“fat:” what a thin person gaining weight on purpose says about the way we think about our bodies

This morning, a story on the Today Show about a woman who gained 50 pounds intentionally to make a point about being overweight absolutely blew my mind–and not in the way I want to have it blown, especially on a Friday.

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“A woman who intentionally gained 50 pounds wants to demonstrate a point about overweight people: They have only themselves to blame for being heavy.

“People have always said to me, all of my life, ‘You’re lucky to be skinny,’ and what I wanted to prove was that there are no excuses for being overweight,” British reality star Katie Hopkins told TODAY.”

Because I’m so flustered by this, here is some word vomit on the topic.

  • Every person’s experience of being fat, or thin–of their bodies–is unique to them. There is something in our society that makes people passionate about making fat wrong. What is it, in this woman, that drove her to make this point? Is it hate for fat people? Is it fear of her own body? Is it resentment of people who are fat and happy?
  • Why do we feel comfortable commenting on other people’s bodies and on body size? What difference should it make to me if there are fat people in the world? What is so troubling about that to me that it matters enough that I would do something so terrible as gain weight (I say this with a bit of sarcasm, obviously)?

This kind of thing has implications and they aren’t good when it comes to body acceptance and body love. There have been other people who have gained weight as an experiment and talked about it in the media. I’m thinking of one trainer in the news who put on weight in order to learn about the experience his overweight clients have of losing it. But this woman is overtly trying to prove something that reiterates that being fat is a choice and that if you are overweight, there is something wrong with you.

This thin woman has not proven much to me, except that she thinks that she is high and mighty. Of course eating 6,500 calories of junk food a day will make her gain weight. I don’t think that the “obesity epidemic” or that people are overweight is this simplistic. I believe that our weight is something that we have some control over, but that is not the same as thinking that everyone should fit the “normal” BMI, that all fat people are fat for the same reasons or that those reasons have anything to do with their laziness or self control, or that shame is a good motivator for people when it comes to improving their health (I can only assume that there is some thread of “healthy” discourse in all of this).

Unfortunately what this does is contribute to that ever so persistent notion that if someone is fat they must be a pig–something that I don’t believe is such a black and white thing. I hope that other people are similarly frustrated and questioning this. There is something to be said for being able to love your body at any size, not to make other people’s body size wrong in order to make yours superior. I think there’s something going on here with self esteem and with needing to be better than other people, and I think it’s unfortunate. The world needs more people taking a stand for loving their bodies as they are or as they would like them to be, whether that’s skinny or not.

Rant done.

Did you see this story?
What did you think of the story?
How do you feel about people who (purposefully) change their weight in order to make a point? 

What do you want to “get away” with?: on eating for health versus eating for a healthy weight

With Thanksgiving just in the past and plenty of opportunities around the corner for “indulging” in “fun foods” (or junk foods, if you prefer), I thought I’d tackle something that I have given lots of thought to as of late. I hear over and over again people talking about how they can’t “get away with” eating those fun foods or things that they really want.

case in point
case in point — people want those metabolisms!

I’ll admit that I used to be jealous of people who could seemingly eat whatever they pleased without a care and without gaining weight. But I’ve come to realize that there is more than meets the eye, when it comes to the way people fuel themselves: we may see a person’s instagram feed and they may not really eat what’s pictured; we may see the only meal that a person eats all day; we can’t possibly know what’s going on beyond what meets our eyes. On top of that, the more I change the way I think about the number on the scale and what it means, the less I consider eating copious quantities of junk food something to be envious of.

If you think about it, unless we consider weight the most important indication of our health (above and beyond what we’re actually doing to our bodies), we’re not really getting away with anything if the anything is not healthy in and of itself. If someone is “getting away” with eating junk food, they’re still putting junk into their bodies. If they’re not gaining weight, that doesn’t mean that that food is not still driving unhealthy processes in their body or that their insides are in good shape. We think that we want those metabolisms that will allow us to eat whatever we want, but we forget that we still need to eat healthy for the sake of fueling our bodies properly, whether we can stay thin on a diet of potato chips and cookies (or whatever it is you think you can’t have) or not.

