The Lessons and Wrath of Dani Mathers

17 Jul

Dani Mathers.

Just 24 hours ago, I was blissfully unaware of that name, as I imagine most of us were.  We had never heard of the 29-year old 2015 Playmate of the Year, because unless you’re a 15-year old boy or Hugh Heffner or live in your parents’ wood paneled basement surrounded by role-playing games and your VHS porn collection, why would you?

But yesterday I was slapped in the face with the hot mess that is Dani Mathers when she did one of the most despicable and vicious things I’ve ever heard of:  she took a photo of a naked, elderly woman showering in the locker room of an LA Fitness without that women’s permission; posted it on Snapchat; and captioned it, “if I can’t unsee this then you can’t either.”  Mathers is seen with her hand over her mouth, wide-eyed and in faux shock over the horror of the nude and unsuspecting body behind her.

Dani Mathers

I had a whole bevy of immediate reactions to this absolutely horrific situation.  I was shocked at the cruelty that motivated it, heartbroken for the woman whose privacy and dignity was so brutally violated, furious at the hatred women can show toward one another, and hopeful that the immediate backlash would provoke some sort of tangible result.  (As of this writing, Mathers is being publically shamed and has been banned from all LA Fitness locations, and there is a petition encouraging the LAPD to take legal action.)  I’m livid, and I’m writing from a place of anger and humiliation and supreme disgust.  So bear with me.

The thing is, I have spent my adult life working in the defense of women.  I work for  women who are like me (fat, lesbo, former bulimic, cancer survivor, high femme, gym addict, etc), and for women who are nothing like me at all.  I consider myself a feminist before anything else, and I work hard to assume the best about other women, even when their actions are extremely suspect.  So while my immediate, gut instinct was to throat kick Dani Mathers, what I want to be able to do right now is think about how this happened to her, how she went from an ignorant young woman whose #1 goal in life was to spread her legs for Hugh Hefner to a full-on sexual predator, creating victims of other unsuspecting women.

But I can’t.

Look.  In some ways, I realize that Dani Mathers is a victim of a misogynist culture – we all are.  I realize that she didn’t decide to be a Playboy model because she got tons of positive reinforcement about her talent and intellect and potential.  I get it.  She probably turned to taking her clothes off for the same reason so many women do: we can make far more money naked than clothed, provided we fit a terribly uncompromising image of what women are supposed to look like, the very image Mathers herself is acting to reinforce.  “Empowerment” often comes at the expense of actual power, and there’s no better example of that than the sex industry. I get all of that, and so I want to be able to muster up some sympathy for a woman who could be so utterly cruel to another woman, an elder no less, and then laugh about it publicly, assuming she would get some sort of kudos from other people for being “daring” enough to assault a woman in a public locker room.  Something is definitely wrong, that a person like Dani Mathers came to be.


But I really don’t care about Dani Mathers right now.  What I care about is the anonymous woman who was photographed, against her will, without her consent, without agreeing to be a punch line for a young, privileged, white woman whose subsequent “apology” is nothing more a self-serving series of excuses:  she thought she was having a private conversation, not a public one [so she only intended to humiliate this woman in front of her closest friends, not the whole world], she doesn’t really know how to use Snapchat [except she managed to use it perfectly to post both the photo and the apolog], and she really loves women’s bodies [as long, apparently, as they look just exactly like hers].  Yeah, Dani.  We get it.  #sorrynotsorry.

With all due and honest respect to the amazing men out there who actually own their privilege and treat women like fully-realized and fully-capable members of society, this is the type of bullshit I expect from some douche-bag guy performing a fraternity hazing ritual, the same kind of frat that hangs banners reading “No means yes, yes means anal.”  I expect this from one of the dudes in a Hangover movie, or on Howard Stern’s show, or at a Trump rally.  Misogyny is less startling when you’ve been trained to expect it.  But when it comes from another woman, another person who has grown up in a culture that is designed to be demeaning to women, to strip us of all sense of actual personhood, to convince us that our worth is in our T & A, not in our minds and hearts… it’s shattering.  It devastates that part of me that wants to continue to believe in the best of people, that given the opportunity to do what’s right and just, most of us would.

But not Dani Mathers.

What she did to another woman, a woman who entered that gym to be the strongest and healthiest version of herself, is, dare I say it, unforgivable.  And it’s unforgivable because she didn’t just violate that one woman who happened to be in the right place at the wrong time.  It’s unforgivable because she violated the trust of every single woman who has ever hesitated to walk in to a gym for fear of being judged.  She validated the fears of capable-but-hesitant women everywhere.  She has told hundreds of millions of women that because they don’t look like Playboy “playmates,” there is yet one more space that is unsafe for them, that prying and judging eyes are never, ever closed.  It’s not enough that LA Fitness has rightfully banned her from their premises.  It’s not enough that she has been suspended (but not fired) from her regular radio job.  She needs to be treated like the criminal she is and arrested for not just violation of privacy, but for sexual assault.  And if I had my way, she would be investigated for a hate crime.

