The first time I did F45 in Beijing, I got dizzy and almost threw up. I was tired by the end of the warm-up. I was so embarrassed by how out-of-shape I had become, I actually apologized to the instructor (tall, slim, blonde). I considered not returning purely out of shame, but F45 was the only gym I had found when I moved to China that offered the mix of CrossFit’s resistance and the HIIT-style cardio I wanted. Plus, it was situated perfectly between my apartment and my office. And the classes were in English. So, I buried my pride and kept going back.
Everyone at the gym seemed so hot and fit and happy. Admittedly, I flirted with going to the lunchtime class or the evening classes, not wanting the hot girls of the 8 am class to judge me. But it was hard to go at night because of my new job was so demanding. I had arrived in China, all heart-achy from a recent breakup and looking for new opportunities professionally, not realizing it was the beginning of my company’s “busy season.” Apparently, a busy season means 6-7 days of work for 4 or 5 months and employees making less per hour than I did freelancing all staying in the office until 2 in the morning, eating sad delivery burritos at their desks and not being compensated a single dime of overtime.
The stress of what I had gotten myself into got worse every week the work didn’t seem to ease up; the inability to do anything social except hear my colleagues complain made me feel I was losing my ability to discuss interesting topics, and the long hours meant I had stopped writing completely (the one thing I truly want to do professionally). I felt all that all of my identity was this job.
As winter got colder and the days shorter, the gym became some sort of safe haven. I returned to the 8:15 morning class of intimidating hot girls because my office couldn’t steal mornings from me like they could evenings. And as my colleagues gained weight from the stress of the job and ate late night delivery under the florescent lights at the cubicles, stacks of papers building walls between me and their tired faces, I watched how the hot gym girls showed up each morning, dancing between sets of kettlebell swings and laughing while doing handstands after the workouts. I’d joke with my friends that the girls were so strong and sexy, they didn’t need to work. They were simply professional hot girls. I joked that maybe one day I could be hot enough to be a professional hot girl. I joked that I wanted to break into their social circle. My friend Jayson still tells me F45 sounds like a cult.
Maybe I was joking, but I admired them. I admired their strength and happiness.
It was the juxtaposition of two futures.
The work demands finally slowed down in February, but my trust of the company had long dried up. Beijing began to thaw. I dated. I moved on. I started reading more. And in April, I made two important decisions:
- I turned in my letter of resignation
- I enlisted myself in the 8-week F45 Challenge
The challenge begins with body scans (weight in kilos, body fat percentage, etc..) and “before pictures” for all studio participants. While F45 is a global chain and the challenge offers a meal plan recipe list for everyone, you only compete with your studio. After 8 weeks, you are scanned again, send your “after” pictures, and the trainers select first and second place winners. I was 100% in.
I think, partially, my gusto took off because I just really needed a win. I needed to feel like I had accomplished something. I decided I was going to start cooking, follow the meal plan, cut out sugar and white flour, only eat good fats, and give up drinking alcohol (except for a few pre-determined occasions like my birthday). I expected the cravings to be uncontrollable and to be constantly hungry.
But I wasn’t. The ‘Challengers’ have a WeChat group where we post photos of our meals. That made it motivating to go out and buy the ingredients and cook the food. The girls in my gym would talk about the recipes and swap tips for how to find some obscure ingredients in China. When I went back to the US, I offered to bring things back for people. I was repaid for this gesture with a coconut from the last challenge winner.
So I went home and stabbed the coconut with a knife for a while until it opened. And I drank the coconut and became initiated into the hot girl group. I bought the sexy leggings and we all bought matching Captain America sports bras. This, of course, only reconfirmed to Jayson I was in a cult. We’d see girls from my gym out and I’d have to stop and talk about overnight oats or how to say “stevia” in Chinese.
Sometimes I went to two or three sessions in a single day and the girls would tell me how amazed they were. If I missed a session, they’d text to see if I was okay. I’d go for runs in the evening. I started picking up the blue kettlebell instead of red and the hot girls would cheer me on. I’d post pictures of my food and became “that person” that talks about protein powder and the pounds just melted off and everyone kept telling me how good I looked. And the more they encouraged me, the easier it all really was to have diet coke instead of beer and eat a salad at a bar when everyone else eats burgers. When you have that kind of encouragement, you don’t really need to eat the pizza at the office. When you genuinely have fun with the people at your gym, getting up at 7 am to work out every day isn’t so hard. My house became stocked with almond butter, plain yogurt, and frozen blueberries so I could make a little parfait when sweet cravings hit. Any time I did skip a morning, I’d look at the pictures of everyone sweaty and smiling and have a little FOMO.
And after 8 weeks, I had to buy all new clothes and weighed less than my senior year of college. I can lift more than ever before. I ran up the stairs of the great wall the other day, just for fun. My mental health is great. This may be the happiest I’ve been in years.
I won 2nd place in the challenge. I lost over 4kg and nearly 6% body fat. This is the happiest I’ve been about my body and feel really fit. Even my skin feels like it is glowing. But the best part, of course, was finding a community where everyone encourages each other to be healthy, take care of their mental health, and challenge themselves.