commute · cycling · diets · fitness · weight loss

Bixi, I love you! But why the calorie counting?

The info Bixi shares with you

I shared the info Bixi shared with me after biking around the city recently and complained about the calorie counting.

Why on earth do they share calorie information?

Friends chimed in and we had an interesting conversation. Why do I care about calorie info? Can’t I just ignore it? What’s my objection?

Nicole wondered if it motivates some people to bike maybe it’s not such a bad thing, as long as they don’t obsess about it. While they are thinking about calories, they are still getting the bigger benefit of movement, after all.

I’m still not a fan. Why? I think this covers the main points.

First, I hate calorie counts because they’re part of the association of exercise with weight loss which I really hate. I’ve had a go at this topic many times here on the blog but probably the best version is here.

Second, there’s no way it’s accurate. Thanks Miles for that point.

Third, some people find it triggering. If there are people that the calorie info attracts, there will also be people with a history of disordered eating who avoid Bixi for its calorie counting talk. Thanks Audra for this reminder.

Also, it might just completely miss the mark. As my friend Daniel, the only Montrealer in on the conversation pointed out, people use Bixi because it’s convenient.

“For the most part, Bixi has just become a vital part of Montreal’s public transport infrastructure. There are tons of trips for which Bixi just is the most efficient choice…I think a lot of people have adopted them just to have that extra degree of flex in their public transport palette.”

I think it might be cool to share info on the effect of your bike ride on your carbon footprint. How much less carbon did you use biking instead of driving? Yes, it’s not always doing to be accurate but likely not less so than calorie counts. It might not be motivational for everyone but at least it won’t put anyone off.

So my vote is ditch the calorie count, Bixi.

Bixi Sam

What do you think of calorie counts?

cycling · fitness · weight loss

Times are changing when Bicycling magazine says to ditch the scale

You need a subscription to read it online, or buy the paper magazine. (I’m a fan and I have both.) But either way prepare to be shocked at this headline, Hey Cyclists: Quit Obsessing Over Your Weight! A MOUNTAIN OF RESEARCH SAYS YOU CAN RIDE STRONG AT ANY SIZE. HERE’S HOW in the latest issue.

The article tells the story of cyclists who’ve been advised by coaches and cycling friends, if you want to get better, get faster drop some weight.

“For many cyclists, this attitude—and the belief that achieving a certain weight is the key to performance—is not only unhealthy but can also cause lifelong mental and physical damage. As more evidence shows that weight is not a reliable indicator of health and that a focus on body weight is harmful, it’s clear that we in the bike community need to change the conversation on weight, performance, and well-being.”

The issue also goes on to profile some larger bodied cyclists, such as Lulu Carter, below.

Go buy the magazine and read the whole thing. It’s worth it!

Here on the blog we’ve also profiled some larger cyclists. See Big Women on Bikes and Plus Sized Endurance Athletes: We Exist.

Lulu Carter in Bicycling Magazine
cycling · fitness · inclusiveness · weight loss

What’s an argument you’re sick of having?

One of mine is the link between bike riding and weight loss.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE BIKES.

Painting on a building of a stick figure person painted in black lines hanging from a heart painted in red.
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

I think our cities need more cycling infrastructure. I think safe cycling is a disability rights issue. I think low car cities are feminist cities.

For me, the best holidays involve bikes.

Riding my bike puts a smile on my face.

And I think cycling is good for the planet. Cars are dangerous and polluting the planet. We’d all be better off if people rode and walked more and drove less.

But one of these things is not like the other…

Fewer cars won’t make people lose weight. In fact, what we need to get more people on bikes is a more inclusionary cycling culture. It’s not all thin men in lycra. Sometimes it’s chubby middle aged women in lycra. And sometimes there’s no lycra at all.

Here’s our posts about the lack of a connection between bike riding and weight loss:

Reasons to Ride a Bike (That Don’t Include Weight Loss)

The benefits of exercise are many, but long term weight loss isn’t (necessarily) one of them

“On yer bike” for oh so many reasons, but weight loss isn’t one of them

Big Women on Bikes

“Pretty fast for a big girl”: Notes from the road, #2

(Updated) Plus sized endurance athletes, we exist!

fitness · weight loss · weight stigma

When bias guides research

Content warning: discussion of weight loss, weight loss methods

Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand announced on June 28 they had developed a new world first: a magnetic lock that effectively wires a jaw shut leaving users to rely on a liquid diet so they can kickstart weightloss.

