More Than a Feeling

It's the time of day when I'm done with my classes. I sit down, take a deep breath and contemplate whether I should go to the gym or take a nap. If I go to the gym, I'll be there for at least an hour, and then it'll take another hour for me to shower and get dressed. If I take a nap, I won't need a shower, but I'll feel guilty for eating any food thereafter. What's a slightly overweight person to do?

I recently read a Dec. 19, 2002, article from The Economist entitled "The Cult of the Gym: The New Puritans." In it, the author argues that working out is painful and boring, so why bother? I couldn't agree more.

Let's look at painful. Not only can intense workouts produce intense physical pain in the form of sore muscles, they can also produce unbearable emotional pain in the patron who is not achieving ideal results. I mean, I can work out seven days a week and eat as healthy as possible only to find I've gained two pounds. Sure, people write this off as "muscle mass," but weight gain is still weight gain, am I wrong?

Then there's the emotional pain that goes along with going to the gym only to realize you're the one person there who looks in need of a workout. You're surrounded by appearance-obsessed people trying to work off their weekend bender, and you start to think the 20-minute rule should be replaced with the "most-in-need" rule: Anyone who already looks in shape should be kicked off a machine in favor of a person who looks more in need of a workout. Perhaps we should open a separate workout facility strictly for the overweight so I won't have to feel so self-conscious every time I work out.

The Economist article also argues going to the gym is not pleasurable, but pathological. It's an activity induced by our tendency to compare ourselves with Hollywood role models. The result is a sort of obsessive perfectionism that prevents us from enjoying the real health benefits of our workout. Epidemiologists have found that anxieties about body shape are most prevalent in affluent areas, which means going to the gym will only make things worse.

The bottom line is I — like most other workout puritans — want to look good, but I really don't believe the gym is the place to do it. One of two things has to happen: Society has to stop thinking I'm fat or the Rec Plex needs to open a separate wing for the self-conscious.

Anyway, this is how the story usually ends: I skip my nap for a mediocre work out, but it never makes me feel any better about myself because I'm a pathological gym fiend. No matter what I do, it will never be enough. That's messed up. And they think alcoholism is a problem. Those people obviously never struggled to be physically fit.

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