body image · eating · femalestrength · fitness · food · sports nutrition

Dare *Not* To Compare

(CW: some mention of food regimens, food shame.)

Paul the trainer and I were gabbing in his kitchen post-workout, while I packed up my stuff and he warmed up his lunch. I was feeling invigorated by all the lifting, pulling, squatting and pressing and was looking forward to eating all the things at my fave café up the road.

I asked Paul what he was having.

“Chicken and rice; I have it every day!” was the reply.

I wondered aloud if he didn’t get bored of it; not a chance, he said. He told me he grills a batch of chicken each weekend and freezes it; he makes big piles of rice in his steamer and adds some to each chicken portion. Sometime he switches it up with meatballs, but that’s it.

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A pile of white rice with sliced, skinless chicken on a blue plate. Paul didn’t mention any avocado, though.

For me, even the same (delicious and filling) thing each day would quickly get annoying; I suddenly wondered if I was doing it wrong. I asked Paul what else he ate.

He told me: protein shake or similar for breakfast; the lunch above; a small snack in the late afternoon; a small portion of stew in the evening.

My animal brain kicked in – in this case, not the brain that says “eat something now!”, but the brain, well trained by its old handlers, to fear food and loathe oneself for eating it.

God, I thought. I eat way too much!!

“Ha!” I said aloud, joshing to cover the rising panic. “That’s the opposite of me. All I eat is donuts.”

Of course this is not true; I eat many things including donuts – once a week, my ritual Saturday breakfast treat. And clearly Paul knew this, because he is a kind and supportive and body-positive trainer.

He said: “Really? No!! I mean, not all the time.”

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Newman from Seinfeld: built for memes. “OH THE HUMANITY!” (NB: humanity needs many and varied foodstuffs to survive, including donuts.)

Let me translate. The above statement, said by Paul in that moment, meant: “No you do not only eat donuts! You enjoy your treats. You eat well and healthily for your body a lot of the time and your strength shows it.”

But in my head, filtered through my trained-animal-food-fearing brain, I heard:

“You indulgent slob!!”

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OH YA BABY! 20 epic, multi-coloured glazed donuts on a wire cooling rack. My amazing local, Donut Monster, is worth the trip to Hamilton if you’re in the Toronto area!

What makes us compare our food and exercise choices to others? The same thing, I wager, that makes us compare every inch of our bodies to others’ bodies so much of the time. It’s a lived experience of being taught to compare, with the ultimate goal of shaming yourself into adhering to the promoted cultural ideal, as closely as possible. (Which of course is impossible. It. Is. Designed. To. Be. Impossible. Read that again, slowly!)

I grew up learning to compare. Maybe you did, too. My mom (bless her) would draw my attention to those around us who looked out-of-order: too big, outfit not age-appropriate, plate too full. She would quietly whisper shaming things; I knew they were directed at herself. But I’d hear them directed at me. I knew what not to do: look/eat/choose like that. I knew to compare and be wise.

Comparison is painful; we are our own worst critics, so we always come up wanting. It is also anti-communal; comparing means drawing hierarchical lines between me and you, rather than seeing what we have in common and celebrating that. Comparison has, thus, a very conservative political tendency: it discourages bonds between citizens, and therefore discourages change, revolution.

Comparison is also often limited in its nuance. It can tell us in broad strokes where the same/other stuff lies, but it usually stops there, shamed or prideful.

If you dig deeper, you tend to get more similarities than differences.

Take my experience with Paul’s lunch as a case point. After I got to my car, I reminded myself that my food, exercise and health choices lead every day to a body I want to be in and a life I want to be living. I took some deep breaths. Then I thought more carefully.

Paul trains several times a week, but he does not have the endurance regimen I do; he’s not racking up the kilometres on the bike that I do. Those kilometres contribute to my much-increased need for calories; those calories are pleasurable and they also help make me strong.

Paul’s wellness goals include maintaining his trim physique; my wellness goals are not as centred on such things anymore. I like wearing my selectively-chosen and carefully-purchased outfits; I’m cautious with my clothes budget and only buy a few items a year. It’s important to me to fit my beloved outfits well. Beyond that, I don’t care about the numbers on the scale. (And, like Cate, if I have to buy a new size next time, that’s fine; if the look is swish I’m in!)

