Trading Fat Cells for Barbells

Trading Fat Cells for Barbells

From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

Trading Fat Cells for Barbells

To be tested is good. The challenged life may be the best therapist.

Gail Sheehy

She whips out her appointment book and cheerfully rattles off open times. “First thing in the morning is always good,” she lies.

Nothing is good first thing in the morning except coffee in bed. In fact, the best thing first thing in the morning IS my bed.

“What about 5:00 or 10:00 AM?” Dancing brown eyes shimmer over a smile that cuts her face in half. She is all teeth and joy. Even her name is cheerful—Lorri Ann. I had hoped for someone as somber about this situation as I. If fitness centers are great places to meet people, I wanted someone I could relate to right off the bat. Someone who knows that this is the last stop on the road to the end of the world. At least the world as I knew it.

“Weight training is so exciting. You won’t believe how it will make you feel. We can reshape your body like PLAYDOH. When you come in, first thing we’ll do is fat testing. Then we’ll measure your dimensions.”

I was never keen on tests in school. My fat did not wiggle for joy upon notice that it too would endure a test of its own.

Her enthusiasm ricocheted off a forty-foot ceiling. “You’re really gonna love it,” she lied again.

Cautiously, I returned to the gigantic lobby of the big, fancy health facility (BFHF) early one Friday. Thawing out under the bright lights of the BFHF, I pondered the lighting. Brightness burst through big windows and down from the ceiling like those merciless bulbs in dressing rooms that highlight your figure flaws when you are at your most vulnerable—trying on clothes.

“I’m so glad you’re here, Suzan!” Lorri Ann Code bounced toward me with that beaming face of hers.

Health clubs make me feel uneasy. Over the years I have entered their doors after occasional bouts of bottoming out from my lifestyle of denial, indulgence, denial, indulgence, repeat. These clubs attract spandex-laden lassies with perky ponytails who strut in glittery tights. I wear old maternity pants just to get through the buffet line during the holidays.

“Let’s begin!”

I filled out health history forms, then, with Lorri Ann, established “measurable goals.” It was important that I understand what I wanted out of this undertaking.

I wanted it to be over.

I also wanted stronger bones and tighter everything else. I knew that New Year’s resolutions often fail because we promise on the heads of our children to give up something without considering that we are actually taking on a lifestyle change. Clearly, bowing out of this commitment would be difficult with Captain Code around. Accountability this time had a face with a big grin on it.

We headed for the equipment—gigantic contraptions of metal with pulleys and cables connected to an array of weights. Captain Code demonstrated each apparatus, which strengthen and tone different muscles. I followed her lead, receiving encouraging remarks and gentle corrections, “Keep your wrists straight, put your head back, align your back, don’t rotate your shoulders.” She wrote copious notes on my workout sheet denoting the number of repetitions, weight used, posture, seat height, where my feet belonged and so forth.

Code does not tolerate a sloppy performance. “You’ll get great benefits but you have to use the machines correctly. When you come back next time, you’ll go first and I’ll tell you what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. It’s the best way to learn.”

I can hardly believe I am finally keeping a promise I’d made for fifteen years—to learn weight training.

“The first four weeks we build a base,” she says. “After that, we’ll develop a program where you can work your upper body one day, lower another or do a combination. Does it hurt yet?” she smiles. “Four more, three, two, one, rest and stretch for sixty seconds. Do you mind being sore in the morning? Wait until tomorrow night!”

I claim I don’t mind pain later, but in the heat of the moment I am adverse to it. She says something else but I don’t hear it, distracted by a man with arms the size of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The next fifteen reps whip by. Some views in the BFHF are not designed to go unnoticed. People of all ages and sizes are there. A variety of “before, during and afters,” I consider. It is comforting to see folks in their thirties, forties and fifties. I thought mostly twenty-year-old blondes in tights went to health clubs. At forty-five, I was in the right demographic in my Big Dog gym pants.

We concluded with a cardiovascular workout. Captain Code gave me a choice of stair steppers, exercise bikes, treadmills and other pieces of equipment designed with your sweat in mind. “You’ll start to burn fat after twenty minutes.”

“Put the timer on thirty,” I bravely retort.

“Good girl! You’re doing great!” she says this for the twentieth time. I love hearing it. An hour of being the center of attention when I am used to ignoring my needs in lieu of family demands felt surprisingly rejuvenating. I wanted more.

Lorri Ann whipped out a set of headphones called “Cardio-Theater” and plugged them into a box on the machine. Two television sets hang from the ceiling in front of us. “This TV is Channel 4, that one is Channel 15, or you can listen to music or talk shows.”

Working out wasn’t so bad after all. The handle of my treadmill measured my heart rate. I felt sudden exhilaration. I had a trainer! At long last I was learning the correct way to use intimidating equipment that would tone my body in new and unexpected ways. And perhaps my attitude might get toned in the process. For the first time in ages, I felt like a star.

Suzan Davis

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