Fitness for feminists

I was busy preparing lunch for my twin babies and I when I flicked on the radio, as I normally do during meal times. CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon was accepting calls about a topic close to my heart: women’s fitness at mid-life, and how we often struggle to balance the need to prioritize our health while feeling pressure to achieve the “perfect” body.

I have never grabbed the phone to dial faster in my life. I feel so passionate about this, because as a mom of three young boys, I have learned that the moment I tossed ideals around the number on the scale, clothes sizes and feeling the need to look a certain way out the window, and learned to enjoy fitness and enjoy healthy eating, everything started to fall into place.

LISTEN to the show at 38:20. 

The radio show was hosting Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs, authors of “Fit at Mid-Life: a Feminist Fitness Journey.” The women also blog at Fit is a Feminist Issue. In the book and on the blog, Sam and Tracy – academic deans at two Ontario universities – share their journey to reach peak fitness by the age of 50, all while challenging modern fitness culture from a feminist perspective.

I was fortunate enough to share my own personal experience with making fitness an important part of my life as a 35-year-old mom (does that make me middle-aged?!). I wanted to let listeners know that although my life is busy with three young boys, I have managed to return to a healthy lifestyle thanks to the workouts and nutritional guidance from 3rd Degree Training in Saint John.

The host asked if my goals have changed over the years, and since having children. Absolutely, I said. My first goal is so simple: to feel good. Secondly, I want to be in good enough shape to run half-marathons again, and hopefully another (injury-free) marathon one day. If my jeans fit better and I lose a few pounds and inches, I truly regard this as a bonus.

Tending to the needs of young children can be extremely tiring and at times exasperating. Carving out time in a busy week to exercise pays me dividends in so many ways. I have crept out of the fog of the newborn days and I now feel stronger, more energized and my mood is lifted up so I can better take on the daily challenges of motherhood and life in general.

As a woman, and a mother, I have a deep respect for my body and that fact that I have been able to carry and give birth to three beautiful boys. It’s easier to treat my body, which is both beautiful and imperfect, as a temple, when you think of it from that point of view.

Of course it helps that I honestly enjoy working out. I love it. If you can find something you love to do while getting active, it makes all the difference. Throw out the scale and focus on what makes you feel good, and the rest will come.

I have also noticed that once I started back down the healthy path and saw some results – whether it was attempting a full push-up or feeling less-winded after a sprint – it encouraged me to continue eating healthy, whole foods and continue challenging myself during workouts. I have also set myself some running goals for the summer.

It was so fun to share my thoughts on Maritime Noon (even though Callum was making his voice heard!) and lucky me – my name was drawn to win the book! I look forward to reading more about Sam and Tracy’s journey.

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Working out is better with friends

Most of my friends know  if they are planning a visit to New Brunswick, they better pack running shoes.

For Miranda, my friend of 15 years and blogger of Thoughts and Pavement, this was a given during her recent visit here from the United Kingdom.

Since I have managed to get in four HIIT workouts each week since starting at 3rd Degree Training 11 weeks ago, I wanted to find a way to stay on track while enjoying her visit. So I signed us up for the weekly Co-Ed Weight Circuit on Saturday morning, a great way to try something new while taking part in a class that is open to non-members.

The weight circuit is different from regular classes because the workout includes the use of equipment, including kettle bells, battle ropes, a spin bike and weights. It’s a fun way to mix things up at the end of the week with a guaranteed sweat.

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Feeling badass on the battle ropes!

Miranda is always up for a challenge and totally killed this workout. My red face shows this was a good challenge for me as well.

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Seeing Miranda this past weekend was a reminder to me just how special it is to have friends who share this passion for health, wellness and physical activity. I am lucky enough to have many friends – both nearby and far away – who like to lace up and go for a run or try a workout class when we’re together.

There’s nothing better than getting lost in conversation on a run (even if it’s breathless, for me) or enjoying a feeling of tackling a tough workout together with a friend. I’m so grateful for all my workout buddies – you know who you are.

