Archive for January, 2015

So I saw this article on facebook, posted by the girls gone strong facebook page, and one reason I love following them! I love that they a promoting fitness and weight lifting for women but from a perspective that is more cognizant of the health messages around it.

This article is by Jen Sinkler about the “no excuses” photos of women with kids and 6-pack abs.

That’s the thing about both Pell and Kang: Both wholeheartedly appear to believe they are spreading positive messages. And I applaud them for demonstrating a commitment to their fitness in spite of busy lives. But the ripple effect of the many photos they post of their ripped abs—or, more to the point, their challenging, abrasive “no excuses” captions—is not as clear.

An increasing number of teen girls are steering clear of high school sports because Facebook and Instagram are making them feel body conscious, according to a 2014 study out of Flinders University in Australia. “A lot of the girls who were interviewed actually spend a fair bit of time on ‘fitspo’ [fitness inspiration] pages,” said Claire Drummond, Ph.D., associate professor of social health sciences, in a post about the study on the Flinders site. “The problem is a lot of these pages contain images of fitness models with six packs and skinny bodies that are completely unattainable to everyday young women.”

. . .

Our bodies are our own business, and truly empowering messages revolve around what we can learn to do with them rather than how we can shift and starve and shape them to look a certain way. If Kang and Pell want to truly motivate others, they would be better off dropping unwittingly combative, shame-inducing comparisons. When it comes to real inspiration, “Come with me” always trumps “Look at me.”

This has also reminded of a few other articles I read awhile back, and meant to blog about but didn’t get around to, about “fitspo”.

There have been a number of articles written asking the question “Is fitspo just as dangerous as thinspo?” (TW for… well, thinspo)

And, well, I feel like we should be asking why “fitness” is modeling terminology after something associated so strongly with eating disorders? Who thought that was a good message for promoting health?

And this article (5 reasons “fitspo” is bad for your health) states that “fitspo” started gaining popularity right around the time sites like instragram started banning thinspo/thinsporation. For many, “fitspo” is “thinspo” but hidden behind the guise of health to make it seem more ok.

It also brings to mind though the recent blog post from the blog Fit and Feminist: A Coach is Not a Therapist. One thing she talks about is seeing women who seem to be struggling with mental health issues including eating disorders recommended diets or hiring fitness coaches. There are people who turn to “fitness” and “fitspo” to support an eating disorder, and what is the fitness community doing, or should be doing, to help support real health (which means not supporting eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and the idea that happiness means a certain body size)?

I gotta say, I don’t know the answer. It brings to mind some photos I’ve seen on a fitness website that I said nothing about because I don’t want to say something negative about someone’s body and I don’t know how to express this concern without it coming across that way- but I have seen women post photos of their stomachs where every rib is visible and pushing out against their skin, and they comment how they just need to lose a few more pounds to get their abs to really pop.

I know the mantra- “abs are made in the kitchen”. (And my “excuse” for not having visible abs is primarily that I don’t want visible abs!) But come on! When I can see all your ribs that clearly, if your abs are not as defined as you think they should be, the problem is definitely not too much body fat.

And maybe one way to combat is to take over “fitspo” with messages that are actually healthy though? I don’t know.

I do know that I see people use “fitsporation” and “fitspo” for things that do not fall into the “thinspo with abs” category. There was another article on everydayfeminism  about the good, the bad, and they ugly of “fitspo”.

The term is out there. It exists. And people, including young girls, are following these hashtags. So maybe one of the best things would be trying to drown out the negative ways it’s used with images and sayings that actually promote fitness from a healthy perspective, and have a well-rounded focus on health that acknowledges that being healthy means more than just being fit and active, physical health includes so much more than that, and health overall includes our physical and mental health.

As a side not though, I came across a little unintentional body love in an ad that popped up on that women’s health article.

No thanks I already have a bikini bodyThis ad popped up offering me a 21-Day Bikini Body Plan. I am not interested, and I notice that the no thanks button is not simply “not thanks” or “not interested” but says “no thanks, I already have a bikini body”. And my first thought was actually “really, that’s the only reason you think I could not be interested?” And then I thought of this:

So I clicked “No thanks, I already have a bikini body” because- yup! 😛

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I read a comment online recently from someone saying they would not be as bothered by doctors “prescribing” lifestyle changes- diet or exercise changes, if they were actually done in a very specific way.

It got me thinking about some of the issues with these lifestyle prescriptions, and more specifically how we treat health.

Now, if you’ve read my blog before you know I’m not fan of measure the success of such lifestyle changes by weight loss, but I certainly think that diet and exercise have a tremendous impact on overall health.

