For feminism or for health? Why the scale sucks either way…

Today, Tracy wrote a great post about her relationship with “weight loss.” As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think, wouldn’t it be easier if we just stopped weighing ourselves? She seems to be on the same wavelength as me a lot, and she touched on this at the end of the post. Personally, I’ve tossed out my scale in defiance of my obsession with it during the earliest stages of my recovery. But since then, I have found myself weighing myself again on and off. As of late, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not really benefitting from knowing the number—so the scale’s gone again.

I would like to think that there will be a time when I could weigh myself and not use it as a tool to drive myself crazy. I am not there right now. Even now, without the scale around for daily weighings, thesporadic ones get to me. When I’ve brought the scale back into my world—either via being weighed by someone else like a doctor, or a coach—it stirs up a lot of emotion. I can feel elated if I’m lighter, but at the same time beat myself up for feeling good about losing weight since I know that weight loss is not the be-all end-all, my habits are. I can feel like a failure if I’ve gained weight, which is coupled with a reminder that weight isn’t everything. Either way, I don’t step off the thing ever feeling any happier for having done it.don't step on it.

For so long, my own focus was on weight and losing weight at all costs. I’d, like many people, gotten weight and health linked up in a way that didn’t let me see when I crossed lines and compromised my health for the sake of weight loss. As my choices became more and more extreme, I was successful at weight loss—but at the expense of my health and my happiness. It was a step by step process down this slippery slope into my eating disorder. Eating less became undereating consistently. Exercising more became overexercising on the regular. Eating better became synonymous with eating things with less calories, fat, or carbs—whatever the villain of the day in my mind was.

I know from a health perspective: weight should be the outcome or the by-product, not the focus. It’s not always “right” or perhaps a better way of putting this is that it’s not always an accurate reflection of whether or not we’ve done the “right” things. I might have eaten whole foods from great sources in appropriate quantities and have done a great job of taking care of myself, but if I just drank a bottle of water and have not gone to the washroom yet, I’ll weigh more. Do I abandon my healthy habits because they’re not “working”?

It is easier to sell weight loss than it is to sell long-term health. “Build healthy self-care habits in 3 years” doesn’t seem like it would fit on a cover of Shape quite as well as the “10 days to a flat tummy” headlines that do. People use weight loss as a goal all the time and even as personal trainers and fitness instructors we encourage folks to set SMART goals with specifics in terms of how much weight they’ll lose. I think it’s more important to think about what we will actually need to DO. You don’t wake up and just lose weight by a conscious choice. You do wake up and every day decide that you’re going to work out, or that you’re going to eat vegetables with your lunch, or that you’re going to write in a diary instead of eating a pint of ice cream when you’re stressed. Maybe it’s the allure of wanting to lose 10 pounds and be done with it, whereas deciding to build a healthy relationship with food or healthy eating habits instead would require you to keep on working on that goal for the rest of your life (I think we forget that habits get easier the more we do them).

From a health perspective, I think getting rid of the scale is a good choice for me. That’s my choice. It doesn’t have a lot to do with my status as a feminist or not, which is what Tracy was sort of talking about in her post. But do we have to get rid of our scales if we want to be feminists? Do we also have to get rid of our hair-brushes and makeup? I really don’t know the answer to this or where to draw a line or if there is a line of what makes something feminist or not. If weighing yourself feels good to you, fine. It feels like crap to me. I wouldn’t argue that women should stop wearing makeup if it makes them feel good, perhaps I shouldn’t argue that women need to stop weighing themselves altogether or wanting to be skinny. I just know that there are other people out there who feel compelled to keep weighing themselves and keep pursuing weight loss, and I think the issue becomes when we feel like there isn’t the option to get off the hamster wheel.

Like I said, I don’t know what the answer is here. But I do think I think arguing about it only keeps us all focused on something trivial instead of on the issues that we can all agree on. Think of the progress we might make if we weren’t so busy beating each other up for being truly feminist or not. It’s like when you stop to think about what kind of energy women might have if they didn’t have to focus on their bodies so darn much, or if they didn’t have to focus on whether or not they should be focusing on them, or…you see where I’m going with this.

So for now, I’ll be staying away from the scale, and I’ll be encouraging anyone else who is feeling crazy over it to do the same. Just like I learned in my recovery, the scale is not an accurate reflection of who you are, or how you’re doing, or of your self worth.

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bodies: health for living vs. living for health

Bodies. We all have one, therefore we all have a relationship to the one that’s ours. Why is it that some people seem to get along with theirs while others are constantly battling theirs? Why is it that some people don’t mind that they hate their bodies while some people want to get to a place of body love?

I spend too much a lot of time thinking about my body and how it looks, or thinking about how I shouldn’t be thinking about it and how it looks. You get the picture. I know that I’m not alone here—from conversations about how many calories this friend is eating to how many workouts a week this friend is doing to the new program that this friend’s trying to the new body image book that this friend is recommending, at least in my circle of friends, there is plenty of concern with our bodies.

