With weekly classes at several gyms I get an insight into the fitness and health industry and I’ve noticed some rather alarming facts. For one, Finns are getting heavier. This universal trend isn’t exactly news, since (according to statistics) it’s been happening for the last 30 years. I’ve seen it before in Finland too, but it didn’t use to be so obvious here in the urban south. Today it is and the average gym goer is no longer of normal weight, but significantly bigger and the most common body shape isn’t the pear, but the apple, which brings loads of health issues not only related to weight. Several studies show that the more fat you gather around your abdominal organs, the more at risk you are of suffering from diabetes, heart disease and a number of other ailments.
As it happens, this rising weight curve correlates with the increased use of sugar, wheat and starch in our food. Humans have a natural craving for sweet foods, which comes from the fact that in nature, most sweet eatables aren’t poisonous and thus, were safe for our hunter/gatherer ancestors to eat. But in todays sugar-coated and over-sweetened world, this genetic preference is proving to be fatal. Food producers and marketers have been fast to pick up: if we want sweets, they’re going to make big bucks giving them to us and don’t really give a damn about our health doing so.
The second alarming thing is that since gym users are getting bigger, classes targeted at them are changing shape too. Today’s trend is towards shorter “get-it-with-as-little-effort-as-possible” types of classes, directed at people who’d have a hard time managing an old style 1hr+ class. Of course one might claim that this is a good thing, and that’s exactly what many gyms do. They’re saying that it’s simply due to demand: people want shorter classes. Well of course they do – because it’s easier! It’s nice to go to the gym, work up a slight sweat for 30 minutes and then go back home, lie down in the sofa and start munching – because after all, you’ve been to an exercise class. It’s just that a few 30 minute classes a week really don’t enable you to eat any more than you normally would. But they don’t want to tell you this. Instead, they want you to join their diet groups, with even more short classes and dietary advice based on the old-fashioned principle of “calories in/calories out”. Because that will actually keep you from losing weight – and have you coming back for more.
What then would really do the trick? Well, if you ask me (and a rising number of obesity researchers around the world) you need to discover your reason for overeating and this starts by taking a good, sharp look at what you’re eating. Contrary to old beliefs, fat really isn’t the bad guy – very few people could overeat on fat alone. Why? Well, you can have a go at butter. See how much of that you’ll get down before your body says stop. Probably not too much. But when you mix that butter with flour and sugar, it’s a whole different story. Sugar and its cousins starch and carbs make you want to eat more – in fact, they make your body crave for more. And exercising (even slightly) will increase your appetite even more and there you go, stuck in an endless rut.
If you really want to lose weight and get healthier: find a food therapist who understands how sugary/starchy foods work and can give you safe advice on how to drop them from your diet. Or read up yourself – thankfully there’s plenty of information available (for instance through the links on your left).
Then, when you’ve lost some weight, begin with gentle exercise like walking or gym training, which you can do at your own pace. And by all means try out different classes if you want to. But don’t just aim for the short ones, because you can do better than that! Making a drastic lifestyle change such as this is hard work and it’s not going to magically happen just because you attend a 30 minute wiggle-your-butt-class once a week. If anybody tells you otherwise, they’re lying – and you deserve to hear the truth.