N+1: A Love Story (Guest Post)

I know many of the contributors and readers of this blog are avid cyclists. I’ve only recently discovered the joys of cycling. Although, like most people, I learned to ride a bike when I was a child, it never captivated me until I moved to Aotearoa New Zealand and started commuting to university by bike. My officemate, who was leaving the country, sold me his bicycle (whom I christened Beatrice), and my love affair began. After a few months of commuting (plus an unexpected influx of cash), I decided to buy a new bicycle that fit me well and expressed my personality. Beatrice was lonely and needed a sister, after all! Plus, I am told that it is a well-known adage amongst cyclists that the number of bikes you need is n+1, where n is the number of bikes you currently have.

A side photo of a bright orange commuter bike leaning against a white house in the sunshine.

Image description: A side photo of a bright orange commuter bike leaning against a white house in the sunshine.

My new bike, Jezebel, is a commuter bike with a temperament to match her bright orange paint job. I’ll be the first to admit that I know almost nothing about bicycles—although I’m slowly learning a few basic maintenance things—but that hasn’t stopped me from falling hopelessly in love with my new bike. Even though I grew up with a triathlete mother, I never really understood how some cyclists could develop such deep emotional attachments to their bikes.

Now I do.

So, I present to you, dear readers, a love letter to my bicycle*:

Dear Jezebel,

How happy I am that you are in my life! Your blazing orange coat fills me with joy every time I lay eyes on you. I can’t wait to show you all around the great city where we live, and I’m looking forward to taking you up and down roads, over hill and dale, along rivers and around the harbour. You will accompany me everywhere I need to go: to friends’ houses, my office, the supermarket, the swimming pool. I’ll tuck you in, safe and sound in the garage, and dream of speeding off into the sunrise with you in the morning.

You push me to be stronger and more adventurous, facing wind and hill and black ice with courage and determination I didn’t have before. You’ve also made me notice the small details I never would have seen otherwise. The potholes, quirks of the traffic lights at different intersections, hidden driveways, and roads that look flat but are actually very gradual inclines would have escaped my notice if you hadn’t pointed them out to me.

In you, I found freedom I didn’t know I lacked. Before we met, it took me ages to get anywhere. Although I enjoyed walking, it took up a lot of time. I didn’t drive anywhere because I don’t know how, and driving is impractical anyway because traffic is slow and parking is scarce and expensive. And if I took the bus, I was always travelling on someone else’s schedule. Now, you and I can go anywhere whenever we want. While the roads are filled with trapped cars waiting for the procession ahead of them to make it through the next light, we gleefully zip past them down the bike lane. I create excuses to go places simply so I can spend more time with you. I can’t wait for the long and happy life we will spend together.

Love,
Chloe

P.S. Be nice to Beatrice. Having a younger sister has been an adjustment for her.

A 26-year old white woman with short blonde hair, wearing a red and grey plaid shirt and black glasses smiles while posing with her orange bicycle.

A 26-year old white woman with short blonde hair, wearing a red and grey plaid shirt and black glasses smiles while posing with her orange bicycle.

*Yep, I know my bike can’t read.

My highest weight and feeling great?

That’s not how the whole body image & heart health narrative is supposed to go. I know. I’m supposed to struggle with my weight and health. Then, because I’ve sublimated my base urges and really learned to love myself, I miraculously transform into a thinner, better me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this great blog post by Heather Plett.

I just love it and she captured so much of what I have encountered. People LOVE imposing a triumphant narrative on my fitness. 
I’m not at war with my body. My body is not a thing to be dominated or warred against.

I am trying to figure out how to be healthy and joyful. I think I’m hovering or orbiting around that, I’m in the neighbourhood at least.

