The Skinny on Control Tops

Control tops. I never thought I’d wear those again, but then I bought new jeans.

They are the first pair of jeans I’ve had in a few years and I choose these (out of all the rest) because they fit perfectly at both the waist and hip and are even the right length. So naturally I bought 3 pairs (denim, black and white jeans). They also happened to have a special slimming feature around the mid-section (cue ominous music.)

They were a bit snug but my experience with jeans is that they always stretch and the black and white ones did just that, even becoming a bit loose. But the denim ones didn’t. I don’t know why but assume it is a combination of the fabric and the pocket placement which is The Special Slimming Feature.

I am no longer accustomed to having my guts sucked in like that and it hurts! Probably it always did hurt but I must have put up with up it. Maybe I was more accustomed to ignoring the pain signals from my body.

Why it Causes Discomfort

Have you ever thought about where the belly goes when you put on control top hose, jeans or ‘Spanx’? Maybe it is wishful thinking but I think a lot of women think (and marketers would have us believe) that the fat layer is compressed and smoothed, and nothing else. Sadly, that is not the case. If you’ve ever suffered the indignity of  ‘muffin top’ you know that the fat on your belly can suddenly appear above your waist band. The solution is to get even more ‘foundation’ to control that bit of flesh too.

When your belly is sucked in, whether you are sucking in actively or because you are wearing control top pants or underwear, pressure is put not only on your fat layer and abdominal muscles, but the internal organs underneath. (Also see my article Squats vs Kegels.)

If you take a balloon and put just enough air to inflate but not stretch it, and squeeze it in the middle, you’ll see the balloon change shape as the air displaces up and down. That’s what’s happening to your guts when you compress your abdomen.

Internal Pressure Ageless and Well

Space has to be created for them somewhere, right? The displaced intestines shove whatever is below and them, like your bladder and uterus, out of the way. I don’t know if there are any studies to prove it, but my belief is when the organs are compressed in this way they get less blood flow and oxygen and, in a muscle, this can cause pain.

And if that isn’t enough of a concern, that compression continues right on down to the muscle and ligament layer that holds all your abdominal and pelvic internal organs in (as in not falling out of your body) – your pelvic floor. Downward pressure is bad news for your pelvic floor. It is why we pee a little (or a lot) when we laugh or sneeze, and can cause uterine or rectal prolapse. Downward pressure isn’t the only cause of incontinence and prolapse, but it is pretty significant.

All this for a slimmer looking belly? That’s nuts. Who made flat bellies the benchmark anyway? Maybe, by our genetic make up, some bellies are meant to be round, like some people have long waists or red hair.

Listen to your body! Unless you’ve just injured yourself (stubbed your toe or cut your finger) pain isn’t  normal. It is common and therefore appears to be normal but pain is always a signal from your body that something is wrong. And a lot of the time ‘what’s wrong’ is entirely under our influence to change.

All this from a pair of jeans.

So what can you do? For starters, get your pants in a larger size. Forget what the size says on the label says. Be a Belly Freedom Fighter!

7 Reasons why Walking is Amazing

7 Reasons why Walking is Amazing

7. You can potentially get way more exercise in if walking is your form of exercise.

It is the difference between 1-2 hours of exercise and the potential of 10+ hours of movement. One of the ways we reward ourselves for exercising is by taking it easy for the rest of the day. See #1 for more on this.) We end up getting a lower amount of total movement than if we had walked for entertainment and recreation, to do errands or commute to work. And the best thing is that the more you walk, the more you can walk. It is definitely a skill you can build on too.

6. You’ll build a better bootie.

When you use an optimal gait pattern (one which uses your posterior leg and gluteous muscles) your glutes get toned.

5. You will recharges your batteries.

Studies have shown that walking – especially outside in nature – helps with depression and stimulates creative thinking while relaxing your mind.

4. It is the most efficient exercise you can do.

You use more of your body and more muscle groups when you are walking than you do with any other exercise, and with no cost – see #3.

3. Walking has little (or no) physiological cost, only gain.

There is a physiological cost to your joints, muscles and internal organs when you exercise hard. For example cardiac tissue gets micro tears from high intensity distance running. Your body repairs tears like this in about a week, but if you do high intensity workouts more often, the muscle does not have time to complete its repair and starts to build scar tissue. But you can walk everyday without needing recovery time.

2. It is free.

It can even save you money if you walk rather than drive or use public transit. I am anticipating a comment from someone who says they walk in a gym on a treadmill and pay a membership, therefore it isn’t free. Ok…but you *can* walk outdoors for free. And walking on a treadmill doesn’t use your posterior leg muscles as much, so reason number 6 – not so much.

1. Walking helps you avoid exercise crashes.

You know how when you are exercising hard and afterwards you crash? Maybe you have to take to your couch for the rest of the day (due to pain and fatigue) or are ravenous and end up eating a bunch of food you probably wouldn’t even eat ordinarily – or both. When I taught fitness classes, a lot of the time I crashed after teaching a class. Sometimes I rewarded myself with food, but mainly it was fatigue and low level pain that caused my crashes.

No one is saying you need to give up your class (or biking, running, etc.) However exercise comes with a disclaimer: if you constantly push yourself to the brink, or beyond, of injury and/or exhaustion AND you get less overall movement as a result, your exercise practice is bringing you a step closer to down-time, than a step towards health.