This all hits me so personally not just because I am a woman, not just because I am a woman who will never fit the ideals of conventional beauty, not even just because I’m a personal trainer and therefore spend a lot of time in gyms.  It hits me right in the gut because I have been working my ass off to open a truly safe and body-positive gym, in the hopes of creating the exact space where things like what Mathers did wouldn’t happen.  I have invested all of my savings and thousands of hours trying to brainstorm and plan and prepare a space that would create community between people of all sizes and ages, for sis and trans people, for people of color, for people with abilities all along the spectrum of possibility.  I have worked harder on this project than I have on anything in my life…and now Dani Mathers happens.  And I’m so afraid that people who might have supported this project will turn away in disgust, assuming that gyms cannot, by definition, be safe.

women should empower eachother

But look, no place can ever be fully safe.  But there is still the potential to create a safer space, a place where no one is expected to look like the cover of a magazine, where we don’t have to be alike in order to support one another, and where the kind of malicious treatment of other people modeled so conspicuously by Dani Mathers just doesn’t happen.  I guess what I want to create is a place where people are simply nicer to one another, a bit of a reprieve from the world of spiteful Playboy models and their adoring audiences.  And I refuse to let a misguided, foolish, and mean-spirited woman like Mathers take that from me, or from us.

If you want to support the creation of this truly body-positive gym, to resist the body tyranny displayed by Dani Mathers and so many like her, please contribute here:  And in the meantime, please don’t let this petty little snot tell you that you aren’t beautiful.  Because underneath it all, she’s the ugly one.  #nomorevictims.


What’s Your Damage, Heather?

13 Mar

Earlier this week, I was honored with a cool invitation: Living Yoga asked me to say a few words at the kick-off to their annual fundraising campaign. Living Yoga is the amazing organization that sends me to Washington County Correction Center twice a month to teach yoga to people incarcerated there. In thinking about what to say at the event, I started retracing my own steps with the organization, and with trauma.

Living Yoga teaches what they call “trauma-informed yoga,” and that’s what I learned when I did my training with them last fall. And while I‘m not sure quite what I was expecting from the training, I was surprised by how straightforward it was, and how it seemed like just a matter of common sense. Things like, you know, don’t touch people without their permission. Avoid words that could be triggering. Don’t make assumptions about any one person’s background. Avoid language that is divisive. All good suggestions, of course, for how to be supportive to people who have experienced some sort of trauma.

But which of us hasn’t experienced some sort of trauma? The people I see at the correctional center… their trauma is easy to see, easy to touch. It’s on the surface, and obvious by their presence there. They have drug addictions, they have criminal backgrounds, perhaps they have experienced homelessness and violence. Their trauma is big and obvious and real. It’s a given. But let’s not forget that we all have some sort of trauma in our lives. Maybe we haven’t been homeless, but maybe we’ve struggled with long-term poverty. Perhaps we haven’t developed a chemical addiction, but we have a parent or other relative who is an alcoholic or drug addict. Maybe we struggle with grief and pain and insecurities that are just as powerful but less obvious than my yoga students. And those types of trauma inform our lives just as much, albeit in a more subtle, sneaky sort of way.

It’s so important that we treat ourselves with just as much tenderness and care as I treat my yoga students. Because we all have hurt and fear, and how close to the surface it is can be just a matter of one assumption or one touch or one thoughtless comment. We deserve to honor the fact that we are all evolving beings, every day, and that all of that trauma, all of those challenges, create who we are just as much as all the support and love and success does.

And I think that’s why the trauma-informed yoga training sounded so simple to me: I already practice trauma-informed personal training. I just didn’t know it. But my entire business is based on believing that every one of my clients come to me in some state of vulnerability, with hopes and goals, and the big fat dose of courage it takes to ask for a bit of help reaching those goals. Working in a gym isn’t just a matter of figuring out how much weight a person can bench press; it’s also about figuring out how much work is encouraging, and how much is demoralizing. It’s finding the line between feeling like a badass and feeling like a failure. It’s realizing that on some days, it’s really there, and on some days, it’s just not – and that’s totally okay, because we’re different, every minute of every day, and it would be stupid to expect anything else.

But more than just expecting our respective damage to show up here and there, I think we should really welcome it, with open arms, as part of our own history. It’s like a road map or a stretch mark or a post card. It’s the emotional equivalent of an old photo in an album you never pull off the shelf anymore. Trauma is part of your history, it’s part of my history, it’s an absolute universal; nobody gets out of this life alive. Let’s choose to honor that trauma, as a building block to our strongest, most honorable, most badass selves. Let’s own it, work through it as much as we can, and then create something gorgeous on top of it. What’s that traditional Buddhist chant, about how lotus flowers grow from mud? Yeah, like that.


In other words, let’s all treat ourselves and each other just like we would all treat my yoga students: with compassion and love and with the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume we’re all worth that. Because we are.

Baby, You’re a Star!

7 Feb

I’ll warn you right now: this ain’t your momma’s blog post.

Instead of writing a typical blog post about fitness or wellness or the challenges that get in our way along the road to self-love and awesomeness, I’m writing this time to ask for your assistant and involvement in the biggest project of my career: opening a gym!

Ever since I started my career as a personal trainer, it’s been my goal to open a gym that would create a community space for non-traditional gym-goers of all stripes. Think of a space where rad people are welcome to come to support each other as they work toward healthier lives, regardless of race, gender, size, shape, age, ability, strength, experience, fear, or insecurity. A space where laughter is encouraged. A space with enough equipment to get the job done, but not so much as to overwhelm you. A space that’s as much about building community as it is about individual accomplishments. A space that advocates love and positivity and joy and creates no place at all for negativity or shaming or judgment. A space that is truly body-positive, with no exceptions. A space with a disco ball. A space that currently does not exist in Portland. A space with Prince Hour every night!


