fitness · running · training

Tracy’s lost cardio fitness

Oh wow is it ever a challenge getting back to running since I took an involuntary hiatus from it after the Around the Bay 30K sidelined me with debilitating back pain. By the time that started to resolve it was time to go to Rwanda. Then I was only home for 12 hours before flying to Vancouver. And then the jet lag kicked my butt. And then I got home to the week (or was it 10 days?) from hell.

During all that time (just over 2.5 months) I have run four or five times, not for more than 30 minutes. And I can report with confidence that 2.5 months is sufficient time to lose whatever cardio fitness I had gained through a winter of training for 30K.

My most palpable rude awakening came this past Sunday. Before that, all my runs were tentative, cautious outings aimed at testing my back more than anything else. But Sunday, my back having not given me any trouble for at least a month and no jet lag, I ventured out for a short run with the express purpose of getting back to routine. I planned for about 20-25 minutes of continuous running at an easy pace. Instead, after just 7 minutes I could hardy breathe, and that’s not because I went out too quickly. I just didn’t have the endurance anymore. I ended up being out for about 30 minutes of run-walk and it all felt pretty laboured.

I try not to feel discouraged when I have set backs. It happens. The conditioning will return. I know this. But it did shock me how very difficult that short run felt.

On a positive note: my strength training hasn’t suffered to quite the same degree. I managed 3 sets of 13 pull ups yesterday. And I have new shoes, which I tested out for the first time Sunday. They’re great!

Image description: overhead shot looking down at pavement, with grass beside, Tracy’s lower legs and feet visible in her new pink running shoes.

What’s your best strategy for getting back on track after a voluntary or involuntary hiatus?

beach body · body image

Sam is beach body ready

Yesterday Tracy posted about the “beach body blues” and asked for us to share our favourite “beach body” memes and images but since you can’t share pictures in comments, here’s my fave.

I love zeppelinmoon artwork. You can buy it on etsy here, https://www.etsy.com/market/zeppelinmoon . I think after the sexy beach manatee the sloths are my favourites.

Now I’m someone who isn’t so much bothered by the beach body messaging. Tracy addresses me and my kind in her post when she writes” If you’re able to ignore the cultural messaging without any consistent effort to undo the damage of a lifetime of normative pressure, I applaud you. For many it is not as easy. “

I don’t think it’s easy to ignore but I am over it. I have been for a very long time.

Why? Well, for one thing life is really, really short. Thinking about death and the very short time we have on this planet to enjoy the beach makes me care a lot less about what other people think. It’s a real upside of aging. If there is anything that I hate about aging, it’s not what I look like at the beach, it’s losing friends and family to death. Everything else pales in comparison to that loss.

Second, it’s not that I’m simply able to ignore the messaging. Rather, it’s that mostly it’s never felt like it was directed at me. I’ve felt enough like an outsider as a fat/larger person that “beach body” in the sense that advertising/normative femininity means it wasn’t accessible as an ideal. The smallest I’ve ever been is still “overweight.” See The unexpected advtanges of growing up chubby .

Third, on the positive side I’ve had lots of access to queer communities where my body is loved as it is. Queer community and coming out means you’re aware, often an early age, that society is wrong about lots of things. Once you question mainstream ideas about sexual attraction and relationships, the whole package is up for questioning. See Body positivity and queer community. I also love this post from a cheerful chubster.

I watch young, beautiful, thin women mincing behind towels at the Y and I watch the Cheerful Chubster, and I know which short of person I’d rather be.

I guess it also helps that I have lots of friends who are larger than me who I think are really attractive. It’s hard to both think that and think I’m too big to be on the beach.

So it’s not sheer force of will that keeps me from internalizing these norms. Rather it’s social exclusion, on the negative side, and alternative communities and norms, on the other. It’s (mostly) not my world.

