There’s an image I haven’t been able to get out of my head recently. Imagine if you will a gym offering a fitness challenge. You decide the specifics of your challenge–it could be to lose weight or to gain muscle or to change your body composition in some other way–and for a few hundred dollars, coaches from that gym will weigh you regularly, take periodic photographs, and keep you on track towards accomplishing your goal. Imagine a whole line of people standing around waiting to fork over their money and sign up, but imagine none of them are speaking to each other. Instead, they’re all staring at their phones.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why it is that the culture surrounding these fitness challenges bother me so much. On the one hand, it feels like gyms are taking advantage of people’s insecurities and inabilities to stay motivated and accomplish their goals on their own. But on the other hand, getting fit and staying healthy is certainly important, and if these gyms are offering a way to get there for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to, who am I to judge?
I guess my problem is that people are spending money for a quick fix that doesn’t address the root of the problem. In essence, they’re slapping a band aid over an open wound.
We are a severely out-of-shape society, and all the reasons for this boil down to one main fact: we don’t like being uncomfortable. We prefer to be lazy. We’d rather not walk when we can take a car and we’d rather not examine the ingredients in our processed food when it’s easier just to eat it.
And it’s important to know that this isn’t a new characteristic of us as humans. It comes from our days on the frontier. When food was scarce, we developed a predilection for consuming sweets, fats, and salt, and for conserving energy whenever possible. But while modernity didn’t cause the problem, it has undoubtably made things worse. The modern food industry constantly stokes are addiction to these same sweets, fats, and salt, and then the fitness industry swoops in like a knight in shining armor ready to save the day.
The problem is neither of these industries are actually interested in our well-being. Like all other industries, they’re only interesting in one thing and one thing alone, and that’s money. These challenges aren’t geared to help the individual develop healthier long-lasting habits. They’re designed to provide quick results that fade just as fast so the individual has to come back and spend even more money. It’s just like the way tech companies like Apple intentionally create products that will break down or become obsolete in a few years so that you’ll come back for the upgrade.
So what’s the solution? In my opinion, the only way we can really address the root of our unhealthiness is to look inside ourselves with much more depth and honesty than these fitness challenges allow for. We have to realize that we’re wired by our genes to be lazy and we’re conditioned by our society to be spiritually bankrupt. And the only real way to get beyond that is through self-analysis and fellowship. We need to think long and hard about what we want and why, and we need to surround ourselves with people who will hold us accountable to our goals because they genuinely care about us as people and actually have a stake in our success.
If you’re only looking for a quick fix, by all means stand in that line. Look down and stare into your little screen and wait your chance to sign your name and hand over your wallet. But if you’re looking to affect long-lasting change, be prepared to alter your lifestyle completely. Be prepared to watch what you put in your body and how you use the resulting energy without the threat of a weekly photo or weighing session. And be prepared to be there for other people who are just as interested in transforming themselves from the inside out.