But there’s something there worth considering: what is it that we envy about those people who can eat “whatever they want”? During my recovery and when I went about making all foods fit in my diet again, legalizing even the things I forbid myself to eat for years, I did my best to eat “whatever I want.” I didn’t always nail the “without guilt” part of the equation, and I certainly overate in the process, but what I realized is that I’m not the out of control monster that I thought I am when it comes to food. When it’s OK to have dessert, I have it. When I think I shouldn’t be having it because I’m not ____lbs or a size __ yet, then I overeat it. Conditions on the consumption of any food for me are just a trigger for me to throw my hands up in the air and overdo it. Alternatively, when I’m letting myself have it easy with food, I’m always surprised at how little of those formerly oh-so-tempting things I needed when they were OK – one cookie was enough for the girl who used to eat a whole row? If I overdid it, I didn’t feel good. I found myself actually craving vegetables alongside that chocolate. But it’s a slippery slope and I feel like I live in a world where if you’re not dieting, you’re a bit of an outcast, although “diet” is a four letter word that people don’t use to describe their approaches to food.

That being said, what I’ve realized is that what I really am jealous of when it comes to those people who appear to eat whatever they want and stay fit, or healthy, or happy, or whatever, is the freedom that goes along with it. I don’t mean freedom in terms of what they’re putting in their body, I mean freedom in terms of how they approach food and how they approach their own body. The people I envy most are not even those people who eat French fries and still have six packs, they’re the ones who eat salads and burgers and cake and kale without letting it be more than it is. They’re the ones who stop eating when they’re satisfied. They’re the ones who know that if they have a bigger lunch, they’ll probably naturally eat less at dinner—and don’t deprive themselves if they end up being hungry when that time rolls around. They’re the ones who trust themselves around all kinds of food. They’re the ones who don’t turn to food for comfort, but take it for what it is: fuel. These kinds of eaters are the ones who I envy, and lucky for me, identifying what it is about them and their approach to food that I am so jealous of gives me something to aim for creating in myself.

If we have been overweight or have struggled with our weight in the past, it’s easy to feel like we are some kind of special snowflake who could never be able to be happy around food and our bodies. Talk about a limiting perspective. All thinking that way does is create all kinds of feeling of shame, of lack of control, of failure, and all that does is drive us to continue to overeat foods we think are “bad” and to live in this crazy cycle where food is consuming us instead of us consuming it. I know from experience that moving towards that kind of relationship I envy with food is not easy, but I also know that I’m getting there one step at a time. The clearer I can get about what I want for myself in terms of habits around food and thoughts around food, and the gentler with myself I can be as I move in that direction (little steps, little steps), the better I feel in the process of changing the way I think about food and my body.

I shared a Geneen Roth quote with a friend the other day and I think it fits well with this and ties it all together nicely, with the reminder to trust yourself instead:

“When you believe without knowing you believe that you are damaged at your core, you also believe that you need to hide that damage for anyone to love you. You walk around ashamed of being yourself. You try hard to make up for the way you look, walk, feel. Decisions are agonizing because if you, the person who makes the decision, is damaged, then how can you trust what you decide? You doubt your own impulses so you become masterful at looking outside yourself for comfort. You become an expert at finding experts and programs, at striving and trying hard and then harder to change yourself, but this process only reaffirms what you already believe about yourself — that your needs and choices cannot be trusted, and left to your own devices you are out of control.”

trust

Where do you feel jealous of other people’s metabolisms/eating?
What is it about the way that they eat that is so appealing to you?
What is standing between you and the kind of relationship with food that you want?
What do you want your eating habits to look like?
How do you want to feel about your body?
What is a healthy relationship with food?

“strong is the new skinny” revisited

I’ve blogged before about how I think “strong is the new skinny” has replaced one (unrealistic for many people) ideal—skinny–with a new one—strong—and how this isn’t really a solution for changing the way women think about their bodies. Especially if we assume that “strong” involves looking like the magazine covers and women who tell us that this is the new way to shape our bodies, going into a gym and trying to make our bodies look strong and match that new ideal is not so different from going into the gym and trying to make them look thin and toned.

Or is it?

As time has gone on, I’ve started to wonder if the “strong is the new skinny” message might not be at least partially a win for women (and the men who admire them). I’ve come to realize that just like a personal training client who comes in wanting to lose weight but then starts to fall in love with exercising and eating real food because of the way it makes them feel, women who start off trying to build a strong-looking body will (hopefully) end up in a situation where they can amaze themselves with their bodies and can build physical strength–both big wins I’ve had in my march towards loving my own body. Whether or not they are lean and mean and look like the images of strength that are typically associated with the motto, women getting stronger is, in my opinion, a good thing.

