covid19 · fitness · yoga

What to do when your hot yoga studio proudly breaks the law?

Last week Sam tagged me on something I wish I didn’t have to know because it was so incredibly disappointing. It’s a site called Ontariobad.ca and it’s a place where businesses who intend not to follow the province’s COVID restrictions proudly announce their intention under the misguided banner “Businesses against Discrimination.”

I call the banner misguided because discrimination goes against someone’s human rights, and requiring proof of vaccination does not. This is an important point because who could not be on the side of “businesses against discrimination”? But if they are confused about what constitutes “discrimination,” well that’s a whole separate issue.

Because so many people who I like and thought were smart and reasonable have turned out during the pandemic to have views that have shocked me, I have tried to see “the other side.” But Zoe Whittal’s tweet really resonates:

Image description: photo of a tweet from Zoe Whittal that says: “I looked at the list of businesses refusing to check vaccine status and it confirms my belief about who is responsible for the pandemic dragging on & how do I put it – Mass death? White people who support ‘wellness’ themed clinics, cafes, restaurants, RMTs, gyms, etc.”

So back to my yoga studio. I missed hot yoga terribly during the various lockdowns and restrictions. Before the pandemic I had spent $1000 on a one-year unlimited pass that I didn’t get to use because of lockdowns. Not wanting to leave the studio with a financial hit when I had the privilege of continuing to work and be paid, I didn’t ask for a suspension or any sort of compensation. The year came and went. The pass expired.

I was ready to go back to the studio in late-August after an 18-month absence. I bought a ten-class pass to start, not sure how it would feel. After ten classes I felt ready to commit to a monthly membership (instead of shelling out all at once for another annual pass) that had an initial contractual commitment for four months.

Not quite a month into my commitment, government regulations to quell the spread of the delta variant kicked in, requiring fitness facilities and various other businesses to ask for proof of vaccination. My studio refused. And advertised their refusal on the OntarioBAD website.

Zoe Wittal’s tweet resonates because let’s remember what we are trying to prevent here: not just death from COVID (which seems not to be motivation enough for some) but the collapse of the health care system. Alberta is on the brink of that right now, where ICUs are dominated by unvaccinated COVID patients. COVID doesn’t eliminate other emergencies. So if you need an ICU bed for another reason, you may be out of luck. You may be sent to another province (if they can accommodate). You may die or worsen before you can receive adequate care.

When people frame this as an issue of freedom, choice, and discrimination, they are ignoring the provision in the first clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms where it says that the rights and freedoms are guaranteed “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” Have the people who make the freedom and discrimination argument ever looked at the Charter? That “reasonable limits” part is key. That’s why we can have laws that limit people’s exposure to second-hand smoke. That’s why we can have speed limits. That’s why we can limit people’s freedom to do other things that harm others, like murder, assault, and stealing. These things don’t infringe on our rights because they are reasonable limits that can be demonstrably justified.

And such is the case with COVID restrictions that are “demonstrably justified” by the current science. Is it perfect? No. Does it change? Yes. But is it more or less on track and getting better all the time? Yes.

Remember at the beginning of the pandemic when they said wearing a mask was doing your part to protect others? Vaccines are similar (and when we see who is filling the ICUs right now we can see it also protects the vaccinated). So when a yoga studio, which purports to care about health and “wellness” flouts the legal provisions which are in place, based on the current science, to limit outbreaks that could result in death and the collapse of the health care system, they are terribly misguided. They are putting their clientele at risk. And they are not doing their part as citizens.

My studio took this position without any communication whatsoever with its members. They simply stayed silent, offering no statement about how they would handle the proof of vaccination legislation one way or the other. I learned of their stance when someone outside of the community sent me a link to OntarioBAD. This too does a huge disservice to the members, not allowing them to make an informed decision about supporting a business that will now attract unvaccinated people who have fewer places they may frequent at present. This in turn increases risk of exposure to the highly contagious Delta variant.

My studio agreed to release me from my contract. I was very sad to have to go because I have been part of the community for over a decade. I don’t wish them ill and I acknowledge that this is not an easy time for fitness outlets. Many have closed their doors permanently. The studio has managed to keep its doors open under difficult circumstances. And that made many people grateful, including me. But at a certain point in these challenging times we need to stand on principle and science or lose integrity.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to go back or if they would have me back.

But my answer to the question “what do you do if your yoga studio breaks the COVID laws with righteous ignorance?” is: Cancel your membership.

