Monday, February 15, 2010

A fat chick's guide to the Couch to 5k, exploding prostates and a great arse.

When it comes to diet and fitness, it appears the old fashioned options make people nervous. While I can announce I’m following the latest celebrity diet and get polite interest in response (after all, how can you go wrong following the directions of genetically-freakish neurotic stick insects who have embraced size zero as a concept), every time I mention I have taken up running people tend to respond with shock and admonishments.

Never mind that I am following a conservative program, the Couch to 5k, so called because it aims to get you from being a non-exerciser (that’s the couch) to running 5 kilometres comfortably in nine weeks of training. Never mind that I am an unfit cow who could clearly benefit from getting up off her fat ass. Never mind that I can see the results in my fitness, shape and heart rate after a few months. Never mind that it appears to be working and I enjoy it.

It won’t work, they tell me. Jogging is too hard. It’s strenuous and bad for my joints, they wail, won’t someone please think of my joints? My poor knees!

Everyone wants to worry about my knees. From what I can gather, a small but significant proportion of the population appears to have explosives in their patella that – much in the manner of the bus in Speed – that should they start to jog will detonate once they go back to a walk, shattering their knee cap, a nearby bus and any idea they might have had that Keanu Reeves can act. Running is a sure fire way to exploding knees and injuries, they tell me, have I considered the more suitable low impact alternatives?

No, no, I haven’t, and for one simple reason. Those low impact alternatives don’t work for me. I can slide on the elliptical trainers until the cows come home quite happily, or do yoga until I pass out to sleepyland on the mat but the simple fact is they don’t fecking work for me. Exercise is not meant to be about ease. If your work-out doesn’t challenge you, you are doing it wrong. In my case, the task of hauling my (very oversized) frame at a fast jog is an excellent method of getting myself a bit fitter and my frame a bit smaller.

“But, but … your knees!”, they cry. A wonderful rejoinder to this is, “My grandad ran for 50 years, it was his prostate that got him.” Which usually shuts them up. No one likes to hear the word prostate, especially when they are unsure HOW the prostate would get someone. Cancer, perhaps, or sudden explosion? If the exploding knees don’t get you, that darned detonating prostate will.

I am, as a fat chick who can get fatter, willing to take my chances with an explosive prostate. That said, while the “too fat and unfit to try" argument holds no water for me, being a big girl does add a few considerations to the program. For a bit of background – and because I have no shame about this – while I can wriggle into a size 14, I tip the scales at 85kg. And at 5”5, that puts me well into the obese territory of BMI.

I’m a big build, huge shoulders, lots of muscle, small bum and strong legs. But there’s lots of fat there too. And a beer belly. Don’t forget that belly. I can witter all I want about big build, but I am also simply overweight and out of shape. Here is my guide to the Couch to 5k as a big chick, and what I have learned along the way.

It’s fine to repeat, repeat, repeat
The program tells you that it’s fine to repeat weeks, but in the initial flushes of enthusiasm, you imagine yourself cruising straight through it and on to 10k runs in Olympic time in under 4 months. This will not happen. Sooner or later you will have a bad week, whether it’s that you get ill, or work gets crazed or you’re just finding it too tough. There is nothing wrong with repeating a week, the object is build your muscles and stamina. It is fine to stagger along at your own pace. You’re building, not breaking, take your time. That said, if you get horribly stuck…

Check your shoes
I got stuck on Weeks 4 and 5 for two months, thanks to agonising calf and ankle (not knee, dammit) pains. Eventually I realised it was that I was running in the wrong type of shoes – unlike most of the population I walk on the outside of my foot (or supinate - the opposite of being flat footed) and it had never shown up before as I had never run for that long. When I got my new and improved shoes, my muscles then had to readapt. End result? I spent three months on two weeks of the program. Check your shoes if you are having issues and if you are buying shoes, find a decent sports store and bring in your last pair of shoes so they can see how they wore down and recommend a type. As a heavy girl, I need the tougher shoes – most of the regular trainers are designed for people under 70 kilos, and getting a recommendation is worth it. It won’t cost much more than an extra twenty to get the right shoes for you, and could save you three month’s injuries.