I’d be lying if I said that part of what drew me to CrossFit way back (prebok days) when wasn’t hoping that I would look a little more like one of those “strong” girls. In the process, I realized that regardless of what happens with my body, there are successes and strengths that come from working out in a way that focuses more on what I can do than on how I look because of it—I’m not perfect, but I certainly have an appreciation for what I’m capable of that I didn’t have before. At the risk of missing out on an opportunity to get into a kind of working out that just might leave women feeling like badasses and leave them physically and mentally stronger, I think we need to be careful not to dismiss “strong is the new skinny” as another way that someone is trying to trick us into driving ourselves batty chasing a new ideal. Maybe “strong” is a better ideal to go after because it can carry meaning beyond just an appearance or even beyond the physical—something skinny could never do. Am I strong enough to carry that weight? Am I mentally strong enough to talk myself into doing it? Am I strong enough to appreciate and maybe even love my body despite it’s cellulite, it’s flab, it’s whatever I think is “wrong” with it? 

Having strength as a goal, aesthetically and physically and mentally, has been empowering for me. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with my body or what I needed to get rid of (as was the case when I just wanted to be thinner), it’s been a great opportunity to think about what I want to create and cultivate. Even if many of us are working out because we want to look a certain way, I think that the pursuit of that “ideal” might as well have positive side effects. My experience of trying to look skinny was undoubtedly unhealthy; my experience of wanting to look strong has been quite the opposite. Aiming for something instead of trying to fix something is probably the most powerful switch I’ve made in terms of my own health–and while I might not think that all of the things that go along with “strong is the new skinny” are necessarily in line with that I think the switch to focusing on strength is all about, I hope the women who are in it for the aesthetic reason and end up frustrated at not looking like an Oxygen magazine model are strong enough to see that they still rock.

deadlift

What’s your take on “Strong is the new skinny”?
Do you work out mainly for aesthetic reasons?
What else do you get from working out? 

magazine covers: should they inspire, or should they just sell magazines?

To answer the question in the title of this post, I think magazines, ideally, can do both.

The reason behind this post is all of the hubbub that Camille Leblanc-Bazinet’s latest magazine cover, this one on the box, a CrossFit magazine, has caused.

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Camille has been on the cover of lots of magazines, CrossFit and more mainstream.

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Her popularity makes sense: she’s Canada’s sweetheart, she’s beautiful, and she won the CrossFit Games this year.

She’s also been photographed in some pretty racy ways (this is one from SweatRX).

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So, when people were getting angry on the interwebs about her bikini model-esque cover, I thought maybe there was a little overreacting going on. My reaction? I would rather see her doing something than just standing there. There was a lot of talk about the poor photoshopping that went on and plenty of outrage over the whole process, but maybe I’ve just come to accept that magazines will photoshop even the women I look at and think of as pictures of strength and fitness.

I haven’t read most of the posts out there, but I think what’s missing is a recognition that she posed for this photo. With that racy one from SweatRX in her portfolio, I don’t think it’s that much of a surprise that Camille is using her sexiness to sell herself. Girl power? Or playing into a bigger problem? That depends on how you think a magazine should sell itself. Camille’s mentioned before (in magazine articles) that CrossFit can help shift body image:

“Now that Leblanc-Bazinet is a pro in the weight room, she holds her head just as high. “If I gain two pounds but I can lift 100 more pounds on my bar, I’m like, ‘Hell yeah,'” she says. “I only want to be fitter, stronger, faster, and healthier, and that’s given me tons of confidence.”

Amen to that, I say.

A few months ago, Annie Thorisdottir was on the cover of Vogue. She was pictured in ways that are different from what we would typically see of CrossFit athletes in their element, but there wasn’t so much outrage (at least that I’m aware of).

annie vogue

Maybe the difference was the magazine? Do we expect our CrossFit magazines to resist the urge to sell magazines using sex appeal or making the athletes who grace their covers into cover models?

