fitness · health

Waiting it out on the sidelines of fitness

This week I write to you from my arm chair and ottoman, sitting grumpily on the sidelines of fitness activity.  I’m bummed to report that I have pneumonia.  I got sick with a cold December 22, traveled to see family for the holidays, and came back to Boston sicker.  I went to my health care provider (a wonderful physician’s assistant named Lauren, who works for Family Practice Group in Arlington, MA.  I love them.)  Lauren checked me out, gave me an inhaler for wheezing and cough syrup for the cough, and said I should come back if I’m not starting to feel better in a few days.

I went back a few days later, feeling much worse.  Turns out, I have pneumonia.  That word is scary– it conjures up images for me of Dickensian figures in inexorable decline, headed for the hereafter.  The reality is, for people who are lucky enough to have general good health and good insurance (like me), pneumonia means antibiotics (along with probiotics to help restore gut flora) and time– time to rest.  And rest some more.  And keep resting.

It’s shocking to me how much rest I need right now.  I am sleeping 10–11 hours a night.  I get up, make coffee and toast.  I look over email and do some (very late) morning online reading.  Maybe I do one light chore, like 3 minutes of dishes, or folding 5 items of clothing and putting them away.  Then I’m tired again and have to go rest again. Seriously.

It’s getting better each day, and at my followup appointment Friday, my vital signs were much improved, my fevers were over, and I was on the mend.  I asked Lauren when she thought I could cross country ski.  She paused, took a breath, and then said, “well, we recommend you restart light activity in about a week after your vitals/fever have improved.  Cross country skiing is not light activity.  Start with walking around the block.  I think that is going to tire you out next weekend.”

Okay.  Got it.  I need to rest.  So I’m resting. A lot.  This will pass, and I’ll recover completely– this is a great boon and I feel quite lucky.  But it’s also hard, as we are constantly told that the sidelines are not the cool place to be.

caption reads "You don't make progress standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining", Shirley Chisholm.
caption reads “You don’t make progress standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining”, Shirley Chisholm.
Caption reads "Don't sit on the sidelines. Life is either a great adventure or nothing." Helen Keller
Caption reads “Don’t sit on the sidelines. Life is either a great adventure or nothing.” Helen Keller


The sidelines are never portrayed as a happy place.  I mean, look at this guy:


Professional American football player, sitting on the sidelines, head in hands. Not looking happy.
Professional American football player (Walter Payton), sitting on the sidelines, head in hands, not looking happy.


This little girl is by herself on the sidelines of a kids' soccer game. She's featured in an article about how we shouldn't feel sorry for ourselves. Sigh...
This little girl is by herself on the sidelines of a kids’ soccer game. She’s featured in an article about how we shouldn’t feel sorry for ourselves, but instead get out there and experience life. Sigh…


So the big message is that sitting out a round or two and hanging out on the sidelines while the action is taking place is not a good thing.

But of course this is absurd.  In this blog we write a lot about injury, sickness, ability and disability, aging, and other changes that happen in all of our lives.  Taking time out, taking the space and resources and support and company we need in order to make the sidelines a healing place– this is also a feminist issue.

To me, that little girl above doesn’t look unhappy at all.  She’s interested, taking in all the action, and biding her time.  She’ll be getting out there sooner or later.  And so will I.

See y’all back in the game soon.

Two female pro basketball players, about to high-five, when one is coming into the game.
Two female pro basketball players, about to high-five, when one is coming back into the game.



fitness classes · health

Welcome new people to the gym this January


I hate all the complaining about busy gyms in January.

Yes, there are some line-ups where there were none in December. But there are also lots of new people who could use a smiling face.

We talked about research being done by a post doc at Western about the gym as a gendered space which doesn’t feel welcoming to women. Tracy’s written too about women who work out in sheds because they’re embarrassed to be seen doing physical activity. I’ve written about women who run at night, even though it’s less safe, because they don’t want people to see them.

There’s not a lot we can do to change all of that. But one thing we can do is be nice to people at the gym who show up in January.