In my last post, I talked about wanting to make my health a priority, but shifting my perspective on it all. Physical health should be like a table leg, one thing that, along with others (emotional health, psychological health, etc.), supports me and my life. A full life requires health, but it isn’t simply being healthy. This is the difference between wanting to be healthy in order to live (health for living) vs. making our lives about being as healthy as possible (living for health).

In the past, I’ve been sucked into a world where health is the absolute be-all end-all. But isn’t health supposed to be what allows us to get out there and live? It’s like the spin class superstar who’s super fit but never takes it to the road; or the indoor rock climber who never touches a real rock; or the swimmer who never dives into the ocean. It’s sad, right? A waste? If we have a healthy body, we might as well use it to live a life.

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Some day, every single one of our bodies will just be done—we can’t get away from that. Lots of people are scared to get older. I don’t like to think about the fact that we are all headed to the same place and can’t avoid it, but when I do I remember that I’ve got a limited number of days to spend on this earth. No matter how much effort I put into preserving my body, the eventual end is going to come. So why waste all the effort and energy I have trying to stave off something that I’ll never be able to? Why not focus on how I want to feel at the end of the journey—on what I want to do, who I want to be, the kind of life I want to live? And not so much on the appearance of the body I do it in?

I think it’s normal for us to feel like we are at war with our bodies. We see “ideal” bodies all over the place, and we don’t match up. Then we see blogs like mine and articles and books and coaching programs to help us love our bodies. I think these things are valuable. But I don’t think that we need them forever. In healing from my eating disorder, it’s been absolutely essential to get back to a healthy place with my relationship with myself. But I’ve noted something along the way: my relationships with other people are pretty darn important and deserve my attention too. While I was busy hating myself, then learning to love myself, I let some of my friendships and family relationships suffer. We only have so much energy.

We worry about our bodies, and we worry about worrying about our bodies. We try to fix our bodies, and we try to fix our relationships with our bodies. Both of these things are seemingly in our control. Tackling something like the last 10lbs or our negative self-talk lets us feel like we are in the driver’s seat of a life that we live in what can be a pretty scary world.

We think that if we can fix our bodies, or the way we think about them, we might find happiness. Forever. But we live in a world where bad things will still happen. People will die. Friends will hurt us. We will lose our jobs. Stock markets will crash. Even if we have a six pack. Even if we embrace our cellulite. It’s a dangerous notion to think that we should be happy all the time. Brene Brown talks about embracing all the emotions that come with living and says that if we “numb the dark, we numb the light.” We try to avoid the “bad” emotions but we end up limiting our ability to feel all emotions—even the “good” ones. No matter how strong we make our bodies, we cannot protect ourselves from the “bad” in the world. It is a heck of a lot easier to tackle the fat on our thighs OR the thoughts we have about the fat on our thighs than to deal with things and feelings that really challenge us and come from things outside of our control. I think this keeps us locked into our body struggles. It might be uncomfortable to hate your body, but it’s comfortably uncomfortable and in your own control. It might be uncomfortable to project our stress onto our bodies; but it’s comfortably uncomfortable, predictable and arguably less challenging than addressing what’s really going on in our lives.

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There will always be a reason to dislike our bodies, and there will always be the option of fixating on the physical vessel we’ve got to live our lives. But there will also always be the opportunity to let it go and to focus on the lives we are living. I, for one, don’t want my being to be dedicated to the shell that I’ve been given to make a life with. Remember, at the end of this thing that we call life, what we want to be able to say about the way we lived. Our bodies have been given to us—they are a gift—we can make the most of them but remember that they were given to us to make the most of life. 

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CrossFit and body love: why I’m not so sure it’s that easy

As of late, I’ve been spending a lot of time working on my thesis. Part of what I’m doing is a media analysis of CrossFit, and I’m interested in gender and bodies and fitness and all those good things. If you’re into CrossFit and are into the whole social media / online community, you might be familiar with Tabata Times, which has a whole “Women’s Only” section dedicated to women’s concerns. In most of the articles, there is a common theme of loving and accepting our bodies that comes up. Many of them talk about how CrossFit, and focusing on performance, has helped them accept and appreciate their bodies—all good things.

I knew going into my thesis that it might be a challenge to focus on something that stirs up so many thoughts and hits close to home. Whether it’s triathlon or CrossFit or any other sport that helps me to think about what my body can do instead of how it looks while I’m doing it, I can certainly relate to the feelings of appreciation and gratitude that come from taking the focus off of looks and weight. But something that I’ve noticed with these articles celebrating body acceptance is that it’s a very specific kind of body acceptance—one that is still small, albeit muscular, and one that is still very concerned about being attractive. While I agree that strong can sure as hell be sexy for a woman, I don’t think that means that skinny has to be gross. Or that being sexy is what our approach to exercise should really be all about.