Paul is also a man, slightly younger than me. As a woman approaching peri-menopause, I’m aware that things are changing around my middle in particular, and THAT IS LIFE, PEEPS. If I become a peri-menopausal and then a menopausal and then an older woman who can also climb the stairs up the mountain brow and cycle to Guelph and Milton to visit Sam and Susan and still dead-lift a Great Dane, who cares?

My whole life I’ve feared weight gain. Why? Somebody once told somebody who mattered a great deal to my mom, and she told it to me; all the magazines reminded me every week at the Safeway; and don’t even get me started on the bullies.

Things all these things have in common: FAKE NEWS.

Forget blanket, superficial comparisons. Try not comparing at all. What’s working in your life, your exercise, your food choices? Hooray!! What needs some work? Make a list, then maybe a plan, if you want.

But above all else, remember: the more we compare, the less of a community we are.

Do you tend to compare, positively or negatively? Does it work for you or cause you stress? Let us know!

fitness

Thinking Positively about Winter

Black words on white square against black and white photo of snowy trees, “If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow.”

I don’t know about what is like where you live but here in Southern Ontario there’s snow. I did my first sub-zero day of bike commuting. I was shocked to see that even the midday highs went above zero and the snow wasn’t going away.

It was a quick trip from warm autumn weather with highs in the high teens to full on serious winter. I’m struggling to find the things I need. Where are my winter cycling gloves? Where’s my puffy winter coat? Etc etc.

And lots of my friends are struggling to adjust. “Too soon,” they’re saying.

Canadians struggle with our long winters. People are sharing stories of the children and pets excitement at the first snow but confessing that they view it with dread, a thing to be endured not enjoyed.

I shared this story on the Norwegian secret to enjoying a long winter. Here’s another How people stay happy in this Norwegian town where the sun doesn’t rise. I also shared some of our older posts: Making peace with winter and Riding on the cold and the snow.

I’m looking forward to snow tubing with my kids over the holidays. I’m thinking I might go skating outdoors too. I’m definitely excited about fat biking. On the whole, my “winter dread” meter is running pretty low.

I’ll see you out there playing in the snow! How are you coping? Are you ready for snow and cold?

Snowy trees on Sam’s street
Sam’s house with bonus snow
fitness · health · Weekends with Womack

Language matters: how words in health contexts can hurt

CW: talk of fat-shaming and weight connected to health (for purposes of describing my presentation). The past two weeks have been conference-intensive. I was in Guelph, Ontario a couple of weeks ago, listening to talks about Feminism and food and also hanging out with our blog founders and friends Sam and Tracy. I mini-blogged about some of the talks here.

This past week, I was giving a talk at the American Public Health Association Meetings in Philadelphia. It was about health-concern trolling of fat people in the doctor’s office and other healthcare contexts. Spoiler alert: I’m against it.

What do I mean by health-concern trolling? Think of it as fat-shaming speech justified by health concerns on the part of the speaker. Here are some common examples:

  • I’m just concerned about your health.
  • You’d find that life was a lot easier if you weighed less.
  • (insert any disease or condition here) would be less severe/go away/never have appeared if you lost weight.
  • Before treating (insert any disease or condition here), you need to lose weight.

But of course images speak volumes. You’ve seen it before, but it’s a classic:

Comic of a woman impaled on a stake, and a doctor telling her she’d do better if she lost weight.

Apart from the big problem the woman in the comic has, how does health concern-trolling harm us? I think (as do others working in feminist bioethics– there’s strength in numbers…) that it’s a form of microagression, which wears us down with the repeated message that we don’t matter as patients, as persons who deserve respect and care.

What do I mean by microagression? This: A microaggression is a relatively minor insulting event made disproportionately harmful by taking part in an oppressive pattern of similar insults. The pattern of insults tends to be linked to stable traits such as gender, ethnicity, disability status, or (in this case) weight. Philosopher Regina Rini explained the harms of microaggressions well here:

What makes microaggression distinctively harmful is victims’ awareness that each instance is not an isolated accident. It will happen again and again and again. Further, these minor insults are linked to vast social harms…”

There’s a lot written about microagressions, and I’m just getting started thinking and writing about them. Next year I’m applying for funding to do some focus groups of fatter people to ask about their experiences with health-concern trolling in healthcare contexts. The goal is to find out what they think good health care looks like from their perspective. Stay tuned for more updates on the health concern trolling front.

Readers, what does good health care look like to you? What would you want to change in your encounters with health workers? I’d love to hear from you.

fitness

Own the space

 

By MarthaFitat55

My news feeds the past day or so are filled with stories reporting on Mary Cain’s truthtelling about her experience with Nike. Tagged as an Olympic hopeful, Cain was known as the fastest girl in America, until, as she puts it, she wasn’t.

