“To gym, or not to gym, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The sags and drawbacks of outrageous weight,
Or to take arms against a bench press.
And by opposing end them. To lie, fat;
A blob, condemned forever
To a lifetime of trying to buy back
What one happily gave”.
Such re-drafted my muse, these beautiful lines by Shakespeare written, as I walked past, angrily eyeing my colleagues doing rounds of bench presses in the hall gym and sweating like doomsday, while I pondered over the question again, “To gym or not to gym?”
For those readers who are gym Nasts (i.e. someone who gyms a lot), and who don’t have an issue hitting the running shoes first thing in the morning, peace be unto you. For those however, whose best friend is the couch, whose beer belly is in its advanced stage of an aggressive expansion policy and whose upper arm jiggles like a pouch anytime they raise the sandbags, to you I dedicate this heartfelt concern. Even though, I must confess I am not yet in your league of greatness, I’m gradually on my way, along with many others who unlike me are not honest enough to own up that the Lord is enlarging their coast. This issue, like you may have felt before, weighs heavily upon my mind and even though I know the gym may be a good place to start dealing with it squarely, I just can’t get down to biting the steel.
I remember way back then as teenagers when growing a beard was a boys future ambition and a six pack was his mission statement, my brothers and I (for hours) will push weights we had fashioned from a bar attached to two wheel heads. I remember in our weight room in those days we had a mirror; and the usual practice was to check out your six packs after each session to notice the ‘subtle changes’ that had started to take place. Thereafter, we will flex our muscles to see the additional muscle we had added on for that day. Then, there was a purpose to the weightlifting and so long as that purpose was tied to vanity of some sort, it kept us propelled. Now years later with a bulge starting to emerge, the purpose is still there (i.e. trying not to get fat) but the motivation is simply not there anymore.
At least most of the girls we were gyming to please in those days, have themselves lost their figures and are starting to become ‘Mama Ronkes’, so what was the point? Better still no one really cares if you have a paunch or not, so long as you manage to look presentable you are fine. I agree that style conscious people and image worshippers may have a bigger motivation for them to keep up their reputation. But sadly for me, I don’t think I am in the above category so the need for the Hercules figure does not rank much on my list of to do’s. Unfortunately, here in the diaspora, this weight concern and perhaps more importantly, the killer figure are more serious considerations because having the hunk figure is a big issue here. It is not uncommon to see women comment about men’s physiques especially the archetypal male figure with biceps, a six pack and a tight buttock. The media’s role in promoting this Greek god/man physique is in no way minimal as everywhere you look, you are haunted by these ever present perfect bodies – billboards, magazines, television, music videos, the list stretches as far as Antarctica.
Beyond the opposite sex’s expectations and the media influence on the perfect male figure, the gym in the diaspora is much more than just a place to shed weight; it is a social meeting point and also doubles as a way of life of the Diasporeans. “Hey, I’m off to the gym”, “See you at the gym”, “I’ll be at the gym all evening” … the gym comes up in everyday language as that place you go to simply because you have to go. It is not uncommon to find people whose routine every day starts with a few hours in the gym in the morning before going to work or people out in the cold with their jogging shoes doing laps first thing in the morning and thoroughly sweating it out before their days begin. Many times, when I walk past the gym in my hall, either on my way to class or on my way back, I always hear that still small voice that says, “Ife, lazy boy, you ought to be in there too …” I always shrug off the thought and when I settle in on my couch later in the evening, a bowl of fries in my hand, the little voice comes again and says, “You will be paying for this very soon”.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not yet ‘fat’ in the sense of the word, but with a relatively sedentary lifestyle, sitting in front of the computer all day and eating junk food I don’t see any way I can escape the inevitable. The bone of contention however is that I HATE THE GYM for reasons best known to me. A hint is simply the lack of discipline to wake up at a given time every morning to commit myself to a course which is not Writing. Closely following this unwillingness to submit to the discipline of routine, is the fact that my opportunity cost for the membership fees of some of the gyms here totally outweighs any perceived gains from the venture – the couple of hundred pounds it will cost for a one year membership, in my opinion can be devoted to better uses than trying to lose weight.
Having bothered myself to the brink, I finally decided I will tackle the problem at the heart. So a few weeks ago, I switched to a healthier diet comprising fruits and a lot of natural stuff, and decided to do push ups in the mornings before heading off to school to see whether that might provide a short cut route to my fat prevention measures. Day 1, I get out of bed, stretch out a bit and take up my position for a push up, when I realize that my belly is hanging lower than it used to and while still in that position, I realize that my arms have started to quiver. Chineke!
I had not even started the push ups yet, so quickly before the strength runs out totally of my now wobbling arms, I start a fast-count push up to see how many I can manage to squeeze in before zero hour. On 16 my body tells me, “Oga you have tried, oya stand up now before you disgrace yourself”, but not giving in to the devil, I push for one last one – you need to see how my upper arms were quaking and trembling. Before I knew what was happening, Naija boy collapsed into a sweaty, bellowing heap. That day was the last day I did any of that routine. So how else do I achieve my anti-fat campaign without having to suffer the wobbly arms and without having to go to the gym?
After raising this issue with a lecturer on one of our informal sessions, he suggested that I use the steps more often as this is an unconscious way of keeping fit. That seemed a good idea to me so I’ve taken to climbing up the over 8 floors to my apartment and 4 floors to my class. In addition to that, I have embarked on a hunger strike campaign by reducing my food rations to eating just once a day, around 4pm. It is my thinking that reducing my intake this way will reduce my propensity for greatness. Also, I have also tried to cut down seriously on beering, which is a major contributor to cantilevered bellies in men of beerious inclinations. Since beer and water are in the same league in the UK it is only a matter of time before one is unable to tell the colour of his belt without first raising up his belly flap. I am still looking into the many possibilities that exist and I am as open to ideas as a calabash of palm wine is open to flies (“Ife, not an alcoholic metaphor again!”). Please if you know of any other way of boycotting this gyming distraction and still tone down my gradually consolidating ‘one pack’, your input will be most appreciated.