To me, this just reiterates a point about how we don’t want to just replace one ideal with another. There is something different than saying “strong is the new sexy” and then leaving “sexy” as this objectified, half naked person who is just standing there. The thing with the cover of Camille is: she is much more than that, and while she looks good standing there, she doesn’t have to just stand there. I love the women of CrossFit because of what they can do. I love that their bodies come in different shapes and sizes and degrees of ripped. I appreciate photos of them the most when they remind me that their bodies look that way thanks to their doing and that their bodies are capable of doing amazing things. I read the magazines because I appreciate a break from the typical “tone your tush by Tuesday” articles that fill up lots of general health and fitness magazines.

So the box, if you’re listening, I’m not mad that you did this “to” Camille (let’s hold her at least a little responsible, folks). But you should know: I like the photos of her in action a lot more. My boyfriend doesn’t seem to mind one or the other, but I think he’d like to see more of Lauren Fisher. We’ll both buy your magazine. I have an old photo from your magazine of Camille tacked to my vision board. She’s snatching, and I put it there because I am sure that some day soon my snatch is going to look just like hers.  

Those active photos are the ones I want to see. They’re the ones that make me want to go do CrossFit. They’re the ones that remind me that it’s okay to work out for something besides the pursuit of looking sexy. I like CrossFit magazines because they’re about the sport more often than they are about losing weight or looking a certain way. Reading Shape and Self, when I let myself get sucked into it (usually because there’s a recipe I want to eat somewhere in there or they’re talking about CrossFit or triathlon or something else I care about), leave me with the sense that exercise is really about changing the way my body looks. I think women especially are sick of, when it comes to fitness and health, seeing ourselves as objects or looking at our bodies as things to be “perfected,” whatever that ever-changing definition of “perfected” is. I like that CrossFit gives me a space where it’s a heck of a lot easier to get away from that obsession. Here’s hoping that this isn’t a trend. I, for one, think it’s pretty silly to put the fittest woman in the world in a bikini and ask her to stand there.

What do you think of the cover?
Do you do CrossFit? What for?

tosca

#storiesnotselfies: Women’s Empowerment Series and a weekend well spent

I’ve not been my regular blogging self lately for a variety of reasons, but I know when something is worth blogging about, and this weekend included one of those things. Besides overdue reunions with busy friends, bouldering (aka falling on my butt, my side, my ego), and a bike ride/the discovery that my frame is cracked (ERMAHGAWD! Time for a new one?!), I had the pleasure of being a part of the first installment of a Women’s Empowerment Series hosted by Hybrid (with lululemon!), the gym I work out at in London.

The series’ facebook description will give you an idea of what it’s all about:

WES is designed to inspire, guide & connect women across Canada, to create everlasting bonds and healthy relationships with health, fitness & self-worth.”

I think they’re off to a great start.

The first event, on Saturday, started off with a talk from Tommy Caldwell, who own the gym and who I think has a really insightful take on the fitness industry, what it can do to women, and health (start with this podcast!). Tommy used the half nekked (or more) selfies that fit women post on social media as a way to enter into a discussion about the ways in which pursuing “fitness” can turn into the pursuit of an ideal (that’s unrealistic) and external reinforcement to try to find a sense of self worth outside of ourselves. It’s not very often that you’ll hear someone in the fitness industry, who’s a male, admit this, but wow was it refreshing.

Next came a talk from Tosca Reno, the woman behind the Eat Clean Diet books and magazines. She was open and frank, as always (I heard her speak at CanFitPro and had the same sense of respect for her honesty), and talked about what she’s learned from years of being in the fitness industry. She even mentioned an article she wrote a few months ago that went viral, “The Pornographication of Fitness Needs to Stop:”

“Fitness magazines don’t help us get fit. Gazing at images of caricatured breasts, buttocks and biceps gives you the impression this is how a fit body should look, that every fit body needs to be shaped in the same vein. Fitness magazines use exactly these images to “inspire” women to look this way. Yet most of us can’t identify with what we are looking at because we don’t believe ordinary us could ever be them.”