What would it be like to exercise for a reason that’s got nothing to do with how our bodies look? We have this grand idea that if we start CrossFit we’ll look like a CrossFitter, or that if we start running, we’ll look like a runner. But CrossFit boxes celebrate the fact that they’re filled with all shapes and sizes. And go to any marathon and watch the people crossing the finish line and you’ll see that there are finishers who occupy a range of body sizes and types.

I love the message that we can learn to love our bodies if we focus on what they can do. But I don’t love the way it leaves me feeling if I think, well hey, I did CrossFit, but I still want my thighs to be smaller, or, It’s okay for her to love her body because she weighs 66kg (arguably not “big” by any means)…so something must be wrong with me and I need to fix it: more CrossFit, more books about body image, more articles about how CrossFit saved someone from their body woes. I’m starting to see a bit of a lose-lose situation here: I feel required to have the “ideal” body and then since I know that “ideal” bodies are not attainable/sustainable, I feel drawn to these articles that make me feel like the problem is actually the way I look at my body. But then, since those “ideals” aren’t going anywhere (even if they’re shifting), I am back where I started—unable to accept my un-“ideal” body and feeling worse for not even being able to meet the standard of body love.

I love that stronger women are beautiful these days, but I hate that we are so concerned with what exercise does for how we look. I love that people are letting go of the obsession of running on the treadmill for hours on end, but I hate that people are replacing it with two-a-day CrossFit workouts. I love that people are realizing that they don’t have to eat like a bird to be “healthy,” but I hate that they think that they need to “go Paleo” or restrict themselves in equally as cray cray ways to do it instead. I love that we are no longer narrowly defining beauty as thin, but I hate that we are just replacing it with a (thin) woman with biceps and quads.

When I really feel my best, I don’t worry about what other people are doing. This is where I worry that given that some of this “confidence” that comes from having a “CrossFit body,” whatever that means, is at the expense of bringing down other people (or “the old me” that these articles often refer to who spent time running and dieting and trying to be skinny). What happens if CrossFit—and the body that goes along with it—is taken away from us? What if the kind of body love these articles talk about is just as elusive as the ideal body?

Maybe it’s just about acceptance, and maybe that acceptance is unconditional; whether you do CrossFit or not, whether you’re skinny or fat, whether you’re tall or short–you don’t “earn” a body that’s worthy of your own acceptance.

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I think it’s time to define the relationship that we want to have with our bodies, and then do our best to remember that even though other people will tell us how we ought to take care of ourselves, how we ought to think about our bodies, and how we ought to look, we’re just talking about the vessels that take us through our day-to-day lives. It’s not really how they look or anything about them that makes our lives meaningful. Don’t get me wrong, I intend to take care of my body so that I have a place to live for a long time, and a place that feels good to live in, but we can’t escape the fact that our bodies will do things that we don’t want them to do. We get older, our bodies deteriorate, we get wrinkles, we gain weight, we get stretch marks, we get sick. Our bodies aren’t meant to be perfect, and I don’t intend to waste all the energy I have trying to make mine so. We need to focus on our health, yes, but I would argue that our health is what allows us to live our lives, not the sole purpose of our lives.

keep the focus: weight, normal eating, and keeping health at the forefront of my goals

Hello from hibernation! My last post was about focusing on the journey towards our goals, and in the journey towards my goals, I’ve learned again and again that I need to focus on what I can control. As much as it’s tempting to think, achieve at all costs, I know that focusing on how I get to my goals–and making it a process that makes me better–is important. 

Part of my current journey involves (continuing to) work on my relationship with food and my body and how it all relates to health. This week, I was pointed towards Ellyn Satter by Jennifer, the dietitian at NutritionRx, when she shared Satter’s “Definition of Normal Eating.” This definition is printed and up on my bulletin board where I can see it when I need a reminder to pump the brakes with my perfectionism.

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Apologies for the language, but this one also serves as a reminder not to use food for crazy-making purposes.

 

When I was procrastinating perusing Satter’s website this morning, I found an article that really resonated with me. Given her mission of “helping adults and children be joyful and competent with eating,” it makes sense that she would provide a set of guidelines that made me think, huh, this is flexible but still makes health matter. She’s sensitive to the ways that weight is a by-product of making healthy choices, which means that we are responsible for making healthy choices but that we can take the pressure off of ourselves to lose weight at all costs. Here are some of Satter’s tips:

  • Eat well and joyfully, and trust your internal regulators to guide you in what andhow much to eat.
  • Move your body in a way that you enjoy and can sustain.
  • Let your body weigh what it will in response to your positive and consistent eating and activity.
  • Develop loyalty and respect for your body.
  • Stop postponing living until you get thin.”

Amen!