The pressure to become thinner and thinner led to serious health consequences for Cain, including osteoporosis (she broke five bones) and infertility (she did not have a period for three years).

Sadly, Cain, is no longer the fastest girl in America. Her athletic career may be gone., but more powerfully perhaps, she is reclaiming her space in the world.  And that is no small thing.

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Image shows a running track with several women running. They have strong bodies, and several have visible leg muscles. Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

I often teach and coach individuals and groups on thinking quickly, presenting effectively and getting messages across. A couple of times I have had all-female groups and I give them an exercise. It seems so simple yet it terrifies them the first time they do it. I make them throw their arms in the air and say “my name is (insert name) and I am fabulous!”

But after doing the exercise two to four times, the women are more confident, they feel empowered by owning that space, and they see the benefits of challenging their fears.

As a result of my teaching work, I have made a habit of watching how people speak and deliver day-to-day. Recently I had to attend a meeting which was focused on some pretty high powered issues. The person running the meeting was the woman in charge, although her voice and her body language didn’t send that message — the complete opposite in fact.

Not long after that experience, I had the chance to listen to another individual describe her early forays in civic activism and I was struck by how she owned the space she was in. And revelled in it.

One woman with power and afraid to use it; another who used her power to be effective in her work. It made me think and the following questions came to me: Why do we continue to impose expectations about behaviour that effectively makes women smaller and invisible? Why do we take young women with great promise and force them into something they are not? Why do we diminish their power?

It makes me sad when we see young women’s dreams altered, shrunken, and swept aside. However, I am happy Cain and her athletic colleagues are fighting back. Women are taking back their space, making it their own, and showing others how it’s done. Cain makes no apology for speaking out against Nike, and she should not give the shocking way she was treated.

Back in July 2019, blogging colleague Marjorie Rose wrote a post in which she looked at how weightlifting women are also pressured to be smaller. Marjorie wrote:

It occurs to me that this means we really don’t know how strong women can be. Because as long as women are battling pressures to be less-than at the same time that they are competing, they are hobbling themselves. In order to really test women’s strength, women need to feel equally safe as men pursuing the sport to its limits. And at that time, maybe we can comment on a woman’s body and lifting without it being an issue.

If Mary Cain had felt truly safe and supported in the pursuit of running excellence, where would she be today? We have to stop the pressure to become small and invisible. Stand up and own your space. I know who you are and I see you. You are fabulous.

-MarthaFitat55 writes from St. John’s.

219 in 2019 · fitness

Workout #300 (and 301 through 305.5)

 

Tuesday this week, I had a super long day ahead of me, with really challenging work.  Somehow, I got out of bed and went to a 6 am spinning class.  (Then I might have been really annoying about it on FB).

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I’m not a crack of dawn worker-outer — but something in me just knew that this class was a thing I would need for my day. And my day was hard, but I navigated it with a certain amount of ease.

That spin class was workout #304 for 2019.

Not that long ago, I wrote about hitting my 250th workout for 2019.”  In that post, I reflected on how taking on the “217 in 2017″ challenge nearly three years ago had transformed my relationship with working out — and in fact in some ways, has actually transformed my identity.  I used to be a person who worked out often, but there was a lot of negotiation and whinging about whether I really “felt like it” or not.  More times than I can count, I got as far as putting on running gear but never getting out the door.  (Christine wrote about this kind of exercise procrastination last week.  It’s definitely a thing).

Somewhere in the past two years, I turned into a person who works out every day, pretty much, unless something seriously prevents me.  I’m not sure exactly when or why it happened — in 2017, I had to stretch to hit my 217th workout on Christmas day.  In 2018, I hit 218 by August, and kind of gritted my teeth to reach 300 before the end of the year (302 in total).  This year, I sailed past 300 last weekend, and felt confident about setting a goal of 350 by the end of the year.

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Cate pictured in the middle of a 5km run, on a trail under a painted metal bridge last Saturday, workout #300

A casual observer might think that reaching for 350 workouts this year might be a slightly obsessive manifestation of my weird affinity for counting things.  (For a very non-data-driven person, I take an unseemly satisfaction from hitting cumulative numbers of workouts, steps, kilometres ridden, streaks).  But I had a realization last week that it’s something a lot different than that — working out in some way almost every day this year has had a pretty profound effect on my emotional landscape.

