fitness · weight stigma

Fervent hope for 2021: that “The Biggest Loser” won’t be renewed for a 19th season

CONTENT WARNING: this post is about critiques of the reality show “The Biggest Loser”, thanks to the podcast Maintenance Phase, a fat-positive and evidence-based show debunking junk science and myths about health and wellness fads. Their critiques include information about weight loss, extreme exercise, extreme eating restriction, eating disorders, body dysmorphia and mental health that may trigger or traumatize some people. For those who want to read this post, it is in service of reminding us that fat phobia and all its harmful sequelae are still out there, but so are we. Maybe 2021 will be the year to go full-force against such toxic media. Hence the hope.

Now to the post.

One of the horrors of 2020 that you may have missed (which is kind of a blessing) was the reboot of the horror reality show, The Biggest Loser (henceforth called TBL). For those of us who prudently turned away from this abomination, there are articles to provide background and critique of the show.

The Biggest Loser is coming back– but should it?

Is the Biggest Loser even a little bit better?

‘It’s a miracle no one has died yet’: The Biggest Loser returns, despite critics’ warnings

However, if you don’t have the time or interest to wade through all that, podcasters Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon of Maintenance Phase offer up five things wrong with TBL. Of course there are one million and five things wrong with the show, but: their incisive and humorous analysis gives me hope that more people will turn their backs on TBL and on the social evils that support it.

Here’s their first one: TBL is wildly unrealistic. How so? Here are some reasons Mike and Audrey shared:

  1. the kinds of participants chosen for the show were fat people with emotional eating issues, who don’t exercise, and are extremely unhappy with their weight. But, fat people are like all people– some are happier, some less happy; some exercise more, some less; some are happy with their bodies, some less so. Like all the people.

2. The purported method of weight loss: go live in a big ranch house with strangers for months on end, and don’t do anything else. They point out that this method is not found in the medical literature. Good to know.

3. According to the show, the contestants lose an average of 16 pounds/7.25kg in the first week. This rate of supposed weight loss is also not documented in medical studies. Furthermore, Mike and Aubrey tell us that the “first week” is really more like 2–3 weeks, according the contestants. Even so, this is still an unhealthy and unrealistic body change for anyone.

Here’s reason number two: it’s fake and unethical. (that seems like two reasons, but I’m considering it a two-for-one reason).

Case in point: former contestant Kai Hibbard gave interviews about the many ways the producers of TBL would distort results, promote fast weight loss, and otherwise create an environment conducive to disordered eating behavior. Here’s more from this article:

… a runner-up said the show gave her an eating disorder, and seven years later, in a series of 2016 reports, The New York Post quoted contestants who said the show’s doctor and trainer told them to lie about how much they were eating; rigged the weight-ins; and even gave them illegal drugs.

Also, the show features super-processed foods in product placements; TBL has more product placements than any other TV show (533 in 2011).

Reason number three: it’s abusive (and horrible). The contestants are deliberatively portrayed in the most unfavorable way in before pictures, and dolled up to the max in the after pictures. That’s to be expected. But, some contestants have been damned and judged in both their before- and after-weights, some of which are dangerously low according the standard medical science. Further, contestants have reported being encouraged to smoke (to reduce appetite), or pressured to exercise while injured or ill. In the new “wellness” season of TBL, a woman injured her knee doing box jumps, and then is shown using a rowing machine with an ice pack on her knee. No. Just no.

Reason number four: the contestants gain all of the weight back, and suffer permanent harm to their resting metabolic rate. There was a study published here, which you can read about in Scientific American here. Or in the New York Times here. The upshot is that after drastic weight loss, contestants gained a lot of weight back and had a much reduced resting metabolic rate, which the researchers attribute to the drastic weight loss. And this harm isn’t reversible according to our current scientific knowledge.

Last reason, number five: TBL is toxic for everyone of all weights and sizes, blasting false and harmful and distorted messaging telling us: a) what sorts of bodies are the preferred ones; b) that we– the public– can get ourselves one of these preferred bodies; and c) how we can get ourselves one of those preferred bodies. It’s a load of lying lies from a pack of lying liars.