I know how to resist the media. I know that weight loss is not synonymous with health. But every day, I see people around me and on the news and in my social media sphere who are prioritizing weight loss in the name of health, often at the expense of their health. I try to do my best to remove the kind of updates that promote these kinds of perspectives from my world, or to remind myself that everyone’s journey is different and that it’s not up to me to decide what’s right for other people. But I do know what’s right for me, and I do want to—even if wanting to be smaller or wanting to be faster or wanting to feel lighter—always keep my health and what is in my control, my actions, as my priority.

I think that sharing messages like this that remind us to focus on shifting our actions towards ones that are health- and happiness-promoting instead of getting hyper-focused on the number on the scale or our body fat percentage or the tag in our jeans is important because it’s not heard enough. It’s not quite as sexy to talk about how we learned to eat more vegetables or drink a little more water as it is to go on and on about a detox or what we’re not eating this week, but in the long run, it’s the way that we relate to our bodies and take care of ourselves that will keep us happy and healthy.

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Are you working on any food goals right now?
What do you think of the “normal eating” guidelines?

finish lines are far and few between: staying motivated in the process

Yesterday, I was driving to the class I do on Tuesday and Thursday with my bicycle trainer, coach, and a really good looking group of people and I caught myself beating myself up for not doing more work. I’d had a good day — it started with a swim, then I had a dentist appointment, but I’d dilly-dallied and spent some time shopping for a Valentine’s Day gift addition (damn you Hallmark holidays!) before spending ~3 hours on my work. Then it sort of dawned on me: I have until the summer to finish this damn thing. And then I reminded the procrastinator in me: A far-off deadline for a huge task is not an excuse to put it off.

You can’t write a thesis in a day now, and I won’t be able to then. So what’s a classic procrastinator to do? Blog.  Learn to aim for progress comes to mind, as does learning a life lesson: in the grand scheme of things, most of our days will be spent working on things that we will finish in the future. It’s a good feeling to be “done” something–I am excited for the champagne I’ll be drinking when my thesis is complete–but we don’t finish big things all that often.

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So, I’m learning, the day to day can be a little mundane–or it can be something we consider success. This year, I am training for a half ironman (my first!), and while I am attracted to and pulled forward by the goal of crossing the finish line, the actual process of making that happen is far less sexy than the albeit sweaty and spandex clad vision I have in mind when I think about what I’m doing. Getting there requires hauling my bike around to ride my trainer with people who actually motivate me to work while I’m on the thing. It involves setting my alarm for 5am and jumping in the pool before my boyfriend has even started his snooze cycle. A particularly tedious part of it involves working on the way my body works to deal with a foot issue that seems to keep on coming back.

…but this is all part of the fun. There are plenty of clichés out there about enjoying the journey or about how our goals are not as important as who we become in the achieving of them. I buy both of them. I am learning and becoming the kind of person who doesn’t mind dragging their bike around the city in the name of better, more social workouts. I am developing the kind of dedication it takes to work on the not-so-sexy aspects of the sport (i.e. injury management/prevention). I am learning that I feel so much better sitting down to my desk when I’ve given myself a good morning workout to start the day.

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Now, it may be a bit cheesy, but I can only hope that these lessons and the way that I’m evolving as a person through all of this is spilling over into other aspects of my life. What am I learning about motivation? What about my reaction to “barriers” or obstacles on my way?

I think this stuff is important. We want to achieve great things—and that is great! I am all for the exciting feeling we get when we think about our bucket lists, complete with things that seem almost impossible. When it comes to goals though, I think most people want to achieve them ASAP. I don’t think I’m alone in loving less the messy, in-between part where we are working towards our goals than I do the sexy parts of setting them and achieving them. But one good workout doesn’t get us ready for a big race. A single day of healthy eating and exercising doesn’t translate into the brand new body of your dreams. As much as we want it to work differently, we get from A to Z by taking a bunch of little steps. We fall in love with people over the day-to-day, which isn’t romantic comedy material but is where we find ourselves becoming attached to those we love. We buy big things that we couldn’t possibly afford all at once, which requires us to be okay with being in the process.

Those little steps can seem mundane, but I would argue that when they’re attached to a bigger goal, they’re not so bad. I say let yourself get sucked into the allure of setting big goals, but don’t forget the part where you think about what you’re going to need to do to get you there. Start to give meaning to those little things that might otherwise seem like a chore or like run-of-the-mill things you just do, going through the motions. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go write another page on my thesis before I go do a training run for that half ironman I mentioned.

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Running, vaccines, and trust

If we let every (interpretation) of every article out there that shakes up what we think drive us crazy, we’ll always be thinking we are doing the wrong thing. I know that diet books are designed to sell something, but I like to think I can have faith in the good ‘ol scientific method. That being said, when it comes to health, there are so many factors that go into things, so many ways that people can take an abstract of an article out of context, and so many people competing to convince you that their way is the right way that I think we need to take things with a grain of salt.

