Riding with the Friends for Life Bike Rally Year #4! (Sponsor me please…)

“The Bike Rally originated as a 6-day, 600 km bike ride from Toronto to Montréal. In 2016, the Bike Rally introduced a 1-day, 110 km bike ride from Toronto to Port Hope. Now in its 19th year, the Bike Rally has engaged over 3400 participant as cyclists and crew and has raised over $15 million dollars for the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation (PWA). The Bike Rally is the sustaining fundraiser for PWA supporting its ability to provide critical services and support to individuals living with HIV/AIDS in Toronto.”

I did for the first time in 2014 with my friend David.

I did it again in 2015 with Susan.

And in 2016, Susan and I were team leads.

Now I’m back for round 4. David and I are riding again.

We are hoping to get friends to join us at least for the one day version. You can find out more about the 6 day ride here. And the one day version here.

You can sponsor me here!


Lessons in confidence from the gym

By MarthaFitat55

Last week the Internet was agog at the sight of a little girl walking into her father’s live TV interview. Her insouciance was astonishing; her swagger delightful.

Her stance was all ”hey dad, what’s happening?” and she was totally chill even when her brother rolled in followed by her mother scrambling to get the little ones out of sight.

I got to thinking about the little girl’s supreme confidence, and just how wonderful it was to see. This new gif has been making the rounds on Facebook, and for good reason.

Little girl with yellow sweater and eye glasses walks proudly while baby rolls in walker

It also got me thinking about what we do in our cultures to crush the spirits of little girls in different ways and through the different ‘isms.

A place where this happens big time is in the gym. There’s a lot of emphasis on how female bodies should look and what must happen if yours doesn’t measure up.

Of course, there are also prescriptions re: the ways women can get fit and the ways some people think we shouldn’t. For example, I see lots online, of what people call concern-trolling, if you start working with weights. Watch out, you will get too bulky or big, and other comments of that ilk, are frequent.

It isn’t anything I have heard within the walls of the gym where I train, but I know it does happen. Regardless, I’m already a woman who takes up space, so that isn’t a concern of mine.

One thing I don’t see the concern trolls recognizing is how weight training, and finding your fit in whatever way you choose to move overall, provides you with new ways of managing new challenges. Not just in the gym with the various pieces of equipment and weights, but in life too.

Recently, I heard a writing friend speak about how she has come to see where the principles underpinning her particular martial art appear in her daily life. Her commentary made me think about what weight training and developing strength has given me.

And I have to say, it’s confidence. None of my friends and colleagues would describe me as a shrinking violet because I do my best to be prepared and be ready to take on whatever comes my way. But I have to admit, I haven’t always liked dealing with some of the challenges I’ve faced, partly because a little piece of me wasn’t always 100% sure I could do it, even though I have prepared for everything.

However, the confidence I get from my progress with training has given me the edge I need when I absolutely have to persuade a client or a colleague to get on board with what I am recommending.

I have started to carry the “I got this” feeling I get when I see the plates my trainer is loading on the bar, or when she shows me a new exercise or technique, into other places. It’s not that I am overconfident, but I know I have everything I need mentally to get the job done.

While I may not be four years old anymore like Marion Kelly, thanks to the gym, I feel like I am well able to meet any new challenge and own it with the confidence four-year-old girls have the world over.

— Martha is a writer who delights in the new discoveries training offers her. She is a regular contributor to Fit is a Feminist Issue.

Scales in the locker room? Rebecca and Tracy say “yes”

Picture of a white upright white gym scale with a black platform to stand on and slider weights on the top part to move across to determine weight.I love it when Sam and I have amicable disagreements about some of the issues we blog about. It doesn’t happen a lot. We are boringly like-minded in so many ways. But when it does, we have fun with it. As we said to each other just yesterday, we’re each the other’s favourite person to disagree with. It’s always congenial and, because we each have a lot of respect for the other, we can live and learn from where we part ways.

The latest issue where this happened is the scales-in-the-university -locker-room-issue that Sam wrote about yesterday. She’s in favour of ditching them. 

