Exercise


Body Love Wellness has a very revealing interview with a Biggest Loser finalist here (Part 2 here, and some additional thoughts on the interview here). I think it is awesome that Golda got the straight story on this.

Whether to diet is a very personal decision, but I think it is bad news bears to make it dramatic enough to be a reality show–the kind of slow, moderate weight loss that people seem to agree is “healthy” (not that I personally am even particularly convinced of that, of course) does not exactly make good TV. Even worse now that clueless workplaces have weight loss competitions loosely based on this concept (my complaint being that–even if you buy into weight loss as a positive–it should never be a straight “competition” based on the scale because, since different people lose at different rates, that all but guarantees people will do stuff that is risky or ill-advised. Adults can do what they like with their own bodies, but feeling coerced to participate in a weight loss competition is not cool).

Individual fat people may be unhealthy, and I’m sure some individuals have benefited from The Biggest Loser. Statistically it seems likely enough, I guess. But it is by no means a given that any particular fat person is so unhealthy that it justifies overexercising in 90-degree heat, purging, diuretics, and a caloric intake so low that it is likely to screw up your metabolism for life. These things are a bad idea on principle, and fat people are being used as guinea pigs in a way that is very irresponsible. I am far from the first to make this observation, but I suppose something actually beneficial, like a HAES show, would be far less popular because fatties would be empowered, not punished.

I understand what it is like to want this badly to be thin, but The Biggest Loser just preys on that desire and feeds into viewers’ beliefs about fat people (all for entertainment value–it’s not like this is an altruistic venture designed to benefit humanity) in a way that is very distasteful to me.

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Remember how I was praising Women’s Running magazine a while back for what I thought was its breath-of-fresh-air approach to body size and diet, and balanced, technical focus? As we all know, most women’s magazines (and other magazines and web sites, let’s be honest, especially if they are fitness-related… I had to de-fan Cool Running on Facebook because 90% of what they posted was inane diet tips… too bad, since they have some great training plans and other information when they are not catering to the lowest common denominator) focus way too much on dieting, fashion, and beauty, and every other topic is covered so superficially that you might as well just read those self-published “informational” “articles” that seem to clog up my every Google search these days.

Well, so I asked for a subscription for Christmas. The complimentary copy I picked up at the Detroit Free Press Marathon expo was thin and boring, but I hoped they were maybe just having an off month. But 3 or 4 months after my mom ordered the gift subscription for me, I finally received my first issue, and I fear that instead my first impression was just plain wrong. There are 5 cover blurbs, and 3 of them are:

  • Run Your Way to Lasting Weight Loss! (this is of course the first and largest item)
  • 16 Flirty & Fun Running Skirts and Dresses
  • Build a Strong Core (whatever the content of the actual piece, including this type of thing on the cover is lady code for “get a flat sexy tummy!” in my experience)

Hmm.

Inside we find the following:

1) A roundup of races that “entertain you on and off the course,” including the SkirtChaser 5k. The copy says “Women runners tease their male competitors in athletic skirts as they get a friendly three-minute head start.” Post-race entertainment includes a “sexy DriLex fashion show.” I have heard of this race series before, and EWWWWW. How about I run a “race” where I deliberately position myself so men can ogle my ass, then reinforce imagery of a group of guys chasing down women in “tantalizing” clothing. Granted the existence of this creepy event is not the magazine’s fault.

2) A whole article entitled “Secrets to Healthy Hair” (???)

3) The promised weight-loss article, which features a hypothyroid woman who lost 130 lbs. from a starting weight (during pregnancy, though) of 260. Her endocrinologist “advised her that because her metabolism was so sluggish, she would need to double what other people do to lose weight.” As a result, she started walking for 2 HOURS every morning PLUS 1 hour every night, and now runs 8-10 miles per day with strength training 3 times a week. Her meal plan is listed as “oatmeal with ground flaxseed, walnuts, and blueberries” for breakfast, “turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomato, onion and mustard on sprouted whole-grain bread” for lunch, yogurt for a snack, “lean protein like chicken or fish, vegetables, and a salad” for dinner, and a “special indulgence” of ICED COFFEE. People, iced coffee does not contain any calories.