This week, there was research in the news about vigorous running being bad for you—as bad as sitting on the couch, apparently—while moderate running was better. Some media just reported on it, others tried to sort it out for people. Naturally, Runner’s World was on the side where the research was flawed.

Every day I seem to see things about vaccines in the news or on my social media. I don’t usually say much, but I saw on the local news website that 20% of Ontarians believe that there’s some kind of link between autism and vaccinations. I don’t know where the stats come from—they didn’t ask my house!—but I do know that this is one of those things that matters—a lot. I guess I feel like if you choose to run vs. if you don’t choose to run is not as big of a deal as being involved in a resurgence of an entirely curable disease. I don’t get it—even the journal that originally published the research that put the link out there retracted it, and there’s no one that seems to be able to replicate the original research.

But we latch onto ideas that are sold to us—by the media, by “professionals,” by our parents. Look at the way the Paleo diet has taken off, or gluten free diets for the average joe, or the way that people used to avoid cholesterol because they thought it was the reason they had heart disease. I can see when I’m reading a diet book that there’s a vested interest in convincing me, but I think given the way that everyone seems to be marketing themselves nowadays (hello facebook page as a serious means for self-promotion), there are a lot more sources out there to be weary of. Right now, I’m trying to convince you to be on my side—for no monetary gain, but simply because I, like so many other bloggers, like it when people are on my side. I also like it when people talk about things, think about things differently, or learn something from what I write (bonus points if they comment about it).

It is one thing to keep running when a bad study tells you that it will kill you earlier—besides your family, you’re not hurting anyone—it is another not to vaccinate your kids because a retracted study started an unfortunate trend and you got sucked into it—you’re hurting other peoples’ kids. I think what we need is to step back and think about what we believe, why we believe it, and what that all means for us and for everyone else. This kind of issue gets at bigger things—who should be able to decide if we are required to vaccinate our kids? Are we the ones in charge of our health and our health decisions? What’s different because we live in a country where we all share the health care costs?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I do hope they make us think.

PS Here is one of the “lighter” responses to all this debate on facebook – “I’m an anti-breaker”

Recovery: 10 Truths I Wish I’d Known

It is Wednesday, which is usually a pretty boring day. But this Wednesday happens to be smack dab in the middle of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which deserves a little recognition. In the fashion of all the “10 thing I wish someone had told me before I…” articles that float around the interwebs, here are ten truths about recovery that I wish someone had mentioned to me back in the day:

  1. You will learn more about yourself than ever before. So many people go through their lives never questioning the way they think about or talk to themselves. Recovery will force you to think about these things and will expose those not-so-self-serving beliefs that your gremlin has convinced you to think. It will also give you the opportunity to reframe them.
  2. You will get angry. I have never been so mad at myself, at the people in my life, and at society in general as when I was going through recovery. Processing that anger is part of the journey.
  3. You will get sad. It is sad to think about the time, energy, and life we lost to an eating disorder. I will never get another chance to, for instance, go to my sister’s wedding and not throw up in the bathroom. But I will get the chance to live every day of my life from here on out without hurting myself, and the sadness I feel is a sign that I recognize that I deserve—and have always deserved—more self-love.
  4. People say that it will be hard, but it will be hard. Like crying your eyes out because you don’t think you can do it hard. Like your best friend is starting a sugar detox while you are trying to normalize your eating by having a bowl of ice cream tonight hard. Like someone close to you doesn’t get why you don’t just lose weight if you hate your body but you know it’s not about the weight Like getting rid of the cute clothes that only fit when you were doing things to your body that you never want to do again hard. Like every day needing to remind yourself about the reasons that you care enough to keep trucking along hard.
  5. It gets easier. Think of something you’ve learned that was extremely difficult at the beginning when you were just learning, but got easier and easier over time and now feels like second nature. I’m thinking of driving. Just like driving, if we’re used to a disordered relationship with food and our bodies, living a life where we take care of ourselves is a brand new thing. I wanted to lose weight since I was a little girl—of course it was going to feel foreign to start to focus on wanting to love myself and take care of myself. But just like learning to drive, we can learn new habits.
  6. You’re going to make mistakes. To go back to the driving analogy, the first night I got my license I scratched another car—no lie. Did I stop driving? Nope. The same goes for your recovery process. Binge the first night you have decided to start working with a dietitian to help you? You can dust it off and start again. A “relapse” is not a reason to give up—it’s an opportunity to see what went wrong and to learn from it so that you can do better from there on out. Curiosity and the ability to forgive yourself will go a long way.
  7. You are going to inspire others. If you tell your story, you will inspire people. I know that talking about my own eating disorder was scariest at first. I also know that I’ve touched people’s lives and helped them take steps in the right direction. That is a rewarding thing.
  8. You are going to doubt yourself. You will run into someone who seems more confident than you about something: that carbs are going to kill you, that you should never eat chocolate, whatever. And you will want to believe them. But…
  9. You are going to learn to trust yourself. In our world, there are people who literally live off of convincing you to hate your body. There are entire industries that capitalize on confusing people about what to eat. We need to limit our exposure to the kinds of things that try to convince us that we are wrong or broken and to throw us off of our healthy paths, but when we are forced to encounter them, there is only one thing to do: stand strong and stand up for yourself.
  10. It will also be the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done. At some point, you’re going to look back and see how far you’ve come. You’re going to realize that you are a whole different person with a whole different orientation to your life.  For me, that meant the shift from wanting to survive to wanting to live. That’s a pretty big deal and something absolutely to be proud of.