While this space is clearly ready in my head and my heart, it’s not quite as ready in my wallet. Those of you who live in Portland know that our dear, treasured city is incredibly expensive these days, and commercial space is even more ridiculous than residential, if you can believe that. So plans are under way to raise enough money to make it happen. I have already secured an $8000 grant (which is SO amazing!), and the next step is to create a crowd funding campaign.

This is where you and your fabulous ideas, spirit, generosity, and face come in! In order to make a really successful campaign, I need a video. And in order to make a video, I need movie stars. And when I say “movie stars,” I’m talking about you, you crazy sexy beast, you!

Wanna be in a video??

I need people to do 1 of 3 different things, or any combination thereof:

  1. Talk directly to the camera (by which I mean, an iPhone in your face), and say a few words about why having a dedicated space for so-called fat or older or sedentary or injured or scared people is important to you. How would you benefit from the space, and how would Portland in general benefit? How does this space fit in to a broader social justice framework? How would it help you get your sweat on, build healthy habits for your life, and create the kind of community we all want and need? Why do you want this gym to exist and to succeed?;
  2. Talk about the same type of stuff, but know that your audio track will be overlaid on top of another visual. In other words, you don’t have to be shown just talking directly in to the lens if you’re a bit camera shy. (Strange that you would be, since you’re such a hottie, but whatever.);
  3. Be shown working out or doing some sort of badass activity (weight lifting, agility work, yoga, bike riding, walking, playing tennis, chasing down bank robbers, etc) but without any verbal input. In other words, when the camera shy hotties from the second option are talking, you would be the visual to accompany them.

This filming could be really informal and quick – it could be as basic and just you and me hanging out for a while, discussing what you might want to say, and then taking 30 seconds to film it. Maybe we do a second take, just to be sure. You could even film something yourself and email it to me, if you’re not in Portland and still want to contribute to creating this bomb-ass one-of-a-kind space. (I would LOVE that, by the way, because it reinforces that this gym is part of a broader movement, one that protects all of us by encouraging self-love and acceptance, which in turns helps us all to love and accept others.) Whatever is best for you, that’s what we’ll do.

Time is of the essence, here, so please let me know ASAP if you would like to be involved. Especially those of you I don’t see regularly in the gym, please know your input and participation is every bit as invaluable and important to me as those of my regular clients. It’s takes a village, y’all.  And I’m hoping this is one of those, “If we build it, they will come” sort of things. Let’s start building!

if you build it

Thank you in advance, with all my gratitude!


Lily-Rygh Glen, Body-Positive Certified Personal Trainer


I Lost That Lovin’ Feeling

15 Jan

Last week I had that old, familiar experience, of “feeling fat.”

hello my name is

Forget, for just one moment, that it’s not really possible to feel “fat.” Fat is not an emotional state. It’s not happy or sad or lonely or excited or angry. It’s not something we feel, per se, just something that is a part of all of our bodies, some more than others. We don’t really feel fat any more than we feel brunette, or we feel 5’8”. Fat is just a part of our physical make-up, and it’s not, therefore, an emotion.

But, of course, it’s become a de facto emotion for tens of millions of women all over the world. Probably hundreds of millions, really.   Because “feeling fat” has become shorthand for the stuff that’s harder to admit: I’m feeling self-conscious, I’m feeling vulnerable, I’m feeling singled out, I’m feeling disappointed, I’m feeling afraid of being judged, I’m feeling exposed, etc. All of those statements are so much harder to explain and say, out loud, with our big girl outside voices, than “I feel fat.” As women, especially those of us who have said it before, we all know exactly what that means.  So we don’t bother to ask what the actual emotion is, because we already know. Or we don’t know but we don’t care. Or we suspect, but don’t want to get in to anything too messy, like real, honest-to-god feelings. Yuck.

feelings on off


But last week, in my favorite yoga class, I found myself “feeling fat.” I need to stress how much I adore this class. It has been my main grounding tool for the past 6 months or so, and I look forward to it every week. The poses are sometimes soothing, sometimes a bit challenging, but no matter what we’re doing with our bodies, my mind and my spirit has always felt 100% safe in that classroom, with that instructor. Until this past week.

At the very end of an otherwise- lovely class, the instructor had us do this pose in which we sat on bolsters, one leg bent behind us and one leg in front, knee bent and foot on the ground. So far, so good, although I couldn’t help but notice that I needed 2 bolsters instead of 1. Then we were invited to lean back, to stretch through the thighs. (For those yogis out there, the pose was Reclined ½ virasana.) I barely moved before I felt the stretch, and would have been content to hold that posture all day had I not made the mistake of looking around the room at everyone else, and then looking down at my own thigh, spread out and pressed against the bolster, seemingly stretching the boundaries of gravity and physics, pushing maximum density.

reclined half virasana

NOTE:  This is not what I looked like doing this pose.

The thing is, I’m normally somewhat proud of my thighs. I have what one friend affectionately calls “thick” thighs, and I have a bit of a quad fetish in the gym; I spend far more time lunging and squatting and leg pressing than I care to admit. I love having strong thighs, and I want them to be seen as such; I want to look like a woman who could kick somebody’s ass with ease and grace. So it was jarring and weird to look down at my thighs and realize I was feeling, yep, there it is, “fat.”

Really, I think I was feeling disoriented and confused. And I was also feeling those other things: singled-out, afraid of being judged, exposed, vulnerable, etc.

