It’s the new year and my newsfeed is full of inspirational images and sayings. Mostly I’m not a fan but I do love the ones generated by Inspirobot: “an artificial intelligence dedicated to generating unlimited amounts of unique inspirational quotes for endless enrichment of pointless human existence. “
I got thinking about it because of Cate’s comment about how her challenges of 217 workouts in 2017 and 218 workouts in 2018 (both of which she met and far exceeded because she’s a rock star) helped her learn a more intuitive way of being in her body. I wrote about my skepticism for intuitive exercise almost six years ago.
A lot has changed over the six years, and whereas it took me 27 years to become an intuitive eater and that shift was the result of conscious effort and commitment, I think it’s taken me only about 5 or so years or even less to become a more intuitive exerciser. My theory back then was that my training goals required me to push myself. And no one actually wants to push herself. No one really wants to get into those short bursts of intense effort required for intervals.
Ahem! Really? No one? While it may not be quite the same “knowingness” that I feel with intuitive eating–where I can check in with myself and actually become aware that a honey crisp apple would be just perfect right now in so many ways (the crispness, the coolness, the sweetness, the freshness!)–there is definitely a kind of body awareness that makes me want that tough workout in a way I never have in the past. I have actually come to enjoy the feeling of effort, of pushing harder, of feeling that strength and physical endurance.
But more than that, because yes I will admit that I wouldn’t always choose the work out that my trainer Paul has in store for me at the gym, or the speed work Linda maps out for me, I have a more intuitive sense of the kind of activity I want to do. When I haven’t run for a few days, for example, my body wants to run. When it’s been awhile since I’ve done yoga in the hot room, my whole being wants nothing more than to sweat it out on the mat. And though I’m not sure I would find the consistent motivation for heavy weights without the personal training, I love and always have loved resistance training.
This all goes to say that I do think I have come to inhabit my body in a new way since Sam and I completed our fittest by 50 challenge back in 2014. I have talked about a sense of “confident ownership.” A few months after my 50th birthday, I wrote “Mine All Mine: How Getting Active Gave Me a New Way of Being in My Body.” Already then I had experienced a dramatic shift in how I felt about my physicality. Today, having continued on the fitness path that I dedicated myself to for our 2012-2014 challenge, I’ve moved in to my skin even more dramatically. Activity is simply a part of my daily life, no different from eating and sleeping.
I shape my activity around slightly scary goals to keep me on my toes. My current slightly scary goal is the Around the Bay 30K Road Race in Hamilton on March 31st. A little scary but mostly fun. The whole thing just makes me smile.
So yes, I do have a more intuitive relationship with activity now. I mostly do what I want, and I do it consistently. And I sometimes don’t do it as much because for various reasons my routine gets thrown off. Then I jump back into it and I feel like myself again.
Where are you in your relationship to physical activity these days? Do you have any aspirations in that area of your life or are you happy where you are?
But I haven’t said goodbye to Akido even though I haven’t been in a couple of years. It’s partly because it’s too sad. I really miss it. I draft posts about it but I never hit “publish.” I left because of my left knee mostly but also because there’s no Akido in Guelph.
And I think, in my heart of hearts, I don’t want to say goodbye. I want to go back on the mat. And on Sunday I did.
I was visiting my friend Rob, who started Aikido with me, and who now has a black belt and teaches the students at the Western University Aikido Club. My daughter Mallory is also a member of that club.
Sarah and I were in town for Rob’s 60th birthday party Saturday night. There were lots of Akido people at the party and somehow we ended up agreeing to come to the Sunday morning class. They’re a persuasive bunch.
I wasn’t sure how much I’d remember. But the basic movements came back once my bare feet touched the mat. So too did my Akido smile. I miss you Akido!
Are you ready to start wearing toe spreaders? A certain running magazine says it might be time. “The spacers can be used while running or as part of a post-workout rehab routine. “Toe spacers can be helpful for conditions where compressive forces through the midfoot can create discomfort and pain. Many people with toe neuromas or degenerative changes to the foot or toes find that toe spacers can provide good relief, even while inside their shoes. As long as the spacer doesn’t negatively impact your foot strike biomechanics, they can be very useful to allow a wide and comfortable forefoot splay.”
I swear there are days when I feel like the list of “extra” things I need is getting silly. Like Nat, I wear a sexy bite guard for sleeping. It goes without saying that there are orthotics in my shoes. I wear glasses. Then there’s my knee brace. “You look like a steampunk cyborg, mum.” Thanks child of mine. And I know, I know that my worrying about this is ableist and on a good day I feel lucky that we’ve got these things and I’ve got benefits that allow me to buy them.
My latest adventure is my second toe, next to my big toe, on my left foot. You read about its xray as an exercise in self care. It tends to overlap the big toe now and my toes no longer line up in a nice orderly fashion. At the bottom of my foot there’s a patch of “ow” where the base of the toe isn’t sitting properly. What’s the answer? Toe spacers of course. I should have known this was coming. My mother has arthritic toes that don’t line up. And we’re basically the same person. We share all the same health problems! Luckily, I think she’s gorgeous (and she’s well and active) and so mostly the idea of gradually turning into her doesn’t fill me with fear. But toe spacers? Really. Well, one toe spreader. But still. Argh.