Exactly one year ago today, I was running the @geneva_marathon_for_unicef! Today, I’m in Saint John, New Brunswick hanging out with the amazing @aprilacunningham and her beautiful family. This one inspires me daily. Mom of three boys, she attends boot camp 4x a week and runs regularly. Yesterday she took me on a little jaunt around Harbour Passage trail. What a beautiful place to run with the brisk ocean air in our face! In a week, when I’m running the @rungatwick half marathon, I’ll try to remember that feeling. I’m undertrained and not ready, but I’m running for @neurokinex kids, a very worthy charity that provides rehab for children with spinal cord injuries. There’s a link to my JustGiving page in my latest blog post [Link in bio] Now, off to enjoy my last day with the fam! #friendswhorun #canada #saintjohn #harbourpassage #happyrunners

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How to change your life in 8 weeks

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Five months after giving birth to my twin boys, crawling out of the fog of survival mode, I was ready to get back to an active lifestyle. Caring for and nursing newborn twins and my three-year-old had left me perpetually tired, hungry and sluggish. Aside from occasional winter walks, I was not getting much exercise. And I was treating myself to plenty of take-out coffee, baked goods and fast food as a way to reward myself for getting through the long days.

As a runner and a fairly healthy person, I knew I needed to kick these habits – which had almost become crutches – before they became routine for me as a busy mom of three.

I partnered with 3rd Degree Training Saint John, with the goal of getting in 3-4 high-intensity interval training workouts per week, and to share my story to help others see what it is like for someone like me to take on their program. I followed a customized Actual Nutrition plan for an active, breastfeeding mom (so much food!). My goals were simple: to get “in shape” again and feel good about myself. I was honestly not sure if four workouts and eating clean would be enough to see a significant change in my body. And to be honest, I was OK with that because I didn’t have a ton of weight to lose and I knew once I returned to running, eventually, that weight would melt away.

By week four I was already seeing significant changes, not only in how my clothes fit but, more significantly, in how I felt.

I had so much more energy, I felt mentally clear and my mood was lifted. I felt like a better mom, a better spouse and closer to the old “me.”

The combination of cleaning up my diet, simply by eating whole, real food and eliminating junk (which I didn’t eat loads of, but I certainly indulged at least once a day), and blasting my body with quick, effective workouts, was a magic combination.

It was so perfect to end my first round of bootcamp as I celebrated 35 trips around the sun. In eight weeks, I lost eight pounds and nearly eight inches. I love the program so much I decided to keep going for another round, with the goal of improving form and continuing to get stronger while I ease back into running.

Every day is not a cakewalk – sometimes I find it challenging to focus on making healthy meals for myself as well as my family (moms are used to being last priority, eating the leftover Timbits and crusts of peanut butter sandwiches!). I often scarf down cold food while babies are screaming. And even though the 10:30 Baby and Me class (Mon/Wed/Fri) is the perfect way to get in a workout with kids in tow, it’s certainly tough to get two babies out the door, while balancing whatever my older son is up to that day as well. Sometimes I ask my mother-in-law to come by while I squeeze in an evening workout, or sometimes I set my alarm for 5 a.m., feed my babies and pray they go back to sleep so I can hit up the 6 a.m. class.

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My boys: Callum, Leo and Silas.

But the perseverance and consistency pay off in spades. It is so motivating to see results and see other members change, too. We are all just regular people trying to fit a healthier lifestyle into our already busy, challenging lives.

Actual Nutrition is not billed as a diet, it’s almost the opposite. By setting out a guideline of what are commonly known as macro-nutrients – carbs, fats and protein – the program provides ultimate flexibility and never leaves you feeling hungry or lagging energy. That means no calorie counting and no feeling of deprivation. Instead I look forward to every meal and snack and enjoy the taste of real food again.

After eight weeks, I have put myself back onto a healthy path. When I have treat days (Easter and my birthday), I immediately feel the effects… tired, headachy, and moody. I always thought I was the kind of person who could never eliminate sugar or treats because I love them too much. I thought I could always just run off the calories. But now I know I can save these things for every once in a while, knowing they don’t do my body or my mood any favours anyway.

I am so grateful to 3rd Degree for the opportunity to try their program. Witnessing the impact it has on its members has been truly inspirational. It’s more than about seeing results in your before and after pics, it’s about changing your habits, clearing your mind and treating your body with the respect it deserves.

