Comfort eating– it’s not gonna kill you, and may even be beneficial (says science)

Sam’s post on Wednesday on the not-funny joke about the two types of people in quarantine really struck me. I’ve been doing a lot of comfort eating, comfort reading, comfort tv viewing, and comfort napping.

Yes, I’m doing zoom yoga and walking outside. I’m out riding my bike (sometimes with a mask and sometimes without– stay tuned for more on Sunday’s post).

But like Sam and Cate and probably all of us, I’m not capable of functioning the ways I’d like all the time. That’s too much to expect of us no matter how rosy things are in the world. And they’re decidedly not rosy right now.

I wrote this piece around holiday time a while back. What it has in common with eating under pandemic conditions is: 1) the panic that comfort eating provokes in public discussions anytime; and 2) the absurd lengths to which the health/fitness industry will go to keep us from cookies or cake or pasta. To them I say put a sock in it. To you I say comfort eating is eating, which is one of many things we do. It’s really not going to kill us, which is even more meaningful now.


The holiday season is in full swing now, replete with holiday foods.  At my sister’s house, this means a big ham, loads of cookies, pimento cheese for crackers, and other really rich foods that we don’t eat much of other times of year.

The holiday season is also hectic.  For me this means parties and fun holiday events, the frenetic pace of turbo-grading, getting ready to fly to see family with a large checked bag of gifts (trying not to forget my toothbrush), and then hanging out with them, not in my home eating and activity environment.

Enter comfort eating.  I kind of hate this term, because it’s super judgy.  I mean, we eat.  Food comforts us sometimes.  We enjoy that feeling of satisfaction from eating the food.  What’s the problem?

Health and medicine folks often talk about comfort eating as eating in response to loneliness, anxiety, and sadness.  The…

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covid19 · fitness · media

Wrong! Sam says that there aren’t just two types of people in quarantine

I don’t know the source of the above image but lots of friends have been sharing it on social media, some with critical commentary, some not.

I think it gets something very wrong. I suspect that most of us who are part of this blog community are to varying degrees both of these people. Fun comfort food, yay! Also, running streaks, daily yoga, and lots of time on Zwift.

Sometimes when I’m stressed because I’m sharing a small place with three other people all with our own busy work agendas or I’m feeling overwhelmed by the global pandemic more generally, I do Yoga With Adriene or take Cheddar for a long walk.

Sometimes like Cate I find I can’t do yoga. My mind is too busy. Yoga feels so slow and I’m easily distracted. I have even paused Yoga With Adriene to doomscroll. Really. Sometimes I’m stressed but my knee hurts too much to walk Cheddar. Or he’s already been out for three walks! He even hid one day because too many people had been walking him. He’s looking pretty svelte.

Last week I had a busy work afternoon that was super stressful. So much Zoom time. So many hard issues to discuss. I retreated to my bedroom with a bag of peanut butter M & Ms to watch BoJack Horseman, which I know is not an easy show but the thing is when I’m like this sometimes fluffy, easy, light shows aren’t enough to engage me. I’ve always liked BoJack, hard as it is. See BoJack Horseman’s running advice.

I’m not alone, by the way. Quill Kukla, a philosophy professor, boxer, and powerlifter, and sometimes blogger here, even teaches a philosophy course called BoJack Horseman and Philosophy: What do we know? Do we know things? Let’s find out!

My point though, my main point, is that there aren’t obviously two types of people in quarantine. We’re all coping as best we can. Sometimes here that’s meant excessive/competitive baking. Sometimes it’s riding bikes indoors. And sometimes it’s laying in bed with BoJack Horseman and M and Ms.

It’s okay to just get through this.

covid19 · cycling · fitness

Riding safely in pandemic times. Also, OMG, she looks like me!

Machines for Freedom

I thought of going for an actual outdoor bike ride this weekend. The weather was lovely and things are opening up a bit. Restrictions are being relaxed, here in Ontario. There are lots of bikes out on the road.

Earlier in this, whatever it is, I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of riding recreationally at all.

An aside, I think we need more precise language. We weren’t ever in quarantine or lockdown. We’ve always been able to leave our houses for exercise.