One of the things I often say when I talk about the benefits of exercise is that exercise, on its own, helps with body image and self-esteem. Student athletes, for example. have fewer struggles with body image issues even controlling for size and shape. That is, it’s not that you look better after working out and so feel better about your body. It’s that doing active things with your body makes you feel this way.
But it turns out that motives matter. Students athletes love sports. They’re competitive. They’re exercising for performance. They’re not trying to get thin, or lean. They’re not even exercising for fitness.
Middle aged women who work out also have better body images and self-esteem and even if they’re not competitive athletes, they might be working out because it feels good, or for social reasons, or for health reasons. Active women are more likely than inactive women to be happy with their bodies, even at the same size. See Few Middle-Aged Women Are Happy With Their Body Size: The ones most likely to be are highly active. There are lots of reasons for being active and they all lead to improved body image and self-esteem. That is, except for one.
If you’re working out because you hate your body, because you’re unhappy with the way it looks, then exercise might make things worse.
“Deakin School of Psychology researcher Associate Professor Matthew Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, said while exercise was typically found to improve feelings of body satisfaction, the effect was reduced or even reversed for people who are seriously unhappy with their appearance.
His paper, recently published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, studied 178 women and found those who were dissatisfied with their bodies in general were more likely to exercise for appearance-related reasons, and went on to record the worst results for post-exercise wellbeing.
“While we know exercise has lots of benefits for mood and physical health, that it generally makes us feel better about ourselves, the benefits may be lessened for some groups of people,” Associate Professor Fuller-Tyszkiewicz said.
“What we found is that exercise can actually make people feel very self-conscious about their bodies, and some people can have worsening body image immediately after exercising. People who have really high body dissatisfaction are most at risk of this.”
(Content warning — some discussion in here of setting goals around food consumption and weight).
The other day, Sam posted about a new year challenge she — and I — can really get behind: to eat 30 different plant based foods every week. I got all excited and was pretty pleased that I racked up 21 different plant based foods by Wednesday. (It would be more if I ate fruit. I rarely eat fruit. But my Wednesday lunch salad had pomegranates! How exotic is THAT in January??)
The same day, I signed up for a new challenge my spinning studio is offering, the January Goal Setting Challenge. It’s a 6 week overall health challenge with support from a coach at the studio (Torq) with a loose structure around your own personal goals. (And the entry price goes to a local shelter — yay Torq!)
I was trying to figure out why I feel compelled to take this on, other than the fact that I like the person who is coaching it. It’s not about adding more workouts to my life — this challenge is actually fewer than I already do. Over the past couple of years, with my involvement in the “217 in 2017” and “218 in 2018” challenges, I’ve created a habit of working out at least 5 times a week — last year, I reset my 2018 goal after I hit 218 in August, and ended up working out 302 times.
The first year I did that goal, I found that the combination of having a group and a number goal gave me a motivation I never had on my own. I aimed at 217 workouts, and had to undertake a flurry of activity in December to take me over the line. In the end I think I hit 221 in 2017, and felt pretty good about that. Early in 2018, as my numbers kept adding up, I realized that the challenge group had done something for me I hadn’t expected — ingrained an expectation that working out almost every day was just something I did. Because of this habit, I set a personal challenge to work out every day in July, and realized that these challenges had really taught me a lot about what I might term “intuitive working out” — that is, how to move my body regularly in the way that my body needs to be moved, not according to an external training plan or some pre-set agenda.
It turns out, when I set the expectation that I will move my body pretty much every day, and listen to what my body needs, I come up with a blend of yoga, intense cardio like running and spinning, gym visits and more flow-y movement like long bike rides and walks. I move according to what I need. This mirrors, for me, some of what Tracy and others have written about intuitive eating.
The 6 week challenge from my spinning studio goes beyond working out — it suggests setting broader intentions about fun movement, eating, and all of the other things that can mess up our health — electronics use, booze and cannabis, hydration, etc. I don’t love the framing of some of those things as “vices” — they are only bad if they are a problem — but I can live with it. What appeals to me is that it’s not a rigid plan, but rather, a loose framework that suggests that while we are moving our bodies, we should also be looking at our other habits. And I think I’m ready for that.
The big aha for me from what I learned from my 217 and 218 workout challenges is that I can learn a more intuitive way of being in my body in new ways. I’ve developed good practices about giving my body the movement it needs, and it’s become unconscious now. I also realized that over time, I’ve developed a really intuitive relationship to alcohol. I drink, but I’m highly aware as I am putting a drink to my lips of the impact it will have on my capacity to drive, to sleep, and to feel energetic and whole the next day. I self-modulate without thinking about it.
I would like to get to that stage with sleep, food and electronics. I stay up too late, because it feels good in the moment to watch one more episode of whatever is my current netflix binge, because it feels like “found time” in a busy day. That’s not “intuitive,” it’s impulsive. And then I develop a terrible domino effect of fatigue, crankiness and more bad sleep. I want to learn to internalize early sleep because I know it will serve me the next day, because I FEEL it will serve me the next day. And that also means turfing the electronics out of my bed.