But here’s the really fucked-up part: nobody in that room was singling me out or judging me, or even noticing me, really. That was all me. That was nothing but the mean-spirited voices that apparently still rent out a slice of my brain, ready and willing to pounce on my self-esteem with the slightest of opportunities. I have spent decades trying to silence those voices (thanks, Dad!), and for the most part, I have. But sometimes, when I least expect it… I feel fat. And that’s okay. It really is. It just serves as a reminder that there is always more work to do, always more self-love to be had, always more trust to be given and gained, to and by myself.

feelings math


I texted a friend after that yoga class, someone I knew would understand what had happened. She said all the things you would want a great friend to say, and also sent me a link that was perfectly-timed. I’m including it at the bottom of this post. It’s a reminder that at some point, we owe it to ourselves, as women and just as human beings, to stop worrying about the superficial shit and focus on being happy and healthy, whatever that looks like for each of us, as individuals. It’s not easy, and in our culture, it’s not intuitive. But it’s the best and most we have. And it’s the best and most we can do for ourselves, to really feel whatever it is we feel, and to identify it honestly and bravely.


Lily-Rygh Glen, Certified Personal Trainer


Good Intentions

2 Mar


They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, right?  Well wait ‘til you hear this one.

Flexible Fitness, my training business, was started specifically to provide safe and fun fitness instruction to people who tend to be underserved in the broader fitness community.  I work with a lot of women who are menopausal or post-menopausal, overweight, chronically out of shape, unsure of what to do in a gym, or in a life-or-death struggle with their conflicted feelings about their bodies.  Some of my clients have battled or continue to battle eating disorders.  Some of them have been so ashamed of their bodies that they have ignored them to the point that lifting 5lb dumbbells is too taxing.  A couple of them are covered in self-inflicted scars.  One cries when she has to face a mirror. 

And, some of my clients are fiercely tough and deeply badass, the type of women you wouldn’t want to piss off in a dark alley.   One of them is in her mid-50’s, considered overweight by conventional standards, and can leg press 400lbs.  Several of them are involved with the Health at Every Size movement, and come to the gym because they know their overall health will be more determined by their muscle mass than their body weight.  One of them sings while doing burpees.

The point I’m trying to make is that I serve a group of women who have been largely ignored by the fitness industry as a whole, an industry that assumes that fat people only and always work out in order to lose weight – it’s almost like there is no possibility at all that some fat people might genuinely enjoy exercising just as much as some thin people do, that some fat people might be just as happy in their skin as some thin people are, or that many fat people could kick the asses of many thin ones.    I absolutely love what I do, and I feel honored that so many fat women, women who have been routinely ignored, marginalized, and demonized by the majority of the fitness industry, trust me enough to help them achieve their fitness goals.

To that end, I’m constantly trying to come up with new activities that are safe and fun and appropriate for people in large(r) bodies.  I am a huge proponent of fitness walking, water aerobics, and yoga, and I have recently developed a monthly class I am calling Intro to Fat Fitness.  I’ll be teaching it at In Other Words, a feminist non-profit bookstore and community center here in Portland, Oregon.   I’ve worked hard on this class, trying to make it as exciting and light-hearted and productive as possible, and so I’ve been proudly promoting the class.  So far, so good, right?

At least I thought so…until I saw that someone posted these two comments on In Other Words’ Facebook page, regarding my class: 

·         As a feminist group, I would think you’d develop something that embraces all women and all body types;

·         Do you think this ostracizes thin women?

::sighing deeply::

Here’s the deal: there’s this thing called cultural capital, similar and related to a funny little concept known as power differentials.  Groups who have less of it have always found ways to gather and support each other and take care of themselves as individuals and groups.  Always.  This is how resistance happens.  It’s not about specifically shunning the people with the power, but rather empowering people without it.  When black people gathered during the early days of the civil rights movement, were they “ostracizing” white people, or were they trying to figure out how to create a more equitable cultural system?  When gay people started meeting post-Stonewall in order to come up with a way to share in the equal rights afforded to them by the constitution, should they have concerned themselves with “embracing” straight people at the same time?  And when women collaborated to figure out how to get the vote, they weren’t trying to take it away from men!  There were agendas in those gatherings, very thoughtful and rigorous agendas that involved advancing the interests of the specific group targeted.  Plain and simple.

And that’s what Intro to Fat Fitness is trying to do: empower fat people, who have been systematically disempowered by a fitness industry that shames and blames them, often putting their physical (not to mention mental) safety at risk in the process.  It’s not about trashing or ostracizing thin people.  In fact, it’s specifically not about thin people at all – that’s exactly the point.  Most thin people can attend just about any fitness class in the city and feel relatively comfortable and honestly welcomed.  They can also feel pretty assured that the instructors of those classes know how to direct them appropriately and provide for their physical safety.  Most fat people simply cannot say the same thing.  And I refuse to believe that there is something wrong in providing a space for that life-changing work to happen.

It bothers me to know that there are women out there who will take any opportunity to assume the worst about the intentions of other women.  And it seems ironic that my class would be accused of ostracizing thin women, considering that it’s being held at a feminist bookstore, a place that is often accused of ostracizing men in an attempt to provide a safe space for women.  Nevertheless, I will continue to offer this class as long as there are fat people who want to take it.  The struggle for body equality will undoubtedly be a long one, especially since some thin people (and yes, I’m assuming the woman who wrote those comments is thin) will continue to act as though their rights, as a privileged minority, are being somehow threatened by the attempts of fat people to be healthy and strong, and to get that way in an environment that feels safe and unthreatening.  What a load of crap.


