seeking sparkle

Last night, I had the pleasure of being a participant at a really cool yoga fundraising event, Ignite Your Inner Fire, which was just a stone’s throw away from my house:

“The mission of Ignite your Inner Fire, A Reebok Yoga Experience is to connect a community of like-minded, real people in the hope of igniting and influencing the passions of others in the community – and beyond! This FREE yoga class will serve as an invitation for all London community members to connect. It will bring London together to celebrate fitness, yoga, and creativity; to inspire people to live their lives with passion, intent and purpose; & to demonstrate how to live life with a passion via an approach that will inspire others to do the same.”

Besides being awesome just with that kind of a description, the event was also a chance to raise money for Growing Chefs, a group I volunteered with last year in a kindergarten classroom growing windowsill gardens and sharing the food that came from them with kids to teach them about where their food comes from and to inspire them to eat healthier!

The yoga class was outside of Bellamere Winery and with the sun setting and then the stars coming out and the twinkle lights and tiki torches coming on, made for a really cool setting. It was taught by five different instructors from around London and you can bet that we did some things I’ve not tried before. My mat was right next to a friend of mine, Maria, who’s been just as busy as I have all summer. It was really nice to get to share it with her. A bonus was the background music, which was live and lovely and every time I hear Jessi sing I want to tell her that I need to know that she’ll be available for my non-existing future wedding date! The icing on the cake was the way that things wrapped up: with crystal bowls and sparklers! We lit each others’ and made an intention after finishing up savasana listening to the bowls. If you haven’t heard them and you get the chance, do it.

photo 2

Reunion!

photo 1

Thank you instagram, and Jess (a friend from way back when and elementary school), for this one of the sparkly intentions!

photo 3

After the class, there was tea and twinkle lights!

Naturally, I also had a realization. When the microphone was not cooperating for Gillian, the girl behind the event and the first one to lead us through the class, she totally kept her cool. I’ve been known to freak out when things start to mess up, but seeing her go with the flow until the mic got sorted out—all with a smile on her face—reminded me that at that moment when she could have gotten frustrated or let it ruin her evening, she had a choice and made the choice to stay positive. It’s all too easy to let something going “wrong” turn into a tailspin, but when I think about all the beautiful things that came after that hiccup, I realize how much that kind of giving up or letting yourself get dragged down could have made us miss out on: a great class, the beautiful bowls, the intention-setting and sparklers, etc. That kind of attitude can apply to just about anything, I reckon, but I learned that smiling through that kind of road bump and staying on a positive track is worth giving your best shot.

Even though this week looks a little crazy on my calendar, wrapping up summer fun and my camp job and moving on to school things and staff training back at Campus Recreation for the fall, plus heading to visit my family this weekend, I am so glad that I decided (at the last minute, thanks to the power of suggestion) to go to this event. I ended up seeing even more familiar faces than I anticipated, and they were all people who brighten my day whenever I see them. I ran into Breanna, who is one of the first people I ever talked to about healthy living blogging, and who’s a big part of why I decided to blog today. It’s safe to say that the sparklers weren’t the only bright part of my night! It was great to catch up with people I don’t see on the regular any more and to remind myself that I live in a great place and that there are so many opportunities to be surrounded by like-minded, awesome people. My intention was about seeking out more “sparkly” experiences—the kinds of nights that leave me feeling rejuvenated and happy to be exactly where I’m at.

handle all this sparkle

“fat” and what we make it mean

As unfortunate as it might be, “I feel fat” is common language among women—of all sizes. And as much as I try to get down to what’s really bothering me without displacing it on my body instead, on occasion, this thought pops into my mind.

On days where I can’t get away from the body image, feeling too big blues, a good cry, a pep talk, and a good sweat usually help me feel better. But along the way, I’ve done some thinking about this whole issue. A few years ago, I remember hearing about an eating disorder therapist asking a friend of mine what would happen if she got fat, and I have thought about this along my journey because part of what accepting my body and trusting it during recovery involved was thinking about what would happen if I did gain weight or more weight than I might have been comfortable with.

I’d be lying if I said that I smile at the prospect of gaining weight. But getting upset over the idea of buying a bigger side of pants is an invitation to consider what we make “fat” mean. When it comes to getting bigger or considering myself fat, I’m entering pretty emotionally laden territory—an indication that there’s something going on besides the number on the scale. What is it about being bigger or heavier that is so scary to us? What is it about the word “fat” that makes it so darn scary or unattractive to us? Sam blogged about her own relationship with words like “fat” and “big” and was honest about her own experiences negotiating around these labels.

Whether we’re fat or not, the way we use the word and the way we think about it is important. Given the body conscious society we live in and the way that we can affect the ways people think about themselves, I think we all need to be conscious. I know I have seen it in little kids at camp this summer already – “That tree is fat!” as the most laughable thing in the world or “I’m going to get fat!” in regards to a 7 year old eating pizza indicate to me that “fat” signifies a lot more than the dictionary definition might suggest. Deborah Lupton’s book, Fat, is a good one if you want to get into this from a super nerd approach.

