Friday, 29 July 2011

#16: Let It Be

Kass Gibson's Easy Guide to Entering an Argument/Debate:

1. Is anything you say or do likely to change the other person's opinion/worldview?

Yes -> Proceed
No -> Shrug shoulders and leave

2. Is there anything the other person can say or do to change your opinion/worldview?

Yes -> Proceed
No -> Shrug shoulders and leave

Related content. How to deal with life:

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

#13: It's All Too Much

Weekly update: On being committed...

For the past two weeks, I've been more or less sitting around waiting (and usually sweating) for my research ethics feedback which arrived yesterday. Before I can begin my project, it must receive University ethics approval since it involves human subjects. I now need to make a few minor modifications and revisions before resubmitting it again, and hopefully if all goes well, I will be given the green light to proceed with my study by next week. My participants must self report being highly committed to exercise as well as consider exercise an important and valuable part of their lives. If this sounds like you, let me know!

In terms of running, I am now at 15 days of consecutive running in which time I've covered 253km (that's Toronto to Kingston!). With another 19k planned for this evening and more to come every day thereafter, I don't anticipate having another day off for some time as I am now using Mondays, which used to be a rest day, as a way to do some speed work on the track. Essentially this means:

Sun - Long run (30+k; 2.5+ hrs)
Mon - Speed (10-12k; ~1hr)
Tues – Easy/Recovery (20-24k; 1.5hr)
Wed - Longboat Workout: Tempo or Intervals (~20k; 1.5hr)
Thurs – Easy/Recovery (15-20k; 1.5hr)
Fri – Hills/Strength (10-15k; ~1hr)
Sat – Easy/Recovery (12-16k; 1.5hr)

Totals - ~115-140k; 10.5hrs

After the 10k race a few weeks back (a 35:56 PB!), I needed to get a long run in on Monday (28k) which was windy and wild to begin, featured a 15min hurricane in the middle and then ended with the standard hot and humid. Tuesday was easy and quite unexpectedly so was Wed, since we got off easy with a short interval workout due to the heat. Thursday was almost the hottest day ever in Toronto (it only reached 37.8! and missed the record of 38.3) and despite this, I managed to sneak in a 10k around 10pm which was still unbearable. Sunday featured the longest run of the training season thus far at 33k, which although technically was the first run of the present training week, it happened to cap off a 7 day period that amounted to 140km in total, which is almost the maximum I had hoped to attain during the entire cycle. This week (the 3rd of official marathon training) will be around 120k and so should the 4th week before having a 'down' week in which total mileage will decrease to about 100k. So far I am feeling pretty good in spite of the horrendously hot and humid week we had in Toronto last week (every day was 30+ degrees and felt like 40+!). I will definitely be looking forward to some cooler temperatures this week and next. I won't be racing again for a few weeks which might actually prove to be a necessary break since it seems like I was racing every other weekend which can be overwhelming at times. The next race is scheduled for August 14th (the Acura 10-miler (16k)) and then the Simcoe Shores Relay the weekend after (20/21 August) which I am really excited about.

Needless to say, I love running! There is little I look forward to more than my daily run and so even with 7 days of scheduled training, I am confident in saying that I fully enjoy what I am doing. I can see now that I (and others like me) must be quite unique in this capacity. Most people do not have the time to commit to this level of training and even more lack the dedication and motivation. Even I need to ask myself on occasion why it is I am doing this. I wish I could answer with "money, rewards, sponsorship, glory, fame, the Olympics!" but in the end I am only doing it for myself which I realize sounds a bit nutty. In fact, I'm not sure my body agrees with what I'm doing either as I occasionally feel out of sorts, fatigued, and at times like I'm 'breaking down.' However, I'm absolutely sure this is normal (isn’t it?!).