Lily-Rygh Glen

Intro to Fat Fitness will be held on the first Tuesday of every month, from 6.00-7.00pm, at In Other Words.  Please contact me for additional information.

The 5 Stages of Hipster-free Health

16 Feb

hipster hatAbout six weeks ago, I woke up from a sound sleep with a stabbing pain in my hip.  It radiated out from a central point and pretty much covered the front of my pelvis.  No matter what I did, the pain didn’t subside.  From that moment on, if I sat too long in the same position, or if I walked down a flight of stairs, or even stood in the wrong way, that pain would smack me up.  In the past 6 months alone, I have strained my left elbow and my right knee, landed wrong jumping off a rock onto my left ankle, and pulled my right lat in the gym.  So I’m pretty familiar with all sorts of muscular pain – this wasn’t it.  I just  didn’t know what to make of it. I remember telling a friend of mine that the only thing that made sense was arthritis, but that couldn’t be it, because you can’t just wake up in the middle of the night suddenly arthritic.

Apparently you can.  It turns out I have advanced degenerative bilateral arthritis.  Advanced.  I’m 42 years old, very active in my body, with no real family history of arthritis…but here I am, looking at the possibility of a hip replacement.  It’s a classic WTF.

In the process of gathering “what the hell do I do now?” information, I went to a previously-scheduled appointment with a brilliant nurse practitioner named Seth Merritt.  Seth’s not a rheumatologist or an orthopaedist – he’s actually one of only a handful of health care providers in Oregon to hold a board-specialty in bariatric treatment and metabolic disorders, the perfect person to help me navigate my Hashimoto’s Disease.  I mentioned the arthritis thing, and he said the one sentence I had been expecting but dreading: “I just don’t see how you avoid going gluten-free.”

(Insert wailing, groaning, and prodigious cursing here.)

Like any recovering bulimic, I abhor across-the-board food restriction.  It freaks me out and sends my mind spinning, and I’ve never been convinced that it could be completely healthy to cut entire food categories from one’s diet.    Furthermore, and equally important, I’m not a Portland Hipster:  I am not a member of the “I bike commute to work every day on my fixie, which makes me a better, inherently cooler person than you are, which is why I ‘accidentally’ leave one pant leg rolled up so you know I bike commute” class; I don’t wear “ironic” trucker hats while possessing no actual understanding of the word “irony”; I don’t love unicorns or PBR or Neutral Milk Hotel; I do not, ever, under any circumstances, wear skinny jeans; and I don’t jump from one “I saw it on Dr. Oz so it must be true” diet plan to the next, be it vegan or paleo or raw…or gluten-free.

But I trust Seth completely – the guy really knows his shit – so I responded in the way I always respond to a crisis: “Is there a book?”

I’m now in the middle of reading Wheat Belly (yes, I know Dr. Oz recommends it…whatever), and I’m telling you, this guy is on to something.  Gluten is, of course, just a huge inflammatory.  And arthritis is all about inflammation.  And Hashimoto’s is an auto-immune disease, which means it, too, is all about inflammation.  So I’m doing it.  I’m going gluten-free.

But let me back up, because it wasn’t quite that straight-forward.  I think I went through speed-laced stages of grieving, trying to reconcile my relationship with gluten in about 48 hours.  It looked something like this:

  1. Denial:  “This isn’t really that big of a deal.   I mean, people have been eating wheat for thousands of years, so how bad can it be?”  (Pretty bad, it turns out, especially considering that what we call “wheat” is nothing like what it was even 60 years ago.)  So I sat down with an enormous plate full of whole wheat pasta and enjoyed every bite.  Of course.    
  2. Anger:  “Well, this is just totally fucked!  I manage to recover from a 25-year eating disorder and a lifetime of being afraid of my body, only to get this crap thrown in my face now that I’m living a healthy life?  WTF?  First Hashimoto’s, then MTHFR, now arthritis?  No way.  No effing way!  This is not fair and I simply refuse!”
  3. Bargaining:  Well, maybe if I don’t eat gluten at home, I could eat it when I go out to dinner?  Maybe I could just reduce the amount of bread I eat?  What if I made sure I always had a big piece of protein with my pasta?  Would that counter the effects?  (Answer: nope.)
  4. Depression:  I can never go out to eat ever again in my entire life, and I’m the only person who could possibly know what this feels like, and so what that I live in Portland, Oregon in 2014, the easiest possible place and time to go gluten-free, because this is still horrible.
  5. Acceptance:  Okay, well, I don’t want to walk with a cane before I’m 45 years old.  So I guess I’m going gluten-free.

At the end of the overwrought day, gluten and I have had a dysfunctional relationship for a long time, a classic unrequited love affair: I loved it, but it just didn’t love me back. Or maybe it loved me, but it wasn’t in love with me.  And that’s why whenever I tried to get close with it, it hurt me.

And here’s the really weird part: I feel great.  Like, actually, really great.  My energy is through the roof, I have only had a few random moments of hip pain in the past three weeks, my mind feels clearer, my depression is under control, and I feel capable of doing whatever it takes to protect my hips and the rest of my body, to stay as mobile as possible for as long as possible.

I’m not saying that a gluten-free diet is for everyone – this is absolutely not me standing on a soapbox.  But it is me saying that it’s so important to listen to our bodies, even when they are telling us things we don’t want to hear.  And it’s so important to listen to our health care providers (not just TV doctors!), even when they are telling us things we don’t want to hear.   It’s important to be open to the options that we don’t like, because they just may be the right options for us.