My rough calculations put this daily menu at about 1150 calories (and that’s assuming she eats regular yogurt and full-fat salad dressing, which I doubt). Now, I realize we all eat different amounts, and the diet of many readers here may resemble this description. I don’t judge individual food choices. But once you publish something like this in a magazine article, it becomes less of a personal choice and more of a “recommendation,” and I hope we can agree that this level of intake is not, on average, reasonable or adequate for many sedentary people, let alone someone this active. Mainly this irritates me because it seems that her endo may be a candidate for First, Do No Harm–I have no idea what they tried in terms of medication, but telling someone they will just have to suck it up and do twice as much as everyone else, case closed, is never a good sign as far as I am concerned. The folks here do not, by and large, care for endos, and although I am sure there are many great ones out there, this is another data point on the negative side of the ledger AFAIC.

4) An article with some yummy-looking recipes, but with an intro that states “Women runners seem to have a natural aversion to the C word [carbs]. For many of us, consuming the usual carbs (think pasta and potatoes) seems like a bad idea when trying to lose weight and eat better.” Leaving aside that the article is written by a man, so what’s with the chummy “just us girls” tone, why are “we” assumed to be trying to lose weight at all times? Aren’t we mainly just trying to become better runners? I can get as much of this crap as I want from Good Housekeeping or Cosmo, so I fail to see why I should pay for a running magazine that feels similar in content.

To be fair, there is some good stuff in there too, including a sprint triathlon training plan for beginners, an article on vegetarianism that does not promote weight loss, a list of top trail running destinations that includes Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (woo hoo!), and a heart-rate-based training plan that I actually want to study further… it looks similar to the low-heart-rate plans I am aware of, but with some additional interesting information. But on the whole I was disappointed. I’ll keep reading the new issues as they come in, of course, but I can’t in good conscience renew my subscription if there is going to be this much weight-loss dreck.

The size and somewhat amateurish feel of the magazine tells me that it may not be doing that well anyway, so perhaps I will not have to make that choice. If my beloved Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion can go under (they filled out my subscription with Martha Stewart Living, which I have no specific issue (ha!) with, but it’s no MEHC) then I guess I won’t shed as much of a tear for Women’s Running should it suffer the same fate.

On that note, time to head out for a run! I have a race in 3 weeks that I am not as prepared for as I’d like to be.

I just read Kate’s entry on diet and fitness guru Bob Greene’s recent claim (pulled from his ass or at the very least not established fact, as you can see from the information she cites) that yo-yo dieting is actually healthier than maintaining a higher weight. I was thinking about how we are willing to accept the statements of “experts” unquestioningly, and how we are so desperate to believe that permanent weight loss is within reach that we are all too willing to uncritically believe comments like Greene’s, or casual, unsupported claims that lots and lots of people are permanently successful at dieting, which I seem to hear a lot.

As I thought about this, I recalled that I was watching this asinine talk show called The Doctors yesterday, because I was stuck at the car dealership for what turned out to be nearly 4 hours. I had already taken a long walk, so I couldn’t think of anything to do other than sit in the customer lounge and watch questionable midday talk programming. This particular episode behaved much like an infomercial involving that one trainer from The Biggest Loser, and was hosted by a dude in scrubs who appeared to be about 20. (Yes, I know he’s really not. I did do a cursory check of the show’s web site, and the guy is an actual doctor. But he kind of reminds me of either a stereotypical frat boy or Devon from Chuck, except NOT so awesome from what I can tell.)

So anyway, the episode included a segment where they browbeat “Chunky B,” an employee of the show (who admitted to a poor diet, lack of exercise, and not seeing a doctor in 20 years, which, OK, is maybe not such a good idea, but I can understand how it might happen), into agreeing to go on a diet. And because no such dramatic change is complete without public fatty-shaming, they weighed him and checked his body fat percentage, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose right there on the stage, then made him exercise with the trainer lady to demonstrate how unfit he was.

