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A city of obese gym junkies

By Alexandra Craig - 20 January 2015 35

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A day doesn’t go by when I don’t see a gym selfie, or a photo of a meal hashtagged #cleaneating. We seem to be obsessed with exercise, fitness, and healthy eating. So why is Australia ranked fifth highest in the OECD for obese adults?

It could be due to several reasons. Perhaps people go to the gym, but don’t exercise vigorously enough to break a sweat, let alone burn a significant amount of calories (maybe they’re too busy taking photos). Perhaps those who post photos of their ‘clean’ or ‘raw’ foods are ignoring the calorie count. Just because something is clean, doesn’t make it healthy, or okay to eat double the amount of. I see plenty of ‘clean’ recipes online stuffed with ingredients like coconut oil and cacao. Sure, these ingredients are the healthier alternative to vegetable oil and regular chocolate, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have calories in them.

A report released for the 2012-13 period predicted Australians would spend around $1.7 billion on gyms and personal training. That’s a lot of money that’s essentially going down the drain if people don’t match it with a healthy and balanced diet.

Around a quarter of Canberrans are considered obese, and a further 38 per cent are considered overweight. That’s 63 per cent of us who are above a healthy weight. And I guarantee a big chunk of that 63 per cent have gym memberships.

24-hour gyms are on the rise. I can think of at least six different chains of gyms that have several 24-hour clubs in Canberra. Who wants to work out at 3.00am? I imagine the only people that do are shift workers. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the ACT has the lowest proportion of shift workers in the country, so the numbers of people going in and out of these 24-hour gyms after hours must be relatively low. So why do they exist?

Do people think “Yeah, a 24 hour gym. That’s what I need. I am very busy so being able to work out at 10.00pm would really suit me,” and then sign up because it seems convenient, but then only get to the gym once a week or fortnight? The gym I’m a member of is not open 24 hours. Sometimes this sucks, but not in the middle of the night. Generally the weekend hours are where it gets me – closing at 2.00pm on Saturdays, opening at 2.00pm on Sundays. This can be a bit inconvenient, and yes I’d get more exercise in if it was a 24-hour gym, but not any time after 8.30pm, or before 8.00am.

Are we too heavily influenced by the marketing of these 24-hour gyms, or is there a lack of education on how our bodies work, and how weight is actually maintained? Do people realise that weight loss is 80 per cent diet, 20 per cent exercise? The former President of the Australian Medical Association Dr Steve Hambleton has previously said that unless someone is a marathon runner, they will be able to out-eat any exercise program, no matter how rigorous.

Until there’s greater education on food and how much fuel we actually need to function, I fear the obesity levels will rise each year.

What’s Your opinion?


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35 Responses to
A city of obese gym junkies
Alexandra Craig 5:11 pm 20 Jan 15

Also, no matter how many calories you burn in a day – that’s not a reason to eat crappy food. People would feel much better and healthier if they just ate well rather than eating terribly but justifying it by doing exercise. As I quoted in the article, unless you’re a marathon runner you will be able to out-eat any exercise program, no matter how intense it is.

Alexandra Craig 5:07 pm 20 Jan 15

Genie said :

Alexandra Craig said :

John Moulis said :

Sometimes you need a 24 hour gym for an emergency workout. Last Sunday I went to a place called Brodburger for lunch and ordered the Deluxe burger. When it came out I was horrified. It was almost 8 inches thick, had two beef patties, a fried egg, bacon, melted cheese and mayonnaise. The Americans call that a heart attack burger. I couldn’t send it back, I had to eat it. As soon as I arrived home I packed my gym bag, went to the gym and did an emergency one hour on the treadmill. I think I managed to minimise the damage as much as possible. I shudder to think what would have happened if I went to that place for dinner and wasn’t a member of a 24 hour gym.

You didn’t *have* to eat it. You could have just eaten half. Your hour on the treadmill probably didn’t help much, if at all. I don’t know your age or medical stats obviously, but an hour of me smashing myself at the gym, really really smashing myself, only burns around 600 calories which is slightly more than a Big Mac. And my guess is, a Big Mac has much less kilojoules than what a Brodburger Deluxe does. If an hour in the gym was enough to burn off a big huge burger like that, we’d have one every day.

Absolutely smashing yourself and only 600 calories in an hour…. O_o

I can do that in 30 mins.

Okay, here come the braggers. Good for you if you can burn 600 calories in less than half an hour but a lot of people can’t. It depends on age, weight, fitness level, height etc. I was talking to my PT about this the other day – she is short and lean, she burns much less than I do in an hour.

