Weight Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number | Shauna Harrison

Weight Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number | Shauna Harrison.

I stumbled upon this great post speaking to the need to dissociate from the numbers that often women (and men) are tethered to. Physical fitness allows us the opportunity to be stronger, more lean, more flexible, more aware, alert and mobile. Love the positive images of this girl – and she’s a public health girl, too!

Catch her on Instagram — she started the #sweataday revolution!

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My Interview with the SkinLess Project

The SkinLess Project presents:
Inspirational Woman May 2014: Ayesha Akhtar
An Interview.

I was honored to be the “Inspirational Woman” for the month of May at the SkinLess Project. To hear more about my endeavors, check out the website here.

You are passionate about advocacy for women and young girls, where does this stem from?

In college (Loyola University Chicago) I received a scholarship into a 4 year women’s leadership program. I knew I was some version of a feminist (or a proponent of the advancement of women), but had no idea about the passion the program would ignite in me by the time I graduated. Thereafter, I viewed everything from the lens as an advocate for women and girls. (Check out the Gannon Center for Women and Leadership)

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UAE weightlifter Amna Al Haddad eyes the 2016 Olympics

I came across this inspiring interview by UAE weightlifter Amna Al Haddad. Pushing the boundaries as a Muslim woman, and as an Olympic hopeful!

I love to see women lifting weights!

UAE weightlifter Amna Al Haddad eyes the 2016 Olympics.

I’m also excited to approach Ramadan differently, from a fitness and exercise perspective. I underestimated myself last year, and relaxed quite a bit. I’m going to be maintaining my lifting sessions, but at a lesser intensity. For me, regularity will be more important than stopping altogether.


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Exercise and eat for your body type


I haven’t posted in weeks! I’ve been busy training for my triathlon and making significant gains in the swim department. Recently, an article on body types caught my attention and I found the correlation between knowing your body type, exercise and diet to be very interesting. Do you know your body type?

The media has us brainwashed to believe that the thin, white ideal for women, or tough, muscular and cut men are the standards of beauty. That anything else is a ‘work in progress’. Deep down we know not everyone has or wants to have a runway ready body, and most certainly we don’t find ourselves amidst these types in our everyday lives. We are inundated with ridiculous magazine covers with headlines such as ‘Get Kate Moss’ workout’ and that leads the woman to consider, ‘Ok, if I get her workout, then I have a greater chance in looking like her’. The poison seeps into the subconscious.  The tagline they are noticeably excluding is, ‘only if you are also an ectomorph like Kate Moss’. So, the next time you catch yourself coveting someone else’s body, consider your own body type first.

Body Types
Body Types


There are three body types for men and women and once you know what you are, you can be liberated from the thought of trying to fit into a mold that is simply unattainable, or that is not yours. They are: ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph. Most people are a combination of two or more types. The ectomorph is the skinny, thin-framed individual with little fat. They are usually not athletic and have little or no muscle tone, which is why they are often referred to as ‘skinny fat’. Most supermodels are ectomorphs, which has unfortunately contributed to the thin, white ideal of women. Many ectomorphs can eat whatever they want as their body metabolizes food very quickly.

Endomorphs, however, have more body fat, tend to be overweight, have a smoother, more round body and are bigger-boned (than ectomorphs). They have a slower metabolism and take longer to lose weight.  Endomorphs are not the morning ‘go-getters’ and need a little prodding to be active. Don’t despair! Get a gym buddy or hire a personal trainer to help motivate you. Further, let this knowledge be the inspiration for the way you exercise and eat. Unfortunately we see large-framed, oversized women struggling to lose weight to fit into skinny jeans that are not designed for them.

Mesomorphs are naturally active, athletic, and respond quickly to any weight training and are naturally lean and strong. They also gain fat easily when they are not active. Because they have broader, squarer shoulders, mesomorph women tend to have an hourglass figure, whereas men have a “V” or rectangle shape build.

The purpose in knowing your body type(s) is to boost your self-esteem.  Additionally, it is to understand the body’s mechanics. Ectomorph people may be under the impression they are ‘fit’ or ‘healthy’ because they don’t carry extra weight. This is often referred to as ‘skinny fat’, as they have no muscle tone. However, this can often lead to unhealthy binging and eating habits as they are under an illusion that they are otherwise healthy.