But on a personal level, it’s an interesting thing for me to think about. When I look at a BMI table, I fall in the “overweight” category. So then the kinesiology grad in me says that BMI can be inaccurate for athletes because that weight could be (health promoting) muscle. But then the critical thinker in me questions why being overweight is something that needs to be avoided in the first place. BMI gives us the objective lines instead of the subjective take on our own bodies and in my case, tells me I’m too much. I start to get real with myself and remember my experience in the bod pod and having my body fat tested: worse than overweight, I am “overfat” or have “excess fat” depending on the term of choice. Then I think about the way that I’ve bounced back from being far too lean for my body’s health and happiness and the way that it tampered with my hormones. But my thyroid’s functioning just fine now so the hormone excuse is no more.

So where does that leave me?

Thinking about birds.

Bird! (Not the one in my backyard, FYI)Image source

Huh?

I just moved in with my (super wonderful and amazing) boyfriend. We have a backyard and birdies that live in the big pine trees back there (bragging a little). My sister (a birder) would tell me that I am confusing robins and sparrows, but there’s a couple of robins. And one of those robins is bigger than the others. Maybe it’s a boy or maybe it’s just chubby. Either way, I figure, that bird doesn’t know that it’s bigger than the others. If it does, it doesn’t make it mean that it’s somehow less “ideal” of a bird. It doesn’t use it as confirmation that it’s not good enough, not worthy, or not beautiful. That bird goes on living its bird life, catching worms, building nests, soaring through the air in all its chubby glory.

I think we could learn from the birds.

Since so many of us seem to think we’re “fat” (listen around the water cooler or in the locker room of your gym for this kind of talk, especially on a Monday morning after a weekend when people like to “indulge”), I think we need to start to consider what that means to us. Are you really fat? What difference does it make if you are? If that bird can keep on keeping on, can you?

Most of what we think being bigger than we’d like to be holds us back from has nothing to do with our size—but everything to do with what we think about it. We want these ideal bodies because we think then we will be entirely different people with entirely different behaviours. But the cool thing about wanting to be a different kind of person with a different set of behaviours is that those things do not depend on the number on a scale or the tag of your jeans. If you think that being fat stops you from being in shape, I’d say exercise anyway and you’ll get fitter. If you think that you’d like to be some super healthy girl with a six pack, eat that super healthy diet already! We let our delusions about not having our dream bodies stop us from living our dream lives. That’s what’s sad—not weighing more than we “should” or than we think we should.

As always, the way we think about ourselves is what really matters. It might be easier/more comfortable to go on making our bodies wrong, but every little step towards appreciating mine—exactly the way it is, right now—reminds me to keep on keeping on. Happy and healthy is as happy and healthy does!

I live #LikeAGirl: embrace it

You know those cheesy as can be, make you feel fuzzy and warm, watch over and over again…tampon commercials?

Me neither.

Except for the latest one, #LikeAGirl, from Always.

You probably wouldn’t know it’s a tampon commercial, but products aside, the ad is part of what the company’s calling an “epic battle to make sure that girls everywhere keep their confidence throughout puberty and beyond.” The woman who made the video had this to say:

“In my work as a documentarian, I have witnessed the confidence crisis among girls and the negative impact of stereotypes first-hand…When the words ‘like a girl’ are used to mean something bad, it is profoundly disempowering. I am proud to partner with Always to shed light on how this simple phrase can have a significant and long-lasting impact on girls and women. I am excited to be a part of the movement to redefine ‘like a girl’ into a positive affirmation.”

The gist of the ad is this: somewhere along the way growing up we start to think of “like a girl” as an insult. Rather than letting it be so, we should take it as a compliment.

I can see why Always would want to put out a video like this. Of course they want to connect with the messages that make women feel warm and fuzzy–it’s women and women alone who are going to be deciding which box of tampons to pick up (though that didn’t stop men from tossing in their two cents in the comment section, though, if you’re bored and want some entertainment). And I think they have a pretty good position from which to promote a better way of thinking about being a girl given that we’ve all got an Aunt Flow to accommodate, ladies. Sure, they’ll make some money off of it, but a campaign to help girls with confidence? I’m good with that! From apologizing profusely to thinking we’re not good enough, I think there’s a bit of a confidence crisis going on with girls–and a similar situation with boys, I’d add–these days, and when we don’t have confidence and self esteem, we don’t live the best lives we can.

“Like a girl” only carries a negative connotation if we let it. In my experience, it’s people who are feeling threatened who might throw this kind of an “insult” out. The more that we see women and girls doing amazing things, the less association there will be between “like a girl” and anything bad. If our gut reaction when we think of doing things “like a girl” is to think of Chrissie Wellington racing Ironmans or Serena Williams playing tennis or Camille Leblanc-Bazinet doing CrossFit, the phrase will cease to be an insult.

GIRL!

Chrissie Wellington: GIRL!

Camille's a girl!

Camille’s also a girl!