In July this Facebook memory came up:

I’ve tried a lot of things since 2014 and some of it worked for me, other stuff, not so much. I’ve tried mindfulness and abstaining from alcohol. I’ve tried losing weight. (Spoiler, I didn’t keep it off!)

https://fitisafeministissue.com/2015/02/20/40-years-40-lbs-guest-post/

I’ve though a lot about my cardiovascular health!

https://fitisafeministissue.com/2016/04/09/facebook-memories-and-blood-pressure-stories/

I’m back to the weight I was 3 years ago when my high blood pressure diagnosis (and offer of gastric bypass surgery by my doctor) happened. The thing is, I feel great!

I’m gardening, cycling a bit, playing soccer and occasionally working out. My blood pressure is right where it needs to be.

I do know if I put all my time and energy into tracking food and using all my self discipline for staying away from sweets and alcohol I do lose weight for a while. The things needed to do that make me super anxious and sad. I only think about food. It’s kind of awful.

Thing is, I use a lot of self-discipline to parent, take my university courses, be a grown up at work…lots of things. And here’s the deal, like many of my emotional and cognitive resources, I’ve only got so much to go around.

I love making delicious and nutritious food. I love craft beers. I’ve decided that until my blood pressure numbers change for the worse I’m good the way I am.

So I think the question is more of an exclamation. My highest weight and feeling GREAT!

Why I’m glad I stopped worrying about sugar and other weird food obsessions

I had a funny exchange the other day on Facebook. There was a link about the dangers of the cheese powder in boxed mac and cheese. I commented on my friend’s post that when we can, we should rely on whole foods to make mac and cheese. Being an American, my friend thought I meant the food chain Whole Foods, which is not so cheekily known as Whole PayCheque for the high cost of it items.

Image: White bowl with pasta noodles, red tomatoes, and green basil.

Not macaroni and cheese, but my favourite feta, basil and tomato pasta supper.

Nonetheless we had a good chat about how expensive it can be to eat whole, unprocessed foods, and that led us to a whole other thread about clean eating, healthy eating, good foods, bad foods, cheat meals, etc. We weren’t actually talking about our approach to nutrition but the way the words we use to talk about food get co-opted by all kinds of agendas. It’s quite easy to have all sorts of “isms” and attitudes creep in, altering our meaning and twisting our understanding of food as fuel in our lives and how we relate to it in different contexts.

That same day SamB brought my attention to this article about Anthony Warner, described by the Guardian as “(the Angry Chef) who is on a mission to confront the ‘alternative facts’ surrounding nutritional fads and myths.”  Warner writes a blog on food fads, and he doesn’t hold back. He’s now written a book called The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth About Healthy Eating, and I ‘m adding it to my reading list.

That’s because when you start a fitness program, there’s all manner of advice on how to eat, what to eat, and why the one true way (insert your favourite fad — howsoever you define it —  diet here) will be all that you need. Even if your goal is not weight loss, there’s all kinds of recommendations (cough, cough, rules!) on how to eat to train.

Heck, you don’t even have to be training to get food advice. I’m convinced all you have to be is female and not meet someone’s pre-conceived notion of how female should look, for the advice to come pouring in, accompanied by a generous helping of side eye finished with a soupcon of shade, if the advisor deems your food choices not to meet their definition of “healthy” eating.

What appealed to me about Warner is his evidence-based approach. In the article he says: “A lot of the clean-eating people, I just think they have a broken relationship with the truth. (…) They’re selling something that is impossible to justify in the context of evidence-based medicine.” I like science and research and critical thinking. Sadly, there’s too little of it when it comes to talking about food and part of it goes back to the agendas behind the particular terms used.

Warner says our fascination with fads or trends in food and eating is connected with our innate need for certainty. He explains it this way: “We really want to be able to say: ‘Is coffee good or bad for us?’ Well, it’s not good or bad for you, it just is. And we have to accept that; that’s what science says. So your brain goes, ‘I don’t like that level of uncertainty.’ Certainty is really appealing for a lot of people and that’s what a lot of these people are selling – certainly at the darker end.”