Two other things are worth noting here. First, TBL doesn’t focus on any nutritional information, or talk about cooking, or how to enjoy a greater variety of say, plant-based foods. Oh, no. In fact, the show spends most of its time pushing the contestants to do punishing and painful physical activities, and yelling at them when they are (rightly) tired or or not up to doing them.

For me (and I think for us at Fit is a Feminist Issue), this is (one of) the worst things about TBL: it depicts exercise as a punishment for being fat. And exercise is wholly constituted of activities like box jumps, running on a treadmill, or using a rowing machine indoors. Okay, those things are fine, but what about:

  • hiking
  • dancing
  • yoga
  • biking
  • swimming
  • badminton
  • throwing a damn frisbee around with the dog?

Mike and Aubrey make the point that there’s a whole world of fun physical activity, and TBL loser ignores it. Instead, it recreates “the fat kid’s experience of PE”. Great.

Now that I’ve put you all through the wringer of these five reasons why TBL is awful, what’s the positive takeaway?

I do have one. Here it is. The show debuted in fall 2004. It lasted until 2016. In 2020, they tried to resuscitate it and recast it as a wellness show. But it didn’t work– everyone from fitness experts to health columnists to reality show bloggers hated it. We now see it for what it is– a horrible example of our legacy of fat phobia and body insecurity. And those social maladies are not over.

But: no one is talking about how they’re hoping or even considering that TBL is coming back for another season. It’s 2021 y’all. We got no time for that crap.

fitness · WOTY

Catherine’s word of the year: Awake

I’m not an early bird. However, even the morning larks among us would agree that 2020 was a good year to sleep through. Sleep is magic. Sleep is healing. Sleep feels delicious. Sleep is good for almost anything that ails us. But for me in 2020, I spent a lot of time turning away from the world outside, retreating, trying to shut out the feelings caused by what was happening. I just wanted to go to bed and wake up in 2021.

And now it’s here. 2021. Time to be awake, alert, engaged, curious. Time for sensing, feeling, thinking, processing, inquiring, musing.

It’s sunflower time.

A sunflower (girasole in Italian, meaning “turn to the sun”) seeks the light, turning to follow the brightness of the day.

An upright sunflower, enjoying some direct light against a blue sky. By Lisa Pellegrini for Unsplash.
An upright sunflower, enjoying some direct light against a blue sky. By Lisa Pellegrini for Unsplash.

I’m not sure I can manage quite that degree of exposure this year. Luckily, there are modifications available.

A sensible sunglasses-wearing sunflower. I like that idea. By Wan J. Kim for Unsplash.
A sensible sunglasses-wearing sunflower. I like that idea. By Wan J. Kim for Unsplash.

With or without sunglasses, sunscreen, and big floppy hat, I want 2020 to be a year in which I keep my eyes open to take in what’s around me and in me, even if it’s a bit much. I have dreams and plans and goals: for movement, for creativity, for connection. They can’t be done (or done well) in the dark. I need light and space and energy and warmth (or bracing cold) to be fully involved, aware. And awake. That’s it.

Dear readers: do you have a word of the year? What would you like it to be? What do you need to inhabit your word? I have extra sunglasses, if you want to borrow some.

fitness · mindfulness

Ten Percent Happier app is free for many types of frontline workers

Hi everyone– we at Fit is a Feminist Issue don’t do advertising or product placement (except for comedic purposes, and that’s mostly me…), but every now and then, we come across something out there that really works well, or is otherwise worthy of mention.

This is one of those times.

I’ve blogged a bunch of times this year about how restarting my meditation practice has helped me endure, better understand and adapt to the pandemic/political maelstrom which was 2020 (and apparently hasn’t read the calendar to see that 2020 is OVER). Others of us have written about contemplative and self-care and mindfulness habits we’ve revisited or started.