I was going to write a thank you letter to the guy who yelled “fat bitch” out of his truck window at me. Thank you to my boyfriend’s older brother who said he didn’t want me sunbathing on the porch because I’d bring down the property values. Thank you to all the people who said mean things about my body and my size growing up. Why? Well, there is zero danger of me internalizing that message. And I think because I heard all that growing up I developed some good internal responses. I learned to ignore those voices because they were obviously mean and hateful .

Here’s one more “beach body” favourite!

I blogged about this tweet before here, https://fitisafeministissue.com/2018/05/02/whats-the-ideal-beach-body-look-like/ .
body image · fitness

Funny, not funny—turning around those “beach body” blues

Cate’s beautiful and resonant Sunday post “Making Peace with Our Changing Bodies” got a lot of traction. It was a smart post that outlined the complicated feelings many of us experience when our bodies start to change. One of the things I admired most about Cate’s post is that she was honest that she’s found herself engaging in body-shaming against herself. And in becoming aware of that, she determined to do something about it. In Cate’s world, as for many of us, the feelings don’t always align with what we know to be true. What we know to be true is “There is no “back to normal” — there is only forward, aging, changing bodies, and the challenge of loving ourselves as we are, finding our fierce warrior selves.”

Cate moved forward by realizing that ill-fitting clothing was a trigger for feeling poorly about herself. And so she ventured out to buy clothes that she liked and that fit her. Because she can do that. And it made her feel a bit better about the changes. Yay Cate (I love Cate so much).

I’ve been having my own issues. Six years ago I blogged about this in “Making Peace with My Body.” There I talked about how it’s been a lifelong road for me. And that despite some good advice, and knowing full well that I am not my body, that there is nothing wrong with a changing body or weight gain or a redistribution of fat to new places where it never used to settle, that I am perfectly fine at whatever size I am, that body shaming (which was hardly even a concept I had a grasp of six years ago though I felt it) messages are no way to talk about myself or about others…Despite all of this I recognized I couldn’t simply “call a truce.”

Here’s what I said then: “It is the body image, not the body, that needs to change. And slowly, slowly, things are shifting. But to suggest that I can call a truce and then be done with it?For me, it’s been a bit longer of a road than that, requiring several rounds of peace talks over many, many years.”

And I have been consistently engaged in those peace talks over these many years. Yet every spring we are confronted by messages that encourage us to work on our “beach body” or our “summer body.” This post, for example, was prompted by the lament presented here, on a tombstone:

Image description: A tombstone that says “In loving memory of ANY POSSIBILITY OF A SUMMER BODY SO SUDDENLY TAKEN FROM US BY CARBS, WINE, CHOCOLATE, NAPS, NETFLIX, & PIZZA” from the website womenafter50.com.

Yes, I recognize that this is meant as humour. But it is so filled with wrong-headed assumptions that it just makes me shake my head and fills me with despair (yes, despair. I am not exaggerating). First of all it assumes that we are seeking “a summer body.” We all know what that means. Second, it calls it: TOO LATE! Third, it lays the blame: our own poor choices.

No, no, no. No wonder so many of us struggle against ourselves in the face of such messaging. I know there are people who will read this and say they just ignore these sorts of messages because they are ridiculous messages. If you’re able to ignore the cultural messaging without any consistent effort to undo the damage of a lifetime of normative pressure, I applaud you. For many it is not as easy.

When Sam circulated this tombstone, Christine said her favourite beach body counter-message is this:

Image description: A toddler girl in a cute one-piece swimsuit with a little ruffle around the top. She is sipping happily on a juice box. Heading says: BEACH IS GONNA GET WHATEVER BODY I GIVE IT.

She it doesn’t care. I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on what it means to be myself. This kid epitomizes what it means. She’s happy. She doesn’t yet “realize” that there are cultural pressures to look a certain way and that those actually determine how you get treated, what opportunities may be open to you, how people will judge you. She doesn’t yet know the little compromises some of us make in order to “be acceptable” to the people around us. She doesn’t yet know how it feels to internalize those expectations so that we don’t even need others to shame us. She doesn’t yet know how hard it is to fly in the face of what’s expected and be who you are.