(Incidentally, I had to laugh when she had him stop exercising and measure his pulse. It was 155, and she said with great alarm “that’s way too high!” First of all, the upper end of my recommended heart rate range during exercise is around 160, so 155 does not seem “call the ambulance” bad to me. Second, I realize I’m kind of unusual and most people have lower resting and active heart rates, but I have been running for a few years now and was a regular gymgoer before that, currently log 20-25 miles a week including running for 90 minutes straight the last couple of Fridays, and I have to consciously work to keep my heart rate down near 155 during my runs! I don’t doubt it would be right up there if someone had me start doing all kinds of crazy strenuous stuff–the point of which on the show was probably “look at the clumsy, out of shape, pathetic fatty!”–without warming up. What if the guy had been thin? Somehow I think she’d have found a way to explain away that “way too high” heart rate.)

Anyway, the results were as follows: body fat percentage, 29; blood pressure, 170/100; cholesterol, 189; LDL, 40; and blood glucose, I can’t remember, but it was quite low in relation to the reference range they showed onscreen. Host dude was unflatteringly deflated and surprised that the cholesterol result was OK (though he seemed happier about the borderline LDL number, no doubt because it better aligned with his worldview) and glucose low (by the way, weren’t these supposed to be fasting tests? Of course, maybe he did fast and they just didn’t mention it). Because we all know that every fat person in the world has clogged arteries and Type II diabetes. Also, I’m not a health professional, but I could envision that being publicly shamed for your weight on national television, in addition to possible miscuffing (this dude had huge tree trunk arms) might account for some of the scary BP number.

Or maybe not; maybe the guy really is at death’s door. The point is, they couldn’t know just by looking at him, and to me the segment just reinforced my and many other fat people’s experience with “experts” and with the medical profession–doctors presume to know that you’re unhealthy before they look at a single test result, and if you raise a legitimate concern–like miscuffing accounting for inflated blood pressure readings or possible hypothyroidism, or a concern that you have tried reasonable measures to lose weight and they don’t seem to be working, or a joint injury that is making exercise painful–their need to keep you from “making excuses” for your weight seems to trump their interest in actually looking into these factors and addressing them.

Of course, it is not a coincidence in my opinion that most doctors, dietitians, and personal trainers are naturally thin (fat people are told they’re unhealthy from Day One, are given no credibility for knowing what constitutes a healthy diet, and are not encouraged to excel at physical challenges and probably couldn’t get hired as a trainer in any case because they don’t look the part), so many seem pretty much unable to see that the relationship between diet, exercise, weight, and health can differ from their own experience. So maybe eating and exercising in a similar way to your doctor or Jillian Michaels will make you thin (especially if you used to be thin and happened to put on weight somewhere along the line). Maybe it will not make you thin, but will improve your health. Maybe that regimen would be actively unhealthy for you.

Perhaps most importantly, maybe the thin guy who is seen at the next appointment has habits that are just as (or more) unhealthy than yours, but your doctor doesn’t ask him about it or suggest changes to his diet or activity because he’s thin, so he must be healthy, right? (Or he simply asks “Are you eating a healthy diet and exercising? Still not smoking? Good for you!” whereas a fat person is grilled in detail about the number of calories she consumes and minutes of aerobic exercise per week that she performs, and more often than not is assumed to be lying about both.) At that point, your doctor’s assumptions have resulted in a disservice both to you AND to the thin guy.

I just think that suspending–even for a few moments–the snap judgment that convinces an “expert” that he or she knows everything about the state of my health just from 1) my appearance, and 2) the weight the nurse entered on the chart, would go a long way toward actually improving fat people’s health, rather than using them to make oneself feel superior or viewing them solely as reflections of statistics and stereotypes. And isn’t that the goal, if “The Doctors” in this case truly care about the well-being of their colleague and friend?

I received a promotional email from Title Nine today about their swimwear. So what’s wrong with this picture?

Title Nine swimwear email

I’m guessing even without my helpful editing, it wouldn’t have taken you too long to figure it out. Title Nine is pretty much the antithesis of “all shapes and sizes.” And I say this as an admirer of their company and as a customer (when I can afford it, usually at clearance, because their prices are pretty much insane). Of course, the only reason I could speak from that position of relative leverage in my response to them below is because I happen to fit into their clothes right now. How deliciously ironic (as the Robot Devil might say).