I’m with Shannon on this,

Remember in France and Italy there were stretches when people could only leave their houses for medical reasons or to get groceries. There were also rules against cycling and against running more than a certain number of kms from your house. Even the UK enacted rules about how many hours of outdoor exercise were allowed. We’ve never done that.

But that’s an aside. Whatever the right term was for Ontario’s state of emergency, it’s true that some rules are being relaxed. Some businesses are reopening.

Maybe it’s still a lockdown just not a particularly strict one, Lockdown Light.

My weekend plan was to not ride too fast or too far and ride with a person I live with. But when Cheddar and I went out for a long Saturday morning dog hike I started to wonder about the wisdom of my plan. For the first time we had a hard time walking and maintaining social distancing. So many people! Also so many bikes. I started to wonder about passing people safely and about stopping at lights with other bikes.

When the day got busy and biking got away from us, I was sort of relieved.

Sunday, I got my Brompton out and rode to campus to pick up an HDMI cable from my office. That felt okay. But I think I’ll wait until a weekday, maybe even a cloudy weekday, to take my road bike out for a spin.

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A post shared by Samantha Brennan (@samjanebrennan) on

I’ll bring a mask with me in case we do need to encounter other people.

Here are some rules for riding safely in quarantine times, from Machines for Freedom, above.

🚧 QuaranTIPS on How to Ride Safely:
😷 Cover your face with a mask or buff, especially when in populated areas
📍Opt for routes close to home and less busy streets or areas
🏠 Consider staying in on weekends when streets and trails are busiest
🎒Bring everything you need with you! No gas station snack stops until further notice
🎶 Ride alone or with people in your household. Bored of riding alone? Try out a new podcast or Machines playlist!

I got to know Machines for Freedom from their Swarm rides on Zwift.

I also love that their model, above, looks like me on a bike. A larger woman on a bike. Amazing! It’s worth going to check out their website–this is not a paid endorsement–just for the diversity of their models. If I come into any unexpected money I’m buying a pair of their bib shorts.

And for now I’m sticking with this suggestion, “Consider staying in on weekends when streets and trails are busiest.”

I’ll report back if I make it out their this work week

covid19 · fitness · yoga

My empty yoga mat

On January 1, I greeted this shiny new year with 108 sun salutations on the rooftop of a hotel in Singapore (remember hotels??). Then throughout January, along with half the people I know, I did the Yoga with Adriene (YWA) “Home” sequence, doing yoga almost every day for four weeks. And in the bigger picture, I’ve been doing yoga pretty regularly for 25 years. But since the start of the lockdown, I’ve only found my way to the mat about four times.

What gives? Why have I neglected something I know grounds me in every possible way, makes me feel more human, gives some ease to the physical and emotional knots I’ve found myself in?

It’s not that I haven’t been working out — I’ve done Alex’ virtual superhero workouts at four or five mornings a week, run 3 or 4 times a week, gone for long walks, jumped rope between meetings, perfected handstand shoulder taps and holding crow pose. But that moment where I get on the mat with just me and my body and my full, vulnerable self? I avoid, I distract myself, I wander away.

Last week, someone else posted in our 220 in 2020 community that yoga was making her sad, and every time she started doing a YWA, it made her cry. Others joined in, with their own stories of struggling with introspection and restlessness, especially during yoga. The overall portrait was that even among this community of people — even a yoga teacher! – – among people who value movement, self-knowledge, being in their bodies — right now, even as we are functioning reasonably well, more or less, in the bigger world or in our goals, those moments of truthful quiet, face to face with what’s really present? This can feel like too much.

What is it that’s too much? What am I avoiding?

(Pressing pause on writing this post to go do some yoga and see what I can find)

Okay, I’m back. I did a 20 minute YWA full body flow, the one that came into my inbox with Adriene’s weekly Sunday newsletter today. It was the perfect little flow — a few vinyasas, some lunge stretches, a little tree. I added a few twists, turned the side planks into full side plank with one leg lifted. Did my current party trick, crow. Added some pigeon at the end. What did I experience?

