fitness · habits

Thoughts on not changing everything while everything’s changing

Let’s take a poll: how many people are already tired of those articles with the 10 things you MUST do to survive working from home/social distancing/etc.?

A crowd of women, all raising their hands.
A crowd of women, all raising their hands.

I thought so.

Probably most of you have seen this sample COVID-19 daily schedule for families trying to work, study, exercise, eat, rest, play and sleep at home together:

A daily schedule with time slots for almost everything.
A daily schedule with time slots for almost everything.

There may be people who run on schedules like this one, pandemic or no pandemic. Frankly, I’m skeptical. My sister home-schools her kids, and one of the virtues and vices of home-schooling is the flexibility and flow of their activities. For them, the educational and the utilitarian and the recreational sometimes overlap. As long as they meet the goals my sister (and her state home schooling association) set for the kids, it seems fine. All roads may not lead to Rome, but many do, including theirs.

Let me put this out there (for the five of you on the planet that don’t already know this): I’m not a scheduler. I try to make schedules to plan out my day or week (month? oh no…) . I make to-do lists, clustering tasks into categories, prioritizing them, marking them off when completed. Sometimes that works a little. I do keep an accurate appointment calendar on my phone. And yet, I’ve never kept to a dedicated routine for managing my time at home.

I get up in the morning (early, late, whenever my plans for the day tell me I must). I make coffee (obvs), and sit down right away at my computer. No, I don’t:

  • get dressed right away
  • meditate
  • do morning yoga
  • clean anything
  • go for a a run, walk, bike ride

I just work. What work I do first depends on what’s most pressing and then move down the priority list. I know, you’re not supposed to do the pressing work all the time, or you’ll miss out on doing the important work.

Woman shrugging. Whatcha gonna do?
Woman shrugging. Whatcha gonna do?

The thing is, I’ve always been very, uh, “flexible” about my work-from-home style. I interrupt my work flow to talk with friends on the phone mid-morning sometimes. I do mid-morning or afternoon yoga often to clear my head. My work day doesn’t end early/at the same time every day; I happen to be writing this blog post at 11:47pm. That’s me.

(sidebar: I use the Be Focused app with the Pomodoro technique– 25 minutes work, 5 minutes break, repeat– to help me get up out of my chair and move around. I often do small household chores during the breaks, and it works for me. Tracy introduced me to this method and has blogged about it here, and Cate recently blogged about it here).

This informal way of working seemed more or less fine. But then life changed, and now I do everything from home. Maybe it’s now time to start scheduling my time in a more focused, disciplined, regular, accountable way.

I can't! I'm not ready!
I can’t! I’m not ready!

There there… It’s going to be okay.

Innocent picture of one child hugging and soothing another. Additional soothing provided by soft-focus black and white image, and flower in hair of one child.
Innocent picture of one child hugging and soothing another. Additional soothing provided by soft-focus black and white image, and flower in hair of one child.

The fact is, my work life from home has changed a lot. Now that I’m home everyday, I do a lot of things differently:

  • I’m cooking every day
  • I’m doing a lot more dishes and kitchen cleaning!
  • My sleep hours are more grad student-y: 1:30am to 10am (if left to my own devices)
  • I’m doing more live yoga classes, courtesy of Zoom, and I love it
  • I’m doing more emailing with individual students, soothing and reassuring them
  • Technology competence is more important, so I’m working on that
  • My friends and family need soothing, as do I– we vent and reassure each other daily
  • I want more outside exercise, which is still a work in progress
  • I want to think and write and read

That’s a lot of change to roll with.

So I hope I can be forgiven (by whom? myself, I guess) for not scheduling all these activities by the hour or half-hour in a daily planner.

The sad bear says, "I'm sorry. Forgive me, please."
The sad bear says, “I’m sorry. Forgive me, please.”

Here’s an idea, dear readers: I’ll forgive myself for not scheduling all the hours of my day, if you’ll forgive yourself for something you’ve been chastising yourself about since the world went topsy-turvy. Anyone want to share what’s come up for you in the course of all this change? I’d love to hear it, and I will be soothing and reassuring.

A dog and cat, soothing each other in oooh-worthy style.
A dog and cat, soothing each other in oooh-worthy style.
fitness · habits · Happy New Year! · motivation

Happy Quitters’ Day!

Based on loads of data (48 million users worldwide logging their training), Strava says today’s the day when lots of us who made big new year plans give up. We abandon our new year’s fitness resolutions. This year Strava predicts January 19, two days later than last year.