If everyone could burn 600 calories in 30 minutes or less we wouldn’t have an obesity problem because people would effectively burn off most of their consumed calories each day.

Genie 4:57 pm 20 Jan 15

Alexandra Craig said :

John Moulis said :

Sometimes you need a 24 hour gym for an emergency workout. Last Sunday I went to a place called Brodburger for lunch and ordered the Deluxe burger. When it came out I was horrified. It was almost 8 inches thick, had two beef patties, a fried egg, bacon, melted cheese and mayonnaise. The Americans call that a heart attack burger. I couldn’t send it back, I had to eat it. As soon as I arrived home I packed my gym bag, went to the gym and did an emergency one hour on the treadmill. I think I managed to minimise the damage as much as possible. I shudder to think what would have happened if I went to that place for dinner and wasn’t a member of a 24 hour gym.

You didn’t *have* to eat it. You could have just eaten half. Your hour on the treadmill probably didn’t help much, if at all. I don’t know your age or medical stats obviously, but an hour of me smashing myself at the gym, really really smashing myself, only burns around 600 calories which is slightly more than a Big Mac. And my guess is, a Big Mac has much less kilojoules than what a Brodburger Deluxe does. If an hour in the gym was enough to burn off a big huge burger like that, we’d have one every day.

Absolutely smashing yourself and only 600 calories in an hour…. O_o

I can do that in 30 mins.

Bennop 4:51 pm 20 Jan 15

Alexandra Craig said :

John Moulis said :

Sometimes you need a 24 hour gym for an emergency workout. Last Sunday I went to a place called Brodburger for lunch and ordered the Deluxe burger. When it came out I was horrified. It was almost 8 inches thick, had two beef patties, a fried egg, bacon, melted cheese and mayonnaise. The Americans call that a heart attack burger. I couldn’t send it back, I had to eat it. As soon as I arrived home I packed my gym bag, went to the gym and did an emergency one hour on the treadmill. I think I managed to minimise the damage as much as possible. I shudder to think what would have happened if I went to that place for dinner and wasn’t a member of a 24 hour gym.

You didn’t *have* to eat it. You could have just eaten half. Your hour on the treadmill probably didn’t help much, if at all. I don’t know your age or medical stats obviously, but an hour of me smashing myself at the gym, really really smashing myself, only burns around 600 calories which is slightly more than a Big Mac. And my guess is, a Big Mac has much less kilojoules than what a Brodburger Deluxe does. If an hour in the gym was enough to burn off a big huge burger like that, we’d have one every day.

Sounds like you need to put on more lean muscle mass, and get aerobically fitter.

I can burn 600 calories in 26 minutes of really smashin myself on the eliptical at the gym.

A burger a day for me!

Alexandra Craig 4:48 pm 20 Jan 15

John Moulis said :

Sometimes you need a 24 hour gym for an emergency workout. Last Sunday I went to a place called Brodburger for lunch and ordered the Deluxe burger. When it came out I was horrified. It was almost 8 inches thick, had two beef patties, a fried egg, bacon, melted cheese and mayonnaise. The Americans call that a heart attack burger. I couldn’t send it back, I had to eat it. As soon as I arrived home I packed my gym bag, went to the gym and did an emergency one hour on the treadmill. I think I managed to minimise the damage as much as possible. I shudder to think what would have happened if I went to that place for dinner and wasn’t a member of a 24 hour gym.

You didn’t *have* to eat it. You could have just eaten half. Your hour on the treadmill probably didn’t help much, if at all. I don’t know your age or medical stats obviously, but an hour of me smashing myself at the gym, really really smashing myself, only burns around 600 calories which is slightly more than a Big Mac. And my guess is, a Big Mac has much less kilojoules than what a Brodburger Deluxe does. If an hour in the gym was enough to burn off a big huge burger like that, we’d have one every day.

John Moulis 4:30 pm 20 Jan 15

Sometimes you need a 24 hour gym for an emergency workout. Last Sunday I went to a place called Brodburger for lunch and ordered the Deluxe burger. When it came out I was horrified. It was almost 8 inches thick, had two beef patties, a fried egg, bacon, melted cheese and mayonnaise. The Americans call that a heart attack burger. I couldn’t send it back, I had to eat it. As soon as I arrived home I packed my gym bag, went to the gym and did an emergency one hour on the treadmill. I think I managed to minimise the damage as much as possible. I shudder to think what would have happened if I went to that place for dinner and wasn’t a member of a 24 hour gym.

