Unconditional Acceptance: Believing We’re “Enough”

I’m sick. Yesterday, the couch was my best friend. I alternated episodes of Girls with periods of writing where I felt like my fingers couldn’t keep up with the ideas coming out of my head. I’ll call that a win for my thesis, but I beat myself up yesterday: I feel like I was on top of the world on Wednesday — I wrote, I ran, I taught a spin class, and I did some yoga on my own — and a big ol’ failure on Thursday, confined to my couch.

This is the fourth time I’ve been under the weather and needing to take antibiotics in the past year. Everything has been minor, and for that I am grateful, but I’ve noticed that when I’m sick, I can get realllllly antsy about “not doing anything.” Whether that “anything” is the workout I was going to do, or writing a paper, or cleaning the toilets, or folding my laundry, or writing a blog…there’s something around not being productive that makes me feel like I’m not doing enough.

“Enough.”

When I got to thinking about this, I noticed a pattern. I used to drive myself crazy on my rest days, and while I’ve gotten a lot better at taking a darn break, I do still find myself having a lot of “fat” days on the days that I don’t work out. What the heck is going on? A rest day is a way to take care of our bodies—to give them the time to heal and come back stronger. I know that!

But I think along the way in my body acceptance journey, I’ve started placing more and more emphasis on being proud of what my body can do. And while I love and celebrate how amazingly capable our bodies are, I think I’m ready for another leg on my journey.

Right now, I feel entitled to a sort of conditional confidence when it comes to my body. The kind of acceptance that’s okay on the days where I might be chubby, but I ran 10km so I must be okay. Or when my clothes don’t fit, but I’m back squat more weight than ever. Or when I don’t like the way my body looks, but I’m training for a half ironman so I’m a boss.

That kind of confidence, with its conditions and requirements, is fleeting. The days when I’m on the couch because I got sidelined by a kidney infection, for instance, it’s nowhere to be found. What is? The gremlins. You know the ones. They say “you’re not good enough” and try to convince you that you’re worthless.

What am I realizing? That I don’t think that the solution to loving our bodies can lie solely in appreciating what they’re capable of. I think it needs to come down to unconditional acceptance. Without that kind of acceptance that doesn’t rely on what we do or don’t do, we’re doomed to questioning whether or not we’ve done enough to “deserve” to feel good about ourselves. Without a sense of worthiness and confidence that we retain regardless of where our back squat is at our what our 10km pace is, or how much muscle we have, we are doomed to keep on searching for more ways to prove that we’re good enough.

The pursuit of “enough” leaves us exhausted. Living from a place of “enough,” however, I think leaves us inspired.

One of my favourite life coaches out there is Christie Inge, because she talks about how we are all inherently worthy (she calls herself an “Inherent Worth Warrior”). I always hear her voice reminding me that I’m inherently worthy when I start to think about all this stuff. Brene Brown talks about worthiness too–and the way that people “hustle” for it, unsuccessfully. She’s got good news: “There are no prerequisites for worthiness.” Amen!

christie inge

So where did we learn that we’re not enough unless we prove it? I think it’s a combination of places. Maybe it was our families—something like getting rewarded for doing things “right” and being taught that we were bad if we did something wrong. But more importantly–and harder to see–we live in a world where people think they earn everything. Those abs? She must have earned them.

...I beg to differ.

…I beg to differ.

The grandest myth I can think of is that people who are successful are entirely responsible for it—I’m all for determining your destiny, but we’re born into conditions that are entirely outside of our control. In this context, we feel like our bodies, for instance, are direct representations of the “work” we put in, even though some people are born with six packs and others with thighs that will touch forever.

So in relation to our bodies, we assume that enough effort and work will give us those bodies we can feel proud of earning. But I know people who work their butts off and still don’t look like magazine models. It’s widespread and “normal” to feel like you don’t measure up, and people realize they’re pursuing something largely out of reach. But they don’t stop trying, or question what the feeling of not being good enough does to their lives.

This “not good enough” epidemic is convenient for the people who want to sell us the solutions to our issues. If our bodies are never good enough, never “healthy” enough, never beautiful enough—of course we’ll keep on top of our body projects, buying the diet books, paying the gurus, and trying to find worthiness outside of ourselves.

But, what if our worth didn’t depend on what we do? What if we were all born worthy? What if this journey of self-acceptance isn’t about proving to ourselves that we deserve our own love, but unlearning all the messages that told us otherwise?

Repeat after me:

  • I am enough.
  • I am good enough.
  • I am pretty enough.
  • I am healthy enough.
  • I am smart enough.
  • I am happy enough.
  • I am ______________ enough.