Anyway, here’s the email I sent:

I am writing to comment on the fact that your recent email advertising the 2009 swimwear collection was headed “Swimwear in all shapes & sizes.” This is laughable coming from T9, which is famous for a complete lack of diversity both in its product sizing and that of the models/athletes featured in its catalogs.

(Incidentally, those models–and I realize they are not “models” per se, but that’s how they function in the catalog–are also usually quite racially homogeneous, and other differences including age and disability are not addressed at all. I appreciate T9’s use of a more athletic, fit, active “look” in presentation of its products, but I would suggest that you are simply substituting another difficult-to-attain aesthetic for the usual super-thin catalog model, when the emphasis should be on function. I’m sure your customers come in a wide variety of sizes and even among the very fit and competitive, not all are a tan, weathered size 2 with 6-pack abs.)

Getting back to the issue at hand, I happen to fit into your swimwear, so the email subject line I mentioned does not affect me personally, but I know a number of active women who love the outdoors and participating in sports who simply throw your catalog in the trash without opening it, because the sizing range is even more restrictive than that of most women’s clothing lines (e.g. a large or XL often represents anywhere from a 10-14, and in my experience the sizing tends to run small even within that range), and there is not a single garment in the catalog that comes anywhere close to fitting them.

I love your quality and focus on women’s health, strength, and achievement, and I admire T9’s commitment to customer service and involvement with women and its community. I would, however, encourage you to blaze a trail by selling clothes that active larger women can wear and enjoy–and by that I mean a full selection of your regular and most popular items in the full range of colors for extended sizes, rather than the usual trajectory for plus size lines at major retailers (that is, halfheartedly offering one or two unattractive, dumpy selections in a limited color selection, followed by poor sales, a quick discontinuation of plus sizes and a bewildered claim that there must just not be a market for the stuff because nobody’s buying it).

Or if you can’t do that, then at least refrain from blatantly false claim that “all shapes and sizes” of women are represented by the narrow range of swimwear sizing offered by T9, when in reality even the average American woman is probably near the top of your swimwear size range. I know this one email subject line is just a few words and easy to overlook–in theory, as a woman who fits into your clothes, it would be fairly easy for me to overlook too. But for larger straight-sized and plus-sized women looking for high-quality sports attire that is pretty much nonexistent in their size range, the subject line demonstrates once again that in retailers’ eyes, they (and their clothing and equipment budget) are invisible, unimportant, and unwanted. Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

Feel free to lend your voice if you like using their email contact form. I don’t think they’re an evil company, and I do appreciate the fact that models in their catalog are allowed to have wrinkles and not be blonde, and their attempts to promote an aesthetic of strength, health, and accomplishment rather than simply that of decorative thinness, devoid of normal “flaws” and bodily variation, which is more like what you see in most women’s catalogs. I just think they’re a little clueless that not every female athlete or fitness enthusiast is as thin (not to mention as well-off, able-bodied, and–almost always–white) as their featured athlete/models. Of course, it amounts to pretty much the same thing from a customer’s standpoint, if the functional sports apparel you’re looking for literally does not exist in your size.

ETA: I received the following response today (4/1) from Title Nine customer service (as I said, I do think they are a good and service-oriented company). However, I’ve been receiving their catalog for years with no sign of an expanded size range yet, so who knows when or if they will ever actually start doing this.

Thanks for contacting us. Please know that we would love to be able to carry so much more as far as sizes and styles. We definitely don’t mean to exclude anyone and encourage women of all shapes and sized  to stay active and fit.  You might be surprised but we have quite a range of ladies her at title nine from size 0 to 16+, from petite to tall, and muscular to skinny.

We actually get a lot of requests from women of all shapes and sizes (including us here in the office) requesting that we carry a wider range of sizes including petite, plus, and tall. Unfortunately, we just don’t have the warehouse space right now to stock as much inventory as we’d like.  We’re hopeful that as we continue to grow as a company that we will be able to offer a wider range of sizes to accommodate the needs of more active women of all shapes and sizes.