Bennop 3:24 pm 20 Jan 15

I think a lot of people, perhaps the majority, know what is “healthy” food, but they dont decide to eat it for a number of reasons. Lack of immediate negative consequences is of of those things.

Try and convince your average 20 year old, slightly overwieght, that they need to cut down on saturated fats and sugar because they “might” develop health issues in later life. Its nto exactly compelling argument. Its a bit like superannuation. We should all sort it out early, but why should we, when there is so much time to fix it up down the track….or so we say till its a bit late.

Alexandra Craig 3:08 pm 20 Jan 15

crackerpants said :

Alexandra, you’re the journalist so I won’t tell you how to do your job. But if you go beyond casual observation and visit online forums, facebook pages etc (and I think I’ve seen you on the Canberra Mums page) you’ll get some insight into just how complex this issue is.

As someone with a sound upbringing, good genes and a couple of biology degrees, I always assumed people knew what they should consume to be healthy, and as someone in favour of preventive health measures, I used to shake my head in wonder as well. But after seeking some “support” in losing pregnancy weight post-3 babies, I’ve found that a lot of people really have no clue when it comes to nutrition and exercise. It’s not even willful, it’s just never crossed their radar during their lives. I’ve been amazed at some of the profoundly ignorant questions people ask about food, but then I realised I was taking my privilege – my upbringing and education – for granted. So some people who are trying to make a change are really pushing uphill – they’re starting from a base of nothing. So I agree that more education is needed, but implementing that in any meaningful way is extraordinarily difficult. Just look at the debate around junk food advertising and taxes, which tends to peak and trough on a regular basis.

As for gym membership, I’m sure there are correlations there, but I tend not to associate exercise with going to the gym. Gym-going is, to me, a small part of the dedicated exercise people participate in. It belongs to my carefree 20s when I had the time and lack of home responsibilities to allow me to go. You will find groups apart from shift-workers who value after-hours exercise options. I don’t go to the gym, but as someone who has to get 3 kids to bed before fitting exercise in, evenings post-8pm, lunchbreaks and maybe weekends are my opportunities. I also think gym membership can be counter-productive. “Going to the gym” generally involves getting there, changing, staying an hour to make it worthwhile etc etc. For busy mums who may get frequent but short windows to exercise, other options are much better, and harder to dismiss for lack of time.

Haha – I’m not a journalist… just a contributor 🙂 Not sure if I should be flattered or insulted! Haha!

I agree re how complex this issue is. It’s incredibly difficult to implement changes of any kind to our education system, especially ones about nutrition when people are so set in their ways and as you said, are starting from the base of nothing and working their way up.

Rollersk8r said :

I generally agree that people have no idea about healthy food. The queues at Boost Juice and Subway prove this every day. Banana bread is a classic that people often consider to be healthy. Take a look at the nutritional information provided by McDonalds – their banana bread is right up there with the burgers for kilojoules.

Yes! So true! Boost Juice is the worst. It’s not even fruit. It’s juices and nectars and syrups, mixed with yoghurt and ice. I make my own smoothies that consist of frozen fruit, water, and sometimes chia seeds. Way better than the crap peddled as ‘health’ food by Boost.

Same with Subway. I occasionally get Subway for lunch but order a wrap, with plain chicken (none of this coated schnitzel business), no cheese, and a heap of salad. Meanwhile you’ve got people ordering a 6 foot sub with cheese coated bread, cheese on the inside and fatty meats like salami, plus a whole heap of sauce on top, but because it’s got salad in it, that makes it healthy apparently. Um, no.

Rollersk8r 2:44 pm 20 Jan 15

I don’t think it’s any secret that gyms aim to sign up a heap of members who never show up after the first week. Although, I’m still astonished my local Club Lime manages to cover the rent. There’d be less than 8 regular weekday morning users – out of thousands of potential users in the immediate surrounding suburbs.

However, I also believe Canberra’s stats on obesity, exercise levels, sporting participation, cycling trips per capita etc etc are the best in the country, aren’t they??

I generally agree that people have no idea about healthy food. The queues at Boost Juice and Subway prove this every day. Banana bread is a classic that people often consider to be healthy. Take a look at the nutritional information provided by McDonalds – their banana bread is right up there with the burgers for kilojoules.

crackerpants 2:35 pm 20 Jan 15

Alexandra, you’re the journalist so I won’t tell you how to do your job. But if you go beyond casual observation and visit online forums, facebook pages etc (and I think I’ve seen you on the Canberra Mums page) you’ll get some insight into just how complex this issue is.