What would you do?

covid19 · fun · play · soccer · team sports

In Praise of Scrimmage (Guest Post)

By Elan Paulson

Have you played scrimmage, shinny, or pick up? Until this past summer, I had not (as for many years I lacked a team sport to play, as I guest blog about elsewhere). Friends, let me tell you that I think scrimmage is AWESOME. I didn’t realize how awesome until after the end of our short “season” these past few months.

If you already know scrimmage or pick up is awesome, this post will not be news to you. But still, read on to re-affirm what you and I now know together.

No Refs = Self-Regulation

In regular team games, a referee is there to make calls so no one else has to. But when you are self-reffing, everyone has to monitor their own potentially illegal moves. Obviously, this leads to more individual accountability during gameplay, but it got players talking to each other about the calls. One time I saw players stop to discuss what might have been a hand ball, and compare what they knew about the rules about hand balls, but then play happily resumed.

In reffed games you always want rulings in your team’s favour, but without refs everyone seems to take more responsibility to play fairly, and the talking creates both game understanding and player camaraderie.

Slower Pacing = Safer Play

When you’re in a traditional team game, everyone wants to hurry up and score. But in scrimmage everyone takes their time, sets up, passes more. One striker with a killer goal shot deliberately eased up when she came in to shoot (which was fortunate for me when I was in goal). The result of slower play seemed to be that everyone got more chances to touch the ball, yet folks didn’t get tired out.

Also, no injuries. In the half dozen games I played in, I think I was the only one to get a minor injury—because I overextend myself. Once I took cues from others about pacing, I eased up and could play the whole game without getting myself hurt.

Friends on Both Sides = No Losers

In regular games, things are pretty fixed: everyone on your team has their positions, sub rotations are often pre-set, and the point is to win the game. In scrimmage, there is much more fluidity and choice. People felt free to take a water break whenever they needed, even if their team was short-handed for a minute. Most everyone took turns in goal, unless someone was nursing an injury and wanted to play there longer. I spent a little time as a forward, where I learned that “give and go” passing is not a skill that is totally beyond me. I even scored a goal! 🙂

When friends are on both sides, the stakes were lower. Goals were scored (or not), efforts were congratulated—but no one kept score. Maybe there were no winners each week, but no one walked off the pitch on the losing side either.

Is Scrimmage for Everyone? 

As someone trained to look at stuff through the lens of feminist theory, I see many overlaps between the values for which many feminists strive and the kind of play that scrimmage affords. Why aren’t we playing more scrimmage? If feminism is for everyone, and certain aspects of scrimmage reflect the values of some feminisms, then is scrimmage for everyone too?

Three reasons why not all of us are playing more scrimmage:

  • Logistically, scrimmage only works up to a certain numbers limit, and someone has to volunteer to take the added responsibility to be a convenor. (One of our wonderful friends put the extra work in to make ours happen.)
  • Usually the fields, courts, and ices are perhaps usually spoken for by organized sports associations, so it’s only in these strange pandemic times that these spaces may be more available than usual.
  • There are probably plenty of skilled and competitive types for which scrimmage/pick up is not speedy or challenging enough. Some people thrive most when there is structure and competition.

So, maybe scrimmage isn’t for everyone all the time. But for me, as a late-to-the-sport rec soccer player, the less structure the better. Whether you get to play for fun each week with a long-time bestie or a sister, or make some new friends (as I have), scrimmage is WHERE IT’S AT.

Are you in praise scrimmage too? Why or why not?

covid19 · kids and exercise · swimming

Starting them young, the pandemic swimming edition

One of the things I was most excited about when tiny human was born was eventually introducing him to water by means of baby swimming. What I had in mind was more or less what the cutie in this video is doing: splish splash!

Video of a baby splashing around in the water.

But alas, tiny human is a pandemic baby. For the longest time, pools were closed altogether, and even now many places that usually offer baby swimming courses still don’t. The few that do are ludicrously oversubscribed (or offer their classes during working hours, which – baby activities during working hours in general – pisses me off no end and is a topic for a separate rant). So, no baby swimming for us. Out of all the baby-related things the pandemic has deprived us of, this is the one that makes me really sad.

I’m still determined for this baby to be an aquatic baby. I watch the websites offering baby swimming courses like a hawk to see if they’re coming back on. We’ve taken Mini to the pool a few times (loved it until he got cold) and he tested the sea while on holiday (he was sceptical but loved messing around with his uncle and aunt in the water). We have a paddling pool on the terrace we were hoping to get a lot of use out of, but our summer has been horrible and it’s been too cold most of the time. So we still mostly splash around in the bath, which is… not quite the same.