And he’s right. The people who have preached to me about gluten free diets when they aren’t celiac are utterly convinced of the rightness of their belief that going gluten-free cured their ills. Equally certain are the people who now look upon sugar with the same fear and revulsion we bring to edible oil masquerading as coffee creamer.

As I survey the speciality food shelves in my local shops, I’m enchanted by all of the interesting food stuffs and yet, truthfully, I am also challenged by how these same items are elevated in social media, on Instagram, and by celebrities to miracle food status. Warner, who lives in the UK and works for a food manufacturer is clear about the limitations food makers face when it comes to making claims about food: “If I made a food product and I wanted to say ‘it detoxes you’, I absolutely couldn’t. There are really clear laws: I can’t say it in the advertising, I can’t say it on the pack, I can’t make any sort of claim that isn’t hugely backed in evidence. But if I wrote a recipe book, I can say what I want.”

If you have been wondering how Gwyneth Paltrow can make pots of money selling her fans coconut oil as a mouthwash and wasp’s nests as a vaginal cleanser, there’s your answer. The trick is to stop engaging in magical thinking when it comes to food and applying some common sense. Warner’s advice: “eat a sensible and varied diet, not too much nor too little. If you have junk food every so often, don’t feel guilty; if you’re going full Morgan Spurlock, you’re probably overdoing it. Eat fish, especially oily ones such as salmon and mackerel, when you can. Don’t consume too much sugar, but equally don’t believe people who tell you it’s “toxic” and has “no nutritional value.”

Or you can go the Reader’s Digest version and follow Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Excuse me now, as I forage in the fridge for the leftover maple syrup glazed salmon.

— Martha is a writer and powerlifter in training exploring a whole new world of food as fuel.

 

 

 

Riding safely in the big city

I’m currently spending five weeks working and visiting friends in and around London, UK – the “other” London, as we know it in southwestern Ontario. This is where I began my road cycling career 5 years ago, believe it or not, and it’s a place where I lived, worked, and commuted by bicycle for 26 months between 2012 and 2014.

London roads are full to bursting with cyclists these days, and it’s one of the reasons why the big, blue, bicycle “superhighways” that were introduced by former mayor Ken Livingstone are now undergoing a series of much-needed upgrades.

promoCycleSuperHighway2

(Two images showing wide blue cycle lanes in London, England. One is a close-up shot on a quiet road, and the other a view from above of the lanes on a wide, busy street.)

When I commuted via “CS7” and “CS2” between my home in Tooting, south London, and my job in Mile End, east London, back in the day, the blue paint on the road was mostly for show: taxis, motorbikes, and double decker buses all crowded into our lanes, and I (famously, to me) got side-swiped by a Stansted Airport Express coach on CS2 outside Aldgate East station on Valentine’s Day in 2013. Why do I remember this in such detail? Because it hurt. And because the police did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about it.

I rode along CS2 yesterday, after a trip out to Surrey to play in the hills on my new road bike, Freddie. (My bikes travel with me everywhere. Your question: how much does that cost??!! My answer: not a penny. But I do tend to fly with established carriers, not budget carriers. Your mileage may vary.)

Were there changes to the lanes in the time since my commuting days? Oh my, so many! The route is now fully segregated in the high-traffic zone between the City and Whitechapel, by a mix of pole barriers and concrete, poured barriers. The bikes also now have their own traffic lights, meaning if you obey them and cross only when it’s safe to do so, you no longer have fight with turning vehicles not looking for you.

cmglee_london_cycle_superhighway_2_wikimedia_commons

(An image of London’s Cycle Superhighway 2, with a concrete barrier separating cyclists from traffic. This segregation is now the norm on what was once the deadliest road for cyclists in the capital.)

As I rode past The Spot Where I Got Hit four years ago, I thought to myself: that accident could not happen now. Or, if it did, it’d mean that the bus had jumped the barrier, which would also mean the cops could not just ignore it.

These much-needed improvements got me thinking a lot about how to be safe on the roads, especially in very busy, big cities. Lots more people now – in London, in Toronto, in New York, even in little London, Ontario – are commuting by bike, and bike lanes (and green bike boxes!) are more common in North America than ever before.