If there was ever a conflict of interest to address (an ethical consideration) in terms of my own research here at U of T, I would have to admit that my current project is essentially aimed at trying to understand my own personal behaviours and those like me, who are equally crazy in their commitment to exercise (which to me is not really exercise, but sport!). I certainly hope that my research will allow us to better understand the why and how some people can become so involved in (positive) health behaviours such as physical activity, exercise and sport, and also how these behaviours are maintained over time. Whereas the average Canadian probably hasn't run 10 consecutive or 100 accumulated kilometres in his/her lifetime, I do this on a daily and weekly basis! Whether this is inherently a positive and 'healthy' decision is also debatable. I will be the first to admit there are certainly times when my personal behaviours border on excessive, obsessive and compulsive. However, on the most part, running adds significant meaning and value to my life and causes very few (if any) problems and for this reason, I will never stop...

#12: I'm Looking Through You

Would you like lies with that?

So it seems McDonald's in their relentless pursuit of evil has decided to do some public relations and attempt to appear to be making a healthy initiative towards decreasing child obesity. How?! By adding apple slices and fruit to all 'Happy' Meals and removing a few fries. Great! So now let's all go to McDonald's and buy our children the new and improved happy meals while we celebrate our brilliant parenting with a super-sized Big Mac 'value' meal. I hope you can all see where I am going with this. By appearing to be offering healthier 'food' choices and options, especially to children who always want to go anyway, McDonald's has made it easier for parents to make the decision to go to McDonald's and thus more business for McD's. People were always going to go anyway, but now they can reduce their cognitive dissonance (knowing one option is right/preferable and yet choosing to the alternate) and guilt by convincing themselves they are making a 'healthy' choice. The only winner here is McDonald's! Does anyone actually believe that McDonald's has even the slightest bit of interest in you health or happiness?! Of course not; you'd have to be a complete idiot to think that! McDonald's and every fast food retailer like it, is interested in one simple thing: your money ($$$!) and also finding new and clever ways to collect it. I am not here to argue the nutritional value of any of McDonald's food items, since there is not point to this (there isn't any!), but rather to condone the not so subtle ways that McDonald's with it's multi-million (billion?) dollar marketing budget is able to blatantly convince (ie trick) people to eat their food day after day. The food is NOT cheap, it is NOT healthy, and it is NOT even real. Sure, it probably tastes very good; no argument there. My point is that you are giving your money and your approval to a corporation that couldn't care less about you or your families’ health and yet you believe them when they pretend to do so. McDonald's is making you think that you are making better health choices and so you sell your soul and give them your money and your business. Is eating at McDonald's a bad thing? No, I could never say that. But allowing them to 'buy' your business with effective yet devious marketing makes you the fool in this case. This is no different than their recent attempts to soften up their image by redesigning their restaurants with modern furniture and art (or so I've heard, having not stepped into a McD's in over 7 years), and their commercials and advertisements that make no mention of their food or products but rather play catchy music and have attractive models smile all the time. McDonald's is not going away any time soon, and honestly, I don't think it needs too. Okay, maybe I do; but it ain't happening. What needs to change is our ability to recognize when we are being manipulated and coerced into making unhealthy decisions yet being convinced otherwise. What they're selling; I'm not buying. I suggest you do the same!

In summary:

McDonald's offers new 'healthy' Happy Meals (which are neither healthy nor happy).
Parents don't feel so bad about taking their kids. They might even go more often!
McDonald's gets more money and customer approval.
Society loses...big time!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

#10: Paperback Writer

Writing is hard. And yet here I am thinking I can do it. Believe me, I can't! And I know this. But I'll keep at it and hope I learn something in the meantime. Today I thought I'd try my hand at what I'm calling 'creative' writing. Perhaps it should really be called what it really is: time wasting. Anyway, without further ado... my attempt at creative writing.

Recreational Runners: Why we do what we do.