Overall, introducing baby to water isn’t going as swimmingly (see what I did there?) as I’d hoped. Still, I’m not too worried yet, he’s tiny and will hopefully have plenty of opportunity to get wet. I do worry about older kids who haven’t been able to learn swimming or continue. From what I can tell with my lifesaving club, which cautiously started practice again in early summer, many of them aren’t coming back after such a long break. My colleague’s daughter, who used to swim regularly, became a body-conscious teenager during Covid and refuses to go back to the pool. My heart breaks for her. And all that’s without even thinking what it will mean for drowning incident numbers if several cohorts worth of kids aren’t learning to swim (properly).

I don’t quite know where this post is going, just that I’m sad for all the kids who don’t have the chance to enjoy the pleasure of getting in the water now. Ugh 😦

covid19 · cycling · fitness

Finally Getting Out and About on My Bike

May be an image of 3 people, including Samantha Brennan, bicycle and outdoors
Sunday on bikes

Last May, in the early days of the pandemic, I wasn’t riding outside much at all. Hospitals were at max capacity and I really didn’t want to be part of the burden. Riding seemed risky and since I had a safe option, riding the trainer at home on Zwift, I took it.

This May, a year later, we’re starting to ease restrictions here in Ontario and I’m finally getting out and about on my bike. Mostly though I’m not riding my road bike. Mostly I’m riding my jack-of-all-trades bike, my bike that I’d choose if I could only have one bike. We’re riding on trails for fun and I’m running errands with it too.

Friday was Bike to Work Day and since I’m working from home still, there was no actual riding to work. Instead I took the afternoon and ran work-related errands by bike. I stopped by campus for a photo op with the Gryphon!

Sunday, see photos above, we biked out to Guelph Lake on the gorgeous multi-use pathway in Guelph that runs alongside the river.

Photo
Bike to Work Day, hello Gryphon!

June is Bike Month and I’m hoping to get out lots more.

Home

It’s also the month of our bike packing trip and the Tour de Guelph. So I am sure that we will.

We’ll take our bikes to Prince Edward County later in June and ride a bunch more there too.

It feels great to be outside again!

Where are you riding in June?

covid19 · fitness · Guest Post · swimming

Part 2: Covid-19 and the Tyranny of the Pool (Guest Post)

Second excerpt from my forthcoming book Growing Old, Going Cold: The Psychrolute Chronicles, about my Life as an (aging) cold-water swimmer by Kathleen McDonnell

I remember standing in line with my fifth-grade classmates as we waited to get our polio shots. I knew that throughout history there had been terrible epidemics, like the Black Death, where people dropped dead in the streets (which was actually more the case with cholera than the Plague). Like most people who grew up in the twentieth century, that was pretty much the extent of my acquaintance with serious contagious disease. 

So when the Covid-19 pandemic and the worldwide lockdown hit in early 2020, I wasn’t terribly phased by it, at least on a personal level. Shelter-in-place? No problem. My spouse and I already worked from home. In fact, a lot of the writing of this book was done during that time. Social distancing? No problem there, either. On this part of Toronto Island the houses are close together – sometimes a bit too close together –so we don’t feel isolated. Like everyone else, we stayed separate from our daughters and grandchild, but FaceTime and outdoors visits made up for that. Get outside once a day for exercise? Let’s see, I live in a village on the edge of a nature park, on an Island surrounded by water. I venture outside, walk for less than five minutes and I’m in the water. Even in the time of Covid Isolation, there couldn’t be a better situation for a swimmer. As time went on, though, I realized just how extraordinary my situation was, how truly fortunate I was. 

I began to see posts by fellow open-water swimmers going through withdrawal, lamenting that they couldn’t get to the water since parks and beaches everywhere were closed. It was just the time of the season when cold-water swim groups were gearing up, and now they were blocked. In the UK the guidelines were rigidly enforced in some areas, with patrolling bobbies chasing people out of the water. One determined outdoor swimmer stopped because she couldn’t stand the stares, the sense that onlookers were thinking, “Why should you get to swim, when I can’t?” A couple of months into the pandemic, swim memoirist Bonnie Tsui published an article in the New York Times entitled  “What I Miss Most Is Swimming” “There’s a poignancy to being a swimmer now,” she writes, “in that we’re not able to do it just when we need it most.”

