Body Fat

I’m taking a course called “Fitness and prescription” [Conditionnement physique], which is (naturally) all about prescribing fitness interventions. Fair enough. We’ve just finished a unit on body composition, in which a short section at the end delineated “guidelines” to follow on how to address weight gain:

– Eat often; eat larger portions; snack; drink milk and juice with meals (fair enough)
– Eat high-calorie foods, but stick to low-fat options (uhhh)
Above all, do not gain too much fat. Aim only to gain lean body mass (wait, what?)

The prof went on to explain that while weight gain is necessary, fat gain shouldn’t be the goal. At this, I raised my hand. “What about women with amenorrhea? They’d definitely benefit from gaining some body fat.” Cue blathering about “critical fat mass” and women below 13% body fat and yes, amenorrheic women might benefit from gaining some fat, because sometimes women who drop too low in body fat percentage skip their menstrual cycle for a few months.

Well. As someone who skipped 30 months of her menstrual cycle, fat gain was definitely in my interest. So I gained weight. On larger, more frequent meals, full-fat dairy products, additional carbohydrates. Lots of vegetables and fruit throughout. This was by no means unhealthy. I am now the proprietor of a body with more lean mass, and (yes) more body fat. I had to go above and beyond my previous “high” weight to restore my menstrual function, and I’m maintaining here without exactly trying. I exercise regularly. I eat when I’m hungry and as my schedule allows. I eat a lot of vegetables. I don’t usually get enough sunlight or enough sleep.

I’m not entirely comfortable at this weight, but this is where my body wants to be right now. This is where I can drop and do sprint workouts whenever, make the half hour trip to school in the morning and back again in the afternoon (weather permitting). This is where I can lift heavy (for me) weights, or skate or ski, or attend random classes, or train for a 10k race. I can spontaneously go to yoga (as is the plan tonight) with a friend and stretch beyond what I believe I can do.

I have health-related goals, like working out more regularly or attending yoga classes at least once a week because they relax me or going to bed earlier to ensure I sleep enough or walking in the sunlight to maximize my vitamin D even in these frigid winter months, but weight loss or anything related to food-restriction can’t be a part of those.

Just a friendly reminder that body fat is an endocrine organ. Hunger/satiety hormones such as leptin, grehlin, and neuropeptide y are directly related to body fat levels; these communicate with the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus then uses this hormonal information to regulate a huge number of physiological processes, such as appetite and temperature and yes, fertility (generally via pro-hormones). This is a gross over-simplification, but all that to say that we actually do need body fat, and sometimes fat gain can be the primary goal. This culture of fat-fearing needs to stop.

Women need enough body fat to be fertile. End of story. While I have no intention of having children any time soon, I value the proper functioning of my body and see my menstrual cycle as a sign that I’m on the right track, health-wise. Enough body fat also regulates appetite, and I’m not chronically hungry any more (meaning I can think of things beyond my next meal). These are well worth the “extra” (required) weight.


Pancake Bay

This summer has been beyond hectic; I’m beyond thrilled to announce that I am in the home stretch. I wrote my nutrition exam at the end of July, submitted all of the paperwork required for the end of my internship, and took three days off from the lab to go to Pancake Bay with my family for the long weekend. Camping is one of my absolute favourite things in the whole entire world.


Located on lake Superior between Wawa and Sault St. Marie (for all you Ontario folks), I’m of the personal opinion that these waters are the most gorgeous in all of Ontario. The lake was frigid due to the late thaw and cool temperatures we’ve been experiencing, but that was hardly a deterrent. While there, we made a short trip down to see the Agawa pictographs. Left by the indigenous peoples as long as a few hundred years ago, it’s amazing how well preserved these still are!


We took couple of hikes, the first of which ending with us bushwhacking our way through the forest in search of a Geocache. In case you were wondering, we didn’t find it – something about my brother’s handheld GPS being out of calibration. We DID however stumble upon the strangest little camp set up in the middle of the forest. I don’t have a picture, since my phone died. Instead, I’ll provide you with a view of the gorgeous northern Ontario jungle I trekked through in flip-flops:


Our second hike brought us high up to a view of the entire bay and surrounding area. I’m always so amazed at – and grateful for – all the untouched wilderness that surrounds us here in Canada. It’s a beautiful wilderness.

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The rest of the summer’s looking promising. I have seven days left in the lab, one weekend of work, one soccer game, a practice, and a tournament to coach before I head out to Ottawa to spend a couple of weeks with my best friend and hopefully do some shadowing in a hospital. I’m almost through all of my MCAT content review and am ready to start drilling practice problems and tackling a couple of practice exams. At the end of the month, I have another wedding, and then school starts. Bring it! 🙂

A quick HA update: So far I’ve had three cycles spaced quite regularly. I am beyond excited about this fact, and am looking forward to incorporating more exercise into my routine, as time permits. This summer I’ve mostly limited my movement to roughly an hour of walking on most days, courtesy of my commute to and from work. I’d like to start lifting some weights, do yoga once a week, and perhaps add some sprints (as time permits). I plan to proceed slowly and cautiously, monitoring the impact of exercise on my cycle and of course ensuring that I have an adequate caloric intake. 🙂

On Anxiety

Over the course of the past year, I’ve gained weight. Deliberately. I did it without too much anxiety – after all, school became my new focus, and I began to really emphasize food quality over (limited) quantity. I ate more food than I did in the two years prior combined, and certainly more than I had in high school (I certainly don’t miss the days of two Splenda-sweetened low-fat Danone yogurts and five almonds for “lunch”).