#thisis35 #blinkandyoumissit #mamaofboys

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Breastfeeding twins as an active mom

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Photo by Amy Stewart Photography

When our twins turned six months old, it was supposed to be a joyous milestone. We kept these two little souls fed, happy and thriving for half a year! We made it through the toughest days and nights of our lives! And they have brought so much love and happiness to our home.

Instead, at their six-month appointment, we found out that Leo’s weight had plateaued at about 12.5 lbs. He weighed the same as he did at five months. Leo, who was my biggest twin at birth at 6 lbs, 15 oz, was dropping off his growth curve.

Leo and Callum are 6 months old #twins #twinsofinstagram #sixmonthsold

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A feeling of heat rose through my chest and into my cheeks. Most mothers know it: a wrenching combination of guilt and fear.

I automatically blamed myself and my new quest to clean up my health and my eating. I worried that my workouts at 3rd Degree Training may have depleted my milk supply. At that point I was about halfway through the eight-week boot camp.

My family doctor did not blame me (even though I didn’t mention I had started a new exercise program). She simply suggested increasing the amount of solid foods the twins receive to three times a day. We also talked about giving them a bit of formula at night, something my doctor said was entirely up to me.

I have continued with my nutrition plan and working out four times a week at 3rd Degree throughout the past month, and while I have lost a few pounds and inches, both Leo and Callum have porked it on. All the while, I have continued breastfeeding them, along with increased solid foods and a couple ounces of formula at bedtime (in addition to breastmilk). It was always my goal to make it to six months of breastfeeding, but all three of us enjoy it, and since it has become so ingrained in our routines, I really want to keep going.

Now I can say with confidence that I know I did nothing wrong. Exercise should not negatively impact the quantity or quality of supply (unless there is a serious calorie deficit or dehydration). Exercise is good for both mom and baby, in so many ways.

I have taken great care to ensure I am consuming plenty of calories (1,000 more than the average woman!) and three litres of water. I am eating whole, real food, and I eat six times a day. I still eat bread (whole grains) and dairy, and eat plenty of protein, fruit, vegetables and healthy fats such as yogurt, nuts and avocado.

I know Leo and Callum are thriving, happy babies. They are content, they don’t fuss while nursing, they sleep relatively well and they love to eat. After searching some mom forums, I have discovered that many babies go through a weight plateau just before starting solids. And I remember Silas going through something similar as well. I started running regularly when he was about five months old.

I want other breastfeeding moms to know that it is fine to exercise, so go ahead and do it. Don’t feel guilty. It is so good for you (improved cardiovascular health, feelings of well-being and reduced stress, to name a few) and your baby.

That being said, I think it is also good to take your time and ease back into an active lifestyle slowly after childbirth. Kellymom.com recommends waiting until your baby is two months old and you have established a good milk supply before embarking on a weight-loss program. Through both of my experiences nursing newborns, I always feel we have hit our stride by the 3-4 month mark.

After a few days of wallowing in guilt after that five-month appointment, I even started feeling as though breastfeeding our twins was a mistake and that I was holding them back from growing into healthy little babies.

Now I know that is foolishness, and that I continue to give them the very best start I can offer. For me, being an active, healthy mom is a part of the equation.

For more information on postpartum fitness, check out this previous q&a I did with Caroline MacKay, who offers mom/baby fitness classes.

Taking a leap of faith: exercise as medicine for chronic pain

For most people, including myself, fitness and nutrition is not just about how they look, it’s about how they feel.

Catt Ferguson, co-owner of 3rd Degree Training Saint John, is one of those people. She has suffered from various health conditions from the age of 23, leaving her mentally and physically drained. But over the course of the past year, she has completely changed her life, weaning herself off medications thanks to a careful diet and regular physical activity.

I hope you are as amazed and inspired by her story as I am. Following Catt’s lead, several other members of 3rd Degree with chronic health conditions have also made gains by making physical activity and a healthy eating a priority in their lives.

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Catt Ferguson, co-owner of 3rd Degree Training Saint John

Q: What chronic health issues do you suffer from?