Smile and say hello.

Also read this post, Welcome to the gym! You belong here.

But also, at the same time, don’t make assumptions about who is new on the basis of size!


athletes · Guest Post · health

On Squats and Snowflakes: How weight lifting was better preparation for childbirth than any Lamaze class (Guest Post)

Left: Black and white photo of pregnant torso with monitoring equipment Right: Black and photo photo of the author in the gym standing in front of the bar

by Nanette Ryan

On July 20 of this year I gave birth to my beautiful, healthy baby boys, James and Alec.  My pregnancy was not easy.  The first three months saw lots of queasiness, naps, and trial and error with foods that I could stomach.  In the second trimester I was hit by a cyclist while walking and rushed to hospital, and in the third contractions started too early and so I was back in hospital for monitoring, bed rest, and treatment.  For 20 days I was almost constantly on an IV of anti-contraction medication, I had 5 blood tests a day, injections, CTGs sometimes three times a day, and frequent invasive exams.

After 20 days in hospital I was briefly taken off my current anti-contraction medication to make time to prepare for the next round.  My boys wasted no time, and in half an hour I was in full labour.  As I was wheeled into the delivery room, exhausted and in horrible pain, I said to the midwives ‘I need something! Any thing!’  ‘What do you mean ‘you need something’?’ they said.  (I want a freakin’ stroll in the park, what do you think I mean!?).  ‘Something for the pain!’ I said.  ‘Drugs! I want the drugs!’  But there was no time, the babies were coming and I had to push.  And so I did.

As it was my first pregnancy I did a lot of reading and research leading up to the birth.  I practised breathing, did my kegels, and (naively) talked to other mums about what kind of birth I should ‘go for’.  The thing that prepared me most for giving birth, however, was something that none of the birthing books, conversations, or women’s health resources talked about.  It was weight training, and in particular, barbell squats and deadlifts.  Before I became pregnant weight training dominated my workouts, and I continued to weight train for as long as it was safe and comfortable when pregnant.

These exercises helped me in a number of ways.  Despite my extended stay in hospital, it gave me the physical strength to do what I needed to do.  It allowed me to trust my body, and it gave me the confidence to do it.  I had pushed my body, and so I was confident that I could push these kids out, like when you walk up to a squat rack with a higher weight than you’ve lifted before and think, ‘I’m going to fucking do this!’

Like so many things for women, the focus on women’s health and birth preparation is on the gentler side of things; focused breathing, gentle stretching, and light cardio.  Don’t get me wrong, these things have their virtues, including distracting women from what can be the horrors to come.  But birth, however you do it, is not gentle.  Women are not snowflakes, and the sooner we start emphasizing this the better.

Nanette Ryan is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Georgetown University. She is primarily interested ethics, moral psychology, and feminist philosophy.

Image description: black and white photo of baby twin feet in rompers
Image description: black and white photo of baby twin feet in rompers
fitness · health

Women and concussions: what do we know? Not nearly enough.

Today we have a co-authored blog by Catherine W and Julia F-C.  Julia F-C is a senior at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. She has a background in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a passion for feminist theory, sustainability, and plants.

Herewith, our co-authored blog:

Concussions have been in the news lately.  This summer the world of American football was rocked by the release of a study examining 111 brains of deceased NFL (National Football League) players who had conditions including dementia, depression and other behavioral and cognitive disorders.  On autopsy, 110 of the 111 brains were found to have CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

A recent news story highlighted a study from the same research center that has found that early exposure (before age 12) to football increases the risks twofold or more for cognitive, behavior and affective problems later in life.

 “Hitting your head over and over again in youth seems to lead to later-life problems, even if you only played up through high school or college,” [study author Robert Stern] said.

The research found increased risk was not tied to the number of concussions a player suffered. Translation: Head impacts that aren’t concussions still have serious, long-term effects. That reinforces earlier research.

There’s been pushback from a lot of football stakeholders, including NFL management, fans, and President Donald Trump.

