Health at YOUR size

photo of Johanna Quaas from

If you think your age precludes you from exercising, please take a look at this photo of Johanna Quaas of Germany, who at age 86 is a competitive gymnast.

Check out these videos of Ms. Quaas in action on the Parallel Bars  and in the  Floor Exercise.

Inspired? I am!


Margaret Cho responds to the people who have noticed she’s lost weight, and tells them her “secret.”

The F*** It Diet

It’s not what you might think — and it’s a highly instructive story.

If you’re wondering why I’m sending you to a comedian to figure out how to eat better, well, that’s a valid question.

The answer is that her “program” (if you really need to call it one) is not new! It’s called “intuitive eating,” and is actually a scientific thing.

Doubt me? Check out one of my favorite Health At Every Size blogs, The Fat Nutritionist, where Michelle explains the concept beautifully, and links you to scads of research about the topic.  Oh, and if you’re interested in applying these concepts to your life, I just learned that Michelle is offering a very affordable ONLINE group workshop starting in April 2012.

Bon appetit!

Hips Don’t Lie!

photo by Chris Parfitt on Flickr

Just came in from about a 1.5 mile walk.  Originally I was planning to hit the gym today but the weather is spectacular.  It’s 57 degrees outside (that’s 14 C for those of you who live in the developed world). In March. In Maine. So my inner Mom said, “Go play outside! It’s too beautiful to stay in!” and since I’ve pretty much turned into my mother these past few years, how could I disagree?

Right now I’m lucky to live in a neighborhood that is perfect for walking: we have wide sidewalks on the main roads, and quiet side-streets that don’t need sidewalks. It’s safe enough to wear an iPod (though I don’t) and has a good number of folks who are friendly enough to wave hello and smile to passers-by.

So I’m in the home stretch of my walk, meaning the last quarter-mile or so, which is a gentle hill but it’s a whole quarter-mile of hill, so I can make it as challenging as I want.  Today I had decided ahead of time that I wasn’t going to push too hard; my walk was to be all about the birds, the warm sun, and all the other signs of spring.  Besides, my jacket was feeling a bit too warm, though the tank top underneath would not have been enough to stay warm, and the dilemma of whether to take my jacket off was making this last part of the walk a little less fun.  I actually started to inwardly whinge a little about being uncomfortable.

Then I see her.

There’s a lady on the other side of the main road, in jeans and a brown hoodie, listening to her iPod and just rocking the hell out. She’s about my age, and she is moving with unabashed joy.  She moves her whole body to a rhythm that only she can hear, walking backwards then forwards, snapping her fingers, swaying her hips from side to side,  shimmying her shoulders to the beat, and clearly not giving a damn what anyone else thinks of it.

She is beautiful.

We’re on opposite sides of a busy road, and she’s about 50 yards in front of me.  I’m not going to run up to her (that would be weird) but all of a sudden it’s important to me to make some contact — a wave or a thumbs-up, to show how much I appreciate seeing someone who is the epitome of joyful movement.  So I speed up, but alas even though her dance steps put her at a slightly slower pace than mine, I do not get close enough to catch her eye by the time I reach my house at the top of the hill.  But my heart is beating faster than it would have otherwise, for the hurrying, and I have forgotten about whether I’m feeling too hot or too cold.

Thanks happy dancing lady, whoever you are!

graphic courtesy



Sarah Robles (L) and Holley Mangold (R), 2012 U.S. Olympic Team weightlifters

Dreams of Weight Loss


Last night I had a dream in which I was offered a free membership in a weight-loss program. This came with food, personal trainer, gym membership, everything I needed to Change My Life(TM). When the offer was made, I was so excited, I nearly jumped at it.

Then a little voice in the back of my head (the Voice of Reason) said, “It won’t work! Diets don’t work, remember?”

You’d think that would be the end of it, but no. In this dream, I actually started bargaining with the Voice of Reason, arguing that if no one knew I was on the program, it might work, and the size acceptance folks don’t have to know. Just one more try, maybe I can finally get thin…

When I first awoke, I was troubled, and was tempted to beat myself up over this; after all it’s kind of hypocritical to be writing a fitness blog about how you can be healthy at any size, while simultaneously having body image issues that stubbornly intrude even in the dream world.

