Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Exposing Another Healthy Taboo

Today I want to talk about a very natural activity that some people do in public but that many others find objectionable. For whatever reason, something so natural has become taboo. What once was practiced regularly without issue now leaves those who do it feeling very self-conscious. Many don't even try -- even though they'd like to -- because they don't want to embarrass themselves or make anyone around them uncomfortable. There's no laws against it, but that doesn't matter. The stigma is there and it has permeated throughout society.

While the above statement describes barefooting to a 'T,' it also applies to something else: Breastfeeding.

Bear with me, here.

Not only am I the father of three wonderful children, but I also work in a children's hospital. Through these experiences I've learned a great deal about what's best for children. Experts throughout the world agree that breastfeeding is best. Studies have shown numerous health benefits for babies who are breastfed versus taking formula. What's more, the longer a baby breastfeeds, the more health benefits they'll see down the road. It's really a no-brainer. If a mother is able to breastfeed, she should for so many reasons. Our kids were all breastfed exclusively for at least the first six months of their lives.

While it's a bit of a stretch to compare the two, you could also make an argument that going barefoot has numerous benefits, too. The more you do it, the stronger and more flexible your feet will be. Avoiding shoes also helps prevent the growth of fungal infections on the foot and keeps away smelly feet due to sweating. Your toes also feel better to live free and without restriction from shoes. Going barefoot really is so good.

Unfortunately, however, breastfeeding and going barefoot in public are both thought of by many people as this weird, inappropriate thing. While a woman may want to breastfeed her baby in public, she may resort to pumping ahead of time and feeding her child with a bottle in order to avoid people's mean or uncomfortable glances. While someone may want to go barefoot while they're shopping, they may just resort to wearing flip flops to avoid confrontation or simply strange looks.

Let's be clear about a few things concerning breastfeeding and going barefoot:

Both are natural.
We were born for these things to take place. As this topic heading states, both breastfeeding and going barefoot are perfectly natural things that our bodies have been designed to do. Denying ourselves the privileges and rights to do both would be a travesty.

Both are perfectly legal in public.
One thing that I find interesting are the laws related to these. In all but three states of the U.S., laws protect a woman's right to breastfeed her baby in public -- even if it makes others uncomfortable. No state in the union addresses going barefoot in public, for or against the issue. It would, then, be reasonable to assume that that right is reserved for the people.

Both have numerous health benefits.
Even though this has been proven for breastfeeding by numerous scientific studies, here's a staggering statistic: Only 43% of babies are still being breastfed at six months of age (Doctors recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed for at least the first six months of life). What's more, studies have also shown that breastfeeding can help protect nursing mothers from developing breast cancer later. Although the complications of returning to work are likely a big part of the decision to stop feeding in that way, I have to wonder if women just give up partially because they're too embarrassed to publicly breastfeed. If that's the case, how sad. Going barefoot, though hardly scientifically researched, improves sensory awareness, flexibility and strength in the feet and usually has a positive overall impact on a person's health and psyche. Getting out of shoes with a raised heel has been shown to improve people's posture. I have already shot down on this blog the concerns about safety risks while barefoot. They just aren't legitimate in most situations -- including shopping and dining in public.

Both are often taboo in society.
No matter how natural, legal or even healthy going barefoot or breastfeeding babies are, this is the sticking point for both of these lifestyle choices. They have become areas of contention. For whatever reason, societal norms on both of these issues have drifted away from centuries of natural precedent to twisted ideals of what's "appropriate." No matter what benefits breastfeeding can have for babies and mothers or what going barefoot can do for our health, we have begun to reject these practices because it shows skin or we have misguided concerns about safety risks. I think it's unbelievably sad that societal pressures have led to this.

Don't think breastfeeding in public is taboo? I was fascinated by a story on ABC's TV news magazine "What Would You Do?" A scenario was acted out where a store manager (an actor) was discriminating against a breastfeeding mother (an actress with doll). How would the store patrons react? From the video below, you can see that many came out in support of the mother. Some, however, sided with the manager. Take a look:

We, as a society, need to stand up for and be okay with what's right. We need to stop allowing discrimination against activities which are perfectly natural and healthy. There's nothing inappropriate about a mother breastfeeding her baby in public, even if some skin or -- God forbid -- a nipple is briefly exposed. Likewise, we were born barefoot and feet are exposed all the time when people wear sandals. Who cares if someone just doesn't want material between their soles and the ground? In both breastfeeding and going barefoot, let people make the decision that is most natural and right for them without the pressure of prudish, paranoid or uncomfortable onlookers.

