You know what I’m talking about when I say “gym rat”. You’ve either seen them or you are one yourself.
Gym rats seem to hang out at the gym, spending hours on end on their favorite machine or grazing the weights or chatting with their other gym rat friends. Don’t get me wrong–it can be fun to talk with people we have come to know from going to the same fitness center, but this post is about something entirely different.
What does being at the gym do for you? For gym rats, it seems to give them a temporary high. It confirms that they are fit, in shape, and in step with what we think it means to be “healthy”. Unfortunately, I’ve found that too often the gym can be a place to find some sort of external affirmation that we’re ok, that we’re strong or young or lookin’ good. Why do we need that, want that, crave that?
Hunger does something to us. When we’ve ignored our body’s promptings to eat, we come to the point where we feel that we can devour anything edible within our reach. We get irritable, short, and downright rude. We want food and we want it now! But there are other types of hunger. We can be hungry for sincere affection, quality time with a loved one, praise for a job well done, recognition for our efforts… So if that hunger goes unmet, if we are not fed, we look for something else that can mimic what we need. Just like eating when you are thirsty or chewing raw vegetables when you need a meal are missing the point and won’t fulfill your real need for water or energy, we can choose a counterfeit food for our other hungers.
Gym rats are hungry. They may have bought into the propaganda that they don’t have worth until they have a six-pack or they’re not beautiful until they lose those last few pounds. They’ve found a counterfeit food from the endorphins they get after running on the treadmill for two-plus hours or getting attention from a trainer or fellow gym rat or banishing guilt or shame from a “sinful” meal.
Would gym rats (or gyms for that matter) exist if we loved our bodies, took care of ourselves, enjoyed good food, and engaged in rewarding work, play, and relationships? If we meet our needs, feed our hungers with the things that are designed to do just that, I think the rats will disperse, the gyms will get dusty, and we will find that life without them is so much more satisfying.