Isn’t it?

But then I thought about it some more, and you know what? My focus did not shift to a health at any size approach until after my 40th birthday. This means that I spent over thirty years voluntarily carrying this ridiculously heavy burden of stigma and self-hate in the mistaken, deeply culturally embedded notion that I was an unacceptable, unworthy person simply due to my inability to permanently change my own body size.

Shifting my focus from negative self-talk and body hate to unconditional self-love is a dramatic change.  It stands to reason that it would not occur once and for all, but rather as a process; and that shame and self-reproach are incompatible with unconditional self-love.  I realized that the result of feeling like a failure because I am unable to instantly change my attitude is exactly the same as the result of feeling like a failure because I cannot permanently change my body size:  It makes me want to give up.

So today I’m writing this blog as a reminder to treat myself with the utmost love and respect.  It’s the only way to keep myself — body and soul — as healthy as I can be, in the body I have.


You Just Never Know

My first workouts were at a gym which is part of a well-known nationwide chain. I chose it because it was huge and I figured it would be easier to fade into the background there. The workouts were pretty simple — half an hour of circuit weights, followed by about 45 minutes of cardio in front of a TV playing Dr. Phil or Oprah.

The cardio machines faced the free-weight floor, which I found to be just about the most intimidating — yet fascinating — place on earth at the time.

Frequently, a gentleman named Larry would work out there. Larry was in his early 60s, I think. He had a well-defined, balanced physique, and his lifting was admirable. He was all business, used impeccable form, and even though he had plenty to be proud of (he’d be totally pumped by the end of his workout), he never strutted or preened in front of the mirrored walls like some of the younger men. I figured he had been a bodybuilder at one time, but was now just lifting for fun.

One day, about 6 months after I had first noticed him, Larry happened to look in my direction, and I smiled. He smiled back. For another six months, we never had a conversation, but would exchange a friendly glance on most days. I don’t think either of us was interested in socializing.

Still, Larry was really inspiring to me, and so several weeks — or possibly months — after our first smiles were exchanged, I went over and introduced myself so that I could tell him so. I told him that his hard work and consistency had been a good example for me, and had influenced my workouts for the better.

He thanked me and said, “I was thinking the same thing about you.”

You could have knocked me over with a feather.

As it turns out, Larry had only been working out for about a year (same as me)! He was there on doctor’s orders, following a health scare involving his heart. His ripped appearance was 100% natural, and had been acquired over his 30-year career in construction.

Suddenly, I had an unexpected ally in the gym, and even though we never had another conversation beyond “Hi, how are you?” we were an encouraging presence for each other.

You just never know who your allies are going to be.

How do YOU measure success?

photo by PaperTygre on flickr

Today I received some wonderful inspiration from this article by trainer Frank Forencich at Exuberant Animal:

Help for the Metrically Obsessed

It really brought home the realization (which I’ve had before and will likely need to have again) that the measure of success of a fitness activity is not measured in pounds.  Sure, our doctors can and should track things like our metabolic markers, blood pressure and the like.  But Frank’s article brings us back to earth about what is really important in our day-to-day life.  From the article:

By working together, we can create a composite metric that we can log into a spreadsheet and upload into a data base and then get down to some serious, laborious number-crunching. We can work some formulas and write an iPhone app that will help us keep the whole thing on tap for instant reference and comparisons.

Or, we could just go outside and move our bodies. It worked before and it can work again.

How do YOU measure success?  I’d love to hear about it in Comments.

Fit Fatty Fashion

photo courtesy of the Yale Rudd Center

If I had a dime for every time someone told me, “I’d go to the gym/pool/park, but I have nothing to wear!” I’d be a rich woman. Believe me, I fully understand and identify with that hesitation. It’s bad enough that there are jerks out there who stare, make remarks, or harass us just because we happen to be living our big fat lives in their general vicinity. Add to that the fact that when you’re exercising you’re going to be sweating, huffing, puffing, and maybe even jiggling, and you have a recipe for a crisis of self-consciousness that may seem insurmountable.