Beep. Beep. Beep. The alarm goes off for the third time. This time I'm really getting up. The clock now reads 7:30. The room is pitch black. It's Sunday morning in early January and I can hear and almost feel the howling winds beyond the walls. I peer through the blinds and see the fresh 10cm of white snow that's collected since the night before. The sky is just beginning to brighten to what will be another gray overcast day. I manage to get myself out of bed and hit the 'brew' button on the coffee maker which I set the night before. I make it to the bathroom still half asleep and look in the mirror only to see a half-familiar figure staring back at me. A few minutes later I'm spreading a gob of peanut butter on a toasted whole-wheat bagel and eating a mostly rotten banana. Two cups of coffee later and I still feel no effect. I shiver involuntarily and try to ignore the goose bumps all over my body. It's now almost 8am and there are still 60 minutes before I'm set to leave. I've managed to fuel myself, wake up my body (mostly) and even get the bathroom business taken care of (you know what I mean). I sit in front of my small portable space heater to the point where it actually feels as if my skin were burning. I kill some time online and the first site I visit is of course the weather network. Minus 16; feels like minus 26. I guess it could be worse. I go through the laundry hamper and try to decide which already used articles of running gear are most suitable. The most necessary (ie the warmest ones) are also the ones that have seen the most miles this week without making it into the wash. I'm sure it will be too cold to notice. In a couple minutes I'm wearing multiple layers and am covered from head to toe. It's 8:45 so I slap on my Garmin GPS and head out the back door. I almost immediately reconsider. I am now fully awake and alert! My asics disappear in the fresh snow and my face instantly turns red from the combination of wind and cold. The 2 minutes it takes the Garmin to locate the satellites feels like 20. Finally I muster the motivation to move my legs and depart onto the empty streets of Toronto. There is no one to be seen or heard. Briefly I picture the vast number of unknown individuals who are still warm and snug in their peaceful slumber. Many of them might not even step foot outside all day; why would anyone want too?! The GPS sounds and I know I've just done the first kilometre of the day. How many more will there be? Was it 25(km) today? Or was it 28?! I try not to think about it. My body is already telling me that this is not what it wants to be doing. Aches and pains, soreness and stiffness...and this is just the beginning! I make it to the west-end Y(MCA) just before 9am and see a small but committed group of fellow Longboaters lingering inside around the entrance soaking up the heat. A brief smile crosses my face as I know I am not alone and somehow this makes it all feel a bit better. I look down to stop my watch: 10min down; only 2 more hours to go...

I'm lying wide awake staring up at the ceiling. I've been doing this for 30min. I glance over at the clock only to see that a mere 2 minutes have gone by since my last inquiry. The perpetual hum of the fan grows incessantly louder. I can feel the dampness of my sweaty skin as I try to be perfectly motionless but it doesn't make it better. The room is fully illuminated despite the blinds being drawn. The east facing windows eat up the early morning sun and somehow radiate its warmth exponentially. I roll over and switch off the alarm just as the first piercing beep begins. It's 6am, Sunday, on a mid-July morning. Calling for a high of 30 degrees but it always feels much more. It's already in the low 20's and the humidity rises by the minute. I jump out of bed and have an instinctive desire to intake fluids (rather than dispel them). I down a half-litre of cold water and even before I finish, I start dancing around trying not to give in from the overwhelming demand to empty my bursting bladder. I contemplate having a cold shower but don't seem to have the energy to do it. I'm exhausted in a way that I really can't explain. Not physically. Not really emotionally. Spiritually?! Naw, that can't be it! The whole house is already baking. I know it's probably cooler outside than it is in. I force-feed myself some bread and fruit; I have absolutely no appetite. I drink some more water until my stomach feels full. 6:30am. Still 90min before I need to be there. I refuse to put on any additional clothing until I absolutely must. I stand directly in from of the fan and get little relief from the warm air hitting my face; at least I'm not sweating any more. The internet says it's already 24 degrees but feels like 30. I try to imagine what 30 feels like. I start to reminisce about those cold March mornings with minus 10 or even 20. It must have felt better than this. I eagerly want to begin, only because it will then be over sooner. A few minutes before eight I lace up my shoes, throw on my shortest shorts and lightest tech-t-shirt and head out the door. How many days this year have I re-enacted this familiar routine already? From -30 to +30 degrees in 6 months! Why can't I recall the days in between? I start out at a snail's pace and already the beads of sweat begin to form. There isn't a cloud in the sky with means the sun is free to follow me unperturbed. I follow the same 2k route as always to the Y and this time see the odd individual, often making their way home after a long night out. I envy them for the shortest of seconds. I try and think how I will feel in an hour, in two...but can't seem to do it. Perhaps it's for the best. My brain must have laughed at the thought of doing 30k on a day like today; but now that I'm actually here doing it, it must be scrambling to find a way to survive. Surely we will get through it?! I arrive at the Y to find several others stretching outside. The looks on their faces tells it all. Are we really doing this? Is this actually going to happen? We silently and mutually confirm our own stupid insanity and by doing so also deny its presence. Surely we can't ALL be so crazy?! We cling to the belief that what we're doing is good for us, is "healthy," and makes us better. Secretly it is this irrational behaviour that allows us to claim some sort of self-righteous superiority over the masses who are currently sleeping comfortably in their air-conditioned accommodations. Whether we are running to get fitter, get faster, get slimmer or get slender, we are all running for the same feelings of self-satisfaction, social inclusion and simple serenity. And this is what makes it all worthwhile.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