And that’s what makes her seem so badass.

Then there is this oldie but goodie, that we’ve blogged about before:

Image description: words on a dark background that say, “how to have a beach body: 1. have a body 2. go to the beach.”

Awhile back in the London tube, commuters waged a campaign against an ad that pictured a slender women in a bikini and said “Are you beach body ready?” I blogged about this at the time (because it actually turned into a slightly complicated issue of free speech in London). The ads were eventually taken down, but not before lots of body positive messages were scrawled over them. But by far my favourite graffiti response was the one that simply added “fuck off” right under the “are you beach body ready?” question.

These days, when I read this stuff about summer and beach bodies, that’s pretty much how I feel. Just leave us alone already. There are lots of people working against the normative messaging, and that generates a ton of backlash every single time. I loved hearing about the initiative of former London Ontario resident, Kayla Logan, to promote body positivity. You can hear her talk about it on CBC Radio, “Curvy and worthy: why this former Londoner is convincing others to bare it all.” But the comments on the CBC facebook post were disheartening and showed that fat shaming and body policing is still alive and well.

Meanwhile, I’ve bought myself a bunch of new swimsuits for this summer, a range of tops (both bikini and tankini styles in a range of patterns and colours) and bottoms (boy shorts, which are my current favourite) and I’m looking forward to taking this body of mine to the beach.

If you have a body positive beach meme or message to share, please link to it or quote it in the comments.

boats · fitness · Guest Post · sailing

Vulnerability, Sailing, and Naked Yoga, Part 1 (Guest Post)

                                                 

by Ellen Burgess

Vulnerability

I recently watched a Netflix special by a woman named Brene Brown on the topic of vulnerability and courage.  She defined vulnerability as “the courage to show up and letting ourselves be truly seen” (weaknesses and all), when you can’t control the outcome (or reactions of others). She was talking primarily about emotional vulnerability but as I discovered this week, that can show up in all areas of life including in sport and fitness.

So this two part blog is all about two new activities I tried this week, which required two distinctly different types of vulnerability: 1) learning how to sail which involved a willingness to make mistakes in front of my loving, but sarcastic cousin Dale with 60 years of sailing experience and 2) participating in a naked yoga class! Yep, that’s right folks, nothing but my birthday suit…aka: totally STARKERS! However this week’s blog will only address the sailing component. You will have to follow up on next week’s post to hear all about the Naked Yoga!

Sailing

My cousin Dale had invited me to sail with him several times in the past but I had declined. This year he told me he was selling the boat by the end of June, so this was my last chance. 

So off to Michigan and Lake St. Claire I went.  Prior to this week, I had planned to do an online sailing course, which I proudly announced to my veteran sailing cousin 6 weeks ago.  Sadly, I bit off more than I could chew and only finished chapter 1!  So, when I got on the boat, all I could do was name basic boat features including: the main sail, jib, boom, port, starboard, bow, and stern.  In fact, that was about all I knew. Dale was duly unimpressed since I was one of only 2 crew for his 30 foot boat and we were racing that night and the next.  He mumbled that it was “a good thing we have 2 hours before the race gets started!”

He then began giving me directions to rig the boat on my own instead of enlisting me as a helper which would have been easier for both of us.  This was a great strategy for me to learn quickly, albeit somewhat embarrassing at times, as I was prone to confusing port with starboard and right with left!

Shortly after I finished rigging the boat, it started pouring rain and there was zippo wind. Things continued that way until we got off the water at 9:30 pm. I was hoping the race would be cancelled since I was tired after all that learning and rigging, but no such luck, so off we went.  And we sat… for a long time… in the boat… in the rain…with no wind. 

After 30 minutes of 2-4 knots per hour, I started engaging in some idle chit chat with my cousin, because really, what else was there to do?  I was quickly informed that “this is no time for chatting, we are in a race, not on a pleasure cruise!” Okay, so this sailing thing can be really serious business I guess. On the bright side, since there was practically no wind the entire evening, Dale was able to teach me to tack and steer without any serious safety risk.

