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.

kao-man-gai
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!!”

1969-12-31+07.00.00+78+(1).jpg
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 · food

Am I a compost pile? Is sourdough sexist? Conferencing on feminism and food

This weekend I’m at a conference called Feminism and Food, courtesy of CSWIP— the Canadian Society of Women in Philosophy. It’s happening at the University of Guelph, where Samantha works, and she’s one of the organizers. Thanks, Sam (and all the others), for such a great conference!

The talks have been so fun and thought-provoking (in very good ways), that I wanted to share a few of the tidbits with y’all. Here we go:

Maybe you’ve been thinking for a while now, “I wonder– is sourdough actually sexist?” Or not. But Vanessa Lehan-Streisel has thought a lot about it. She looked at the resurgence of sourdough bread and the rise of celebrity male bread bakers. What’s the upshot of all this: she says that they’ve injected technical terms (like algorithm) and use of super-fancy and super-expensive appliances that ignore the long ( I mean really long) tradition of women bakers, baking sourdough and all sorts of other bread without shouting about it or going on social media, etc. She’s got a point here.

Am I a compost pile? Well, no, but… Shannon Boss showed us that food is not only about health, but also about dissolution. We may not come from compost, but to compost we shall go. This may not seem like a happy message, but it was refreshing to be reminded that we are natural organisms, subject to the forces of nature.

There’s more to say, but the conference is still going on, and I don’t want to miss a crumb.

A bird, waiting to eat bread crumbs.
Lots of crumbs still to check out.
advice · eating · food · research

Flip flopping my way down the grocery aisle

by MarthaFitat55

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

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

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

Come again?

Three women of colour have shocked expressions on their faces.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MarthaFitat55 is a writer in St. John’s.

body image · diets · eating · eating disorders · fitness · food · sports nutrition

Intuitive eating — beyond sports nutrition

Image description: a single fresh strawberry with leaf still attached to the top.

As long time readers may know, I am a big fan when it comes to intuitive eating. I’ve written about it lots, including this post “Intuitive Eating: What It Is and Why I Love It.” So I was excited to see an article in Outside online singing its praises as the “ultimate anti-diet.”

Not everyone around here is sold on intuitive eating. Sam has written about her four worries about intuitive eating. I agree that it’s not a cure all that works for everyone. And as Sam says, it depends what you mean by “works.” She puts it like this: “I don’t mean weight, that’s for sure. I mean if you eat this way are you, on reflection, happy with the food choices you’re making? Are you leading a life you enjoy? Are you meeting your own food goals around nutrition? Do you have energy to do the things you love? “

For me, it goes back to the anti-diet idea outlined in the Outside article. Dieting breeds obsession. As someone with a history of chronic dieting and disordered eating, intuitive eating has freed me from that. It took awhile (see my post, “It only took 27 years but now I’m a bona fide intuitive eater”), but as an intuitive eater I am way more well-adjusted about food than I ever was before. Intuitive eating is more a response to chronic dieting. Granted, it may not work for everyone, but it does work for some.

In my reply (in the comments) to Sam’s worries, I said the following:

…many people who are drawn to this approach are dealing with a more psychologically deep set of attitudes and behaviours around food that, if they can get to intuitive eating, they can be free of. It works for me because for the first time in my life I do not obsess about food every waking moment. I don’t panic when I am at an event with a buffet table. I don’t hate myself when I take a brownie. I don’t gorge myself beyond full because I can’t figure out when I’ve eaten enough. And I don’t go to bed every night full of regret over what I ate that day (and it’s not because I’m always making “healthy” choices) and wake up in the morning planning my meals and snacks to the last unrealistic detail. I can also go hungry without panicking and recognize that’s okay. And that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no food around, but there may be no food that will do and I would rather wait. It’s okay to subject any approach that doesn’t work for you to criticism. That is what we as philosophers do. But for myself, who has a history of extremely messed up thinking about food and of disordered eating, it’s been an absolute life saver that’s taken me 27 years to reach. I don’t have perfect hunger signals, but being in touch with my hunger feels more like a hard won battle than a privilege at this point.

That’s why it’s inaccurate to say it’s only about listening to your body. As Christine Byrne, author of the article in Outside notes, there are lots of dimensions to intuitive eating besides “listen to your body.” On its own, for all sorts of reasons, “listen to your body” isn’t helpful advice. Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, authors of the 1995 book Intuitive Eating, identified a number of other features of intuitive eating, including the idea of challenging the food police (whether they’re other people or live in your head) and no longer moralizing food (it’s not good or evil).

