It’s day 1 of the 100 day workplace step counting challenge, I’m in!

Tracy has blogged about doing it again. This time I’m in too, counting steps as part of the Virgin Pulse Global Challenge. I’ve got my reservations about the trend to share health data with employers and about corporate healthism that’s part of these workplace fitness challenges. Still, I thought better to give it a go and see what it feels like from the inside rather than worrying from the outside. I don’t expect any big lifestyle changes frankly but we’ll see.

Like lots of people who exercise regularly I suspect I don’t move as much as I could when I’m not working out. I’ve got the walk to the subway these days when I’m in Toronto and bike commuting and dog walking when I’m in London, but there’s room for improvement, I’m sure.

I’m on the team NASTY WOMEN & BAD HOMBRES. My team is a bit intimidating since it’s made up of multi-sport athletes training for Ironman and half Ironman distance events. I’ll be riding a lot though so I’ll keep on the bike side of the equation.

This morning I went to the grand kick-off which was good for a healthy mid-morning snack. Apples! Birdseed bars! There was also lots of nutritional info there and I think I will focus on food tracking for the 100 days.

As you can see from the photo below, I brought my commuting bike into the event. I figured they couldn’t very well say no to my bike at a healthy movement challenge kick-off.

Anyway, I’ll report back and I’ll let you know how it goes. And as Tracy says I like counting things. Tracking doesn’t bug me at all. So who knows, it might be a good fit.

Skeptical, mildly enthusiastic, I’m in.



Stop flossing right now? Or not…

I loved the list of 40 things you can stop doing right now. It included peeling vegetables before you cook them (duh) but also a bunch of personal health related things such as getting eight hours sleep all in a row (it’s okay to wake during the night and go back to sleep, in two stages), drinking eight glasses of water, and flossing. My favourite that is all on all of these “don’t bother” lists is stretching.

I loved the list because we all think there are so many things we all think we have to do when it comes to our own personal health. The health related personal demands on the individual are pretty high right now, whether it’s getting 10,000 steps, or eating 10-12 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Call this list of demands the health imperative. It’s a feature of the society in which we live. It’s about individual responsibility for maintaining a healthy body and it’s a lot of work.

We assume there is good evidence for disciplining our bodies in all these many ways, but what if the evidence for a practice just isn’t there?

In August, the British Dental Association’s scientific adviser declared flossing to be pointless, adding that all floss-based studies of the past 25 years have been of “very low quality”. If you’ve never flossed your teeth, you were right all along. Go out there today and flash the world that foul-smelling, grey-green smile of yours. You’ve earned this. (from the 40 things list)

Here’s the LA Times piece on flossing,

When the federal government issued its latest dietary guidelines this year, the flossing recommendation had been removed, without notice. In a letter to the AP, the government acknowledged the effectiveness of flossing had never been researched, as required.

The AP looked at the most rigorous research conducted over the last decade, focusing on 25 studies that generally compared the use of a toothbrush with the combination of toothbrushes and floss. The findings? The evidence for flossing is “weak, very unreliable,” of “very low” quality, and carries “a moderate to large potential for bias.”

What does this mean for you? Well, floss if you want to but don’t do it because you think you ought to. You get no credits in the self-care column when it comes to flossing. Maybe you just like the feeling of clean spaces between your teeth (I get that) but if you’ve been doing for reasons of dental health and hating it, now might be the time to stop.

Rebecca Kukla (who guest blogs here)  recently posted to Facebook about flossing when the dentist was busy advising her son to floss. She admitted she was tempted to give the dentist a lecture about evidence-based medicine and about patronizing science-free advice that impedes epistemic agency.

Frankly, I was surprised at the many defenders of flossing who cropped up. Not defenders of the practice (it’s okay, floss if you want to, see above) but defenders of the imperative, the claim that we ought to floss. After all the articles above don’t say that flossing doesn’t work, only that the studies that it set out to show that it benefits offered very little proof. It still might be the case that flossing is really important. (Of course, it might also be really important to hop on one foot and howl at the moon. We just don’t know. The evidence is weak but ti still might be true.)

The debate on Rebecca’s page went on, so many defenders of flossing, and I loved her response and I’m quoting it here with permission.

“People who are standing up for something like the “floss because it can’t hurt and maybe it will help even though science hasn’t managed to show it” line: If you like flossing (I do after corn or bbq!) then by all means enjoy it. But here is the problem. Medical and other institutions are constantly adding countless things that we ‘should’ do ‘just to be safe’ despite minimal or no evidence of benefit, and then these get weirdly moralized, so you’re an irresponsible person/parent (especially parent!) if you don’t do them. Each one may be small but we can’t POSSIBLY do all of them. We would have no life. They accumulate. So at some point you have to recognize that through sheer number they become micro-aggressions, in effect. If there is no evidence for something helping, the most you should say is “Well it seems unlikely to hurt [assuming that’s true; it isn’t always] but it’s really up to you.” This ‘It’s important that you do it just in case it helps’ bullshit has got to stop. And it is disproportionately directed at mothers of course.”

That’s what I like about the 40 things list. It urges us to relax, and to push back against the health imperative. And for good God, stop measuring all the things–drinking EIGHT glasses of water, sleeping EIGHT hours a night, eating TEN TO TWELVE servings of fruits and vegetables, walking TEN THOUSAND steps, flossing ONCE a day and so on and so on. Also, for God sake, stop with all the measuring! Enough! (Don’t get me started on weight, percent body fat. and BMI. See this a guest post from this weekend about all that.)