I was always disdainful of those single-lane lap pools, and the so-called “Endless pool,” a jet resistance you swim against, basically going nowhere – endlessly! But with the shutdown of conventional pools, swimmers were buying them or, more commonly, wishing they could afford to. Meanwhile, the open-water community in the UK refused to take the situation lying down. I saw a flurry of posts on online sites about blow-up backyard pools. Yes, folks who proudly describe themselves as “wild swimmers” were ordering blue plastic inflatable pools on Amazon, setting them up in their backyards, tethering themselves to a stationery object and proceeding to swim in place. Swimmers who hate chlorinated pools were dumping chorine into their backyard pools so they wouldn’t become germ infested. They patted themselves on the back for making do with cheery British pluck. And as pitiful as it all looked to me, I could totally understand. It’s an addiction, this need to be in water. I even felt a bit guilty. They had these postage-stamp-size pools, and I had a Great Lake.

After the full-on lockdown began to ease up in early summer, outdoor pools in Toronto began to re-open, but with restrictions. The city imposed strict limits on the number of people in the pool at any one time, and each swimmer’s time was limited to 45 minutes. Between shifts the pools were cleared and surfaces sterilized. People found they had to wait in line, sometimes for hours, and often didn’t even manage to get into the water. Lanes had to be booked ahead of time. Lockers were off-limits. Time in the change rooms was minimized: Swimmers were encouraged to wear their suits to the pool and home again. Once they managed to get into the facility, some users even found themselves singing the praises of the restrictions. “Forty people is nothing. You feel like you have the place to yourself. Maintaining distance is a breeze.” Ian Brown wrote in the Globe and Mail. Still, in the middle of a summer heat wave, Toronto pools were operating at a quarter of their capacity, in a city that sits beside an enormous freshwater lake.

Now, I don’t believe that the big concrete-and-chlorine tubs are going to disappear, nor do I think they should. But I look forward to a day when they’re no longer the default option for getting into the water. Covid-19 has changed the swimming universe. As I write this, indoor pools in Toronto are once again declared off-limits. And the various Open-Water and Wild Swimming sites I follow on Facebook show a huge jump in interest.

I found evidence of this in my own back yard. A neighbor of mine who is a dedicated pool swimmer told me the lake was too cold for her, even in the summer. But the lockdown forced her hand, and this past summer she broke down and bought a neoprene top. Off Ward’s Island Beach, there’s a line of buoys to keep the boats out of the swimming area.  We reckoned they were a little over 50 meters apart. From then on, most days I’d see her doing her daily 1500 meters between the buoys. (Okay, so it is possible to swim lengths in a lake.)

The Wild Swimming trend may have begun as a necessary adjustment to pandemic conditions, but it’s taking hold worldwide, as more and more swimmers go for regular dips in open-air pools, lakes and rivers. At one point, demand in the UK was so high that the Outdoor Swimming Society was forced to take down its map of wild swimming spots, in an attempt to prevent overcrowding. Even colder weather, more challenging water temperatures and the discomfort of wriggling into dry clothing in public is failing to deter many of the converts. The National Open Water Coaching Association (Nowca), which operates bookings for 30 open-water venues in England and Scotland, said the number of swimmers in October was up fourfold or 323% year on year, after a 60% rise in swimmers over the summer. The surge in outdoor swimming has been a boon for watersports suppliers. Sales of swimsuits are down because of the closure of indoor pools, but cold-water swimming gear – wetsuits, dry robes, neoprene swimcaps – is flying off the shelves.

Covid-19 has introduced countless water-lovers to the joys of open water, and a lot of them will never go back. As one convert wrote on an Open-Water Swimming site: “Ya gotta love not having to book lanes at the pool.”

Kathleen McDonnell

Kathleen McDonnell is the author of nine books and more than a dozen plays, which have had award-winning productions in Canada and the United States. She’s also been a journalist and CBC radio commentator, and does a fair bit of teaching and public speaking. As befits a passionate swimmer, McDonnell lives on an island; Toronto Island, a unique, vibrant, mostly car-free community a ten-minute ferry ride from downtown Toronto where she and her life partner raised their two daughters. Check out her website: http://www.kathleenmcdonnell.com/.

covid19 · fitness · Guest Post · swimming

Part 1: Covid-19 and the Tyranny of the Pool (Guest post)

by Kathleen McDonnell

An excerpt from my forthcoming book Growing Old, Going Cold: The Psychrolute Chronicles, about my Life as an (aging) cold-water swimmer.

It’s not that I have anything against pools. I’ve swum in plenty of them. They’ll do in a pinch. For competitive swimmers they make perfect sense – separated lanes, straight lines on the bottom, water sanitized to kill bacteria and other undesirable critters – everything is controlled, predictable. And there’s the rub. That’s precisely what those of us who prefer to swim in open, natural, “wild” water are trying to get away from. But in the modern world, pools have become the default option, and the pool mentality intrudes where it doesn’t belong.