Join a gym – then leave it
While part of the charm of running is that it doesn’t need specialist equipment, starting out in a gym makes the early runs more understandable. You can measure your distance and speed exactly, not worry about road-crossings and tripping, and running on a treadmill is softer than running on the road. Graduating to the road is more fun for your run, but initially running on a treadmill makes getting the hang of things that bit easier. Also, there will probably be air-conditioning, which leads me to my next point…

Stay cool
If you are overweight, you’ve got an additional layer of insulation. Great in Winter, not so cool when you’re trying to exercise. While it can be tempting to wrap up all your wobbly bits, that makes it harder for your body to cool off. Jog next to the aircon unit or in a breeze and, once you start going for longer runs, try swapping that tent tepee and tracksuit pants combo for a singlet and long shorts. Watch out for humidity too, last week here was 80%+ most days and I was struggling with 4kms badly, this week it’s dropped below 60% and I just cruised through 4.5kms.

Judge yourself more fairly
This is not a “winning is taking part, and it’s okay to fail” speech. That’s bollocks. Having perpetually low expectations of yourself and then failing to meet them gets you no awards and won’t help get you fitter. You can do the Couch to 5k, if you take it at your own rate.

What I’m referring to is judging yourself on weight alone. I’m exactly the same weight now as I was 6 months ago, despite jogging three times a week. So, is it a failure? Not if I look at my measurements (three inches off the beer belly), my heart rate (down from 75bmp to about 55) and, most importantly, my fitness. I can now run for over ten times as long and significantly faster and I can feel that on a day to day basis. I've put on muscle, and look a little leaner. I feel a lot fitter.

And, on a less worthy note, my bum looks fabulous. Just saying. :D

Friday, February 5, 2010

Published on ThePunch.com.au - Fat Tax - a quick fix to a big problem?

Think you’re a normal weight? So did I, until I got stuck in a lift at 2am. A big group of us piled in and it promptly broke. After the shock of screaming to a halt between floors, we were indignant. The lift said it could hold 12 people, and there were only 11 of us!

But a closer look at the lift safety sign revealed the truth. 12 people - at 780 kg total. That’s 65kgs a person, and none of us weighed that. Not that any of us thought we were fat, just normal. The average Australian weight is 71kg for women, and 85kg for men. What was this, a lift for gnomes? Sick gnomes on a diet? How could they expect real people to fit?

The simple answer is they don’t. On average, most Australians are too big. Too heavy for lifts, too large-breasted for one-size-fits-all tops, and too big for airline seats.

Although Australian airlines have said no, some of the Australian public is saying a big yes to increasing fares for obese passengers. According to poll on news.com.au, 85% of respondents would support a “fat tax”, and the comments are full of frustration at encroaching beer guts and “stolen” arm rests.

That’s a lot of normal people being annoyed by the evil that is fat people on a plane.

Or is it? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 54% of Australian adults are overweight or obese. But 63% of men and 59% of women believe that they are an acceptable weight. How many people calling for “fat tax” should be looking at their weight and waistband instead?

And that estimate of 54% of the population being overweight is the cheerful picture. The actual amount may well higher, as people tend to over estimate height and under estimate weight. Just as most people rate themselves an “above average” driver, most people think they are lighter and in better shape than they are. These days, it’s average to be overweight.

Overweight is the new normal, and the airlines don’t design for that. The seats aren’t made accommodate the average person. They are designed to pack in people and they use a study from the 1950s to do so. The recommendation is that seats should be 18 inches wide, but Qantas and Virgin offer 17 inches on many of their aircraft.

We’ve got bigger, the seats have got smaller. No wonder we’re feeling a bit cramped and uncomfortable.

The most uncomfortable flight I ever spent was 4 hours wedged between two rugby players. Their vast shoulders forced me into a forward crouch and their huge legs took up most of my leg room. These were seven-foot-tall muscle men who routinely tape their ears to their head and then charge into each other. Should I have demanded that they pay a fat tax? A tall tax? A fit tax? A “being healthier than average” tax? What tax would work?

A fat tax won’t work and is an insultingly simple take on a complex issue that affects a lot of Australians. It is a discriminatory knee-jerk solution that picks on a group with a lot of bad press – the overweight. And many Australians don’t realise when people talk about "fatties", they’re talking about them, the average, the normal – the overweight.

Let he who is without wobbly bits cast the first stone. If you think you’re average, well, don’t ask for whom the fat tax tolls, because it could well toll for thee.