What I’ve learned from 200 blog posts for Fit is a Feminist Issue

Hey y’all– it’s my blog post bicentennial! As I was idly poking around the Fit is a Feminist Issue site, I saw that I am reaching 200 posts as of today Woo-hoo!

Fireworks at night, saying 200!
Fireworks at night, saying 200!

I started blogging in August 2014. I wrote here about a long group ride I took in western Massachusetts– my pre-ride fears, my during-ride experiences, and after-ride glow and satisfaction. Since mid-2015, I’ve been blogging every Sunday and occasionally mid-week. Looking back, here are some things I’ve learned:

1. Even though I love physical activity, it provokes a bunch of fears and anxieties in me. I’ve written about them in great detail; here are a few:

2. I’ve learned that I am most definitely not alone in having these feelings. You, dear readers, have responded generously and frankly, sharing your own experiences, reassuring me that it gets better, and encouraging me to keep doing what I love on my own terms because that is just fine. Thank you so much for the solidarity and support.

3. I’ve found through writing and reading this blog that there are a lot of fun ways to move on land, sea, and air. There are a lot of fun ways to develop, maintain, increase and preserve strength, stamina, flexibility, endurance, and grace. Here are some activities I’ve tried and written about in the course of blogging here:

Update: I love ropes yoga and still do it when I can. I’ve downscaled my sea kayaking ambitions to paddling in calmer waters for now, but the ocean horizon still beckons. Scuba is expensive and logistically complicated, so it won’t be a regular part of my life, although I hope to continue it when I’m in parts of the world with turquoise warm water and brightly colored fishes. I’m glad I saw the Great Barrier Reef when I had the chance. Skate skiing is also probably not in the offing– I hope to use my regular xc skis in future (although who knows what weather will be like in the next few years).

Re the sit-rise test: the less said about it, the better. Can’t do it. At all. Hoping it doesn’t mean I’ll die very very soon… 🙂

4. Through reading other bloggers’ stories, writing my own, and hearing from readers, I’ve learned a lot about what my values and priorities are with respect to physical activity. I want to:

  • cycle for the rest of my life (yes, I’ll go recumbent if need be; we’ll see)
  • keep doing yoga, not worrying about taking beginner classes forever
  • find some ways to swim more– I love the water and feel great moving in it
  • accept that I like walking in nature but not up (or down) super-steep slopes
  • dance more (yeah, that pretty much says it)
  • do wacky semi-active things like mini golf and bowling more often (don’t mock– they are fun fun fun in groups)
  • try axe throwing

I’ll be adding to the list as time goes on.

5. Not all my experiences have been sunny and positive. For instance, I still don’t know whether eggs are good for us or bad for us.

Fake egg news? More on the eggs-good/eggs-bad controversy

The new US dietary guidelines, or: just tell me—are eggs good or bad this year?

6. One thing I do know: Food is neither good nor evil– this we’ve got covered at Fit is a Feminist Issue.

7. Another thing I know: I love this group of bloggers, readers, commenters. You are a source of great and deep joy to me. Thank you, and see you next week for blog post 201.

Me on my cross bike, dressed as a banana, before the Orchard cross costume ride.
Me on my cross bike, dressed as a banana, before the Orchard cross costume ride.

What it means to help

Thursday was a beautiful day in Toronto, perfect early summer sun and clear crisp air. The wind from the storm we’d had on Wednesday had finally subsided and I was cycling home from work, sailing along, trying to release some of the energy from the challenging meeting I was coming from.

As I rode across a bridge over a major highway, I looked up and saw a woman lowering another woman to the ground, as if she had caught her fainting.

I stopped to see what they needed.

There were two other cyclists stopped, one on the phone trying to call 911.  The woman who’d caught the other woman was now crouched on the ground holding her tight, urgently saying “I’m not going to let you do that!”

The first woman — I’ll call her Julie — had been teetering on the top of the railing of the bridge.  The second woman — “Rae” — had stopped her car abruptly, leaped out and tackled her to the ground.  I arrived about 30 seconds after this happened.

Over the next ten minutes, everything seemed to happen in patches.  Rae was holding Julie tight, telling her own story.  Two years ago, she was driving on the same highway below us and someone jumped in front of her car.  She’d done compressions on him long past the time the police arrived.  He hadn’t survived.  She spent months in therapy, felt like she had not been there for her kids.  She asked Julie questions, found out she had kids, kept telling her “You can’t leave them for your brother to raise.  You have to raise good boys.”

In middle of this, she kept lifting her head, asking “is someone coming to help??”

When I’d arrived, one of the other cyclists had been on the phone calling 911, but he didn’t seem to be able to convey the urgency.  He kept saying “she keeps asking me for information like my name.”  I asked if someone was coming and he said he didn’t know.

