Monday, April 26, 2010

The Self-Judgment Free Zone

For several unfortunate reasons, I grew up thinking that exercise was something you were either good or bad at and that I just happened to be really bad at it. So of course I never tried to get better and was a perennial gym class failure, which made me dread that portion of the school day. Until a few years ago I associated the word "workout" with "humiliation", because it made me think of gym. I fell into that trap of believing that a brainy nerd like me couldn't be athletic as well. I'm afraid the Dearborn Public Schools didn't help to dispel that notion. My high school curriculum included freshman and junior year phys-ed classes but if you were in the "gifted and talented" program, you could skip it in the eleventh grade. I found out about this loophole in elementary school and made it my goal over the next several years to swap good grades for required physical activity. I succeeded. And while I know that I'm about to reveal a part of myself that I should perhaps keep reserved, I can't help being completely honest - when my father ran over my foot with the car in the spring of my freshman year, my first thought was, "OUUUCH!!!" and my second thought was, "Oh my god. I bet I can be done with gym class forever." And I was.

Nearly fifteen years after my last phys-ed class, Dan made me get a membership to the Boll Family YMCA in downtown Detroit. This is a heavy testament to my love for him. I didn't even argue; he just wore me down with care and charm. It turned out that the Boll provided a great reentry into the gym world. My biggest fear was that the other customers would make fun of me, like the mean kids who pointed and laughed when the volleyball hit me in the head. Of course, I didn't encounter that at the Y because everyday life isn't that much like junior high school, or not at the Boll, at least. There were a lot of families and fat people there, and very few of the vain, glistening hotties and musclebound freaks that you hear about at Bally's Vic Tanny. Also, the Boll features a rock-climbing wall and a pool and a lot of other cool stuff I didn't use, floor-to-ceiling windows that face the Woodward skyline, a sweet second floor track that wraps around a basketball court where I got to watch a lot of really intense games, and complimentary towels. It was just a nice place to be. Also, I learned right away that few people watch each other at the gym. They watch TV. All the machines are arranged facing a row of flatscreens, and the patrons form this mechanical band of zoned out exercising robots. Some people listen on their headphones and others stare into space. It's pleasantly anti-social.

After we moved to Ypsi, we joined Planet Fitness, which has just machines, weights, and the all-important TVs. But it's also just $10 a month! Their schtick is that they offer the "judgment free zone". They claim that they will kick you out if you "judge" others, and if you drop your weights like douchebags sometimes do, they sound the "lunk alarm" (for the first year and a half, I thought the lunk alarm was just a dead siren for show, but I've actually heard it go off a few times recently; I think it's just an employee testing it out for fun). It's a pretty corny atmosphere and their purple and yellow paint job makes me feel like I'm on the set of "Saved by the Bell", but I've grown quite fond of the place and actually look forward to being there. In fact, I've recently started to enjoy exercise for itself, instead of just the good feeling it brings afterward.

This is a big turning point for me. I used to do just a forty minute workout on a single machine a few times a week. That was all I had to do to not gain weight and maintain a lifestyle that included lots of cheese and fried foods. I did it dutifully, but I didn't get excited for it. I would try to distract myself from it by reading because I just wanted to get it over with. But then Dan started working out longer and I didn't see any point in sitting around while he exercised, so I switched to an hour workout on two different machines. I felt less bored with the repetition. I noticed how many more calories I was burning, which made me feel proud and that made me want to push harder. But the only way I could do that was to let go of the reading. I noticed that it was keeping me from burning as many calories.

It's true. Thinking too hard gets in the way of my workout. This is why TV is a wonderful workout companion - it doesn't make you think. But I've come to appreciate my workout as a fun time for my brain . It isn't a great opportunity to work out a problem in my head; usually I just get obsessed with simple fractions, as in "I'm three fifths of the way through my workout. If I divide the number of calories I've burned so far by three, double that number and add it to the original, I will burn x calories." But I also find that exercise clears my mind to the point that I realize that whatever had been stressing me out earlier in the day wasn't really such a big deal. It's these mental health benefits that I enjoy the most.

I was working out an average of three days a week throughout the winter. Then we went on vacation at the end of February and ate a ton of southern fried foods. It was a great trip, but I gained several pounds. Since we got back in the first week of March, I've been doing one hour workouts four days a week and for the first time in years, I'm really losing weight! And it isn't because I'm smoking a pack a day and not eating while working a job that keeps me on my feet all day. It's because I'm exercising and consuming way less fried food, sweets, pizza, beef and pork (and just like the one-hour workouts, I have Dan to thank for the positive influence). I still eat lots of cheese, but I'm letting my combined snobbery and thrift save it for the $30 - $40 a pound delicacies that I can buy with company store gift certificates. Mmm, I'm thinking about the salty Spanish goat's milk cheese I'm going to buy next...

I have a ways to go before I get down to my ideal weight, but that would just be gravy. I feel healthier than I ever have before. I do smoke occasionally, but the negative effects are more noticeable now and that makes me want to avoid it. That good feeling in the morning has become so dear. Anyway, I made it through a tough work week without lighting up, and didn't even indulge at karaoke the other night. I'm excited for the ban the begins next weekend. I'm excited for a lot of things.


  1. Wendell:

    Good for you! I got a membership there a few months ago(when they did that special dollar membership deal), but something always crops up and I'm unable to make it. Tomorrow, though, I suspect I'll finally be able to give it a try.

  2. Yay!! They offer free pizza on the first Monday of the month, free bagels on the second Tuesday morning of the month, and free grape tootsie rolls. The music is usually horrible but entertaining, and occasionally good. They play an unusual number of Howard Jones hits.