Cheers to November?

screenshot image of google search for holiday drinks

Welcome to November! This month I’m thinking about alcohol – it seems like between shorter, colder days in Canada, and the approach of the ‘holiday’ season, I often get inundated with articles like the ones in this list. Celebrating “the holidays,” it seems, is synonymous with drinking booze.

In truth, I have been thinking about alcohol for quite some time. Before COVID changed my life, I was a busy performer in a local band, playing bars and other establishments. I’m not usually a big drinker, so I felt pretty agnostic about it. I would have a drink or two at a gig, especially because we were often given a pitcher or two of beer on the house. I don’t have a problem with alcohol, so it didn’t bother me for the most part. The truth is the music industry in North America is closely tied to alcohol sales.

When COVID came, it must have been close to two years where I didn’t set foot in a bar, let alone play music in one. At some point, maybe six months into the pandemic, I started hearing about overconsumption in the news and in my social media feeds. I definitely was indulging in potato chips, but I was surprised that alcohol might be appealing to folks stuck at home. Then I started thinking about how much I was really enjoying not being around alcohol consumption as a main activity, and how truly uninterested I felt in having a drink.

screen shot of image of meme reading "Happiness is ... warming your hands with a hot cup of tea", with a line drawing of a person with braids, a hat and a scarf holding a cup of tea.

I don’t really know why that is. I actually love well paired wine with food, and a nicely mixed cocktail, but I can go two or three months without having a drink and not notice. One thing I do notice is that often I get a throbbing headache from drinking wine or beer (although not with food, or in most social situations!).

About 90% of the time, I just can’t be bothered to drink alcohol. It’s not a ‘treat’ for me and it’s not comforting. (That’s a cookie and a cup of hot tea with milk for me!) Occasionally I will enjoy a drink, but I really don’t like is a sense of obligation to drink – the implied or even overtly stated requirement to join in on the “party.” I also can’t stand the staggering, out-of-control energy that sometimes comes in the crowds.

Increasingly, I just avoid settings like that. I do love that there are growing non-alcoholic ‘fancy’ drink options and cultures, although I haven’t really explored those either.

I’m writing about this this month because, as the holiday drink season is upon us, I want to be a voice that encourages healthy and intentional consumption of alcohol. And as women, I want to call out the culture that pushes women to drinking and sees us as a “growth market” for alcohol sales. This is not a new position for this blog – Sam and others have written about it here: Women, Wine and Alcohol and No Alcohol for 40 Days.

I am likely to have a few glasses of wine over the Christmas season, and perhaps a whiskey sour. If that’s your thing, great! But I hope that all of us can make conscious and intentional choices on what we consume. I would love to be a part of a push-back against this boozy trend.

fitness · gadgets · self care · trackers

A Fitbit for your Finger

By Elan Paulson

A number of FIFI bloggers have discussed the merits and problems of fitness trackers. Wearable trackers help folks to monitor their exercise, but they also track, store, and potentially share private health data. These high tech gadgets are slick, but their wearers can focus on the numbers rather than on the feel of exercise, during and after. They digitally reward–but also pressure–building a life around 10,000 steps per day.

More and more people in my life have fitness trackers. I held out on purchasing a wrist one because of the above issues, and watches and bracelets irritate my skin and get in the way of my keyboard.

But when I heard about a 6-gram titanium OURA ring that tracks activity, sleep, and more, I caved. I don’t know how the many sensors works in this smart ring. I just know what’s happened so far for me since I got a Fitbit for my finger.

Going Dry for Better Sleep

I can sleep for hours and hours—anytime, anywhere, like a cat (or a sloth). It has been a source of pride for me, but since getting the Oura the ring’s app reports that I am consistently only getting half of the nightly recommended “deep sleep” levels. Not enough deep sleep can negatively affect memory, cell regeneration, and energy levels. So maybe I can sleep all the time because I don’t sleep as well as I could.

The Oura’s app gives advice when it tracks sub-optimal levels. It has been tested to provide relatively accurate sleet data. So, I am now following its advice by going without alcohol for a month (for the first time in my life, I will add) to see if this lifestyle change affects my sleep pattern for the better. 

More Housework for Staying Active

Oura reports on activity levels, activity frequency, and daily activity goals. Many folks who have compared trackers (sometimes coming out better, and sometimes coming out worse, and even compared Oura to itself). It’s not the best or the worst of the bunch.

My Oura stays most happy with me when I move often, even for bits at a time, and one of the easiest way to keep moving on a regular basis while I am working from home is to take 5 minutes stretch and housework breaks.

I have never (in my life) been a regular house cleaner, but here I am tidying tidying, every day.