A TTC bus pulled up to ask if we were okay, and I got on board and he and I did a faster call for help.   The other two cyclists left, the guy saying he had to pick up his kids and leaving me his name.

As soon as I knew 911 was coming, I crouched down and rubbed both their shoulders lightly, exchanging names, reassuring that help was coming. Julie was crying, very drunk, and kept saying she just wanted to go home.

Other cyclists kept stopping to ask if we were okay.

We were, just.  Julie was gently crying, Rae was still urgent, trying to get Julie to look into her eyes, asking her where she wanted to go.  She named one hospital, refused another.  For several minutes, the three of us were alone on the bridge, the bus gone, the driver assuring us help was coming.

When the police arrived, they were kind, very humane.  When the paramedics came, they said they couldn’t take her to her preferred place, but the police said they would. Rae walked Julie to the ambulance so the paramedics could assess her physically to make sure she was safe to travel with the police.

When I told the story later, people asked if I was okay.  I said I was — that I’d witnessed a profound act of rescue and a surge of community caring, not an act of despair.  The despair once Julie was on the ground was familiar, not extraordinary.  I’ve seen and experienced deep sadness. What was extraordinary was Rae leaping from her car, her incredible capacity to be completely present, to be completely caring, deeply human.

The police remembered her from the previous incident, remembered that she hadn’t wanted to let go of giving chest compressions.  I said to the first one that she deserves a medal, and he said ‘tell that guy.’  I did.

What does this have to do with fitness, apart from my having been on my bike?  I think it’s two things:  presence and confidence.  I think being on my bike makes me absorb the world around me, makes me of it.  It didn’t escape me that — other than Rae and the bus driver — cyclists were the main people who stopped to see if we needed help.  We are a band of vulnerable humans close to the ground.

The confidence is something different.  I think all of my riding, all of my running and goal setting and solo traveling have made me more confident about unexpected situations, more confident about stepping in.  And last year I did a wilderness first aid course, which taught me how to assess a situation, keep everything calm, give the help I can, and get people the help they need.  I quickly figured out that Julie wasn’t physically in trouble except for being intoxicated, and that she was getting what she needed.  But I was also tracking that Rae was okay, and made sure help came and was connected.

I did the first aid course because I do a lot of things that are a bit dangerous far away from help.  I learned some important techniques, but also learned that assessment and order are as important a part of first aid as splints and stopping bleeding.




This is a pitch for all fit feminists to get some first aid training.  The world is full of extraordinary moments, some of them with people with wounds of all kinds. It’s empowering to feel confident about being able to support in the way that’s needed.  And I think that’s a really important part of feeling strong and connected to the most vulnerable moments we encounter in this complicated terrible beautiful world.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and rides in Toronto.  She writes here twice a month for sure and more when she’s inspired.

body image · equality · fitness · inclusiveness · Martha's Musings · stereotypes · training · weight stigma

Weight bias and obesity interventions: no easy answers

A person wearing a black swim dress and pink flip flops gets ready to swim.

By MarthaFitat55

A while ago I had reason to consult with an anaesthetist. We went through the risk assessment and had a chat. The clinic nurse had told me the team might have some questions because of my weight.

Fair enough. I could hardly fault them given what’s involved in going under, so to speak. But I was cautious because context is so often missing when numbers are thrown around, especially numbers relating to the Body Mass Index (BMI).

According to that scale, one originally developed by insurance companies, I am obese. Anaesthetists aren’t fond of having to deal with obese people. So we had a chat and it was actually quite good.

Here’s the thing: I eat reasonably well, with almost all the required fruits and veggies, high fibre foods, lower fat choices, more fish and legumes, and less red meat and alcohol, our health system deems the better diet to follow.

I’m also pretty active. At the time of the chat, I was weight training twice a week, swimming two to three times a week, taking a trail walk lasting more than an hour weekly, and looking to get my steps in on a daily basis.

The doctor asked me about the weight training, and I ran through the numbers: bench was around 48kg, deadlift was around 105kg, and squat was 97.5 kg. So those numbers tipped the deal. If I could do all that, then I wouldn’t have any trouble, they concluded.

It made me think though. For the past ten years, I have acted on the guideline about eating less junk and focusing more on whole foods while being more more mindful about how active I am.

Truth is, I’m not prepared to starve nor am I prepared to add any more hours of activity (in fact I am at or past the threshold for the recommended 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week already).

At the back of my mind, I always believe I should be able to do more, and yet I can’t. It bugs me when I hear facile comments repeated in every weight loss inspiration story shared by the media. We all make choices, but some times even the good choices don’t make that much difference.

