Can Activewear Change Our Eating Habits?

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that lockdown is a time for elasticised waistbands and sweatpants. If activewear was a meme in the past, it became a wardrobe staple in the present. With no offices to be in and little to mark the passing days, we traded rigid denim and bodycon dresses for the luxury of sweat-wicking materials and cotton leggings. Some might have bemoaned the prevalence of leggings, claiming such things should be reserved for the gym alone, but it turns out activewear can actually influence our behaviour for the better. 

Science has shed light on a psychology termed ‘enclothed cognition’. In an interview with Body and Soul, Sarah McMahon, psychologist and director at BodyMatters Australasia, described the phenomenon as the following: “What we wear impacts our mood, choices, behaviour and attitudes…these processes include our own attitudes towards ourselves and subsequent behaviour. It also relates to how other people relate to us.”

She added, “Specifically, the more you like your appearance and feel good in certain clothes, the more likely you will feel good more generally.”

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In the case of activewear, slipping into a pair of form-fitting tights and a tank top actually has the benefit of influencing our desire to be healthier. In a survey sponsored by Chobani Australia of more than 1,200 Australians during the height of the pandemic, it found that 30 per cent reported they were more inclined to eat healthier when wearing activewear. 

This could also explain why, for most, the hardest part of the workout is simply getting dressed to get it done. “The process of operating outside our body and looking at ourselves leads us to self-surveillance, which is generally very unhelpful and does not make us feel good about ourselves,” said McMahon.

When it comes to activewear purchases, 75 per cent of women under 40 stated that looking good in their activewear was the main driving factor behind making a purchase. But if activewear can influence our choices for the better, what does it say about those close we negatively associate with?

Well, for anyone who felt lethargic and lazy during lockdown after spending their days in an unwashed hoodie and stained sweatpants, there’s a reason for that too. McMahon cites wearing pyjamas while working from home as an example of a choice that can lead to poor mental health. “This concept of enclothed cognition is true if you are ‘dressing up’ or ‘dressing down,’” she says. 

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