Once Tosca’s talk finished, we went through a series of workout stations to learn the basics of how to move our bodies. It was a review for me, but I realized how proud I am of myself for taking care of myself already—and I had a moment of gratitude for the things that I can do (pushups, pull-ups, biking really far with a smile on my face) that I might take for granted in the process. The day ended with a chance to talk with Tosca and snap some photos and with delicious food, which was tied to Growing Chefs!, which is one of my favourite organizations around.

cover photo get sweaty

The message of the day that I took home was that we need to be talking about what makes us feel proud and gives us a sense of worth in the gym and outside of it instead of worrying so much about looking like a picture of “health” that isn’t even necessarily “healthy” (i.e. the magazine covers of women who have done insane things to their bodies to get there and then on top of it have been airbrushed). I think that’s certainly a message worth reiterating.

It struck me that this is about a heck of a lot more than our bodies. This sense of insecurity that so many of us seem to have—myself included—and the ways that we try to prove that we’re good enough shows up in my life far too often. Even if it’s manifesting in the endless pursuit of a hotter body, it’s a bigger issue than our thighs or our bellies or whatever it is we think is wrong with our bodies. I’ve said before that the troubled relationship I’ve had with my body has been a window into the troubled relationship I have with myself and I’m grateful that it made itself apparent with my eating disorder because it woke me up and made me realize that the way I treat myself needed some (ongoing) work. Getting thinner and thinner and in my mind, more ideal and more ideal, was never good enough for me because I never thought that I was good enough. Getting good grades was never enough so I joined all the clubs in the world. Having one job wasn’t enough so I ran myself ragged doing a million and one things. It all left me unfulfilled and with the same problem as before: I didn’t think I was good enough.

on your body

I’d be lying if I said I have it all together, but I’m certainly not giving up and I’m learning more and more that the way to fix this isn’t through weight loss or changing my body, through better grades or fancy degrees, etc. I know that surrounding myself with people like the ones I was with on the weekend—who encourage me and remind me to celebrate what’s worth being proud of and what’s strong in me—is one of the steps I’m taking in the right direction.

Take this post from a girl I already looked up to as an athlete and a coach at Hybrid:

The idea of #storiesnotselfies really resonated with me. I am 25 years old, working at an incredible gym surrounded by strong, confident people, I am one of the top 10 CrossFit athletes in Canada, YET I still tend to fall victim of this darn insecurity cycle that Tommy talked about. For me, I train (and always have) with the primary focus of being able to DO something (walk on my hands, lift weights, jump high), not with the focus of how I look. I have committed to and worked my butt off in all of my sports of my choice (Gymnastics, Cheerleading and now CrossFit), which has resulted in a more muscular physique, leaving me usually around 12-14% body fat. I feel confident in what I can do, with BIG goals athletically, but I still catch myself looking at these photos of fitness models and questioning my own appearance…. “How the heck does she always look so good?”, “My abs definitely do not look like that all the time”. 

At my current stage as an athlete, I am looking towards sponsorships and opportunities that will help me grow as an athlete and help me pursue my athletic goals… top 3 Canadian National Weightlifter (53kg) and eventually a CrossFit Games Athlete (individual or team). When sponsors talk to me, the first thing many ask is, “How many ‘followers’ do you have on social media?” I try to post photos and videos of me DOING something – training videos/photos, nutrition posts, etc, and yes I am slowly developing interest, but then I look at girls who post half naked photos of themselves (selfies GALORE) and the amount of attention they get is unreal. Not to say that those girls aren’t working their asses off too, but if I were to post sexualized photos of myself all of the time, I would certainly have a bigger following than I currently do.

Yesterday’s seminar was a good reminder of WHY I shouldn’t fall victim to that stupid cycle or post photos sexualizing myself to attract followers. I want young girls to look up to me and think, “When I grow up, I want to be strong and be able to do lots of pull ups and climb a rope and lift big weights.” NOT “I want to grow up and have the best six pack ever”. Yes, I have photos of me showing my stomach, but once again, that is the result of a lot of hard work and a result of focusing on getting strong, not on getting abs.