I am a combination of mesomorph and endomorph. I have a small-framed body but am (and always have been) very athletic. I have a quick metabolism and find it easy to gain muscle, and am freakishly strong. :) Knowing my body type allows me to design workouts and maintain a healthy diet that is just right for me.

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I’m in a rut. I have writer’s block. I’m feeling very uncreative. I’m running all my miles on the treadmill for crying out loud! It is the dead of winter. We’ve endured and survived a thing called “polar vortex”, and I’m just over it. I’m ready for spring so I can remove things that have been frozen to the ground.  Weeks ago, like everyone else, I had written this gratitude list of 13 *things* I am grateful for this year. I didn’t feel like posting it, but I do think looking back allows me to look forward and plan out my year. I don’t dwell on the past, but rather consider life events and experiences as artifacts of my life. Every event had a proper place, given its context.  And in true Aquarian style, I’m posting it now, on my own terms. And after having thought about it a little more. 

My parents, my husband of 15 years, my two sons and my siblings

My new house, which I adore curating into our beloved home

My talent, which enables me to be successful in my career

Watching Derrick Rose play at the United Center

Traveling, whether with friends, family or for work

Running a sub-2hr half marathon

Getting physically stronger, lifting heavier weights, and boxing more

Writing MY narrative – check out www.MuslimahMontage.com

Amazing locally roasted coffee – Every morning I make myself a latte with the freshest locally roasted beans. Seriously, Chicago coffee has some attitude that rivals my favorites from the Bay Area and NYC. If you’re looking, try dark / espresso roasts from Big Shoulders and Halfwit Coffee Roasters – that stuff will go right through you.

My girlfriends

My health – part of the “Five before Five” sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Take benefit of five before five:
your youth before your old age,
your health before your sickness,
your wealth before your poverty,
your free-time before your preoccupation,
and your life before your death.”

and finally,
Being able to do it all over again in 2014. (God willing)

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No, you can’t have it all, and you don’t want to, either.

The SuperWoman Complex

At the end of 2013, I find myself challenging the ‘superwoman complex’ again. A year ago on Mother’s Day, I wrote a blog post for The SkinLess Project on being a supermom, and contended that every mother had a bit of supermom in her. I still maintain that belief, however what I’ve come to realize is that wanting to be a superwoman, or wanting to have it all is overrated. What is the ‘it’ we’re chasing anyway?

Feminist women (I include myself in this demographic) often paint a picture that yes you too can have a well-paying, intellectually-stimulating job, maintain a solid home-life, get all 5 kids to school on time, never miss parent-teacher conferences, read the book for book club, run 5 days a week at 5am and be an amazing partner to your spouse. This becomes the feat of the superwoman, for those who seek it. Yet not every woman wants that life, nor needs to aspire to this level of ‘multitasking’. At this juncture in my life, I’ve decided that I don’t want it all; not anymore. The journey is seductive but once you ‘have it all’, what you have lost is yourself along the way. What good are you to yourself if you have given away the best parts of you along the way? Everyone sacrifices something to gain another. Lack of sleep, lack of exercise, lack of culture, strained marriage, little travel, little gains in career, lack of social life, the list goes on. We give something when seeking something greater. I believe that the ‘it’ in ‘having it all’ is subjective but we find ourselves crumbling from fear of failure because we have let society dictate what it means to ‘have it all’.

Much has been written to this topic with issues such as, should women want to have it all? Is there a perfect career path for women? Should women apologize for not having children and being married to their career? Yes you can have it all, and the renowned “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, by Anne-Marie Slaughter coupled with Sheryl Sandberg’s inspirational book Lean In challenge women to put themselves out there and create their own narratives. But what I really want to hear loud and clear is for someone to say: Stop trying to be everywhere at once, and ask yourself what you need to be doing right now. LIVE IN THE PRESENT! What would you do if you weren’t afraid? What would you do if there weren’t ‘rules’ or scripts, or preconceived notions on how a woman was to raise her family and maintain a career. More importantly, who cares what anyone else thinks? Society creates sections for women to inhabit, and some lend themselves to be mutually exclusive. You move up the career ladder, take a break to have a baby, raise the baby, jump back into the career world but you’ve been replaced. And where do you resume? Where you left off, or where your peers are right now?