It seems early to me. But who I am to judge? I typically don’t make super big “new year, new me” style resolutions. I did quit smoking on January 1 but that was in 1989, a very long time ago. And I started by cutting back in September so it wasn’t exactly cold turkey.

New year, new me!

Running Magazine has some good tips if your motivation is starting to wane but you want to stick with it: find a buddy, revise your resolution, schedule a race, and don’t be so hard on yourself. I like them. They’re good tips.

I also like a line I learned from Precision Nutrition coaches a few years back, quit tomorrow. It’s their motivation secret #2. “If you’re struggling with your fitness goals, feel free to quit. Just do it tomorrow.”

The idea is that we often quit at the start of a day or activity when things feel especially hard. Or in the middle of a really tough day when we’ve just had enough. Instead, just do the thing and see how you feel after. Still feel like quitting? Quit then. Allowing yourself the possibility of future quitting can help you keep going now.

What works for you to keep you going when quitting beckons?

alcohol · beauty · body image · eating · fat · fitness · habits · health · injury · movies · running · self care · sex · stereotypes · weight loss · weight stigma

Sam watched Brittany Runs a Marathon and recommends that you don’t

Catherine wrote a blog post about Brittany Runs a Marathon without watching it. That was definitely the wiser choice. See her commentary here.

She writes, “So why I am writing about a movie I haven’t seen? Because I think the movie/advertising/fashion/fitness industries have (sort of) taken in the message that it’s not okay to blatantly fat-shame people or overtly identify lower body weights with fitness, success and happiness in life. Notice, I said “overtly” and “blatantly”.”

Catherine goes on to identify “some strong fitspo messages buried (not too deeply) in this film:

  • Health problems should first be addressed by losing weight
  • Weight loss is possible to achieve through physical activity
  • Weight loss makes physical activity possible and easier and better and more fun
  • Some deep-seated emotional problems will resolve through weight loss and physical activity”

There’s a lot to dislike about the film that I knew before I hit play. It erases larger runners, it promotes weight loss fantasies, and it’s fat-shaming. All that I knew at the outset.

So why did I end up watching it? I sometimes watch “bad” TV or fluffy shows while cleaning. Easy to follow rom-coms? Sign me up! I hadn’t seen the floor of my room in weeks. There were Christmas gifts I still hadn’t put away, clean laundry, bags of gym clothes, yoga mats etc all over the floor, the bed needed making, the socks needed sorting and so on. I needed something longer than a regular half hour show to deal with all of the mess. I needed a movie length thing at least. I thought I could handle the fat shaming and enjoy BRAM for its redeeming features. The trailer looked, as a friend put it, cute. The Guardian called it a fluffy feel good flick. It is not that. By the end, I did not feel good at all.

Friends, it was not mostly cute with a side of fat shaming, which I expected. Instead it was a dumpster fire of stereotypes and it was also super sex shaming. All of this was lumped into criticism of Brittany’s self-destructive lifestyle. At one point in the movie someone opines–in a line that was supposed to save the movie, “Brittany, it was never about the weight.” Instead, “weight” is just a stand in for all of Brittany’s problems. Before fat-Brittany is taking drugs and giving men blow jobs in night clubs and by the end of the movie, thin Brittany isn’t just thin. She’s also turning down casual sex. The friends-with-benefits/boyfriend proposes. There was way too much moralizing about sex and drugs. And I say that as someone who is no fan of drugs or alcohol and is often accused of moralizing in this area.

This happens because Brittany isn’t just a fat girl. She’s a fat girl with low self -esteem. She could have just gotten some self-esteem. But no, she gets thin and then gets self-esteem. She could have gotten self-esteem and demanded equal pleasure in the casual sex. She could have started using drugs and alcohol in a responsible manner. Instead, no. She gets self-esteem, says no to drugs, and holds out for a real relationship.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t manage the weight-loss plot line well at all.

The Guardian reviewer writes, “The film struggles to square its protagonist’s weight loss with the pressure to present a body-positive position and ensure it doesn’t alienate the very female audience it courts. One minute it’s wryly poking fun at the expense and inaccessibility of gyms, the next it’s fetishistically cataloguing the shrinking number on Brittany’s scales. Indeed, as her body transforms, so does her life. She finds a new job, and supportive friends in her running club; men begin to notice her. Yet Brittany still battles with her body issues, unable to shed her identity as “a fat girl”. There’s a note of truth in Bell’s finely tuned performance as a character whose insecurities have calcified over the years, hardening her to genuine goodwill, which she frequently misreads as pity.”