You can read all about it here on this Twitter thread, the university’s website, and the journal which published their results. The researchers say their goal to provide a tool to address the global obesity epidemic.

Rapid weight loss causes physical harm. There’s a reason wiring jaws shut fell out of practice, the outcomes weren’t great, and included long term dental and mental health issues. While there has also been an uptick in surgical interventions (gastric bands, sleeves etc), there have also been post operative issues to manage as well.

The Twitterati have been vocal, with multiple comparisons to chastity belts, racks, and other medieval implements of torture. Others have highlighted the ethical, social and medical issues such research seems to have overlooked.

The researchers recruited seven healthy (oh the irony) obese females. Six completed the study (one left for reasons unrelated to the study). All of the participants regained some weight (about .73 kg average) in the first two weeks after the device was removed. Information about their weight status six months or a year after the study was completed was not included in the journal article.

The study met the university’s requirements for ethics approval. Despite the limited number of participants and the short time frame of the study (two weeks), the researchers felt comfortable enough with the results to propose expanding their research to include a gender balance. As well, they proceeded to modify their device (make it smaller, less obvious etc) to improve acceptability and tolerance.

The study raises significant red flags. Other studies with low numbers of research subjects (can I remind you of the infamous Lancet study on vaccines and autism?) have contributed to significant negative impacts on public health. The study does not disclose any conflicts of interest, but we do not learn who owns the patent on the device or how much they plan to sell it for.

The supports provided the six participants are also not usually those provided routinely to other obese individuals who are told to lose weight. The authors said participants had access to a dietitian, were supplied with liquid meal replacements, and had access to dental care and medical supervision. Obese individuals often have to pay for similar services/options.

I suppose I should be cheered by the fact that so many people have come out against this news. However, the fact that someone thought this was a good idea in the first place and it received ethical approval is quite disturbing. The authors recommend repeated cycles to aid momentum. I think this suggests a devolution into disordered eating with frequent gain/loss cycles.

I sincerely hope this device is investigated not as a welcome medical intervention but as a dangerous tool. There has been ample work looking at the roots of obesity and the kinds of supports needed to support individuals in nourishing their bodies appropriately, beginning with the social determinants of health. There is nothing new or innovative about this technique as it is merely a less permanent form of jaw wiring. It is, however, an excellent way to promote weight stigma, eating disorders and increased physical, mental and oral health issues in otherwise healthy people.

fitness · link round up · weight loss · weight stigma

Fit is a Feminist issue, Friday Link Round Up #97

This week’s link round up focuses on weight loss. If you want to know why a fitness blog cares so much about body image and weight loss, you can read this.

Tl;dr: “Body image is connected to fitness in a variety of ways. It’s both the motivation for lots of women to pursue physical activity. I’ll solve my body image issues by improving my body! Body image anxiety is also the reason lots of women don’t exercise. I can’t go to the gym. I’m too fat! Both of these sets of motivations are problematic.”

Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Weight Loss May Be Wrong

“At any given time, about half of all Americans are trying to lose weight — and we can assume it will be even more than that once everyone emerges from our collective bread-and-cookie-insulated quarantine cocoon. That means millions of people are doing keto, paleo, intermittent fasting, Optavia, Atkins, and all the other diets (many of which we’ve explained and reviewed on GH) that limit what, when and how you eat. And as you can tell from all those “before and after” Instagram shots, some dieters do lose weight — at least at first. But for the majority it inevitably comes back, potentially leading to guilt, disappointment, and the biggest question of all: What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I keep off the weight?

Here’s the truth: It’s not you. It’s biology.