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Wherever you are on the beautiful journey that is recovery, I hope you stop and give yourself some credit. Looking back like I had the opportunity to do in writing this is such a good way to reaffirm what we are doing. If you are struggling, and not sure where to start, I encourage you to keep educating yourself–read a book, but also to reach out–to a dietitian, to a friend, to a therapist, to a counsellor, to a loved one, to a doctor. You are not alone, and you are worth recovery! 

control yourself: how to avoid needing a digital detox

I am a social media junkie and I love blogging, but I am also a bit of a hippie and I realize the power of shutting down and shutting off. A vacation where there ends up being no wi-fi, a day where you accidentally leave your cell phone uncharged and have 4% to make it through the day, and coffee shops without wi-fi are, in my opinion, gifts more so than ways to ruin a perfectly good, screen-filled day. I have noticed that there seems to be a lot of talk about the way our devices are hurting us. People, myself included, talk about how it can be stressful to be “always on” and how there are now very few jobs where you can simply work from 9 to 5 and leave things at an office. But I don’t think this is such a bad thing.

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What I see happening is a lot of people blaming technology for issues of their own control. As I see it, I can turn off my cell phone and shut down my computer. Sure, employers might require us to perform certain duties with our cell phones, but for most of us we can set boundaries for ourselves and spend a lot less time than we do on our devices without failing to do what’s required of us.

internet water joke

Digital detoxes are all the rage, but I felt particularly grateful for technology today when I was able to coach someone who is all the way on the other side of the world. According to google maps, it would take me 23 hours and 25 minutes to fly to her, but thanks to Skype, we could bridge the 13 hour time gap and get down to coaching business. That’s pretty cool, right? Yesterday, I got to message back and forth with my best friend in the whole wide world who is currently on the other side of that world as well—Saudi Arabia is a little far for me to show up for girl talk in person. When I got snowed in yesterday, I could still work on my thesis because I have digital copies of most of my references. Today I got sucked into some chores around the house and was feeling unproductive when I realized that I was being very productive—I listened to a great podcast and ended up in a much better mood as a result. Technology is doing me well!

But there is the constant temptation of going on facebook while I should be writing, or the way that sometimes I can let in-person friendships slide because I’m spending extra time on the interwebs. And there’s Cupcake Mania. I see kidlets playing with iPads all the time and I wonder what they’re going to be like if they never play with other kids. So I do see the side where technology is a time suck and ruining our lives.

But I believe that we are in charge of our lives and we don’t have to be slaves to anything—let alone to something that can be such a positive force! So before you swear off technology and start acting like a wi-fi signal will give you cancer, I have a few tips for how to handle technology in a way that maximizes its benefits and keeps it from running your life.

  1. Simplify your stuff. Don’t download podcasts that you don’t want to listen to. Turn off the subscriptions to endless newsletters and coupons. Delete the people who rub you the wrong way on your social media. You are the gatekeeper of what makes its way onto your phone, your inbox, and into your life—make a point of filling your technology with the things that you actually use and that make your life better.
  2. Use airplane mode. Or anything that limits the temptation for you but keeps you as reachable as you need to be. I can turn my phone on airplane mode and be fairly certain the world will not fall down—I don’t have a child, a dog, or a chinchilla depending on me so most things can wait an hour while I do productive things. There are settings that block disturbances and ones that only let certain people reach you. Use them! The simple requirement of turning off the airplane mode—and demonstrating that you have 0 self control—should be enough to keep you off of Boom Beach for long enough to do something worthwhile.
  3. Share what’s worth sharing. Some people criticize the way that others use facebook and other social media to highlight the good things and hide the not so good things. I think social media can be a great place to discuss the issues that are important to us, but I feel better when I use it for the most part to stay positive. When I think about what I want to put out into the world, two things come to mind: authenticity and positivity. I want to be an encourager, so I try my best to stay out of pointless debates on twitter and to share things that lift me up in the hopes of being a little bright spot on someone’s newsfeed.
  4. Beware of the nerd safari. Do you ever find yourself reading link after link or watching video after video and simply getting lost in things you don’t remember even being interested in? This is perhaps a good way to expose yourself to new things, but with all the information in the world available online and with all the pointless things that seem to be floating around, choose what you consume wisely. I try to check in with myself and see if what I’m reading or listening to would be worth paying for (here’s hoping you stick around for the rest of my post!).
  5. Keep your guilty pleasures as pleasures. We can get into a trap of overdoing just about anything and I think technology falls into the same category as food or alcohol or TV-watching or just about anything that is okay in moderation but that can ruin us if we overdo it. I love Cupcake Mania, and I appreciate the built-in self control that comes with only getting 5 lives in it at a time. If I played it all the time, I would be losing too much time to it for it to be a pleasure. Giving myself a break to play a pointless game once a day or so is sort of like letting yourself have dessert—it’s a treat that way. But just like eating cake for breakfast lunch and dinner would sort of make it lose its luster, so would matching up coloured cupcakes if I did it all the time.