For the record, fat Brittany is smaller than me. She starts out weighing 197 pounds. Her goal weight is 167. And we can track it because never in movie history has a person stepped on a scale so often.

(A blog reader pointed out a more charitable interpretation of why we see her stepping on the scale so often: “She steps on the scale a lot because she trades in her addictions to drugs and alcohol for an addiction to scale weight loss, which the movie portrays as an unhealthy obsession. What starts out as a good “oh look, I lost this many pounds now!” thing quickly escalates into a dangerous “go for a run, jump on the scale, dislike the number displayed, so go back out to run in the mistaken belief that it will make the number change” cycle. That’s why she steps on a scale so often. Because it’s NOT good that she does it.)

Forget the weight loss and the sex, even the running themes aren’t handled well. Friends tease Brittany when she first starts running because she isn’t a real runner. The longest she’s run is 5 km. Rather than tackling the “real runner” thing head on instead the film has Brittany run a marathon and become a real runner by the friend’s standards. Even her triumphant marathon finish is marred by Brittany’s continuing to run on her (spoiler alert) injured and possibly still stress fractured leg. We don’t know that but we do know she’s holding her leg and crying, running and not able to put much weight on it, and her first attempt to run the marathon was derailed by a stress fracture.

There is nothing to love here. Nothing cute or funny or feel good or fluffy.

Friends, don’t watch it. Not even on an airplane.

femalestrength · habits · motivation · new year's resolutions · skiing · training

Just Trying—For A Zesty Start to 2020

A few years ago, my cross-country ski mate moved to Montana. We had developed a relaxed, yet ferocious, approach to our shared ski workouts—lots of hard work and lots of chat time. My perfect workout partner. After she left, I lost my mojo.

I almost didn’t notice. For the first couple of years I was dealing with the run up and the aftermath of surgery for a neuroma in my foot. Not that I had to take any significant time off; it was more that the pain prior to the surgery dampened my enthusiasm and then I didn’t quite trust the absence of pain. Even as I write this, I know that my diminished energy for skiing was more to do with losing my partner-in-energy-for-fierce-workouts than it was related to the surgery.

When the ski season started this year, I noticed for the first time how many moments I told myself that I wasn’t fit enough anymore to do a workout from years past. For example, I used to ski up certain gradual hills using V2 (the most powerful skate ski stroke; think of it like the hard gear in the big chain ring on a bike). Now, I was intimidated by the prospect. I told myself that I shouldn’t even try until I got in better shape. Now, that’s a vicious cycle.

Then, skiing on December 31st, I suddenly realized—what am I doing? Just try, I told myself. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? You can’t finish the effort you started? What does that even mean? I’m the one who decides when the effort is done. I’m the one who decides whether I made a good effort or a not. And, if I never make the effort, then I can definitely keep telling myself I can’t.

So, in the middle of my ski, I just tried. I alternated V2 with the moderate ski stroke I normally default to. The next day, January 1, as I was finishing my ski, I got inspired. First day of the year, more, first day of the new decade, try on a new attitude. Plus, I was buoyed by my effort the day before. As I approached the hill where I used to do V2 intervals, I decided to throw in one interval. Just one. Just try. The hill was SO hard. I almost coughed up a lung, as a friend used to say. I got to the top. My technique was a mess. I was done in. I felt that nice glow of accomplishment.

I’m starting to thread back in bits of workouts from the days with my ski pal. It feels good. Fresh. Exhilarating even, as I feel the fizz of enthusiasm returning. As always, the experience makes me question, where else in my life can I just try more? Just try feels forgiving. More about the intention than the outcome. I’m less daunted. I’m less likely to judge myself, when trying is the key to my pleasure, not accomplishing a certain speed.

On January 3, I did the whole interval workout I used to do. V2 up the gradual hill. Fast as I can around and down the other side. Double pole on the barely-discernible-uphill back to the start of the loop. Six times. Just enough energy left for some ski dancing in celebration.

I feel an uptick of overall life optimism from my new and renewed attitude on skis; a zesty feeling I wish I could bottle for the less pleasant days. But life’s operating instructions are pretty clear: Best Enjoyed Now.

Will do.

What’s on your Just Try list?

eating · eating disorders · fitness · food · habits · Happy New Year! · holidays · new year's resolutions · overeating

Still Recovering From Holiday Overeating? Here’s what I’m doing next.

CW: Discusses disordered eating habits and negative self-talk.

Continuing with my normal life.