I am sure that there are some that would argue that reclaiming “like a girl” might just reinforce that there are differences between boys and girls. But I personally do not mind that I am different than boys. There might be things that I don’t do as well as an average male–but there are things that I can do that boys cannot (i.e. carry and give birth to a child). Women are certainly held back if they think of themselves as the weaker sex and let it stop themselves from trying. Luckily, women don’t have people telling us that our uteruses are going to prolapse from any kind of strenuous exercise or that we need to conserve our vital energy for our more feminine pursuits these days. Without those kinds of messages, women push the envelope and achieve amazing physical feats. The goal shouldn’t be to be the same as a man, it should be to stop thinking about being a man as somehow better than being a woman. With that kind of thinking, it’s no wonder that people take “like a girl” as an insult. There’s a difference between reinforcing differences and embracing them. I know that accepting that there are things about being a girl–i.e. needing more fat in order to stay healthy, not having the same amount of muscle, etc.–frees me up to try my hardest at doing things well, giving me the freedom to live #LikeAGirl without feeling bad about it.

What do you think of the #LikeAGirl video/campaign?
Do you take it as an insult if someone tells you you ______ “like a girl”?

 

thinking about bodies, loving them, and where we’re investing our energy

My masters supervisor is one of the smartest people I have ever met. People describe him as a range of things from brilliant to exceedingly difficult to follow, mostly because he thinks on a very big and theoretical scale and sometimes leaves people in the dust when he goes on a thought journey. Once, I got a paper back with a comment about how my writing can sometimes be difficult to follow because I go off on tangents like my supervisor. I took this a supreme compliment, but this kind of thinking and thinking and then thinking some more can make for some late nights just stuck on some issues. And can make for some very confusing blog posts, which I fear is about to happen…

Today’s question of concern? Whether or not writing a blog about loving our bodies (as a woman) is helping or hurting the situation.

body lve

I’ve often wondered whether or not the time I’ve spent talking about this journey towards embracing my thighs and appreciating my body could have been spent going to medical school, reading the encyclopedia, or getting a PhD in astrophysics.

Today, I got thinking after I read a post on Tabata Times by a man who was talking about his body issues:

“I love spending time with my girls outside, but I don’t love the pool the way they do and it’s for one simple reason: I hate my body. Does that surprise you? That’s probably not what you are used to hearing from a man, but we have body issues too. The difference between men and women is that men don’t get whole articles written on it like women do.” 

The dialogue about embracing our bodies as women has, at least in my experience, gotten louder as of late. That being said, I am part of the blogosphere that talks about it, a voracious reader of books on the topic, and an advocate for all people—men and women alike—embracing their bodies. I’ve learned and continue to learn that the more I focus on what I can do, the more appreciation I have for my own body. That doesn’t mean that all of my body woes are gone. I might not have an eating disorder any more, but that doesn’t mean I don’t hear the “lose weight and be happy and have everything you have ever dreamed of and more” messages out there in the world. What I worry about is replacing that message with a “love your body and all your problems will melt away” one instead. If we’re on a body love journey, we need to remember that addressing the other aspects of our lives is still important. I think of all the genius females out there who might be using a lot of energy worrying about how they look—and I wonder what else could be happening if there wasn’t this need first to fix our bodies and now to fix the way we relate to them.

But then, how do we get away from this obsession with our bodies in one way or another? We have bodies. How they look is important, whether we want it to be or not. How we feel about them is also important, because it drives how we act—how we take care of ourselves and how we relate to others.

So on that question about whether or not it’s a misuse of my energy to talk about this, think about this, and work on this journey towards loving my body more and more and worrying less about how it looks, I am going to stop worrying about it so much—because that’s where I waste my energy. Maybe more women than men talk about this and maybe some people think that this is a way that women hold themselves back. But I don’t think that it changes the fact that loving our bodies and getting our relationship with ourselves sorted out is worth doing.

I’m going to have a body for the rest of my life. I don’t want to get to the end of it thinking that I should have appreciated it more, should have used it to explore and live more, should have loved it more. I don’t want to be constantly trying to change it, sending myself the message that I’m not “good enough.” I don’t want to take the easy road out and say that a little body discontent is “normal” and okay—because I don’t think it has to be. The more I love the body I have, the better care I take of it, and the better I feel about the whole situation. A combination of realizing and admitting that I care both about how I look and about how I feel about how I look—and then taking care of myself to make sure that those things are in place—rather than trying to be someone who’s “bigger than the issue” takes the pressure off.

ody love

I want a world where people don’t hate their bodies. Whether you’re a man or a woman and whether it’s okay to talk about it or not, I wish we didn’t need to. But, until we all get to a place where we appreciate our bodies more than we want to fix them, I think the dialogue about changing the way we talk about, relate to, and take care of our bodies is worth having.

hating it

What do you think about all the talk (especially among women) about embracing our bodies?
Are we moving in the right direction?

less layers, more judgement?: bodies in the summer

I have always loved the summer. With it comes so many good things: a break from our routines, extra sunshine, long bike rides, ice cream cones, and tan lines, to name a few. With it too comes less clothes. This week, I stumbled onto this ecard, which I think is a touch on the unnecessary side.

no one wants to see

 

Today I thought of it when I read an article from the guardian about being fat in the summer. In “Yes, I’m fat, but spare us the cruelty this summer,” the author talks about her experience being big and being told that her body is too big on a seasonal basis. People, in the summer, feel more compelled to comment on her size, which the author admits makes the hot months uncomfortable. She calls for people to give her (and other fat people) a break during the already uncomfortable summer months when it comes to judging them for their weight.