On Friday, Mr. Trump said that the league was losing television viewers in part because it was too focused on safety, including penalizing players for making hard tackles. “They’re ruining the game,” he said.

His comments came a day after scientists announced that Aaron Hernandez, the former Patriots tight end who committed suicide in April, had a severe form of the degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head hits.

Virtually all of the research done on concussions has focused on males, including animal studies.  However, that is changing—research is turning to examining female response to brain injury.

“We classically have always known the male response to brain injury,” says Mark Burns, at Georgetown University. But there have been remarkably few studies of females. The bias runs throughout the scientific literature, even in studies of mice.

“Male mice have been used historically in research and not really been compared to female mice,” he says.

So what have we learned from those female mice?  That there’s a substantive difference in male-vs. female brain response to concussions.  In short, female mice brains respond more slowly and less effectively to brain injury, which may contribute to longer and/or less robust recovery (this last bit is my speculation, but makes sense given the evidence).  The study can be found here.

Studies are now examining humans to look for differences among cohorts of male and female athletes.  Here’s one:

The researchers looked at the medical records of 1,203 athletes who played at Columbia University between 2000 and 2014. (Columbia has collected data about concussion on all its athletes since 2000).

Among male athletes, 17 percent (140/822) had experienced at least one concussion during their collegiate career. Among female athletes, the rate was 23 percent (88/381).

Though women experienced a higher rate of concussion, they recovered and returned to play as quickly as the male athletes.

“Why are women more likely to experience concussion? Is it that they’re physiologically experiencing concussion differently? Are they reporting their concussion in a different manner? This study can’t answer these questions, but it unearths the follow-up questions,” Dr. James Noble says.

Yes—those are some interesting questions, eminently worthy of follow up now.  It’s not a surprise to those of us who follow health research, nor to many of you, our blog readers.

We already know that, for example, women are less likely to be referred for heart-disease-related treatments than men because of the misperception that women are “protected” against cardiovascular disease.  The incidence of heart disease among middle-aged women has increased in the past 20 years, while it has decreased for men of the same age.  You can get all the detail you would ever want from this article.

Back to concussions: this news story discusses a Cleveland Clinic ongoing study of boxers and mixed-martial-arts fighters that includes about 700 men and 60 women.  One of them is MMA fighter Gina “Danger” Mazany.  She describes her first fight below:

“She beat the crap out of me,” Mazany says. “Like she didn’t knock me out, she didn’t finish me. But she just knocked me around for three rounds. And I remember, later that night I was very, very nauseous. I was throwing up that night.”  It was her first concussion.

On the day of Mazany’s annual checkup, she is subjected to a battery of tests that assess her balance, reaction time, memory, and thinking.

After about 40 minutes, Mazany meets with Dr. Charles Bernick, the scientist in charge of the fighters study. They move to a quiet room. Bernick scans a chart. It shows Mazany’s test results over the past few years.

“Well you’re pretty stable,” Bernick says. There’s no obvious sign of trouble from her fighting career, at least not yet.

I talked with some friends who are fighters and coaches for fighting sports about concussions.  Karen Miller Peterson, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, has competed and taught and coached, and recently opened a school called North South BJJ in Montclair, NJ with her husband Adam, also a BJJ fighter and teacher.  Karen’s experience with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu suggests that concussions may depend at least in part on style and training:

I think it’s fighting style. Since there’s no striking in jiu jitsu, it just doesn’t happen a lot. Situations it might happen would be in a takedown or throw, which aren’t practiced in academies as much as ground grappling. You can see it happen in competition from time to time. We do sometimes get knocked in the head during training or in a competition, but rarely is it hard enough to cause a concussion. Maybe a broken nose or bruise. It could happen, sure, but because of the style of jiu jitsu it just doesn’t happen like boxing or MMA.

Skill will definitely play into it too. Head injuries in jiu jitsu will happen more often with lower belts/beginners.