For a more detailed explanation of this you can check out Katie Bowman’s blog post Junk Food Walking.


VanDuesen Botanical Gardens

VanDuesen Botanical Gardens

It was an enchanted garden at VanDuesen Botanical Gardens in Vancouver yesterday. Spring blossoms, Rhododendrons, woodland groves, lacy silhouettes, delicate flowers, last year’s lily pads reflected in still ponds and giant leaves – plantain, I think.

Photograph by Deborah Redfern © 2015


Run, but not too far, and not too fast.

Run, but not too far, and not too fast.

Is running ‘good’ for you? It depends.

  • Running won’t help you lose weight
  • Running does tax your heart (micro-tears) and you need time to recover.
  • Running doesn’t improve your overall cardiovascular health.

Watch this video for a cardiologist and exercise enthusiast’s opinion on running.


A winter Reading List for a Warm and Sunny Place

A winter Reading List for a Warm and Sunny Place

After quite a long winter break, I’m ready to get back to my Regularly Scheduled Life. I went to see the warmer part of the world for a few weeks (Mexico, via cruise ship) and since I had so much free time, I did what any self-respecting reader would do. I read a lot of books. I read, walked (miles!) and ate. In other words, pretty much perfection!

I started with Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson, and it was the only book I actually bought – the digital edition. My husband is still travelling with a bunch of paper (books, journals, etc.) which is adorable, but, at least for travelling, I have gone completely paperless.

I have found that almost everywhere I go these days there are books to borrow.  On the ship I took out Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns, and Ya-Yas in Bloom, both sequels to novels I enjoyed. In fact I’d already read Ya-Yas in Bloom once and its ‘mother’ Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood many times. Ya-Yas in Bloom was not as satisfying a story as Divine Secrets but it provides a rich back-story, and a forward-story into the lives of Vivian Abbott Walker’s children. Revenge Wears Prada was entertaining but I ask you, are we really expected to believe that Andy, who became at least knowledgeable and appreciative of High Fashion in The Devil Wears Prada, would revert to being clueless about what to wear? I think not.

But getting back to Tracks. I only became aware of the book after seeing the movie trailer and since I love autobiographical books about women travellers I thought this was right up my alley. I still haven’t seen the movie and I’m glad I resisted until I’d read the book. To say it was interesting doesn’t do it justice. I am in awe that Davidson survived to write about it. Passages keep floating back to me about the physical and emotional pain, beauty and ugliness. she experienced. I’m glad I bought it because I know I will read it again.

I don’t know if it is a coincidence or the times we live in, but both Tracks and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (which just came out as a movie) focus on travelling as a healing journey. I read Wild about a year ago and I just saw the movie.  I was happy to see the movie stayed true to the book and that it touched me even more deeply than the book did.

Oh, I almost forgot. I reread Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman which I also have in digital format. It is interesting, entertaining and a good read which will make you healthier if you follow any of the advice.

Back on solid ground, (more or less, since I have been suffering from Mal de debarquement after getting off the cruise ship. and reading is an excellent recovery strategy since the swaying zaps my energy,) it has been a Jane Austen couple of weeks. Well, Jane Austen modern-day versions. I started with Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith, a writer I hugely admire, and finished with The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennett by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick, which I didn’t have high expectations of. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually enjoyed it more than the ‘weightier’ Emma.

First I must comment on Jane Austen. Emma was the assigned reading for Jane Austen when I was doing my English Lit. degree and I found Emma Woodhouse to be a such an unlikable character that I gave up on Austen before I really gave her a chance. If I had read Pride and Prejudice first my studies would, I imagine, have gone in a completely different direction. However, all of Austen’s novels dealt with the limited opportunities for women during her time, as well as class differences, and for the most part, her main characters are modern women, compared to the norm. For both Jane and Emma, marriage (at any cost) is not their goal, although for Emma it is because she is in the rare and fortunate circumstance of not needing marriage (or partnership of some kind) for financial security.  That’s modern, even today.

I’ve been trying to figure out why McCall Smith’s Emma didn’t resonate with me. Perhaps it was that his Emma didn’t feel modern. For one thing she is meaner. Austen’s Emma is for the most part accidentally mean, more a matter of her not thinking. and her transformation which comes as an awakening of the impact of her words and actions makes her more likeable. McCall Smith’s Emma is more deliberately mean and I wasn’t convinced of her redemption. But Austen’s novels are complex and multifaceted and I have no doubt other readers saw things I missed. I do agree with one reviewer however who said that “Mr Woodhouse’s Gluten-Free World was the spin-off novel he would have preferred to write.” (Viv Groskop, The Observer.) I hope he will.

The Secret Diaries of Lizzie Bennett was certainly modern. Lizzie is taking a Master’s degree in Communication and begins posting an online journal on YouTube. I didn’t know until the end of the book but theses videos are actually on YouTube and the book came out of the videos. (Check out The Lizzie Bennett Diaries on YouTube). It is a great concept and, the book at least, is very well done. It stays fairly close to the plot while adding amusing touches, like Mr. Bingly is Bing Lee.  There are only 3 daughters in this version, but Lydia gets a cat named Kitty, and Mary is a cousin. It is witty and fun.

That’s all I have for you. I plan to be taking a reading break for awhile but then again I heard about a new Elizabeth Gilbert novel…and by no means does a good read require a warm sunny place. That is just the icing on the cake.

Winter Reading List