I had a roommate in grad school who every night confronted her own personal health imperative dilemma, sits ups or flossing? Every night we’d finish our work, work some TV, and then the debate would begin, which would she do, sit ups or flossing? She’d committed to one or the other each night. Luckily the standard issue sit up has also been debunked so now she can relax.

How do you feel about the very long list of health related things we all ought to do? Do you agree with Rebecca that the list of demands hits mothers worst? What, if anything, are you knocking off your list?






Healthism, fitness, and the politics of respectability


This blog is about the fitness journey of two feminist philosophers as we approach fifty. We’re aiming to be the fittest we’ve ever been in our lives at the age of fifty. Along the way Tracy and I are critically engaging with issues about physical fitness as feminists and as philosophers.

Early on we distinguished between thinness and fitness and made it clear that our goals were about athletic, not aesthetic, achievement (see here) and about staying healthy, not about getting thin.

We recognize that not everybody shares our goals or sets their sights on achieving and maintaining physical fitness. But we hope enough of you are engaged with our goals and our project and want to follow us along and read about what we’re up to.

We’re about health and fitness, not about visible abs and hitting target weights on the scale. (Tracy has stepped off the scale in fact and you can read about that here.)

Health seems like a perfectly reasonable goal to have, to the extent that it’s in one’s control. We’re both leading happy, productive, active lives and want to stay healthy insofar as we can control that. However, recently I got in a discussion with a friend about the language of health and whether or not that language was coercive.

Philosophers’ ears perk up when we say something we think is uncontroversial and others say they disagree. We thought talk of health being a good thing was trivially true. What’s this? Disagreement? How interesting. Let’s have a closer look. That’s how philosophers roll.

Here’s an example of the controversy over health. Lots of fat activists lay claim to the language of ‘health’ and ‘healthy.’ Indeed I refer to my own health in this post here, though I’m also ambivalent about the label ‘fat’ and I have plans to get leaner, if I can.

We’re constantly trying to make the point that fat people can be healthy. I describe myself this way on the blog. I wrote: “I’m a bit of a healthy living rock star. Yes, I’m significantly overweight but I have excellent blood pressure and heart rate, excellent good-bad cholesterol ratios, and excellent blood sugar levels. I’m also an over-achiever in the bone density department but that’s from years of living large and lifting heavy weights.”

But here’s a worry. In claiming the language of health for larger women are we assuming that there are respectable healthy fatties and others who aren’t, drawing a line between the good girls and the bad girls, rescuing some, while throwing others to the anti-fat wolves as it were?

This is the worry raised in Virgie Tovar’s post Interrogating the language of health in the fat movement.

In short, Tovar is accusing the fat positive movement of ‘healthism.’ This is really interesting because I think that claiming health for fat people, claiming that fat people can be healthy in spite of our size, is one of the goals of the fat positive movement.

‘Healthism’ is sometimes used to refer to a government’s preoccupation with the behavior of its citizens (eating well, not smoking etc) and sometimes it’s used to refer to an individual’s preoccupation with these behaviors and outcomes. These two senses of ‘healthism’ are discussed here. At the heart of both senses is the idea of an ideology of health.

I first heard the term ‘healthism’ at the Canadian society for women in philosophy conference in Calgary last year. The conference theme was embodiment and there was one paper that criticized health as a value that’s forced upon women. The paper was by Talia Welsh (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) and was called  “Violating the Good Health Imperative: The Ethics of Altering Bodies by Modifying Bad Health Habits.” You can read her paper “Healthism and the Bodies of Women: Pleasure and Discipline in the War against Obesity” available for download here. In that paper Welsh writes, “I posit that a feminist position on the war against obesity clearly argues against a focus on weight, but that the larger issue of behavior modification for health remains much more difficult to solve.”

On first hearing these ideas, I confess that I felt sort of perplexed. Of course, healthy is better than unhealthy, I naively thought. Given a choice, who wouldn’t opt for good health? That isn’t an ‘ism’ and it’s just rational, I thought.

But of course like many subjects that are the topics of papers at philosophy conference, things aren’t quite that simple. Health seems, at first glance, to be a primary or basic good, the sort of good that you want or need no matter what what you want or need. Indeed, at first blush it seems you need health to pursue all the other goods. And so an appeal to health ought to speak to all of us. It’s a good candidate for a liberal value, something the state can promote because we all care about it.

And yet…

Most of us routinely make trade offs between health and other goods. I’m not just thinking here of those of us who choose to smoke, drink, or do other forms of drugs.

Consider athletes who make trade offs between the pursuit of excellence in competition and their overall health and well being. It’s not just retired football and hockey players who are damaged.

But we don’t even need to go there. Think of musicians who suffer overuse injuries. It’s not healthy to do what they do either.

Among my academic friends and colleagues, there are many of us with worn eyes, strained tendons, voices suffering over use. And yet would we read and write less to save our bodies?

And then there are those of us who like risky sports.

Why privilege the health conscious?

In a country with publicly funded heath care there’s an economic argument of course, but we ought to admit it’s an economic argument. But don’t dress it up in the language of rational choice and caring about what’s good for persons. Persons want different things and weight concern for health differently.

I’m looking forward to reading the book pictured here. I bought it after the CSWIP conference last year. In the meantime, I’m still mulling over the importance of health.

Although Tracy and I might seem like health living cheerleaders, you are free not to care about your health and fitness. If you do, we hope you enjoy reading about our adventures and reading our reflections on fitness. But if you don’t care as much about health and fitness as we do that’s fine too.