With all the discrimination and uncomfortable topics we’ve seen in the news of late, I felt the need to do a happier post today. And since last week was national LGBT health awareness week, let’s combine the two.
Health concerns are important to think about as trans folk. Trans men need to manage their weight before they can start on testosterone due to health concerns, and trans women are more likely to put on weight once we start on hormones. Likewise, we both need to exercise more once we get started: trans men to build muscle and trans women to minimize muscle loss. I know a lot of trans women who don’t want to keep muscle for fear of looking like body builders, but the fact is that muscle helps prevent the buildup of fat. We’ll still build fat in the important areas, but working out helps prevent the extraneous fat we put on.
Finally, stress is a major concern. Stress releases the hormone cortisol, which is useful in small amounts. However, with the levels of stress we see through discrimination, financial concerns brought on by the costs of transition and troubles getting and maintaining work, etc. we tend to have excess levels of cortisol. This can also lead to excess fat, especially in the midsection. Adding all the other concerns from excess stress, such as anxiety, weakened immune system, and more, and it becomes clear that as a community, we need to learn to take care of ourselves.
So how do we manage it? Well, by working out and developing resilience. Now, I can hear some of you saying “but Caitlin, I hate working out to just work out!” Believe me, I’m the same way. My friend Dori used to say that the only way you could ever get her to run is if something was chasing her. Well, I managed to break her of that. I got her started on special kind of game known as an ARG, or Augmented Reality Game. It’s the same one I use. Now, the one we use is about running from zombies, taking her statement to the logical level, and it’s called Zombies, Run!
Now, this is not the only such game out there, and if you’re not into zombies, that’s ok because there’s other ones out there. The point is, try to find a way to make fitness fun. That’s what ARGs are best at doing: taking something unpleasant and making it fun. Making a game out of something that is otherwise boring or outright disliked. What about the stress factor though? How do we build resilience? Can games really do that? Jane McGonigal says yes.
Another game that I use and have gotten Dori into is SuperBetter, which is described in the video above. It helps you develop physical, mental, emotional, and social resilience, all while working towards a goal, an “epic win,” if you will. The nice thing about this game for those skeptics out there is that not only is it backed up by science, it includes the science in the game for you to look over. It can be used in a number of ways, and comes with a number of “power packs,” or sets for specific goals, that you can get. Want to quit smoking? There’s one for that, and another for quitting anything else (I’m using it to cut down on eating out so much). Want help boosting self-esteem in the face of all that discrimination? There’s power packs for that too. Want to lose weight or work out more? It’s got it. Even recovering from injuries is covered, as the creator made this game originally for herself to help overcome a concussion.
So am I advertising these games? Well, not technically, since I’m not paid. My real point is, this is what I use, but there’s more out there. Find something that works for you and run with it (maybe literally if you get a running program). Augmented Reality Games can be used to help us develop any kinds of behaviors we want because they use actual psychological theory behind them, specifically behavioral conditioning. They reinforce those behaviors we desire, so we want to do them more. They’ve been shown to help people take their medicine on time, increase productivity in the work place, help students learn information, and yes, even help with weight loss.
If there’s not an existing game out there, why not do like Jane and make one of your own? Get some friends to be your allies and help you identify areas you need help. Figure out what helps make doing something more pleasurable. But most important of all, remember to take care of yourselves. And that advice goes to all people, not just the trans community. We just happen to have additional health concerns because of hormone therapy.
What have you all done to help you improve your life?