at least a few of the following criteria are met:

*You know my name. This isn’t the first time we’ve spoken to each other.

*You know my goals. How we lift changes outcomes. Do you know if I’m lifting for absolute strength, power, or hypertrophy (increasing muscle mass)? Do you know if there’s an imbalance I’m working around or trying to bring up?

*Related to the previous bullet point, you should probably know my injury history before offering advice. I have a long one, and it impacts the work I do and the pace I do it in. For example, I have internal scar tissue on my right side after the removal of the middle lobe of my right lung. This impacts my range of motion, how efficiently I use the impacted muscles, and proprioception (how I perceive where my right arm is in space).

*You are genuinely motivated by MY best interests. You aren’t trying to sell me something or some service. You aren’t flirting or finding an excuse to make conversation with me. You aren’t trying to impress me with your thick and rippling . . . knowledge.

*You recognize that there are few absolutes in fitness. If your suggestion is about to include the word NEVER or ALWAYS, I’m not interested. The more we know, the more nuanced our advice necessarily becomes.

*You’ve asked ME for advice in the past. This shows that you recognize that I know some of what I’m doing, and you respect it. I would LOVE to have someone with whom to talk about lifting at the gym; but I don’t want a mentor, I want a collaborator. I want someone who sees when I know something and can honestly evaluate when they have something to share. This kind of co-teaching is built on mutual respect, rather than the paternalistic mindset that assumes one person has all the answers.

*Your routine includes more than the bro standards of bench press, bicep curls and crunches.

*You’re not wearing ‘80’s short shorts and a headband non-ironically. Ok, I know this one is petty, but I’m kinda serious.

I am, admittedly, a bit of a nerd when it comes to weightlifting and personal health. I’m a biologist by education and a science and health teacher by profession. I like doing research; I’m not intimidated by primary sources and big words. Most of all, I enjoy reading and exploring these topics. I spend hours a week reading and researching programming, musculoskeletal anatomy, and optimizing nutrition for one’s goals.

This does not make me equivalent to a personal trainer or a physical therapist, and I readily acknowledge that I don’t have those skills. It does make me very good at identifying bullshit, and over the years I’ve honed my ability for identifying which sources to trust on these topics. So the lifts I do, the frequency and volume, are based on professional programs, adapted to my individual needs. And that adaptation is educated by professionals, too, honed by literal years of physical therapy, learning what my unique body needs to be successful in this hobby that I pursue with seriousness.

I welcome conversation and camaraderie, built on mutual respect for each other’s unique goals and experiences. But if you can’t see yourself in at least a few of the criteria above, please keep your thoughts and “advice” to yourself. It isn’t helpful, and it isn’t welcome.

Are you open to advice in your athletic pursuits? What are your rules and requirements in order to be receptive?

Image description: A rack of dumbbells in the near view. Further away a white woman in black clothes using some of the dumbbells. Photo from Unsplash.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

accessibility · advice · cycling

The rules of cycling rewritten

I’ve written before about cycling’s rules. See here and here.

The rules have been rewritten for young cyclists. See here.

And then there’s Phil Gaimon’s New Rules of Cycling. Enjoy!

We wave at one another. This includes e-bikes, kids on fixies, homeless people, even triathletes.

You want to race? Go to a bike race.

Suffering is a choice.

Don’t litter.

The new rules….