I spoke to Cesar Nicolas, a long-time trainer and coach for multiple sports (boxing, BJJ, kids’ soccer, baseball and wrestling) as well as a brown belt fighter and competitor. His primary concern is that sports may inadvertently conceal risks of head injury.  He cites head gear in boxing and MMA– it may seem as if it’s protecting fighters, but it does not actually end up protecting them from significant blows.  As a soccer coach for middle schoolers, Cesar notes that when someone’s head makes contact with a soccer ball, this can cause serious injury.  In one study, researchers found that 1/3 of all concussions among US male high school players and 1/4 of those among female players involved heading the ball.  However, the study did not look at data on younger children.  Cesar’s observations about soccer are in keeping with concerns about football played by younger children.

So how do concussion worries affect what younger women think and do in sports?  For her viewpoint, we turn to my co-blogger, Julia Farach-Colton for some comments.  Here’s Julia…

Being a young woman in a male-dominated sport is always challenging but strangely triumphant. I started Muay Thai (Thai-style kickboxing) when I was about nine years old. As I grew older, I savored the surprised looks I’d get as I sank a hard elbow into a bag that weighed almost three times as much as me but shrank away from curious glances of the men who also practiced in my gym. This is the persistent question of young women in sports, “Are they impressed by my talent or are they impressed by the fact that I’m a girl?”

This brings me to the topic of concussions. One of the main reasons society disregards concussions and injuries among young women is, what I like to call, the “Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice Complex.” Everyone knows the nursery rhyme, comparing what boys and girls are made of. It’s deep-rooted into our culture; little girls are mean verbally and little boys are mean physically. This carries into our view of young women as athletes too: it just isn’t expected that women will play hard enough to get concussions. Think of how long it took for football fans to acknowledge concussions of male athletes!

Although the societal lens doesn’t focus on the safety of young women in sports the correct way, women look out for each other. I can’t count how many times a woman has bailed me out from sparring with a particularly aggressive college dude at Jiu Jitsu. The answer is women supporting women until the rest of the world catches up.


fitness · health · meditation

Float report: Or, Kim tries hydrotherapy

I’ve just moved house, to a new city; it’s been a stressy time. Between the administrative challenges (do not put me on hold again!!), the physical labour (please, please, no more boxes…), and the emotion management required by getting to know a whole new group of neighbours, not to mention where the grocery and pet stores, the post office, the local riding groups, the gyms, and the good coffee shops are…

Let’s just say I spent most of September looking like this:


(Image of a male cartoon character with bulging eyes, mouth open, gripping his hair. Stressed out, people!)

Luckily, my new joint – the Hammer, HamOnt, Hamtown, aka Hamilton, ON, the Brooklyn of Toronto – is super cool. My second weekend in town Emma the dog and I attended not one but TWO street festivals, heard some amazing music, ate some excellent food truck delicacies, and wandered the boulevards together. On one of those wanderings we found ourselves checking out booths set up by local businesses. One of those booths represented the Zee Float studio, just a five-minute walk from my new house.

Well, I have to tell you: I beelined for that booth, because I have always wanted to try float therapy. I love massage; I consider it part of my wellness regime (and it’s a huge privilege to have a job that covers part of the cost of semi-regular massage, I know). I love yoga, too, for the way it brings me into my body in a calming way, and encourages me to think about joint health, bone health, flexibility, and quality breathing.

Floating in a warm vat of water laced with Epsom salts has always seemed to me an extension of these kinds of self-care activities.

Yes, I’m mildly claustrophobic, but not so much that I worried about it as I eagerly chatted up the woman at the booth. As she described the facilities at Zee to me (three different kinds of float chambers! Kombucha on tap in the chill-out room!) I got more and more excited. Then she told me about their intro offer: 3 floats over 5 days, so that you can really try the experience fulsomely, and without cost pressure, for a very reasonable CAD$45 total.

Reader, I purchased it.

With both my massage therapist and my favourite yoga teacher back in London, ON, my former city, I reasoned a trio of cheap floats would be a quick way for me to de-stress during a tricky time, plus would give me a chance to see if this is something that will work for my body in the longer term.