Some years back I found myself back in Chicago in the height of summer. It had been a long time since I’d been in my hometown during swimming season, and I was excited at the chance to immerse myself in the waters of Lake Michigan once again. This would be a pilgrimage to Touhy Beach, the very source of my swimming passion. The day was calm, the water warm, and I headed in, anticipating a nice long swim. A Big Swim: A round-trip to a beach a half-mile to the south.

There was a lifeguard in a rowboat a little ways out from shore. I nodded to him as I passed the boat, on my way into the deeper water where I could commence my big swim. I dove in and my stroke quickly settled into a nice, steady rhythm. Until I got near the first of the short wooden piers and saw the lifeguard boat in front of me, blocking my progress. I tried to swim around the boat, but he rowed in front of me again. I stopped swimming and faced him, standing in water that was no more than shoulder-deep.

    “Something wrong?”

    “You’re not allowed to swim lengths here, Ma’am.”

    “Lengths? What do you mean, lengths?”

    He just shook his head at my question.

    “Sorry, Ma’am. Swimming lengths isn’t allowed here.”

    “You mean, I can’t keep swimming in this direction?”

    “That’s right, Ma’am. You have to stay in this area.”

    “Why? It’s not very deep here. I’m a good swimmer.

    “We have to keep an eye on everyone in the water, Ma’am. You’re not allowed to swim lengths here.”

    Again with the lengths! Not only was I not permitted beyond the pier, it appeared I was only allowed to bob up and down in this narrowly-defined area. I’ve been “ma’amed” before by lifeguards at my home beach in Toronto and I usually try to keep my cool. But it was all I could do to keep from yelling at him. “This isn’t a pool, it’s a lake – a BIG lake and I’m going to swim in it!”

    Was I asking for trouble? Would he call the other lifeguards to pull me out of the water? I acquiesced and swam a few strokes back the way I’d come, then swam a few strokes the opposite way, curious to see if this short back-and-forth distance fit his definition of “lengths.” Of course, to show me who was boss, he inched the boat as close as he could without the oar hitting me. We went on like this for several minutes, a few strokes, going a bit farther each time, then turning back the other way, the lifeguard maneuvering the boat so that it was never more than 2 or 3 feet away from me.

    Finally I’d had enough. I’d come to the motherlode, the original source of my Great Lakes swimming passion, and all I’d managed to do was get a bit wet. And be treated to a demonstration of how the act of swimming had become distorted, synonomous with “lengths” of a chlorine-filled concrete hole-in-the-ground. It’s yet another way humans turn away from the natural world, and foolishly insist that the experience of being in water can be replaced or – worse – improved upon. 

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when swimming in natural bodies of water was considered completely normal.

Moats, Swimming Holes and Pools

You might think pools are a modern invention, but in fact they go back several millennia. As far as historians know, the Great Bath at the site of Mohenjo-Daro in modern-day Pakistan was the first human-created pool, dug during the 3rd millennium BC. This brick-lined pool was about 39 by 23 feet and was likely used for religious ceremonies. The structure is still there, and has been designated a South Asian World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Both ancient Greece and Rome had extensive public baths that were central to community life as meeting places for socializing and relaxing. Later the Romans built artificial pools in gymnasiums that were used for nautical and military exercises. Roman emperors also had their own private pools in which fish were also kept, hence one of the Latin words for a pool was piscina.

These early pools were used as healing baths for various conditions, rather than for swimming, which took place in natural bodies of water. The Romans built baths in other parts of the empire too, including the one that gave its name to the city of Bath, England circa 70 AD. The original Roman Bath was a renowned healing spa and swimming locale until well into the twentieth century, when a deadly pathogen was discovered in the water. The historic structure is now for tourist viewing only, replaced for swimming with more modern facilities. It’s one example of what Roger Deakin discovered on his epic swim across Britain, lamenting the abandonment and decay of many traditional bathing sites. Deakin’s book Waterlog traces the history of swimming in Britain and its evolution from natural swimming holes to contained, human-made structures. Deakin started his journey from a spring-fed moat on his own property in Suffolk. Typically he would swim from place to place, then walk back to retrieve his clothes and gear at the starting point, basically the opposite of doing “lengths” (So there, Touhy lifeguard!) 

