Fitness and the Winter Blues

Things are about to get personal right here. As always I like to keep this blog as “real” and honest as possible. If you go to my about page you can read my whole history of my complicated relationship with my body up to the point where I started this blog. But what I haven’t touched on before are the peripheral things that also have an impact on health and fitness. Namely, the psychological aspect of health.

I, like many Canadians, suffer from depression.

I have for a very long time.

It’s worse in the winter, like it is for most people in the northern hemisphere, because of the cold, the lack of daylight and the urge to stay inside all day. It’s sometimes called the Winter Blues, but its technical term is Seasonal Affective Disorder (yes, the acronym is SAD).

But I’ve been getting better! Better at dealing with it and better at actually being happier. I no longer consider myself “depressed”, but that doesn’t mean winters aren’t hard.

Photo credit: Hyperbole and a Half

Depression is a complicated beast and is not something that I am going to try to explain here, other than to say that when you start to get depressed (real depression, not sadness) it is a vicious circle. You feel depressed -> you don’t want to do anything -> you stay away from people and things that can make you feel better -> you get more depressed -> cycle repeats.

BUT that is also the cycle that gets you out of that crappy spiral. You can spiral up!

Ok, here is where we get back to fitness. Exercising and eating right and taking care of your body make you less depressed. Not can, might or may make you less depressed. They will make you less depressed. And if you don’t suffer from depression, they will make you feel even better than you already do. There are a lot of physical and chemical reasons for that. But a lot of it boils down to the fact that you are doing something good for yourself, which means that you value yourself and that is a powerful thing!

So keeping active and eating well throughout the winter is crucial for anyone with a sensitive disposition. Obviously that’s not the easiest thing to do in the winter with lots of holiday temptations and the bitter cold outside acting as a deterrent from getting off your couch. But those are pretty easy to  overcome once you do it a couple of times and realize how great it makes you feel.

One of the nail ripping incidents

But what happens if you injure yourself? I seem to be on a minor injury streak recently. I bashed my ankle yesterday and it swelled up pretty badly. I have pulled and repulled my adductor 5 or 6 times now (I really need to get it checked out). And I have fallen down a set of stairs and smashed my knee. Oh and I can’t seem to make it through a leg workout without ripping off 1-3 nails.

Injury for an athlete often leads to depression, and if it’s something you are already predisposed to, it can be pretty hard to fight it off. But one of the keys is to have a game plan. If you have a minor injury, keep going to the gym, just take it easier than normal. But if you have a major injury that requires rehab or rest, the best thing to do for your mind is to come up with a plan of action.

  • How long are you out of commission?
  • Will this cause a permanent change to the way to function?
  • What are the steps to getting healthy again?

Lay it all out, go over it with your medical team and commit to it just like you would any other goal. And here’s the REALLY important part… treat it like a normal goal you would set for health and fitness. Break it down into mini goals and celebrate those milestones. Soon enough you will be back to normal and making even bigger progress than before.

*** I wrote the post after being bombarded by the “Bell Let’s Talk” day campaign and thought that it was important to share. I know it’s an uncomfortable and even shameful topic for some people, but it’s important to have these conversations. None of us are alone.  ***


SiS: Adventures in Competing – Week 7: Exercise

WEEK 7: Exercise

In our seventh episode of our Adventures in Competing Erica, Stephanie and I share some of our knowledge about exercise. I talk more about exercise, picking up where we left off last time we focused on exercise. I go through weight lifting for your specific goals, different types of cardio and finish off with cooling down… just like you should 😉

Rose Blackman – Young Professional – Eat Clean, Train Dirty, Think Nerdy

Stephanie Laurendeau – Stay at home Mom – Decide, Commit, Succeed

Erica Willick – Finance Exec & Mother – Strong Body-Mind-Life


Counting calories; the good, the bad, and the ugly

Counting calories or nutritional information in one way or another is a pretty good way to get control over your diet if you know where to start. A lot of people prescribe a one size fits all approach that obviously doesn’t fit all. The 6 foot tall volleyball player does not need the same amount of food as the 5 foot tall accountant. The FDA uses 2000 calories for women and 2500 calories for men as the RDA (recommended daily allowance) which is just silly because every one is different. But I assume they did this in order to simplify things for the average joe. Well I like simply, but only when it works. When it comes to figuring out your calorie requirement there are LOTS of ways; some simple, some not, some good, some bad. Let’s address those later. First let’s talk about why you should or should not count nutritional info.