I have been bleating about the relationship between exercise and mental health for years now.  It’s a proven thing, so familiar it’s almost a cliche.  Exercise can prevent or help manage depression, lessen anxiety and stress, and just generally lighten your mood.  I’ve “known” this for decades.  But I’ve never felt it in such a steady, persistent way before.

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My new yoga studio set up for a restorative class. Bliss

A couple of months ago, my business partner commented that I seemed so much more patient these days.  And despite some intense work stress and considerable lashings of perimenopausal PMS and hormonal swings, I’m actually feeling an emotional buffer — dare I say emotional regulation — that I’ve sought most of my life.  Since I was a small child, I’ve had a lot of anxiety and stress. (Picture poor little 7 year old me crying on the couch, clutching my stomach and freaking out my teenage babysitter, because we were about to move.  Then multiply that for countless other experiences throughout my life).  Most of my adult life I’ve had a tendency to impatience and irritability, with a fair bit of volatility at the worst points in my life.  I’ve taken anti-depressants, run marathons, meditated, yoga’ed, and done a ton of “inner work,” as they say.  All of those things have helped steady me — along with the magical seasoning of being past 50 — but I don’t know if I’ve ever felt as in balance as I do right now.  Stressful stuff still happens — and I feel it — but I can hold it at arm’s length, breathe through it, detach from its power — in a way I never have before.

The 305.5 workouts I’ve done so far this year are a melange, ranging from a brisk 4 km walk or hour of restorative yoga to 7 hour bike rides and cross-fit classes.  Turns out, for more emotionally regulated, balanced me, it’s not about intensity of any given episode of exercise, but about a steady stream of them.  I don’t know exactly what brain/metabolic process is being triggered here, but it’s definitely a good thing.

This realization doesn’t mean I’m going to grimly trudge through a prescriptive roster of movement, for my own good. 95% of time, I fully enjoy whatever exercise I’m doing, once I’m doing it.  It’s the starting to exercise part that has always been a source of avoidance and irritation.  Somehow in the past three years, it’s stopped being optional — it’s just is a thing I do. This realization about the impact just reinforces that shift.

What about you?  Can you actually feel the difference for your mental and emotional health of regular movement?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works out in Toronto.

 

 

 

cycling · feminism · fitness

Bikes, feminism, and moral panic

Image description: Black and white vintage photo. Roadside shot. Sign reads “Cyclists are advised to dismount.” Two bikes leaning against the sign. Two cyclists are hugging and smooching in the grass.”

Monday, November 4 – Dr. Samantha Brennan, Dean of the College of Arts, University of Guelph Bad Girls, Bikes, and the Women’s Liberation Movement It’s often said that women rode to freedom on the bicycle. Providing women with both a way to get around independently in the world and freeing them from restrictive garments that made movement close to impossible, cycling was pivotal in the early feminist movement. Avid cyclist and feminist Samantha Brennan will explore the historical connection between women, bicycles, and feminism.

This week I gave a talk in the ARCHAEOLOGY – HISTORY LECTURE SERIES held at the Upper Grand District School Board here in Guelph. We had a packed house and I got lots of great questions.

Here’s a slew of past posts on women, feminism, and bicycles that my talk drew on.

Some history of women and bikes

Is your bicycle making you gay?

Bicycles: Making good women go bad since the 1800s

Bike seats, speed, and sexual depravity

Riding this summer? Beware of bicycle face!

Global issues

Give the girl a bike!

Will bike riding in Saudi Arabia change the way women dress? 

Wadja: A girl, her bike, and her dreams

The Modern Day

Do Cupcake Rides and Heels on Wheels help or hurt the cause of women’s cycling?

Bike races and podium girls: Time to kiss goodbye?

Do drivers pass closer to men or to women?

Girls and bikes together again?

Mixed feelings about high fashion cycling gear

Bikes for ladies? What year is this again?

fitness

Four Fit Feminist bloggers run races!

Seems it’s the thing to do in the fall. In October and November we have four race reports. (OK, five race reports on four races.)

Here they all are together in one place!

Mina Runs the Paris 20k

Jennifer: Couch to 21.1 km (Guest post)

Bettina doesn’t run a half marathon, part 1: imperfect training and disappointment and Bettina doesn’t run a half marathon, part 2: “downgrade” race report

Nicole: Sweaty, Sore and Slow

Image description: people wearing bright coloured clothing running on a street. Photo by Mārtiņš Zemlickis on Unsplash