But I also know lots of people who won’t commute by bike, or ride on the road for exercise (Tracy is one), because they fear (very reasonably) the dangers that accrue to riding a pedal bike on roads built primarily for car traffic.

Which, of course, got me thinking that I should blog about how I have learned to ride safely in large cities, with the hopes that some of you who fear the roads now might use these top tips to give it a try.

1. Take up space.

This is my #1 tip by far. Beginner cyclists find the whole thing daunting with good reason: the majority of traffic on city streets is going 20-30kph (12-22mph) faster than you are. Gut instinct is often to cleave to the gutter, riding as close to the curb as possible. This is a mistake, though, because it gives traffic the impression that it can and should ignore you.

Basically, not taking up space gives cars license to not pay attention to you in the decisions they make as they pass you. This is good for nobody. It also means that you might hit stuff that’s been tossed into the gutter, possibly producing a fall. Trust me: there’s a lot of shit in the gutter.

What’s the alternative? Ride in the middle right (or left, depending on your national context) of your lane. That is: maybe don’t ride right in the middle (although there are times you can and should do this, and it’s legal!), but ride prominently in the middle of your “side” of the lane. That says to drivers: “I am here. I am riding safely, keeping about a metre between me and the curb. Go around me safely.”

door-zone-300x214

(An image, from the U.S., of safe riding in the lane to avoid what the image calls “The Door Zone”. It shoes a woman on the edge of a wide, marked bike lane and two riders in the middle of it. The image encourages safe mid-lane riding to make you visible and help you avoid being hit by motorists as they open doors.)

Sure, some drivers will whip by and curse you, because they are jerks – or maybe because they don’t know any better. Most, however, will pass you respectfully.

When they do, smile and wave or give them a thumbs-up to encourage them to keep that practice up.

2. Ride assertively (which is to say, with confidence)

That accident I had in 2013 on CS2 would not have happened if I’d been riding with my usual assertion, taking up space and maintaining a consistent speed in the face of traffic dodging around me. I wasn’t being assertive, though, because I was having a hip joint issue and struggling to produce power with my left leg. So I went gutter-side, slowed a bit, and the bus chose to ignore me (or maybe didn’t actually see me?…) as it veered left. WHAM.

It may take some practice in your neighbourhood, on quiet streets, or with trusted friends to build your confidence, but do it. Do it so you know your bike and your reflexes. Get friends to join you and ride very close to you so you know what that feels like. Get another friend to hop in a car and pass you in different ways so you know what that feels like.

Nope, you cannot simulate crazy traffic, I know – but you CAN simulate your responses to different kinds of driver actions. And that’s important.

Riding assertively means riding like you have every right to be there and to be moving at your preferred pace on the road. Drivers do it all the time; so can you. Take the time to get comfortable with both your bike and that feeling of belonging. You’ll feel stronger in every way once you do.

3. Don’t use routes you don’t like

Some routes to your final destination are more direct than others, and they probably involve high-traffic roads. If you aren’t comfortable riding on them, don’t use them. There are lots of alternatives. Get an app like Citymapper or Cyclemetre to help you find one, or use Google Maps to plot the best routes to and from preferred destinations. (And: use the “street view” function to be sure those routes have appropriate road surfacing for your bike. If you commute on a road bike you don’t want a gravel road: trust me.)

Over time, as your confidence builds, your willingness to use busier routes will increase naturally. Let that happen; there’s no rush. I may ride some of the busiest roads in London when I’m here, but back in LonON, I commute primarily on the bicycle paths, going at a much more leisurely speed. There’s no shame in that; in fact, it’s often the smartest route for me to work.

4. Drivers will get mad at you. Don’t engage.

I get yelled at. A lot. It’s probably the fancy bike and the lycra, plus the fact that I take up space and always move to the front of a line of traffic when we are waiting at a stop light – whether or not there’s a bike box. (Why? I want everyone at the top of the queue to see me and know I am there. They may hate it, but I know they would hate hitting me more.) Anyway, pretty much once a ride I get a drive-by “fuck you! Get off the road!”