The early twentieth century cemented the transition to enclosed swimming structures, and dozens of open-air lidos were built across Britain. For the most part these lidos are much bigger than modern pools, like the massive art deco Jubilee Lido in Cornwall, and they typically designated separate areas or times for men and women to swim. Mixed bathing only became common from the mid-twentieth century. By tradition, many lidos were kept open right through the winter, and were situated by the seaside to capture seawater in the enclosure. There’s an example of this practice in my hometown of Toronto.  Built in 1922, the Sunnyside Bathing Pavillion is almost twice the length of Olympic size pool and has room for 2,000 bathers. Now known as the Gus Ryder Pool, this concrete behemoth filled with several tons of chlorinated water sits right next to a Lake Ontario beach – an almost perverse turning away from its own environment. As Roger Deakin said of pools, they are “simulations of nature with the one essential ingredient – wildness – carefully filtered out.” 

With the worldwide growth in pools’ popularity came the need for better sanitation measures. Originally they employed archaic filtration systems that required the filters, and the water itself, to be changed frequently. By the time of the polio scare in the late 1930s and 1940s, a panic arose over the public’s fears that children could be exposed to the poliovirus in community swimming pools. In 1946, however, a study showed that chlorine was one of the few known chemicals that could kill the polio virus. As the problem of polio transmission receded, swimming pools regained popularity as a fun and exciting summer venue for families. Moreover, chlorine, as a polio disinfectant, became the near-universal method of pool sanitation, and by the early sixties, strict regulations on chlorine in pools were in place. And it will only get stricter with the rise of a new virus.

Hello, Covid-19!

Kathleen McDonnell is the author of nine books and more than a dozen plays, which have had award-winning productions in Canada and the United States. She’s also been a journalist and CBC radio commentator, and does a fair bit of teaching and public speaking. As befits a passionate swimmer, McDonnell lives on an island; Toronto Island, a unique, vibrant, mostly car-free community a ten-minute ferry ride from downtown Toronto where she and her life partner raised their two daughters. Check out her website: http://www.kathleenmcdonnell.com/

Keep an eye out for Part Two, on May 7th, here at Fit is a Feminist Issue.

covid19 · diets · eating · fitness

Has Pandemic Weight Gain Helped You Notice Your Own Fat-Phobia?

Feature photo credit: GR Stocks via Unsplash

CW:  Talk of weight gain, negative body image, and the potential for intentional weight loss

I’ve put on some additional body fat this year.  I’m not totally ok with it.  I mean, I’m OK in the sense that my world isn’t coming to an end, but I was more comfortable in my body when it was smaller.  And the habits I had that kept me at that smaller size were absolutely healthy, sustainable habits for me.  Until they weren’t for a while.

I’m going to say some things that I know aren’t in alignment with everyone in this community, starting with the fact that I’m ok if you have decided you’re more comfortable in a smaller body. I don’t think that feeling is always problematic.  However, I do think we need to examine the reasons why we are more comfortable and make sure we’re being honest about what we have control over and that our reasons for wanting to be smaller that are based upon our own values, not someone else’s.  

After all, what if you do some soul-searching and realize you have a belief that being a bigger size makes you less successful?  What if you feel less attractive or less worthy in a bigger body? Most likely, these are not beliefs that stem from your own values but rather a reflection of internalized fat-phobia.  So, when you notice this bias, approach it with curiosity, and then decide how you want to live your life and what kind of world you want to live in.  If it’s important to you to address this internalized fat-phobia, then there are things you can do to counteract it.  One of them isn’t being mean to yourself for realizing you have work to do.  I think unlearning fat-phobia and misogyny are lifelong processes, just as unlearning and dismantling our complicity with White supremacy will require a lifetime of attention and learning.  I’m ok with that.  These are complicated challenges, and we are co-creating new societies and cultures.  That work will take time, and it is appropriate that it does.

So, I’m not gonna get down on you, or myself, for noticing some shame about the changes in our bodies.  I’m also not going to say that the only solution is learning to accept our bodies larger.  We can choose that solution.  It’s on the table to do absolutely nothing to intentionally change size and to instead focus on feelings.  In fact, if you or I decide we aren’t ok with this larger size, we will still need to deal with these feelings in order to find a healthy, balanced approach to changing things.  The lifestyle and habit changes that come from a place of shame or self-judgement are not going to be changes anyone would want to sustain.  Who wants to live in perpetual self-punishment?

Doing the work of learning to accept ourselves without judgement, even when we’re currently uncomfortable in our bodies, will likely take some time and reeducation.  We must notice our feelings.  Question the beliefs that they stem from.  Learn to reframe our thoughts.  It will take time and patience for this process.