So, how did it go, relative to my expectations? Well, it was a bit more complicated than I expected – especially since the point of it all is to relax completely, a task at which I do not excel. That said, by my third float, I knew I’d go back.

Herewith, then: my float report.

I arrived for float #1 a couple of minutes early, knowing there would be orientation. The cheerful and boisterous desk attendant, Hannah, commiserated with me when I said I was a bit nervous, gamely showed me around the whole studio, then carefully explained the entire pre-float procedure to me in my private room (the “Oasis” pod).


(The “Oasis” room at Zee Float: image of a wet room with white walls and a shower in one corner, a wood bench with towels, and a flotation tank with a door opening upward. Picture a shuttle launch from Star Trek.)

The space in which the pod (IE: the float chamber itself) is located is a wet room, with a shower on one side, a bench with pre-float prep items and hooks for personal belongings on the other. The room was bathed in a soft purple light, and looked quite inviting. However, I was nervous to realize that the float pod in the middle of the room looked, from the outside, a bit like a coffin – or perhaps more like one of those little launches that shoot off the back of the Starship Enterprise when crew members go exploring. Either way, it appeared to be pretty small. Hannah assured me, though, that the space inside was larger than a single bed, that the door to the pod did not lock, and that I could keep it open if I wished to feel more secure. The lights in the room, motion-controlled, would eventually turn off, and it would be as dark as I needed inside the pod, even with the chamber door ajar.

I prepped for the float as suggested: I went to the toilet, took a warm (but not hot) shower, covered my cuts with vaseline, inserted the earplugs provided, and got in. Instantly, I realized I hadn’t used the vaseline thoroughly enough; a cut on my arm, and the chafing in my groin (from my bike ride earlier in the day) both stung as my skin hit the salt water. I got out, splashing about as I did… and of course I then got salt in my eyes. Cue another quick shower, more vaseline, and a bit of talking to myself. Calm down! I shouted helpfully. You will be fine! YOU WILL RELAX!

Back in the space launch, I worked on breathing slowly. I turned on the light-up rubber duck to help me feel less panicked in the warm darkness. The glow-duck, however, reminded me how small the chamber was… which, in turn, initiated the following internal monologue:

Gosh this is tight. I bet there’s not a lot of oxygen in here!

Shut up, self. Obviously nobody has asphyxiated in here or they would not be allowed to run the business.

But seriously. How much air can there be?

There’s plenty of air. THERE IS PLENTY OF AIR!

…are we sure, though? Especially if I’m breathing… more and more… rapidly…

I shot out of the thing once more. More splashing. More salt in eyes. This time I used the clear water in the bottle attached to the pod door to rinse my eyes (a third shower, I reasoned, would be both decadent and slightly beyond the pale), and I talked myself down to normal breathing patterns once more.

At this point, I spied the head and shoulder rest Hannah had told me about earlier: it’s a little foam ring that you can use as added support if you’re having trouble getting comfortable in the float chamber. I reasoned it couldn’t hurt, grabbed it, and got back in, determined to make it through the hour.

To my own surprise, the head rest made a big difference. I felt held in the water more fully; I felt my body begin to untangle. I also left the pod door open this time, in order to stop myself from freaking out about the oxygen content. As Hannah promised, the lights in the room went out, and the glow from the duck grew more and more comforting. I drifted, letting my thoughts come and go past me, the way we’re often encouraged to do during Sivasana. I observed how my body was moving. I felt the salt drying on my skin, tasted it on my lips.

I was sad when the music came in, and it was time to get out.

Float #2 went a good deal less well. This was entirely my own fault, because I was hungover. (There is a post in there, about how I use alcohol as a quick route to relaxation far too often these days; look for that post in the next couple of months.)

I was in a different space this time around, the “Pro Float Cabin”, which is at once much larger (no oxygen panic issues this time) and, as a result, a bit cavernous and eerie inside. The male attendant, knowing I’d floated just a couple of days before, didn’t orient me; he simply left me to get on with it. I followed the procedure again, and again I got in – not less trepidatious, but, given the ache in my head, differently so.