Ultimately, a woman needs to make career and life moves that are meaningful to her individually. If that means taking a more challenging career path to enrich her soul, at the expense of being away from her children, so be it. If it means taking a lesser-paid, more flexible job to be home with the children, then so be it. If it means being a stay at home mom and not pursuing a career, then so be it. The point is each person decides what that version of having it all, aka being a superwoman, looks like, not society.

It’s not glamorous to ‘have it all’, to be everywhere all the time, to put on a facade that life is perfect and complete; it is not. It is exhausting to adhere to someone else’s standards of being somewhere else all the time and not living right here, in the present.

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The Mind, The Muscle, The Mantra

The mantra is quite possibly the best secret weapon you could have during a race. The more thought you put into it, the more meaning it carries, and the more profound the results. For myself, so much of racing and mid distance running is buried in the conversation I have with myself on the pavement. In my last race, I had a slight pain in my left ankle (dorsal flexion) starting around mile 1 and lasted for about 2 miles. I had to brainwash my mind to believe it did not exist and that indeed my leg muscles would be perfectly capable of running painlessly to the end, and with a PR. (You can read how that ended up for me). Continue reading The Mind, The Muscle, The Mantra

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10 life lessons I’ve learned from running

What running has taught me about life.

Disclaimer: I was inspired to write this post after reading some #runchat comments between a couple of bloggers, check them out here> http://www.happyfitmama.com/life-lessons-running/ and www.pavementrunner.com.

It’s definitely a list that I’ve thought of over the last several years, and resonates with me in daily life.

  1. “Be Somebody”.

    "Be Somebody"
    “Be Somebody”

    This is what ultramarathoner Scott Jurek signed in my copy of Eat & Run. I met him a couple years ago for a fun run. When you read the book, he talks about his running coaches and pals who have said this to him along his way. Really, are you going to go out there and simply pound the pavement, or can you really ‘be somebody’. Always leave a dent, make an impact, make yourself better every time.

  2. It’s okay to leave your gadgets at home. I ran my fastest 5k unplanned, no watch, ran on feel and surprised myself. Sure it’s great to run with a Garmin but trusting in technology takes away from being in touch with yourself. Lose the gadget, free yourself. Disconnect from technology every day; turn your phone off after a certain hour, don’t be used by tools.
  3. You reap what you sow. When you toe in at the starting line, there is nothing but your training (or lack thereof) that will make or break you. Much like life, what you put into your life comes back to reward you. Work smart, get rewarded.
  4. Always have a plan B. Start a run strong, cramp up, trip, slow down, bump into a friend, whatever it is that stops you from what you initially intended to run cannot be the ‘end all’. Always have a plan B and be okay with it. This has spilled into my life as an educator for the Epilepsy Foundation – the first training I did was in a special needs room with a sight dog barking and running around the room and the L training buzzing by every five minutes. It wasn’t my ideal situation, but I adapted to something just as perfect.
  5. Don’t give up when life presents you with a challenge, you are about to make a breakthrough. You know this when you are planking and are about to collapse – don’t! It is said our true character shows when we are facing hardship or difficulty – that is when we are making a breakthrough. Be your best self when it counts the most. No one regrets trying their hardest.
  6. Injured? Figure out what happened and prevent it next time. I can’t say this enough as a public health practitioner. There is a public health impact in everything, and I approach my life this way. My goals are to prevent disease, increase awareness and promote health education. My brother recently ran the Chicago Marathon and developed a meniscus tear at mile 25. Diagnosing his knee means understanding the mechanics and kinesiology of the knee, basically going deeper into the injury. Life lesson? We have to take that extra step to solve problems. I’ve written a lot on the negative impact of media on girls’ self esteem, which basically puts the onus of responsibility and accountability back on corporations, movies, and the music industry. Why are they interested in selling a concept of weak women and images of photoshopped girls and women? Who is their audience? There is always a cause and effect. I could go on…
  7. Start what you finish. This is so hard for me as an aquarian (yes I read those signs from time to time).
    Still don't know how we finished this trail run without snowshoes!
    Still don’t know how we finished this trail run without snowshoes!