The next night the weather was much better and I was happy to demonstrate my new found ability to rig a boat on my own with minimal direction.  This time I was able practice some more tacking of the jib.  I learned that the combination of tacking and steering at an angle as close to the wind’s direction as possible, can get me to just about any destination that I choose (although I can’t say I personally experienced this!).

All in all this was a great experience and I look forward to trying it again in Guelph sometime, maybe with Sam and Sarah one night.

So what does this have to do with vulnerability? Well at the age of 55, I do not learn as quickly as I used to, so I had to be willing to make mistakes without personalizing my cousin’s sarcastic and sometimes impatient remarks.  10 years ago, I would not have been emotionally strong enough for this type of situation. At that time, I had a thin skin and took myself way too seriously, so I probably would have wound up crying and feeling sorry for myself at the end of it all.   Instead, I felt proud of myself for trying something new and was really happy to have the opportunity to bond with my cousin. 

Overall, I would say there was both personal growth and learning in my sailing adventure. I am learning a new sport and stretching my limits physically and mentally as I attempt to learn something new. I was also able to vulnerable by “showing up and being seen” when I am not feeling strong and confident…  first by trying with no success, trying again with some luck, and then finally, trying and succeeding…all in a day’s work on a sailboat!

Ellen on her cousin Dale’s boat

Ellen Burgess is from Guelph, Ontario and is a runner, yoga practitioner, meditator, and cycling enthusiast.  She is currently fulfilling her career dream working as a mental health RN within the greater Wellington community. 

accessibility · body image · fitness · SamanthaWalsh

Body Diversity (Guest Post)

By Samantha Walsh

Saturday was the Protest against Divisiveness with @connectionarts. It really was not a protest, but more of an installation. The event was to draw attention to the need for unity and collaboration.

Each model was able to pick their own slogan. I picked “Human Diversity.” I think this speaks to the need to value disability and that the notion of one standard body is a myth. Additionally, difference makes us stronger as a society.

The event offered an opportunity for onlookers to better understand why folks would be compelled to participate in body painting. My friend @elisabethalicee was my artist. (There were more models than artists.) I think she did a great job. The installation took place in time square and there was a mile long parade after to the flat iron building.

This was a very different experience than the other two events I have participated in. There was a lot more media. Folks in Times Square were a lot more vocal and sometimes rude. The day overall was great. However, I did end up putting clothes on part way through the parade, because I was at the back end of the parade and at points felt unsafe.

Overall, the experience was great and gave me a lot to think about. Another cool feature of yesterday is I have done enough body painting that I now know some folks from the past. Additionally, I met a really cool fellow disabled woman, she and I were steadfast in the feeling that representation matters.

I am so pleased Human Connection Arts is in my life.

Samantha Walsh is a Doctoral Candidate in Sociology. She also works in the Not-For-Profit Sector.

You can read all of Samantha’s posts here.

body image · clothing · femalestrength · fitness

Making peace with our changing bodies

“When you get thin again, can I have your bigger clothes?”

Someone at a party asked one of my friends that last week.  If I squint really hard and ignore toxic body shaming culture, I might be able to imagine that this person thought she was giving my friend a compliment.  “That’s a great outfit!  You’re such a fit person you’ll lose that baby weight just like that!  You’re so pretty in that — I wish I looked like you!”  I guess?

My friend is a fitness instructor, a former body builder, and someone who has fought disordered eating, body shaming and body obsession for a long time.  Her mission is to support women to love their bodies for what they can do, whatever shape or ability that is, to help them build emotional and physical strength.  She’s absolutely beautiful, luminous and kind, inside and out.

She had a baby six weeks ago.  She worked out throughout her pregnancy in a careful way, had a healthy birth and gorgeous wee baby, and has worked hard to love and be at peace with her larger body.  She went to that party feeling like she looked great.

