Diet & fit­ness – Fak­ing fit: the rise of the gym fraud


True Love - - Content - By LOUISA PRITCHARD

They’re head-to-toe in SPORTS­WEAR and have told ev­ery­one about the killer WORK­OUT they’re about to do, but they have no in­ten­tion of EX­ER­CIS­ING... Are you one of them?

Walk­ing up to the school gates with her daugh­ters, Mbali, 41, stopped to chat to the other moms. “Off for a run?” asked one, nod­ding ap­prov­ingly at her Nike Power Leg­endary Train­ing Tights, Puma All Eyes On Me Tank Top and Asics Gel Nim­bus 19 train­ers. “Yes, an­other 5k this morn­ing,” she replied. But that couldn’t have been fur­ther from the truth; in­stead of pound­ing the pave­ments, Mbali was plan­ning noth­ing more en­er­getic than go­ing home to sort through some over­due pa­per­work. She’s one of a se­cret tribe of ‘gym frauds’: women who pre­tend they work out to make them­selves feel bet­ter about the money they’re blow­ing on a costly – and un­used – gym mem­ber­ship. Or, in­creas­ingly, to be seen to be keep­ing up with their clean-liv­ing-ob­sessed friends.

These days, it can feel like we’re all ex­pected to be do­ing some­thing en­er­getic. Is it be­cause of celebri­ties who post daily work­out self­ies, as come­di­enne Tumi Mo­rake does, and, lately, pic­ture posts by the for­mer queen of talk, Noeleen Ma­hol­wanaSangqu, of her­self head­ing to the gym? Or, is it be­cause of friends who post de­tails of their 10km week­end runs on Face­book? Ev­ery­where you look, peo­ple are work­ing up a sweat.

Most of us know that keep­ing fit is good for us. There was a time when ex­er­cise was seen as a bor­ing pur­suit but no longer. Over the past few years, it has be­come trendy to name-drop the lat­est gym move you’ve mas­tered or swop tips on the best yoga stu­dio. Keep­ing fit isn’t just some­thing to do – it’s some­thing to shout about.

Now, if you just want to sit on the couch watch­ing TV while munch­ing on pop­corn, you can’t. The fit­ness fa­nat­ics will make you feel like a so­cial out­cast.No sur­prise, then, that for some of us, it’s eas­ier to pre­tend to be ac­tive than be judged for skip­ping the gym.

For Mbali, be­com­ing a gym fraud was the only way to sur­vive the school gates. “I work in the city for half the week and do the school run on my days at home. I made the mis­take once of tak­ing the kids to school with­out show­er­ing or do­ing my make-up and got stares from the other moms.” Stung, she came up with a so­lu­tion.

“The next time I did the school run, I de­cided to wear my an­cient gym kit I haven’t used in years and pre­tend I hadn’t show­ered or brushed my hair be­cause I was go­ing for a run af­ter­wards. I talked about it very loudly and got ap­prov­ing looks rather than glares.”

She could be onto some­thing. A study by North­west­ern Univer­sity in the United States found that we un­dergo psy­cho­log­i­cal changes when we wear cer­tain clothes. This “en­clothed cog­ni­tion” means that by putting on our ly­cra we may feel more in­clined to ex­er­cise. “It’s all about the sym­bolic mean­ing you as­so­ciate with a par­tic­u­lar item of cloth­ing,” says so­cial psy­chol­ogy re­searcher Adam Galin­sky. “It would make sense that when you wear ath­letic cloth­ing, you feel more ac­tive and are more likely to go to the gym and work out.”

If that’s true, then more peo­ple than ever are fool­ing them­selves into feel­ing fit­ter, thanks to the ever-grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of ath­leisure wear. Find­ings from global con­sumer mar­ket re­search group NPD shows that Bri­tons spent the stag­ger­ing equiv­a­lent of R75 bil­lion on ac­tivewear in the UK in 2014, an in­crease of 6% on 2013. But, ac­cord­ing to the global mar­ket re­search group Min­tel, around half of us who are buy­ing sports­wear have no in­ten­tion of ac­tu­ally wear­ing it for sport. Why would we when it’s so luxe? From Bey­oncé’s Ivy Park line to Stella McCart­ney’s range for Adi­das, or su­per-stylish yoga gear from Shakti Shanti or Lorna Jane, high-street sports­wear has never been so fash­ion­able. All of which means it’s never been more fun to fake a fit­ness habit.

And it could pay off in other ways, too. These days, work­ing out is as much about im­prov­ing your prospects as your body. It’s rare for a CEO not to evan­ge­lise about his or her 5am work­outs, or how the first thing they pack for a busi­ness trip are their run­ning shoes. A study of more than 1 300 top ex­ec­u­tives by the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia in the US found that more than 75%

of them be­lieved ex­er­cise was crit­i­cal for ca­reer suc­cess.

“Peo­ple are judged more pos­i­tively if they seem to be putting more ef­fort into their fit­ness,” says Dr Jeff Breckon, di­rec­tor of the Centre for Health and So­cial Care Re­search at Sh­effield Hal­lam Univer­sity in Eng­land. “They be­come some­one who is per­ceived to be mak­ing a com­mit­ment to­wards change. The prob­lem comes when they lose their mo­ti­va­tion and stop go­ing – they don’t want to lose that ap­proval from those around them, which could lead some peo­ple to pre­tend they are still ex­er­cis­ing.

“Hav­ing your gym kit with you – even if you have no in­ten­tion of work­ing out – ab­solves your guilt about not ex­er­cis­ing, mak­ing you feel bet­ter about your­self,” he adds. “It’s the same as hav­ing a gym mem­ber­ship; the idea of it makes you feel less guilty about not ex­er­cis­ing – at least for a while.”

Breckon warns: “Ex­er­cise cre­ates an emo­tional re­sponse of self-worth and com­pe­tence, which is pow­er­ful – ar­guably more so than the ac­tual health ben­e­fits. Which means if you pre­tend you’re ex­er­cis­ing when you’re not, you’re cheat­ing your­self and that’s go­ing to make you feel pretty bad in the end. That you’re not able to take con­trol and mo­ti­vate your­self to get to the gym can have a neg­a­tive ef­fect over time.”

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