The dirty little secret of the dieting industry is that many diets will fail. But we are still bombarded with the message that if we only find the right diet we will be thin — which has been conflated with “beautiful” in our culture — and all our troubles will melt away along with our love handles. “The diet industry is a $72 billion dollar business, so there’s an extraordinary amount of money that’s hooked into selling the idea that there is something wrong with us, and if only we buy their product, we can find salvation,” says Lindo Bacon, Ph.D., associate nutritionist at UC-Davis and author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your WeightBut according to one well known study at UCLA, not only do most people eventually gain back the weight they lost on diets, but as many as two-thirds may wind up gaining back more.”

Rethinking Fatness: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Weight May Be Wrong

“Low-fat, low-carb, Paleo, keto, South Beach, intermittent fasting—the list goes on. Given that our culture idealizes thinness and shuns larger bodies, it’s not surprising that nearly one in five midlife women has dieted in the past few years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And many have regained the weight and see themselves as having failed. Less than 1% of very large people got to a “normal” weight at all in a study that included almost 100,000 women, and most who did regained the pounds they had lost within five years.

Some medical experts are now saying what many of us have been desperate to hear: It’s extremely tough to drop weight long-term, for reasons that have nothing to do with willpower—and it may not even be necessary.”

The Last Thing Fat Kids Need

“The message that “good parents” can and should control the number on the scale is literally tearing families apart. Should your child’s weight determine your fitness to be a parent? According to a family court judge in Sussex, England, the answer seems to be yes. In a decision filed last October, which recently made international headlines, District Judge Gillian Ellis ordered that then–16-year-old “Child C” and 13-year-old “Child D” be placed in foster care after their parents failed to help them lose weight. “I know that you love your mother and father very much and I know they love you too,” Ellis wrote. “But I am concerned about your health and the way in which your weight impacts on this.”

What If Everything You Know About Weight Loss Is Wrong?

“Why is it so hard to lose weight? Here’s one reason: A lot of what we all take for granted about weight loss is unproven or flat-out wrong. That’s the bottom line from a special article published in 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The article laid out what works and what doesn’t, and detailed the commonly held weight loss beliefs that are not supported by research. The review also unveiled some of the theories that have not been proven or disproven. Here are some of the most surprising theories, plus what science really says about them”

I lost 100 pounds and didn’t learn a damned thing…

from 2019 by Meagan McGovern

“Man, I really wanted to write a long post about how much better and smarter and amazing I am now that I’ve lost 100 pounds. How much thinner I am. Maybe some clever words about my poor boobs, and about my clothes, and then I could post some before-and-afters, and then the congratulations could pour in.
But the truth is so much more complicated. Losing 100 pounds doesn’t make you smarter, more organized, or able to find your car keys. It doesn’t make me a better wife, a better mother, or a better writer.
Really, it just makes me smaller. And squishier. And more confused than ever about the role of women and weight and hunger and exercise and our culture.
So instead I wrote to Roxane Gay, who seems to write about weight and women with raw truth and clarity. And I’m grateful for it.”

A woman on a treadmill wearing a blue and grey shirt and khaki pants. Photo by Julia Larson on Pexels.com
fitness · health · weight loss · weight stigma

6 things Sam hates about seeing doctors, as a larger person (#reblog, #bloglove)

I’ve been putting off making a doctor’s appointment. Don’t worry. I will, eventually. But here is part of the story about why.

fitness · weight loss

The benefits of exercise are many, but long term weight loss isn’t (necessarily) one of them

CW: Discusses weight loss and the desire for it

There are things we want to be true but aren’t. One of those things–for me– is working out causing weight loss.

Outdoor yoga

Why do I even care about weight loss? The reasons are boring and hard. I want to go faster up hills. That’s the physics of it. I want to look like the athletic person I am and have people recognize me as such. That’s the vanity of it. But absolutely the most important reason is knee replacement surgery and increasing the odds of a better recovery. It’s my left knee now, but soon it will be both. Mostly I keep weight loss talk off the blog with the exception of my monthly updates where I talk about it in the context of my knee.

Now, for me, the exercise connection isn’t the usual one. I’m not exercising now to lose weight. Rather movement and physical activity, mostly cycling but also hiking and dog walking and skiing, are big and important sources of pleasure and joy in my life. I need total knee replacement surgery to keep doing those things. I need to lose weight to better my odds of a good surgical outcome. I’m not exercising to lose weight. I’m trying to lose weight to keep physical activity in my life.