I recall the evening before joking how I would test floating’s effect on a hangover; in the cool, dim light of the cabin that seemed a cruel joke on me. I had trouble getting comfortable because the sensation of my body in the water was making me nauseated; I berated myself for letting myself get tipsy the evening prior, and then my heart started to race. Once again, overwhelmed by anxious self-talk, I climbed out of the cabin.

Over the course of this float, due in part to the building nausea and in part to my utter lack of enthusiasm for the enterprise, I got out probably three times, and I took three showers. I found sitting on the wet room floor, outside the float chamber space, easier on my head. I waited and waited for the float to be over – but the music never came in, and the light in the cabin never came on.

Instead what happened was: the pump in the float chamber turned on! It was loud and decidedly not relaxing. Panicked that I’d done something wrong by getting out too many times, I climbed back into the cabin. I sat morosely in the churning water, with the glowing duck swirling past me, judging me.

Eventually I decided I was done; I was getting nothing from the float except more anxious and angry with myself. I dried myself, dressed, and emerged – only to discover that my float had ended when the pump had come on, almost a half hour earlier! I explained that the music hadn’t faded in and I’d had no idea; the attendant and I had a laugh over it, but of course deep down I was utterly ashamed of myself. I’d ruined my own self-care experience with an ill-judged experience of self-harm.

So, of course, I was determined to make float #3 better – and it was. It was blissful, actually. I was in the cabin again, and this time I knew exactly what to expect, what to do and what not to do. I took a proper pre-float shower, vaselined up, grabbed the head rest and the glow duck (bless the duck – I’ve decided to name it Seymour) and climbed in.

I didn’t chill out instantly, but I did chill out pretty fast, relatively speaking, as I was much more secure in my surroundings than ever before. After about 20 minutes I stopped wondering what time it was; at that point, I realized that the size of the float cabin (about twice as big and three times as tall as the pods) meant my arms could move freely, both above and below my body. So I let them float above my head and I started to starfish.

This motion, I realized, mimicked the freedom with which I sleep. (I’m a side-sleeper/flail-abouter.) As my arms traveled over my head my legs opened and closed on their own, too; I started to lose track of where the water began. I gazed up at the blue glow on the chamber ceiling and thought it might be getting on time for the float to end; then I let that thought pass by me, knowing it was really quite lovely just being in the moment, where I was.


(Image of a larger float chamber with a side door, not unlike the Pro Float Cabin at Zee Studios, where I floated. The chamber is bathed in blue light, and there are two lights under the water line, and specks of light on the ceiling.)


So, what did I learn?

First, floating in the evening was far nicer than the morning float, and not just because of the hangover. Evening means relaxation can be followed by sleep, which is far preferable to the other thing. At least for me.

Second, I learned that judging myself is antithetical to the float experience, and, because I judge myself in my head constantly, challenging myself to let the judgements pass while I’m in the float chamber is a key part of the experience for me. In the cabin, after a while, it became easy; moving past judgement got simpler as my body got more and more comfortable moving in the water. I had to give up some control and let it happen; that’s hard for me but worthwhile.

Finally, floating requires some trust. Yes, the water is clean and the air is ample. No, you will not be forgotten and thus left trapped in the chamber forever. The space is safe; the staff are professional and there is a lock on the wet room door, so you can be secure in your body as you float. Others have prepared a space where you can be vulnerable in your body and let go; being prepared to trust in the integrity of their actions and intentions is a big part of feeling safe enough to relax.

So I’ll go back, for sure. Having completed the initiation immersion I’ve earned a free float, so why not? But more than that, I suspect I can only learn more about myself, and learn to curb some of my least healthy habits, by choosing to float from time to time.



fitness · health

Sports equipment as anti-fat-shaming devices

A few weeks ago, I went to the optometrist for my biannual eye exam and to get my reading glasses prescription updated.  During the eye exam, the doctor told me that I was suspect for glaucoma– my eye pressure was 17 (normal is 10–22, she said), but I had some evidence of damage to my optic nerve.  She scheduled me to have further testing done, which I did.  I’m extremely happy to report that I don’t have glaucoma.  Yay!  Whew!