#9: Carry That Weight

Childhood obesity and what we ought to do about...

Many of you will be familiar with an editorial that appeared in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and which quickly swept through local, national and international newspapers; twitter and on facebook and to which everyone seemed to voice a strong opinion. The piece suggested that perhaps children who are extremely obese (as indicated by being above the 99% percentile of the infamous these kids are huge!) should be subject to some form of state (government) intervention. Note: this does NOT mean they are taken from there families and placed in foster care. Those are extreme and rare situations. Rather, it means that Family Aid and Child Services would have the right to investigate, assess the home environment as being supportive and safe, probe for abuse or neglect, suggest reasonable interventions/solutions and if all else fails, consider removing children and placing them in temporary alternative care. Similar to children who fail to thrive and are underweight or malnourished, it is argued that these obese children are being over-nourished and overfed to the point where their health and well-being is being compromised (which quite frankly I agree with completely). Whether this constitutes child abuse is far from clear, but certainly it is far from optimal as (extreme) childhood obesity is associated with a multitude of physical (sleep apnea, respiratory/breathing difficulties, liver disease, diabetes and many more), emotional and social (bullying, social stigma, body image issues, depression) health problems.

Obese adults are one thing, and whether they are at fault for their condition based on individual choices or whether it is a result of the complex ‘obesogenic’ environment we currently live is heavily debated (Personally I contend that obesity is a social/collective epidemic, but essentially stems from poor individual choices). However, I find it extremely hard to place blame directly on children for their own obesity, and especially in cases where the parents are themselves obese. Clearly, these children are not being given the optimal healthy environments in which to develop and so perhaps there is a point where this does in fact constitute abuse. But how do we possibly draw a line? Does feeding a child McDonalds and donuts equate to abuse? Not really. Certainly no one would argue that offering a child cigarettes, alcohol or illicit drugs is abuse; yet providing food of questionable nutritional value is normalized and accepted. Perhaps this needs to change!

Taking children away from their parents may also create a number of equally traumatizing and negative outcomes which could prove more debilitating than the state of being obese, but this too is impossible to determine. Removing children from their homes and their parents would, again, likely be done only in the most extreme of cases when all alternative options have been exhausted. Uncovering the underlying 'causes' of a childs obesity will be essential for any sort of meaningful intervention. Certainly there are socioeconomic, race and gender considerations to contend with; but feeding a child hot dogs and ding-dongs because they cry when they don't get them is not a legitimate excuse.

So what are we to do?