No, seriously. The moment the celebrations are over and I feel like, “hmm, maybe it’s time to eat fewer cookies, get a little more sleep and find that gym membership card again,” then I’ll just take one thing and do what is normal for me. I’m not going to ramp up, push hard, or go strong. It is not time to atone, make up for, or negate.

I’m just going to let myself fall back naturally into my old routines. It might take a few days, or a week, or whatever, but I’ll find them again. The key is to not spend my time wallowing in guilt or blaming myself in anger. The more emotion I put behind the transition, the harder it is.

I know because I’ve been there before, and not just at the holidays. You see, for nearly as far back as I can remember, I’ve dealt with compulsive overeating. I stole food and hid it in my room as a little girl. As a teen, I would spend my allowance on donuts and pastries that I would eat while walking home from school. I managed my emotions, my sense of loneliness and isolation, depression, traumatic experiences and their aftermaths with food.

I have spent the better part of the last decade extricating myself from these patterns, and while I can’t say I will never overeat unintentionally again, I can say it occurs less and less frequently.

One of the most powerful tools that helped me was to learn to remove emotions from my observations of these patterns and to switch my internal talk to neutral observations. “Why was I so stupid and ate all that cake again?!” has become “I have eaten more cake than I planned on eating.”

I don’t immediately go into damage control mode. I don’t promise to eat only a salad for dinner that night or swear off cake for the rest of the week. I don’t immediately go out for a run or plan a brutal lifting session. I try to just notice it and move on.

I think the noticing is important, although I haven’t read this anywhere else. My friends who are chronic dieters often seem to do a “I’m eating whatever I want, I don’t care” move and then use that as a way to “ignore” what they are overeating. From what I’ve observed on the outside, this seems to backfire as shame and guilt in the long run. It looks like the act of pretending one doesn’t care builds up increased levels of emotional connection to choices rather than diminishing them.

So, the first step isn’t to pretend I am neutral, but to acknowledge the feelings and the choices and consciously rewrite the observation into a neutral statement. “I care about how much I’m eating and I’m going to eat this cookie anyway” is a much more powerful sentiment than trying to convince myself that I don’t care when I actually do.

Then, when I’m ready to make a different choice–the party is over, I’m not out to brunch with friends, I’m back from vacation, and it’s just another meal–I do whatever I would normally do. The only exception is if I really, truly, just don’t feel like it. If my “usual” is dessert after lunch and dinner, but today I’d rather start with a piece of fruit at lunch, then I eat it. But I have to be honest with myself–it doesn’t work to try to convince myself that I should only want a piece of fruit. And this goes for the other direction as well–if my “usual” is a piece of fruit and I really want dessert, I have to be honest with myself about that, too. Again, the act of trying to convince myself creates too high of stakes and too much emotion. So, I have a serving of what I really want while practicing being neutral, and then I get back to my normal routine.

This works with other habits and routines I’m trying to get back to, too. Stopped going to the gym? Letting myself stay up too late? Need to call my parents more often? I observe it. And then allow myself to do one thing that I used to do that helped me maintain that behavior in the past. I only commit to trying ONE thing. It may be as small as putting it on my calendar or packing my gym bag. I break the inertia, do that one thing and observe it without judgement. And then try again.

And before too long, it will be just another day.

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

aging · fitness · habits · holidays · motivation · new year's resolutions · season transitions

Words and Challenges for the New Year

Four days in, I’m still adjusting to this fresh start of a decade. We’re living in the 20’s now. A decade that makes me think my word for the year should be … ROAR.

My cousin introduced me to this word of the year practice about 10 years ago. Our guest blogger, Anne Simpson, wrote about her Word of the Year a few days ago. The idea is to distill your hopes, dreams, ambitions and challenges for the coming year into a word. What’s the one word you choose today to describe the year you are aiming for? A word that aspires to something greater, but doesn’t set you up for disappointment. A personal word that captures both who you are already (and you are just dandy the way you are!) and how you can refine that existing excellence. A word that will inspire you for the 364 days to come.

Vortex of black letters on white background
Nathaniel Shuman on Unsplash

Last year, I had some pretty definitive plans for 2019 related to one of my plays and my book that was publishing in July. I wanted to remind myself not to get too caught up in expectations. I also challenged myself to meditate every day. My word was PRESENCE. In 2018, I was immersed in book writing and my personal challenge was to not shop for clothes or shoes for the whole year. My word was ATTENTION. 