I’m here to help you get over that mountain in comfort and style, with some simple do’s and don’ts:

DO wear workout clothes in your size.
DON’T wear baggy or oversized clothes to the gym; they can catch on things and send you flying.  (And who wants to have to use the words “ass over teakettle” when describing their workout?)

DO wear a sports bra.
DON’T wear anything with underwires. Trust me on this one.

DO invest in good quality, appropriate footwear that fits.
To prevent injury, DON’T continue working out in shoes that show visible wear on the soles.

DO wear a one-piece suit for swimming and water aerobics.
DON’T wear swimsuits with long, flippy skirts or tops that will ride up and distract you from your workout.

DO wear shorts and tank tops for heavy workouts.
DON’T be uncomfortable and overheated in an attempt to hide your beautiful, hard-working body!

Here are a few great sources of fit fatty fashions:


Junonia is a specialty retailer of activewear just for plus-size women. Size range goes from 1X (14-16) to 6X (38-40).  Some prices may seem high, but the clothing is of very good quality so it is still a good value. If you’re on a limited budget, watch for items on clearance.

Favorite items from Junonia:

ANTI. CHAFE. SHORTS.  Yeah. They are as mind-blowingly fabulous as they sound.

Snow pants to size 6x!  How freakin’ cool is that? No need to stay in when the temperature drops, no matter what your size!

Swimwear.  I’ve tried many of their styles and have never been disappointed with fit or durability. Built-in bras keep The Girls under control in the bounciest of water aerobics classes.


L.L. Bean

L.L. Bean is the undisputed granddaddy of all outdoor sporting goods stores, and they have a large selection of activewear, including gym clothes, outerwear and swimsuits up to Women’s Size 26, as well as an excellent footwear selection in both regular and wide sizes. Unlike most of their competitors, Bean’s also has free shipping on all orders, no matter how small.

Not all of Bean’s women’s clothing comes in plus sizes, however their straight-size clothing generally goes up to an 18. For sizes above 18, you can shop by size from the front page, by hovering over the “women’s” tab, then clicking on Women’s Plus Sizes (link outlined in red):

Favorite Items from L.L. Bean:

Wind Challenger Fleece outerwear.  Unbeatable for blustery early spring workout days.

REAL waterproof rain and cold-weather gear.  I have never found another retailer that carries honest-to-goodness waterproof stuff in plus sizes.

Footwear in a wide array of sizes and widths, some of which is also waterproof. I’m especially partial to their Snow Sneakers as they enabled me to be active outside this winter even when the weather didn’t cooperate. (If snow and ice are frequent obstacles where you live, you might also want to consider getting a pair of Stabilicers, which are my new all-time favorite thing from Bean’s.)

(In the interest of full disclosure here, I am a former L.L. Bean employee, but I am not being compensated for raving about their products.  They just really are that good.)


Decent Exposures

Decent Exposures makes beautiful, functional and durable clothing up to size 30. While their main focus is on 100% cotton items, they also make one- and two-piece swimsuits and a wide variety of bras and underwear. Bras and swimwear are made to order, so delivery takes longer than a typical retailer; however prices are significantly lower than other retailers offering similar quality items. Made-to-order also means that they are willing to customize your garments as needed (details at their website).

Favorite Items from Decent Exposures: their wonderful, comfy bras.


Just My Size

Just My Size specializes in clothing sized 14 to 40, and includes a wide selection of workout gear including bras to size 58J.  They also have swimsuits to size 32 (in selected brands).   I’ve ordered from them in the past, though not extensively.  I’ve found their products to be reasonably affordable and of good quality.