I don’t have a lot of experience being told that my body is too fat in the summer. I do know what it’s like to be uncomfortable in some capacity because of the shape of my body in the hot months (hello, prickly heat from thighs rubbing during a run) and I certainly have experience wishing that it was fall so I could cover up.

No matter what size we are, the summer is a time when there is more of us exposed. Whether we’re overweight, underweight, or just think we’re too much of this or not enough of that, the summer and it’s lack of layers can make us uneasy. I agree with the article’s call for less commenting on each others’ bodies.Our reactions to how someone else looks have more to do with our own relationships with our bodies and ourselves than anything, and I don’t think we should take those out on other people–whether it’s the norm or not.

Where I disliked the article was with the way that the author frames fat and refers to her own body. I think that it’s interesting that this kind of article where there’s a call for people to back off with the body judgement is so harsh towards the fat body of the author herself. Her body–fat or not–deserves her love.

Self deprecation when it comes to our perceived faults–in this case, a fat body–might make it easier to take. But unfortunately, making fun of our own bodies just makes it worse and gives permission to other people to do the same. While I applaud the honesty:

“I suppose the facts of a fat summer are ones I accept and embrace every time I get a Big Mac (which is more often than I should, and yet never enough), and I’m self-aware enough to know that being this big isn’t good for me, that barbs from strangers on the street are mixed with truths.”

…I definitely get why someone would be judgemental. Our culture views health as a personal responsibility and if it comes down to eating or not eating Big Macs, I am not surprised that people think someone “should” be smaller. For the fat acceptance movement, I think this kind of article sends the wrong message. If we don’t change the way we look at “fat” and the way that we think about people’s bodies becoming fat, I don’t think we are going to change the way people relate to their bodies or look at other peoples’.

That being said, I am on the side of the fence where I think people should take responsibility for the way that they treat their bodies. Healthy is healthy whether your BMI falls in a certain range or not. You can’t necessarily judge a book by its cover–or a person by their body size/shape–but you can judge yourself based on your actions. It’s easier not to eat healthy or to exercise and to try to change the way that we feel about our bodies, but I think we’ll feel better about whatever size body we have when we can rest assured that we are doing our best to be as healthy as we can and taking care of our bodies. To me, that’s what body acceptance is about. I feel better about my body when I know that I’m doing things to take care of it. I know that this “It’s OK to have this body if you’re healthy” conditional approach might not win me the favour of some advocates out there, but I also know that if we want a healthier world people need to value their health and that means encouraging healthy behaviours.

In short, I agree with this article and with the idea that in the summer and year round we should back off with the comments and judgements regarding other peoples’ bodies. But I don’t think that in the process we need to normalize that someone who’s fat must necessarily be eating big macs or not taking personal responsibility for their health, nor should we excuse unhealthy behaviour as part of our journey towards acceptance. Skinny or fat, taking care of yourself and taking responsibility for making healthy choices is a win.

What do you think about this article/topic? 

 

 

races and paces: Go the Distance 10km recap

Yesterday, I ran a 10km race here in London that just so happened to be in the name of Hope’s Garden, the eating disorders resource and support centre that I’ve decided to bike across the country fundraising for! People who register for Go the Distance can raise money that goes directly to Hope’s Garden and the race is part of a series here in London.

hg

I ran the race on my own, though last year I ran it with a friend (she couldn’t join me this year, unfortunately!). I haven’t done a 10km race since last spring and wasn’t sure how it would go, so I tried to just go in with a goal of feeling good during the run. I think that was a perfect mindset–and I had a great race on that front!

I ran most of the way comfortably and I was pacing along perfectly with a nice woman for the first 8km. We chatted a bit–mostly about running, but also about teaching since she is a high school teacher–and the kilometres flew by. The sun was out so it was hot, but there was a nice breeze and most of the course, which started at Covent Garden Market and went to Springbank Park and back, was flat.

I am definitely giving thumbs up here!

I am definitely giving thumbs up here!

My finishing time was 56:31–not my best effort on a 10km but not my worst. I know that a lot of people said that they were slower than they’d hoped, and I spent a little bit of time thinking “I should have run faster” but got over it pretty quickly when I was reminded (by that awesome boyfriend of mine) that:

  • my focus is on the bike ride anyhow
  • nobody cares about 2 minutes one way OR the other
  • I’m healthier and happier than ever before

I also know that doing the race was important. Exercising–and keeping it enjoyable–is a big deal to me. I know that sometimes people think of running as a sport where eating disorders can thrive–and that might be true. But running a race or just running around the block is a chance for us to use our bodies and to see what they’re capable of–something  I know is absolutely essential in making friends with your body. It doesn’t surprise me that people who don’t move in their bodies have a hard time respecting, appreciating, and loving their bodies, so I think that getting Hope’s Garden into the running community is a great thing. I also know that the more people can hear about it the better–and that maybe someone who needs it will find the brochure about the centre in their race kit and check it out.

