Guilt and shame bring overweight men to the gym – not a desire to build muscle

A new study has come up with an intriguing conclusion: men go to the gym not because they want a better body, but because they’re ashamed of the one they have.

Image via Pixabay.

Psychologists from the UK and Australia wanted to somehow predict the likelihood of men going to the gym. The first thing they looked at was the BMI (Body Mass Index), or rather the men’s attitude towards their BMI. The Body Mass Index is a value derived from the mass and height of an individual, defining – to a point – how under or overweight an individual is.

In the study, researchers found that men’s image of their own BMI wasn’t a good predictor of gym activity, but their image of their own body fat is. It might seem like a small difference, but that’s quite significant. Furthermore, men more worried about being fat were more likelier to undertake spontaneous, unplanned work-outs,¬†and these sporadic patterns are hard to maintain. In other words, they might have the wrong motivation and this could lead to unsustainable workout patterns.

Dr David Keatley from the School of Psychology at the University of Lincoln and author of the study said that it’s important to be aware of these motivations if we want to promote long-term healthy lifestyles.

“Coaches, trainers, and even ‘gym buddies’ need to be aware of individuals’ motivations and reasons for attending a gym. Spontaneous gym goers are more likely to be motivated by guilt, shame or pressure, so it’s important to turn this around and place a focus on positive feelings of achievement and pride, fostering a long-term healthier behaviour change.”

This also raises concerns about the pre-conceived image of the male body presented in the media. This discussion is more common for women, but males too are vulnerable and can be unhappy about their image. If they think they’re fat, they’re more likely to go to the gym but they do it sporadically, without the proper motivation and more often than not, they quit.

Men too can suffer from body shaming, and they can also fall into another extreme case: wanting to be muscular instead of wanting to be fit.

“Anyone can be affected by what they see online, the social cues images can give, and the popular conceptions of an ‘ideal body image’. With the recent growth of ‘selfies’ and the return of muscle-bound Hollywood hero icons like Vin Diesel and Hugh Jackman, there’s a real risk that males may be more influenced to attend the gym more regularly and workout to a point where it becomes dangerous or detracts from their wellbeing.”

“This study is important in showing that whilst they may be more unlikely to admit it, body dissatisfaction and dysmorphia can and do affect males as well as females, and therefore should be investigated fully.”

It’s still not a clear-cut conclusion, but with obesity growing more and more in many parts of the world, understanding how to make people go to the gym – or even more importantly, have a healthy lifestyle – is crucial.

The study is published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.


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