Byrne also talks about the importance of a nuanced approach. A dietician interviewed for the article, Heather Caplan, comments: “For the purpose of sports nutrition, I’ll often have someone eat when they’re not hungry, before or after a hard workout,” Caplan says. “Not everyone feels like eating at 6 A.M., I identify with that. But I also identify with not eating and being hungry 15 minutes into a run.” Instead of honoring hunger, think of it as figuring out how food makes your body feel in different situations and honoring those feelings. If eating when you’re not hungry helps fuel a better workout or minimize post-workout soreness, it’s a good choice.”

A good choice serves your workouts and helps you with recovery. It’s not only about hunger signals.

I like how Byrne puts it: “Ultimately, intuitive eating is a way to make sure your needs are being met. What separates intuitive eating from traditional diets is that it’s 100 percent flexible—it can (and will) look different for everyone.”

That’s what makes it the opposite of dieting. Dieting is not about meeting our needs. Dieting isn’t flexible. The hallmark of a fad diet is that it looks the same for everyone.

If you’ve been avoiding intuitive eating because you worry that it seems not to fit with the nutritional needs of your sports activities, then thinking of it as a way to make sure your needs are being met might offer a new angle on it. My guess is that if you do not struggle or have not struggled with dieting, where food is an all-consuming mental obsession, then you really have no reason to feel drawn to this approach. But if chronic dieting of that kind is a thing in your history, then intuitive eating in all of its dimensions is an attractive alternative that can help bring some peace to your vexed relationship with food and your body. At least that is how it worked for me.

Does intuitive eating have any appeal for you?

fitness · food

Activity snacks: what’s your favorite?

This week is sort of feeling like the first week of summer. I say “sort of” because today the high was 53F. Brrr… But the temperature on Monday was fantastic for cycling– mid 70s and sunny. My friend Pata and I met up and then headed to our favorite coffee place in Lexington, MA to snack and caffeinate. We rode in the afternoon, so both got forms of ice tea with lemonade, and she ordered banana bread.

Two ice teas and one slice of banana bread, with two bikes waiting patiently behind.
Two ice teas and one slice of banana bread, with two bikes waiting patiently behind.

I know from our many rides that Pata loves the right baked good to keep her going during a ride. Me, I generally prefer to stick to clif shot bloks, or clif bars, or luna bars (my favorites).

My two bike bottles (with orange gatorade) flanking two packs of clif shot bloks. The bikes are still waiting.
My two bike bottles (with orange gatorade) flanking two packs of clif shot bloks. The bikes are still waiting.

Of course, these specialized energy bar/block/gel/drink products can be pricey. I try to order in bulk, and often can get them through athlete friends who have pro deals or other discounts. But, in the end, they work for me on rides, so I don’t mess with what works.

However, I was reminded of how some of us (meaning me) can be overly fussy about how we refuel during breaks in activity. Sitting on a bench across from us were this nice woman and her two kids. She was roller blading and they were biking. On a break they indulged in a bag of multicolored jelly beans, bought from the local drug store. I am sure they cost less than one of my packages of clif shot bloks.

A nice woman and her two kids, enjoying a jelly bean break during a cycling/skating outing.
A nice woman and her two kids, enjoying a jelly bean break during a cycling/skating outing.

I never got their names, but she said it was okay to use their picture. These folks were eminently practical and economical about getting some energy snacks. In fact, my former sports nutritionist Nancy Clark (who has written several books about sports nutrition for runners and cyclists, including here and here) told me that I could put jelly beans in a bag with some salt, and they would be just as good as these tasty but expensive sport beans.

A veritable cornucopia of flavors and types of sport beans (glorified jelly beans in tiny expensive packages).
A veritable cornucopia of flavors and types of sport beans (glorified jelly beans in tiny expensive packages).

Last summer I really stocked up on energy chewables, so I’ve got plenty to start off an active cycling summer. But I’m giving some thought to trying out more modest fueling fare. Do the fancy products really help more than the plain snacks, or is it just placebo effect?

This is a hard question, and I’ve done a bit of digging and not gotten a clear answer. For endurance, high-octane performance, and recovery, we need different combos of sugars, proteins, minerals and generally not much fats, as they are harder to digest. On the other hand, some studies have shown that chocolate milk is one of the best recovery drinks ever (if you can tolerate milk and the fat content).

Yes, exercise science is complicated.

I’ll keep looking into this, and when I have something to say, you can read it here first.

What I can say with some certainty for now: don’t eat this:

Yes, this is birthday cake-flavored popcorn, or so it says.
Yes, this is birthday cake-flavored popcorn, or so it says.