A quick note about these challenges I mention. I’m not one for resolutions. Or maybe I just don’t like the word, in the context of the New Year. There’s something about resolutions that always feels like someone/something is chastising me to do better. And I was never very good at sticking to resolutions. But I have developed a habit of setting myself a challenge for the year. And, weirdly, I generally manage to stick to my challenges. Could just be that the word is more motivating. My challenges are usually ways of being that I want to try on for size, with no commitment to extend after the year is over. You can bet I’ve shopped for some new clothes since 2018 finished.

This year feels largely unknown and fluid. Scary. I have some specific events I’m looking forward to–talks I’m giving in Princeton at The Present Day Club and San Francisco at The Battery; another reading of my play at Missouri State University; plus a new workshop series I’m planning with a friend of mine. I don’t know what any of these will lead to. I don’t know what my big project for the year will be. A new book? Another play? Rolling out the workshops? Plus, there’s my challenge for the year—no buying anything (except books/tv/film) on amazon. I may also go back to an alternate month no-shopping practice, because the prospect is peaceful to contemplate.

All in all, I feel open. Excited. Super daunted. And sometimes a little frustrated, because shouldn’t a woman in her 50’s be looking forward to a steadier, more settled year? That’s my voice of insecurity having her say. But she does not get to decide my word! So, given all that, what is my word?

I like ROAR , but that’s not it.

Here’s my always evolving list of possible words: illuminate … grow … strong … steady … being …  belonging … becoming … run … light … recharge … strong … vitality … engaged … present … discerning … happy … incandescent … yes … flow … curiosity … change … renewal … reliability … radiance … spontaneity … pleasure … simplicity

I like the potential these words embrace. This is a year about expanding and making space. I want to get to the end of 2020 and feel like I’ve tapped into new personal resources.

In that spirit, this year, I choose BECOMING.

What’s your word or challenge?

Crossfit · fitness · Guest Post · habits

Falling flat on day two of the New Year (Guest Post)


by Laura MacDonald

I love New Years.  In the dying days of December I love how anything seems possible.  A few days ago I asked my Facebook friends this year, what are you planning for in 2020?  I have lots of new ideas that I way toying with for 2020 (start a home yoga practice! learn to run!) but those were more fun ideas to think about than plans that I would likely follow through on. My true goal for 2020 was to return to consistency with my CrossFit workouts.  I have belonged to a CrossFit gym for seven years. It is a welcoming community of mixed ability athletes with wonderful coaches and outstanding programming. I love it. But it’s hard. I need to repeat that. I love it. But it’s hard. It can be very easy for me to decide to “unclick” myself from a class I registered for because I feel like I’m too tired, too drained from work to do a hard workout.  I struggle to see myself as an athlete and I can pretty easily get a case of the “I don’t wanna’s”’ when it comes to CrossFit. As a result, my attendance at the gym this fall has not been very consistent. But here we come with a new year, a new resolution and a renewed commitment to the CrossFit community that I love.

The gym was closed yesterday so today’s 7:00am class was my first class of my new habit.  Remember, I love a resolution! I packed my bag and laid out my clothing the night before. I got up before my alarm.  I drove to the gym in the dark. I briefing had two thoughts as I drove: 1) please God do not let this be a partner workout 2) please God do not let this be a long workout.  But I wasn’t really worried. Our workouts are usually short and partner workouts are unusual. 

Of course when I arrived at the gym, the workout was on the whiteboard.  It was long. Really long. It was also a partner workout. A hard one. 

I was unhappy but got ready for class nonetheless.  And then I read the skill portion of the workout – dodge ball.  Every third day of the week at my gym, the barbell lift portion of the class is replaced by a skill or occasionally a game.  I probably don’t need to tell you that I hate dodge ball, that I have some pretty terrible elementary school traumatic memories of dodge ball.  And do you know what friends? That was it. I picked up my gym bag, I put on my jacket and I left the gym. And I cried in my car for the whole drive home.

Seven years at this gym and I have never bailed on a workout.   And today I did.

Where does that leave me on day two of 2020?  Well, I’m booked to go back to the gym tomorrow and again on Saturday.  I’m booked to go to yoga this evening and on Sunday. After I finish this blog post I’m going to go for a walk with my dog in the sunshine.

Today I fell flat.  There really isn’t anything else to do but pick myself back up and try again. 

See you out there pals.  

2020 is still new.

Happy New Year! Text surrounded by leaves. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash .

Laura is a secondary school teacher in Hamilton Ontario.  She’s CrossFit athlete, regular walker, new yogi and occasional cyclist.  In 2019 she learned that she loved to count (steps and kilometres and workouts completed) and is currently counting her way to 300 workouts in 2020.