…unconditionally. Regardless of what I do or don’t do.

Living from a place of worthiness or enoughness doesn’t mean that we don’t take care of ourselves. It doesn’t mean that we can’t still read self-help books, or buy makeup.

As Geneen Roth, one of my favourite writers on self-acceptance and the journey towards loving and accepting your body and yourself says:

“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. … You are not a mistake. You are not a problem to be solved. But you won’t discover this until you are willing to stop banging your head against the wall of shaming and caging and fearing yourself.”

Living from a place of worthiness is about the acceptance we all wish we had. It is about waking up in the morning without feeling like we have to prove ourselves. It is about looking at ourselves as something besides a series of problems to be addressed, things to be fixed. It means freedom and a whole new way of being in the world.

Living from a place of worthiness is about loving ourselves unconditionally.

And from that place of knowing that we deserve love no matter what happens, we can live our lives not out of fear but out of desire.

Where does “not being good enough” hold you back?
What would you give up if you believed you already were good enough?

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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.

you-yourself-as-much-as-anybody-in-the-entire-universe-deserve-your-love-and-affection-38

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.

Throwback Thursday: thoughts on Paleo, balance, and finding what works

This post has been on my mind for a while. I am going to use “Throwback Thursday” as the excuse for posting it now, even though my thoughts are still a bit scattered and I’ve got some apprehension about sharing…

Paleo didn’t work for me.

Before I started CrossFit and found out what Paleo, or Eat By Design, or whatever you’d like to call it, was, my eating was pretty balanced. I ate mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, (mostly lean) meat, nuts and seeds, and sufficient froyo with a smile on my face, and I’d been at a stable weight for a while, though I still didn’t have my period on a regular basis. I had been through my eating disorder, done a stint of vegetarianism (mostly because I read Eating Animals and got sad), and was in a super high stress state, but I was back on track—even if my body hadn’t totally sprung back to (hormonal) health just yet. Up from my lowest weight of 114lbs, I weighed a comfy 138-142lbs and when I look back at pictures, I think I looked healthy and athletic.

My half marathon, before anyone told me cardio was "bad." I ran it in 1:47 minutes.

My first (and only) half marathon, before anyone told me cardio was “bad.” I ran it in 1:47 minutes.

So what happened?

The “for me” part in “Paleo didn’t work for me” is important. I didn’t really do it right, but I did what I think a lot of people do. I also think the way in which I failed at “doing it right” is indicative more of the diet not being good for me more so than of me not trying hard enough, even if I’ve spent plenty of months telling myself I should just try harder.

When my bookshelf was stocked with The Paleo Diet, Primal Blueprint, The Paleo Solution, The Paleo Diet for Athletes, Practical Paleo, and Everyday Paleo, things changed. I told myself it wasn’t a “diet” in the traditional sense and that I was after health, which was true but I was also hoping for a six pack along the way and I certainly was not ready to gain more weight.

So, I started to make changes. I replaced the chicken, turkey, fish, and beans I ate with more and more pork, sausages, steaks and ground beef. While I did do a good job and managed to track down some free range organic sources on occasion, the vast majority of this meat was just from the grocery store.

When I ate grains, they were definitely not whole grains any more. The Paleo diet says white rice is okay if you train hard enough, so I ate more of it, usually with plenty of coconut milk and sometimes butter on top (FYI, this is delicious). But I also had the mindset that if bread was bad for me, I might as well have the white stuff, so I said farewell to the whole grain options I used to buy. French fries were healthier than a hamburger bun, right? Potato chips better than whole wheat crackers? If grains—or carbs, in my thinking—are bad, who cares about choosing well?

When I went for treats, I was never satisfied with a just a little. Dark chocolate became something like a food group for me, especially the kind of dark chocolate that I could somehow combine with almond butter, cashew butter, macadamia nut butter, coconut butter, sunflower seed butter, etc….I ate all the butters. And real butter! With a health halo around it, I started to put more and more butter on the sweet—not white—potatoes I ate. Without bread as a vessel, I’d find myself spooning nut butters right from the jar into my mouth. It’s good for me, right?

paleo desserts

I started to take heavy cream in my coffee. Formerly one to add milk and maybe a sweetener or spoonful of sugar, I thoroughly enjoyed the taste of the 30% cream and the looks on the Starbucks baristas faces when I asked them for the whipping cream to add to my highly caffeinated long Americano order (which is also delicious).

Some mornings, I’d crave oatmeal so badly that I would try to fake it. I’d microwave some combination of eggs, a banana, and almond butter. I remember worrying that I was having too much sugar and one day when I “caved” and ate two bananas, I was sure I fired up my fat storage and was doomed for diabetes. I’d make granola out of nuts to go on top of this, because the old recipe I’d used also included those oats, gosh darn it. Oats might not contain gluten, but they were still grains and everyone Paleo knows gluten and oats were probably bedfellows in manufacturing.

