A moment that changed me: becoming a gym fundamentalist

I was a big human camembert, oozing out of my once-trim skin. But five months later exercise has become a borderline-religious pursuit

Nowadays it’s pretty typical to come across stories of transformation like these.  However, in my personal opinion we shouldn’t focus so much on the physical transformation but the attitude change.  It’s quite a revelation when we discover an inner strength of character and willingness to commit to something that we might have never thought we were capable of.  It’s these stories that reveal how with a leap of faith at the beginning our state of mind can be transformed as well as our physical appearance.  Though the author focuses on the gym, of course taking up a sport can be just as rewarding, as long as there are opportunities to really push yourself, otherwise we unfortunately will miss the mark, because the ultimate goal is to change our mentality about the work out and perceive it as something challenging and enjoyable.  No pain no gain they say! -Nondas

This article originally appeared on the guardian. Written by Dave Whelan

From the inside, my gym looks like an air hangar. The ceiling is triangular, towering 10 metres or so above creaking machines and old free weights that look like they’ve seen better days. The walls are lined with mirrors so that you can be constantly reminded that you are, in the eyes of the world, an imperfect, red-faced, sweaty gummy bear of a human.

Right now it’s 6am, and I am dressed like a mime on a run: black shoes, black shorts, black T-shirt. I’m about to work out: lift weights until my arms or legs enter a fugue state and I have to lie down for a while – like properly, heart-attack-face work out. I feel calm, in control and ready.
I have been going to the gym three days a week for five months. I am addicted. Here’s what happened: I came back from holiday and a slew of photos revealed something I had long feared but refused to confront – the trim kid from university was long gone and had been replaced by a lookalike.

You know how a camembert sort of oozes out of its skin if it’s left out too long? That was me: a big human camembert. I still had the same ingredients but I was no longer fresh and perfectly formed. My chin and my neck had gotten a little too friendly for my liking, and all those clothes I had dismissed for “shrinking” were, in fact, exactly as they always had been.

When I was younger, I dismissed people who went to the gym as either try-hards or meatheads. I didn’t understand what people were doing there when they could be at the pub. I didn’t think you had to try to stay fit – I thought it was something that you just had.

On reflection, this is probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever admitted: I never expected I would suffer from health issues. I just thought I’d continue on. So while all my friends were hitting personal bests and eating salads, I was transitioning into Jabba the Hutt, except with slightly better hair (I know it’s definitely going to fall out at some point).

What was worse, the lifestyle I had chosen – that of a pound-shop weekend warrior – did not make me happy. Rather, it slowly ground me down. I’m 27 now, and earlier in the year I think I simply ran out of energy to do normal, healthy things such as cook or read or work. I was putting on weight, sure, but the marshmallow gut was just one symptom of a more overriding ennui.

Eventually, after a holiday that felt like one long stay at an off licence, I decided I no longer wanted to be the main character in a Hard-Fi song. I did not want to look the way I did; but more importantly, I did not want to feel the way I did.

For me, going to the gym has become not just a simple matter of working out: it is a complex, multilayered, borderline-religious pursuit. Let me explain. From the moment you buy the membership, the gym takes over. Little by little, it replaces the old you. You’re Nicolas Cage wearing John Travolta’s face. All of a sudden, “dumbbell” isn’t just your nickname behind your back, but also something you know how to lift. You’re a gym person now.

You wake up in a cold sweat thinking you’ve missed leg day. You Google: “Is a hanging leg lift what I think it is?” You’re on first-term names with the personal trainers, discussing eating regimes and routines. You idly browse protein bars in corner shops. You start buying chicken and cooking it in bulk at home. Your regular meal is almost 99% boiled vegetables and you convince yourself that you adore cottage cheese, that it isn’t some awful gloopy mess. Pain becomes a friend – after a lifetime avoiding it, you’re now embracing it, seeking it out like a fly to a zapper, because pain is the best friend of progress, and progress is what you’re here for, after all. You want to do better, be better, become better.
You exchange notes with your friends, discuss commandments, wonder if you’ve been bad recently and if it will affect your workout. You go the same days every week. You pay your respects to those who are bigger or fitter than you: men and women who are further along the path to redemption. You feel shame when you skip a day, and something builds up inside of you: a suspicion that people know you’ve been slacking, that you’re not a good, gym-fearing person.

“Forgive me, personal trainer, for I have definitely been out on the piss all night.” “You shall not covet your neighbour’s deadlift. You shall not commit adultery with another’s machine. You shall not murder a pizza this evening.” (OK, maybe just one slice – for old times’ sake).

The most wondrous thing about joining a gym hasn’t even been the way it changes the way I look on the outside but how it alters every detail on the inside, almost all of them for the better. It’s not something they sell you while you’re straining under a barbell – rather, it’s an unquantifiable free bonus.

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