The first problem I think this person did touch on- doctors are often vague about what it meas to eat better or exercise more, doctors don’t often get a lot of training on those topics, which also means that even if they are more specific they may not be basing those recommendations on any research demonstrating the effectiveness of that. If for example, there is research indicating exercise can help with condition X, we would need to know exactly what sort of exercise was shown to be effective- type, intensity, duration, and frequency. Otherwise what is implemented by the patient may not line up with what the research shows to be helpful at all.

An even bigger problem I think though, is the financial issue. A doctor can “prescribe” these changes, but for the most part insurance won’t pay for it. So if you have someone with condition X and research showing that 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a day is just as effective at reducing symptoms as the standard first line medication Y. But if the patient with condition X would be paying much more for a gym membership or exercise equipment than generic medication Y that insurance pays the majority of the cost of, that creates an incentive for the patient to just want to take medication Y.

I hear people complain that people are just lazy and want the easy solution- “just give me a pill”. But this completely ignores the structural influences. People don’t exist in vacuums. I think it is better to try lifestyle adjustments like diet or exercise changes that are shown to be effective before medications, cutting out a food allergen, or walking 30 minutes a day, typically has fewer side effects than pills. But for people to choose these over pills, we really need structural changes to how we approach healthcare. If our healthcare systems favor pills over lifestyle, then how can we expect that patients as a group will be different?

Confession: if I mention that I lift to you and you ask what I curl, I’m totally judging you.
Why is it some dudes think the only thing you can do with weights is curl them? Or maybe curl and bench.
Deadlift? What’s that?
Squat? Why?

It does seriously crack me up though. This topic always makes me think of a former friend who actually tried to argue with me that men never train legs. He went so far as to seriously argue with me that male bodybuilders don’t ever train legs, only upper body. Only girls squat or deadlift.

Sorry this still cracks me up when I’m reminded of it, so I just had to share.

Edit: Swapping out my original photo for this video, because it’s funny 🙂

So I was talking about a recent doctor appointment and got to thinking about this. And since more and more one of the things I seem to write in this blog about is dealing with chronic illness, I figured I would post about this here.

So I had an appointment with a new ear, nose, and throat Doctor (otolaryngologist) regarding my meniere’s disease. My old doctor left, thus new doctor.

We started the appointment with him saying that with as frequent as my vertigo attacks are I will need surgery, and later he starts commenting on how my migraines are not being properly controlled and my treatment for that is all wrong.

This was a little bit annoying to me because he was looking solely at current frequency for both and not at all change over time.

If all you look at is how often I experience vertigo or have migraines it sounds fairly bad, the thing is it actually used to be a lot worse. My migraines are vastly improved with my current medications. They may be very frequent still and on paper if that’s all you look at it looks pretty bad. Fun fact- talking to someone about this recently who commented on how amazing her medication has been at reducing migraines, and I was struck by how her pre-medication numbers were lower than mine on medications. Prior to taking the preventatives I do now, I had migraines more often than not. I have very frequent migraines. Which means even a significant decrease can mean my migraines are still frequent.

Which is why it’s necessary to look at my current migraines and compare to myself, not other people. Compare me on medication to that woman off medications and it would appear my medications are completely useless and not helping at all. Which is not true. Compare me before taking these meds to me now and you would see that they have actually resulted in a significant decrease in the frequency of my migraines and an even more significant decrease in the severity of my migraines. Frequency is important, but I’ll take 13 or more migraines a month that can be controlled with abortive medications over 5 migraines a month that no medication makes any impact on, personally.

Chronic Illness Cat: “Only Barely Limping Today. Gets Excited.” Limping at all would not be a good day for me, but I think this is a great example of how we need to compare against ourselves, not compare to others! If barely limping is a good day for you, celebrate only barely limping!

It reminds me of something a read awhile back talking about pain charts and whether or not they should be used as a more universal measure of pain- such that if people estimated their pain accurately a 5 on the pain scale would be the same amount of pain for all people, or a subjective measure- where it is based on one’s personal experiences with pain. It talked about using the scale for people who suffer chronic pain and basically suggesting that if you have chronic pain your bottom- the lowest pain for you- is higher than someone who doesn’t where the bottom is really no pain, and that it should be used in that context solely for comparing a person’s changes over time. So it isn’t so much relevant whether their pain is a 3, 5, or a 7, but whether it is increasing or decreasing from some other point in time.

I think that use would make sense if used that way, though in my experience hospitals and doctors in reality use it in the first sense. And I could easily go on for awhile about all the problems I have with those pain scales, but that’s not my point here.

But instead, it really is often important with chronic illnesses that we compare against ourselves and not other people, especially other people who are generally healthy. Comparing that way leads to nothing but frustration, anger, and depression IMO.

And it is hard to avoid sometimes. I constantly have times when I’m reminded of how different certain things are for me compared to people without chronic illnesses. And I get frustrated at the limitations it causes for me that they don’t have to deal with.