There were other changes, but I think you get the picture. I’d gone from what was defined as “conventionally healthy” to an attempt at a fad diet that I still think can be a fine choice—if you put in the time and effort (and moola!) to get the food from good sources, like eating meat, and are on top of food prep—that totally messed with what was a balanced approach. You have to know that I have an addictive personality and that as smart as I like to think I am, I can be easily persuaded. I took things to an extreme, and I used excuses like “It’s gluten free!” or “If I’m going to “cheat,” I may as well go big.” I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I also changed my exercise habits. I started to question whether or not “cardio” was good for me. I traded my daily swimming, biking, and running workouts for more and more time with the barbell. I loved the way I could focus on getting stronger. I also read things that told me that cardio was making me fat.

I hated this photo, but I was at least having fun with CrossFit. This was at a fun competition our gym did.

I hated this photo, but I was at least having fun with CrossFit. This was at a fun competition our gym did in the thick of my CrossFit as the be-all end-all days.

But I love swimming, biking, and running.

I love oatmeal.

I love chickpeas.

I love not feeling like I need to have a huge hunk of meat with every meal.

…I gained almost 30lbs in the process of switching my exercise and eating habits. I can’t blame CrossFit or Paleo, and I should add that I added muscle.

As strong as I feel when I am lifting a really heavy barbell, I still crave the feeling I get from going for a super long bike ride. Last year, I experimented with doing both. In the process, I found my body shifting a little more and I lost some of that weight (5-10lbs, depending on the day of course). Stepping back into the world of long bike rides and runs and dips in the pool, I found myself remembering some of the common sense nutrition notions that I used to ascribe to.

Back on the bike this year. One of my first rides of the year, in Colorado!

Back on the bike this year. One of my first rides of the year, in Colorado!

While I can’t blame the Paleo diet or the ideas about exercise that came along with it or the books or the people who exposed me to them, I can take responsibility for myself and my health habits. Instead of feeling stuck, I can work on shifting my habits and thoughts back to a healthier place. Those beliefs I picked up about carbs and grains and exercise were built. As sticky as they might be—because nut butter is delicious and sausage is amazing—,they can also be replaced—because feeling light and healthy and good in my skin is another kind of amazing.

So, I’m in the process. Today, I am “back on grains.” I eat whole grains as much as I can—quinoa, oatmeal, and rice are my favourites. I like bread and cereal, so I eat them and choose the whole grain options because I don’t think they’re rife with anti-nutrients anymore. I eat lots of fruit and plenty of vegetables, and I have less room for the meat on my plate. I still overdo it on the nut butters, but I’m working on it.

wrong road

I’m writing this because I think there are other people who have dabbled in Paleo or have given up something they love that makes them feel healthy and happy in the name of something someone told them would be better. I know that it’s hard to shift back—there’s still times when I think “how the heck did I eat that many carbs?!”—but it helps me to remember that I was happier with my body when I was eating all the carbs, and wasn’t thinking about them as a villain.

I hope your Throwback Thursday isn’t as intense as this, but I also hope that you take the time to check in with yourself and ask, about your health habits, that question I mentioned earlier this week: how’s that working for you?

Have you ever gone down the “wrong” road and wanted to get back to the fork?
What have you learned from trying diets or exercise programs that don’t work for you?

“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.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 9.46.21 AM

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).

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 4.51.47 PM

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?

#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 … Continue reading

summing it up

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

Who am I and what’s my story?

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

Why a cross-continent bike tour?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

love your bod

Why Hope’s Garden?

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

How’s this all going to work?

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

The end.

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

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 9.41.51 PM

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

chamois butter

 

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

appreciating exercise (or why I’m ready to bike across the continent)

The other day, I was biking with a friend of mine and we got to talking about how training time—biking, running, swimming (she’s a triathlete friend)—gives us a way to destress. When she said something about how exercise has always been her way of keeping herself sane, happy, and healthy, I couldn’t agree more. There’s something about heading out for a bike ride or a run and getting to be outside, without your cell phone attached to you, with some space from the rest of what’s going on in your life, that’s oh so freeing.

More generally, I think exercise is a great way to destress. Letting it all out in the weight room. Processing thoughts in the pool. Thinking things over on a hike. These are all ways that exercise can give us that much needed break and time to just be in our bodies.

However, for a while, exercise was a source of stress in my life.

First: Am I doing enough? I should do more. This was the name of the game when I was really struggling with my relationship with my body and experiencing my eating disorder.