First, I found crinkly noises — in my neck and shoulders, in my knees — like the elastic giving out on a cheap, old pair of pyjamas. Tight shoulders, immobile hips, tight calves. And bruises — mostly on my elbow from where my new hammock hurled me out yesterday, but a few random ones on my legs. Stiff arthritic big toe, and raw skin on the bottom of that same toe, a silly little wound I acquired during that sun salutation fiesta in January and which has never really healed, since I’ve been in my house, barefoot, for the better part of two months. (There were actually spots of blood on my mat after my morning workout two weeks ago from my toe).

But more than bruises… I’m sore. I’m tight. I’m untended. I have all this big muscle strength — I’ve been doing pushups, handstands, wall walks, arm balances, loaded squats, I’ve been running up hills — but I haven’t been caring for my small muscles, the connections, the fascia. I can do crow — hard and focused — but I can’t get my foot all the way up my thigh in tree, because my hips are so tight.

What I have been doing

It’s barely a metaphor.

I think I’ve been avoiding yoga because it slows me down, and slowing down, I feel the wash of the all encompassing experience right now, and it’s … hard. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard. I’m grateful I have work, but doing group work online is a lot of slog without the reward of shared energy and excitement. I’m worried that cases of covid19 continue to spike in my province and our parks were too full of people yesterday (understandable, but worrying). I’m worried that the political system south of the border is so unstable. I’m sad about the suffering in so many parts of the world, including in Uganda where there are so many people I love. I’m fretful about uncertainty. I’m also moved and grateful and inspired and loved and caring, and all of those emotions take up just as much energy as the worrying.

What I should be doing

I have a lot of strength, and I’ve been leaning into it. Challenging myself with handstands and crow, to make sure I can keep the hard balance. But without looking too closely at the impact on my fascia, on my cells, on what’s underneath. I need to surrender, just a little.

Time to peek underneath and give those cells some breathing room. Time to slow down. Thanks again, yoga.

What about you? How are you doing with quiet, introspective practice?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is trying to notice what she needs.

cycling · fitness

In training for short distance riding

Springtime for me is always a slow time for getting back to regular cycling. Honestly, I don’t really devote a lot of time to it until my semester ends at the beginning of May. Then the inevitable, regular-as-clockwork panic sets in. Oh no! I haven’t been cycling enough! I’m so behind on getting my mileage and stamina up to par! I’ve got to train more NOW!

What’s wrong with this picture?

First, I cycle for FUN. There’s no pay involved. This is an avocation, a way to feel good in my body and in the world, and a fun activity to do with friends.

Second, given that I feel like this EVERY YEAR, perhaps a reframing of the situation might be in order. Just a thought.

Third, the sports gear that I own DOES NOT include a time machine. So going back to February and riding the trainer isn’t an option. Going on winter rides isn’t an option. Going on more rides in April isn’t an option.

But now, in May, there are options.

One of them is this: riding now.

I’m pleased to report that this is exactly what I’ve been doing lately. I’ve ridden my bike to friends’ houses a couple of times, talking to them from the sidewalk. I’ve ridden to do errands. I rode my bike in downtown Boston, just for a change of scene.

Side note: on my Boston ride, it was interesting and strange to experience such little traffic downtown. There were loads of parking spaces, few cars and even fewer pedestrians. However, I did encounter a car double-parked in the bike lane even though there were plenty of spaces close by. Some things never change…

These rides are short– 20 minutes here, 30 minutes there, none of them more than an hour or so total cycling time. So why are they hard? Why do I need to train for them?

First, there’s the business of making sure all bike stuff is set up and in ready-to-go condition. It’s not my year-round habit, so it requires a restart.

But second, and more importantly, I have to train myself to JUST DO IT. Riding short distances sometimes feels like a lot of effort for not-a-lot of payoff, fitness-wise. But it does pay off. It reminds me about how much I like being on my bike. It gets me out of the house more often. It feels good. Yeah, those things.

I’ll be cycling longer distances this year, for sure. And that will require the usual training. But it feels important to train for short-distance riding as well. Those benefits are different, but no less important. Maybe even more important.

Dear readers, how do you feel about short-distance cycling or running or other sports? Do they feel different to you? Are they a part of your life? I’d love to hear any thoughts you’d like to share.


When will you feel okay about going back to the gym?

Last Monday, ping, ping, ping, one after the other, I got emails from three of my gyms/fitness studios with surveys asking me when I will want to come back to the gym, with questions about what kind of sanitation measures I would expect. Articles started popping up everywhere asking whether it’s “safe” to go back to the gym.