Think of controlling your technology use as a great opportunity to develop and hone your self-control. Think of the sense of control you’ll have over your life if you are the one who runs the technology instead of letting it run you. I can guarantee that a digital detox—is a short-term solution. Technology is a fact of life and we are far better off to get to work building long-term habits that help us make it a positive part of our day-to-day existence. Good luck!

Self control? This guy's got lots of it!

Self control? This guy’s got lots of it!

Do you feel bogged down by technology?
How do you manage your tech?
Have you ever done a digital detox?

 

 

diet advice: think twice about who to trust

Yesterday, I shared an article that got me to thinking yesterday called “Opinion Stew”, which was by (medical doctor) David Katz and talked about the craziness that is the way in which we find our diet gurus and called for some common sense when it comes to deciding who to trust. The gist:

For now, anyone who shares opinions about nutrition or weight loudly and often enough — or cleverly enough — is embraced as an authority, with no one generally even asking what if any training they’ve had. This is compounded by the fact that, in the famous words of Bertrand Russell, “Fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.” It is the least substantiated, most uninformed opinions about how to eat that will come at you with the greatest conviction. That’s your first clue that something is awry, because true expertise always allows for doubt.

We have created a seething stew of opinion about everything to do with nutrition, including, presumably, stew. That leaves us with far too many cooks, many lacking credentials to be in the kitchen in the first place. I trust everyone knows what that means.”

 Some of my (facebook) friends shared the link and others commented in thought-provoking ways. I felt stressed out over thinking “I shouldn’t have shared this—I’ll certainly offend ____ [insert handful of names of people I know who dole out nutrition advice who are not dietitians and/or doctors].”

But if you read my post on why I think Paleo did me more harm than good from a few weeks ago, you’ll understand that I’ve personally been led astray by these not-so-credentialed gurus and books. I started to think maybe I would be better off not saying a darn thing about the way I feel about nutritionists vs. dietitians, but the shame I seem to be feeling about failing at the kinds of diets put out there by people who aren’t mainstream dietitians is something I’m probably not alone with. Even if some diet “works” for a 25 year old girl who is blessed with the ability to eat pretty much anything and still look “fit”—and is willing to talk about it on a podcast or blog about it or base a nutrition counselling practice off of it—that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy or that it’s the right choice for everyone. I’m a self-conscious person and sometimes I can think that because I don’t have a six pack or haven’t got the “perfect body” figured out I should just shut up. But ouch.

A couple years ago, I was en route to becoming a Registered Dietitian. I didn’t finish my degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, but I do have the (kind of crappy) orgo mark on my transcripts and the hairnet and lab coat I saved from spending a summer in Food Science to remind me that the kind of training dietitians go through is not something to be scoffed at. On top of the degree, there’s the internship, not to mention the competition those budding dietitians have to go through to earn one.

I also briefly considered taking a natural nutrition program or going through some program to become a health coach. But the warnings about those programs as “drive through degrees” or scams were enough to make me reconsider (I chose to take my Coactive Coaching instead because there are professors at Western who use it in their research, plain and simple, across a variety of issues—health and otherwise). I haven’t been through one of those “alternative” options, so I can’t speak on how hard or how easy they are. I have talked to people who have been through it and said that they don’t feel like they should be giving out advice, but then I’ve met plenty of people who do. I’ve also seen the way in which the lines of who to trust are blurry—recommending blogs and podcasts over even common sense.

And I’m mad at myself for believing the people who so confidently convinced me that everything I’d believed about nutrition was somehow wrong. But the writing is on the wall when it comes to my own story: I have been my healthiest and my happiest with my body when I’ve been working with a dietitian—not a nutritionist or someone who calls themselves an eating coach. Add to it that dietitians tend to have some experience working with people with eating disorders, and I know that I would rather spend my money paying someone who has dedicated a significant portion of their life to learning about nutrition and about how to help individuals and communities to be healthier than giving it to someone who decided to capitalize on their own success with a single diet. My biggest fear when it comes to the kind of alternative diet advice that more people will end up confused and doubting their own judgment and perhaps straying down the path of disordered eating. To pick on Paleo some more, let’s consider a nutritionist who has no formal training and then tells an individual to cut out a whole (foundational) food group. I don’t need to read the criteria of anorexia or the warning signs to know that cutting out a whole group of foods is a slippery slope. I don’t doubt that some of these nutritionists might recognize an eating disorder in their clients, but I also don’t doubt that some of these nutritionists have their own messed up relationships with food. I don’t doubt that some of them might have the guts to refer them to someone with training to help their client with their issues, but I also don’t doubt that there are some nutritionists who would just push those clients to try harder. I don’t doubt that there are some that would give up on their clients and blame them for not doing it right. I don’t doubt that there are people who are being led into disordered patterns of thoughts and behaviours around food because of the mass nutrition confusion that Katz talks about in the article I shared.