And this one comment completely knocked the breath out of her, shredded the colourful, silken threads of self love she’d spun, painstakingly, one at a time.

***

HM The Queen Attends Trooping The ColourBody shaming and body policing are so much a part of our culture that a lot of the time, we don’t even notice them, unless they are shockingly overt — like this gym in Connecticut that sent out an email telling its customers to grab their excess flesh and imagine what that would look like in summer photos — “god forbid, a side pic sitting down!” — or the dank pockets of the celebrity internet that define women only through their bodies and competition.  I won’t link to these places, but one of this week’s headlines speaks for them all:  With the spotlight strong, can Duchess Meghan outdo Kate Middleton’s success in restoring her pre-baby body?

Most of these moments are so woven into our day to day lives that they’re noteworthy only when they hit us right in the most tender parts of our souls.  But whether or not we notice them, they twist how we experience ourselves.  And even when we have huge feminist reflexivity about this, we still get entangled.

***

Over the past few months, I’ve been committing some of those body shaming microaggressions on myself.  I’m 54.  I’m not quite menopausal, but Things are Definitely Changing in my body.  I’m fit and active — I’ve worked out 148 times so far this year, and am well on my way to hitting 300 or more again for the year.  I’m loving feminist crossfit, and training on a sweet new bike for this trip I’m doing with Susan, Sam, Sarah and others in Newfoundland in two weeks. 

But I’ve also gained weight this year.  Even though several people have commented on how “buff” I look from the crossfit, have said I look fit — even hot — all I see is a heavier, thicker middle.  My clothes don’t fit — not my favourite jeans, or a lot of my work clothes.  I’ve become that middle aged woman wearing crossfit shoes, leggings, a flowy top and an Interesting Scarf to everything.  It’s disheartening to have to shove piece after piece of clothing back into the closet.  And I’ve taken to making comments about myself that chastise myself for the weight gain.  Out loud.  To others.  You know the ones.

I know in my head that I’m fit and strong.  I have a lot of joy from moving my body.  I know that some of my weight gain is muscle, and some of it is being 54 and endlessly menstruating.  Because I’m still having mostly regular periods at this advanced age, I seem to be always experiencing the PMS-y hormones that make me bloated.  I also have some gut issues that contribute to bloatiness.  (And god knows, I probably sleep with the light on).

And at the same time, I’m in the “menopausal transition,” which includes, as this study puts it, “unfavorable alterations in body composition, which abruptly worsen at the onset of the menopausal transition and then abate in postmenopause.”  Those “unfavorable alterations” are basically an increase in fat mass in the average woman that doubles every year for the key time of menopause (about three years), and a loss of lean mass.

Our bodies change when we’re 12 or so, and it’s unnerving then. Pregnancy is a hormonal carnival.  A few people’s bodies seem to experience birth and breastfeeding without any noticeable lingering effect, but most are changed in some way forever.  The waxing and waning of hormones affects our mental health, our energy, our appetites, our sleep, our metabolism, our immune systems.   Peri-menopause is another unpredictable extravaganza, and then there is all of the older life stuff.  There is no “set point.”  It’s dynamic, always.

That is life, and this is what my body is at this stage of my life.  Just like my post-partum friend’s body is what it is.  There is no “back to normal” — there is only forward, aging, changing bodies, and the challenge of loving ourselves as we are, finding our fierce warrior selves.

The force of all of this shows up in so many ways. My friend said this morning “I don’t mind my bigger body but I hate that none of my clothes look good, and I can’t afford to buy new clothes right now.”

Not fitting into my clothes is a big trigger for me, too.  After she said that, I had a warrior moment.  (Well, a warrior moment with a credit card.  I’m privileged in that I can afford this, right now).  I  went on a mission to my favourite store that features affordable Canadian designers.  I decided I was going to leave with a wardrobe of work and dressy casual clothes that made me feel good in my body, felt good on my body, inspired me.  I realized I hadn’t actually bought new warm weather work clothes in about three years, always waiting for that moment when my other clothes would fit me again.