As Tommy said, make sure you’re getting fit and healthy for YOU, not for anyone else, and not for the sole purpose of looking a certain way. Set goals to DO something – get your first chip up, walk up a flight of stairs without getting out of breath, carry a heavy bag without needing to ask your husband for help – don’t set goals based just around your physical appearance. The appearance part will happen once you start pursuing your goals!”

jenn

The #storiesnotselfies idea is about this:

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Amen to that. My number one takeaway was to appreciate what my body can do and to focus on doing more and being proud of where it takes me–every step of the way. When you always want to improve, it’s important to take the time to appreciate how awesome things about yourself already are. I am proud of myself for coming as far as I’ve come and for rebuilding my strength and my health after my eating disorder. I have a photo with Tosca from when I was in the midst of my eating disorder. I remember being at the fitness conference, on antibiotics because I’d just had dental surgery, but refusing to slow down even though I couldn’t eat solid food. Four active sessions a day was a badge of honour. I’m smiling but I can remember being absolutely exhausted and worried that I hadn’t been working hard enough (probably because I had a gnarly infection in my gums that rendered the surgery useless after all):

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Today I recognize that if I’m in this industry because I want to promote health, being a crazed and obsessed exerciser is not something to be proud of. As a fitness instructor and a personal trainer, I know that I don’t want to pass that kind of judgement along and as a writer and blogger, I know that I want to stand for creating a different, more authentic representation of “health” that’s a heck of a lot more open to all the different forms that it can take. This leaves me smiling, proud of where my body is at, and a heck of a lot happier these days, even if it’s taken a lot of cries, journalling, and trips to the therapist to get here.

tosca

I encourage you to get involved with this movement — it’s just starting! I also encourage you to appreciate where you’re at a bit more today.

What makes you proud of your body and your self?
Were you at the event on Saturday? What was your favourite part? 

where are my girls at? Centurion Blue Mountain and women on bikes

This weekend, I made my way up to the Centurion at Blue Mountain and had one of the most challenging and breathtaking (in more ways than one) rides I’ve ever done.

blue mountain
This is a borrowed photo from last year’s event. Look at all ‘dem bikes!

Part of my pre-event routine involves worrying excessively and compulsively checking out how previous years’ participants have done. This past weekend, with my 100 mile ride on the horizon, I got curious about where I might end up amongst the people registered. Even though every year is different—courses change, wind and weather affects how quickly cyclists can make it through 100 miles, and there are undoubtedly different registrants each time around—it still helps me to go into an event with a bit of the lay of the land.

When I looked up the past couple years’ results, I loved seeing my friends names. I secretly hoped I could go faster than them. I noticed, in the C100 (the 100 mile or 173km to be exact option), that there were way more men than women. Props to me for signing up. I figured, naively, that there would be more women this year—women’s cycling is on the rise, right?!

I was wrong!

There were 35 women in yesterday’s ride mixed in amongst 378 men. So with more than 10x the guys, the moment I had when the people handing out the registrations seemed surprised that I was doing the 100 suddenly made sense: I might have been the only girl they’d seen in the longest option, handing out registrations from M to Q all day.

So where were all the girls?

…they certainly weren’t with me! I rode along with one woman for a while, and we ended up finishing within a minute of each other. When I looked at the results, I saw some other ladies’ names in the same ballpark as me. And I saw that I was the last of the women to finish, which might have been upsetting if I wasn’t so damn proud of myself for doing the ride despite being alone. Cycling with other people certainly makes the time go by faster and makes the prospect of riding 173km a lot more manageable—drafting, a pep talk here and there, someone to keep up with. But it turns out that the 6:47 minutes of riding time flew by, and the course was beautiful. The hills were challenging, but not scary. The descents were fast and fun—I saw >70km/h on my Garmin at one point—and the last one was absolutely gorgeous. I did meet a couple of nice people who I rode with for a little bit at a time, but doing this on my own made me realize how tough I am. If I can keep going for 6 and a half hours on a bike, what else can I do?

 proud

I would say that the Centurion was one of the hardest things I’ve done—mentally and physically. But while I had a moment on Saturday where I wondered what the heck I was getting myself into and thought that maybe I was crazy, I remembered all the time I spent on my bike this summer and told myself that these 100 miles were no different than any of the others. When I saw my tan lines in the shower on Saturday night and thought about all the Friday nights I went to bed early so I could dedicate my Saturday mornings (and afternoons, to be honest) to biking to God knows where, I knew that I just had an opportunity to put all that hard work and dedication to use.