I may not have run a personal best, but I had a good morning at the race running for something I care a lot about–and that feels pretty darn good! And, as a bonus, I got some pretty embarrassing sweet race photos out of the day!

This is the best of the bunch!

This is the best of the bunch!

Have you participated in a race in honour of something you care about a lot?

 

If you want to donate to my ride and to Hope’s Garden, please visit my Giving Page at https://www.canadahelps.org/GivingPages/GivingPage.aspx?gpID=37108. All the donations go directly to Hope’s Garden. If you want to get involved or have any questions, ideas, or other thoughts, please comment below! In the meantime, love your body and be happy and healthy. 

 

Miss Indiana nailed it, but we’re missing the point

There is a long list of things I don’t watch on television, one of them being the Miss America Pageant. I do, however, watch my facebook news feed and Today Show clips and yesterday, all the talk about one of the contestants, Miss Indiana, and her “normal” body, caught my eye.

If you haven’t seen the news, headlines like “Miss Indiana Mekayla Diehl: ‘I didn’t go to extremes’ for my body” (Fox News) or “Miss Indiana Mekayla Diehl ‘Blown Away’ by Being Called ‘Normal’” (ABC News). Afterwards, Miss Indiana has been talking about how she chose to maintain her healthy lifestyle rather than starve herself or go to extremes to get ready for the swimsuit portion of the competition. She says that the response from the world of social media, where people have applauded her for her “normal” body, has been positively overwhelming.

But along with the praise for her body also came questions over just how “normal” her body is. The Los Angeles Times included a chart of what an actual “normal” woman would look like and compared that to Miss Indiana’s proportions.  They include her BMI (18) and her height and conclude,” A bag of bones she is not, but she is far from average.”

source: jezebel

source: jezebel

There are a couple of reasons why I don’t think all of this is all good. I am all for people talking about body image and for expanding the range of bodies we think are beautiful. But all of this talk about Miss Indiana’s body versus the “normal” body of a woman does something that I think is problematic: it normalizes talking about how acceptable another woman’s body is. Sure, we can say that it’s okay because if she is unacceptable it’s not because she’s too big, but I don’t think it is. Today, though, it’s normal to print and talk about how much someone weighs. It’s also normal to critique their bodies, and this kind of discussion needs to come with a little bit of caution.

I don’t see men’s magazines discussing Miss Indiana’s body. These women are all beauties–they wouldn’t be on that stage if they weren’t. I don’t think it’s as normal for men to dissect and critique each others’ bodies to decide publicly if they’re acceptable. Maybe this is because women know that they’ve spent a long time being told to look a way that is unrealistic for them. But what we need to do isn’t to come up with a new realistic ideal for all women to aim for. Jezebel’s “Miss Indiana’s ‘Normal’ Body is Nowhere Near Normal” makes a point about this reflecting women’s obsession with matching some norm, saying, “…[P]ublic response to Diehl exposes something else about the way that the media has warped people’s ideas of how women should or do look. It reveals how badly we want to see ourselves reflected in society’s ideal, and how much we’re willing to ignore reality in order to seek that identification.”

The more we discuss her body and whether it’s “normal” enough for us to feel happy, the more we normalize this kind of dissection of how other women look and the less we question whether or not we should all be trying to look the same.  We don’t take the time, then, to consider the effects of the pageant itself when we get sucked into discussing whether or not the winner is too thin or now that she isn’t quite as thin, not not thin enough.What if we just didn’t watch it in the first place?

I’ve talked about this before–in relation to “strong is the new skinny:” We will never win when we shift what’s normal without discussing why we think we should all be “normal.” When we talk about her not being average, do we want her to be average? Isn’t the majority of the population, if you believe the statistics, inactive and unhealthy?

Regardless, when we try to make one body type that we unquestioningly assume is healthy (whether or not it is) the new normal, we aren’t fixing things. We are looking at one body type and saying all the others are wrong. We aren’t thinking about all the things that go into having a healthy body and a healthy life:

  • Does that “normal” woman love her body?
  • Does that normal woman move it in ways that make it feel good and function well?
  • Does that normal woman eat enough real food?
  • Does that normal woman get enough sleep?

To that end, Miss Indiana seems to be nailing it. She’s active. She talks about liking her body. Those are two big important parts of living a healthy life, in my opinion.

But this is really about us.

  • Do we love our bodies?
  • Do we move in ways that make us feel good and function well?
  • Do we eat enough real food?
  • Do we get enough sleep?

It’s a lot easier to complain about things outside of us and big that we probably can’t control than it is to address what we can: how we relate to and how we take care of our own bodies. If we can learn to love our bodies, we don’t need to worry about matching an ideal, because we will be our own ideal.