From the age of 23 on, I have always battled some form of chronic illness. As soon as I would be cured of one, a more debilitating one would come along. I currently battle 3 chronic illnesses that affect me on a daily basis and unfortunately, there are no cures in sight. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2008, affecting my chest, knees, hips, fingers, toes, and jaw. I was diagnosed after several visits to hospital with sharp chest pain, in which the rheumatologist explained the source of the pain as inflammation around the lungs or heart. I was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia in February of 2017, although I have battled with the symptoms of chronic widespread pain and chronic fatigue for many years, it was diagnosed through the process of elimination. This year, at the age of 40, I was told that the constant feeling of frostbite in all my extremities and the chilblains on my toes are from Raynaud’s phenomenon or Raynaud’s disease.

Q: How did you discover that exercise could help?

I was generally active throughout my life, in between illnesses you could say. In January 2017, the pain in the shoulders, hips, chest, ribs, neck and severe stiffness in the fingers and toes became a daily thing.  Although I was exhausted thoughout the day, and would fall asleep in the early evening every night but just couldn’t stay asleep. I would wake up after a couple hours from either/ or a combination of pain, overactive thoughts and nightmares, causing days of non-restorative sleep. I was completely overwhelmed and over-stimulated, struggling to keep up with my daily routine, not to mention trying to manage the feeling of being in constant pain. I was prescribed several medications, leaving me with the feeling of being sedated.

As luck would have it, my partner’s passion was fitness. Kevin McEachern bought and set up the 3rd Degree Training/Actual Nutrition franchise in Saint John. He spent all his time instructing and motivating all the fitness classes, which meant if I wanted to see him, I had to spend some time in the studio as well. In his first 8-week round, he would encourage me to participate in the High Intensity Interval Training classes, telling me to work at my own speed and teaching me how to modify certain moves, i.e, using calf extensions as opposed to jumping. While the company was working through its second 8-week round, I increased my workouts to 3 or 4 times a week and by the end of that round, I no longer needed the modifications. I was feeling much stronger, more energetic, happy and accomplished. I made a conscious decision to slowly wean off all the meds that was prescribed to “help” ease the fibromyalgia symptoms and haven’t returned to them. In the following months, I started motivating some of the fitness classes, I became certified to instruct the classes and became a Personal Trainer.

Q: How does eating better help? What dietary restrictions do you have?

I have been lactose intolerant since birth. About 6 years ago, I curved my eating habits to a holistic, anti-inflammatory, whole-food lifestyle however my meals would mostly be snack-size. With the help of my partner, we were able to increase the size of my portions. I remember thinking to myself, “I can’t eat all this, I’ll be sick,” but eventually I started eating regular meals again. Together, we developed a solid eating pattern. Steve Collette, Founder/CEO of the 3rd Degree Training franchise, made a few positive recommendations to help boost my metabolism using the Actual Nutrition program. Now, I have lots of energy to sustain me throughout the day, even after a workout.

Q: How has your life changed?

I’ve gone from being someone dependent on medication, living with chronic widespread pain and surviving on autopilot on a daily basis to someone living life again.

Q: How do you hope others could learn from your story?
I want others to know that they don’t have to be prisoners of their illnesses. I’m not going to lie and say that every day is perfect or that I found a cure and there will never be another flare, but I will say my quality of life has improved drastically. You can spend a lifetime on survival mode or you take a leap of faith, spend a couple of weeks being outside our comfort zone, developing a routine, getting back to living a longer, healthier life and thriving.

I am a Fibro warrior and an RA warrior. #fibrowarrior #RAwarrior

Halfway through boot camp: my progress report

I can’t believe how quickly the past four weeks have flown by! It has been so nice to make working out a part of my life again. Some days it is my only chance to do something on my own or get out of the house! And I have been amazed how seamlessly I have been able to transition to “clean” eating. Accountability and having a plan are truly half the battle.