Turns out last of the women still made me 2nd in my Age Category. I think maybe only the women who are kind of hardcore would sign up for C100, but I think there’s also other things going on. I couldn’t find the info on it, but I’ve seen in the past that Centurion events offer a Women’s RideSam blogged about it earlier this year, and I think the point she made is spot on: why is it 25km? The race was advertised as a fundraiser for breast cancer, which makes sense from a marketing perspective. Most races now have a charity element. I’d suggest checking out Pink Ribbons (or this chapter, specifically) for a critical consideration of these ever so popular cause-based races. While there are plenty of other issues on that front, from my perspective—thinking that it would be great if more women could feel the way I felt after accomplishing that physical feat—I don’t think women’s only events are the solution, especially if they reinforce that women can’t go as far or be as strong as men. Maybe we won’t cover the 173km in 4:39 like the winning man did yesterday, but a lady did it in 5:02. 25km offers a challenge to some, I’m sure, but why not call it a beginners’ event, or just a charity one? There are plenty of men who would be challenged right alongside women. And for the rest of the girls with bikes, there wouldn’t be this unspoken idea that we don’t belong in that big long race.

Like I said, it was a tough day! The fact that I’m not upset that I brought up the rear of the ladies is a testament to just how proud of myself I am for doing it. When I think about all those pedal strokes, all the hills, and all the Gatorade I took in, I am amazed at my body’s ability to get the job done. I think about how much hard work went into this and how much I’ve had to take care of myself to get to this point—especially coming from where I was so unhealthy and so tired all the time with my eating disorder—and I know there’s something to be said for finishing in the back of the pack, but with a smile on my face.

amazing

not good enough is great: managing my “bad” thinking

In the past, I’ve thought that one of my worst tendencies was to tell myself “I’m not good enough.” In a variety of forms, it’s that sentiment that often drives me crazy, pushes me to punish myself or to run myself ragged, or more often, just to break down and cry.

This weekend, I had what I will lovingly refer to as a pity party when I got to thinking that I’m not up to snuff. This time, it was over workouts and cycling, but this happens with school, with my career aspirations, with how I think I’m doing as a daughter, sister, girlfriend, friend, etc. As soon as the “I’m not good enough” spiral started, I needed the tissue box.

pity party

Luckily, I have a boyfriend whose exceptionally patient and gets just frustrated enough with my boo-hooing to remind me that it’s not all that productive, but will also let me figure it out for myself.

I realized that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to just tell that gremlin that says I’m not good enough to shut up or even trying to send it the opposite message. But then I got to thinking: what else can I do with that thought? Rather than making myself feel bad for not being good enough and then stacking up more guilt over having that “bad” thought, what if I did something productive with it instead?

Let’s take our bodies for instance. Perhaps we look in the mirror or try on a pair of pants that don’t fit how we want them to and feel defeated. Maybe we see someone with a body that we think is “better” than ours—looks healthier, bikes up a hill faster, lifts more weight, whatever—and we start to feel that familiar sense of “I’m not good enough.” We have options: we can cry and give up, or we can decide to use that sense of not measuring up to try to do a better job. Maybe we go out and train on the hills more, maybe we push ourselves harder in the gym, maybe we remember when we’re dipping into the chocolate that we want something different and something better for ourselves. Not feeling “good enough” doesn’t mean that our bodies aren’t “good” and that we can’t take pride in where we are. We can work on accepting ourselves where we are while we still strive forward.

When we have the feeling that we’re not good enough, we all have our tendencies. Mine is to cry for a while. Sometimes I give up, sometimes I get going. I think maybe the best use is to take it as a sign: I want to be better. Rather than assuming that it’s a mean message that we’re sending to ourselves, what if it’s actually coming from a place of love and worthiness? When it comes to our thoughts, they certainly shape our world–but it’s our reactions to them that determine what we do about them, and what we do about them is where the world-shaping happens. 

quotes-your-life-is-what_5523-0

Maybe “I’m not good enough” translates into “I can do better” or “I deserve more,” and then it’s easy to see how this “bad” thought I’m so used to making wrong is actually one of the things that keeps me reaching for better things for myself. Then, rather than another reason to beat myself up or one of my worst traits, this whole thought process is actually worth appreciating in myself. “I’m not good enough” can break us down, or it can keep us going. There’s a(n awesome) weightlifting coach at our gym who we attribute the quote “Just be better” to. I think that applies here. I’m going to choose, as much as I can, to turn my “I’m not good enough”s into the drive and determination that I know is in me, no tears required.

be better

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!
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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”?