    Can’t see the pavement because of yesterday’s blizzard? Well, just do your best and have fun with it. As someone who has multiple interests, it can be overwhelming to get it all done. But in general, we should always strive to finish what we start, hopefully at 100%, but sometimes it at less.

  8. Be empowered. Embrace your strengths. Being a mid-distance runner has somehow elevated me among my acquaintances and friends to a different echelon of ‘fitness people’, hardcore, they say. I don’t know how it happened, I hit the perfunctory 5 mile mark one April day and knew I was in a new club.  From that day onward, I started going out for 10 mile runs no big deal. If you find yourself saying to someone, “I only ran 5 miles today”, then you know what I’m talking about. You’re a beast and you know it (at least now you do). Life lesson here (and verse from the Qur’an) is we are always capable of more than we think we can handle. Stop that negative self-talk and rise above it. (I love Runner’s World’s columnist Marc Parent’s article on getting to five miles).
  9. Running is for me, myself and I. I love to run alone on the pavement. But I do enjoy running with company, and do so 1-2x a week. We build our self efficacy when we are alone, and increase our self esteem when we join others. We feel good about ourselves when we do something good together.
    races are always more fun with friends
    races are always more fun with friends

    Consider volunteering, it is always more impactful to the community or organization in aggregate, and we get to hang out with family and friends. However the true benefit you get from making a difference is an individual experience. In the end, YOU have to feel good about yourself when giving YOUR time to a cause, not the time of your friends or family.

  10. Have a sense of humor. Seriously, if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re fooling yourself. Yes you are important but there are bigger things to worry about around the world.  Life is too short and unpredictable, make the best of every day, count your blessings, and be good to others.

    It's totally okay to hang out on the lakefront path and take silly running photos.
    It’s totally okay to hang out on the lakefront path and take silly running photos.

Peace out.

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Mother to daughter words of wisdom

I don’t have daughters, but was so moved by this list of wisdom my friend wrote out for her daughter, in honor of her 10th birthday. It is wisdom that can apply to anyone, please enjoy.

She writes, “We all have our own journey and I know that what we experience is how we grow. But true to being a mother and my own nature, I feel that there is so much I want her to understand, to help her appreciate, to save her from.”

Choose your own path
Choose your own path

10 bits of wisdom I wish to impart to you on your 10th birthday, my dearest daughter, J. I know they are a bit heavy, but it’s never too soon to learn them:

* Ego will be the biggest cause of actions you will regret. It will be your greatest challenge. Learn now to set it aside and control it when needed, and you will open up many doors to happiness for yourself and others.

* Practice self-discipline in thoughts, words, and deeds and you will cultivate grace and a positive energy.

* Appreciate and acknowledge the good offered to you as much as possible. Gratitude is the essential ingredient for peace of mind.

* Do not rely heavily on any person or give anyone the power over your happiness. Depend mostly on your relationship with God. He will never disappoint, you will never be alone, and you will get through adversity just a little bit better and a little bit stronger.

* You cannot and should not change anyone. Either accept him/her or don’t. Change is possible, but very rare. Never count on it.

* Stay true to yourself. Losing self-respect is far graver than losing someone else’s respect. And knowing your good nature, I am confident that you will never fail at anything worthwhile if you stay true to what you believe and conduct yourself the way you feel is right.

*Do not take things personally. It is almost never about you. If someone is being negative and hurtful, it is almost always about their own shortcoming, their own demons, or their own affairs. And when it is about you, only people worth keeping in your life will want to work things out sincerely.

* Remove negative and insincere people from your life, or remove yourself from theirs. This is more difficult than it sounds, especially when you encounter such evils as “frienemies” and cliques. Yes, you have seen them at the elementary school level. These girls grow up and remain the same as women. Trust me on this one.

* Be generous with your words, actions, and resources for the sake of people, love, and God. Never for praise or recognition.

*Karma is real.

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