I outdid myself.

I’ve been obsessed with trying to get to the bottom of why I feel like such an outsider. As I thought and talked about it, I started realizing something: most of my closest friends nowadays were to some extent nerdy kids. Maybe we had friends and maybe we found ways to fit in, and maybe we’ve outgrown the bulk of it by now, but our brains all operate at a slightly different wavelength from the rest of society. There’s always that piece of us that wants to get into debates and analyze and get all wrapped up in ideas.

So of course, the next thing I did was google “nerd personality type” and came across this article (for all its shortcomings, it was useful) which starts off with this anedcote:

One day when Erik Charles Nielsen was in seventh grade, his teacher taught a lesson on time zones. The first thing you needed to know, said the teacher, was that the International Date Line was at 180 degrees longitude. “Not exactly,” said Nielsen, piping up to interrupt the lesson. “It actually moves to avoid islands.” After a 15-minute argument, Nielsen was escorted from the room—despite being correct.

Reminds me almost EXACTLY of a time in 5th grade when we were learning bike safety and the gym teacher told us to stay 3 feet from the curb and other obstacles on the side of the road: about the distance from the line around the basketball court to the wall. I did what any well-adjusted 10 year old would do: I raised my hand. “I don’t think that’s three feet.” He looked at me in disbelief, then demonstated how the distance he’d indicated was exactly 3 of his foot lengths. “But is your foot really a ‘foot’?” I asked, regretting it almost immediately. After an awkward pause, during which the whole class looked over at me as I realized I’d messed up, he finally said: “It’s close enough to three feet.” I never did that again, but as we rode around town practicing turn signals and safe riding, I made sure to stick as close to the three feet rule as I could.

And that’s the thing. My brain was ALWAYS trying to figure out rules while my classmates were focusing elsewhere. For me, rules were important. They were foundational.

I was most. definitely. a nerd.

I also had to laugh because only a nerd would go through this amount of research to figure out whether they were in fact a nerd. Because I always knew I was an outsider, but I didn’t know why. There are a million reasons I was different. I’ve gone through them all. But ultimately, social interactions were so hard for me that only in adulthood am I really able to figure this shit out. Most sources (YES OKAY I RESEARCH WAY TOO MUCH) say that the nerdy personality is a mild form of Aspergers, which is a mild form of Autism. It’s not on the spectrum because it doesn’t interfere with daily functioning, but it shares a lot of characteristics of ASD.

Sometimes it BOGGLES my mind that I could be so different from someone else, that they don’t care about my amazing fact about blue pigmentation being COMPLETELY absent from the animal kingdom. That shit’s amazing to me.

But the thing is I’m a total extrovert. I don’t have particularly nerdy hobbies and I don’t like being alone for long periods of time. Academia is really hard for me in that sense. But it’s taken me years to learn how to socialize normally, and a LOT of trial and error. Nobody cares that it’s not exactly three feet but me. Maybe some other kid in the back of the class also wondered the same thing and had the good sense not to open their big mouth, but not me at the time.

It’s been causing a lot of growing pains. It’s been something I’ve denied for a really long time, thinking maybe I felt different because I was queer… or because I was bad at all sports… or because my parents were older… or because my brothers shamed me… or because I was a sensitive kid so I was picked on and/or ignored by my peers… or because I was brainy… or because I was first-generation…

Why do I want to crack this code? A dozen reasons. But mostly because I think that, for all its benefits, nerdiness means getting stuck in my own head and thought processes, which prevents me from really being there for others as a friend and daughter and sister and aunt and girlfriend. And cracking the code means being able to hack having community and a sense of belonging, and participating in this whole human race thing.

So yeah, I’m gonna research the shit out of this, keep analyzing. This is just how my brain operates. Don’t tell anyone, because being cool (or at least functional) is supposed to come easy.

But yeah. I outdid myself in nerdiness by researching nerdiness.

How to do fitness tracking and still be a feminist and a human being

Everyday Feminism is wonderful. They hit the nail on the head about fitness tracking in “Your fitbit is ruining your relationship with your body — here are 3 reasons why”. I never got a fitbit but I’ve done all sorts of fitness tracking. I’ve tried to use pedometers at various stages, and I’ve done MyFitnessPal calorie tracking, and, yes, I’ve used them to lose weight.

Well, after reading that article, plus delving a bit into the internet, plus thinking back to my own experience, I realized how calorie tracking can encouraging disordered eating. It really is what you make of it, and if you have a tendency toward disordered eating, it can make you hyperaware of what you’re eating and how you’re exercising, and not in a good way.

In theory there’s nothing wrong with tracking to get healthy. In practice, it can often be used to justify fat shaming… in numbers. (And it’s not as easy as just eating salad: salad is overrated. Plus more expensive.) But it’s easy to see how tracking calories could be addictive for the sake of losing weight which, as we know, is neither the whole picture of health nor is it for everyone. But I do think I learned a lot from tracking, and I do think there are ways to use it for your benefit.

