Most of us in fitness live in a sheltered world and over time that world becomes our reality. We go to work and are surrounded by people on a mission seeking fitness. Except for a small number of clients who wouldn’t be happy even if you gave them $100 bills to use as toilet paper, most of the people we encounter each day are fundamentally happy to be working out and to have a little time to themselves. Seeking fitness makes them happy and they appreciate what we do and the lifestyle.We then go home and usually are somewhat grounded in the fitness life. We may not work out as much as we would like, or need to, but the era of the fat owner is fading replaced by more and more fitness professionals who understand and practice what we all believe in. We live with, work with and are surrounded by fitness people all chasing the same goals.Visit the Wal-Mart on Saturday morning, however, and you will immediately have our fantasy world of fit, happy people shattered by the harsh reality of thousands of fat, nasty bargain hunting predators whose only mission in life is to break your leg with a cart filled full of the cheapest crap they could find in the store. The real world is Wal-Mart and it is an ugly place for fitness people.We were recently on a trip and my wife needed a contact lens. The hotel suggested that we visit the eye care center at the local Wal-Mart down the street. This was the last place I would have thought might be a solution to an eye problem on vacation but it was close and we gave it a try.
The eye care center was right by the check out lines with a bench right outside the door. My wife was in the center for almost an hour giving me a chance to sit on the bench and watch all of humanity flow by. Based upon this mind shattering experience, here are five lessons learned by my visit to the Wal-Mart. Yes, if you are in the south, you have to refer to it as “the Wal-Mart” not just Wal-Mart:
- Lesson 1-While the national average for obesity may be 32%, the average at Wal-Mart might be more like 75%: Obesity must be like smoking where the lower your IQ is, the more likely you are to smoke. My on-the-bench research revealed that if you wear a Nascar tee shirt, you are doomed to have a belly that blocks out any chance of seeing anything below your waist. In the south these are called Dickie-do guys, explained as your belly sticks our further than your dickie do. I also noticed that most guys who wear the wife beater white tee shirts think they are ripped because they equate being built like a fat refrigerator with being in shape. Almost any middle-aged woman doing Crossfit could trash these guys in any fitness contest in minutes.
It is also the first time in my life that I have seen belts worn at almost a 90% downward angle. If you consider belts as horizontal and traditionally worn at 0% of tilt, you have to have one whale of a belly to force a belt buckle to tilt almost toward the floor. If they had little headlights on the buckle, they would be pointing at their toes.
I am seldom at a loss for words, but I could hardly speak when a middle-aged woman 40 pounds overweight wearing sweat pants with “Pink” on her huge ass, bare midriff with rolls of pink fat hanging over the top of the sweats and a workout bra stretched to its maximum capacity got into the check out line. If that bra had broken 14 guys in line would have been flopped to death. I don’t want to say she was big, but watching her bra as she walked reminded me of 14 hamsters in each side doing Zumba. She probably thought she had a nice jiggle, but is was more like being afraid of putting your hand into a bowl of your aunt’s cheap fruit salad Jello. Big, big ucky factor.
- Lesson 2-This fitness stuff isn’t catching on out there in real America: Younger and younger women are leaning on the back of the carts to hold themselves up. I at first thought this was just lazy but I stalked a young couple in their 30’s and realized that both she, who was about 60 pounds overweight, and her equally overweight husband had to stop and rest several times as they wandered through the store. She needed the cart to hold her up since she couldn’t walk the entire store standing upright due to no muscle and not enough strength in her core to keep her upright. How do you get that out of shape at such a young age? I also realized that there is little we can do in fitness to ever touch her. Fitness for her and a lot of the other Wal-mart visitors that day would be about as real to them as doing brain surgery would be to me.
- Lesson 3-Muscle is attractive, fat is nasty: I have seen more and more women at younger ages that don’t have a single muscle in their bodies and the numbers seen from the bench that day was truly depressing. Rounded shoulders, flabby arms, big bellies and wide hips and you are only in your 30’s. I also see this on airplanes where younger and younger women can’t even lift their bags to put them in the overheads. If you are like that when you are 30 how much mobility and functionality will you have left when you are 50? And if you want to look at least 15 years older than you really are, then gain a little weight, lose all muscle and get a bad haircut and poof, you are instantly an old man.
This also makes me appreciate even more how women with muscle and structure look in our industry. Muscle is sexy, strength is feminine and lean, athletic males are motivating but fat; fat is anything but sexy. I do, however, find it scary that so few people care anymore whether they are fat. I have a number of guy friends my age that are overweight and you can tell it affects their ability to move, to enjoy life and most likely even their sex life but their solution is to just buy bigger shirts. By the time most people care it is too late. Caring when the doctor tells you that chest pain is a major coronary and that you are now a type 2 diabetic is too late and the reality in Wal-Mart is that we are turning out a generation of people who don’t see a problem even as they realize that they can’t see their own genitals without a mirror.
- Lesson 4-Given a choice, people will choose to eat the worst food you can buy while walking by healthy stuff: According to my unofficial survey, the number one snack food in America is any type of chip in a bag followed by soda. I saw people pushing carts that were overflowing with chips, cases of Coke, frozen pizzas, frozen dinners and boxes of cheap pasta, all put into the cart just yards from the fresh produce and meat department. I don’t understand how there can be any discussion of any disease in this country without beginning with the concept of eliminating the simple carb and the damage it does. Dude, put the white bread down, drink a little water and go for a walk.
Could fitness really be that easy? After my visit to the breeding ground of the Biggest Loser contestants, I do think it is that easy. Wal-Mart customers are simple fitness uneducated people who don’t know what to eat and wouldn’t know healthy if it snuck up and pinched some fat. Many of the boxes in the carts were branded with some type of healthy hype. Look at the Cheerios campaigns. Everyone in America is told that eating overly processed boxed cereal is healthy for you and most carts had a lot of food that was in reality horrible but made some type of health claims. Our solution? For the last decade or so it has been the Food Pyramid, which was most likely the biggest waste of money our government has ever thrown away.
- Lesson 5-Getting fat is contagious: When families go bad, they go down together in the war of fat. If mamma is big, then the odds are good that the whole damn family is big. It is sad, especially after so many years in fitness, to seek kids that are 10 and already fat. They don’t move, eat poorly but in essence do nothing but emulate their parents, who are fat, eat poorly and do nothing but watch television.
I have hyped this before, but I think every trainer in the country who believes that he or she is good at what they do should start an exercise program for a few hours a week at the local grade school. The schools don’t have budgets for these things anymore so donate a few ropes and tools and go teach it yourself. Even if one kid gets excited about fitness and keeps going you have saved another kid from being trapped in the fat hell of Wal-Mart.
Is there any good news? I think we are moving more toward a national awareness that fitness is something we can all do. The lesson to learn is that you have to be the source locally. You should be helping the kids at the school. You should be writing a weekly column, that doubles as your marketing, on lifestyle and fitness. You should be posting free fitness and nutrition tips on your website, Facebook and the other social sites. Just remember, only you can change the madness at Wal-Mart on a local level.