Finding a Balance Between McDonald’s and SoulCycle

The thought of you brings butterflies to my stomach. Your touch against my lips feels like an addict’s first hit, every time—a euphoric burst of energy as a boundless smile crosses my face. You are warm and feel like home, the scent of you comforting me wherever I am.

McDonald’s French fries, I love you.

There is nothing in this world that is as satisfying to me as a McDonald’s French fry: thin, yet substantial, soft and salty. I’ve never timed it, but I bet I could eat a large box in under five minutes. The burgers don’t disappoint, either—the minced onions and sour pickles, all slathered with ketchup and cheese that still retains its square, Kraft singles shape that indicates this might not ever have been warm enough to melt. At this point, the McDonald’s on 1750 Soldiers Field Road (next to the IHOP, which I also frequent) likely owes a significant portion of its sales to me. I’ve been to Italy, Ireland, and the east coast of Australia, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t get McDonald’s there. The only fame I want to reach is whatever level will allow me to become Krispy Kreme’s exclusive sponsor, for which I receive a lifetime supply of its glazed chocolate cake doughnuts. I’ve spent many a night on the floor of the New Jersey Transit departure level of Penn Station, the only place you can get Krispy Kreme in the tri-state area. Needless to say, I’m an expert at all things carbs.

It should be noted that I, like probably everyone else on this planet (or at least everyone else at this school) have a few complaints about my body. From the buck teeth that two interminable years of braces corrected to the meticulous application of SPF 15 moisturizer onto my freckled face every day, there are things that I just plain don’t like. My thighs sport thick white lines from finally growing to my adult height of 5-foot-1, in-laid marks that look like a caveman drew simplistic rivers on me that I woke up to one day. I have tried to feel more confident through the ancient art of “eating right” and “exercise,” but let’s be real, McDonald’s is a drug I can’t quit. Mac and cheese is delicious, and if there’s a doughnut nearby, I’m eating it.

This weekend, my sister signed us up for a class at SoulCycle, something I had never done but had heard a lot about from devotees ranging from friends to my mother. I had ridden a stationary bike before in my apartment building’s small basement gym, mindlessly pedaling while I watched whatever was on TLC because I, too, am a sucker for reality television presented under the guise of learning. I heard about a girl I knew who lost 30 pounds just from attending classes. So I came into this with a lot of expectations, mostly that everyone there would be so chipper it would make everything uncomfortable, and everyone would look at me with concern as I dry heaved.

The closest SoulCycle to campus is part of the Shops at Chestnut Hill, across the road from Shake Shack, which I have once a week and basically drink the cheese sauce I get with my fries. It is sleek and white inside, with those pleasant women I was worried about manning the front desk. They handed me a pair of what looked like futuristic clogs over the counter, after I signed a form. There’s a sign on the desk that says your seat will be given up if you’re five minutes late, so you know this place is the real deal and there are countless riders at the ready, waiting for someone to get in traffic. The clogs were specially made for the bike so that you are locked in, which conjured up thoughts of myself passing out from the strain of exercise, only to hang upside down while my feet were stuck on the pedals.

SoulCycle is probably one of the nicest places I’ve ever been, at least for a place that considers itself a gym. It smells like a hotel pool, which is arguably a top-10 smell for everyone on this earth because it’s partially a clean smell and partially a smell that is addictive, like huffing paint. Once we stored our things in a locker, it took 10 minutes for me to get on the bike, with an instructor measuring the seat to my hips and formatting the handlebars so I could reach. As I looked around the dark room, I realized that I could hardly make out the faces of the people around me. I whispered a “Thank God” and locked my clogs into place as a woman climbed onto her platform and sat on her bike. She was like Oprah, but probably 100 pounds and 25 years old.

“Let’s go, Saturday!” she yelled. “We’re gonna get strong today!” Okay, settle down, lady, I thought, it’s 1 p.m. After a minute of pedaling to beat-heavy music, she screams for us to get up, get our butts two inches off the seat. Just when I thought this was going to be manageable, the real stuff actually started.

To say that I thought I was going to die is an understatement. My mouth was being coated with a taste of iron, and my lungs felt like they were on fire. The instructor was glistening with sweat, but was talking to us while she pedaled like a madwoman.

“Only do what you think is right!” the instructor screamed. “Any choice makes you strong!” I watched as a woman in the front row, which is reserved for experienced riders who follow all of the choreography without issue, pedaled furiously. She differed from the ballet of toned arms and stylish string sports bras of the front row, each with a perfectly-arched ponytail. She wasn’t skinny—her thighs touched like mine, her arms thick like my own.

“Yes!” our leader shouted, yelling the woman’s name. “You are killing it!”

In the dark of the room with the loud music and no phone to distract me and no air to waste on talking, I thought about how this was different from what a healthy life meant to me. It meant watery celery sticks and salads that seemed to never end, yet never made you full. It meant drinking gallons of water to feel satisfied in the place of a Chipotle burrito, hundreds of crunches that made your neck sore because you didn’t really know how to do them, but the woman on FitTV was telling you to.

Maybe I can have both things, I thought. Maybe McDonald’s and SoulCycle can live together amicably, like parents who divorced because they were so different, but look at each other like they respect the others’ decisions. This instructor wasn’t telling me that I was going to be beach-body ready, or that my butt was going to shrink two sizes that day—those things didn’t matter. Feeling strong and pushing yourself, but not hurting yourself, were the goals of the class.

The longer the class went on, the more powerful I felt. Yes, I will move the resistance up. I can handle that. I tired in the last five minutes and felt like I couldn’t finish, but the trainer encouraged the class at the beat drop of Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill.” I pedaled as fast as I could, my legs extended as far as I could go. I felt strong. I felt like I could do this every week, as long as I could also have my doughnuts, my burritos, and of course, my French fries.

I was satisfied as I walked out of the clean white building, feeling like the picture of health as I slid into the Uber with my sister.

It took us to Johnny’s Luncheonette in Newton Centre. We had cinnamon-sugar doughnuts and French toast. And that was awesome, too.

Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor

Shannon Kelly

Shannon Kelly is the assistant features editor. One day she'd like to get paid to be funny instead of being funny for free for this newspaper or on Twitter @ShannonJoyKelly. (The irony of her middle name is not lost on her.)

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