I’ve struggled with weight loss my whole life and I am bored with the issue. So bored. I’ve written so very much about the impossibility of weight loss. See here and here. I’ve written lots about weight loss myths, like the idea that everyone likes that slow steady weight loss is better than speedy. It’s not. Neither has good long term success but the former sounds better.

That said my eyes still light up when I see weight loss linked to exercise in the headlines.

Last month the media got all excited over a study showing that the right amount of exercise, if weight loss is your goal, is 300 minutes a week.

Gretchen Reynolds wrote about it in the New York Times. The headline? To Lose Weight With Exercise, Aim for 300 Minutes a Week.

There are 4 things I want to say about this:

First, that’s an awful lot of exercise for someone who doesn’t work out now. Here on the blog we always tell people trying to establish a fitness routine to start small. 300 minutes isn’t small. And if you already do work out that much now and aren’t losing weight as a result, why expect a change?

Second, there also people (ME!) who do exercise vigorously more than 300 minutes a week. I ride or race my bike on Zwift at least 6 hours a week, or 360 minutes. I also lift weights. I do yoga. I walk Cheddar. As my son might say, 300 minutes is baby food.

But I’ve never lost weight through exercising. I’m not alone. See Plus sized endurance athletes, we exist!. These are all people who workout and train a lot and who don’t lose weight as a result. See also Big Women on Bikes. I’ve written lots on the blog about being a larger women who rides, here and here for example.

Third, I worry that people who start exercising to lose weight and who don’t lose weight, will quit exercising and miss out on all the other health benefits of working out. Exercising is the single biggest positive change you can make for your health. But if you think it’s about weight loss, you are very likely to be disappointed. Don’t blame exercise and don’t blame yourself. It’s just the way bodies work.

If you started exercising for that reason and you didn’t lose weight, what now? See You are exercising to lose weight and you aren’t losing any, what now?

Fourth, if we start to think of exercise as tied to weight loss, then what about the thin people? Doesn’t this inadvertently exclude thin people from hearing the right message about how important and good and valuable exercise is?

See How equating being fat with being out of shape hurts thin people too.

Many years ago I saw a physiotherapist who started talking to me about how he wished his wife would exercise, for her health and well-being. The problem is that she’s naturally thin and doesn’t think she needs to. She’s not athletic, finds sports boring, and has lots of other things in her life that interest her more than exercise. He told me his wife’s doctor has never once mentioned to her that exercise would be good or asked about how much she works out now. She looks like she works out (code for ‘she’s thin’) and so no one asks about exercise or recommends it.

(This is out of my wheelhouse, and I didn’t go look at the actual study, but it also seems to me to be short term weight loss and pretty small numbers in terms of study participants. Catherine Womack is our public health policy blogger who frequently reads the studies behind the headlines and explains them to our community. Maybe she’ll go look!)

For more commentary follow Yoni Freedhoff on Twitter about this study.

You might also want to watch his talk on rebranding exercise.

See also If You Stop Thinking Of Exercise As A Way To Lose Weight, You May Actually Enjoy It.

Swimmers!
commute · cycling · weight loss · weight stigma

“On yer bike” for oh so many reasons, but weight loss isn’t one of them

In April, which feels like years ago in terms of the pandemic, Catherine asked, Does COVID-19 care what you weigh?

The answer, not surprisingly, then and now, is that it’s complicated.

Catherine concluded, “I don’t work in medicine, but I do know that there is a humongous evidence gap between what’s happening clinically in a particular hospital and its patients (each with their own complex medical and other histories), and what is true about everyone with higher BMIs in the US (not to mention other countries) with respect to risks related to COVID-19. Right now we can’t say much of anything. So maybe we shouldn’t. Which means the answer to my blog title question is, “we don’t have evidence right now to answer this question”. It doesn’t make for exciting news copy, but it’s the closest thing to the truth right now.”

But nevermind the fact that it’s complicated get in the way of a feel-good media campaign. Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans an anti-obesity/anti-COVID-19 campaign, with bicycles front and center.

