220 in 2020 · fitness · habits · health · motivation · rest · running · schedule · strength training · training · walking · yoga

220 in 2020: goal achieved, now what? Hint: keep going

image description: Tracy selfie. She’s smiling, wearing a Buff on her head and a workout tank, upper left arm tattoo of flower visible, home workout equipment (e.g. running shoes, cans of beans, chairs, blanket, bin with resistance bands, yoga mat on floor) in background.

A few of us have blogged about participating in “220 in 2020,” which is basically a group where you keep track of your workouts, with a goal of working out at least 220 times in 2020. Cate and Sam started talking about it back in 2017, when they did “217 in 2017.” It got Sam to think more explicitly and more expansively about what counts. And Cate has talked about the motivating power of this type of group and how it’s altered her relationship to working out. I jumped on board last year, with the 219 in 2019 group that spun off of the Fit Is a Feminist Issue Challenge group that Cate, Christine and I hosted for a few months in the fall of 2018.

Reflecting on “what counts” is not a new thing for me. Way back when Sam and I started the blog in 2012, I was already wondering what a workout actually is for me. I revisited that question when I joined the 219 in 2019 group. Then I concluded that “if these challenges are meant to get us moving, then whatever gets us moving counts.”

I just hit the goal of 220 workouts in 2020 on the weekend. It sort of snuck up on me. In fact, I didn’t even notice when I first posted it. It’s not something I “had my eye on” the way I did last year. I’ve even wondered whether it seems like a bit of an impossibility or something people view with skepticism.

Last year, using as my basic criterion “if it gets me moving then it counts,” I managed to get in the 219, with a few extra but not many. The vast majority of sessions I counted were either yoga classes, runs, or resistance training sessions. I had a sort of minimum time limit of about 20 minutes before I would count something as a workout. Yoga and personal training were always an hour. And most of my runs are at least 20 minutes and sometimes considerably longer.

By the time 2020, going on the momentum of 2019, I had successfully incorporated conscious movement into my routine every day. Sometimes, especially but not only while I was in Mexico in January and February, I would do something twice a day, like yoga and running, or yoga and a 10K walk. Starting with Adriene’s “Home” yoga challenge in January, I have actually done yoga almost every day since the beginning of the year. When I started to notice the numbers really racking up on my “count” in the 220 in 2020 group, I began to count two things in a day as one workout (like run+yoga OR walk+yoga) unless one of those things was super exerting or considerably longer than an hour). It’s almost as if I felt bad!

But the fact is, the goal of being able to record a new workout often did motivate me to get moving. And once I had yoga as part of my daily routine, I didn’t want to break that streak of daily yoga. But for me yoga alone is not enough — it counts, but I need to either run, walk, or do some resistance training as well.

Another woman in the 220 in 2020 group also hit her 220 on the weekend. And she asked me, “what now?” My first answer was “keep going.” Which is sort of obvious. I went on to wonder whether there is any reason to keep recording and reporting my workouts, though. The group has achieved its purpose for me — over the past 18 months of being part of a group like this I have integrated physical activity into my daily life in a way I hadn’t quite before. This is made easier this year by my sabbatical, so I am much freer than I usually am. For at least a few more months I get to set my own hours. That allowed me to kick into high gear in the fall, with hot yoga every day (oh, how I miss hot yoga! The pandemic has effectively taken that out of my life for the indefinite future). I made a smooth transition to Yoga with Adriene when I went to Mexico for the winter. That gave me a headstart on the transition to online everything that the pandemic has foisted upon us.

The running/walking + yoga combo was just starting to feel old when I discovered, through Cate, the online Superhero workouts with Alex in late April. That was just the thing I needed to add a new dimension of challenge to my fitness life. I had set resistance training and even running aside for awhile, having injured myself last spring and endured a very slow recovery. For me the perfect balance is a routine that includes yoga, resistance training, and running/walking. I don’t tend to take a day off, opting instead for active rest, combining a more restorative yoga practice with a walk.

