fitness · gadgets · gear

Should I buy a belly fat measuring machine for $379? an FAQ for you

January is not just the month of motivation; it’s also the month of measurement. Yes, we join gyms, buy equipment and sign up for 8-12 week programs to transform our bodies. We’re also pushed to take stock of what we’ve got going, from head to toe. We are expected to weigh and measure ourselves in every dimension, and at arbitrary levels of precision. Why all this detail? It’s not as if we’re planning on mailing ourselves to Argentina. Are these numbers helpful to us in pursuing our physical activity and health-according-to-us lives?

On the one hand, numbers can provide us with concrete information. I’m reminded of my absolute favorite New Yorker cartoon:

Numbers sitting in a police interrogation room. One guy says to the police, Look, the numbers don't lie.
Look, the numbers don’t lie. This always cracks me up.

On the other hand, numbers don’t always mean what we might think they mean. Case in point: the Bello belly-fat scanner.

The Bello belly fat scanner, in its box and out in nature.
The Bello belly fat scanner, in its box and out in nature.

Bello is supposed to tell you how much belly fat you have, rate you based on it (ranging from best to worst– really!), and then offer you tips on what to do about it. The tips include “exercise more” and “eat more vegetables”. All for the low low price of $379. How could you say no?

Well, that’s what we at Fit is a Feminist Issue are here for. As a part of our consumer products debunking division services, here’s an FAQ about Bello (and probably other so-called belly fat scanners).

  1. Should I buy this thing? NO.
  2. Why not? There are a bunch of reasons.

First, It says false things in its advertising. On its indigogo page, it says, “subcutaneous fat is a big issue, and an indicator of a number of metabolic issues, like diabetes and heart disease”. This isn’t true. Visceral fat (not subcutaneous fat) is a standard indicator of risk of metabolic disorders. How do I know this? I read about it in this journal article:

In contrast to visceral fat, it is reported that subcutaneous fat might even be beneficial against metabolic abnormalities…the relative distribution of body fat might be more important than visceral fat area (VFA) or subcutaneous fat area (SFA).

There’s also this article’s info, which contradicts Bello central:

no studies to date have explored the relationship between DXA-assessed SFM and T2DM.  Which means: using the state-of-the-art medical Dexa scanners (which cost considerably more than $379), there haven’t been studies looking for a relationship between subcutaneous belly fat and type 2 diabetes. So they can’t say there’s a relationship at all between the two.

Second, it’s not clear that Bello accurately measures either subcutaneous or visceral fat. It predicts them, based on its proprietary technology. Here is one of the messages it displays, which doesn’t list percentage of visceral or subcutaneous fat.

Bello app showing 89% outer fat, which is bad according to Bello.. I have no idea what outer fat is supposed to be.
I have no idea what outer fat is supposed to be. But it certainly looks bad here.

It may be able to predict overall belly fat. But belly fat, in and of itself, isn’t an indicator of medical disorders. And, according to the studies I’ve read, it’s the ratio of visceral fat to subcutaneous fat that is more predictive of medical risk for various populations. Bello doesn’t and can’t provide that. So, whatever measures it gives you aren’t that meaningful in assessing medical risk. To assess your risk for various metabolic disorders, we need a lot more precise information. This includes information that medical research knows it needs but doesn’t have yet. Like this, from another journal article:

…abdominal fat distribution defines distinct obesity sub-phenotypes with heterogeneous metabolic and atherosclerosis risk.

And this, too, from yet another article:

These observations suggest that clinically relevant sub-phenotypes of obesity can be defined by abdominal fat distribution, supporting the notion of obesity as a heterogeneous disorder with varying cardiac and metabolic manifestations.

What do these quotes mean? Just this: the researchers believe that, among populations with BMI>30, groups with different body types and also different distributions of abdominal fat will have different types and degrees of risk of future medical problems. They don’t have the full picture yet, but are working on it bit by bit.