I am bigger that I was a year ago and for a long time, it was really uncomfortable for me–physically and psychologically uncomfortable. I found myself feeling like I’d failed, like I was less valid. 

However, I’ve been working on building up my healthy habits again and finding new mindsets that help me see the work I’m doing, not just a measurement against some false finish line. One of the biggest lies of diet culture is that the only changes that matter are big changes and the only changes in our bodies that matter are dramatic transformations. I’ve been working on noticing my internalized fat-phobia–how often I’m so much harder on myself than I would be to anyone else, expecting myself to make big, dramatic changes, and I’m working on counteracting this narrative in my head. As a result, I’m feeling pretty good right now.  I’m a tetch smaller than I was a few months ago, but that doesn’t compare to how it feels to being able to move again without pain in my joints.  It doesn’t compare to how it feels to be eating in ways that gives me more consistent energy–not bouncing between loaded down and overfed, and hungry and undernourished.  I’ve made this progress because I’ve given myself credit for the work along the way, even when it seemed small or “insignificant.”

For me, this work is about how I feel in my body every day and having the freedom to pursue the life that I want to live in this world. Feeling good IN my body is helping me feel better ABOUT my body.  It’s helping me counteract my internalized fat-phobia, showing me the strengths of my body rather than focusing on perceived weaknesses.

It’s ok to notice that you’ve internalized fat-phobia.  In fact, the only way we can address it is by acknowledging it.  Shaming yourself, or someone else, for participating in the dominant culture isn’t going to lead to lasting, healthy solutions.  Do the work to learn to accept yourself, your body, and your thinking as you are right now, as a work in progress, and then find solutions that work for you from that place of love.  

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found questioning her beliefs, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

beach body · covid19 · fitness · swimming

Making Beach Plans

I love zeppelinmoon artwork. You can buy it on etsy here, https://www.etsy.com/market/zeppelinmoon . I think after the sexy beach manatee the sloths are my favourites.

While current pandemic measures here in Ontario discourage travel, even between health units, I’m hoping that by summer we can at least go to the beach. Right now we’re in the “Can I still leave my house?” stage of things. Here’s the answer: “Yes. The province says residents can still leave their homes if travelling for an essential purpose, like buying groceries, picking up a prescription from a pharmacy or exercise.” That order is scheduled to end on May 20.

I know some people are dreaming big dreams and planning far away trips and travel and if that makes you feel good, go for it. For me, after so many cancelled plans I want to dream small and have those dreams come true. I’m thinking canoe trips, weekends at the farm, dinghy racing, bike packing, boat weekends, and days at the beach. Stories like these ones have me following links and imagining swimming and also sitting in the sand with a book under a sun umbrella: Ontario’s Unbelievable Crystal-Clear Beach Oasis Is Like A Trip To The Bahamas and 14 Hidden Ontario Beaches You Never Knew Existed.

I don’t know about you but right now a day at the beach sounds glorious, like a really big deal.

If you’re like me, still living under serious pandemic restrictions, and peeking out the other side, what kinds of plans are you making? Big travel? No travel? Swimming? Biking?

covid19 · fitness

Physical activity and COVID risk: it’s complicated

This week, a new study came out, saying that people who were consistently inactive were more at risk for severe COVID effects– hospitalization, intensive care, and death– than people who were more physically active.

As usual, news sources here and here were anxious to promote what they saw as the take-home message: that if we want to avoid hospitalization and death from COVID, we all need to be consistently physically active (150+ minutes/week of moderate-to-vigorous activity).

Also as usual, I read through the study itself in detail, and found a lot of complications in the data and the analysis, which suggest a different take-home message (which I’ll get to shortly).

First though, the researchers and media coverage conveyed one message with one voice, loud and clear: physical activity is a strong modifiable risk factor for severe COVID.

Modifiable? What do they mean? They mean that our levels (and intensities) of physical activity are under our control– we have the option to increase or decrease the amount of time we spend on physical activity, as well as to change how vigorously active we are.

That’s clearly not true. And it’s not true on several fronts.

First of all, the researchers cite data that, on average, Americans have at least 4–6 hours a day of leisure time, which they tend to use on electronic media. That is, we’re sitting and playing with our phones or watching Netflix. The implicit conclusion is that we should instead be lacing up our sneakers and heading out the door instead.

