Health at YOUR size

“The Problem With Poodle Science,” from the Association for Size Diversity and Health, is a delightful video that must be shared. It is both funny and factual, and explains the HAES (Health At Every Size) approach to fitness in just under three minutes.

Of course, it also holds a special place in my heart because it echoes the Fat Personal Trainer motto (see sidebar):

You can starve a Saint Bernard, but you ain’t gonna turn it into a Greyhound.

Have a great weekend, readers. I’m planning to take my Saint Bernard body for a one-mile walk in the park. How about you? Feel free to share your plans for joyful movement in Comments.

Comeback Kid

reset buttonLate last November, like many people who got that 26% effective flu shot (or didn’t get one at all), I came down with a creeping crud that really kicked my butt. Along with the typical fever and aches, I was short of breath, with a scary cough that seemed to come from someplace down by my toes.

Normally I tough it out when I get something like this. A few days of taking it easy, drinking lots of fluids, and binge-watching Netflix takes care of the problem. However this time I actually required medical attention.

The verdict: Influenza A.

People, it was not pretty. And it was not until a couple weeks ago that I felt well enough to exercise again. And by “exercise,” today that means that I’m finally able to drag my butt around the half-mile circle road in my neighborhood and not need a nap afterwards.

Yep, my current workout regimen is a literal couch to 5K.

This experience has been hard, both physically and emotionally. I’ve come to realize that my self-perception as an athlete and trainer is tied up in being that badass supergirl who lifts heavy for an hour, then runs hell-for-leather on the elliptical for 45 minutes; and despite being human, with all the imperfections, illnesses, and injuries inherent in that condition, failure to maintain that level of conditioning (even while under attack from a nasty virus) is a source of shame and somehow a loss of what makes me, me.

Sounds kind of silly now that I’m writing it down.

This is my real-life refresher course in HAES. Health at Every Size is a practice that takes us as we are, in the bodies we live in today. It teaches us to use our capabilities (not the ones we used to have, or the ones we wish we had) and “[f]ind the joy in moving your body and becoming more physically vital in your everyday life.

Today’s half-mile was better than yesterday’s, and that is fabulous. And it is enough.


pat benatar photo by robert godwinA reader wrote to ask what kind of workout would be best to help increase her stamina. She was already a regular exerciser, but wanted to take her workouts to the next level. My mind went immediately to High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT.

HIIT training improves cardiorespiratory fitness and revs up the body’s metabolism, leading to increased energy as well as a kind of euphoria that is one level above the normal post-workout glow that you get with moderate exercise.

Over time, it makes you a real tough cookie.

Important: HIIT training is not for beginners. Intervals are much higher intensity than other forms of exercise and should not be attempted by people with known cardiac or respiratory issues unless they are cleared by a doctor.

When using HIIT training, it’s critical to listen to your body. The RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) Scale is a great tool to monitor your efforts while going through the intervals.

_rpe scale graphic

For the sake of clarity, I’m going to talk about running, but intervals are done exactly the same way whether you’re walking, biking, swimming, or using cardio apparatus like the elliptical or arc trainer.

HIIT Instructions:

Warmup: This should take at least five minutes, building up to a moderate pace. Do not skip this step! Warm muscles are much less likely to get injured during an intense workout.

Interval Part 1: Run as hard as possible for one minute. Use the fastest pace you are capable of sustaining for the entire minute. You should be at about 9.5 on the RPE Scale.

Important: do not run longer than one minute at this pace.

Interval Part 2: Slow your pace until you’re at a 6 or 7 on the RPE scale (working it, winded, but still able to speak) for three minutes.

Repeat the cycle of one high-intensity minute to three medium-intensity minutes no more than three times. You can add more intervals in a couple weeks if you want, but don’t add more than one every two or three weeks.

Cool-down/Stretch: At the conclusion of your HIIT workout, take your time cooling down and stretching, and drink plenty of water. Be kind to your muscles, and they will be much happier with you tomorrow.

Workout Planning Tip: HIIT training should be used no more than two or three times a week, with a rest day in between. If you also do strength training, it’s best to do intervals on non-lifting days.

Tech Tip: There are Smartphone apps that are specifically designed to time your interval training. Search “interval timer” at the app store. If you don’t have a smartphone, a small electronic kitchen timer will also work.

Welcome to total workout badassery.
pat benatar

The FPT Returns

It’s been about three years since I last published here. While I was gone, people stopped by the blog, they commented, and more than one person said words to the effect of, “Nice blog, why’d you stop? Please write more!”

To all of you who wrote, thank you for your kindness and support!

After a few years of radio silence during which I’ve been reading lots of terrific stuff from other writers, exploring the fatosphere, and reinventing myself as a blogger, I’m back!

Readers can look forward to more workouts, plenty of hints and encouragement for athletes of all sizes, as well as something new: social commentary. I think it’s important to talk about the fact that fat folks who work out (or do just about anything in public while fat) continually run up against cultural norms that exclude us. It happens everywhere: at the grocery store, at the doctor’s office, at the movies – hell, just walking down the street! And instead of shrinking from discussing the difficult issues, I’ve decided that I am going to need to Go There from time to time.

This is why I’ve added a new item to my bio in the sidebar: “Body-Positive Activist.”

So I hope you will join me on my continued journey. There will be posts on this blog as well as on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Follow me or like my page to share in this new, improved adventure.

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.

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