The same applies to food. I’m not a terrible eater, but I have a particularly mindless habit of snacking after dinner and before bedtime. This doesn’t even feel good in an emotional way in the moment — it’s a binge-y, mindless shoving of food into my mouth, like “oh I have ice cream, I can eat it.” And then I wake up feeling full and gross. And — I will admit this bugs me even while I don’t want it to — while this didn’t used to have a significant effect on my weight, in my 50s, it does. I feel thicker and slower and not like myself, and my clothes don’t fit well — even as I’m happy with my strength and my capacity to move.
I have tried making “rules” — no snacking after 8 pm — but I always “fail,” and then just put it out of my mind and repeat the pattern. I think I know now how to set a goal around this that isn’t about “did you eat tortilla chips on Tuesday night after 8 pm?” but rather “are you in touch with how these tortilla chips will make you feel emotionally and in your body?”
I don’t know if this qualifies as “intuitive eating” the way other people use the term — but it works for me.
So my 2019 goals?
Continue working out almost every day, with the overall goal of 300 workouts in 2019 again, if that makes sense for my body as the year unfolds.
Develop a more mindful relationship with snacking.
Develop a more mindful relationship with sleeping and bedtime electronics, with a concrete goal of early bedtime with an actual physical book instead of electronics at least once a week to start with.
These may not be super “SMART” as goals — but they meet what I want to evolve. And I’m ready for them. Do you have 2019 goals?
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto and writes here regularly twice a month. This photo is Cate on the best hike in the world on New Year’s Day, on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Aus.
If you want to participate in a “219 in 2019” challenge, one of the people who was in the 3 month fitness challenge Tracy, Christine and I facilitated last fall has created a Fit Feminist version of the challenge on facebook. New members are welcome — if you want to join, please leave a note in the comments!
A lot has changed since Sam and I embarked on our Fittest by 50 Challenge more than six years ago. I was saying to a friend just yesterday that my entire self-conception has changed in ways I couldn’t have predicted. I now consider myself a pretty fit, quite active woman in mid-life.
I’m not striving to attain some ideal of physical fitness anymore. I feel as if, as far as my day to day level of fitness is concerned, I’m there. I feel strong and have a good level of cardio fitness as well. My balance is great and my flexibility, while by no means my greatest asset, is good enough for me and gets me through my yoga class with my dignity intact.
But one thing that hasn’t change at all is my sense that some purposeful activity simply doesn’t “count.” I wrote a blog post called “What ‘Counts’?” back in September 2012. At the time, I sometimes walked to work. And I kind of counted it. But mostly it just made me feel like I was cheating.
I said in 2012: “when I use this kind of thing to replace an actual “session,” I feel like I’m cheating or getting away with something. For example, when I use the bike for commuting, I am sometimes hesitant to count it enough to replace an actual dedicated cardio session (even when endomondo tells me I’ve burned some extraordinary number of calories given the amount of enjoyment I got out of it!).”
Well this year I’m finally jumping on the 219 in 2019 bandwagon — 219 workouts in 2019, if you’re not sure what that bandwagon is. The idea is that any purposeful movement counts as a workout. Like yesterday. I walked to and from work — now a 9K round trip (quite a bit further than my 2012 walk to work used to be, and I even wanted to count that). I usually drive. It was snowing and icy, adding some extra work to the deal. It takes me about 50 minutes each way. And I worked up a sweat in both directions.
So I counted it–I actually counted the entire commute as one workout, even though really I could have probably called it TWO since I could’ve easily taken the bus home but didn’t. The thing is, I was actually supposed to run yesterday. But it was too windy and snowy and blowy and I was too tired to contemplate that. So I posted on our 219 in 2019 Facebook page about my walking commute, with some tone of apology or defensiveness. Not because others questioned it, but because I questioned it. Which makes no sense, because it was purposeful movement.
I queried about that on the FB, and Cate jumped in with her thought that if it’s not something I ordinarily do, then it counts. So in the summer, when I walk to work every day, it shouldn’t count. But what if I walk to work precisely because it is an exerting thing to do, specifically for the movement, entirely because it increases my steps? In some ways, sticking to it daily makes it seem like a thing that should count.
Consider, for example, if I commit to running every day for 30 days. This is a planI have considered yet never executed. I don’t feel bad that I have never executed that plan. And I feel strongly that if I did commit to that, each and every one of those runs should count even if I’m doing it every day. Let’s say I extended that commitment to a year. A year in which daily running (or yoga, or swimming, or …. walking) becomes a part of my life. Routine. Then does it count? Something makes me want to say yes.
Which brings me to the view that if these challenges are meant to get us moving, then whatever gets us moving counts.
Sam has considered what counts. So has Catherine. See their posts here and here, respectively. And Cate has considered what counts (here) and reflected on it in the context of her challenge to work out every day last July (here).
And we’ve asked this before but I’ll ask again — what do you think counts?