I have lots of complicated thoughts about all of this. And it’s not helped by all of the cycling advocacy groups which make up a good chunk of my social media newsfeed sharing news of the plan enthusiastically. Treehugger proclaims, Miracle Pill Found for Fighting COVID-19: The Bicycle.

Sigh.

First, it’s not at all clear that if you had to pick one thing to work on to improve COVID-19 control in the United Kingdom it’s weight loss. How about mask wearing? Contract tracing? Or speedy testing? There are many areas in which the UK’s COVID-19 response is lacking. I wouldn’t start by blaming individual citizens for their excess pounds.

Second, it’s not clear that there is a shred of evidence that ‘eat less, move more’ public health campaigns do anything other than shame fat people.

Here’s an obesity doctor’s assessment, “I find it impossible to fathom that anyone with even an ounce of knowledge of the complex, multifactorial, chronic, and often progressive nature of obesity should in this day and age still fail to understand that the proposed plan, which includes the usual talk of changing the food environment (largely by appealing to personal responsibility) and a 12-week weight loss plan app [sic], focussed on healthy living (read, “eat-less-move-more”), is about as likely to noticeably reduce obesity in the UK population, as taking out a full page ad in The Sunday Times stating that “Obesity is bad!”.”

And here’s Susie Orbach’s response in the Guardian: Britain’s obesity strategy ignores the science: dieting doesn’t work.

Third, there are so many, many reasons to encourage people to ride bikes–less pollution, better mental health, happiness, etc–we don’t need to add one that isn’t true to the list.

Note that Boris, like me, is a regular cyclist, who is thought to be by many people someone who could do to lose a few pounds, or even stones, as they say over there. Normally I’m out there defending fat cyclists like me and Boris. See Fat cyclists in the news and Big women on bikes and Pretty fast for a big girl and Not all cyclists are thin and Fat lass at the front?. It’s a thing I write about a lot.

But here he is, a committed, regular, everyday cyclist out there pushing bike riding for weight loss.

Note we’re different kinds of cyclists but neither of us is thin.

I love bikes but I hate to hear them promoted as weight loss tools.

Because, they’re not.

I love to ride my bike. I’m on track to ride 5000 km this year, or about a 100 km a week. You can follow me on Strava, here. On ZwiftPower I’m here. I’ve been doing this for years and I can assure you it’s not making me any smaller.

And I worry that if people start riding to lose weight, and they don’t lose weight, they’ll quit and miss out on all the other benefits of moving through life on two wheels. For example, cyclists are the happiest of commuters.

What bicycling feels like every single time!

In my post on reasons to ride I give some of my reasons for riding a bike, “There are lots and lots of reasons to ride bikes. Some are health related. It’s also a terrific stress relief, and it’s good for the environment. It’s an easy way to incorporate exercise into your day. It’s good to spend more time outside. As well, it’s a sensible financial move. Driving, once you add up the costs of car payments, parking, insurance, and gas is an expensive way to get around. And I agree with all of these reasons but on their own they might not be enough to get me out the door and on my bike. What does it then? The sheer joy of cycling. On my bike I feel like I’m 12 again. Whee, zoom!”

Here are some more reasons people ride:


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body image · covid19 · diets · fat · normative bodies · weight loss · weight stigma

The “covid 19” isn’t funny, it’s fat shaming and fat phobic

I wasn’t going to blog about this because when I mentioned it on my FB timeline, more than one person commented something along the lines of “people have different senses of humour and we all need outlets in these difficult times.” But if there is one thing that I can’t stand, it’s “jokes” about self-isolation weight gain. Isolation / shelter-in-place weight gain (“the covid 19,” riffing off of the “freshman 15”) has become a hot topic, as people are confined to their homes, possibly moving less and eating more, routines thrown off. There are articles about how to prevent it (with the usual advice, like all the usual advice). There are even quarantine diets.

That’s all fat phobic, fat-shaming, perpetuating harmful diet culture, and triggering for people recovering or recovered from or in the throes of eating disorders. They buy into harmful social ideologies that vilify fat and weight gain.