Then: Am I doing the right kind? I should do it all. Even through recovery, I’ve found that it can be a difficult balance to master: exercise is a place where I can learn what my body is capable of and where I have the opportunity to just experience it for what it does, not just for how it looks, but it’s also a loaded area where there are so many messages about what we “should” be doing.

But I’ve learned along the way that when it comes to deciding whether or not something is good for us, things aren’t always black or white. Going on a long run for one person might be about getting out and experiencing their body. For another, it might be about burning off a binge. We celebrate people who are dedicated to their recreational pursuits and sometimes we can go too far—for the average person who trains for health or just recreation, training through an injury probably isn’t necessary and seems counterproductive. It can be a slippery slope if you’re struggling with why you exercise—the compulsion is hard enough to kick, but add in acknowledgement from the world around us when we do come across as “hardcore” and things get even tougher.

That being said, I think it’s important to talk about how exercise, even for people who have struggled with compulsivity in the past, can be a part of taking care of your body. Our bodies are meant to move so learning a relationship with our bodies that allows us to exercise in life-affirming, health-building ways is essential. With so many messages about exercise as a way to control weight, it can be hard to flip the switch: exercise isn’t punishment or just about changing the way your body looks. The number of articles I’ve seen about quitting running because it’s not going to make you skinny just reinforce the idea that exercise is only about weight—it’s not. Running has other benefits—the mental ones I talked about at the start of this post, the other physical aspects that have no reflection in our body composition.

Exercising, in my opinion, is about using our bodies and keeping them moving in ways that feel good and that are enjoyable. It need not be complicated or intense. It shouldn’t come loaded with feelings of guilt and compulsion. It’s simple: exercise should make your life better—your physical, mental, emotional, and maybe even spiritual health (if you’re into that).

love your bod

If you’re a regular reader, maybe you’ve checked out my bucket list page. On it are some things that I’m making good on these days, namely biking across the continent. I didn’t really elaborate on my page, but ever since I wrote an article for Canadian Cycling Magazine in 2010 about a man who rode across the US and fundraised for brain and spinal cord regeneration research (he raised $26 052 to be exact), I’ve had biking across the continent in the name of eating disorders awareness on my long term to do list.

So, that’s why I’m uber excited to be planning this fundraising ride across the states. I’m sorting out the details now, with plans to donate the money that I raise to Hope’s Garden, the eating disorder resource centre in London that helped me so much. When I decided to ask for help with my eating disorder over five years ago, I used the Hope’s Garden website to find myself a therapist. I went to support groups throughout my recovery on campus and at Hope’s Garden itself. The Awareness breakfasts and special events that the centre offered kept me learning, committed, and passionate about my recovery. It seems only fitting that I do this in their name! My plan is America By Bike (the same company the man I interviewed used) and their “Fast America” tour in April of next year: 33 days, 3 457 miles, and a whole lot of awesome. I’ve been talking with Hope’s Garden (the woman in charge there makes me even more excited about all of this) about fundraising and setting up a donation page, looking for sponsors, and getting the word out about what I’m doing—and why I’m doing it.

cross country

If I hadn’t taken the time to think about what exercise means to me and to get my relationship sorted out with why I work out, I don’t know if biking for 33 days straight from one ocean to the other would be a healthy choice—my mindset of more is more is more in the past would certainly be raging. But I’ve earned back the right to bike my butt off by putting in the work and getting healthy. I had a good talk with my therapist (part of how I stay committed to myself and my health) about this. She (re)assured me that years ago, this wouldn’t have been a great idea. But given where I’m at now and what I know about exercise–I see it as a place to challenge our bodies and then to really appreciate just how much they’re really capable of–I know that this is one heck of an opportunity to focus on what my body’s capable of. It’s hard for me to think about how my thighs are looking in my biking clothes once I’m out the door and riding, and I trust more and more that the less I worry about how my body looks as a result of the exercise I do, the more I enjoy activity.

Like I said, I think it’s important to—and I’d like to serve as an example of someone who’s been able to—find a healthy relationship with working out that will keep us moving, happy, and healthy throughout our lives.

Stay tuned!

turn dreams

 

What kind of exercise helps you appreciate your body most?
What’s one item on your bucket list that you’re ready to make good on?

women’s cycling: a mystery to me

I call myself a cyclist. From teaching spin classes to training for century rides to jumping in the occasional race, I’m kind of into the sport.

One of my first summers of riding!

One of my first summers of riding!

That being said, there are a couple places I feel pretty darn clueless.