However, during my first visit with her, while asking about what one can do for eye care, she said, “well, you should always wear sunglasses.  And watch your diet.  But of course it’s clear that you take care of yourself.”

Hmmmm.  What made it clear that I take care of myself?  I’m fat, cis-female, 55, able-bodied as far as she can tell, and currently not bleeding.  So far so meh.

But:  I rode my bike to the appointment (which, in retrospect was a bad idea; riding a bike home after getting your eyes dilated is not good).  I walked into her office toting one of these:

a white road cycling helmet, with silver accents
a white road cycling helmet, with silver accents

She saw my bike helmet, which, I surmise, must have affected her views about me and my health.

This is not an uncommon experience for me and my cycling friends, including Samantha.  She posted here in June about why she rides or walks to the hospital.  Convenience and refusal to pay exorbitant parking prices is part of the story, but there’s also this:

The thing is when I’m coming to the hospital I’m often seeing health care professionals who don’t know me. They make judgments pretty quickly on the state of your health and well being. Often I think they do that on the basis of weight. And there’s not much I can do about that.

I want people to get things right and to not make silly mistakes. So I try to help. It’s like when I go to new workout or a new gym when traveling and wear my CrossFit hoodie. The fitness instructors worry less about me. (See Traveling, new gyms, and thin privilege.)

Riding my bike in, arriving at the appointment in bike shoes, sandals, helmet in hand, sends a signal. I’m signaling that I’m an active person.

Yes– just carrying a bike helmet to a doctor’s office can stave off lots of preconceived (and ill-founded) notions about what people of my size are like.  It’s like a magic anti-fat-shaming shield, sending out signals far and wide that “This person is an athlete!  This person is fit!  This person is not what you think a typical fat person is; this person is ok!”

I have a bunch of mixed reactions to this.

First– excellent!  Let’s just issue bike helmets to all women with BMIs over 30 as the new new healthcare destination accessory.  However, not all helmet designs are likely to be effective, as they must be instantly recognizable.  Not like this helmet design that has yet to catch on:

Two views of an inflatable bike helmet, worn on the left as a scarf/collar, and on the right as an inflated helmet/hood, surrounding the head and neck.
Two views of an inflatable bike helmet, worn on the left as a scarf/collar, and on the right as an inflated helmet/hood, surrounding the head and neck.

But imagine the possibilities:  we just haul these things into the examining room (no need actually to wear them, though), and voila:  no more fat-shaming talk!  Wouldn’t that be lovely?

Seriously, though, my other reaction is frustration with healthcare relationships.  I don’t expect my optometrist to know about my life and health goals, but I do want to be able to talk with my primary care doctor/nurse practitioner about them.  This involves talking about my current activities, what I want to do, what I don’t think I can do, etc.  I also don’t want my health concerns brushed aside just because the provider sees a helmet and thinks that I must not be in need of any discussion about my activity levels, mood, nutrition, etc.

Of course, having such conversations with a provider requires something that we don’t have in the American healthcare system:

The word "time" in all caps in red

Signaling does help us make conclusions about other people rapidly.  And it serves a bunch of social purposes.  But in this case, all joking aside, it’s not clear that it is serving either me or my healthcare provider.  But until things change and there’s more time for us to get to know each other better, I’ll keep biking to appointments and bringing in the helmet.  Because it would be way to much trouble to kayak there and bring the boat indoors.

A man in shorts and a yellow coat and a life jacket, holding a yellow inflatable kayak over his head. He's standing in a crowd of commuting walkers downtown in a big city.
A man in shorts and a yellow coat and a life jacket, holding a yellow inflatable kayak over his head. He’s standing in a crowd of commuting walkers downtown in a big city.




fitness · health

New Year’s resolutions: the academic year edition

For those of us who live by the academic calendar, it is New Year’s. My Facebook feed has been filled with pictures of grinning kids in their back-to-school ensembles and reports of fall syllabi being completed (or not). Lots of folks have already started school. In New England we traditionally start after US Labor Day, which is the first Monday in September. My first day of work is Tuesday, and my first class meeting is next Thursday.