The good

  • It gives you more information to work with
  • You can actually make smart modifications to your diet because you know what you are putting in your mouth
  • It holds you accountable for what you eat
  • If you use an online tracker it will likely give you all sorts of other info like proteins, cards, fats, sodium etc. and possibly track your weight, fitness etc as well
  • If you are an organized person, it can be enjoyable and rewarding to look at your successes
  • It’s one of the single most effective weight loss tools because it prevents mindless eating (i.e. grabbing a handful of cereal out of the box) as you have to write it down
  • It can be a great planning tool if you are trying to meet certain targets and you can map it out in advance

The bad

  • It’s time consuming
  • It requires dedication to keep up to date with it
  • The information is only useful if you use it
  • Not all the systems are good: i.e. you might have to input your food manually or approximate things at restaurants etc.
  • If you are writing it by hand you can get lazy with it
  • In order to be accurate you have to measure your food which ca also be time consuming and not only feasible

The ugly

  • It can become an obsession
  • If you eat something bad, it can increase feelings of guilt because that number is staring you in the face
  • It can do crazy things with your emotions and psyche
  • Some people try to “beat” yesterday like it’s a game and can end up doing unhealthy things now that they have the information

So assuming I haven’t scared you away from giving it a go, here are some useful ways to figure out your requirements:

BMR calculator – not the most accurate, but will give you a good starting point. Then you have to add in calories burned from lifestyle and activity.

Multiply that number by the following factors to get your maintenance calories:

1.2 = Sedentary (Desk job, and Little Formal Exercise)
1.3-1.4 = Lightly Active (Light daily activity AND light exercise 1-3 days a week)
1.5-1.6 = Moderately Active (Moderately daily Activity & Moderate exercise 3-5 days a week)
1.7-1.8 = Very Active (Physically demanding lifestyle & Hard exercise 6-7 days a week)
1.9-2.2 = Extremely Active (Athlete in ENDURANCE training or VERY HARD physical job)

So now you know what your calorie requirements are for 1 day in order to stay at your current weight. Are you eating that much? More? Less?You probably don’t know! That’s where a food journal comes in. Don’t change the way you eat, just write down everything that goes in your mouth for 3 days. At the end of it go through and calculate the calories or use a site like SparkPeople which is the one I use. Now you will know when your normal eating habits look like compared to what the calculator tells you is “maintenance range”, if you have a stable weight then you are probably around that target.

5 pounds of fat or 17,500 calories burned!

So how do you lose weight? Well, you decrease calories… but by how much? A pound of a fat is equal to approx. 3,500 calories. A typical healthy weight loss is 1-2 pounds per week so you need to cut or burn an additional 500-1,000 calories per day. I would recommend doing part of it through exercise and part ( a bit more than half) through cutting calories. So if I want to lose 2 pounds per week it looks like this:

BMR = 1500

Moderately active = 1.6

Maintenance calories = 2,400

Calorie deficit required per day = 1,000

Calories per day = 1,700 (700 cal deficit)

Calories burned through exercise = 300

In order to burn 300 calories through exercise I can either jog/bike/elliptical for about 30 mins, do 20 mins of intervals, 40 mins of circuit training, or an hour of weight lifting at a slow pace. There are lots of options, and it’s not exact, but I try to do at least one of those every day or some combination if I miss a day.

All of this should be done while keeping your macronutrients in a good range as I discussed here.