When SamB shared an article about how such tag lines like “Eat less, move more” contribute to weight bias, I was intrigued.

And I felt vindicated. Despite all my efforts in the gym, in the kitchen and yes, in my own mind, when I ran up against health professionals, who looked at numbers like BMI as reliable indicators of health, I felt my work was not enough, nor good enough, to make the difference society expected in my body shape.

Nor am I the only one. Canadian Obesity Network researcher Ximena Ramos Salas looked at obesity prevention policies and messages. She tested the messages with people living with obesity and what she heard was illuminating.

The short form is those messages don’t work. They are neither helpful nor accurate.

“Saying obesity is simply an issue of diet and exercise trivializes the disease. It makes those living with obesity feel like it is a lifestyle or behavioural choice, and therefore their fault. This causes them to feel judged and shamed, and to internalize the stigma of weight bias.”

Ramos Salas also reported “People told me that the public health messages were not relevant to their experiences. They didn’t relate to the messaging, they felt it didn’t consider other factors that contribute to their obesity that are unique to them, like genetics, mental health, medications and so on. It did not reflect the challenges that they faced while trying to manage their weight on a daily basis.”

I think these are two useful insights that should get more attention. But the best message arising from the research Ramos Salas is engaged in is this: “Not everyone who is big has obesity. People come in different shapes and sizes, so the idea that we categorize people based on their size as ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ is not accurate.”

I was fortunate I met with a health professional who was open to hearing about my numbers intead of relying on a flawed indicator to make a decision about my health status. Too many people though do not and some actually close that door themselves because they are not confident they will get the care they need.

For me, my conversation with the anaesthetist helped validate my choices about the fitness path I am on even though assumptions about weight and health by others may have forced the issue. I may never meet the biased image for health and fitness such weight stigma imposes, but I know I am doing the best I can given my circumstances. To suggest otherwise is limiting and dismissive.

— Martha is a writer and powerlifter in St. John’s.

fitness · running · tbt

As Summer Approaches, Tracy Takes Stock #tbt (from June 2013)

For this week’s Throwback Thursday, I go back to the very first summer of the blog, back when Sam and I weren’t even 50 yet, didn’t have a book in mind, and weren’t sure what our “goals” for our Fittest by 50 Challenge were. In this post, I consider the shifting sense of goals, some difficulties I had with the concept, and set myself the goal of running a half marathon (continuously) before my 50th birthday. I had forgotten all about that. And in fact, my fittest by 50 goal changed from that to an Olympic distance triathlon (of which I did two before I turned 50). I have done several half marathons since then, but none continuous. I’m working on continuous running now, and have done 10Ks, but not yet a half. Perhaps this is a new goal I can set for my October half? We’ll see. Meanwhile, I like this post a lot, and will undertake an actual “stock-taking” of where I’m at this summer, at 53, next week. Tracy I


Summer on a beachWe started the blog with a bold public commitment: to be the fittest we have ever been by the time we are 50 (that’s 14-15 months from now).

We’re not even a year into it, and my outlook, goals, and thoughts about this project have changed in some significant ways.

First, a bit about goals:

When we started, I wanted to: keep on weight training, stick with my steady yoga practice, and continue my transition from walking to running. I started (and have since dropped) tai chi, and included swimming only among my summer activities. Biking was (and remains) a leisure activity, but that’s a bit stressful for me right now because of an upcoming triathlon.

I also had an explicit goal of reducing body fat and increasing muscle mass, as measured by the bod pod.

I’ve had a troubled relationship with goals because, while for some people…

View original post 1,217 more words

Guest Post · soccer

Society Empowerment through Sport (Guest Post)

Sport has the power to change the world.  It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.  Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair.  Sport speaks to people in a language they can understand.  –Nelson Mandela, 25 May 2000

Oyugis is a town of about 10,000 in a rural part of western Kenya.  The vast majority (72%) live in poverty.  Only 5.6% of the households have piped water; 3.3% have electricity.  HIV/AIDS is rampant: 25.7% of the county (Homa Bay) population is infected (the highest rate in Kenya) and 61,000 households include an orphan.  This has a profound impact on the community – 48% of the population is under 15.

The conditions are especially difficult for women and girls. 12% of girls have a live birth before age 15.  Most primary schools (K-8) in the region do not have toilets, so when girls reach puberty, most stop attending school.  Sanitary products are not available.  As the statistics indicate, many of these girls end up pregnant and with HIV/AIDS. What might one hope to do in such circumstances?  How is change even conceivable?  Soccer.

