Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cut the Waist

Rob Ford and I have a lot in common. We've both undertaken ambitious, radical weight-loss goals, often telling the people around us, "I'm going to get fit and lose a whole pile of weight! Hundreds of pounds! By next week!" We start strong: exercise, trips to the gym, cutting down at meal times, preening in our underwear. But as the weeks stretch on, we lose focus. The gym becomes very far away. Morale swings low. It's a cycle that most dieters are familiar with.

Ford is carrying about 315 pounds on a 5'10" frame, which ballparks his BMI at about 45. Folks should generally aim to be about 19 - 25, and more than 45 is considered "super obese" and a cause for medical concern. He's red-faced in media shots, his second chin hanging down over his shirt collar. He looks like a keg: short, squat, and and like there might potentially dangerous consequences if you shake him up too much.

The Cut the Waist challenge was supposed to be an easy, feel-good victory, one over which he would have complete control. If he happened to raise a few bucks for charity, hey - bonus! It would give some structure to media events, hopefully smoothing some ragged edges between him and, say, The Toronto Star (I doubt that Ford himself gives a flying fuck about media relations, but hopefully some savvy, well-positioned council friend does). It would give him a chance to be seen as a do-gooder, a man who can keep a promise, a man who can cut the gravy at home like he does at work. People would stop saying "John Candy" in sotto voice as he entered the room.

In the last week, there's been a lot of back and forth on if Ford will finish the challenge, which aimed to have him shedding 50 pounds by mid-June. On Sunday's radio show, he told listeners that he was done with it - "I'm not even dieting any more" - but by Monday night, he and his brother Doug were spreading the word that the challenge was still on, but the media events were officially cancelled. Rob was going to finish the diet without overwhelming scrutiny from the press. Things seem to have settled into "I'll finished, but you can't watch," so, you know...par for the course with Mayor Ford.

Meaningful weight loss is often a team effort. Psychologists encourage folks to have gym buddies and to try smaller, healthier meals in a group setting: it's easier when the strange (diet and exercise? Ew) becomes your peer group's "new normal." It takes discipline. Doug, Rob's brother, also signed up for the Cut the Waist challenge, but Doug's shaming, bullying approach to his brother's (non-)participation is damaging at worst and disheartening at best.

Ford (as much as he would have hated it) should have had photo-ops at the gym and hosted fresh-'n'-healthy luncheons for his staff. He should have gotten doctors on board, taken a lunch at a public high school cafeteria, glad-handed for community 5K walks. He should have shown public commitment to his self-imposted goals, and, like any good politician/middle-schooler, shown his work. Most people know how hard it is to take off unwanted weight, and a well-managed public effort to do just that by one of the city's heaviest political heavyweights would have helped in elevating Ford's string of baser moments. Instead, Ford withdrew, and his diet (and his attitude towards his own challenge) became erratic and unpredictable.

It's not hard to see the Cut the Waist challenge as a metaphor for Ford's mayoralty so far. Team efforts have fractured. Media events have become an chance to hide. It turns out that cutting the gravy is actually pretty tough, both in council meetings and on the dinner plate. Missed opportunities abounded. Losing weight, like running a city, is difficult to well; it becomes nearly impossible if you don't have a team of people working with you, cheering you when you're succeeding and helping you redirect around your failures.

Ford's public persona is shifting, from a blustering city councillor who listened to his constituents and got stuff done, to a man who looks more red-faced, both politically and personally, by the day.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Cottaging is a way of life for Canucks. Going to camp, hitting the cabin, swinging by the lake house/beach/what-have-you: it's in our blood. Now more than ever, Canadians are more urban than rural, and our weekends away have become of paramount importance. Getting out of town and getting into some nature, a slower-paced lifestyle, and a more casual family rhythm, can be a balm that lasts months past the initial application.

My family has a cottage on Lake Huron, on a wide, sandy swathe of the world that has somehow, miraculously, mostly escaped the high-intensity development that lakefront properties have inspired in places like, say, Toronto. Unlike some of the mega-cabins that have sprouted in that village, our summer home is tucked back from the road. We've enclosed ourselves with trees; there are nooks filled with rusty (but still valiantly rideable!) bicycles, hammocks, Muskoka chairs and derelict tree forts. The backdoor into the kitchen is usually propped open, and on mornings when the lake and the sky are the same shade of faded-denim blue, the only thing you need is a mug of hot tea and a good, fat book. Afternoon snacks are handfuls of salty nuts or quickly toasted rye bread with a slab of cheese perched on top; then it's back down to the waterfront to read, swim, and walk. After the sun goes down, we go to the drive-in, or play card games, or just sit and stare into a campfire. That place is a heaven.

Last summer, I was off work, but I never really felt like I was on vacation. Instead, I was slogging through the job ads, suffering in a stifling third-floor bedroom and coping with the PTSD from my horrible former job. By the time summer rolled around, I was still working, albeit not for pay: I was working through financial woes, helping my boyfriend work through a serious loss, and seriously reevaluating my career trajectory. While there was time for ice cream sandwiches and beach time in the city, it wasn't until Labour Day that I got to escape Toronto and spend some time in Sauble.

Sauble is so wonderful during its off-peak hours: 9 AM on a Wednesday morning, the lakeshore strip is dotted with the occasional jogger or cyclist. Come Saturday afternoon of a long weekend, that same stretch of road is jammed with top-down convertibles and groups of overtanned college students blaring top 40 and squealing along. When I was younger, I wanted the beach to be a party town, because I thought the drivers and their singalongs were glamourous and fun. These days, an evening game of bocce ball on the beach sound way more fun that cooking yourself in an un-A/C'ed car.

The best part of the summer vacation is getting away. It's amazing how much more like myself I feel once I unplug for a few days. I eat little bowls of yogurt with figs and walnuts. I swim - I sometimes feel like a whale, but I swim. I read. I talk to people. I don't spend hours focusing on a screen 18 inches from my face. I do a little writing, maybe, or see a movie, but there's no constant pressure to be mining the internet for the New! Best! Thing! EVER!

I can't wait for the cottage this summer. We have a whole week up there - last summer, we had a weekend, but in the haze of all the bad stuff that went down in the first couple weeks of July, it was easy to forget. But this year, we're hurtling towards a big move and a big trip, and a week off in the middle to enjoy each other's company and relaaaax sounds deliciously perfect.