Her two main reasons:

  1. They perpetuate the idea of a connection between exercise and weight loss. There isn’t.
  2. Some people with a history of eating disorders may find it hard to resist the allure of the scale.  It’s why those of us who don’t weight ourselves talk about putting the scale away. It’s hard to walk by.

Things heated up in the comments pretty quickly as Rebecca and I and a couple of other people jumped in to disagree.

Rebecca and I have both come out as having histories that include eating disorders. So it may seem odd that we actually support the idea of scales in the locker room. Here are some of our reasons, quoted from the comments.

Scales are for more than monitoring weight loss. 

Rebecca: Hmm. I seriously rely on my gym scale as an important tool when I am getting ready for competition. As a former anorexic with a propensity towards eating disorders, it is dangerous for me to have one in my own house – weighing myself has to be something I go somewhere to do. But I definitely need to monitor my weight near competition. I am betting tons of university students don’t have the space or money for a scale in their rooms or like me don’t want one, but tons of them are also engaged serious athletic pursuits and may need to know their weight. I think of the scale as a piece of equipment any well-equipped gym would have in order to support various kinds of training. We don’t want to get rid of all scales altogether because they serve various purposes, and gyms seem like just the right place to keep them for those purposes. So, I am in favor of them. And they have to be in locker rooms as precise monitoring often needs to be clothing-free monitoring.

Your post makes it sound like the only reason to weigh yourself is to see how skinny you are or aren’t, but this is really unfair. Weight is integral to lots of sports, and gyms are exactly the right places to manage that.

If the home scale is the main alternative, scales in the locker room are a better option.    

Tracy: I’m not opposed to scales in the locker room. For many, the only alternative is a home scale. But home scales have even more of a trigger factor for some of us with a history of disordered eating. For many years I could not even own one. I’m not a big fan of scales and weigh-ins. But to me the scale is similar to any other piece of gym equipment — it can be used or abused. It would be great if we weren’t weight obsessed. But overall, having scales in gym locker rooms is a better alternative than having them only available in homes or at the doctor’s office.

Rebecca:  [About the idea] that people should just buy home scales if they want to monitor their weight. I think that’s insensitive to the money and space restrictions of many students. But more interestingly, I’d rather see home scales become much rarer than gym scales, because I bet big money the home scales are much more frequently used perniciously and in disordered ways.                                                                                                                                                    

Having scales available only in doctors’ offices (as an alternative to home scales) is an unnecessary and unwelcome medicalization of weight and weight monitoring as a part of health monitoring.

Rebecca: [in response to a comment about doctor’s opinions about weight] My doctor is about the last person I want in charge of my weight…Weight should generally not be viewed as a medical issue at all, though as I comment below it can perfectly well be an athletic issue for totally normal reasons. Trainers and coaches need to know weights, not just doctors, and often more than doctors.

Tracy: [Y]ou won’t be going to the doctor every time you want to weigh yourself and weight isn’t necessarily something you want to have as a medically supervised part of your life, I assume.

Rebecca: The idea … that it would be better if we framed weight as a medical issue and as up to doctors to monitor is pretty disturbing.

Removing scales from the gym equates scales with weight loss in a way that is not helpful, accurate, or healthy. [variation on the first point]

Rebecca: People are making the exact assumption they claim not to like by assuming that the only reason to monitor weight is to lose it, and the only reason to go to a gym is to blandly ‘get exercise’ in order to get skinnier.

Rebecca: having a gym scale does not necessarily equate exercise and weight loss, unless you are assuming that the only reason to go to a gym is to get exercise in some broad sense, and the only reason to track your weight is to try to lose it. That last assumption in particular strikes me as pernicious in exactly the way you are pushing back against. People also use gyms to train for specific activities. Monitoring weight, not necessarily in order to lose it, can be a very important part of that.

Lots of things in the gym are possible tools for weight loss. Why single out scales?

Tracy: Getting rid of [scales] from gyms strikes me as the wrong way to go… It would be like not selling carrot sticks or green smoothies at the gym because people use them for weight loss, or not having cardio classes at the gym because people use them for weight loss, or not having gyms at all because people use them for weight loss.