Why do drivers do this?

Sometimes because cyclists are being jerks. (Some cyclists are jerks, just like some motorists are.) Sometimes they yell because they are having a super bad day and you are in their way. Or they are in a rush.

Or, they yell because they have been conditioned (by, you know, media outlets that are maybe not always sympathetic to the cycle commuter) to believe cyclists are all arrant rogues in flashy pants who deserve all the *#&$^% they get.

You might not ride like me, which means you might not get yelled at as much as I do. But you will get yelled at, guaranteed. When that happens, I urge you to let it go. Assume the motorist is being ignorant, not malicious. Assume it’s not really about you.

Remember that you do not know that motorist as a human being, and that motorist similarly does not know you.

Of course sometimes you’ll yell back. Of course you will use hand gestures from time to time. We are all human. Just remember that it’s not actually about you and the person in the car. It’s about a system that encourages us to see roads as car “territory” and bikes as interlopers. Until that changes, altercations are inevitable.

roadsage-560x628

(A cartoon image that encourages creative responses to car-cycle altercations on the road. My preferred response to the yellers? I smile, wave, and blow them a showy kiss. A kiss that says “I’m not fazed by you.” It’s disarming, and thought-provoking.)

5. Wear. A. Helmet. (Always.)

The bus collision in 2013 is not my worst ever bike accident. My worst ever bike accident happened 1.2km from my house in London, Ontario, in a parking lot at my local outdoor pool. I hit a speed bump, went over my handlebars, and hit the deck.

I had decided it was too short a distance to bother wearing my helmet.

Luckily, I landed on my chin. I had a big bruise but my head was OK. The first aiders from the pool were kind, but when I went back later to get my bike (I was taken to a hospital in an ambulance, for fear of broken limbs, but was discharged later the same day) they reminded me that helmets save lives.

Now I always wear one, even if I’m going just down the street.

You will fall. You will; it’s normal. Just be prepared.

Know that chances are the fall will be minor. Know that helmets are excellent protection against serious brain injury. Know that proper cycling clothes protect skin! (I have awesome road rash from that parking lot crash. I was wearing a swim suit and flip flops! Better idea: cover up for the ride, and wear proper shoes to ride, too. Closed toe – protect those small bones!)

Practicing how to fall is also a good idea, by the way. Choose a path near grass. Bring a friend.

***

That’s it. In sum:

Practice until you feel confident with and on your bike. Then, on the road, own some assertiveness. Take up space. Let drivers pass you, and if they yell, don’t engage angrily. Find routes that work for you. Wear protective gear to keep yourself as safe as is reasonably possible. Then: relax and have some fun.

Oh, and if you have any energy left over, get involved in cycling advocacy! See a route that needs improving? Call your local representatives. See an intersection that needs a bike box? Ditto.

Like I said above: safety for cyclists is tied to systemic assumptions about road ownership. Let’s change that system, one commute at a time.

 

Katherine’s Wibbly Wobbly Walk (Guest Post)

From zero to completing a sponsored walk raising over £400 for hypermobility syndromes.

In 2011, after years of pain, exhaustion, worry and doctors’ visits, I was diagnosed with hypermobility syndrome, a hereditary connective tissue disorder. I experienced a bizarre mixture of contradictory emotions- relief, joy, excitement, shock, fear, hope…. my main hope was a referral to physiotherapy. I had three appointments, and the gist of it was: “You don’t need any help”. “Hypermobility can’t cause pain. Your pain is because you are so overweight and unfit. Lose weight and do some exercise”, I was told.

Over the coming weeks, I ran what I’d been told over and over in my mind. I remembered how I had been working out daily while I got steadily sicker. How severe the pain had been when I was well inside the “healthy” weight range for my height. How it was the pain, frequent injuries and bone deep exhaustion that caused me to reduce my activities.