3. Will Bello help me spot reduce fat on/in/around my belly? NO.

Bello suggests that it will help you reduce your belly fat by using their device every day and following the advice on their app. However, it’s not possible to do spot-reducing of fat. How do I know this? I have to admit, this time I just asked Google, and it said:

Targeted fat loss, often refered to as spot reduction, is not possible and there’s no solid scientific evidence to suggest that you can burn fat on specific areas of your body.

Thanks, Google.

4. Just out of curiosity, how many colors does it come in? WHITE ONLY.

5. Suppose I want to keep track of my belly size but don’t want to spend $379. What do you suggest? Funny you should ask. Here’s one idea:

A nice full-length mirror. Prices start at $7.
A nice full-length mirror. Prices start at $7.

Here’s another idea:

Don't worry! Be happy!
Don’t worry! Be happy!

6. Does the blog have any other targeted advice about bellies? WHY YES WE DO.

Check out Natalie’s post about belly patrolling, which celebrates her belly and bellies in general. Sam wrote about lizards loving their bellies, and what we can learn from them. There are plenty more where that came from– for more belly love posts, look here.

fitness · gear

What a difference a lighted helmet makes… Maybe. I hope.

I just got the coolest new bike helmet. It’s by Lumos, and has lights on the front, lights on the back, and lights on the side.

The lights on the side aren’t on in these photos, but they are amber lights and work as turn signals. You operate them from a remote you strap onto your handlebars. That is so cool…

A Lumos bike helmet from back, with red triangle light in center, and V-lights in amber on left side. Remote is below, with L button lit.

So why did I buy this shiny new toy, uh, new safety device for cycling?

Well, there are two answers. In philosophy, we used to (and I suppose some still do) distinguish between what people call “the context of discovery” and “the context of justification. Yeah, I know– it sounds super-stodgy. I can’t take full responsibility for this– I just work there (that is, in philosophy…)

Anyway, the distinction is meant to show the difference between a story of how something came to say, believe or do something, and what justifies us in believing for doing that thing.

First, the discovery part: my friend Rachel (avid cyclist of all sorts and sometime guest blogger here) texted me to ask if I wanted to ride to meet some folks for dinner Saturday night. I had been planning on going, but it honestly hadn’t occurred to me to ride my bike there, even though it was a scant 2.4 miles/3.8 km one way. Of course I said yes, and then got out my lights. Rachel rolled up to my house, wearing one of these beauteous helmets– hers was a lovely shade of blue.

Blue Lumos helmet, with lights on front, side and back.
Blue Lumos helmet, with lights on front, side and back.

I was impressed, the more so on the way home. She showed me how the turn signals worked, which was soooo cooool! We both used lights on front and back of our bikes, but her helmet made her much more visible to everyone on the road.

Rachel is a year-long distance bike commuter, using a bike to ride 22–24 miles home from her job most days. She knows from good lights and helmets. I quickly decided I needed one, too for night riding. Easy peasy– order and it arrives a few days later.

Now to the justification part: I so enjoyed riding to and from the restaurant with Rachel on Saturday night. I love love love riding at night when the weather is warm or even a bit fresh and cool. But I don’t do it that often. I’m just not in the habit, and sometimes I worry about being visible enough.

Enter the lighted helmet. I am firmly convinced (don’t try to persuade me otherwise! 🙂 that having this helmet will put me in mind to figure out ways to ride at night more. For instance, this Sunday evening, a bunch of friends are going to dinner and the movies (Downton Abbey– don’t judge us). It is 3.5 miles/5.6 km each way, which is an easy ride. And I’m doing it, thanks to my new lighted helmet.