This commitment to a routine that includes daily physical activity has also been amazing for my mental health. I have had a tough couple of years that culminated in the finalization of my divorce in early January. Sometimes it felt as if regular physical activity was the only thing I could commit to as part of a daily schedule.

When I stepped away from being a regular on the blog at the end of last summer, it was partly because I had very little left to say publicly about fitness. That still holds true, with the occasional blog post (I think I’ve blogged about 5 times since I “left”) and my daily progress tracking in the 220 in 2020 group being the extent of it. Once in awhile I feel compelled to make some social commentary (like my commentary on “the covid-19” weight-gain jokes, which aren’t funny).

As I hit my 220 target early, with almost half a year stretching out before me, I feel that it’s cemented what started when Sam and I embarked on our Fittest by 50 Challenge and started the blog in 2012. The big shift for me during our challenge was to a more internal and personal relationship with fitness. I realize full well, for example, that no one else really cares, nor should they, what I do. This isn’t to say I haven’t felt supported, encouraged, and motivated by the group. It isn’t to say either that I haven’t enjoyed watching the fitness lives of other members — their accomplishments, their routines, the adventurous and exciting things they do. It is to say that, in the end, I do this for myself. And I’ve experienced the benefits in my life.

So the answer to the question, “what now?” actually is, “keep going.” Not to accumulate a higher number (though I will, if I keep reporting in the group), but because it’s now a thing I do that is a positive part of my life. And recognizing that, it makes no sense to stop. I also think it’s pretty awesome, and I’m not going to worry if that makes me sound boasty or whatever, because sometimes I think we are not boasty enough. We minimize things we do that are actually awesome. And since (as noted above) no one else really cares, and since I definitely do care, well…it makes sense for me to regard reaching this fitness milestone about 5 1/2 months early as an actual achievement. [high-fiving myself now despite slight discomfort at what I just said, which discomfort highlights that I’ve internalized the message about how women shouldn’t be self-congratulatory about what they do even though I actually think we should]

So that’s my “challenge group” story for 2020. Do you have one? If so, let us know in the comments how that helps you (or, if you fly solo, why that works best for you).

covid19 · fitness · habits · yoga

Towards a new “routine”?

I don’t know about you, but two months into lockdown I feel like I’m starting to settle into the “new normal”. Getting up in the morning and “going to work” across the hallway doesn’t seem outlandishly strange anymore. People at my workplace are settling into automatically logging their intermittent visits to the office on our online building log without me chasing them, which pleases me no end (I’m responsible for coordinating our Corona measures at work). Even as we ease lockdown measures where I live, at least partially remote work will stay with us for another while, so it’s just as well.

Bettina’s current universe: a red yoga mat and her home office workstation

I’ve also started noticing a few things that are missing and rather than it feeling too much, I’m doing something about it. (I realise that I’m incredibly privileged to be in that headspace right now.) One of these things is a way to work out my arm muscles. In the before time – which to me right now means both before Corona and before pregnancy – I bouldered (stopped first because pregnant) and swam (stopped later because Corona) regularly. Now that I’m not doing either of those things, my poor arms are definitely noticing the lack of a challenge. That’s why I’ve started doing a bit of arms exercise with dumbbells almost daily. It’s not much, just some sets of biceps curls and some shoulder and triceps exercises, but it’s something. I won’t lie, I don’t enjoy it. I find it a bit boring. But I keep telling myself that I’ll have to carry a baby around soon and I’m reliably informed they are heavy, so I’d better prepare!

Last week, I’ve also started doing prenatal yoga every morning, except on the days I have my online Iyenga yoga class. This is more enjoyable than the dumbbells! I like getting into the movements as my body wakes up, and it’s very peaceful and quiet around me. I’m still trying to understand why it’s taken me this long to get into that routine, and my conclusion is it’s a mix of things both pandemic and pregnancy-related that has messed up my day-to-day.