One of those places is when it comes to the sport itself. I know the Tour de France, folks. I know the Giro D’Italia. I know Clara Hughes. I know lululemon has a women’s team that I want to be on (#bhag).

But seriously, if a little girl who decided to take up cycling as her sport of choice asked me who she could look up to or what her pie in the sky goal might be, I wouldn’t know. I remember watching a video about women’s stage racing and then thinking that it’s silly that there isn’t a women’s Tour De France, although this news about La Course, which will run after the Tour this year is exciting and might be signalling change. I liked this article from The Independent which talked about women’s cycling (in Britain, specifically). It talks about making cycling more desirable to women via its image and encouraging them to take up the sport and why this is important:

“Sport should always look at how it can get involved at the grass-roots level, because only then can you say you’re useful to society. … Otherwise, riding around in circles is fairly pointless.”

I haven’t seen the documentary “Half the Road,” but the trailer and the website offer some insight into the issue around the lack of women’s pro cycling exposure.

On a similar note about increasing exposure and driving up women’s participation in the sport, I saw another story in the news last week that was encouraging: this press release about the British Cycling and the Football Association joining up to increase exposure to women’s sport.They’re talking about using bike riding as a social thing. Sounds good to me!

I wish that it wasn’t the case that we needed to talk about ways to up the exposure but in the meantime, I’m happy that the women’s side of the sport is going after–and getting–more attention. Seeing a pro lady riding a bike is one of those things that I think has a ton of potential. Most little girls learn to ride a bike–and cycling is one of the sports that I think could be within reach for them–if they knew it was an option. Without role models and examples of female athletes in the sport, we’re not raising a group of girls who know that it’s available to them. If we want to change the state of the sport, I think this is one of the biggest problems, which is why I think this news and these kinds of campaigns and partnerships are worthy of talking about. I see the benefits of increasing the exposure twofold: one, you’re helping to advance the women’s side of the sport; and, two, you’re helping to spur on mass participation. It’s not crazy to suggest that the average person go for a bike ride as a form of (easily accessible) exercise–and there are benefits beyond health that go along with more people cycling (consider if they took up exercise and commuting, for instance!)–male or female.

The world needs more cyclists!

nothing compares

 

What do you think? Do you follow women’s cycling?
Are you a cyclist? 

dr. seuss was right

I can’t believe that it’s day 22 of Molly’s challenge already. I am back onto loving her message for the day–love your body because it’s unique (and because you’re unique)! Maybe she had Dr. Seuss in mind when she wrote this one, because that’s sure what came to my mind:

today you are you

 

Molly’s post included a little bit about appreciating our bodies and not comparing to others’. This is a big thing for me. Even though I try to keep “Comparison is the thief of all joy” in my mind, I can still get caught in the comparison game: case in point, spending 20 minutes this morning (when I’m supposed to be reading, naturally) seeing where I stack up in the CrossFit Open (a competition I can honestly say I’m doing just for fun). Of course, there are 900 girls around here who are “fitter” than me by CrossFit Open standards, but if I left it at that I might be left feeling more mediocre than I should.

compare

Instead, it’s important that I step back and look at where I’m directing my energy and celebrating the ways that I’m “winning” in my broader pursuits–physical and otherwise. I’ve been teaching more spin and exercise classes lately, which leave me feeling rewarded and give me a sense of connection and leadership (things I love). I’ve been personal training clients again, which means I’m working on developing my practical, job-marketable-skills but also that even though at a gym more but don’t necessarily have as much time to get to CrossFit myself. I’ve decided to give cycling more attention this summer (there’s something I miss so much about being fit for something that allows me to get out and about and spend days with people riding around in the sun–or wind, rain, hail<–minor detail!). I guess what makes me unique here and what needs celebrating is my versatility and my passion for health and moving in ways that feel good. 

Not everyone can combine the things that I do and feel like they’re doing the right thing. Some people prefer to pour themselves into one thing–and that’s fine. What makes me unique is that–whether it’s exercise (I love CrossFit! I love yoga! I love cycling! I love trail running! I love triathlon! I love group fitness!) or work (I freelance write! I personal train! I teach fitness! I life coach! I’m in grad school!)–is that I like to have a lot of pieces in the puzzle.

I feel like I got a little bit off track with that, but I think the point of the challenge is to give yourself credit where maybe you used to make yourself wrong. I still on occasion think that I should settle down and dedicate myself to one thing entirely, but that doesn’t agree with what I love: being on the go, being connected in lots of ways, etc. For now, what makes me unique that’s worth celebrating is that I’m a Jill of all trades.

This seems fitting:

do more of what makes you happy

 

As does this:

 

What can you appreciate about your unique self? 
Where do you find yourself comparing when you should be celebrating?