Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Food, barbells and thoughts on how your social class may play into what you do

A funny thing happened over in the much-wealthier town.

My older son (age 23) was routinely getting together with a friend [we'll call him Bob... not his name] to work out while both of them were off from school this summer. Sometimes they'd lift at my house, sometimes at Bob's parents' house. Sometimes they'd do sprints at the track, and maybe even work a kettlebell or a sled-drag into the day's effort. Less often they'd go for a run.

It didn't take long.

"You guys are back here lifting today? I thought you were going to Bob's house."

I was glad to see my son, but surprised.

"Yeah...." he replied. "It seems like we have a problem over there. It's not a problem if we use Bob's dad's rower in his driveway, and it's not a problem if we take our shirts off. Oh, it's also not a problem if we run all around town with our shirts off. So it's not an exhibitionist/ostentatious thing."

"So, what's...." I interrupted myself as I realized the deal. "No way! Let me guess: Bob's parents think weightlifting is unseemly and a little too, oh, pedestrian and blue-collar, and so they are good with everything until the barbell comes out? Then the neighbors might notice."

"It would seem so...."

"So there are people all over that town running and cycling. Hell, even Bob's dad uses his rower in the driveway. And this is no problem. But you've done something far worse, apparently. You've brought the lower-class sports to the properties of the rich."

"Yeah, apparently."

And then I read this article. It's an eye-opener called What Your Workout Says About Your Social Class.

And then I thought a little more about my own life. Outside of CrossFit, how do the well-educated people that I professionally interact with exercise? There are runners -- a lot of runners. Some triathletes. Some cyclists. There's a lot of long-distance cardio going on. There is, conversely, very little weightlifting going on among those folks, and even less if you confine the term "weightlifting" to mean "something full-body involving a barbell, not just isolation machines at a gym."

Then toss something else into the mix: low-fat dogma. You may have run across this article recently as well. The bottom line of it is an NIH study that showed low-fat eating regimens failing miserably next to low-carb/high-fat/no-caloric-restriction ones. It struck a nerve, not because I was surprised -- hell, it's like an ad for paleo/primal -- but because I wonder how it's going to play with the more upper-crust folks.

My own completely unscientific study of the high-income/non-weightlifting/heavy-cardio exercise crowd has most of them following a path of some sort of low-fat awfulness in their food. Usually there is a "diet," often accompanied with caloric restriction, guilt and a lot of time watching numbers on the scale. There is a tremendous amount of self-deprivation in much of it as well.

Yes, CrossFit is changing the paradigm a bit. It seems that if we can get the prep-schoolers into a CF box, and put a barbell in their hands, we often can get them off of skim milk, vegetarianism and soy burgers at the same time. But it's more of a struggle. Again, my own unscientific study of CrossFitters shows that the average cop/firefighter/tradesperson is more likely to quickly embrace (or, at least, not fight about) both the food and exercise component of a primal lifestyle than the better-educated, who will still be secretly doing long runs that they don't really like** -- but think are the "real" way to be fit -- and eating low-fat yogurt and "heart healthy whole grains" [sic].

And yeah, I'm a lawyer, former distance runner and former near-vegetarian who ate whole grains like it was his job and devoured more soy burgers than real ones as of just a few years ago. I never picked up a barbell until I was 46 years old. So don't see this piece as some sort of class-war Molotov cocktail tossed over the well-educated-guy's fence. I am one of those well-educated guys who wasn't doing any of this stuff optimally as of just a few years back. But because of that, I also see a little more closely what is going on with my peers in that regard. They are, on the whole, missing the bus on both diet and exercise. Part of it is from misinformation. But quite often there's something else going on there as well.

**This is in contrast to some distance runners that I know who actually enjoy it. More power to them. People should do things that make them happy. I just hate to see someone doing something he or she hates, grinning and bearing it for "health" reasons.

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