As someone with a sound upbringing, good genes and a couple of biology degrees, I always assumed people knew what they should consume to be healthy, and as someone in favour of preventive health measures, I used to shake my head in wonder as well. But after seeking some “support” in losing pregnancy weight post-3 babies, I’ve found that a lot of people really have no clue when it comes to nutrition and exercise. It’s not even willful, it’s just never crossed their radar during their lives. I’ve been amazed at some of the profoundly ignorant questions people ask about food, but then I realised I was taking my privilege – my upbringing and education – for granted. So some people who are trying to make a change are really pushing uphill – they’re starting from a base of nothing. So I agree that more education is needed, but implementing that in any meaningful way is extraordinarily difficult. Just look at the debate around junk food advertising and taxes, which tends to peak and trough on a regular basis.

As for gym membership, I’m sure there are correlations there, but I tend not to associate exercise with going to the gym. Gym-going is, to me, a small part of the dedicated exercise people participate in. It belongs to my carefree 20s when I had the time and lack of home responsibilities to allow me to go. You will find groups apart from shift-workers who value after-hours exercise options. I don’t go to the gym, but as someone who has to get 3 kids to bed before fitting exercise in, evenings post-8pm, lunchbreaks and maybe weekends are my opportunities. I also think gym membership can be counter-productive. “Going to the gym” generally involves getting there, changing, staying an hour to make it worthwhile etc etc. For busy mums who may get frequent but short windows to exercise, other options are much better, and harder to dismiss for lack of time.

Mysteryman 11:41 am 20 Jan 15

You make some good points, Alexandra.

Weight loss and maintaining a stable weight are mostly the result of diet – what you eat, and how much of it you eat. I see a lot of people exercise and then ruin it by eating poorly. Bad food choices, and poor portion control will undo hours worth of hard work in the gym.

I’m always fascinated that so many people don’t seem to know the basics of nutrition. It seems that they’d rather follow a fad they saw on Instagram than spend the few minutes necessary to educate themselves about why that dietary fad will or won’t work, and how it affects the body. “Tea-toxing” is a prime example. The claim is that if you consume nothing but a certain kind of tea for x number of days, you’ll lose weight and be slimmer. Well, of course you will. But it’s nothing to do with the tea. It’s because you starved yourself for 3 days. You’d get the same result with water and it’s basically free. “I’m not eating carbs” is another example. I’ve heard this from a lot of people. When I ask them why, the response is usually “they’re bad for you”. Actually carbohydrates aren’t “bad” for you. You need them to survive. But most people don’t bother to understand the difference between simple and complex carbohydrate chains, what they do for the body, or where they come from. A little bit of education goes a long way and in the days where you can Google an answer within moments from your smart phone, there really is no excuse for people not educating themselves. I can only assume it’s due to laziness and/or complacency that so many people lack the education necessary to make good choices.

I’m also a firm believer that sugar is a huge problem in modern diets. We aren’t designed to consume the quantities of sugar that most of us do, so it’s not surprising that so many of us are obese, overweight, struggling with diabetes, etc. A trip through the supermarket paying attention to the ingredients on labels is quite an eye opener. Of the groceries I buy every week, more than half would contain added sugar if I didn’t intentionally choose the brands that do not add sugar to their products. Even things like tuna or tinned tomatoes, products that have have no reason to include sugar as an ingredient, often do.

Alexandra Craig 11:41 am 20 Jan 15

Felix the Cat said :

Regarding the gym, you don’t need a gym to exercise. Plenty of places to go for a bike ride or a walk or a jog.

This is true. Walking and running are said to be the best forms of exercise. I definitely burn the most calories when I’m running. It’s also easy to do more of a ‘gym’ workout from home too. For the days I get home late or want to exercise when my gym is closed, I use a yoga mat, a kettlebell, abdominal wheel, and also have a set of boxing gloves and pads, so I can train at home. Burpees are also super effective and they can be done anywhere, anytime! 🙂

Tooks 10:23 am 20 Jan 15

Perhaps the quarter of obese Canberrans are the ones not going to the gym.

Bennop 10:01 am 20 Jan 15

24 hour gyms are great. It used to drive me spare the crappo opening hours of gynms, what with all the public holidays, weird weekend hours and late morning starts.

You might like to know that exercise still has significant health benefits even if weight loss does not occur. So its not all bad dude 🙂

Felix the Cat 9:39 am 20 Jan 15

Agree that more education about food and it’s nutrition and calorie content.

Regarding the gym, you don’t need a gym to exercise. Plenty of places to go for a bike ride or a walk or a jog.

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