Let’s see how long it lasts. The one thing both the Corona crisis and pregnancy have in common is that they evolve daily. Soon I’ll be too big to cycle, at some point I’ll have to stop running. But for now, I’m pleased I’ve found a groove.

How about you? Have you found a way of settling into things?

covid19 · cycling · fitness · habits

Sam is habitual, addicted, and unemployed: Time to add “quarantined,” Zwift?

As everyone who reads the blog knows, like cyclists all over the world, I’ve been riding lots on Zwift. It’s become a crowded place sometimes Just yesterday Sir Bradley Wiggins, CBE, former professional road and track racing cyclist, led a group ride on Zwift with nearly 3000 other riders.

In the past I didn’t pay much attention to some of the “game-y” features in Zwift like the badges. But then the pandemic happened and in short order I got the habitual, the addicted, and finally the unemployed badges. There’s been a lot of jokes among Zwifting cyclists about renaming them. Maybe we should add one after “unemployed” and call it the “quarantined.” If “unemployed” is riding 14 days in a row, maybe “quarantined” could be 30?

Some people have suggested that since so many people have lost their jobs in the real world, that Zwift’s Unemployed badge isn’t such a funny joke any longer. Mostly I ride after work but sometimes in order to catch rides in other time zones, like the Australian breakfast rides with Chicks Who Ride Bikes, I take breaks during my workday. I was riding with someone from California the other day who was working while riding! Her company encouraged staff to work while indoor bike riding. Me, I’m not coordinated enough for that.

If you want to find out more, here’s this from Zwift Insider: ALL ABOUT ZWIFT’S “UNEMPLOYED” (AND SIMILAR) BADGES: “With many of us riding and running only indoors due to coronavirus-related restrictions, the topic of Zwift’s “Unemployed” achievement badge is popping up regularly. This is the badge awarded when you (as Zwift says), “Ride a lap 14 days in a row”.

It’s true I’ve been riding more. I don’t what May will look like but here’s April.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is strava.jpg
Sam’s Zwift badges including her Unemployed badge.

covid19 · fitness · habits · motivation · training

5 Motivating Things to Tell Yourself to Get Exercising Again

Finding it hard to get moving these days? Struggling to consistently work out with your routines thrown off? Consider telling yourself stories about yourself to help you get started and keep you going. It’s what I’m doing, and it’s really paying off. When I’m struggling to stay motivated, these internal narratives push me through to the next set.

“I never regret getting started.” This one is completely true for me, and for that matter, I almost never regret working out. Very occasionally, when I’ve been pushing too hard, or I’m coming down with something, or my life is exceptionally stressful elsewhere, I find that I just can’t finish a workout. But even then, I’m glad I made an effort. My body feels better, my thoughts usually feel clearer, and I like knowing that I did what I could. This story gets me into my workout gear and gets me to give it at least a start. I almost always finish.

“I’m an athlete and this is training, not just another workout.” This story (and it is a fiction in my case, albeit a powerful one) helps me focus on the task at hand. When the goal is training, the movement and intensity matter. I can focus on what muscles I’m using, the quality of the contractions, and on how my technique matters. Whereas if I’m just “exercising,” there’s some permission in my head to back off and go through the motions–after all, I’m still getting in my daily movement, so what does it matter if that last set was a little easy or sloppy?

“I am choosing to be a person who does this, it isn’t something I do out of obligation.” Yes, taking care of myself makes me a better wife, friend and daughter. I’m nicer when I take time to work out. I’m also decreasing the likelihood that I get certain diseases and conditions. But, I have a choice every day about continuing to do this work. And some days, I choose to take a break. It’s all ok, but it isn’t ok to act like someone is forcing me, because they’re not. When I tell myself this story, I reduce the rebel inside me that wants to say “Eff you” to the world and skip working out to “do whatever I want,” because this IS what I want.