I’d like to share some very nice news with you: my favorite meditation app, called Ten Percent Happier, announced in December that they were offering the app, which usually costs about $100/year, for FREE for the following groups:

  • US Postal Service workers
  • warehouse employees
  • teachers and educators
  • grocery and food delivery workers
  • health care workers (obvs)

All you have to do is click here, and you’ll be directed to sign up immediately, or you fill out a short survey and then can sign up.

They are using the honor system to limit the free signups to the indicated groups. Here’s what they said on their site:

We know that many groups of people have been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While we’d love to support everyone, we have been completely overwhelmed by the response to these offers. At this time, we’re only able to offer free access to warehouse employees, teachers, healthcare, grocery, and food delivery workers. Please honor this and do not click on the above buttons if you do not work in these fields. By doing this, you’ll allow us to serve these workers more quickly and efficiently, helping them in the critical work they are doing to support us all.

I love this– that is, I love that they’re making an effort to support who they can, making it easy for those groups to sign up, and asking the rest of us to help out by not deluging the system. I hope you do, too.

A heart symbol, made by two hands, against a warm color background. Wish the world were like this more often.

Readers, do you already use this app? Did you just download it and try it? Do you use others? Do other apps have this deal? Please share any info, as we are all in this together.

220 in 2020 · fitness · Happy New Year! · new year's resolutions

Opening up the goals for 2021: let’s see what we can do…

Dateline: Dec 31, 2020. Location: Catherine’s laptop. I posted my last of the 220 workouts for 2020. See below:

My 220th posted workout for 2020– a soggy dog walk, some yoga and meditation. It did the job.

We call this just-in-time delivery.

You might think, well, that’s 2020 for you. However, looking back on my posted workouts in 2019 and 2018, my last workouts were all after Christmas. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it does point to a pattern. I have moved through the past few years in fits and spurts, with more dormancy than I would like (as I also know that, *for me*, regular activity coincides with greater functionality and well-being).

So, I’m making a change this year. Even though I’m very happily ensconced in the 221 workouts in 2021 (with the goal of 221 workouts), I’m not making a specific schedule for how many times a week I do cardio, strength training, yoga and meditation (my current lineup). Rather, I’m going to see what I can do this week in these categories, based on my sleep and work schedules, general mood, etc.

You might be thinking:

Say WHAT?!
Say WHAT?!

Hey–I’ve got science on my side! Here’s the Conversation on this topic.

Generally we’re advised to set specific, or SMART, goals (where SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound). Aiming to walk 10,000 steps per day is a common example.

That’s why you might feel you’ve failed after “only” recording 9,000 steps when your goal was 10,000. In reality, 9,000 steps might actually be an achievement (especially on a busy day) — but because you didn’t reach your specific target, it can feel disappointing.

Yeah. I can relate.

One alternative is to set what’s known as an open goal. Open goals are non-specific and exploratory, often phrased as aiming to “see how well I can do”. For example, professional golfers in one study described performing at their best when aiming to “see how many under par I can get”. One participant (in a study) said open goals “took away the trauma of failing”…

Oh yes– no trauma of (feeling like I am) failing. I am down for that.

To set your own open goals, think first about what you want to improve (for example “being more active”). Then identify what you want to measure, such as your daily average step count. Phrase your goal in an open-ended, exploratory way: “I want to see how high I can get my average daily step count by the end of the year.”

Excellent! Here’s my open goal: I want to see how many times in a week I can engage in three types of activity:

  1. cardio activity; my current modes (for January) are: ride trainer, walk outside, or do Body Groove dance-y 30-minute video.
  2. yoga; I can do live zoom classes through my local studio Artemis, or Yoga with Adriene, or Bad Yogi videos, all of which I love.
  3. strength training– so far what is easily accessible to me are the NYT 6 and 7-minute workouts, the Bad Yogi strength training program (which I bought a while back but didn’t really get to), and whatever else comes to me. You can see I’m in the initial stages of the “let’s see what I can do” mode.