And if anyone can recommend a restaurant in Portland that is both hipster-free and  gluten-free, I’m all ears!


Lily-Rygh Glen

Beware the Meathead!

10 Jan

meathead stash

Oh, I’m just super pissed!

I was at the gym, having just finished training a very hard-working and brave client, and thinking about how lucky I am to be in a position to usher women into healthier habits that could lead to longer and better-lived lives. I was feeling high from watching my client push herself to the limits of her (safe) abilities, seeing the look of utter satisfaction flood her face when she lifted something she was certain was far too heavy for her, and thinking about my place (as a fat and body-positive self-taught 42-year old recovering bulimic) in the fitness industry, an industry with which I am pretty regularly disgusted. I was all aglow with the pleasures of making a living doing something I love so much. It was like a personal trainer’s equivalent of a sexual afterglow.

As I started my own workout, I was thinking about how my personal challenge for that day was to lift the kind of weights that my clients would be proud of, to live up to their expectations of me in the same way they consistently live up to my expectations of them. I was primed and ready to roll. I started grabbing weights to load on to an easy curl bar when this gym meathead I had never seen before interrupted me. He said something vague like, “So, you’re a trainer, huh?” He looked me up and down in that trying-to-be-sly-but-not-at-all-succeeding way that I’ve become fairly used to at this point: it was a clear assessment of my body, and I could see the messaging running through his head. He obviously questioned my authority in the gym and my own ability to maintain a healthy body for myself. After all, I don’t look the part of a trainer: I’m clinically obese, rock a pair of serious sidecars, and lovingly admit that I have so much back that it’s coming up front. So I understood his dubiousness, at the same time I didn’t really feel like entertaining it.

So I answered with something not at all vague but hopefully silencing – “Yep!” – and started to put my headphones on, the international symbol for “I really don’t want to talk with you right now.” As one might expect, Meathead didn’t take the hint. Turns out he wants to become a personal trainer, too, and started picking my brain. He asked lots of questions about my clients, where and how I ”signed” them, how I set their goals, what I do to “make” them lose weight, and what I tell them about nutrition. After a big sigh, I realized I was going to have to entertain Meathead for at least a minute or two.

I explained that I don’t “sign” clients, I work along side them. I also don’t set my clients’ goals, but work with them to determine goals that are appropriate and safe for them to set. I don’t do one damn thing to “make” anybody do anything, let alone lose weight. And since I’m not a nutritional counselor, I talk to my clients about food only when and if they ask me about it – I’m not proactive on that point. He looked dumbfounded about all of this, so I continued on, feeling the whole time like I was talking to a brick wall but still obligated to defend my business philosophy and my clients.

I explained that my clients aren’t really looking for six-pack abs or striated muscles; that’s just not the type of person who seeks out a trainer like me. They aren’t trying to make the weight lifting boards or compete professionally. My clients want to increase their quality of life, and just work from their starting point, whatever that may be. I never impose my own agenda on any of them…because I don’t have an agenda in the first place.

I thought I had been all eloquent in my explanations, and was expecting him to thank me for my time and perspective. But no. Meathead went on to say, “What do you do if they overeat?” I was a bit stunned, and after a moment of silence, I just replied, “Well, since I’m not the food police, and since my clients aren’t required to report their food choices to me, and since I only train adults who are, by virtue of that adulthood, capable of making their own choices, I don’t do anything at all about that.” I went on to explain that while I certainly advocate a healthy diet for all of my clients (and everybody else, for that matter), I also think there’s something to be said for a truly healthy and intuitive relationship with food that allows for occasional unhealthy choices: I want my clients to feel great about eating a piece of birthday cake at a party, or indulging in a decadent meal to celebrate an anniversary, or even just ordering in a pizza once in a while because it just sounds so damn good. His reply was… I can’t even. He said, and I quote:

“If I was a trainer, I would just tell my clients to eat a huge meal, totally pig out, then go home and purge.”



::waiting for the tumbleweed to go rolling past me along the floor::

After picking my jaw up from the floor, I said, quite simply, “I would never, ever suggest that my clients purge. Under any circumstances. EVER.”

He actually asked me why not. So I rounded up all the internal diplomacy I possess and replied, as calmly as possible, “Because I want my clients to develop healthy habits, not dangerous ones. I wouldn’t suggest they purge any more than I would suggest they start smoking. Because I don’t want my clients to die.” I slammed my headphones on my head, grabbed my easy curl bar, and firmly turned my back and walked away.

As I performed my skull crushers, still trying to tap into my clients’ expectations for me, I realized that while my afterglow was clearly destroyed by Meathead over there, he had given me a wonderful gift: a concrete reminder that if the fitness industry is left in the hands of a bunch of body-obsessed, jug-headed, stereotypical and ignorant douchebags like that one, people who are more concerned about what they see in the mirror than what they see in their blood panels, people who will go to ridiculous and potentially deadly lengths to lose that last ounce of unwanted fat, we’re all screwed. If I ever needed the inspiration to double up my efforts to introduce women to kind and appropriate and safe ways to build healthy muscle and develop more loving relationships with their bodies, I certainly got it. Thanks, Meathead!

But God help us all if that douchebag becomes a personal trainer.

Lily-Rygh Glen

meathead archie

Reshaping the Shape-Shifters

30 Dec

mental illness

This is a blog entry I never thought I would write.