“I am lucky I get to do this.” I cannot overemphasize how deeply motivating this story is for me. I have been physically disabled to the point that walking a block would make me lightheaded, breathless and in pain. It has taken me years, decades, to get to the level of fitness I’m at today, and I do not take it for granted. I feel so lucky that I’ve been given this time to push myself. This story reminds me to acknowledge this reality with gratitude.

“I’m at the gym right now.” This is a story I’ve had to start telling myself specifically during my home workouts these days. If I’m at the gym, I’m not checking email, doing chores, talking to the cats, or otherwise wasting time. The goal is to use the hour to get some lifting done so I can “go home.” Incidentally, I’ve started to tell this story to my husband, too. Now he knows that when I’m “at the gym,” unless it’s urgent, conversation and other interruptions can wait until I’m done. I am really loving finding some “alone” time even when I’m never alone in the house these days.

In the midst of the surreal realities of our current situation, I am finding the structure of my lifting to be a valuable tool for self-care. These stories, the mindset with which I approach my lifting, have become important to get me off the sofa and to my trusty resistance bands more days than not.

Your turn, dear reader: What are you telling yourself to help you stay motivated?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a (mostly online, and not very good at it, yet) middle school science and health teacher. She can be found using positive imagery and self-talk while pretending to pick up heavy things and put them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

Image description: Someone standing in white sneakers on a checked carpet.
fitness · habits

Training for stamina and resilience in a crisis

On Saturday I did a zoom yoga teacher training workshop on “Teaching in Uncertain Times”. It focused on how to teach and incorporate meditation into yoga classes. I don’t teach yoga and I’m not training to become a yoga teacher. But, I teach philosophy students who are suffering mightily right now. They are afraid, confused, out of sync, frustrated with themselves and with the situation they’re in, and really in need of help. I turned to this workshop in the hopes of finding something to give them, something to help their suffering and unhappiness.

Here was my pre-workshop idea: I’ve done meditation in yoga classes and often found it promoted greater clarity and feelings of peacefulness. Maybe I can run some optional online meditation classes for my students. Also, there’s a contemplative pedagogy group on my campus that’s working on scheduling weekly meditations classes for my university community. I should help them by pitching in and running a class. How hard can it be?

Yeah. that’s a good question. I was about to get the answer.

In the first five minutes of the workshop, teacher Alex (from my local studio Artemis) told us that meditation is about building emotional stamina and resilience. It’s true that we experience peace and relaxation sometimes from meditation, but that’s not what it’s for. Meditation helps us fortify and stabilize ourselves by building stamina and resilience.

Oh. So meditation is a training program that develops and requires strength and endurance. Yes, that makes sense. And it changes everything, at least relative to my pre-workshop idea.

It means that, if I want to teach meditation to my students, I need to get in meditation shape first. I’ve got to get my meditation training program going, and develop some stamina and familiarity and endurance and perspective about this practice. And I’m nowhere near that place with respect to my own meditation right now. Okay then.

But I learned something else from the workshop (which had lots more guidance in the ensuing 55 minutes).

I learned that I already know something about building strength and endurance from training in cycling and writing a dissertation. I’ve spent a lot of time developing stamina and resilience in movement. This is very familiar to me, and it’s very familiar to you as well, dear readers. We can all draw on the resources we’ve got from our devotion, our struggles, our dabbling, and our daily encounters with the movements and physical activities we love (and don’t).

For me, applying those resources to strategies and plans and practices for moving through this pandemic period (which will end, as everything does) involves putting in place a meditation training program, as it were. Training programs aren’t glamorous, and they aren’t even necessarily fun (although the experiences of doing them can include some fun). That’s not what they’re for.

Training helps us develop the skills and strength and stamina to get through big events, long runs, and endurance races. It also helps us get out of bed, make breakfast, be a resource for others, and keep going.

I’m working on my own meditation practice for now, in preparation for helping my students experience what it’s like to sit and focus on the present.