Now the trick is to keep this going. I’ll report back in a few months to see if the new helmet is luring me outside on my bike in the evenings more. Here’s hoping…

Readers, do you get inspired or motivated by new active gear or clothing? Let me know.

clothing · cycling · fashion · gear · stereotypes

Bettina shops for cycling clothes: too much pink and a happy ending

My partner and I are currently on holiday in Spain. At the time of your reading this post, we will hopefully just have hiked three stages of the GR11 Transpyrenees trail. That’s why the other day, we found ourselves last-minute shopping for some hiking equipment. We also had a quick look around the cycling section of the two large sports shops we visited (we had spare time and road cycling is very serious in the Basque Country, so we thought we might make interesting finds).

In both shops, we were taken aback by the differences between the male and the female sections for both hiking and cycling. The men’s sections were larger and much better equipped. In particular, the cycling section at one of the shops was so cliché it was basically a joke: it was about one-third of the size of the men’s section and everything, really, I swear, everything was fluorescent pink, or had elements of fluorescent pink on it. OK, I exaggerate. There was one fluorescent yellow jacket. One. No, not one model in various sizes. One. Single. Jacket. Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture, I was too busy bringing my blood pressure back down. Urgh. I often find myself getting annoyed at the lack of choice and, in particular, the lack of not-pink sports clothing for women, but this was out of this world. It’s not that I don’t like pink at all, I just don’t want all my gear to be hot pink! I’d quite like some choice, please. This was a public display of gender inequality in sports even at the most basic level, that of equipment.

Luckily, our story had a happy ending: we found a charming bike shop in the city centre of Bilbao, which kept its promise of “interesting finds for cycling in the Basque Country”. I bought one of their long-sleeve jerseys. The shop was the kind where you immediately start chatting to the guy who runs it, get competent advice and a sense of community. And they had the same-size shelf for women and men, with an ample selection of not-pink clothing. Yay!

Shot of a person from the back in a long-sleeved cycling jersey.
Bettina from the back in her new cycling jersey, which reads “Véloze Cycling Club Bilbao”, and looks sort of powdery pink in this picture, but is actually beige in real life.

I will say that it was also the sort of shop you might be hesitant to enter if maybe you were still a bit intimidated by a new sport, perhaps didn’t feel like you belonged just yet, or were self-conscious for any other reason. It’s not the kind of place where you can shop in undisturbed anonymity, which is sometimes preferable to one-on-one attention. It was also more expensive than the large multi-sports department stores we had been at earlier. It’s one of those annoying situations where you just can’t win: if you don’t have a certain level of privilege, you don’t make it into the shop that sells the good stuff, and if you go to the shop that might look more accessible in the first place, you don’t get much choice, either style or size-wise.

Oh world, you still have a long way to come.

commute · cycling · gear

Am I a cyclist yet?

If you’re a regular reader, you might know I bought a new bike a little while ago. Its delayed arrival tested my patience, but since I finally got it, I’ve been enjoying it very, very much. Here it is:

Bettina’s light blue bike leaning attractively against a rather unattractive garage door.

Before I took the plunge on buying a bike, I did some fairly exhaustive research. I didn’t want to sink a lot of money into something I wouldn’t enjoy. (What can I say, I was raised in the Southwest of Germany, home to the (in)famously loath-to-spend “Swabian housewife“. An icky and sexist stereotype if there ever was one, but nevertheless, something must have stuck.) I asked my bike-savvy colleagues. I interrogated my equally bike-savvy co-bloggers. I interviewed a friend who purchased my bike’s predecessor model a few years ago. Eventually, I settled on a gravel bike: I wanted something versatile that could take on my pot hole-riddled commute as well as, potentially next season, a first stab at a triathlon. I’m extremely pleased with my decision. My Cucuma Casca is a joy to ride!

I’m so smitten with it, I want to ride it all day long, everyday, to the point where this is slightly endangering my half-marathon training (a topic for another post). It is so light and nimble, and so almost-effortlessly fast. It makes riding up the hill to work actually enjoyable. Luckily, once I had placed my order, my partner got a bit jealous and purchased a gravel bike of his own, so now we both have a joint new hobby and I have a partner in crime! Just this past Sunday, we went off on a nice long ride, making the most of the wonderful late summer we’ve been having. Here’s my partner, trundling along on our latest adventure:

A cyclist on a bike path alongside a river with his back turned to the camera. The sky is blue and the path is part awash with sunlight, part overshadowed by trees.