I thought about how hard I’d worked to get to where I was then, from being barely able to walk in 2008 due to an ankle injury, followed by 2 years of painful foot problems. I knew what the physiotherapist was saying wasn’t true- hypermobility syndrome does cause pain- painful, weak joints is a primary symptom of the condition. I also knew that it wasn’t true that inactivity and weight gain were the cause of my situation. But the important question was- how could I fix this on my own? I wanted expert help to find a way to sneak up on my body and rebuild my fitness, without increasing the pain and fatigue to intolerable levels, and without keeping injuring myself and going back to where I started, something which had happened many times in the past.

So I educated myself. I joined the Hypermobility Syndromes Association and too part in their forum. I googled. I joined online support groups. I listened, I talked, I discussed, and I began my journey, with much trial and error and very, very slowly. I increased my walking, I saved up and found a secondhand elliptical and started doing 5 minutes at a time. I bought pilates DVDs.

By September 2014 I’d made progress. My joints were more stable and I had a little less pain and was a little less exhausted. That was when I came across the No Excuse Mom 12 week challenge. My tummy squiggled with butterflies as I wondered, could I really attempt 12 weeks of regular workouts? What was I thinking? My progress had ground to a halt and I knew I had to push harder. Maybe committing to the challenge, doing it alongside others, was what I needed. So I signed up.

The first few weeks were something of a nightmare as I struggled to keep up with my other commitments and manage to do regular cardio, pilates and strength training. Thankfully, I am a very stubborn person when I need to be! By the time I reached the end of the 12 weeks, it seemed a little easier, and I kept going, hanging on and hoping to see results.

Fast forward to 2017. An idea had been growing in my mind for some time, to do a sponsored walk to raise funds for the HMSA, to thank them for the work they do to support people with hypermobility syndromes and in raising awareness of these greatly under-diagnosed conditions. I decided that now was the time. I chose a route- a 9 mile circuit on local moorland, taking in steep and rugged up and downhills, slippery and boggy areas and rocky passes. I set up a sponsor page and before I knew it, the date of the walk arrived.

The weather was bright and breezy, perfect for hiking. I set off, with trepidation but determined to just keep walking no matter what, until I reached the end. I wasn’t prepared for all the emotions I experienced. There were times of intense boredom, periods of elation and feeling utterly victorious, interspersed with weariness and anxiety and then back to joy and a feeling of being completely at home out on the moorland. The last mile, down a steep rocky path, was almost intolerably painful and my muscles were too fatigued to properly support my knee joints. I had to resort to stepping very slowly and carefully sideways and sometimes sitting down and sliding on my bottom. But five hours after setting off, I arrived back at my starting point, I made it!

That day, I proved to those who have been critical of me that I can be strong and determined and overcome challenges to achieve my goals. But more than that, I proved that to myself. As is common for those with invisible illness, I’ve heard discouraging messages from those who don’t understand or accept the difficulties I face. I’d also listened to those kind of messages from within myself, partly due to difficulty accepting my condition- “Maybe I’m not really ill, maybe I’m just weak and lazy, if I just push harder I can lead a normal life” and so on.

I believe that it’s only when you’ve looked around and experienced it seeming like every door is closed and locked in your face, that you really know what that is like. I want my story to be encouraging, but you will never hear me say, “Anyone can do it” or “Nothing is impossible if you try hard enough” or “If I can, you can”. I know the reality of living with chronic illness or disability is that many things are out of reach, locked behind those closed doors. Part of living the healthiest possible life is acceptance of that reality. But I also believe that most of the time there is something we can do, some tiny change we can make, that can lead to more babysteps of progress, and one day we can find we have achieved something we thought we never would.