But at the end of the day I can’t control those things. If I compare my best days to what they could be without chronic illness it would just feel depressing and defeating. But if I use myself as the sole comparison, then me on my best days is still a win for me, and the more I can do to feel better as compared to myself, the better off I am.

And I think this is a problem that holds a lot of people back. We think “if X is never going to be possible for me, what’s the point at all?” Certainly I think this happens a lot with fitness goals. There may be certain aspects that a chronic illness or disability puts out of reach, and it’s easy to think “why bother at all?” rather than focusing on what one can do. One way that has happened for me, that I have talked a lot about, is on the consistency front. If I’m always going to get thrown off my plans and goals by illness over and over again, why bother? Well, obviously there are a lot of reasons to! And it helps a lot to focus on my own progress, measured against myself over time, rather than comparing me to someone else and their progress over time.

So despite the fact that I have a blog where I talk about fitness and lifting this is not even close to what I most identify myself by. Neither is being fat for that matter.
And the truth is it is weird to me when this seems so central to other people’s identities. But for the most part I feel that falls under “to each there own”. The one part of my blog title that I would say is very central to who I am is that I am a feminist. And who am I to say that me putting great emphasis on that aspect of myself is somehow more valid than someone placing great value on the fact that they liked lifting shit up and putting it down?
But I was thinking about this in the context of certain men who get on my nerves with how they talk about lifting. I’ve run across a few men who just make me want to scream at them “building muscle and having a low body fat percentage does not make up for a shitty personality!” It’s like the lifting version of nice guys I guess. These are men who complain about how despite their lifting and low body fat women dont want to date them, meanwhile they act like misogynistic assholes. And then inevitably some girl they like ends up dating some guy who “doesn’t even lift” and they whine about how could she be with him and not them because they lift!
Well, shockingly, for many folks, like myself, personality matters more than muscle when it comes to dating! Whether or not a girl lifts or works out at all really doesn’t have much impact in my interest in her. I mean cool if she does, cool of its something we could enjoy together, but if not that’s totally fine. Women I date don’t need to share all my interests. But what very much does matter is her personality, and in particular that she not be some woman hating asshole.
So how about instead of whining that women aren’t interested in you even though you lift heavy shit, you stop and consider that maybe she likes that dude who doesn’t even lift because he’s actually a decent person who doesn’t treat her like an object he’s entitled to for lifting heavy shit?

This is one of those things that is said all the time in fitness forums, articles, and books, and it usually makes me want to scream.

Usually it comes in the form of reassuring women that weight lifting will not make them “bulky”. But it can take other forms as well, and regardless of the reasoning it still annoys the hell out of me.

A lot of women who lift and want to build noticeable muscle do find this to be true. But not all women are the same.

The reasoning behind this is that women don’t have enough testosterone so building any muscle for us, all of us, takes a long more work and takes a lot longer. But fun fact, “hormone levels” aren’t actually exactly equal among all women. In fact, they can vary quite a lot from woman to woman. We are not actually all clones.

Sometimes I wish that I could see muscle growth more quickly, but overall I don’t usually feel like I have a very hard time building muscle. And never have. It’s always seemed like I could see more muscle growth more quickly than this well known fitness fact seems to imply I should.

I mentioned recently some changes I’ve seen with my body from weight lifting. Which is also what got me thinking about this topic today. Because according to many folks, what I notice is just not possible because I’m a woman.

Besides being fairly intimately familiar with what my body looks like and feels like, I take measurements semi-regularly, and noticed first awhile back that my arms (measured around my bicep) were getting surprisingly bigger (especially surprising given I don’t specifically train biceps) meanwhile my arms look and feel more ‘toned’, more recently my thighs have increased in size at the same time I can notice that my hamstrings look and feel much larger.

Which I’ve actually been told by random dudes (actually all men- which makes sense because clearly they are the experts on women)  even though they don’t know me, that this is just not possible. As a woman, I have not been lifting long enough to build enough muscle for me to have that significant muscle growth. Clearly I’m just getting fatter and lying to myself about it.

I don’t buy it. I don’t buy it because unlike them I know my body.

And to be clear, it’s not that I need to prove to anyone that I’m not getting fatter or that it would be any of their business if I were. That’s not what this is about. What this is about is that it’s really annoying to get excited about building muscle (because I get excited about that!) and being told that I obviously just don’t know my own body and can’t tell the difference between fat and muscle because women just can’t build muscle like that (source: everyone just knows that).

This whole idea that all women’s bodies work exactly the same such that we can make this universal claim that women don’t build muscle easily just needs to die already.

I’ve seen a few discussions lately on how things like cultivating a positive body image tend to require really retraining how you think.