In the end, we sort of landed, along with Sam, on the idea that having gym scales in separate cubicles, like toilets, would be a good compromise. That way it wouldn’t be like a siren call to unsuspecting people walking by because it would be hidden away a bit. We could also avoid the comments and assumptions people feel entitled to make when they see someone getting on the scale.

Rebecca (re. the cubicle idea): I would prefer that for all sorts of reasons including selfish ones. I am very self-conscious about having other people watch me weigh myself, because (1) I am naked, (2) I know that just as we have seen in this thread, people will assume I am weighing myself because I am trying to get skinny, and it pisses me off, and (3) following on (2), I know lots of women are watching me and thinking “she doesn’t have a weight problem,” and feeling either resentful or patronizing towards me or both.

Tracy: I’m the same. I would rather be alone when I weigh myself for all those reasons. People tend to make comments that are loaded with assumptions that make me uncomfortable.

Rebecca: Word. Comments or even just loaded looks. But the comments are the worst as they generally require some response.

Sam: I get “cheering me on” style comments which I hate. You can do it. Keep at it! Etc etc.

Rebecca: Oh ffs. Just f*ck off.

Sam (so polite): Yep. I don’t say that but I think it.

The other thing that came up is that often (though not always) gym scales are more accurate than home scales. Like much of the equipment we use, gym quality stuff is better. And like anything in the gym, we can use it for good or ill. It can trigger us, or not. Getting rid of the equipment won’t solve the problem.

So I ask again, what do you think of scales in the gym locker room?

Should university gyms have scales in them? Sam thinks not…

Image description: Clear snowflake against a blue background.

Image description: Clear snowflake against a blue background.

Carleton University is in the news these days for removing scales from the university’s fitness centre change rooms. Conservatives just hate this. Cue rhetoric about the snowflake generation and safe spaces. Brietbart even jumped in but I’m not linking there.

See Conservative news outlets slam Carleton University gym for removing scales.

And Carleton University comes under heavy criticism after gym scale removed.

Why did they get rid of the scale?

Gym officials made the decision to keep up with “current fitness trends,” Bruce Marshall, health and wellness manager at Carlton Athletics told the school newspaper The Charlatan.

“We don’t believe being fixated on weight has any positive effect on your health and well-being,” Marshall told the school’s newspaper.

“It takes weeks, even months to make a permanent change in your weight. So why obsess about it?

It reminded me of my big success getting rid of the scale at the London YMCA downtown branch. Now the scale I successfully had removed was in the family changeroom. It was being used by children. I wrote a letter to the Y after I watched little girls in my daughter’s swim lesson (approx age, 8-10) weighing themselves before and after class. They were standing around complaining about the numbers on the scale. “80 lbs! I’m so fat.” I wrote to the Y and said that given that they run healthy body image workshops and eating disorders support groups that having a weigh scale for children was inconsistent with their values. They agreed and wrote me a nice thank you note.

But of course university students aren’t children. They’re adults. You don’t have to use it, said lots of readers on our Facebook page when I shared news of Carleton’s decision there. I agree.

Some students think of the decision to get rid of the scale as pandering to those with eating disorders. Aaron Bens, a communication and media studies student at Carleton, wrote to CBC that he is “frustrated” by the university’s decision, which he argues is “the next escalation of trigger culture.” Others argue that the scale is necessary for boxers and rowers and others in weight competitive sports. Note though that varsity athletes rarely use the general student gym and fitness centres. Rowers, for example, have their own training rooms with a scale.

I hear the argument that students are adults and decide for themselves whether to step on the scale.

And yet.

I don’t like scales in change rooms at gyms. Here’s my two reasons why not:

  1. They perpetuate the idea of a connection between exercise and weight loss. There isn’t.
  2. Some people with a history of eating disorders may find it hard to resist the allure of the scale.  It’s why those of us who don’t weight ourselves talk about putting the scale away. It’s hard to walk by. I confess I step on the one at the university gym I go to occasionally. Why? Why?
Image description: Purple scale with a sticky note that says, "You'll never be pleased with the number I show you."