For now, doing anything in either cardio or strength training or yoga/meditation counts FOR ME as a workout. As I get stronger, I may adjust the way I count them. I may restrict to more purposeful workouts on the bike (e.g. trainer, road bike ride) or just count workout days, regardless of how many types of activity I do in that day. We shall see; I’m leaving it open.

Readers, what are you doing about activity or movement, now that we’ve tumbled into 2021? Are you all about the scheduling? Are you staging goals? Are you planning by the seat of your pants? I’d love to hear what you’re thinking.

fitness · fun

Even puzzles are at-home exercising now!

One of the few felicitous happenstances of 2020 was the debut of a new puzzle on the New York Times website, called Vertex. It takes connect-the-dots to a whole new level. Here’s what one looks like:

NYT Vertex puzzle called “Are we alone?”, with numbered circles, to be connected in triangular fashion, for fun.

Here’s the way it works (from the NYT):

Draw lines between points to create triangles.

  • Connect vertices to create triangles and assemble an image.
  • The number on a vertex shows its remaining connections.
  • Triangles will fill in if they are correct.
  • Double tap a vertex to clear its connections.

When you first start it, it gives you a tutorial, with easier puzzles, and then more challenging ones. Then you’re on your own, doing the daily puzzle. I love love love it– it’s non-verbal, which is nice, given that we’re processing text a lot of the time. It’s visual and spatial, which I enjoy. And over time, you develop some know-how about the ways the puzzle makers fashion their creations, and can take pleasure in completing the puzzle using the approaches you develop yourself over time.

You might now be thinking:

What if I told you that you were a nerd? Said authoritatively by Morpheus.

On the other hand, you might be thinking:

Richard Simmons says, “Neato! Where do I sign up?”

If you are in the latter camp (or even the former, but have some time to kill), you might enjoy that the NY Times has jumped on the at-home exercise bandwagon. Here’s a recent Vertex puzzle.

Vertex puzzle called Spin Cycle. Of course we all know what it is.

Here’s the after shot:

Ta da! A colorfully rendered spin bike. I wouldn't mind some lime green flat pedals, if I could find some.
Ta da! A colorfully rendered spin bike. I wouldn’t mind some lime green flat pedals.

Who knows what other at-home themes the Vertex folks will come up with? Check it out if you’re curious. It’s a fun break from the world of words, and a nice brain workout.

Readers, are any of you doing more puzzles these days? Have you recently started doing some puzzles? Which ones? Are they a good thing for you? I’d love to hear from you.

diets · fitness

When do New Year’s dieters stop dieting? Early and late, says science

CW: discussion of different popular US diet plans and trends in starting and stopping them, as evidenced by recent research.

Just this week, while watching actual live TV (waiting to see the ball drop in Times Square– hey, it’s a tradition), I saw an actual commercial. Remember those? And this one was by Weight Watchers (now trying to get people to call them WW; yeah, right…) Yes, ’tis the season for the major diet program sellers; January 1 must be their Black Friday, as the diet plan marketing is fast and furious right now.

Instead of images of diet marketing campaigns, I opted to show you a flowering meadow. Aren’t you glad?

Of course, all that flurry of activity around marketing and adopting diet plans in early January dies down soon, with most people stepping away from those plans and eating the ways they did before the above-mentioned flurry. That’s right, isn’t it?

Hmmm. Has anyone checked to make sure this is true? Has science checked this out?

Why yes, it has. In this mid-December article, called “How long do people stick to a diet resolution? A digital epidemiological estimation of weight loss diet persistence”, researchers looked at trends in US internet searches for diet-specific recipes (e.g. Weight Watchers, South Beach, Paleo). For the tl:dr version, read below:

We found that the most popular diets associated with recipe searches since 2004 were the Keto, Low Carb, Weight Watchers, Paleo, South Beach, Atkins and Low Fat diets. For all diets, the temporal trends evidenced distinct annual patterns, with a sharp increase in January, followed by a decline to the summer months and a further abrupt decline in November and December.