A black-and-white image of a cartoonish cat, saying
A black-and-white image of a cartoonish cat, saying “Ack!”

I have tons of work still to do (as usual): I’m teaching a new Science and Values course for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students, and also revising my intro to logic course. And I’m behind on other tasks (as usual).

But what’s really exciting to me about the academic New Year is what Tracy wrote about this week: the possibilities found within routine, either in a return to old favorites, or the promise of new and improved life patterns.

Summertime is wondrous. There’s sun and warmth and long days and fresh produce and license to laze and loll, cavort and frolic. Part of its brilliance is in its departure from the standard routine: hey, let’s grill in the backyard! Wanna go for a swim/bike ride/beach walk/canoe trip? Yesssss!

However, as Tracy pointed out, some things get lost in the heat and hysteria of summer pleasures. In her post this week, she quoted one of her 2013 posts, which sums it up perfectly for me:

What I like so much about a regular routine is that it establishes a rhythm to my day and my life. I don’t need to think, I can just fall into the beat of that rhythm. A routine at its best is a series of good habits, exercised effortlessly, with little thinking through.

But it’s hard to establish that rhythm in the absence of some structure, at least it was and is for me. It’s like flailing around in the dark or taking the very first arbitrary stab at a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

When I’ve got something solid to work around, things can start to fall into place.

Rhythm– we all want this in our lives. For Tracy, it’s a return to some of the patterns she’s established and loves. For me, it’s a combo: resuming habits that went by the wayside in my happy summer haze; and aspiring to fix or stave off habits that I’m constantly battling.

Every September, even in the midst of mourning the end of summer, I’m at the same time anticipating a fresh start with a routine that supports me physically and emotionally.

Herewith my New (academic) Year’s Resolutions:

  • I shall turn off my bedroom light by 11pm;
  • I shall turn off social media or internet-sourced info/entertainment by 10pm;
  • I shall do one off-road bike ride a week;
  • I shall do one training road ride (tempo or threshold) a week;
  • I shall go to yoga twice a week;
  • I shall cook food for the week on the previous weekend.

These are all basic self-care resolutions. They are, in some ways, modest. I ride more than listed above, BUT I want to go on record (mainly with myself) stating what I really want (and need, for self-satisfaction and fitness-according-to-me) to do each week.

The sleeping and cooking resolutions are a little harder. I am by nature a night owl, so it’s easy for my bedtime to creep up towards 1am. Summertime tends to wreak havoc on my sleep schedule; I stay up later and then sleep later. This cuts into my productivity and also my feeling of being moderately in control of my life. So, I’m going to turn off the light at 11. I did it last night (yay!). So far, so good.

Cooking is something I’ve been doing haphazardly this summer, mainly because I’ve been in and out of town a lot. I’ve been loving the fresh produce, and it’s been easy just to throw together meals. But come fall, I want to be able to rely on having good-to-me food ready to eat when I get home from school. This requires cooking.

By the way, I just subscribed to the New York Times cooking newsletter. If you have a subscription, you can sign up. Some of these recipes can be accessed on a limited basis, and they are worth checking out. I’ve already bought ingredients for this pasta dish with black kale, shiitake mushrooms and sausage (this can be made vegetarian by changing out the sausage for some other protein, and vegan by omitting the cheese). Doesn’t this look yummy?

Spaghetti with black kale, shiitake mushrooms and diced sausage with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, on a brown plate with fork.
Spaghetti with black kale, shiitake mushrooms and diced sausage with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, on a brown plate with fork.

I’ll report back in a month on how I’m doing with these resolutions. Accountability is tricky for me (I both want it and fear it), but this is a forum in which we can share our successes, failures, needs and wants. So here are mine.

Does the impending fall give you the feeling of a fresh start? Do you shift your patterns in an intentional way come September? What do you do? We’d love to hear from you.