Here is how things are going:

The Workouts:

  • I have managed to get to 3rd Degree Training four times a week for the past four weeks. Usually I attend the 10:30 a.m. Baby & Me class (with or without kids) on Mon, Wed and Fri but also try for 6 a.m. or noon on Thursdays and 8:30 a.m. on Saturdays. It’s really handy to have an array of class times to chose from.
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Callum and Leo and their gym buddy, Avery.
  • It’s honestly so convenient to my home on the west side, at less than a five-minute drive, so I really have no excuse. OK, I do have a few, but getting to the gym and back home within an hour is totally doable.
  • From the moment I step into the studio at 3rd Degree, I feel inspired to work hard and get a good sweat on. The music is pumping and as other friendly faces appear (people of all skill levels and backgrounds) it’s easy to see they are all dedicated to making changes in their lives. The feeling is contagious and inspiring.
  • Workouts usually start with light cardio, followed by a few different sets of exercises, anything from burpees to squats and ab exercises. We do numerous variations and all using our own body weight, so it never gets boring.
  • I can feel myself getting stronger every day. I often wake up with that dull burning sensation in my muscles, and I go to bed ready to fall into a deep sleep (until a baby or little boy wakes, anyway). But I never get the exhaustion you feel after a long run.

Nutrition

  • This is where the biggest life changes have happened for me. Thanks to my nutrition plan from Kevin, I have managed to completely cut sugar and treats from my diet, and I am not even that upset about it. I’m not going to lie, there are days when I am dog-tired, overwhelmed, you name it, and could reallllly go for a McFlurry. Or, there have been days when I have been tempted to eat a cookie as I bake them for my son (OK, I definitely licked the spoon). But here is the secret: I am never starving hungry! And there is always the next meal/snack to look forward to, and they are always tasty. I don’t feel deprived, and I am eating so.much.food. This is no diet, this is about eating satiating, real, nutritious food.
  • Eggs are a huge part of my days now, starting with the mornings when I usually eat three, getting my 1.5 servings of protein in. I also keep a few hard-boiled eggs on hand for lunches and my evening snack. Never have I eaten so many eggs! I just bought the 30-pack from Costco and I will probably get through it in a week.
  • I have really upped the ante on vegetables. My favourite way to eat them is just raw. I used to think veggies were kind of boring but as my tastebuds have adjusted, I look forward to my big salads and crunchy snacks with hummus or tzatziki. I used to eat a lot more fruit, but now I am really filling up on veggies.

Early results

  • I have more stable energy throughout the day and I’m generally in a better mood.
  • I feel myself getting stronger and back into shape.
  • I have lost three inches around my ribs, waist and hips. My clothes fit much better.
  • I am honestly surprised how quickly this is happening. My goal in joining was just to feel better and get stronger. I always assumed it would take many months to lose some pounds and inches, and that it would require many long runs (that has always been what works for me!)
  • Here’s the before and after!

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Thanks so much to 3rd Degree Training for the opportunity to partner with them and share my story. Keep following along to see how the next four weeks go! You can also follow my posts and stories on Instagram.

Defeating mom guilt: exercising with kids

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Leo & Callum

Mom guilt: it’s one of the issues I often grapple with when I’m training for a race or trying to make fitness a priority in my life.

Now with twin babies, almost six months old, and a 3.5-year-old, there is scarcely a moment when I am not in demand. Even if I have someone else to care for my children when I leave the house to get in some exercise, I always feel rushed to get back home, or I worry about the babies crying, needing me… or I feel bad for not spending more time with Silas, my oldest.

Enter Baby & Me at 3rd Degree Training Saint John. Offered three mornings a week, I no longer have an excuse to miss my workouts. Not only can I bring the babies along to watch me flail around on the mats, but Silas can come too!

This past week, which was March Break in New Brunswick, I was able to bring Silas along for two of the three classes since he didn’t have preschool. He was in heaven.

He made friends with another boy and tossed around a football, rolled, laughed, ran and screamed in delight while the rest of us planked, burpeed, squatted and super-manned. The class flew by, and by the end, Silas, wearing a Superman cape, was just as breathless and red-faced as I.

“Do think I did a good job during my workout?” I asked him afterward.

“Not really,” Silas said, adding he thought our “Superman” moves should have involved more running, flying and rolling. That made me laugh.

After a quick pit stop at Sobeys, we returned home to find the twins still napping (of course they do when I’m not home) and Silas, typically a ball of energy, was ready for a nap too. I’d call that a win.