How did they find this out? The group analyzed trends found in years of Google searches in the US for diet-specific recipes. That, plus the obligatory fancy math, produced some groovy graphs. They show, for a bunch of different diets, the January spikes in diet-specific recipe online searches.

Graphs showing numbers of diet-specific recipe online searches, where the spikes are the months of January for each year investigated.
Graphs showing numbers of diet-specific recipe online searches, where the spikes are the months of January for each year investigated.

Turns out that the Paleo diet searches lasted the longest (about 5.3 weeks +-), and the older South Beach diet searches dropped off most quickly (about 3.1 weeks +-).

Then they analyzed the trends in diet-specific recipe searches through the course of the year. Here’s another set of cool graphs:

Graphs showing, for different diet-specific recipe searches, drop-offs in February, and then drop-offs in November.
Graphs showing, for different diet-specific recipe searches, drop-offs in February, and then drop-offs in November.

If you’re looking for more details about these graphs, here’s what the researchers said:

A significant proportion of American dieters appeared to stop dieting during the US holiday season in November and December. For all diets studied, 5–25 % of dieters appear to drop out in November, and 15–30 % of dieters appear to drop out in December. The lowest holiday season dropout rates were seen for the Paleo diet (with December dropout rate 14 ± 3 %), and the highest were seen for the South Beach diet (with December dropout rate 33 ± 7 %).

What do the researchers think these results show? Well, after issuing loads of caveats (which is appropriate), they think it’s interesting to see some evidence of greater uptake of newer fad diets like Paleo (their words here) and lower uptake of older fad diets (like South Beach).

What do I think these results show? That this study provides even more evidence that diet marketing plans cost money and aren’t sustained over time. Which we already knew. But it’s always nice to have more science on our side.

Readers, did these results surprise you? Reinforce what you already knew? I’d love to hear any thoughts.

fitness · motivation

When wishing (plus planning, support and doing) makes it so

I just watched the new Wonder Woman movie: WW84. The following is NOT a spoiler, as the pictures are all over the internet. She’s got a new outfit:

Gal Godot as Wonder Woman, in gold armor, helmet and wings/more armor.

The next bit is also NOT a spoiler, but does refer to something in the plot: the notion of wishing plays a role in the film. Hope that didn’t ruin anyone’s day.

The idea of wishing seems timely for 2020. We all wish things were different– that there were no global pandemic, no losses of so many people and so much in our lives and the lives of everyone around the world. We also make wishes for the future– a speedy end to the pandemic via effective and universally distributed vaccines, everyone following public health guidelines in the meantime, and a resumption of our lives as we knew them (except that all work committee meetings should take place via zoom from now on, in my view).

With respect to fitness, I wish 2020 had gone very differently for me. But it didn’t and here I am, on Dec 26–me in my body in its current state. I can’t wish away 2020. But can I wish myself into a different state in 2021?

Yes. But. Not in the fairy-tale way.

Or this comic-strip way (although give it a shot, by all means):

Snoopy writing the publisher about a rejection, asking for publication and $50K. Go hSnoopy!

I do have wishes for myself and physical activity in 2021, which I’ve voiced pretty often (or so it seems to me). I wish to bike more, walk more, move around in and on water more, keep yogaing, and enjoy physical activity with others and by myself more.

Okay, wishing done. Now what?

Planning is next. If I wish to do something, I then have to make a plan. This was one of my big problems in 2020– faced with what seemed like rafts of unscheduled time, I just floated around, unmoored by schedule or structure. Yes, I know I can make a schedule. Oh, I made schedules. Loads of them. But somehow I didn’t commit or adhere to or honor or pay attention to or even remember them at the appointed times. When I did remember them, I often felt pulled by something else or stressed by something else or just paralyzed. So planning is not enough.

Enter support. For me that means friends who invite me to meet them for a walk or ride or swim or some activity we do together. I’m lucky to have many such friends, and they did lots of inviting. I wish I had said yes more, had followed through more, had even taken the initiative myself more. But wishes aren’t for the past, but rather the future.