Today, I haven’t a clue what I weight. I don’t especially care, either. The last time I stepped on a scale was at a skydiving shop in Fiji; the number was still obscenely low and yet higher than it had been four months prior, which had me feeling anxious all over again. I don’t weigh myself, and I probably never will again. It simply doesn’t matter, and I don’t need to get hung up on a number that doesn’t mean a damn thing.

At the beginning of June I got my period back. My body finally decided that I had restored enough energy to resume reproductive function. I cried in relief that day and could not smiling, feeling absolutely proud of myself. A good friend took me out for a Bloody Caesar, which I savoured almost gleefully. Staring down at infertility at the ripe old age of twenty had been somewhat anxiety provoking in its own right.

Gaining weight was hard. I know I said that it wasn’t too anxiety inducing, but it definitely wasn’t easy. I cried about it, and cried again. I listened to my hunger and ate, without restricting myself, and kind of hated myself for it. I went up two pant sizes and could actually buy jeans in actual stores for actual adults again. My cup size went up twice (at least some of it went to good use). My shirt size remained the same, but my arms filled in. Once again, I could no longer recognize that person in the mirror staring back.

To some extent, I mourned – the loss of the ridges of my spine and my protruding hipbones, my slightly receding clavicle, the spaces between my knee tendons and the crevices in my armpits slowly filling in. I could sit comfortably on chairs again. I could shave every inch of my legs. My hair and nails grew up strongly. And the feelings I had numbed away all returned full-force; the happiness, my drive for success, and – as I knew it would – the anxiety that started it all in the first place.

I struggled with myself. I had days where I wanted to give up. I wrote about it in my journal, trying to keep upbeat and failing somewhat miserably. I woke up and waveringly ate breakfast, lunch, supper. Rinse, repeat. I finally relearned what it was like to feel full, not only on food but also on life. I finally faced up to the anxiety that had plagued me from the age of nine, and acknowledged that what I had been taking out on my body had nothing to do with it.

I still marvel today at how much more energy I have. I walk to and from work, I swim across lakes, I play soccer with the twelve-year-old girls I coach. I want to do things, see people, succeed.

The anxiety follows me everywhere. I still struggle with body dismorphia and an almost overwhelming fear of failure. I say “almost” because it won’t overwhelm me, not this time. I’m still learning to be kind to myself – but the difference is that I am genuinely trying to be kinder to myself. I am aware of my anxiety, and this helps me to recognize and deal with it. I’m working on self-expression. I have yet to accomplish “taking it easy”, partially because being busy is my new coping strategy (arguably less harmful than attempting to starve my brain chemistry into behaving).

So anxiety makes an appearance in my everyday life, but I ignore it. For the most part, in any case. I generally like myself, and can acknowledge when I don’t without falling to pieces about it. I’m learning to adjust to this strange body that is mine, the one that has curves instead of edges and life instead of complacency. I think I like it – it is much better adapted to the whirlwind I experience every day.

Anxiety is the lot of our generation. Most of my friends have experienced some form of anxiety, men and women alike. Many of us take it out on our bodies, perhaps due to cultural conditioning. Some find comfort in food, others in depriving themselves of it. Some work themselves to exhaustion for a bit of peace of mind.

I have to consciously remind myself when I’m feeling – for a lack of a better way to put it – bad that I have a biochemical imbalance, that my body is not to blame. That I have to go on functioning and living. That there are millions of people, men and women, who, like me, know the all-too familiar clenching from a serotonin-deprived brain.

Every morning, I get up and get on with “it”, with whatever might be on my daily agenda. And every morning, I first make myself breakfast.

Women on Water Paddling Festival

I just spent a marvellous weekend at a women’s paddling retreat hosted by Wild Women Expeditions (<— awesome organization for women only – they have trips and expeditions all over the world!). Around 150 women from all over Canada and the United States came together at camp Tapawingo, Parry Sound, to participate in different paddling classes at an event called “Women on Water”. I went with my mom, a friend, andy er mom. There were three water sport offerings: kayak, canoe, and stand-up paddle board (SUP). I decided to spend my weekend SUPing, having never done so before. The verdict? I LOVE it. The stroke for SUP is the same as a sprint kayak stroke, and I had no trouble adapting to standing.

SUP Beach

All in all, the weekend was extremely relaxing. We slept in camp cabins on bunk beds. Mom insisted I take the top bunk (fine by me!). Wake-up call was at 6:30. I joined the masses of bleary-eyed people lining up for coffee before heading off to the 7am yoga practices. Every time I take a yoga class, I am amazed at how quickly my flexibility improves. Probably due to the fact that I don’t practice nearly enough (I’m sure I’d stop seeing rapid improvement rapidly, haha), but still – being able to touch my toes without bending my knees amazes me. It’s the little things.


My last event of the weekend was a SUP yoga class. Guys, I am in love. Doing yoga on a paddle board adds a whole new element of stability/core work and zen. I managed to pull off a headstand on my board. It was so fun! This whole weekend was so empowering; I highly recommend Wild Women if you’re looking for a fun and active getaway.


It felt so good to just get away; to stop worrying about school and lab work and work work and having to be anywhere but in the moment. I’m back now, incubating my membranes in primary antibodies again (we just got a new shipment on Friday!). Tonight’s review topic is momentum (physics Mondays! Good thing the boy is a physics whiz. Fun fact: some of our first dates involved him saving my butt by giving me a crash course in physics just before my senior year final exam). Other plans involve watching Game of Thrones and drinking tea – I have a bit of a sore throat, which has me craving soup even in this gorgeous weather.

Another update: My hormonal issues I talked about in November seem to have finally started to resolve themselves! I started my period on Friday, the day I left for my trip (“great” timing, but kind of fitting). I am honestly so, so grateful. Really. I will never take this for granted, ever.