Smaller Wearable for Game Play

After a beautiful time playing scrimmage over the summer, I’m back playing indoor rec soccer. At our game on Thursday our ref stopped the game to tell my teammate she had on “illegal equipment.” It was her wrist fitness tracker. She had to remove it before the game could resume. Slowly I put my hands on my hips, Oura out of sight, then when the whistle blew kept playing.

Later this season, we have all been told no jewelry. But, with some tape it stays safe and out of sight.

Oura and charging station
The wee USB charging station on which my Oura charges every 4 days for about 20 minutes.

Sensors for What I am Not Sensing

A month ago, for a few days, I inexplicably became incredibly sensitive and grumpy. For days, I just wanted to cry, rage, and sleep. No other specific physical symptoms to indicated I was sick. What the heck was wrong with me?

My Oura noticed that my temperature was consistently elevated. So then I noticed. I followed its advice went a little easier on myself, physically but also mentally. Then, whatever was going on with me passed, and so did the temperature spikes.


My last attempt at wearing a step tracker revealed I was more motivated by people than by numbers alone. There are still the dependency issues and data risks. But right now–with only a few months into having the Oura–I have an empty bar fridge, a clean house, illegal equipment I can hide, and another way to pay more attention to my emotional health.

I have the Generation 2 Oura ring from this Finnish company (of the same name). The new Generation 3 ring (available now!) comes with more and newer sensors, and new features, including period prediction. (Slick!) So, I might just be asking for the Gen 3 for Christmas.

Do you have a fitness tracker or an Oura ring? What are your experiences?

addiction · fitness · running

Run a marathon, chug a keg?

I was surprised to read the other day in Women’s Health that the most dedicated exercisers are also the biggest drinkers. According to Selene Yeager, author of  Exercise and Alcohol: Running on Empty Bottles people who exercise a lot tend also to drink a lot, far beyond levels we think of as healthy. I won’t recap the numbers, you can look at the Women’s Health story, but the trend seems especially pronounced for women. Yeager discusses the reasons why over the top exercisers are also over the top imbibers.

It’s not because they feel they’ve freed up the calories so they’ve earned their cocktails either. (That might have been my first guess.)

Instead, the researchers Yeager interviewed said it has to do with activation of the pleasure centers of the brain. “The downside of constantly activating these reward pathways is this: Your brain gets used to it and wants more, says Brian R. Christie, Ph.D., neuroscience program director at the University of British Columbia Division of Medical Sciences. So it’s not shocking that someone who craves a 10-K or a blistering CrossFit session will also readily down a couple of vodka sodas.”

This fascinated me because a)I’m a non-drinker and a pretty dedicated exerciser myself, and b)even when I did drink, I drank less, not more, while exercising lots insofar as this waxes and wanes. Athletic events that involve booze have always puzzled me.

When I first became Chair of my Department, I decided that one of the things I wanted to do was offer a  broader range of social events for department members. As the parent of three young children, trying to have a an active lifestyle, I thought there was far too much focus on events that involved alcohol. “Wine and cheese” receptions and “pub nights” after talks are pretty much a mainstay of academic life.

Ironically the first event we became involved in was a 24 hour relay race, sponsored by a local brewery (profits going to area hospitals.) The Philosophy Department’s team three years in a row got ‘the most laps ran’ in The Labatts 24 Hour Relay, beating out The Running Room team, the fit looking folks from Goodlife, and even the Department of Kinesiology. I attributed our success to two things.

First, we roped in department members training for marathons to run the overnight shifts.

Second, we  adopted  a strict “no drinking until after you’ve had your turn running” policy.  This might seem obvious but each year I was shocked and a little sickened to see people trying to run while carrying red plastic cups of beer, slurping jello shooters between each 2 km lap, and then (of course, of course) throwing up on the path. Stepping over puddles of puke isn’t my preferred running style!

Yeager concludes that in moderate doses, exercise works to replace drinking, but that as the levels and duration of exercise pick up, so too does one’s drinking. I’m still mulling this over, wondering how I fit into the story. Interestingly, links after the Women’s Health article were to yet more articles looking at the unhealthy habits of the very fit. It turns out they have riskier sex, are less likely to wear sunscreen despite spending more time in the sun, and are more likely to suffer from eating disorders.

(We’re so fit we’re invincible!)

This made me wonder about another explanation for the bad drinking habits. Maybe there’s a maximum amount of concern for our health we can have and once we’ve used it up in one area, we’re less likely to care for our health in others. Recent research about will power shows it to be limited in this way. Disciplined writing means less disciplined eating apparently. Eat carefully at lunch but then you might fail to follow through on your commitment to working out that night. Again, this is the opposite that I would have thought. Like Aristotle, I’ve often thought that virtuous habits supported one another. And that excellence, like virtue, is a habit.

But maybe Aristotle is wrong.