I can’t say where my journey will take me now. I am continuing to work hard at becoming as fit and helathy as I possibly can be, so that I can lead the most full and active possible life with my family. But maybe tomorrow will be the day I get another injury that severely limits my activities for weeks, months or even years. There are no guarantees when it comes to health and fitness, especially for those with bodies that are more vulnerable than others One of my dreams is to run a 10K, something I used to do with my beloved dad when I was a teenager, But at the moment, a short and very slow run results in several days of painful and scary instability of my knees, so I may need to find a more practically feasible goal!

Some links:
NHS page on hypermobility syndrome http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Joint-hypermobility/Pages/Introduction.aspx

Hypermobility Syndromes Association http://hypermobility.org/

My Virgin Giving page http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/KatherineBaldwin

Wandererssong is Katherine, is a fitness freak who is fat, forty-something and a mum of four. Some of her other passions are- books, crime dramas, druidry, horse racing, biomedical science, Orphan Black, her schnauzer, campaigning for social justice, and all the music.

(Weight stigma) science is hard: some thoughts on the newest study on fat shaming

A girl in a white shirt, pondering some molecule diagrams on a blackboard

There’s new study that purports to tell us what we think we already know about weight stigma and physical activity:  when you perceive more weight stigma in your life, you are less likely to engage in physical activity.  The study, in BMJ Open, is here.

Here’s the abstract from the study:

Objective To examine the association between perceived weight discrimination and physical activity in a large population-based sample.

Design Data were from 2423 men and 3057 women aged ≥50 years participating in Wave 5 (2010/11) of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Participants reported experiences of weight discrimination in everyday life and frequency of light, moderate and vigorous physical activities. We used logistic regression to test associations between perceived weight discrimination and physical activity, controlling for age, sex, socioeconomic status and body mass index (BMI).

Results Perceived weight discrimination was associated with almost 60% higher odds of being inactive (OR 1.59, 95% CI 1.05 to 2.40, p=.028) and 30% lower odds of engaging in moderate or vigorous activity at least once a week (OR 0.70, 95% CI 0.53 to 0.94, p=.017).

Conclusions Independent of BMI, individuals who perceive unfair treatment on the basis of their weight are less physically active than those who do not perceive discrimination. This has important implications for the health and well-being of individuals who experience weight-based discrimination, and may also contribute to a cycle of weight gain and further mistreatment.

Okay, this is probably no news to blog readers.  First of all, we hear about fat shaming around physical activity all the time.  One of the most recent episodes was the Twitter kerfuffle around Nike’s recent release of a larger-sized exercise clothing line (well, up to 3X).  There were lots of tweets arguing (no, not arguing, rather declaiming) that manufacturing larger exercise clothing would… I can hardly bring myself to type this…  encourage people to become fatter…. uh, because they now can?

As a philosophy professor who teaches introductory logic, I’m having trouble following the inferential thread here.  Suffice to say, people weighed in against the Nike decision, engaging in all manner of fat-shaming, healthist trolling, and name-calling.  I won’t even link to the discussion; rather, here’s my response to those folks:

Correction guy meme saying "Hold that thought-- forever."

Correction guy meme saying “Hold that thought– forever.”

But let’s get back to the study and my promised thoughts on it.

First of all, a science wonky comment:  there’s a big big big difference between statistically significant differences among groups and clinically significant differences among groups.  Let’s look at the results in bar graphs below:

bar graph of levels of physical activity in perceived weight stigma and no-perceived weight stigma groups

bar graph of levels of physical activity in perceived weight stigma and no-perceived weight stigma groups

Yeah, the print is tiny, but all you need to see here is that the differences in amount of physical activity (divided into inactive, light, moderate and vigorous) are pretty small.  One might expect this in their sample, which was people aged 50 and above.  Why?

First, it’s a big sample that seems pretty heterogeneous, which means the differences will be dampened by other potential factors the researchers aren’t controlling for.  Second, digging into the demographics of the sample, the weight stigma group is predominantly lower-income (no surprise there).  The weight stigma group is also on average heavier than the non-weight-stigma group (duh).