I started The Primalfoot Alliance as a way to begin the process of reversing the steady flow of discrimination against those who want to free their feet in public. Maybe, at least, we can tackle one of these issues while others address the other. Both need attention.

What are your thoughts on this? Am I off base in comparing breastfeeding and going barefoot? What will it take to change society's perceptions of breastfeeding or going barefoot in public? If you are a mother, have you breastfed in public? How were you perceived and how did you feel? If you're a barefooter who has been discriminated against in public, how did that feel? Please share your comments below. Thanks!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Report: 37th Annual Hospital Hill Run (UMKC School of Medicine 5K)

On Saturday, June 5, 2010 I completed my first organized race, the 37th Annual Hospital Hill Run (UMKC School of Medicine 5K), after beginning running in the fall of 2009. I'm very pleased to announce that I ran the entire course barefoot! Final official time: 32:50.

The experience Saturday was very cool. From the vast amounts of schwag (free stuff) to the music to the atmosphere, the Hospital Hill Run was a very well-organized event. I definitely recommend it to anyone who's able to make it to KC.

The 5K course lives up to its name. Just south of downtown Kansas City is an area known as "hospital hill," an area of town that sits higher than the surrounding land and is home to two hospitals near the top of it. This course began by working it's way about 45 feet downhill over the first half of the race, and then went up from there. From the lowest to highest THE hill is a 145-foot rise over 9/10 mile. The end of the course slowly makes its way back down to the starting line.

In the above diagram the green represents the rise and fall of the course and the blue represents my "speed."

As for my run, it went almost exactly as I hoped. I started too far back in the pack and had to make my way around dozens of walkers, but that wasn't too big of a deal. I think it was actually kind of a blessing in disguise because it kept me from going out too fast in the beginning -- a common mistake of new runners. I kept a good pace throughout the race and it all evened out in the end. I never felt overly thirsty, but the one time I did was when the lone water station was approaching. In the end, I passed a lot more people than passed me. It felt good. I'm most proud of how I did going up the hill. As you can see from the diagram above, once I got going on it I actually got faster as I reached the top. Gotta love that.

TIP: A couple of times during the race I found myself cramping in my right side. To alleviate that, I remembered some advice I'd stumbled across just the night before: It turns out that cramping while running is often caused by repeatedly landing on the same foot while exhaling. When I changed up my breathing pattern a little bit to begin exhaling on the other foot -- or alternating feet -- the cramping went away.

Running barefoot was a great experience. I managed to find another barefoot runner ahead of time and we chatted for a couple of minutes, then my fellow barefoot runner friend Eric (pictured) found me afterward. My feet held up pretty well throughout the race and I only had a little bit of soreness in my soles later on. The training I did ahead of time paid off. My soles were thickened enough to withstand 3.1 miles of pavement and they never felt tired, sore or like they were going to cramp.

Some of the comments I got during the race were amusing. I heard lots of, "Look, he's barefoot." and "Wow, that's gotta hurt." One woman said to me, "I bet you get a lot of blisters like that." I told her that I had some at first but have conditioned my feet enough that blisters aren't a problem anymore. She replied with some comment about my arches collapsing and I told her that I have strong feet and don't have to worry about it. Her reply: "Good." Another amusing interaction was with a spectator who I thanked for cheering us all on. He said back to me, "Keep running, barefoot man!"

To pause for a bit of commentary, it's really amazing how some people react to seeing a barefoot runner. I'd imagine that most people oddly think that what they're seeing is the first time I've ever run barefoot. Like anything else, however, running barefoot comes with training. I'm not going to run a 5K or any other race without conditioning my feet just like I'd never hop in a race car and try to win the Daytona 500. It all takes time, conditioning, education and practice.

I love race day and I really do love running...especially barefoot. I definitely want to make the Hospital Hill Run an annual race in which I participate and I encourage others to do the same.

Now that I've got my first 5K under my belt, it's time to train for the Kansas City Half Marathon in October! I plan on doing it barefoot, too.

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