One thing that everyone who knows me is clear on is that I value my privacy. Highly. Like, REALLY highly. I refuse to have a personal Facebook page, I close the curtains long before it even gets dark, and I choose my confidantes as though they may one day have my life in their hands. Because they just may.

So it goes against my nature to publicly share something as personal as my own overlapping medical conditions. But the point of this blog is to share information about fitness and exercise, and to remind us all that every day is a challenge AND an opportunity. So here I am, writing a public blog about…me. This is really weird.

About 2 years ago, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroid disease. Long story short: my thyroid anti-bodies are constantly attacking my thyroid itself, making it extremely difficult for it to do its job and regulate my metabolism appropriately. Symptoms include chronic fatigue, difficulty controlling body weight, stiffness and pain in joints and muscles, some muscle weakness, and depression.

Just as I was figuring out how to work within the confines of my Hashimoto’s, I was diagnosed with a genetic mutation called MTHFR. (My nurse practitioner conveniently pointed out that while MTHFR technically stands for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, it may also stand for “motherfucker.” I think she’s on to something.) Symptoms here include chronic anemia, an increased risk of cardiovascular events and dementia, blood clotting, and depression and other mental diseases.

You might notice that depression is on both of these lists. And that’s the piece I’m actually writing about today: mental illness. Our otherwise modern society still fosters so much anachronistic stigma around mental illness, and it’s so hurtful to so many people. Having depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia shouldn’t feel any more embarrassing than having diabetes or osteoporosis or shin splints. And yet, we still treat these things differently, as though it is somehow someone’s fault they have a mental illness. As though it is my fault that I have one. It’s not. But I do.

I have had major depression for well over a decade now. Some of it is definitely hereditary, and some of it undoubtedly comes from my aforementioned dual-diagnosis. I guess its origin doesn’t really matter much in the day-to-day maintenance of it. I just know I have to keep a close eye on it, because mental illnesses are absolutely shape-shifters: as soon as I think I know what mine feels like and looks like, it changes itself up and becomes something just different enough that I don’t notice it until it slaps me upside the head and I have no choice but to pay attention. At first, my depression was the garden variety type: lack of energy, hopelessness, wanting to just hide under the covers all day. Then I started getting pseudo-manic episodes during which I would do things like uproot 20-year old shrubs (with 20-year old root systems) from the front yard with my bare hands; I felt like if I stopped moving, even for a minute, I would literally die. Lately my depression has introduced me to the fascinating world of acute anxiety attacks, the type that leave me gasping for air and sweating and clutching my Ativan bottle. I have, at various times, been utterly self-destructive in my mental illness.

To be perfectly clear, mental illness sucks. It sucks hard. And sometimes it feels like all the pharmaceutical advances in the world can’t make a dent in the desolation it creates.

But make no mistake: I’m not writing this because I have a sudden need for a pity party, or because I have decided I look good in righteous over-sharing. I’m writing it because even with the seriousness of my illness, I have found some kind of hope worth passing on. And of all places, I found it on a treadmill.

There is a growing body of research that proves what many people have understood for years: exercise is a key piece in the treatment of mental illness. KEY. I’m not saying a bench press can cure schizophrenia or that enough squats can cure bipolar; exercise can’t guarantee a clean bill of mental health any more than it can guarantee a clean bill of physical health. But it can help – it DOES help. It’s a bit of a paradox, because when depression really attacks, the last thing anybody wants to do is throw on some trainers and head to the gym; it literally feels like a Herculean task. But on the depressed days I can force myself to do it, I never, ever regret it, and I have never once not left the gym feeling significantly better than when I got there.

I’m a bit of a wellness autodidact, so the science isn’t intuitive to me. But here’s what I have learned:

• Even a moderate 15 minutes of exercise will immediately release endorphins into the system, which create feelings of happiness and even euphoria. They don’t last forever, but when it comes to managing depression, “forever” isn’t usually the goal – it’s more about getting through the next hour. Endorphins are a no-brainer way to make that happen. In fact, recent studies have shown that exercise can be just as effective as SSRI’s in managing depression;
• Exercise also increases the body’s concentration of norepinephrine, which is a chemical that helps moderate stress levels. For those of us who also struggle with anxiety, norepinephrine is a godsend;
• Exercise has also been proven to boost overall brain function by increasing the body’s levels of BDNF (brain-derived proteins), and it works with the hippocampus to improve memory and slow down the overall brain degeneration that happens naturally with age;
• Finally, exercise can reset the circadian rhythms of the body, which regulate sleep patterns, among other things.

All of this science is directly relevant and beneficial to people suffering from mental illness, particularly depression and anxiety disorders. I have to remind myself of this on a regular basis, because the tough reality is this: I’m a person with a mental illness first, and a person trainer second. I was reminded of this fact just this past week, when I had an anxiety attack in the middle of a training session, the event that prompted me to write this blog entry. Like I said, shape-shifters.

I don’t know if I would have a mental illness if I didn’t have Hashimoto’s Disease, or if I didn’t have MTHFR. But what I know is that I do have a mental illness, and that it requires constant supervision, constant compassion, and regular body movement. I can’t cure my illness through exercise. But if I can reshape my brain’s own shape-shifters by creating new neuropathways, one hour at a time, then I can survive. And surviving is the first step to thriving.