I’m at the point where if I was going to bother wishing I had someone else’s body, I’d be wishing it was one of someone who does something that awes me: how about a pro cyclist or maybe a top CrossFit athlete? And then, rather than feeling bad about not matching up, what would happen if I used those women as examples of what’s possible and started to work on doing the things that would make me more capable like them? I’m still striving, but it seems to me to be in a much healthier direction.

We don’t need “normal” beauty pageant competitors—we need to see that our bodies are normal and are all that we can really control. If we are healthy and taking care of ourselves, we need to rest assured that that makes our bodies good enough, whether or not people on the interwebs agree.

take care

What did you think about the Miss Indiana news and discussion?
Do you watch beauty pageants?
What kind of body do you strive for? One that looks a certain way, or one that does certain things? 

 

summing it up

This week, I am grateful to have an opportunity to talk with the board at Hope’s Garden about my fundraising bike tour next summer. While telling my story is something that I think gives it meaning, that doesn’t make it easy. So, as I’m getting myself ready for this meeting, I have been asking myself a couple of questions to try to make it easier on myself:

Who am I and what’s my story?

I love it when other people introduce me, but when I have to do it myself, I’m never sure where to go with things. Does someone need to know that I’m a grad student first? A fitness instructor? A writer? That I love riding a bicycle? That I had an eating disorder and I recovered? At any rate, these are all part of who I am.

Why a cross-continent bike tour?

As part of my freelance writing gig, I interviewed a man who rode across the US and raised money for brain and spinal cord regeneration research, blogging about it along the way and raising over $26 000 with his efforts. Ever since then, I’ve had the notion of biking across the continent in the name of eating disorders awareness on my mind.

As someone who struggled with their body, weight, eating, and self-esteem for as long as I can remember, my relationship with exercise has been rocky in the past. So many of us come to see our bodies as our enemies or as problems to be fixed and end up using exercise in a way that’s punishing. The time I spent slaving away in the gym, hating my body speak to this.

Cycling, though, was one of the first sites where I was able to appreciate my body for what it was capable of rather than simply being concerned about how it looks. It seems only fitting that if I were to put myself to this kind of a physical challenge, I would do it in the name of eating disorders awareness, prevention, and treatment—all of which are close to my heart.

The start of a 100 mile in Philadelphia: definitely one of the hardest (and hottest) rides I've ever done!

The start of a 100 mile in Philadelphia: definitely one of the hardest (and hottest) rides I’ve ever done!

What do I want to be able to say about this experience at the end of this all?

Anyone who bikes across the United States in 33 days gets bragging rights. Racking up 3, 457 miles in just over a month—over 100 miles per day, on average—is no small feat. If I just wanted to be able to say that I did it, I would sign up for this tour as a vacation and leave it at that.

But I’ve always been ambitious. I want to start a dialogue. I want that dialogue to change the way that people relate to their bodies. I want to change the way that people look at and talk about exercise. I want people to start to realize how amazingly capable their bodies are. I want them to start taking care of themselves so that they can do all of the amazing physical things that we’re all capable of. I want people to realize that they can come to a place where they enjoy working out and where it is about creating more health and happiness in their lives. I want people who are struggling to see an example of someone who has recovered and isn’t just surviving, but is thriving.

love your bod

Why Hope’s Garden?

During my recovery, Hope’s Garden was an amazing resource to me. I know how important it is to this community and I know how much that the support will be appreciated.

How’s this all going to work?

I have set a goal of raising $20,000 to go towards Hope’s Garden. The tour’s cost is $5 500 and beyond its cost, the money is directly going to benefit Hope’s Garden’s ongoing work with eating disorders. In the process, I hope that I can raise awareness and start to make some difference in people’s lives who hear about the tour. I plan on using online donations—I’ve set up a website where donations can be made directly to Hope’s Garden—as well as things like charity fitness classes, raffling off my personal training and coaching services, etc. along the way and would appreciate any kind of support or spreading the word that people can help with. Like I said, I am ambitious, but I know that this will not only be a physical challenge with a huge sense of accomplishment but something more.

The end.

I think that I’ve summed it up pretty well–and while the perfectionist in me says I can do better, I know what I’m doing is awesome and that people will connect with my story no matter what parts of it I choose to share. I have lots of time to go into more detail, too…

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 9.41.51 PM

I’m already grateful for the encouragement, the words of wisdom, and the energy I’m getting when I tell people about this. The saddle sores I’m already getting from upping my rides, not so much. Thank goodness for chamois butter!

chamois butter

 

If you want to donate to my ride and to Hope’s Garden, please visit my Giving Page at https://www.canadahelps.org/GivingPages/GivingPage.aspx?gpID=37108. All the donations go directly to Hope’s Garden. If you want to get involved or have any questions, ideas, or other thoughts, please comment below! In the meantime, love your body and be happy and healthy. 

