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I joined a gym the other day.  Now that I’m employed full-time and have health insurance, it seemed like the next logical step in this whole journey toward adulthood.  Also, if I’m being completely honest, it’s been too cold to go running outside and the lack of running in my life has started to affect my ability to sleep.  Normally, this time of year, I just blame the people who don’t shovel their sidewalks for why I can’t run outside.  This makes me feel persecuted and gives me the healthy glow of righteous rage.  This year, I have no one to blame but myself and my sensitive, wimpy lungs.

The last gym I joined was the Jewish Community Center, which I picked because I had a coupon.  I signed up, got a tour, got my photo taken and that was it.  This time around, I signed up for Bally Total Fitness and the experience was much more involved.  I was in the office, giving my details to a very chipper lady, when this hulked-out Intense Trainer came in and crushed my hand with an overly-firm handshake.

He then proceeded to stand in that wide-legged arms crossed way that very fit people tend to do (because their muscles are so bulky, I assume), and he demanded “where were you working out before this?”

“Nowhere for the last three years.” I told him, “Just running outside.”

“With that body?” He said skeptically.

“Yes.”  I wasn’t really sure what to say to that, and I felt a bit like this was some sort of trainer mind trick designed to make me feel like I belong at the gym or something.  Also, running is supposed to be a great workout, why would I not be fit if that’s what I do?

“Well, you must have been an athlete in High School.” He insisted.

“No, I mean I’ve always been active, but I didn’t play any sports.”

“How many meals do you eat in a day?”

I’ve been asked a lot of questions in my life, but this was one of the strangest and hardest to answer.  Also, I felt like so far in our exchange, I had disappointed this guy many times, and I wanted to please him.  So I said “Three?  Sometimes three and a snack?”  The problem is, I’m still getting used to my new work schedule.  I used to have an early very small breakfast, go running and then have a late breakfast around 11am.  Then I’d have lunch around 3pm, dinner at 6pm and a late night snack (that was usually bigger than it should have been) at 10:30pm.  But that’s all changed now and not only am I barely working out, but I’m also eating meals at normal times, and I’m really not used to any of it.

Finally, Intense Trainer left the room, and I had a chat with More Normal Trainer Who Also Has Huge Arms.  MNTWAHHA asked more reasonable questions like “what are your fitness goals?” and “what do hope to get out of a gym membership?”

Unfortunately, my answers to these questions were no more intelligent than the answers I had given to Intense Trainer.  What I hope to get out of a gym membership, is access to a gym for those days when I don’t want to run outside, and possibly some classes.  I don’t have a real plan, or a real goal other than wanting to run faster and drop a few pounds.  “What do you want to learn?”  MNTWAHHA asked me, and I really had nothing to say to him.

Is this a sign that I’ve joined a super-serious gym, or should I maybe not have strolled in there in my super-wicking workout gear feeling a bit smug about my personal level of fitness?  Most of the other people I saw working out there were pretty old and did not look Olympics-bound, but it was also about 9:30am, so I assume all the super-fit assholes were already at work for the day.

I have an appointment with MNTWAHHA Monday morning and my homework is to “think of something you want me to teach you.”  Doesn’t that seem like something the trainer should just do?  I mean, how do I know what I need to know?  We’re in a post Biggest Loser world where I just expect every trainer to yell at me until I confess some dark secret that makes me overeat, but that doesn’t really apply in my case.

Any suggestions for what I should learn?  If anyone has particular questions they’d like answered by a certified personal trainer, I can pretend they’re my own and get some info.

I recently finished reading The Fattening of America: How the Economy Makes us Fat, if it Matters, and What To Do About it. It was interesting enough, and I’m not really sure why I enjoy reading books like this, but I just can’t get enough.

It was interesting until the author got to the “What To Do About It” part.  Most of the responsibility was put on the shoulders of employers to have a gym on site or to give discounts for off-site gyms, to have healthy snacks in the vending machines etc.  Then the author admitted that if there was an on-site gym, it would most likely attract people who were already going to a gym on their own, and really be no more help to the people who actually need it.

Then he got into the system of rewards.  Being an economist, he was trying to create an incentive for people who hadn’t previously been exercising and eating right to want to make the change.  That’s all well and good, but I can’t help but notice that the people who elect to keep themselves healthy and at a moderate weight always get completely screwed in this.

There are no cash prizes for doing what you’ve always done, and if you don’t need to lose any weight, you can’t collect the $7 per pound of loss that he proposes.  Perhaps we’re winners already because losing weight is a trying and difficult process, but if everyone else is getting paid, I want to too.

Same thing goes with The Biggest Loser.  The winner gets $250,000 for losing the highest percentage of body weight on national tv.  Perhaps watching me eat a sensible dinner and go running isn’t as exciting as watching someone slim down from 500 pounds to 180, swearing, crying, and throwing up along the way, but still,  that’s more money than I will ever see in my lifetime.

Over the years I’ve paid thousands of dollars for gym memberships, “activewear”, shoes, and for the privilege of running long distances in front of people.  This is insane.  My father ran six marathons last year, driving all over the Midwest, paying for hotels and taking off work.  A few years ago, he ran out of marathons to run and almost flew to Norway for one– mostly for a change of scenery, instead he went to Iowa.

You could say, “oh Andria, you don’t understand, you’re just lucky, you have good genes.”  To that I say: my brother is morbidly obese, and all the people on The Bigggest Loser seem to lose weight with diet and exercise, so really, it’s not like I’m magic.

This is a complaint I’ve had for a long time, and it’s only exacerbated by the fact that I need to buy new running shoes right now, and can’t really afford them– oh bittersweet irony.  So I will continue to read books like this, shake my fist and complain to anyone who will listen.