We know that obese children are much more likely to turn into obese adults. We also know that obese children are far more likely to be from families with obese parents. With 2/3 of adults now classified as obese, is it any wonder that the next generation of children is already doomed to become like that of their parents and that those numbers are expected to rise? While treatment and management of obesity at the population level has largely failed; prevention must become our top priority! We must adopt and pass on healthy lifestyle behaviours to our next generations. Admittingly this is no easy task, especially because so few of our current generation have adopted those behaviours themselves. Perhaps it is time to take a stand. Having children is a freedom (and a right) we all possess (?!); but it is also an immense many are not capable of (this is a topic for another day). As a society, we must ensure that children are provided with every opportunity to thrive and develop, and are protected from all unnecessary harm. The burden of childhood obesity is definitely unnecessary harm, and thus I feel it is our duty to protect children from this, whether from themselves, from their parents or from the environment that promotes it. How we do this is far from clear? Government intervention and public health/education seems to me, the most feasible and immediate solution and so I will conclude by endorsing the position of the JAMA authors who suggest that state/government regulation and intervention are a promising area for the prevention and management of childhood obesity (in the most extreme cases).

Monday, 11 July 2011

#8: I Me Mine

The Essentials of Academia

Having just submitted my ethics proposal for consideration by the University of Toronto ethics board, I must now wait approximately four weeks before receiving feedback which also means I will have a great deal of time on my hands. Time to write blog entries and work on my written communication skills (a continual work in progress)! I figured I would write this brief entry which essentially outlines my interests in academia and why I feel they are important. So without further adieu, please read the following snapshot of my research interests.

Great sport begins where good health ends. - Bertold Brecht

What do you do and why is it important?

As mentioned previously, I am a graduate student (MSc.) at the University of Toronto in the Department of Exercise Sciences, which is separated into 3 distinct yet related disciplines: biophysical (physiology, biochemistry, neurobiology, etc.), behavioural (psychology) and socio-cultural. Although my background (BMSc.) is in the area of physiology and cell biology, my interests have evolved and now are primarily behavioural/psychological where I am interested in questions pertaining to why (or why not) people choose to be physically active/exercise; the role of physical activity for mental health and well-being; and the interventions which may increase physical activity. More specifically, I am interested in exploring "unhealthy" exercise behaviours in highly committed yet recreational and amateur exercisers. What I mean by "unhealthy" is exercise which could be described as obsessive, excessive, compulsive, addictive, abusive and/or pathological. There are numerous terms to describe this phenomenon but all share the fundamental feature of causing negative consequences or outcomes to both the physically active individual as well as those close to him/her. My goal/purpose is thus to describe what are the fundamental characteristics/features of unhealthy exercise behaviour; where and when it develops, in whom it develops, how, and ultimately why it develops. Some fundamental questions to consider might include:

What is a healthy commitment to exercise?
How does commitment initially develop and how is it maintained over time?
Is exercise a fundamentally healthy behaviour or is it capable of abuse?
At what point does exercise become maladaptive: excessive, obsessive, compulsive, addictive, etc.?
Does exercise addiction exist, and if so, what does it look like?
When does healthy commitment end and unhealthy behaviour begin?
And many more...

This research is important because physical activity and exercise are increasingly promoted and recommended as essential for good overall health and fitness (and rightly so!), yet the dangers of extreme exercise behaviours are often ignored or downplayed. Such dangers include physical problems such as overuse injuries, chronic pain, illness, burnout and overtraining syndrome; psychological/emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, guilt, low self-esteem, poor body image and underlying mental illness (such as eating, body image, affective and personality disorders); as well as social, financial, academic and work/career problems. Clearly, for a small minority of regular exercisers, their behaviours may become problematic and cause significant distress and dysfunction to physical, psychological and social health and well-being.