Jokes and memes take it to another level. They take it seriously as a thing, even a thing to fear. And they make light at the same time. The “humourous” edge makes it more difficult to take issue.

If you don’t find them funny, you are dismissed yet again as a feminist killjoy. Sometimes reprimanded for wanting to deprive others of their sense of humour (the old “just scroll past” rejoinder).

This Allure article, “Can I Socially Distance Myself from These Terrible Jokes about Gaining Weight While in Quarantine?” does a great job of explaining the harm. The most obvious issue is that “gaining weight is framed as an inherently bad thing–an idea that steeped in fat phobia.” When we frame weight gain as a bad consequence of being in quarantine, self-isolation, or shelter-in-place, we add a further layer onto an already difficult situation that calls for kindness to ourselves, not judgment and self-flagellation.

That kind of thinking can drive people into diet mode, or trigger feelings of self-loathing that come up in chronic dieters or people with eating disorders. As if living in isolation during a global pandemic isn’t challenging enough, bringing with it all sorts of fears grounded in the rapid pace at which our lives have changed, coupled with uncertainty about what awaits us in the future, how long we are going to need to live this way, in this shrunken version of our previous lives.

We do not need another demon. We do not need to shame ourselves for wanting treats. And we do not need to shame ourselves for gaining weight. We are trying to survive an unprecedented global situation. Surely that is task enough right now?

I am well aware that people have different senses of humour. And that people need occasions to laugh in the midst of this pandemic. I am also well aware that some jokes perpetuate social harm. Racist and sexist jokes do that. And jokes about the covid 19 do too. They are fat phobic and shaming. I’m sure we can find other things to joke about and lift our spirits.

Image description: Pie chart of “Things I’ve Learned i the last few weeks,” with the 3/4 of the chart taken up with “I fucking love touching my face.”
Image description: White mug with black printing on it in bold, made to look like a broken mirror, and says “I don’t like this episode of Black Mirror.”
walking · weight loss

Walking 10,000 steps a day won’t help you lose weight, but who would have thought that it would?

From the Independent: “Over the last few years, the theory that walking 10,000 steps a day has become popularised as the key to health and weight loss. However, according to a new study, walking 10,000 steps a day won’t actually prevent weight gain, or lead to weight loss.”

I don’t have a lot to say about this start to the story, except….

WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THERE WAS A CONNECTION BETWEEN WALKING LOTS AND LOSING WEIGHT?

More on the study: The study took 120 first year university students, all women, and had them walk either 10, 12 or 15,000 steps a day, 6 days a week, for 24 weeks. They also tracked their weights and their calories consumed. On average, no matter what group they were in, the students had all gained 3.5 lbs which is the average amount of weight students typically gain during their first semester of school.

Again, my reaction….

Let me act shocked.

But here is the bit they don’t mention until the end of the story.

“However, the researchers did note that the increased steps meant an overall positive impact on students’ “physical activity patterns,” which they stated “may have other emotional and health benefits””

Why isn’t that the headline? It’s good news. Students struggle with stress and anxiety and all sorts of emotional and mental health issues when beginning university. Why isn’t that the focus rather than the 3.5 lbs they typically gain when confronted with stress and cafeteria style eating?

Probably my biggest complaint about health and exercise reporting is the emphasis on weight loss. If people do it for reasons of weight loss and then don’t lose weight, they quit. And then they miss out on all the real health benefits of physical activity.

I’m with Yoni Freedhoff (again): Exercise is the world’s best drug. It’s just not a weight-loss drug.

Let’s talk about the other benefits of walking lots. I’ve got a post in our drafts folder about the wonders of walking.

It starts like this: “Walking is obviously wonderful. You can’t blink an eye these days without some news about the wonders of walking flash by. It’s a radical act in fast paced world. Walking makes us wiser. It makes us healthier, happier, and brainier. Even philosophers are in on the act. Here’s five philosophers on walking and wisdom. Yet more, why walking helps us think. A few years ago Adam Gopnick penned, Heaven’s Gait: What We Do When We Walk which covers both contemplative walking and walking as a sport.”

So walking is wonderful. It’s not about weight loss. And that’s just fine.

More later about walking and my reflections on walking for those of us who can’t.