Woman Within (aka Lane Bryant)

Egad, I detest the name of this store. “Woman Within” just conjures up images of that old “there’s-a-sexy-thin-girl-inside-every-fat-girl-that-is-just-waiting-to-get-out.” Whatever. The fact that remains that they do have a huge selection of gym- and pool-appropriate stuff from size 12 to 44 and they are affordable. Watch out for specials which include free shipping, as their shipping charges can be quite high.  I would rate the quality of their products, on a scale of Horrible to Fabulous, a solid “Meh. ”


Swimsuits For All carries sizes up to 38 (in select brands, but most sizes stop at 24 or 26).


Swimsuits Just For Us carries sizes up to 34 (in select brands, but most sizes stop at 24 or 26).


Do you have suggestions for this list? Please let me know in the Comments.  Thanks!

photo courtesy of the Yale Rudd Center

Be Your Own Valentine

Photo by Sister72 on flickr

This Valentine’s Day, whether you’re in a romantic relationship or not, make time to show yourself a little love.

It’s a gorgeous, freezing day here in New England, so I’m going to take a walk outside.  I’ll be enjoying the frozen scenery during the walk; the hot tea that I’ll drink afterward; and the full-body glow that comes after every workout.

If you’re not in the habit of working out, consider trying this exercise in self-love:

  1. Sit quietly for five minutes. Check in with your body. How do your muscles feel? Your head? Your skin? Your joints? Feel yourself breathing, and notice your heartbeat.
  2. Take a walk, a swim, a bike ride, or a dance break in your living room. It matters little what you do, as long as it’s fun and gets your heart rate up for 15 minutes or so.  Be sure to taper off the pace of activity at the end of the exercise; don’t suddenly go from very active to completely inactive.  Do some gentle stretches so that your muscles will be happy tomorrow as well as today.
  3. Once you’ve completely cooled down from the activity, go back to the same spot where you sat for five minutes, and check in with your body again.  Has anything changed?

What do you feel like doing now?

Let me know your experience in comments.

Recognise once and truly for pity’s sake end of the earth all time no holds barred freakin’ I’m really gonna get it this time … that you only get one body.  Love it.  Nurture it.  Be kind to it.  And stop obsessing.  Enjoy the ride beautiful you in the form you’ve been given.  –Julie Parker

Strangers in a Gym

Let’s say you’re like Ellen, the client I described in my last post. You might have been fit once, but life has gotten in the way and you’re now returning to the gym in a state of, let’s say, less-than-perfect conditioning.

When you walk in, I know you’re uncomfortable. There is a big purple sign bragging about how the gym is judgment-free, but you’re skeptical. I mean, look at all the Barbie-doll-looking women and musclebound men. And musclebound women!  You may feel like you’re the only one who feels out of place and doesn’t know what they’re doing.

Maybe you’re seeing people who look just like the kids who teased you in middle school phys ed.

Maybe they ARE the kids who teased you in middle school phys ed.

Maybe you’re getting anxious just thinking about all this.

Take a deep breath, let it out, and go read this.


You are going to get through this, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because YOU have a plan. Before you ever packed your gym bag, you’ve taken the time to think about what you are going to do, and established your goals. You’ve written them down, and the crib sheet is in the pocket of your shorts. The goals are challenging but realistic. Setting your goals is that single first step on a thousand-mile journey; and your workout plan is the map. The map is for you and only you, and what others are doing around you may be interesting to watch, but we are not concerned with comparisons.

With that in mind, let’s get started.

When designing a workout plan, we need to look at four aspects of exercise:





Hey, that spells FITT. Neato! Each of these four aspects will be decided based on your medical and workout history. In this example, we’re planning for a middle-aged female who used to be quite fit but has not worked out in a long time. She has been medically cleared to work out and has no history of major illness or injury.


Even though this workout plan is for a previously very active individual, it’s important to start slowly. What we do in the gym is meant to last a lifetime, and no one can go from zero to Ahnold overnight — not even Ahnold himself!

So push yourself, but don’t get so sore today that you won’t want to come back tomorrow.

About muscle soreness: you will get sore, especially in the first few weeks. Later on, it won’t be as bad, I promise. To allow for your body to learn how to recover, we’re shooting for 2 or 3 workouts per week to begin.