So, I’ve got lots of support in place. But I did this year, so how can 2021 be different?

The only thing remaining in this quartet of action is the doing.

the word doing
Is it just me, or does this word “do-ing” look like the sound “doing!”

How exactly does the doing part happen? This is a very good question. Apparently lots of people wonder about this, according to Google.

Questions people ask google about how to do something.

Honestly, there’s no easy answer here. There’s no magic solution for behavior change. But we know that it does happen, to all of us. With help, a few things breaking our way, a bit of oomph and some planning and decision making, change happens.

I’m already wishing and planning for my 2022 sabbatical, which involves bike touring in many places in the US and Canada. That will also require scheduling, support, and lots of doing (in the form of training). 2021 seems like a good year to turn those wishes and plans into miles and hours and rides and destinations. I’ll be reporting on progress and setbacks and responses to those setbacks, and new plans along the way.

What are your wishes for activity in 2021? Are you planning yet? Do you have support lined up? What do you need to make your wishes come true next year? I’d love to hear from you.

fitness · motivation

These are a few of our favorite things…

It just occurred to me the other day: 2020 could use a little more Julie Andrews. I’m talking “Sound of Music” Julie Andrews. Remember her?

Julie Andrews, captured in mid-alpine spin.

I saw the Sound of Music in a movie theater, a year after it was released. It was the first movie I saw in a theater. Remember movie theaters?

Movie theater, closed but not forgotten.

2020 has put us all in a major swivet. This calls for a decisive response. But can The Sound of Music deliver us from swivetude? Even Julie Andrews seems a bit worried.

Julie Andrews, worrying during The Sound of Music.

Well, worry not, dear readers. Rogers and Hammerstein anticipated our need and provided us with “My Favorite Things”:

However, this movie is 55 years old, and didn’t have to deal with workouts from home or mask wearing or any of our current woes. So how’s it supposed to help us?

We at Fit is a Feminist Issue got you. Some of our bloggers wrote some era- and fitness-specific lyrics to the song above for your singing-along pleasure. Enjoy…


Handstands and wall-walks and headstands all scary

Front rack and goblets and weights I can carry

Dumbbells I trip on when working in zoom —

This is the mess of my pandemic room!

Adriene’s yoga and Alex’s classes

Spinning in zwift over fake mountain passes

Kettlebell parcels take months to arrive

Lockdown and fitness – how will I survive?


Hiking and running in weather refreshing;

Riding my bike down a hill oh so dashing (said with German accent, so it rhymes with refreshing)

Swimming in the pool as if I had fins,

these are a few of my favourite things!


Running outside, but not breathing on others

Park workouts and green grass have become my druthers

Virtual yoga is an opportunity to stretch

After spinning inside so I won’t become a kvetch


Big plates on the bar, new accessories to learn

New circuit options from my trainer deluxe

Toolbox with foam rollers, ropes and some bands

These are a few of my favourite things…

When the knees lift!

When the bar moves!

When I’m feeling good…

I simply remember my favorite things,

And then I’m moving real fast!


Inverted rows below the dining room table;

Step ups and step downs on the stairs as I’m able;

Pause squats and front squats and squats one point five,

These are the lifts that help me to survive!

Running a few miles on each of my Sundays

Warm-up and stretching reduce soreness Mondays

Long walks at dusk to catch the last rays of sun

Safety vest, headlamp and ipod for fun.

When I lug weight plates,

to the back yard,

When I’m feeling bad…

I simply do deadlifts with all of my strength–

and then I don’t feel so sad!


Zooming with yoga and getting more bendy

Riding outside when it’s warm but not windy

Pedaling fast as my bicycle sings

These are a few of my favorite things…

beaches and lakesides with blue water lapping;

swimming then lying in sunshine while napping;

blue sky as clear as a bell when it rings

these are a few of my favorite things!

When my Zoom class

crashes on me,

When I’m going mad;

I simply reboot and then take a deep breath,

and then I don’t feel— soooo baaaaad!