In most of Canada, gyms aren’t open yet, but clearly, they have their feet in the blocks waiting for the starter pistol. It’s understandable — fitness studios depend on class and member revenue to survive, and most have hefty investments in space and equipment. We had an animated conversation about this among the bloggers about our own comfort, and realized that most gym managers/ owners are not likely to err on the side of caution — they want to open, and as soon as they are permitted, they will be looking to their members to tell them what will work for them. So what DO we feel safe doing? I captured the key themes from a few of our bloggers.

First, our overall consensus is that none of us is comfortable just quickly going back to any gym in the near future, starting with concerns about heavy breathing and close proximity. Covid19 has been spread through choir practices and, in one study, through a fitness studio in South Korea. Sam captured the general consensus: “Too many people, breathing heavily, in an enclosed space just doesn’t sit well with me right now.” Nicole agrees: ” I don’t believe it to be a safe environment, working out closely, breathing heavily, indoors.”

Gyms are also hotbeds of possible droplet-spread through touching, and that seems both dangerous and icky. Bettina loves bouldering, but even if she weren’t pregnant, she wouldn’t be going any time soon: “Some gyms are reopening with restrictions where I live (Germany) but it doesn’t feel right. The idea of touching the same holds as other people and potentially touching my face after to wipe off sweat (old habits die hard) doesn’t seem appealing at all.”

Touching of shared equipment is my personal big issue — I can’t imagine going to a gym where we all touch the same equipment, but I might be open to a space like spinning with lots of distance between bikes, good ventilation and a good wipe of the equipment between classes, and no use of shared washrooms or showers. (I may not be logical about this, but I really miss spinning!)

While sharing equipment feels like a no no for everyone, others are concerned about avoiding other people in breaks, the change room and washrooms. Nicole noted “how would the washroom/change room, situation work? I cannot go to a class and not pee before and after! And the change room would seem like a hotbed of potential virus transmission right now.”

Bettina agreed. “Pools aren’t open yet where I live, and I miss swimming so much! But with pools, the problem doesn’t seem to be the actual swimming so much as the time spent outside the pool, or taking a break without suitable distance from others.”

Kim also misses the pool, and is ready when they are: “I’ve read articles from trustworthy sources that suggest pools are one rec site that can reopen safely sooner rather than later, as long as social distancing measures take place in change rooms. I live close to my local pool so will not plan to shower there; instead I will change into my suit at home, and then throw my clothes on in the change room before going straight home to wash everything (myself included).”

She is also focused on solo riding right now: “My cycling club is run by a surgeon, and there’s NO WAY he will let us ride together until he is convinced it is safe for us to draft each other. I have total confidence in him, and am enjoying solo rides right now.”

After three months of training ourselves to view any touching as possibly risky, we have developed a strong tendency to notice if other people aren’t observing the same “rules” as we are. Several bloggers talked about how they MIGHT be comfortable in a gym where they could work out, safely apart from others, wiping off equipment before and after use, but being anxious about others following the same protocols.

Nicole said, “I am anxious sometimes at the gym anyway about people following rules at the best of times — there are people who don’t pay attention to station flow, keeping things in their station, etc. It’s too risky right now for that to happen and i would be even more anxious now, and that would overshadow the enjoyment I find at the gym.”

Martha agreed: “I know how careful I am. I’m just not confident others are as careful. How do I know this? Because I’ve been in classes in the past where people show up barely symptomatic with a respiratory illness but are determined to sweat it out. Or they say it’s allergies but it turns into something else. I believe we have to rest when we are unwell. As someone who is self-employed, I don’t get sick days, but I still take my days so I can recover. I realize not everyone feels this way so my answer for now is “thanks, but no thanks. It’s too soon.””

Several of us miss our gyms, and understand the impact on small businesses — but recognize that this doesn’t overshadow a need to take care of ourselves. Nicole again: “I want to support them, but I can’t let my sense of guilt or obligation to the small gym owner, or fear that they will not make it if they do not open to in-class programming, overshadow my concerns about being in the gym right now.”