Image description: Purple scale with a sticky note that says, “You’ll never be pleased with the number I show you.”

What do you think about scales in lock rooms at university gyms? Thumbs up or thumbs down? Why/why not?

Run if you want to run, don’t if you don’t; either way, do something else for strength too

Image description: three blue rectangles stacked on top of each other each with one word in it in white sans serif font. Starting at the top it says "It's your choice."

Image description: three blue rectangles stacked on top of each other each with one word in it in white sans serif font. Starting at the top it says “It’s your choice.”

Yesterday I read another one of those annoying articles that tell people they shouldn’t be running. This one was titled, “Why You Should Not Be Running.” In a nutshell, unless “you’re a competitive runner or cyclist who is serious about your sport,” you should be strength training instead of running.”

Before I outline the reasons, let me say up front: I disagree. In fact, I’m going to jump straight to my punchline: if you want to run, run. If you don’t want to run, don’t run. Whether you do or don’t, include strength training as part of your overall fitness routine.

Why does running get this bad rap all the time? According to the author, running is at odds with gaining strength. Actually, not all running is at odds with gaining strength. When we get to the nitty gritty, it’s “excessive amounts of endurance activity” that compromise muscle mass.

Yes, elite marathoners are wispy humans who carry little extra weight. But what if you’re not an elite marathon or ultra-marathon runner (since most of us are not)? By definition “excessive” training is, well, “excessive.” So maybe there is a more moderate approach that could work? I’m sure there are millions of us, myself included, who have running as a part of our overall workout routine and have managed to gain muscle and strength along the way.

Also, the author laments the high volume, low intensity workout of many endurance athletes. Well okay fine. But most endurance coaches, even of non-elite athletes, will recommend a mix of high intensity interval training, short distance tempo runs, and slower endurance runs. My new running coach (more on that in a future post) takes a strong stance against being a “one pace wonder.”

The balance of the article applauds strength training and outlines its benefits. Yes. It’s great. Especially as we age, strength training is an important component of a well-rounded routine.

“Well-rounded” is the operative word here. Strength training is important. It builds strength. It trains the muscles to work and it makes them grow.

One thing totally absent from this and most articles recommending that we give up running, is the joy factor. Do you like running? Does it make you feel good? If so, then why would you not just think about doing it smarter instead of not doing it at all.

Any article that says “you shouldn’t be doing X” where X is a popular activity that millions enjoy as part of their healthy lifestyle is just plain irresponsible. I’m not saying it’s not important to dispel some of the myths about high volume low intensity training. I agree it’s not the be-all and end-all of a good approach to fitness. But that doesn’t mean running is bad for you. It doesn’t even mean it can’t be combined with strength training in meaningful ways. And it certainly doesn’t mean that for some people, running is a source of joy and well-being that adds a wonderful dimension to their lives.


Why Sam wants to hug Oprah

Oprah is losing weight again. For those of us following and for Oprah, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster. Right now she/we are going down. So far she’s lost 20 kg, the headlines tell us.

This time though, she’s not calling it a diet. It’s a lifestyle change. Right.

Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey says she has lost over 20 kg, and is loving it. The 65-year-old joined a weight losing programme called Weight Watchers in 2015. “Nearing the 45-pound weight loss mark is a great feeling,” Winfrey said.

She said that the loss of her weight is the result of a lifestyle change instead of years of dieting, reports aceshowbiz.com. “After spending literally years on more diets than I care to count, I finally made the shift from dieting to a lifestyle change.

“Everyone is different, but for me what’s worked, is Weight Watchers… Today I’m more conscious about what I eat, balancing indulgent things with healthier options,” she said. “The Oprah Winfrey Show” host says she felt encouraged to take a holistic approach to health and fitness.

With an estimated net worth of 3.2 billion dollars Oprah is one of the world’s richest women. You can track both her wealth and weight through the years. Last year she bought shares in Weight Watchers and become a company spokesperson. So all of this is no surprise though it disappointed Tracy.