Hey readers, musical theater buffs, lyricists and all survivors of 2020: what are some of your favorite things? Tell us, either in prose or lyric, and we’ll hum it as we read.

fitness · mindfulness

Fitter in 2020 (from the neck up)

2020 will be remembered as (among other things) the year of zoom fitness classes and challenges, Zwifting, building and using of home and backyard gyms and yoga studios, widespread dog acquisition and subsequent walking, etc. Movers gotta move, and a global pandemic has proved insufficient to slow many of us down for long.

Gotta Move!

I have to say, I’m not in the above-mentioned group. Sam posted about being on Team More during the pandemic, and writes about some of the ways she’s changed up her workouts. I wrote here about being on Team Less is More, doing more meditation, even when I couldn’t do more cardio. This brings me to my first increased fitness item:

  1. Daily meditation is transforming my life, my world, my sense of self.
Oh. Well. Uh, good for you, I guess.
Oh. Well. Um, how nice for you, I guess.

Sorry– did things just get awkward? Let me see if I can help.

What meditation does for me is to slow things down so that I have a front-row seat to the show which is my awareness moment to moment. And what happens in that show? Not much. Thoughts come and go, itches and pains and warm and cold sensations appear and disappear. Feelings of desire or fear or shame or pride or whatever– they show up and then recede. Any of this can happen during 10–20 minutes of sitting. Then I get up and go about my day.

The cool thing is, awareness of thoughts and feelings and sensations persists. It offers a subtle shift in how the world feels to me– it’s still great and horrible and delicious and mundane and tiring, but I experience it from a stable perspective. This is a good thing.

2. I’ve finally gotten a bit better at the New York Times crossword puzzles (even Thursday and Friday!)

“It’s not like you solved world hunger or anything, but congrats” card. I need some of these.

You may be thinking, well, congratulations, but what does this have to do with fitness? Glad you asked. Scientific American explored this question here, and the answer is complicated (because science…) Whether doing crossword or Sudoku or Scrabble or other word games improves or preserves cognitive function is still not clear, as studies show conflicting results. But some recent work suggests that doing crossword puzzles calls on skills at the intersection of short-term working and long-term memory:

In 2014, researchers in Claremont, Calif., examined how Scrabble and crossword experts process and store information in short-term memory. They found that these puzzle whizzes had extremely strong working memories as compared to their control group, college students who had scored 700 or higher on the verbal section of the SAT.

It’s hardly surprising… but things got interesting when the researchers looked at how their short-term memories were firing. Both groups, but especially the crossword experts, appeared to use both verbal and visuospatial components of their short-term memory—that is, that instead of separating out visual cues from verbally processed ones, the crossworders [and Scrabblers] were integrating both types of perceptions in their short-term memories.

Well that’s something. It’s 2020, and I’m counting it.

3. I’ve devoted more time to crafting (albeit with mixed results). Still, it’s relaxing and also social (in that Zoom way). Here are some things I made this year:

See what I mean by mixed results? It’s okay, I can face the fact that I’m not a great crafter. But it’s so relaxing, and satisfying. And, I didn’t do it all alone. This year I had my annual Women’s Craft Gathering (I think this is year 13 in a row) via Zoom. My friend Pata put together manilla envelopes with card stock, pretty paper (both big and small), and red and green colored felt pens. She also mailed them! A bunch of people showed up online– some to craft, some to chat, some to just hang out to listen to others chat. It was fun and companionable. I’ve done this a few times with Pata, and several of us are interested in continuing the Zoom crafting together. Winning…

4. I’m trying on for size the idea that attending to my emotional fitness is just as important as (and contributes to) attending to my physical fitness.

I love moving under my own power. On land, sea or air– it’s all exhilarating and makes me feel like me. But the moving life isn’t simple; not lately, anyway. The huge advantage of 2020 for me has been that when regular life came to a screeching halt in March, I had the opportunity and excuse to be more still and more quiet, to listen and observe. And what have I noticed?