Implications of this and related research will be to inform public health policy on safe and effective physical activity recommendations, coaching and training practices, high-performance sport development programs and others. It will also be essential to convince healthcare practitioners (doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, personal trainers, fitness experts, sport psychologists, etc) to be aware and educated on the potential signs of unhealthy exercise behaviours so to detect and diagnose the problem and intervene when necessary. It will guide further research to explore the underlying mechanisms and reasons that elicit such unhealthy behaviour which will be essential for its treatment/management. Finally, it will be valuable to share this information with the exercising general public so that they and their loved ones may detect unhealthy exercise behaviours before they become a serious problem.

My research project/study will attempt to address these issues by probing highly committed individuals about their exercise behaviours and exploring both positive and negative aspects of exercise behaviour.

In future, I plan to post more information and research on unhealthy exercise behaviours but will leave it at this for now. If you have any questions, comments, thoughts or would like more info, please contact me at:


#7: Eight Days a Week

The Marathon: the ultimate running challenge.

Whether one is new to running or is a seasoned veteran; everyone knows that in the world of running races the marathon is king. I will freely admit that I fit in the former category having only been running consistently for about two years now. In those two years I have made some amazing strides and have set and accomplished dozens of goals only to set new ones with every subsequent success. Goals don't always pertain to time, but can also apply to placing, running new distances, or beating tough opponents. Running is a deeply personal thing and can mean a variety of things to each individual person. Running can mean health, fitness, socialization, pleasure, competition, escape, routine and so many more. For many, running is a constant challenge to push our bodies to its limits and then push it further. Running is about setting goals and achieving them.

So far I have enjoyed my short running 'career' all the while ensuring that the marathon did not enter my thoughts... but I can hold it off no longer. I am a racer; I love to race. I am competitive and the thrill of the race is a major drive for my running and training. I've run a handful of 10K's, a dozen or so half-marathons (21.1K), and a vast assortment of 5's, 15's, 30's and odd distances in between. Each race is an opportunity to set a specific goal and push yourself further than you have before and is the most anxiety-provoking yet exhilarating feeling one can experience. I have accepted and met many challenges along the way, but in any running career, there will come a time when one must face up to and accept the ultimate running challenge, and this of course is the marathon.

I used to think that running the marathon was a stupid idea that would take far too much time and commitment and increase the risk of injury and insanity; and in many ways I still do! But I am now ready to face this ultimate challenge and achieve this highest of goal if for no other reason that I am in great fitness and have the time and energy to commit to training. Yesterday, I departed on my 14 week journey to accomplish this goal, which I really prefer to call a task, since I am confident it can and will be done. I believe it will be one of the most challenging tasks I have ever attempted but may also be the most rewarding. It will and should not be easy. I am new and naive to this but am truly fortunate to have so many experienced mentors in my running club who will push and prepare me along the way. I am already in debt to the wisdom and experience guys like Rob, Roger, Michael and so many others have shared with me. I will be extremely fortunate to have a close friend and training partner, MD, who I can count on every step of the way and without him I know this would not be possible.

For those who don't already know, the marathon is a grueling 42.2km (26.2mile) race. I will take part in Canada's largest marathon event, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (STWM), which will take place on the morning of Sunday October 16th. To prepare for this, I will be running at least 6 days a week and sometimes 7. At times it will be necessary to run twice per day and some days more than 3 hours at a time. My mileage has been steady around 80K per week for the past two months or so but will start at 100K in week one of training and will gradually increase to a maximum of 140K (that's 20 per day!) at week 10 and then taper down until the race. In total, I can expect to run ~1560km in those 14 weeks which I estimate will total more than 110 hours of running!

While not wanting to set too exact of a time goal at this point, I will say that my recent race results suggest that I should reasonably expect to finish somewhere between 2:45 and 2:50, and obviously I'd prefer if it were closer to the lower value. It should be said however, that despite my success in the half and even at 30K, there are no guarantees for the marathon. Anything can happen in those last 10K once the body reaches the very sensitive point where glycogen levels are depleted (around 30-35K) and this can absolutely wreck a person (especially one as inexperienced as myself). As my first attempt at the distance, I will also likely race more conservatively in order to assure that I do in fact finish without taking too many unnecessary risks.