This is NOT to say that I don’t think people should talk about what they’re doing with eating and nutrition. Hearing about someone else’s experience with a diet or training program might be interesting (I read the posts that go along with the Human Health Experiment the owner of my gym is doing on himself). But I don’t think we should use that as a platform from which we can advise other people and charge money to advise them on how to take care of their own (very different) bodies.

So, that is a lot of words to come to the conclusion that I’m glad I shared that article. I want people to think twice before they share an article by someone who positions themselves as an expert—what are they really saying? I want people to think twice before they spend their money on any kind of diet or health or nutrition help or product. In short, I hope that the article—and my rambling on about it—makes you think.

Here’s the link again — “Opinion Stew” 

Did you read the article?
What’s your take on nutritionists vs. Dietitans and where to spend your moola?
Do you think there’s danger in the way things are right now?

home sweet home, with a few new reasons why i love having a cycling coach

fromthe ride

Yesterday, I returned to the icy coldness that is southwestern Ontario after spending a lovely week in the sunshine of Florida biking my butt off. I was travelling with a group of cyclists and Coach Chris. We stayed in a house of 6 and met up with one other man to ride as a group of 7 every day. I can’t describe how awesome it is to have cycling tan lines in January, even if the first two days were a shock to my legs (and my still recovering lungs).

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FYI, this January I rode more km than last March and April combined. Eeeeek!

I realized that I may not be the best coachee—I usually do a CrossFit workout on top of things here or take a rest day by accident there or go too hard when I should go easy or don’t go hard when I should be sprinting—but that I benefit a lot from having a coach. Here are six reasons why having a coach rocks that came to mind this week for me:

  1. They’ll take pictures of you on top of hills. Even if it means missing out on a hill repeat or two, they’ll make sure the world knows that you’re biking in the sun. We rode up Sugarloaf for hill repeats twice. While it doesn’t look too bad in a photo head on, it feels a lot like the hill I ride to outside of London (Old River Road), hills + outside riding + January (+ recent bronchitis for me) = humbling!
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  2. They’ll ride with you if you need it. I have slowed Coach Chris down on numerous occasions outside of London. Most of the time, I ride faster for being with people who are quicker than me and that is awesome. At camp this week, my cough and the little rollers were a bit too much for me and we took an easy day separate from the other riders to ride 50km instead of the planned 110. My ego raged a bit, of course, but I knew as soon as I started pedaling that my coach is a smart man!
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  3. They’ll handle the details. I don’t know how many years Coach Chris has been heading to Florida for this camp, but having someone to organize a camp who knows the rides, the airport, the grocery stores, etc. sure makes for an easy breezy trip!
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  4. They’ll introduce you to lovely people. I like meeting other people who take pride in their bike short tan lines and can laugh at a joke about chamois butter. There was one other lady on the trip this past week and she was a great roommate—and we’d met before at rides and races that I’ve gone to with Coach Chris and then decided to go on the camp together. Bike friends are perhaps the best friends!
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  5. They’ll help you with silly things, or hook you up with the people who can. Pumping your tires with a different pump too tricky? A coach will show you how. Having bike issues in the rebuilding process? The people they bring are givers: one of my co-riders this week lent me his spare wheels for the week—lifesaver! Cyclists are the best people—and helpful!

    Rebuilding, unbuilding...not my forte!

    Rebuilding, unbuilding…not my forte!

  6. They’ll reign you in and remind you of what’s important. I always want to go and try to prove myself. It’s part of an inferiority complex I have, and it usually means that I want to achieve my goals yesterday. With a coach, I have to keep a longer term goal in mind and I often get a dose of perspective about things like the fact that it’s January, or that I’ve just started to feel better following a gnarly cough, or that weight is not something worth obsessing over.

If you’re on the fence about hiring a coach, I would say to give it a go. There are tons of things that we waste money on, but I’ve never felt like the money I’ve spent on my coach has been for naught. I think part of the puzzle is finding someone who you want to listen to and who you trust with your training. I’m lucky that I have a fit with someone who lives in my city and who just so happens to plan really good camps—South Carolina is next in 7 weeks!

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More tan lines please!!

Do you have a coach?
Did I forget anything on the list?