  • I tend to impose lot of expectations on myself when I do physical activity.
  • These expectations almost always result in me feeling bad about myself.
  • Letting go of expectations is scary, too– what if I never move again?
  • Lately, when I let go, I often find joy in movement. Or exhaustion. Or boredom. Or satisfaction. Which makes it like life.

In 2021, even when the world speeds up again, it’s important for me to remember how to slow down in this way (whatever that is), to stay in touch with a life of movement.

What about you, dear readers? How is your emotional fitness doing? What have you got? What do you need? I’d love to hear from you.

fitness · technology

Amazon Halo: bringing 24/7 surveillance and judgment, just in time for the holidays

As if Amazon had not already elbowed its way into our lives enough, now they’re in the wearable health and fitness tracker business. Enter the Amazon Halo.

Amazon Halo silver wrist band and smartphone app.

There are some features that make the Halo different from Apple watches or other wearable fitness trackers. Halo’s wristband doesn’t have any display. To get information, you need the app. But the two features below are more notable and worrisome:

  1. Halo listens in on your conversations all day long, sending it to Amazon for analysis of your “tone”.

2. Halo requests four full-body photos of you in your undies that it sends to Amazon, so it can do a body-fat analysis on you.

Let’s start with the first one. Yes, Halo is actually a tone judger and tone policer, one you’re supposed to pay good money for (well, $99, which includes a six-month subscription to the app). What do I mean here? Let’s see what this review from the Washingon Post had to say.

You train the device to recognize your voice by reading sample phrases, and then it listens out constantly for moments in conversation that go beyond your neutral tone… The Halo plots these moments as positive vs. negative and high vs. low energy, and then applies more nuanced descriptors to them.

Amazon said it spent years training its tone AI by having people categorize voice recordings. The company held internal trials and says it tried to address any biases that might arise from varying ethnicity, gender, or age.

In our experience, the Halo could detect ups and downs in our voice, but seemed to misinterpret situations regularly. And some of the feedback feels, ironically, a bit tone-deaf — especially when judging a woman’s voice.

In short, the reviewers felt like Halo was at best not insightful in judging tone, and at worst kind of offensive. Here’s more from the reviewers:

Now, one thing that people like about biometric trackers is that, once the app has analyzed your info, it then offers you a plan for improving on whatever state it has judged you to be in. But what are we supposed to do about our tone of voice? Does Halo have a plan for that? Uh, no. It doesn’t even tell you when you sounded rushed or sad or irritated or enraged or wistful, much less what to do about it. The reviewers sounded, in my judgment, displeased:

…there are no personalized suggestions based on your tone, such as how to sound less “sad” in the middle of an isolated holiday season during a pandemic.

The Halo has invented a new personal behavior to feel self-conscious about, which we suppose is a kind of innovation.

I judge that last utterance tone as ironic.

On to feature 2)– the analysis of nearly-naked 360-view photos you are supposed to send to Amazon for body fat analysis. Here’s a photo of what they have in mind.

hand holding a smartphone with image of woman in underwear, for 3-D modeling and body fat analysis. Like that’s happening.

So many things wrong here– for brevity’s sake (and because I love them), I’ll make a list:

  • Send identified photos of me (along with loads of other biometric data) to Amazon for analysis, with their wimpy privacy promises? Hell to the no.
  • The accuracy of Halo’s body fat analysis is unproven; the Post reviewers found some problems and inconsistencies.
  • Halo doesn’t even pretend to offer any physical activity suggested based on the information you provide; instead it offers some audio and video recordings from other companies, and you can choose what to do yourself.

Honestly, I could get a lot more information about how some outside authority thought I looked by visiting my relatives. And unlike Halo, they would follow up with customized advice, just for me. Guaranteed.

Readers, have any of you tried the Halo? X-ray glasses? Do you worry about sending loads of data to our technology overlords? Let me know– I’d love to hear your stories, and I promise not to share them with anyone…