The Gym: Health vs. Weight Loss Culture
For a lot of people that have dealt with eating disorders, going to the gym can be complicated. Some people with eating disorders struggle with overexercising or using exercise as a purging mechanism, while other people might feel guilty for not going to the gym. Joining the YWCA in Minneapolis was an integral part of my recovery, and it was a highly positive experience, but then I moved to another part of town with no YWCA, and ever since then, I have struggled to find a gym that I like. I have tried the stripped-down, bare-bones gyms, and found them lacking in one thing I love: the pool. I don’t want to use the recreation center at school, and yet again there is no YWCA or YMCA near me, and I don’t live near my community recreation center either. What I do have where I live are lots of high-end, fancy gyms.
A couple years ago, B and I belonged to a fancy gym, but it was obscenely expensive, and parking was an issue, and we didn’t go very often, despite liking the water aerobics class, yoga class, and the exercise equipment in pristine condition. There is a branch of this same fancy gym close to where I work (which is cheaper and has ample parking), and I took the plunge and joined it last week, and my meeting with the membership consultant highlighted just how screwed up we are as a society about body image, weight, and health.
The membership consultant was a perfectly nice woman, but she assumed I wanted to join the gym so I could lose weight. According to the CDC BMI charts, I am at a perfectly normal weight for my height. I am neither overweight, nor underweight. I am right within range.
Basically, I don’t need to lose any weight.
I told the consultant I was joining the gym because I wanted to move my body, get some physical activity during the bitter Minnesota winter, and just feel good overall. I’m in it for health, not weight loss.
She then proceeded to tell me that I should get my body fat measured.
I told her I had absolutely zero interest in having my body fat measured, and she could not understand why I was not jumping at the chance to do so. Knowing my body fat percentage is not going to do anything helpful for me. She said that if I measured my body fat now, I could measure it in six months and see how much progress I had made. I reminded her I’m not interested in weight loss or other common “progress” metrics.
I am interested in something somewhat unquantifiable (by the usual metrics): feeling good.
One thing I am interested in is talking to a dietitian about my caloric needs, because I have no idea what they are, and what amount of protein, carbs, etc. I should be eating for optimal health. So, I am going to see a dietitian through the gym, and I’m curious as to whether she will be able to focus on something other than weight.
It’s disheartening to see that this is where we are, as a society. I keep thinking about how I might have felt about the membership consultant’s assumption that I wanted to lose weight if I was not fully in recovery. How would I have felt if someone had said that to me right after I got out treatment? It might’ve been an obstacle in my recovery.
Not to mention, it’s just crappy salesperson-ship!
I have to wonder if this emphasis on weight is also a way for gyms to make more money in that they can sell more services (personal training, boot camp, weight loss group, etc.) if the new member is passively shamed about their body size, whatever size that may be. I think it’s readily apparent that I am a normal-weight person, but if the membership consultant can plant the idea in my head that I need to lose weight, then maybe I will sign up for weight loss-related services which will increase gym revenue (and perhaps increase the consultant’s commission, if they work on commission).
This is all highly disappointing and somewhat depressing, but I am going to remain a member of this gym, because I like their facility, the location is convenient, and they basically have what I need. Still, their sales tactics and behavior are awful, and I wish I had a better selection of gyms around me, and most importantly, I wish our culture wasn’t so focused on weight.