This suggests to me two confounding factors:  1) lower-income people generally have less access to physical activity because of less money and less time; 2) overall physical activity tends to decline with both age and increased weight (especially among women, who are 55% of the sample).

Here’s a study showing relationships between both workplace conditions (for workers in hospitals in Boston) and age with BMI.   What it suggests is that as age increases, so does BMI, regardless of type of job; and, as control over one’s job conditions increases (and this happens with higher-income earners), physical activity increases.

Duh!

One final nitpick (for now):  relative to the sample in the weight stigma study (about 5500 people), the group reporting weight stigma was very small (268).  The researchers thought this group was big enough to get a scientifically acceptable set of results, but this raises questions for me:  1) is there actually much more weight stigma in the group, but people aren’t either willing to report it or experiencing it in a more subtle way?  2) are the incidence or effects (two very different things) of weight stigma lower in people over 50?  In short, this study raises some interesting (to me) questions about weight stigma and physical activity, but it doesn’t answer any.

Which brings me back to the title of this post:  science is hard, and figuring out how to understand relationships between weight stigma and, well, anything else is also hard.

What’s not hard to figure out is this:  fat shaming is rude and wrong and unhelpful for anyone.  And my non-scientific solution for combating fat shaming is this:

The timeout corner: now sit here and think about what you've done and don't come downstairs until you are ready to apologize)

The timeout corner: now sit here and think about what you’ve done and don’t come downstairs until you are ready to apologize)

 

 

Why I hate (yes, hate) going to the doctor and why I go anyway 

As a white, cys-gendered anglophone in Canada I have many privileges. This post is about how, despite those privileges, I truly hate going to the doctor. 

It is the 1980s, I am a child at the pediatrician my mother asks why there are folds of skin in my armpits. “Babyfat, it will go away.” assures the pediatrician. In fact it is breast tissue. I find out when nursing my first son in 1999 as milk leaked from my underarms that I have breasts under there. 

It is 2009, I am sitting in a public health clinic room to have my pap. I’ve answered the medical history questions and the nurse practitioner stares at me. 

“How many sexual partners have you had?”

“My whole lifetime? I don’t know. I didn’t keep a list.”

“Well, if you had to guess.”

“I guess about 30. ”

“30!?! Who is the father of your children?”

“My partner.”

“What? How?”

“I’m sorry you are confused. I’m married to a man, who has a penis, that I have sex with that I refer to as my partner. We are the parents.”

It is 2004, I am sitting in the military hospital getting medically released after 12 years of service. My doctor talks to me about my mental health, my asthma and my bloodwork. He scribbled a fourth thing on the list but does not discuss it with me. I read it at home. 

Image of a medical firm listing illnesses and injuries. The list states major depressive disorder, mild exercise induced asthma, borderline cholesterol and obesity.

It is 2012 and I am at a colposcopy clinic for an abnormal pap follow-up. The nurse asks when my last period was. I didn’t know. She asked what birth control I was using. I said none. She chastised me for taking risks with being pregnant. I knew I wasn’t pregnant as my partner had a vasectomy and I had a tubal ligation in 2001. It never occurred to me that this was “using birth control”.  I explain my misunderstanding to the nurse from my feet in the stirrup position. She further castigated me as pregnancy could still occur and how would I know if I didn’t track my period? I explain I didn’t think my uterus required constant supervision. 

There are so many more moments that are flooding back to me as I write this but you get the idea. 

When I go to the doctor I feel on the defense right away. My body is deemed too heavy. My blood somehow lacking or having too much of the wrong things. There is something wrong and more often that feels on my part like the something wrong is my whole self. It’s terrible. 

In the military I was regularly categorized, measured and tested to ensure I was fit for flying duties. Many years later I feel the complicated things about not fitting expectations or having medical issues. 

I go anyway because not accessing care is why queer women have worse health outcomes than other women. 

I go because my health is worth the effort and I’ve honed and prepared my responses for when medical professionals cross a line. 

I go ready for a fight. I hate that too.