Overall, as a group, we agreed we will either continue with our at home and virtual workouts for the foreseeable future — and for some, this feels great. Nat has found a new rhythm at home: “My gym isn’t reopening soon and that’s okay. I’ve gotten into a nice at home workout groove. I’ve never been so consistent or felt so disciplined. This confinement has taught me to reclaim my inner locus of control. I’m enjoying being free from the gaze of others or waiting on a machine. I do miss the social aspect but not enough to go find another gym.”

Catherine has also adjusted. “I’ve been gymless for more than a year now. After my latest bout of physical therapy, I got set up at home with some light weights. I do miss working with heavy weights. However, now is not the time to go gym shopping! Doing both bodyweight exercises and functional fitness are appealing, and I hope that zoom classes will continue even after gyms reopen. I feel like I can get most of what I need from those. For the rest, I’m sitting tight…”

Weighing the risks and benefits, Sam is also going to keep working out at home. “I might ask Meg, the personal trainer I work with, to come visit our backyard in the summer and work with the group of us, including my mother. Between now and next winter, I think I’ll buy some more weights. I’m very happy with my indoor cycling set up and Zwift. We’ve got the TRX. If I had more space I might buy a rowing machine. Bottom line: I’ll proceed pretty cautiously. But I am also pretty privileged in terms of space and workout company at home.”

Overall, we miss lots of things about our gyms and fitness studios — Bettina and Kim miss the pool, Sam misses hot yoga, Nicole and Nat miss the community, Catherine, Nicole and I miss heavy weights, I miss spinning and yoga classes — but for now, we’ll stay focused on at-home or solo movement, and make thoughtful choices about group spaces one at a time.

What about you? Will you be there on “Day 1”? Or are you in a wait and see mode as well?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto, where she’s been discovering new spaces on her solo runs.


Still menstruating at 55 1/4 — and still learning new things!

I’m the doyenne of menstruation around here, with my two year old post “53 and a half and still menstruating” consistently in our top 10 posts every month. I wrote an update a year later, in which I expressed a bit more frustration with my status as a Menstruator Emeritus.

Well here it is, three months after I turned 55, and blam, here I am, too old to invest in a diva cup, but bleeding like a young thing.


But here’s the thing: on my 550th period or what have you, I’ve learned something new. Yesterday, I was complaining about cramps, being tired and having a sore throat. In the Time of Covid, a sore throat is one of those EEEK moments.

But then I started reflecting, and I texted Susan — “I complain about a sore throat every time I have my period, don’t I?”

“Yup,” she said. “It’s so weird.”

Whenever I feel crappy when I have my period, I just sort of vaguely handwave “hormones.” But I tend to assume that hormones translates into grumpiness, fatigue, sleep problems and hot flashes (like my classic experience on Sunday, where I strode around in a tank top outside in 10 degree weather, complaining that my thin cotton tights felt like snowpants).

So I finally looked it up. And apparently, flu like symptoms around your period are a thing — and more specifically, SORE THROATS are a thing for some people.

How come I never knew this? I talked about the flu thing with a colleague a few years ago — a cardiologist, no less — and she said she had that too, but had never heard any medical colleagues talk about it.

First, estrogen and progesterone surge when you ovulate then dip when you don’t need them for baby-making, and this dip can cause achiness, sleep disruption and fatigue. And then the hormone prostaglandin kicks in to cause the familiar uterine cramps and the less discussed intestinal and stomach cramps, hot flashes and — sometimes — fever. (This may explain why I get a lot of weird uterine cramps even whenI’m not bleeding). AND – apparently –these hormones can cause a rarely-studied but not-unique-to-me sore throat.

According to a sleep doc I found online, progesterone can be an upper airway muscle dilator, and when the progesterone dips, your throat muscles relax more, which can lead to weird sleep stuff and sore throats. And — even if it’s not that muscle dilation — the hormonal shifts can exacerbate existing allergies, like mine to all the pollen and all the cats.

So, A) I’m not imagining it. When I menstruate, I feel like I’m getting the flu or a sore throat, almost every time. It’s a Thing. And B) I don’t have covid19. And C) apparently the universe is not done teaching me things through my period. Oh, universe, you trickster.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto. This is what a 55 year old who hasn’t hit menopause yet looks like. Her cat opened that closet door.