What I do now is a very different type of riding than what I’ve ever done before. Here’s my old pair of wheels, which I still use for city commuting when I know I’m going to leave my bike locked up somewhere unattended for a longish period of time, like at the train station:

A black commuter bike with a basket on the rear rack, snow in the background

As you can see, old bike is very much a city commuter. It has eight gears and is fairly heavy. It has taken me on some longer rides as well, but it certainly isn’t speedy or good at mountains. For my current commute, I need “good at mountains”, and I want (at least somewhat) “speedy” for longer rides and the aforementioned potential triathlon. So far, I’ve done several longish rides, the longest being last Sunday’s 67 kilometres, lots of commutes to work, 5.5km each way, and a couple of rides to the pool for swim practice, which at 12 km each way is further away than it sounds.

Does that make me a cyclist now?

If your definition of cyclist is “a person who rides a bike with some frequency”, I’ve actually been one for a long time, since I was a kid. But if your definition is “a person who rides a bike for the sake of riding a bike in a sporty fashion”, then I’m essentially a complete newbie. I don’t use clipless pedals (yet?). At 40mm, my tires are way too thick for a proper “roadie”. I put fenders on my bike first thing, although they are the easily removable kind, should I tire of them. I’ve learned to appreciate the padding in cycling shorts and the pockets and longer back of a cycling jersey, although I don’t always wear one. I’m planning to try my hand at basic bike care myself, rather than letting others (my partner or the shop) sort it out. I’m planning to try out thinner tires next season. I’m ridiculously excited about my new sport. It’s a new adventure and I’m keen to see where it goes!

Bettina wearing a pink top, black bike shorts, gloves, sunglasses, a small trail running/cycling backpack, and a helmet, with her blue bike in the shade of a tree in a park.

I’m a cyclist, but a different kind than I used to be.

clothing · fitness · gear · tbt

The Sports Bra Dilemma #tbt

Five years ago, I wrote this post about sports bras and how active women struggle to find the right one for them. At the time, lots of people shared their stories of “success” on the sports bra front. I figure it’s time for an update, since maybe there is some new product out there. I also just realized that I haven’t replaced mine in FIVE YEARS, so it’s not just the post that needs updating. It’s also my sports bra collection (still Under Armor and Champion). Read on, and please let us know what your best gear in the sports bra department is!

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

underarmor Under Armor Sports bra.

Lately I’ve been looking for something very specific in a sports bra: something that fits comfortably without chafing, provides adequate support, and dries quickly.  I have been fortunate in the first two categories, probably because I’m not all that busty anyway.  I find the under armor sports bras I’ve been wearing are just about right for me.  They come in different cup sizes and they have three different hook settings.

They have padding, which some of us object to. See Sam’s post on nipple phobia and padded sports bras. But I don’t object to a bit of padding. Except that it doesn’t dry really quickly. And after the triathlon swim, it’s not all that comfortable to do the bike then the run with a wet bra.

So I tried my other favourite, the Champion compression-style sports bra, in my last triathlon. I got a two-pack…

View original post 516 more words

clothing · fashion · gear · Guest Post

Attention Barbell Apparel: I am your target market

I lift weights. I am cis-female. I buy jeans.

When I go to the mall to buy jeans, I can literally try on every style in Macy’s or Nordstroms and walk away without a single pair that fits me well. I have a narrower-than-average waist (28-29 inches) and wider-than-average thighs (each about 24 inches around). So, I often have to choose between fitting my legs into pants and then having enormous gapping at the waist, or squeezing my legs in tight enough that I’m at risk of losing circulation when I sit down so that it fits around my middle.

