Gym is post-festive self-torture


“One thing about your old jeans: they never lie. My favourite pair recently told me: ‘Listen, buddy, you’ve clearly had way too much Christmas cake.’ ”

So says 37-year-old Bruce Little, who, like most of us, entered the new year witnessing the girth-expanding effects of festive season merriment.

And even if we do not have overconsumption-induced hallucinations of all-knowing clothing items speaking to us, there is little doubt that festive season indulgence packs on more than just a few kilogrammes.

For good measure, it also throws in a generous helping of guilt. This guilt is particularly pronounced for visitors to those bastions of vanity (sorry, good health) called gyms.

Shereen Liederman, a 43-year-old mother of two, says: “I usually go to gym between three to five times a week, but between Christmas and New Year, I get way too lazy to go.”

Although she adds that “there is definitely a sense of guilt going back after missing out on two weeks”, she is not entirely comfortable shouldering all the blame, believing that there could, in fact, be something altogether more conspiratorial afoot.

“I’m not sure if they tweak the mirrors or something, but one’s body always looks bigger once you go back after the festive season. I really don’t know what it is.”

Even as someone whose only exercise is a lazy stroll down to the local bar, I can relate. There you are, sitting at the Christmas lunch table feeling like you’re suddenly in one of those Kermit the Frog memes, speaking to your darker inner self: “What a delicious meal. I’m stuffed,” you tell yourself, only to have your won’t-let-you-be-great self respond: “When are you going to have trifle again? Eat it. Eat it now.”

This all-too-real struggle is something Little can relate to well.

“I recently came out of a two-and-a-half-year relationship, so finding myself going into the festive season single was exciting. But Christmas came like a really bad bomb. It was nothing but a thousand landmines of temptation that want to mess with your bikini-ready agenda: the delicious carbs, the delicious wines.

“It’s very different from when I was a twink. When you’re a twink, you can eat anything and not get fat. But when you hit 30, that twink superpower disappears just like that. So, at my age, I’ve got to work on my marketing. You know, make people want to buy my product.”

Hoping to keep people interested in getting others to buy the product they’re selling is precisely what keeps the gyms’ coffers overflowing after the festive season.

In a popular northern suburbs gym in Johannesburg, instructor Tofi Bishop speaks to me as I stare at equipment that looks like something out of a Transformers movie, being worked on feverishly by someone desperate for a transformation.

“January to March is definitely one of our peak seasons, mainly because of people having made New Year’s resolutions to get back into shape, especially after the festive season – after they’ve eaten all that, you know, steak and stuff,” says Bishop, a proud vegan, barely managing to hide his disapproval.

“But,” he adds, “often people come here thinking their bodies will transform very quickly. Some people even come in a few times a day. But they don’t realise that it really is 80% diet and 20% gym that will give you results.”

News of this diet-to-gym ratio for attaining a better physique has yet to reach Liederman, who says: “If I have a great gym session, I’ll sometimes come home and reward myself with way more calories than I’d just burned. Like: ‘Let’s celebrate your greatness, Shereen, and grab a packet of Toffee Rounds.’

“It’s probably not the best idea,” she concedes.

Added to this battle with the sweeter things in life, Liederman also has to confront other less-than-pleasant aspects in her dogged determination to “have a better body than I did when I was in my 30s”.

“I gave up going to the Pilates class soon after starting it. There were all these perfectly skinny white girls perfectly balancing on these balls and in I come with my beautiful, big black body. I was like: ‘Look, I don’t think I’ll be coming back.’ ”

What keeps people like her flocking to gyms? Masochism?

“We live in a conditioned society,” says Bishop. “There is this fixed idea of what makes beauty and what the ideal body should look like. People face a lot of pressure from media and society in general to look a certain way.”

It would seem as though even those who have tortured themselves into achieving said ideal bodies are not immune to the after-effects of festive season indulgence.

“When you hit the gym after the holiday season, you’ll see that even the muscle boys are not looking as ripped as they were before. You see it in everyone,” says Little. “So, really, if you want to feel better about having gained weight over the holidays, there is no better place than gym.”

As for me, I think I’ll stick to my strolls down to the local. To quote Joni Mitchell: “If you want me, I’ll be in the bar.”

Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail & Guardian

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Carl Collison
Carl Collison
Carl Collison is a freelance journalist who focuses primarily on covering queer-related issues across Africa

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