And I was thinking of that today. I’ve been feeling rather negative about my appearance lately. And yet have had a number of positive comments on my appearance. Including a few people who have commented lately that they think I have a nice figure. And in my mind all I’m thinking is “how could you actually think that,  can’t you see how huge I am?” (Because yes, this is always a work in progress and sometimes I’m more happy and comfortable with my body than others.)

I’ve mentioned before I’m sure though how I have a number of full length mirrors in my house. And caught my reflection in one today and the first thing that came to mind was not all the things I dislike but actually that I do like my overall shape. I like my curves. I like the changes I see on my body from weight lifting. Recently the changes that are most noticeable to me are that hamstrings seem huge to me. Also I seem to have a lot more muscle in my lower back, and I have more shape in that area. I have more of a curve at the top of my ass than ever before in my life. (Now I just need to do more stuff that targets my upper back and get some more muscle up there!)

But it really got me thinking about how positive body image is an ongoing process with ups and downs, and how it is also work. How it really is an issue of retraining your mind to focus on positives over negatives. And it won’t happen overnight.

Which I hope is helpful if anyone reads this who is just starting on the path to loving their body, and feeling discouraged that they aren’t there yet. It does get better and easier with time, but it takes time, and it’s not linear, and I think all of us- even people who blog a lot about body love, are works in progress who have our own struggles and bad days, and that’s ok.

I’ve been extra sick recently. I think due to a combination of factors- first up I had a lack of sleep from finals followed by lack of sleep from holidays and then lack of sleep from a family vacation, which tends to make me more ill and also more susceptible to catching things, and I think I have caught some sort of virus, which is also combined with running out of my medications and not being able to get the refilled yet which causes me to feel crappy in a number of ways. Combine all of this together, I’m pretty miserable.

I’ve also been stressing about being sick because I was supposed to take a qualifying exam today and had to not due to being sick but I was really hoping to get better in time to take it, and if not stressed about it throwing off my plans and my timeline for stuff for school, and I already am not where I should be with so many other things i don’t need to be behind on exams as well- stress, stress, stress (which really doesn’t help the being ill thing).

Monday morning I did deadlifts. I got through the main working sets and to the assistance sets (5 sets of 10 reps at a lighter weight) and was just too sick to get them in. Which technically is “allowed” with the program, but I feel like I did nothing and was feeling crappy about it.

I haven’t tried lifting or running or much of anything sense then. Mostly actually I’ve been spending all my time in bed since then.

And then I feel bad about that. Because I didn’t get as much done over finals as I wanted, and then not  much over holidays, and now not much because of being so sick. And I feel like I’m just totally screwing this all up.

So I had to remind myself of what I’ve said before about this- everyone gets sick sometimes but having times when things get bad (whether it be partly catching something, or just a flare up of a chronic condition) is a more regular occurrence for me. It’s life, I have to work around it best I can. Also I know that lifting is no, cannot be, my top priority (I was just reminding myself not long ago that I’m allowed the time for it at all, that taking care of myself is a valid use of my time), sometimes other things in life will get in the way.

These things happen, and so me the important part is that I just keep moving forward. Maybe it’s at a slower pace than I want, maybe it’s a slower pace than others are at, but that doesn’t matter as much as the fact that I keep at it. So I can’t lift right now until I’m feeling a bit better. Ok. So I’m going to rest and when I feel I can do it safely I will be lifting again.

I’ve in the past let this get me down to where I feel “why even bother if I can’t stay on track?” But things going exactly as I plan or hope doesn’t really matter that much, and it’s not really a realistic goal. What is a realistic goal is doing as much as I can and keeping at it.

This started as a facebook status but  I decided I wanted to post this somewhere more public.

I get very, very, frustrated with how to explain what living with chronic illness is like to people who don’t have the same issues. Because I don’t know that it’s possible to really understand what it’s like if you never have to live it.

Sometimes I really wish that I had the ability to force other people to experience what I do- not just for a short period but for an extended period of time with no end in sight. Which sounds mean and probably is, but it’s just frustrating when people don’t understand what it’s like to live with chronic health issues.

Don’t think just because I’m going through my day I’m not in severe pain that would probably knock you on your ass. I work through it not because it’s nothing, but because I have to or else my whole life would be spent in bed doing nothing. How do you explain what it’s like when pain, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue are always there and not going away?

Yes, some days are worse that others and I can’t do anything but stay in bed and cry at how miserable I’m feeling. But a normal day that I work through for me would kick most people on their ass.

I’m fairly certain I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, the hardest part of this is that it isn’t going away. It’s not something I can spend a few days in bed resting and get over. It’s not something that happens on a rare occasion. It’s everyday.

Edit: please excuse the any errors I’ve still missed in this. Had a typo in the title originally that now remains in the url for the post. oops. I’m bad with typos and spelling errors even on a good day, but they get even worse when I’m in a lot of pain, as I was when writing this  post.