Needless to say, I was THRILLED therefore to discover Barbell Apparel, who markets their jeans to lifters–with sizing not just for the waist measurement but with a THIGH measurement too! I enthusiastically became their customer and signed up for their email list to keep up on marketing. These pants are not cheap, and I knew I’d want to restock when they were on sale.

And for the last 2 years, EVERY email I’ve gotten from them since, minus perhaps one at Christmas, has been targeted exclusively to men and their men’s line.

Some weeks ago, I sent them feedback–are they aware that they only market their men’s line? It might be good to have two types of emails–one targeted to the folks buying women’s clothes and one for those buying men’s. Alternately, maybe include images from both lines in each email? It would help me feel valued and part of the club! After all, women lifters already are a minority within a minority (I’ve written about my own experiences with this previously). Any company that helps me feel like I’m in the club will win my appreciation and loyalty!

The response I got back suggested they didn’t get it. “We are excited to announce we will be adding to our women’s line very soon!” Ok, but do you hear me saying that you are excluding me by marketing only the men’s products?

It is frustrating. And I now feel more ambivalent about their products. I love the idea of celebrating my proportions–my big, strong thighs are NOT typically treated as admirable, but here is a clothing line with proud tank tops declaring “Thunder Thighs!” I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they show that pride in their marketing materials, too.

What say you? Do you feel included and celebrated by the manufacturers of products you are loyal to? What types of inclusivity do you value in advertising?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

clothing · gear · running

I Bought Running Gear First After A Year of No Shopping

In 2018, I challenged myself not to shop for clothes, shoes, handbags and jewelry for the whole year (I wrote about it here: Making Room In My Mind: A Year of No Shopping). Throughout the year people kept asking, “But what about sports clothes? What about running shoes!?” 

My answer was that I would make an exception, if I had to. After all, running shoes are a matter of physical health. I wasn’t going to risk an injury running in worn out shoes. As for sports clothes, well, it’s amazing how long one can keep on going in tights so stretched out the crotch is bagging down around mid-thigh. Never mind desiccated running bras that make a snap-crackle-pop sound when you put them on, because the elastic has stiffened. 

January came. At first, I still couldn’t bring myself to replace items that had clearly expired. I’d grown too used to not shopping. Plus, I was worried that once I opened the door to let shopping back in, I’d slide right down the slippery slope with wild abandon and self-justificatory rationalizations.  I worried that “I want” would quickly become “I need”.

So, I waited. Then one chilly day I just couldn’t take the aggravation of running in droopy drawers. My only pair of extra-cold weather tights had already been darned multiple times and sagged like elephant skin. I got home and threw them out. The dam burst. I started throwing out all my defunct or beyond-grungy sports clothes—2 pairs of running shoes, 5 pairs of socks, a couple of bras, 3 pairs of running tights, a pair of yoga pants and 2 long sleeve base layers. 

I cornered myself with my purge, because now I really did need some new gear. So, I went shopping. What an adrenalin rush! Replacement running shoes, 2 new pairs of running tights in different weather weights, 3 pairs of socks and one long sleeve base layer in my favourite minty green. 

New blue running shoes, green and grey socks (with silver in them, apparently!) and a mint green base layer

If the shopping was a thrill, running in my new gear was even better! The ecstasy of brand spanking tights that hug the legs. The cozy comfort of fresh socks. The boing-boing spring of new shoes. Pleasures I had forgotten. 

I just spent two chilly, grey weeks in Champaign-Urbana, IL. But I didn’t care that the weather was discouraging for a run. I was so happy in my new duds that I looked forward to getting out in the icy, slushy, wet. Running is one of the important ways I tune in to myself and the world. Breaking my shopping fast with a stock up on running necessities was right for me. Fresh gear. Renewed attitude.  

Did my new running swag push me off the top of the slippery shopping slope? No. So far my no-slide crampons are holding. I haven’t gone crazy with all sorts of other clothing purchases. The joy of the new running clothes is more than satisfying for now. 

What’s your latest sports clothing pleasure?