But that’s just not the reality for most people. We know– from studies, from news, from talking with friends and neighbors, and from looking at our own lives– that the idea of work/life balance is a thing of the past. People are working longer hours and for lower wages and fewer or no benefits in the US and elsewhere. There may or may not be 4–6 hours a day in which people aren’t doing their jobs and aren’t sleeping (which is also rampantly in short supply for most). But there are the matters of childcare, eldercare, cooking, shopping for food and necessities, cleaning, paying bills, etc. You all know this.

So, in this sense, it’s not clear to me that people have at their disposal rafts of time for physical activity. And it’s certainly not uniformly distributed throughout the population. For instance, the researchers did NOT use income as a factor in their analysis. If they had, they might have had more interesting and useful results.

Second, let me dip into the data for a moment to show you another problem with this idea that physical activity is an entirely “modifiable behavior”. Take a look below:

Table showing the breakdown of study participants by level of physical activity.

What we see here is about 48K participants in total. Those who have been consistently inactive (0–10 mins/week) are 14% of the group. Those who are consistently active (150+ mins/week) are 6% of the group. The rest (80%) report 11–149 mins/week of activity.

The researchers are saying that, seeing that only 6% of the participants report meeting the national physical activity guidelines, that everyone else who isn’t meeting those guidelines must be failing to do so because of factors under their control.

That makes no sense to me– that they or anyone would draw that conclusion. We know that changing health behaviors around eating and activity is hard. We also know that many of these targeted health promotion campaigns tend to have pretty dismal long-term success rates. Why?

Because there are lots of structural features of our lives that make regular physical activity very difficult: time, access to safe spaces, nutrition, sleep, income, family and other obligations, physical and mental health conditions, ability/disability, you name it.

So, is physical activity a modifiable health behavior? Yes, sort of. But it’s much more complicated than the researchers are saying. Their recommendation:

We recommend that public health authorities inform all populations that short of vaccination and following public health safety guidelines such as social distancing and mask use, engaging in regular PA may be the single most important action individuals can take to prevent severe COVID-19 and its complications, including death.

My take on this: you can save your breath. We already know that physical activity is important. We’re not uninformed; we’re simply overburdened. It’s not your fault, researchers, but please stop saying in your conclusions that the public needs to be better informed. The public needs to be better served by government, health care, and places of work. Those are what I would call modifiable factors for quality of life.

covid19 · cycling

Sam is riding the waves, on her bike, outside

In the first wave of the pandemic I didn’t ride outside much at all. Last May I wrote Why Sam is still riding inside even though the sun is shining and Riding safely in pandemic times. I didn’t want to risk injury through a bike crash and to require medical care by doing something that’s not necessary. I know that’s extreme but I felt I needed to stick very close to home and ride in a very reasonable way.

This year we’re in the third wave, which is worse than the first and second here in Ontario, and there’s a stay at home order and I’m happy to be riding outside (in Guelph, close to home.)

We’re planning a bike packing trip for June once the stay at home order has ended and getting out for rides in the countryside around Guelph. Want the details? Feel free to follow me on Strava.

This weekend we loaded one of the 50 km routes used by the Tour de Guelph and set out on a sunny Saturday afternoon. When you added on getting to campus, where the ride begins, going for coffee after, and a brief detour where Sarah thought the Garmin directions were wrong but they weren’t, we ended up clocking about 60 km. It was fun and relaxing and I started wondering what felt so different than last summer.

First, I think we have a better sense of what the risks are. I’m riding with one other person with whom I live. Nothing dangerous there. I’m not racing or riding particularly aggressively. And I’m staying away from roads with lots of traffic. We’re choosing routes carefully.

Second, I feel more prepared. I bring a mask. I have people at home who can pick us up if we have a mechanical difficulty. Hi, Miles! It’s year two of the pandemic and I feel more certain about what I’m doing.

Third, I’m partially vaccinated. One shot of AstraZeneca a week ago. My mother is also partially vaccinated–Pfizer at one of the provincial clinics, this one run by the University of Guelph. Sarah is Schrodinger vaccinated. Maybe or maybe not but she will be by the end of the clinical trial she’s taking part in. On the one hand I feel like that shouldn’t be changing my behavior, and it’s not really, but I do feel less anxious. Jeff the boat dweller also got vaccinated this weekend, before taking off on his big boating adventures, the 2021 edition.

Fourth, it’s another summer and I feel like the beginning of the end of the pandemic is in sight. Yes things are very bad right now in Ontario but words like these give me hope: “Countries that have combined a stay at home order with mass vaccinations have wiped out their third wave.” See Third State of Emergency. I’m hoping for a better summer than last, certainly a better fall 2021 than 2020, and a winter that sees us mostly out of the pandemic woods.