In the meantime, I’m curious: what are your favorite during-ride and after-ride snacks? I recall that Cate swore by cheese sandwiches during her bike ride through the Baltics. Dear readers, what gets you through a ride, hike, sail, paddle, run, walk, etc.? Do you make your own concoction? Buy something from the convenience store? Order fancy food online? I’d love to hear from you.

fitness · food · habits · sports nutrition

Sam Tried for Ten: A Week in Review

The original idea? To try to eat ten servings of fruits and vegetables a day. See Sam tries for ten.

I was curious to see how I’d do with a positive eating goal and I thought I’d share my thoughts and results with you.

Short version: While initial enthusiasm helps, it might have been too ambitious a goal for a busy work week!

My report card:

Day 1: Tuesday

Vegetable stew: sweet potato, onions, peas; Side of mixed veggies: green beans, cauliflower, broccoli; banana, Bites of apple, zucchini noodles, asparagus, artichoke hearts

Score: 11/10

But it was Day 1!

Day 2: Wednesday

Orange juice, Eggplant, Okra , Zucchini noodles, Bok choy, banana

Score: 6/10

Day 3: Thursday

veggie burger, hummus, veggie ramen: mushrooms, peppers, Bok Choy

Score: 6/10

Day 4: Friday

Melon, strawberries, grapes, lettuce, beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, berries, arugula

10/10

Day 5: Saturday

Orange Juice, mango, orange

Score 3/10

Day 6: Sunday

Orange juice, veggie fresh rolls with broccoli slaw and carrot sticks

Score: 3/10

Day 7: Monday

Edamame, orange, carrot sticks, red peppers, tomatoes, kale, green onions

Score: 7/10

Lessons learned:

The first day of anything new thing is great. So much motivation!

Also, I don’t do that badly on my weekdays without much effort. Thanks GoodFood. I do the vegetarian prefab meal kits three nights a week and they’re loaded with vegetables.

But weekends will take work! The main take away is that that’s where I need to put some effort in if I want to get enough fruits and vegetables.

Do you track fruits and vegetables? Do you get ten servings a day?

Carrots and artichokes,
Photo by David Vázquez on Unsplash
eating · food

Trending now: plant-based eating

Image description: square plate with one ample vegan crab cake on it, with a dollop of white sauce and chopped green onions and a wedge of lemon the side. Photo credit and recipe: https://veganhuggs.com/vegan-crab-cakes/

There are lots of things to love about millenials and Gen-Zs, but one of the best is how they are demanding more meatless food options. An initiative to have 55% of food options involve plant-based proteins at my university by next fall recently made national news. See “Western University’s cafeteria food probably not what you ate in school.

We have a little restaurant on campus that serves really good food. But they don’t always have vegan options. They accommodate, but it’s not a default. And they are well aware that if they serve me one more veggie samosa (don’t get me wrong, the first hundred samosas were absolutely amazing! And I can enjoy them with enough time in between. But not every week, thanks anyway)…well, let’s just say I like variety as much as the next person and leave it at that. If I show up unannounced, they go into a tizzy (“you didn’t tell us you were coming!”). I like that they care. But I’d rather not create panic when I come with a group whose reservation is not under my name.

I know our Great Hall Catering can do it when called upon to do it. A while back, Sam and I co-organized a feminist philosophy conference and asked for the entire thing to have vegan catering. That meant all breaks, a lunch, a reception, and two dinners (including a fancy banquet). From the cashew cheese tray at the reception, to the make-your-own burrito bowl lunch, from the banquet dinner with actual real dessert (not a fruit tray!)…many attendees remarked that it was the best catering they’d ever had at a conference. But that was by special request. And it took some work with them (like I told them where to source the outstanding vegan cheese, for example, from the local company Nuts for Cheese). But once they got the hang of it, they ran with it.

Knowing this, I’m eager to see what they come up with as they revamp the food offerings on campus to offer more plant-based selections. I have long complained that amazing chefs at high end restaurants seem to be unable to grasp the idea of plant-based protein sources. As if a plate full of side dishes is actually satisfying. Tasty, perhaps, but satisfying and well-rounded. No. I have eaten many a side salad and baked potato for dinner while the rest of the party ate ample and (apparently) delicious meals that included protein as the main event.

Western has enlisted the help of a consulting company, Forward Food, to ensure that they do this right. It’s been a slow road, but I consider this a big win. And it’s all because of demand. Young people, like a good proportion of our student population of over 30,000, want plant-based options.

The prospect of having vegan options by default, not by special request, whenever I go to lunch on campus excites me. Contrary to what some may think and much as I appreciate that they know me and my needs at my favourite campus restaurant, I actually prefer not to be given “special” treatment. I would much rather just go have my lunch and be able to pick from a range of selections just like any other customer. I’ll be first in line for the veggie “crab” cakes.

Have you seen a shift in offerings over recent years at the food services outlets you frequent?