Can we just agree on one very simple fact before we get into the stupid Peloton controversy? The fact is this:
Exercise alone has very little effect on weight loss.
There are a thousand cliches that illustrate this concept, and anyone who has ever tried to diet has heard them, but they all boil down to a simple truth: You lose weight in the kitchen, not the gym.
Let’s say you bust your ass and do a great 30-minute ride on a stationary bike. If you’re really going, and you get your heart rate into the upper zones, you might burn 500 calories depending on your body type. That’s great, but if you’ve ever studied a nutrition label, you know just how easy it is to blow through 500 calories. Two candy bars would do it, or a few extra handfuls of salty snacks, or a second helping at dinner. (The latter, in fact, would usually obliterate 500 calories.) The average woman needs about 2,000 calories per day to maintain weight, and the average male about 2,500, so at the very best, a hard 30-minute workout will give you an incremental head start on losing weight. The average American consumes more than 3,700 calories per day, so in reality that 30-minute workout is worth even less.
Exercise is wonderful for your muscles, especially your heart, and it’s wonderful for your brain. It can help suppress appetite in the short term, though for some people it has the opposite effect. It is not, however, anything more than a supplement to weight loss. You lose or maintain weight by watching what you eat.
The reason I bring this up is because people are pissed about a new Peloton ad, and at the heart of their anger is the misguided concept that buying a piece of exercise equipment is about losing weight. Watch the ad:
Like most of Peloton’s marketing—as previously skewered to hilarious effect—this ad is guilty of being corny and subtly privileged. Rich people owning rich things in their rich homes is annoying, full stop. If the critique was predominantly classist, I would get it, even though Pelotons aren’t actually as expensive as some think.
But that’s not what people were upset about—they were mad that at the implication that the husband was fat-shaming the wife, even though she was clearly not overweight, or that he’s controlling and manipulative because he got her a piece of exercise equipment.
Now, is it a great idea to buy your partner a Peloton if he or she doesn’t want one or hasn’t mentioned it and generally seems content with her level of activity and mental health? Maybe not! It might be an insensitive gift, depending on your situation, and some recipients could interpret such a gift as a subtle hint that he or she is falling short of some ideal that his or her partner has set in secret. And in that case, of course it’s worse coming from a husband to a wife. But, get this: That’s only the most negative possible interpretation. Without the ability to learn the backstory of a fake couple in a fake home, it’s baseless to see the gift as anything but something intended to help the wife with fitness and mental health—since that’s what exercise is for! And she liked the gift! She might even have told him she liked the Peloton beforehand! (How many people would buy a gift like this without at least knowing it would be well received?) We don’t know for sure, but that would be more consistent with reality than the headlong sprint to fury that was seized on by the woke heroes of Twitter.
It takes a wild degree of mind-reading to see this as a husband either fat-shaming his wife or implying with his gift that something is wrong with her that must be fixed. If you take the view that exercise is healthy and positive, as most sane people do, then this is a nice gift that probably, in this fictional world, stemmed from conversations they’d previously had about wanting to get in shape or reduce stress or whatever. Maybe the husband used it too!
The truth about Peloton, as someone who owns one (I bought it for myself, so the most you can accuse me of is self-loathing), is that it’s the same price as an average gym membership for two people if you finance it at no interest with all the bells and whistles (mat, bike shoes, heart rate monitor, etc.). And that’s only for three years, at which point it becomes cheaper than a gym membership for one. For me, it’s a way better value, because I’m one of those people who is way more likely to work out if I can just stumble to my bedroom at lunch rather than having to travel to a gym. That doesn’t mean it’s cheap, by any means, but the fact that it’s seen as a luxury item more so than a YMCA family membership or a spin/yoga studio (Peloton also offers yoga classes) is largely the fault of their own marketing and not a true reflection of reality.
It’s also a brilliant product. It’s improved my fitness immeasurably, and I generally feel better when I’m using it regularly. Another unfortunate truth, though, is that I only lose weight while cycling when I’m dieting. If I use the Peloton and eat unhealthy, I will gain weight. Because, again, exercise alone doesn’t lead to weight loss.
It’s my belief that Peloton understood this basic fact when they made the commercial, that they chose the actor specifically to avoid any misinterpretations relating to weight, and that the focus was meant to be on fitness and mental health. Buying someone you love a gift that might help in these aspects of life is actually a nice thing to do. But to become outraged at this ad is to miss the point completely, and to view the company’s intentions through a skewed lens. It’s about someone buying his partner a gift that can improve that partner’s quality of life. Get mad—my suggestion only—at something that matters.