In 1996, Oprah Winfrey hired personal trainer Bob Greene, saying her roller-coaster weight saga was over. Here she is with Greene in 1997. Oprah said she controls her weight by working out daily using Greene’s guidelines. From http://www.accessatlanta.com/entertainment/television/photos-oprah-weight-through-the-years/MywJK3oWH9lwnIi0dYg4JO/#6

Now though she says she doesn’t care about the number on the scale. Again, right.

Oprah Winfrey says that after years of allowing her self-image to be influenced by her weight, she’s finally arrived at a place of equilibrium and self-acceptance. The former talk show host recently lost 42 lbs by following the Weight Watchers program, but says that her newfound happiness is less due to a number on a scale and more to a change in perspective.

Some people are critical of celebrity diets.

 Jean Fain writes, “With their intoxicating blend of impossible expectations, misguided authority and restrictive guidelines, celebrity diets are predestined to fail spectacularly.” Celebrity diets are expensive in terms of time and money. They hire personal chefs and personal trainers and devote a lot of time to their appearance.

See Tracy’s recent post about celebrity diets. And Catherine’s post about diet fallacies and the appeal to Oprah.

Some people are angry at Oprah.

See Dear Oprah, Shut Up About This Being the Year of Our Best Bodies Ever.

You told me in January that 2016 would be the year of Our Best Bodies. You gave your most inspired Oprah gaze that punched right through to my soul, and you told me my body is no good. It doesn’t just need to be better, it needs to be The Best. It’s OK, though, because you’re going to be the best with me, so no worries — as long as I join your weight loss club.

HELL. NO. This is my best body, Oprah. Right now. Full of stretch marks and cellulite, a perfectly-rounded belly and deflated breasts.

It does a fucking amazing job doing what it’s meant to do: SUSTAIN LIFE. It has sustained my life, my son’s life, traveled all over the world, climbed a volcano, played hard, planted gardens, given safe medical care to countless people, and created delightful edible art that is damn delicious.

Me, I want to give her a hug and tell her it will all be okay when she gains that 42 lbs back.

Why my fondness for Oprah? I find myself sympathizing with her. She’s like me, but with more money and a bigger audience. Like me, how? Well, we’re roughly the same size and shape. She’s 5’6, I’m an inch taller. Her lowest weight was 150 lbs, mine 155. And we both cop to a highest weight in the 230s. I’ve also lost and gained weight through the years. Weight Watchers, Precision Nutrition, personal training, etc etc.

She’s halfway between me and my mother–who also shares the same height and weight range–in age.

Sometimes I use Oprah’s example to feel better about my own failed weight loss efforts. If someone with Oprah’s resources such as personal chefs and trainers can’t do it, what hope is there for me?

But I feel sorry for Oprah regaining weight in the public eye.  The stories and photos about it all sound so sad. She’s such a terrific business person and has such a great voice and brand, why is she so fussed about her size? And yet I hear people saying the same thing to me.

Why does she care? Why do I care? See my past post On wishing for weight loss. In that post, from March 2015, I wrote:

Look, it’s not irrational in a size phobic society to not want to be fat.

Why? More clothes fit, you’ll get paid more, get higher teaching evaluations if you’re a professor (like me), be seen as smarter, be more attractive to a wider range of partners (don’t get me wrong, I’ve never had a shortage of people finding me attractive but I’m a bit of a niche taste), and more to the point, in my case, climb hills faster. Zoom!

Added bonus: It’d improve my running times a lot.

But it’s wanting the impossible that’s sad and hard. Wanting what you can’t have has never seemed a good game plan for life happiness.

How about we make peace with our bodies and love them the way they are?

And how about I give you a hug Oprah and then we can drink some tea together and maybe go for a run, not because it will help us lose weight (it won’t) but because it feels good to move our bodies. I’m admiring you from the sideline and hoping you don’t go down that road again.

Image description: Dark pink text on light pink background that reads, I workout because I love my body not because I hate it.

Image description: Dark pink text on light pink background that reads, I workout because I love my body not because I hate it.