here we go again: more Colorado lessons and thoughts on CrossFit

At the sports history conference I presented at last week in Colorado, I had an interesting experience during the question period following my presentation. I had just spent a lot of time trying to emphasize how the shift from skinny as an ideal to muscular as an ideal (i.e. “strong is the new skinny”) is not all that productive in terms of broadening the way that we relate to our bodies. Even though I know what I was trying to get across, there was one question that I think missed the mark. After commenting on how the bodies of CrossFit athletes and even athletes more generally today are different (more muscular, notably)—and attractive—there was a question about whether or not there are ever competitions amongst CrossFitters based on aesthetics or appearance. Knowing that some people outside of the CrossFit community don’t know what a CrossFit competition entails, I explained that there aren’t competitions that are based on physique—it’s a sport where performance is what matters. I made a point about the ongoing debates (as well as the overlap) between bodybuilders and CrossFitters and moved on, but this left me thinking about what is different about CrossFit and the way, thanks to it, I relate to my body. While these are things that I’ve noticed on a personal basis, I think they’re common thanks to the sport itself and the way that it’s promoted.

CrossFit, even though it’s an exercise program and people who do it do not necessarily care to ever compete, is about performance. As is the case with lots of sports, when people focus on their performance and their success in a sport, they can stop obsessing over the way that an activity makes them feel (even if they may be motivated to start it up because they think the bodies that CrossFitters have are awesome–I’m not going to beat anyone up for wanting to feel attractive). With a white board and a little bit of competition (with yourself and with others), CrossFit invites you to take a look at what your body is capable of. With the absence of mirrors, it doesn’t even suggest that you should care about how you look while you’re in the process of it. With something to be proud of besides a “hotter body,” I know CrossFit, for me, has given me a long list of options when it comes to goals to focus on that make me feel good about working out. Again, this could come from other sports (I have a similar appreciation for the goals I can set when I’m focusing on triathlon or on running or cycling), but I think CrossFit is set up to emphasize it.

My go-to "CrossFit makes me happy about what I can do--deadlift 300lbs" photo.

My go-to “CrossFit makes me happy about what I can do–deadlift 300lbs” photo.

To that end, I think the CrossFit boom has gotten more people to test their bodies and to consider what they’re capable of than most fitness programs could ever hope to. Along with that, I think it’s driven more people to try out new things: whether or not you think it’s unsafe or crazy or if you’re asking for someone to pass the Kool-Aid, there are more people than ever doing things they wouldn’t have been exposed to before. I’d be curious to see the stats on how many people have worked out with barbells and/or hopped on a rowing machine and/or redeemed themselves by climbing up the rope that used to torment them in gym class thanks to CrossFit.

Not bad for a girl who used to skip gym class.

Not bad for a girl who used to skip gym class.

Even with all the negative press around CrossFit, I think there’s a bit of “any press is good press” going on: we are talking about things. Discussions about what makes a sound exercise program (safe, effective, and what those even mean) are more common than ever. While I think the best workout is the one you enjoy and that you’ll continue to do, I think all the arguing over whether CrossFit is good or bad has only helped people in the world of health and fitness. You might not think that the Paleo diet is the way to go, whether you hear about it and get curious about whether or not these bacon-eating CrossFitters are onto something or decide that the approach is seriously misguided, you’re thinking more intensely about what you put in your body and about what defines “healthy” for you as a result. CrossFit challenges a lot of mainstream ideas and that kind of challenge and invitation to consider what you take for granted to be true. If you can’t handle a challenge to what you think is true or to what you think is best for yourself, I’d question how certain and secure of what you think you really are.

To wrap up, I’m not a CrossFit competitor. Other than a few just for fun competitions at gyms around town, I’ve not aspired to do a whole lot with my training. Sure, regionals was awesome to watch and it’s probably natural to think about what it would take to get yourself at that level, especially since some of the people I’ve shared a lifting platform with have worked their asses off and gotten to that level. But I don’t consider myself a hard-core CrossFitter. I go and “ruin my gains” by hopping on my bike for 3 hours on a Saturday, by starting up a fundraising bike tour across the continent, and I try not to don’t take myself too seriously. But even with this kind of casual CrossFitting, I’ve seen that there is a heck of a lot of good to come from the program that is on so many people’s minds these days.

What do you think?
Have you had a similar experience with CrossFit?
When are you feeling the best about your body?

 

 

responsibility and health: giving up on the obesity epidemic, but not in the way you think

One thing I realized while I was on my trip to Colorado was that it is okay to say things that someone might disagree with. During my presentation at the conference I was at, I had the experience of being “wrong” amongst a group but still knowing that my points were valid, just of a different persuasion.