I bought five dresses, two pairs of leggings and two tops.  They fit me well.  They flare and cling in the right places.  I feel strong and pretty in them.  I feel grown up, not middle aged.  (This is Emmylou, checking them out).

IMG_8469.jpeg

They’re a departure from what I’ve been wearing.  And trying them on, having a good shopping experience, finding things that work for my body as it is — I tilted back up into liking myself again.

I think I’ll go get an ice cream cone.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto. She blogs here two or three times a month.

fitness · sleep

Can leaving the light or TV on at night make you gain weight? Shining light on the subject

This week in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers published an article analyzing the relationship between artificial light at night (which they call ALAN– hi, Alan!) and increased risk of weight gain among women (they used a large cohort of women for the study). They say that exposure to ALAN does increase the risk of weight gain, and “further prospective and interventional studies could help elucidate this association and clarify whether reducing exposure to ALAN can promote obesity prevention.”

In other words:

As you can imagine (or even saw), the popular press was all over this.

What should we make of this? Before reading the study (yes, I read through the original, so you don’t have to), I thought, “of course they’ll find an association between ALAN and weight gain. Light exposure disturbs and disrupts sleep, reduces quality and duration, etc. We know all this can contribute to weight gain.”

But, it turns out that their results are (as usual, in science) really complicated. Here are some of the complex results:

  • The association between ALAN and increased risk of weight gain was stronger for women with lower BMIs (< 25 and <30) than women with higher BMIs (>30);
  • The association between ALAN and increased risk of weight gain was stronger for women who ate healthier diets and for women with increased leisure-time physical activity;
  • Women who slept with no light in the room, who ate a less healthy diet and/or who did less leisure-time physical activity had increased risk for weight gain;

So women who weighed less or who ate more so-called healthy diets or who were more physically active were more at risk for weight gain from light sources while sleeping than those who weighed more, ate less so-called healthy diets, or who were less physically active. Could this be because the added factor of light pales, as it were, in comparison to other potential factors? Reading the details did not shed much light for me here. The researchers also didn’t offer an explanation.

Here’s a less surprising result from the article:

Women with greater exposure to ALAN had higher mean BMI… and were more likely to be non-Hispanic black. They were less likely to have consistent waking and bedtime patterns and more likely to have less sleep, take a longer time to fall asleep, wake up at night, and take naps. They also used less sleep medication.

How we sleep and how we eat are related in a bunch of ways. How we sleep and how our bodies respond are also related in a bunch of ways, which include socio-economic, geographic and other external features outside of individual eating and activity behaviors. Women who sleep less, have less control over their sleep schedules, have regular sleep disruption, but don’t take sleep medication are bound to experience increased stress and other behavioral effects. And we know that black women, according to many sources, are more likely to sleep less and also suffer from sleep disorders (like sleep apnea), even controlling for BMI.

The researchers know this, too, and admitted as much (although they focused on individual factors rather than the social determinants of health, which I think diminishes their analysis):

We were unable to disentangle the temporal relationship between exposure to ALAN and other factors, including unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, stress, and other sleep characteristics. Thus, we cannot exclude the possibility that the association between ALAN and obesity is not causal, despite multivariable adjustment and various sensitivity analyses.

So no, ALAN is not good for us (sorry, Alan!). But the reasons why we sleep with light vary a lot, depending on the constraints and realities of our lives. We may have control over some of these factors, and no control at all over others.

My main takeaway is this: sleeping in darkness is a necessity, but for many of us it’s a luxury we can’t have as often as we might need it. Here’s to blissful darkness for everyone.

Readers, do you sleep in darkness? Do you use a sleep mask? I do. Do you want light in your room when you sleep? Do you have to deal with light sources that you’d rather not? Do light sources provide comfort or company? I’m curious about what your habits are.