I know everyone discussed this ages ago, but how about a reprise for those of us (OK, just me) who are several weeks late and several dollars short?

So, via Eat a Cheeseburger, I learned about desks at which workers walk throughout their workday in an effort to burn calories and improve their health.

My first concern is, I can understand in theory the appeal of getting in a workout at work since you have to be there for the better part of your waking hours anyway, but I wonder if the desk treadmills, used at the speeds they discuss in the article, would actually help anyone meet their fitness goals. Or, more specifically, whether these treadmills would do anything other than burn calories throughout the course of the workday. This is because the article said that the workers in the pilot study walked really slowly and this is what made it possible to safely type and walk at the same time (and I agree with this assessment–I can’t picture myself typing or concentrating on a conference call while walking 3 mph or faster, that’s for sure).

While I’m sure walking at sub-2.0-mph speeds is still somewhat good for your bones and lower body musculature (leaving aside the possibility of injury, see below), I question whether it really has any impact on cardiovascular fitness. You wouldn’t be elevating your heart rate at all so I personally wouldn’t see it as “exercise” (I can’t see it, for example, improving my 10K time, or the number of push-ups I can do, or the amount of time I can run without stopping, or my ability to bike up hills, or my flexibility for yoga–I mean I don’t personally do the latter two forms of exercise, but hypothetically)–just calorie-burning. And given that the only purpose of calorie-burning in a vacuum can be “to make fatties less fat”–a goal that I do not consider intrinsically valuable–I can’t support the spirit of the idea. Not to mention that you have to believe that most of the time, the workers are probably going to end up eating more to compensate unless they are actually on a calorie-restricted diet (don’t get me wrong, most workplaces are thrilled to encourage dieting, and in any case workers probably would be on diets just by virtue of living in the U.S. in 2008 and breathing air and having the ability to read newspaper headlines) so even this “benefit” might be moot.

So I hate the treadmill/desks for what they represent–a desperate hunt for ways to “fix” fatties and a pathological fear of obesity that I believe is blown way out of proportion. I also think that there is a not-insignificant potential for injury or at least strain with all the repetitive, constant footstrikes. And finally, I very much doubt that this is more than a passing fad; how long can you realistically expect people to keep this up? Most folks are not actually chained to a desk 8 hours a day and I can’t see firing up the treadmill when all you have returned to your desk for is to check email between meetings, or quickly eat your lunch, or grab your notes so you can go discuss them with a coworker.

However, there was a compelling argument in the article that walking while they worked actually helped workers concentrate more because they were occupying part of their brains with the simplistic task of putting one foot in front of the other, therefore making it easier to focus on the task at hand and screen out distractions. I imagine it to be sort of like how listening to your iPod at your desk can actually help your concentration. When I use my iPod at work, I envision the part of my brain that would normally be zipping around the office listening to my coworker clip her fingernails or my other coworker talking loudly on the phone to his wife or the microwave beeping or the muted sounds of the speakerphone from the conference room–that part of my brain instead seems to happily settle in to listen to music, and the rest is free to work on the task at hand. Were the treadmills to provide a similar benefit, I might actually be on board with them. I have a lot of trouble concentrating at work and anything that might help is worth a shot in my book. I can also imagine that the constant movement could improve circulation and mitigate some of the impacts of sitting still all day long, which might be another plus.

I suspect being on my tired, aching feet all day (after which I probably wouldn’t feel like running so that would be another big negative) might offset these possible advantages though. And wouldn’t you expect possible varicose veins and other maladies associated with jobs where employees stand or walk all day?

In the end, I guess I think this is just another idea that in a vacuum would not be inherently horrible. But given the baggage of morality issues associated with fat, the state of modern labor that makes it seem perfectly logical for workers to have to literally trudge to nowhere all day long instead of only figuratively doing so like they normally would (the resemblance to a hamster wheel noted by hope505 and Lindsay in the EAC comments is a little too striking), and the fact that I doubt too many actual health benefits would accrue from this practice, I have to say that my final verdict on the concept of cube treadmills is: mildly depressing.