This week, our bloggers will be sharing some of their insights and lessons learned from their own endurance and strength training activities in a group post. Stay tuned.

What sorts of practices are you developing now to help you with strength and endurance during these times? I’d love to hear from you.

eating · fitness · habits · self care

Marjorie Muses on Missing her Routines and Ruminates upon the Ramifications

I miss my routines.

Over the years, I’ve built dozens of routines that have improved my life–routines that make going to the gym nearly automatic, routines that make it easier to eat in a way that reflects my values, routines that increase my contact with other people even though my natural introversion can lead to isolation. These are routines built to increase my self-care, which honestly is a challenge for me otherwise. In the past, I found it hard to prioritize myself if in the moment I had to make a choice–right now, do I do what I need or what someone else needs? Most of the time, in the moment, I would more readily take care of someone else. But when these things are routine, when they are habitual, I do what I need to do for myself and I feel better for it.

But my routines have gone all to hell these days.

I am a teacher, and school has been closed down, possibly for the remainder of the year. In my life before pandemic, I worked too many hours, and I had to be very strategic to get everything done. I welcomed any bit of extra time to rest, connect with friends, and to mindfully plan the next busy day. I eagerly filled nonschool days with activities and self-care. But that was before businesses started closing down. And it was before it was unclear if I was making an unethical choice every time I stepped out the door.

And so now, with sort-of school slowly becoming a reality, I’m not quite sure how best to take care of myself. Would it help to get back to prepping my meals? (Some of my previous breakfast and lunch practices are posted here, if you are interested.) Maybe I’d eat better if it were all decided for me each day. However, every trip to the store has become an act of foraging for prefered staples–seeking out and competing for limited prized goods like beans, chicken and frozen broccoli. Inconsistent availability makes it difficult to plan meals ahead of time. And besides, giving myself some food variety is an appreciated source of entertainment right now.

Should I write down my “gym” and “running” days on the calendar and schedule them like appointments with myself? It might help to feel like I’m accomplishing something when I can check them off, but uncertainties in other aspects of life make it hard to know when to reliably fit those in. I started off pretty enthusiastically figuring out home versions of various lifts, but as work is coming back, and directives from the state and school district change on a daily basis, I can’t reliably determine when I have time for an hour of “lifting” on any particular day. And there are still days when I seem exhausted by it all, and the best thing for me is to let myself sit like a loaf on the sofa with a cat in my lap.

I acknowledge that some of the mini-habits are still in place. I’m still brushing and flossing my teeth. I did laundry, although it did not get put away as rapidly as it usually would have. I’m going for walks most days. I’m still mostly going to bed at my usual bedtime, and I’m enjoying sleeping in. I’m still eating a good amount of fresh fruit, vegetables and some protein at most meals (although there’s also a good amount of brownies, too). It doesn’t feel like enough, but it’s what I am managing to do right now. I’m trying to embrace an 80/20 mindset–80% intentional, 20% whatever. I’d be more comfortable closer to 92/8, truth be told.

I don’t have a solution to offer here. I feel like it’s important just to observe the challenge right now and to be kind to myself (ourselves) if I’m struggling to maintain my healthy habits and routines to the degree to which I prefer. I genuinely don’t mind being a little lax for a while, as long as it’s not indefinitely. And I think that’s where I get anxious and stressed–without knowing for how long this will be my new normal, I don’t know how important it is to develop new routines. I suspect we are in this for a long time, and so I want to find solutions that feel real and meaningful. I’m not there yet, but I am trying to believe I will be soon.

How about you, dear reader? Are you missing your routines? Have you found a new set of habits readily available, or are you still struggling to find them?

Image description: The unlit, Art Deco marquee of the Laurelhurst Theater. It says, “laurelhursttheater.com, closed for now, stay healthy & warm, support each other, take care of yourselves.”

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher who misses her students. She can be found using resistance bands while pretending she’s picking up heavy things and putting them back down again, in Portland, Oregon.

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?