I met Festus Juma in 2010.  He deeply understands the power of sport for community development.  Having family in the Oyugis region, he also understands the power of soccer to motivate local youth.  Festus directs the Society Empowerment Project (SEP), based in Oyugis, which leverages soccer/football to teach life skills in areas such as HIV/AIDS prevention; health and sanitation; agriculture & nutrition; reproductive health; peace building; and substance abuse.  Girls, in particular, gain opportunities to become fit and strong, to build friendships, and have contact with adult role models.  The program also prepares them for youth leadership through training in coaching, refereeing and tournament management.

A current goal of the SEP is to register a girls team in the Kenya Premier League.  Doing so will enhance their status in the region.  Stronger and better educated girls and women will reduce domestic violence, improve reproductive health and well-being, and decrease HIV/AIDS infections.  This is a proven strategy for community development and it changes lives.

Together with my son Isaac, I have been working with the SEP since 2011.  Isaac played soccer through high school.  Seeing a photo of children in Oyugis playing soccer barefoot on dirt patches, he was shocked by the comparison with his teammates who had several pairs of cleats and fancy uniforms.  We began to collect used cleats, uniforms, and other equipment to send to Kenya.  (The team featured on the SEP facebook page is wearing Boston Blast jerseys!)  It is not cheap to send equipment to Kenya.  It is not easy to build a sustainable program that empowers girls in a region where not even food and water is easily available.  But sport motivates and strengthens those who participate.  And it awakens hope.


You can reach Festus at: and he can provide information about how you can send used (or new!) equipment to the SEP, and about other ways to help.  Donations can be made on the SEP website.

Sally Haslanger is Ford Professor of Philosophy and Women’s & Gender Studies at MIT.  She works on feminist and critical race theory.  She is an adoptive mother, a social activist, and recently was client of the month at her gym!


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Free movie and popcorn, or tracking with benefits

I stopped wearing my Garmin fitness tracking watch after my serious knee injury. I couldn’t walk more than a couple of thousand steps a day and it hurt to be reminded of it. I’m back up there now often logging more 10,000 steps. Thanks knee brace! But I never got back in the habit of counting steps with a watch.

The thing is though my phone also counts steps thru Google Fit. It’s not as accurate because I don’t always have my phone (believe it or not) but who cares. I still get my free movies. What free movies? Free movies through the Carrot app.

Mallory has written about it approvingly. So too has Cate.

It received a big financial boost from the Ontario government last spring, 1.5 million dollars. We’ve just had a provincial election and my bet is that the new government won’t be so fond of fitness boosting measures. We’ll see,

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it: “Carrot Rewards is a mobile app for residents of three Canadian provinces, allowing users to complete health questionnaires and track steps in exchange for rewards points.[1] The app is developed by Toronto-based Carrot Insights, a certified B corporation founded in 2015.[2] The app was first launched in British Columbia during March 2016, followed by Newfoundland and Labrador during June 2016 and Ontario during February 2017.[3] Users can choose during sign-up whether they want Aeroplan, Scene, Petro-Points, More Rewards or Drop rewards points.[4] Survey points are paid for by the organization which created the survey and step points are paid for by the provincial government where the user lives.[5] Carrot Rewards has also partnered with Heart & Stroke, Diabetes Canada and YMCA Canada.[6] The app was later expanded to include surveys on energy conservation and financial literacy.[7]

What I like best about the Carrot app is that you don’t need to do anything. You just let your phone count steps and enable sharing between whatever step counting app your phone is using and the Carrot app. In my case it’s not particularly motivational. I just do what I do and collect the free movie coupons. But while waiting in line I’ve done some of the health quizzes and it’s all pretty good moderate messaging. You know, get some exercise, eat your vegetables, sleep 8 hours a night, etc.

Yesterday I got a free movie with popcorn notification. Think I’ll go see Deadpool 2. Late to the party, I know. I’ll report back.

Send movie recommendations my way!

Do you use the Carrot app? Love it, hate it? Tell me your story.

(Oh, and you don’t have to collect the Scene points. There are other rewards. I like the free movies because they are quick to earn.)

Scene benefits. The image is a screen capture of Sam’s phone telling her she’s won a free movie and popcorn.
body image · fitness

Lizards loving their bellies, and you can love yours too

It’s summer, season of belly baring and angst about bodies. Lately I’ve been wondering about why we, and I’m including myself here, care so much about the way our middles look.

See Why do women strive for abdominal perfection?

I care about abdominal strength. I’ve taken up small boat sailing and doing some hiking. But visible abs? Why can’t we love our bellies as they are?

I’ve had three kids and it shows. I’d like to think about my belly the way I think about these lizard bellies. Cute!

See also:

Free the bellies

Middle age bellies, body acceptance and menopause

Belly patrolling