Lily-Rygh Glen

Look it up

22 Nov

                                            nothing looks as good


I read an article recently, illuminating the link between obesity in women and occurrences of endometrial cancer, that really pissed me off. The article highlighted a researcher named Dr. Elisa Bandera, of Rutgers University, who is quoted as saying, “Women who are obese have two to three times the rate of endometrial cancer. People who are more active regularly tend to have a decreased rate of endometrial cancer.”

And here is where I take issue with this obviously well-intended article: why is it that even doctors, doctors who are pioneering research on the links between obesity and various medical conditions, still assume that obesity and inactivity are one in the same, as though one automatically represents or explains the other?

If Dr. Bandera had said something like, “People who have lower body weight tend to have a decreased rate of endometrial cancer,” I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But the fact is that even a knowledgeable doctor is using “obesity” and “inactivity” as weirdly-inappropriate little synonyms.

The fact is, they aren’t. Sure, one can make a reasonable argument that most people who are regularly active in their bodies aren’t obese, because regular activity (or at least regular strenuous activity) is going to entail the burning of calories, etc. But nothing is one size fits all, including the body’s response to activity (or inactivity, for that matter). As a personal trainer, I work with quite a few women who would be considered clinically obese. For that matter, I’m pretty sure that I,myself, am clinically obese! And yet, we are showing up to the gym and working our asses off, sweating and grunting and lifting to muscle fatigue, all in an attempt to gain that precious and valuable lean muscle mass…you know, the stuff that works to ward off, let’s say, cancer! My clients aren’t what I would call “inactive.” And neither am I.

So the article becomes confusing, in that I wonder if the real link is between cancer and obesity, or cancer and inactivity? There is a growing school of thought around the links between obesity and diabetes (A/K/A The Holy Grail of Fat Shaming), a link that is considered virtually sacrosanct in the media and in society at large. These new medical researchers and thinkers are questioning if it’s the state of obesity that lends itself to diabetes, or the lack of lean muscle mass that often (but not always) accompanies obesity. (If this argument can happen around diabetes links to obesity, it can and should surely be happening with cancer links as well.) And while it sounds like a bit of a “chicken and egg” semantic argument, it’s really more fundamental than that. Because this argument is the one that will ultimately determine if it’s possible, even theoretically, to be both fat and healthy.

I believe that it is. I believe that muscle mass and stamina and endurance and agility are possible at any size and at every shape. I believe it’s possible to be both obese and active, because I am surrounded by the people who prove me right every day. I believe it’s high time that the medical establishment get its act together and start using its words more carefully and precisely.

At its best, this article is confusing and therefore not very helpful. But at its worst, it’s adding fuel to the fat-shaming fire, a conflagration that, frankly, doesn’t need any more stoking. Inactivity is one word. Obesity is another. There’s a reason they have two different entries in the dictionary. Maybe it’s time for the medical establishment to look it up.

Lily-Rygh Glen
Flexible Fitness

Here’s the original article, if you’re interested:

The Best Part

21 Sep

crater lake

Last weekend I did something I had been wanting to do for almost 7 years: I went to Crater Lake. For those of you who don’t live in Oregon, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, formed at the top of a volcano, and it’s absolutely breathtaking. I guess I had imagined driving around the rim, talking photos from the air-conditioned comfort of a running car, watching other people do whatever it is that other people do.

What I hadn’t imagined was actually getting out of the car, walking around, climbing up on rocks and tree stumps to get the best views. I hadn’t imagined actually BEING at Crater Lake, only, I dunno, seeing it, like some sort of real-life post card.

But when I spent time there last weekend, I found myself fully engaged with the experience. I DID climb up on things to get better views. I DID pay such close attention to the smell of the air and the color of the water. Basically, I wanted to be IN that experience, not watch other people be in it.

And that’s when it occurred to me that I had discovered the very best part of the fitness journey I’ve been on for the last 2 1/2 years. I mean, it’s been gratifying to lose some unwanted weight, and to notice triceps where I had never felt muscles before, and to complete a triathlon and a marathon. Of course that’s been rewarding and inspiring and has its own intrinsic value. But somewhere along the line, I think I forgot the whole point: to be able to live life fully, without feeling held back by my body. I forgot that I first hired and trainer and went to a gym because I was sick of feeling like I didn’t have a place in the world, like my body was holding me back from the things I wanted to do. I was tired of hearing about people doing all these fun things like hiking and kayaking and camping and traveling, and bemoaning the fact that I was too out-of-shape to do them, too. Eventually, I got tired of telling myself that I would do those things One Day, when I had lost enough weight or gained enough endurance or felt just a little bit more comfortable in my skin. One Day, I would actually be alive instead of just living.

Fuck that.

Because here’s the real truth: There’s no such thing as One Day, not in the way I meant it. There is no day during which we are perfectly ready to tackle the world. There is no such thing as waking up feeling 100% strong enough and pretty enough and capable enough and smart enough and talented enough and and and and… There’s just today, this day, the day we’ve been given. Right now. And that’s plenty good enough.

I don’t think I would have realized that without my fitness journey. Getting stronger physically has allowed me to appreciate my body in ways I never thought I would. I still have a lot of extra weight I would like to lose, and I still have areas of my body that need more strength development. And you know what? Who cares. WHO CARES. Because I had the energy and the agility and the confidence to run around that mountaintop, in awe of the amazing beauty of Crater Lake, and that experience felt like it belonged to me every bit as much it belonged to everybody else. It felt miraculous and liberating and perfect. And it was absolutely the best part.

Lily-Rygh Glen