Upside-down mixed-up weather fitness tips

A cartoon of clothing for a week in Boston during the winter of 2017, varying from bathing suit to snow suit

What a silly mixed up winter/spring season we are having here in the northeastern part of the US.  And most everywhere else too, if my Facebook feed is any judge.  Thank goodness I have a wide variety of activity clothing for temperatures ranging from rain forest to subarctic.  And I’ve needed a lot of them in the past few weeks.

First, there’s been lots of heat.   Record temperatures were set in February in Boston:  73 F on February 24.  Some people, however, were undeterred in their insistence on ice skating:

Two girls ice skating on Frog Pond on the Boston common in T shirts and leggings, holding water from the melting ice rink.

Then, a few days ago the March temperatures plunged, setting records and almost-records in New England:

No records were set in Boston on Saturday, as temperatures reached a high of 23 degrees just after midnight. That’s just 1 degree over the record lowest high temperature recorded for March 11, which was 22 degrees set in 1874, according to the weather service.

Worcester, Providence, and Hartford set new minimum high temperature records of 16, 23, and 22 degrees, respectively, breaking longstanding records.

With this confoundingly mixed-up weather, what’s an aspiring-to-be-fit feminist to do?  Here are some strategies that are currently working for me.

1.Take advantage of the the aerobic opportunities that come from schlepping up and down stairs (in my case to basement, but attics will do as well), retrieving previously-stowed winter sports gear and clothing.  Then stowing it again.  Repeat as often as necessary, or until May 1, whichever comes first.

A week or so ago, with a heavy sigh, I finally put my cross country skis, snowshoes and ski clothing away in my basement.  But now, with a nor’easter bearing down on us (bringing who knows how much snow?), I get to go back to my basement, taking multiple trips to find everything I put away.  I’ve been up and down many times, looking for things and putting other things away.  I feel downright productive…

 2. If you find yourself resisting venturing outdoors when it’s super-cold outside (and windy, too, I might add), expose yourself to relentless peer pressure, and you’ll probably give in and go do something active.

Yesterday my friend Janet called, reminding me that I had agreed to go on a walk with her Saturday afternoon.  I demurred, saying that it was too cold (it was something like 14 outside, with 30mph winds and higher gusts).  She refused to take no for an answer, stating that it would be fine outside for a walk.  Note:  it was sooo not fine outside for a walk.  But walk we did, bringing along another friend, Jessica.  I lent Jess a pair of leggings to wear under her cords, as she was on the brink of hypothermia already.

In fact, it was a beautiful day, if windy.  The Fresh Pond reservoir in Cambridge looked more like the Great Lakes, complete with whitecaps:

Fresh Pond reservoir, with dark choppy waves

Fresh Pond reservoir, with dark choppy waves

Alright, maybe they weren’t exactly whitecaps, but there was a lot-a-lot of wind.  We saw interesting icy formations along the banks, made by splashing water, wind, and frigid temps:

A variety of ice formations made by splashing water and wind against branches

We were super-bundled up for our walk.  Janet and I both tend to run warmer than the average person, so we both dress lighter, but not yesterday.  Here’s what she was sporting:

Janet, in sunglasses, a scarf, hat and fluffy white long parka

All our exposed skin (all 10 square inches of it) got red and wind-burned.  However, it was a very fun way to get a little exercise on such a freezing day.

3. Invite relatives from the south to visit just before a snowstorm, guaranteeing lots of sledding, running around in the snow, skiing, tubing, and maybe even snowball fighting.

As I write this, my sister, a friend of hers and four kids are barrelling their way to Boston for a high school debate tournament.  Everyone is pretty excited about the snow (except my sister, who is the designated driver).  The kids have never experienced a nor’easter, so I’m hoping we get at least a foot of snow.  Chances are good this will happen.  This means I get to spend time and energy in lots of frolicking in the snow.  Of course, I will definitely be cross country skiing as soon as I can, but this time I get to expand my winter-fun palate to include sledding and tubing.  Frankly, I can’t wait.

Now I need to go to the store and get milk and bread.

Two women frolicking in the snow holding milk and bread

Two women frolicking in the snow holding milk and bread