At the risk of being “wrong” but thinking something and saying it anyways, I wanted to talk about an article a fellow blogger shared that really left me frustrated. “Obesity research confirms long-term weight loss almost impossible” (from CBC),” which asserted that the “disturbing truth that is emerging from the science of obesity” is that “it’s becoming apparent that it’s nearly impossible to permanently lose weight.” The article suggested that obesity researchers, who were formerly hush hush about the futility of trying to lose weight, are coming out and saying that most people who have lost weight will regain it, that bariatric surgery is one of the only ways to get people to lose weight, and that more people than ever are fat. It talked about the people who are exceptions, managing to lose weight and keep it off, and how we use them as examples to keep trying at it. The closing was the most depressing sentence I’ve read in a long time in a health or fitness type article: “Perhaps, though, the emerging scientific reality should also be made clear, so we can navigate this obesogenic world armed with the stark truth — that we are held hostage to our biology, which is adapted to gain weight, an old evolutionary advantage that has become a dangerous metabolic liability.”

Rawr.

All of the unquestioned talk about “our biology” and “evolutionary” ideas and what we’re “adapted to” do makes it easy to just take this as a fact, but people argue over what we’re adapted to all the time. These are buzzwords and I don’t think we should accept them at face value. Unlike the article suggests, I don’t think that our bodies want to be fat—at least not our bodies if we take care of them and use them. Maybe the way that we live en masse today—sitting around all the time and not exercising, or eating too much of things that are not real foods, etc.—contribute to fatter bodies. So maybe what needs to shift is the way we live, no? Our bodies are efficient, yes. They want to be efficient at what we ask of them. If we ask them to sit around all the time, why wouldn’t we be fat? If we ask them, however, to move (preferably in ways we enjoy), I don’t think we’re doomed to be fat.

The idea that we are “held hostage to our biology” is a fine way to make people feel at war with their bodies. This whole article makes our bodies seem like our enemies and does not help us come to a solution, except perhaps throwing up our hands and quitting. Since people apparently don’t value their health enough to do healthy things without the promise of a shift on the scale, it sure made it seem like living healthy is out. I don’t think so–health is the reason that we need to focus on here, NOT fixing the obesity problem. It might not come up in this article, but the reason I think we have a problem is because we’re all worried about fighting obesity, not about making people healthy. This is where we go on crazy diets, drive ourselves crazy doing the exercise we think we should do, etc., instead of using common sense and doing what makes us feel good and what makes us healthy–and letting our weight settle into its healthy place as a side effect.

This is just a personal observation, but many of those “exceptional” cases where people do lose weight—the ones the article sort of makes out to be the ones that provide us with “false hope”—seem to be people who have realized that they cannot go on living the lives they want to live unless they change their health. The health is our greatest wealth kind of story, you know? I know a handful of people who have lost substantial amounts of weight – through different approaches (from a man who took up running to a guy who went “Paleo” to someone who used Weight Watchers). I don’t think they’re anomalies: I think they’re people who took on the challenge of getting healthy and decided not to give up. I’m sure that they failed along the way and tried things that didn’t work. But they didn’t give up. I hope that no one in their shoes reads this and decides to take it as a reason to give up.

While I’m mad at the person who wrote this article—maybe she has never struggled with her weight—the action that I’d like to see come out of this is on behalf of those readers who read it and let themselves off the hook and on behalf of those people who don’t bother making healthy choices because their weight is fine on some chart. For all of us, it’s time to take some responsibility.

Articles like this that paint weight and obesity as something outside of us and outside of our control—as an “epidemic” like a measles outbreak that we don’t play a part in—miss the point. I don’t think that we should stigmatize fat, I don’t think that it’s entirely our fault that people aren’t as healthy as they could be. But we are all responsible for making ourselves as healthy as we can be, individually. Whether your weight is normal or you’re overweight or underweight, we are in charge. The “obesogenic environment” we live in? We (at least in part) create that environment. We make choices in that environment. We all have a part to play in being a healthy population. It’s not just the government’s responsibility, the school system’s responsibility, etc. to fix it for us—it’s ours. We can change the systems to help us, but it comes down to our actions and our responsibility.

I haven’t lost an immense amount of weight. When I was a kid, I was “obese” on the (silly) charts. After all my ups and downs on the scale, I’ve landed at a weight about 30 pounds lighter than my heaviest, on the line between healthy and “overweight” according to my BMI. Do I count as someone who has “kept it off?” I don’t think it’s that important, but what I do think is important is this: regardless of the number, I am committed to my health. That doesn’t make it easy.

The more I think of my weight as an outcome and the more I focus on what is in my control—what I eat, how I move, how I take care of my body, etc.—the more the power is back in my hands. With that comes responsibility. Articles like this, that make obesity some big, now unsolvable problem outside of ourselves, let people off the hook when it comes to their health choices. Even though that might seem comforting for people who are struggling or frustrated, all it does is take away their agency. We have constraints on us, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask people to choose the healthiest lives they can. Empowering people requires calling for them to take responsibility, which means we need to keep thinking of our health as something we all play a part in—even if we’re not, collectively anyways, doing a great job right now.

personal re

Maybe we can take this news that the obesity epidemic is not something we can fight as a wake up call: we need to stop worrying about the numbers–the outcome–so damn much and start worrying about the actions we take and the choices we make on a daily basis, because when it comes to those, we can’t argue with the fact that we have the power, the ability, and I hope you agree, the responsibility to change things.

focus on waht you can caontrol