Many people run for many different reasons and at the end of the day, anyone who chooses to run is a runner; but we runners are not all the same. There is a huge difference between running a marathon and racing one. This difference is the same as the distinction between performing and participating; between competing and completing. I have no interest in completing a marathon; that is a task that can be done by almost anyone, anywhere. My intention is to perform and compete at the very best that I am capable of. It will not be easy, nor will it always be fun or enjoyable. Rather, it will often be painful, excruciating and exhausting, and will push my mind and body to its limits (but hopefully not to the breaking point).

Today is day two...
There are 97 more to go...
Will it all be worth it on October 16th!?
I shall see...

Monday, 4 July 2011

#5: Baby It's You

Today Dr. Arya Sharma wrote an interesting piece on his hugely popular (and highly recommended) blog: titled "Is Obesity a Worthy 'Cause'?" and essentially spelled out good reasons why obesity should probably deserve more financial, academic and public attention than it currently does and proposed a much different Canada where obesity was understood and acknowledged for the hugely complicated bio-psycho-social issue than it is. For those who aren't familiar with his work, Dr. Sharma is a leading worldwide expert on obesity management including it's cause, pathogenesis, treatment, prevention, everything! In a vastly simplified and generalized summary, Dr. Sharma suggests (rightly so) that obesity is a much more complicated issue than simply eating too much and exercising/moving too little and that currently our society continues to stigmatize and villianize obese individuals for their lack of self-control and poor behaviours. "It's their own fault" might be a appropriate summary statement of our current position on obesity.

I am not an obesity expert but I am passionate about the issue and have done more than my share of reading and reviewing of the relevant literature. Since following Dr. Sharma and like-minded individuals online and taking a more holistic approach to my understanding of the subject, I have come to agree in large part with many of the 'revolutionary' ideas surrounding the causes and treatment of obesity.

Do I believe that obesity is more complex than individuals simply choosing to eat too much and move too little? Of course I do!
Do I believe that obesity prevention and treatment initiatives and policy to this point have largely failed and that we require a new approach? Definitely!
Do I believe that blaming individuals for their poor lifestyle choices and behaviours is in any way effective? Certainly not!

But here comes the caveat. I also "believe" in basic physiological principles and that these are essentially equivalent in every person regardless of race, gender, SES, age, etc. All humans are not created equal but our bodies for the most part function almost identically. The whole "calories in, calories out" adage has garnered some pretty bad press recently to the point that it's almost taboo to even mention it anymore. We are smarter now; this simply isn't the case; it doesn't work that way! But is this really true?! I was taught long ago that energy can be neither created or destroyed; one of those thermodynamics laws which seemed pretty air-tight. I'll admit that I still believe it. I also believe that humans have the capacity to choose what they do with their time, energy, and money. At the end of the day, I choose what goes into my body and what physical activity I do. It's not always easy to make the right choices or act in the best way because we are so often inundated with false and misleading information, a sad reality I admit, but one that is not all-controlling. I have the power to choose; I have the power to be in control. Many people will disagree with me here since I have essentially, albeit indirectly, claimed the much hated argument that individuals are ultimately responsible for themselves and thus it could be logically be followed that they are at fault for their own problems...including their weight! Yes, I said it: people are ultimately making decisions that impact their health and well-being...including the "choice" to be obese. We may not all have equal, fair, and adequate access: it's not a level playing field if you will, but the game is not fixed and even if the odds are stacked against you, you can still play the best hand you've got and make the most of what you're given (okay, enough sport sayings).