You will notice that there are charts and graphs right on your gym’s cardio equipment to help you plan the intensity of your workout. This massively confusing array of beeping equipment and numbers in teeny-tiny print is designed to help keep you at the correct Target Heart Rate (THR) for the type of exercise you are doing. It makes the machine look very complicated but guess what? You can totally ignore all that stuff and get a great workout! Sure, you can drive yourself crazy watching your heart rate go up and down, and worrying whether you’re in the “fat burn” zone, or the “cardio” zone. But (and you will surely be relieved to hear this) these measurements are totally unnecessary for our purposes. If you’re basically healthy, the only “zone” you need to worry about is the “on the treadmill” zone. You showed up, and are developing a new habit. You are already doing it right! All you need to do is listen to your body. For those folks who find visual guidelines useful, check out this much more user-friendly chart:

In your first week or two, there is no reason to go above 6 on this scale.

Seriously, don’t do it.


About an hour, total. This is kind of long for a first workout, but it is broken up into several activities and includes the warm-up and cool-down.


No matter what type of exercise you choose, workouts should always include a warm-up phase, a work phase, and a cool-down phase. Each part is important in keeping you safe and preventing injury.

In this case, we’re starting with some simple, gym-based activities.

WARM-UP: five minutes on the treadmill or elliptical

Don’t skip this! It gets the heart rate up a bit and warms the muscles in preparation for everything else. There’s no need for speed here, either — just a slow and steady buildup to the point where you might get a little out of breath.

WORK PHASE 1: Upper-body strength training, mostly with free weights: 15 minutes

Nothing fancy here, just some old, familiar exercises with much lighter weight than was used in the past. Emphasis here is on form, so that the body can remember how exercises are done while avoiding excessive soreness or injury.

Should I Use Free Weights or Machines? Good question! So good that it deserves its own blog post. In the meantime, don’t use any machines if you’re not familiar with them. Get a gym staff member to help you learn to adjust it. Believe me, they will be more than happy to help you — it gives them a break from mopping floors and scrubbing toilets.

WORK PHASE 2: Treadmill walking: 30 minutes

In a deconditioned person, walking not only works the cardiorespiratory system and lower body but also the supporting muscles of the upper body (the core). Good form (head up, shoulders back, NOT holding onto the hand rails) maximizes the benefit to the core. Twenty to thirty minutes is just about the longest duration I would recommend in a first workout, and in fact if you’re severely deconditioned, as little as ten minutes may do the job. In your first couple weeks, don’t bother with the incline settings either — just go faster or slower on a level surface.

Important Safety Tip: If you are done with your treadmill walk and are really winded, do NOT jump off and go sit down! Slow your pace and stay with it for a few more minutes, until you get back down to a 3 at most on the RPE scale. If you just can’t stand to be on the treadmill for another second, take 5 minutes to walk around the gym and let your muscles settle. The important thing is to keep moving.


This is where you relax and and talk sweetly to all those muscles you just worked, so that they will be nice to you in the morning. Thank them for a job well done. Drink some water now, and some more later; hydration helps minimize muscle soreness. Some basic stretches to get you started. 

The most important thing is to stretch slowly and gently. Don’t bounce. Hold stretches for 30 seconds to a minute. You should feel the tightness of the stretch but there should not be any pain. Remember to breathe. (You might laugh that I’m telling you this, but wait ’til you catch yourself holding your breath! It happens.)

What are the best stretches to use? My body is too big/small/inflexible to do the things they’re doing in the pictures.  And do I have to get down on the floor? I hate getting up off the floor! Good questions all! So good that this topic deserves its own blog post. In the meantime, don’t do things that hurt, or that make you uncomfortable.

And with that, we’re done.  Have another drink of water and enjoy that delicious “good tired” that comes from doing something nice for your body.

If this workout seems underwhelming, that’s because it was meant to be. But it accomplished three things:

  1. you showed up;
  2. you made a constant effort for a full hour; and
  3. you now have a feeling of accomplishment that I hope makes you want to come back and do this again, soon.

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