  1. You don’t have to use it to lose weight. The apps were all built for weight loss facilitation: the numbers go red if you’re over but green if you’re under your daily caloric needs, even if you input weight gain as your goal. That’s a problem. But you don’t have to make that your goal. Instead, use it to track something like, say, how much sugar you’re eating. Substitute fiber and protein and fat for that sugar; see how that feels. These apps have a lot of potential beyond weight LOSS to tell you what the breakdown of your diet is. Because unfortunately, our food system (especially in the city where I live, where I tend to eat out a few times a day) tends to promote unhealthy choices, and that doesn’t necessarily mean more calories but includes it. If you track what you eat and find that your once-a-week muffin turned into 4-times-a-week, then maybe you can try to sub something a little bit more balanced.
  2. Use fitness tracking to log exercise and active transport. This is obviously only one for able-bodied people; your needs may be different depending on your abilities. But one thing I like about pedometers is that they can track your daily activity, outside of regimented exercise. Obviously, you can rely on intuition to know, but say that you make a resolution to exercise 5 days a week but you happened to have a day where you are too tired to go to the gym, and you go to your pedometer and find that you walked 20,000 steps! Then maybe the laziness is justified. Or maybe you’re tired because you only walked 2,000 steps. Or maybe you’re debating whether to take the crowded train and save 15 minutes over walking… maybe you’ll remember that you’d be rewarded with an extra few thousand steps and that will get you to make the choice. Sometimes I’m just not aware of how sedentary or active I’m being; and walking is one of those exercises that’s very hard to overdo, and that almost always makes me feel better. On the other hand, we shouldn’t be thinking of any active transport as “exercise”… maybe we should rebrand it as “active transport”.
  3. Use it for a while… then stop. This is ESPECIALLY true for the food one: you don’t want to be logging calories forever. Enjoy your vacation, enjoy your brunches, enjoy not trying to recall if you ate one slice of bacon or two. Remember to enjoy food. The way I see tracking is it’s a good way of assessing your baseline, identifying issues (“hmm, I seem to be eating all fried foods for dinner lately…”) and becoming more aware of the food choices you make. I’ve been eating a lot of sweet foods lately, concurrent with an increase in stress, so I may choose to log for a week sometime soon. But this doesn’t have to be something I do forever, only as a means for figuring out how I’m doing in navigating the prepared-food-choices available to me.
  4. Take into account your individual needs. If you have a history of disordered eating, maybe tracking will help you realize you are allowed to eat more than you are; or maybe it’ll trigger disordered thinking again. If you have a chronic illness or disability, better food choices will likely not fix everything. Depending on your individual case, you will need to decide what is right for you. Maybe exercise tracking is okay but calorie tracking isn’t, or maybe you just want to track sugar, or maybe you just want to track your heart rate, or maybe you don’t want to track at all.
  5. Think about other fitness trackers. For example:
    1. Tracking heart rate. Everyone has a heart rate, and it’s easy to measure. My high school cross country coach told us to do this first thing in the morning, since an elevated heart rate is usually the first sign of illness. But you may also find that if you’ve stuck with your walking-briskly-to-work routine your resting heart rate goes down accordingly.
    2. Tracking bike rides or running/walking routes, and sharing them with friends. This is a form of tracking that can be social and can help you keep a record of your adventures.
    3. Sleep tracking. If you are frequently sleep-deprived, this may help you figure out which nights you get the worst quality sleep.
  6. Last but not least, fitness tracking should be optional. In that Everyday Feminism article, there is mention of a health app that can’t be deleted from the phone; I have a few friends who have the same tracker. This is horrible news for someone trying to quit disordered eating/tracking: if the app is right there, they may fall into old patterns. This is a trend that must be stopped. We don’t all want our smartphones to be our nannies; it’s important to be able to pick and choose what apps are okay for our lifestyles. By making it a permanent app, your smartphone is saying it knows your health needs better than you. Screw you, smartphone.

What’s the takehome? It should be obvious by now that:

  • We can’t equate fat with health. 
  • We can’t say that our bodies are entirely our choices: they’re shaped by the options available to us, by our ability status, by our health status.
  • One-size-fits-all approaches don’t work.
  • Fat shaming doesn’t work.
  • Only tracking fat or calories is a surefire way to reduce your complex lifestyle to a single number. And that is a surefire way to get bored with life.

On the flipside, fitness trackers aren’t inherently evil; they can work with your feminist lifestyle. But they must be optional, and they must be varied.

One thing I do wish though, is that there were food trackers that also logged the following:

  • Cost of the meal, to analyze what’s the most bang-for-your-buck.
  • How seasonal that meal is.
  • How big a carbon footprint for that time of year for that geographical locale.

Those are things I’d love to know.