Here's my points, in point form because I am now lazy of writing full, flowing sentences:

- If you find yourself overweight tomorrow morning, you shouldn't be surprised! You didn't get that way overnight nor will it go away the next day.
- With some (increasingly recent) exceptions; no one is born overweight. One becomes overweight and obese through a gradual process of consuming too much energy that is not adequately balanced by expenditure.
- That said, eating less and exercising more is not a viable solution for the treatment of obesity. It likely won't work and I agree that we should stop propagating the common myth that it will.
- Sadly, I must say that if you are currently overweight, your prognosis is likely very bleak. Once the body becomes overweight/obese, metabolically, it is perfectly happy to exist that way and so reversing the trend is immensely difficult. That's why I honestly believe that all our attention should currently be to prevention (especially among youth) and moved away from treatment (sorry!).
- For many people the world isn't fair! You might not be able to eat 2000 calories (per day) without gaining weight; while others might be able to eat twice that much and stay slim. This simply means that you are going to have to accept your fate and (dare I say it) eat less or move more.
- I should now mention that being slim/skinny/"normal" BMI is by no means an indicator of health and fitness (yes, BMI is tragically flawed)! I do believe in the whole "fit and fat" thing but also have a very hard time seeing obesity as healthy in any way. That said, the importance of physical activity becomes paramount. Achieving and maintaining good fitness (cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, body composition) is not easy to attain and even worse, it's something that will need to be done for the rest of your life (no easy fix here!) but it's definitely worth it!
- Being physically active at any weight is far better than the alternative. There are plenty of people out there with normal BMIs who are going to suffer from all the same diseases that people with obesity are blamed for (heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, etc.).
- Discrimination against the overweight and obese will not go away any time soon! Discrimination and stigma are terrible things and are in no way effective for creating change but they happen and will continue to do so. Should we work to decrease and eliminate them? Yes...but good luck with that! Obesity is in many cases repugnant; people are disgusted by it. This will not change.
- I also fear that the new fat-acceptance movement is truly flawed and problematic. Obesity is not healthy and should not be normalized. Is fat-acceptance any different from the pro-anorexia movement? Okay, bad example, but I hope you get the point. We shouldn't be promoting any behaviour, condition, ideology, etc. that is so obviously associated with poor health outcomes (MMA, boxing, contact sports...same thing!).
- Perhaps only when obesity directly causes/exacerbates poor health in those without the condition/symptom/disease (whatever!) will people start caring. Imagine if your/my/our healthy lifestyle was compromised because of the same (complex bio-psycho-social) factors that directly lead to obesity in others...would you not be
concerned? That's when we can expect change! When every single person regardless of weight is directly affected.
- Final point: Obesity is complicated but clearly not healthy. Can the obesity "epidemic" be fixed: probably not. We should probably focus more on prevention. Being obese is not really a choice but it's not out of one's control. "Genetics loads the gun but environment pulls the trigger." Don't wanna get shot? Get away from the firing range!

In conclusion, obesity is a major problem that is and will continue to affect us all to an increasing degree. Everything I've stated herein are simply my personal opinions and insights. I am young and naive and have come from a very specific (and largely privileged background) and thus am likely not accurate in many regards. Yet I am also a level-headed, intelligent, and educated individual who sees the world for what it is. Don't like what I've said or happen to disagree? I welcome your comments and feedback. It's equally important to acknowledge when you are wrong or out of place and I opening welcome these experiences on a daily basis.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

#4: Here, There, and Everywhere

Yesterday (Saturday 02 July) I ran the Pride and Remembrance 5k Run in downtown Toronto. I did 16:50 which for those who don't run is pretty darn fast. Not Reid Coolsaet or black guy fast but for a white guy like me, it's pretty impressive. I was pretty happy about it: It hurt like hell but felt good afterwards. It was good enough for 7th overall (out of like 900) and 1st in my 20-24 age category; I even won a prize! I spent the rest of the afternoon drinking with my running buddies which continued for approximately 12 hours. At one point there was apparently dancing involved. I then slept for about 4 hours and by complete chance woke up at quarter to 8 and realized I had said I was going to do the long run. I threw on my shoes and shorts and was out the door. 2 hours and 25k later I returned home and felt worse than I can recall in a very long time... Next time I will choose to either drink or run less/not at all. Marathon training starts in one week. Lindsay 10k in two. God I love to run!