Being Fat at the Gym, pt. 1

**Potential Trigger Warning: The word “FAT”, Workouts, Self-Esteem**

To provide a little background to this post, I joined a gym in May of 2012 – hurray for a 2 year pre-paid membership – and started working with a personal trainer in June of 2012. I worked with the trainer for 6 months until my sessions ran out, and I recently started working with the same trainer, privately. 

I’ve never considered myself to be athletic. In fact, I would describe myself as wholly un-atheletic. Not athletic in the least. And I was never athletic as a kid….not really, at least. I was in ballet for 12 years of my life, played soccer, and sometimes ran….but I stopped doing ballet when my instructor told me I was too fat to be in ballet (add that to the list of things that you should NEVER say to a 12 year old…), and started to focus more on music and academics.

In college, I made friends who were athletic, and I tried to be motivated. I think I thought that if I was around athletic people, their motivation would rub off and would in turn motivate me. Yeah, that’s not really the way that it works. I think I can count on two hands how many times I went to the gym during my 4 years of undergrad.

It wasn’t until I met my husband that I became conscious of my level of inactivity. He used to be overweight and had become quite the bit of a runner in the process of working off the weight. He actually had hit his lowest weight right around the time that we met (December 2009….god that’s forever ago!). He was and always has been loving and supportive of my own goals, and whether I want to be active or not. He never pushed me to become more active….but when I met him, I thought…. “You know. I don’t want to be fat anymore.”

After some failed attempts with Weight Watchers, counting calories, and just trying to be more active, we both gained 40 pounds leading up to our wedding in October 2011. I’m skipping a lot, I know, but I’m trying to get to the point here. I don’t know what it was….but I remember waking up one September morning and thinking “I need to go workout. I need to lose this weight. I am tired of being miserable.” That was when I had reached about 315 pounds, and it was a month before the wedding.

Joining a gym is hard. Besides the obvious reasons ($$$, time, travel), for a fat person, it can feel like being a fish out of water. The first time I hopped on the elliptical at the gym, I felt like everyone was looking at me, thinking “Why is she even trying?”….and maybe there were a few people thinking that. But I would guess that most people were more focused on their own workout and weren’t paying attention to me.

I think the hardest thing for me has been working out with my trainer. When I work with my trainer, I’m very exposed. When I workout on my own, I can go into the “cardio theater” and workout in the dark, where no one can see me. When I’m with my trainer, we are on the main floor of the gym, using various weight machines, and using mats in the middle of the floor for ab work and such.

During those times, I feel very exposed and self-conscious. After all, laying on the floor doing jackknife crunches highlights every single bit of fat that I have on my body. Nevermind that it’s one of the absolute best ab exercises you can do…. I just feel like a marshmallow that’s being squished together from both sides. And I’m usually laying on the floor right next to the doors for the women’s and men’s locker rooms. I feel like I should be saying “Oh. Don’t mind the fat girl on the floor covered in sweat and barely able to breathe!”

That’s probably really negative.

Being fat at the gym does not have to be a source of anxiety and stress. I mean, the reality is….you’re there to workout and to be healthy, right? Everyone has to start somewhere, and the fear of other’s perceptions isn’t going to help you do what you need to do while you’re there. The reality is that NO ONE looks attractive when they are working out (okay, well, maybe some people do, but let’s talk majority here…) and everyone has their own goals that they are working on.

What about you? How do you overcome self-esteem issues when trying to better yourself? Have you ever felt this way at the gym? Let me know in the comments! 

-Nicole

9 thoughts on “Being Fat at the Gym, pt. 1

  1. Note from one of the ‘thin’ girls in the gym: I AM actually paying attention to my own work out, and I actually only applaude if someone wants to get fitter. I feel like my F-cup is distracting men from you, as it’s giving me some unwanted attention. I just want to do my thing.
    And if I’m looking at you while you’re working with the personal trainer, I just want to see what they’re doing for some inspiration as I can’t afford to get one myself. And I may be silently rooting for you.

  2. I can give you the perspective of someone who has been both thin & fat (thanks PCOS), buff & not (thanks strength training & fewer carbs). I’m currently in between. But I remember the feeling of panic when I gained 50 lbs in one year, regardless of diet & exercise, before the PCOS was diagnosed. Followed by horror at the idea of going to a gym at that weight. Once I understood that the diet popular at that time (low fat, high carb) combined with aerobics was the worst thing for my condition, I addressed that first & balanced the protein (not easy as a vegetarian) & insulin issue. (I took metformin for 6 months, but after that, saw palmetto was enough).

    After that, I knew that strength training, I.e., weights, was what would reshape my body & reset my metabolism. And that meant the gym. Ugh. I couldn’t even face that yet. So I did a lot of workout videos at home, using 5lb dumbbells & resistance bands. After I’d lost 20 lbs, & almost more important, was firmer & leaner, I went to the gym. With a friend who knew a fair amount about working out. A smaller neighborhood gym with weight machines, free weights, not so heavy on the treadmills. And over the next year, I got into the shape of my life. I enjoyed adding muscle & looking lean & feeling lighter, & the elliptical was a very small portion of my workouts, around 10 min.

    One day a woman came into the gym. She was at least 350 lbs, and looked a little uncertain. I could see people looking away, not wanting to be caught staring; I’m sure a few we’re thinking judgmental thoughts, but this was not a ‘meet market’ place full of gym rats. She waked slowly over to a machine for leg presses, & proceeded to struggle through 3 reps with total determination. And what I felt was respect, for someone 10 times braver than me. I knew exactly how hard it was for her, because I hadn’t been able to do that at 220lb. And then she looked back at me, & it dawned on me that she was seeing a tall, toned, athletic looking woman staring at her, & might not know it was in solidarity! Yikes. I smiled, & gave a thumbs up. (I know, I didn’t want to seem patronizing, but couldn’t think of anything better). She just lit up. I changed work schedules after that, so didn’t see her again, but I hope she kept on, & started to feel like she belonged there. I sometimes think it would be fun to wear name tags with before & after photos on them. It would make some of the fit folks seem a lot less intimidating. =o)

    • Alicia,

      That’s a cute idea about the name tags. Yes, it’s hard to really know where someone is coming from with just a quick glance at the gym. You just never know what that person has gone through to get their body to look a certain way (big or small).

      I also really enjoy lifting weights and doing circuit type training as I feel as though I get better results in this way. Cardio doesn’t do a whole lot for my body.

      ❤ Nicole

  3. Thank you for sharing. I think many women feel that way at the gym regardless of their size. I know I can relate, especially on the treadmill. Its important to remember that its about improving ourselves one day at time. Having a reliable gym buddy helps also IMO.

  4. I’ve definitely had issues like this at gyms. And I’ve had enough experience with people actually coming up to me and saying hurtful things (not all were necessarily mean-spirited things, but hurtful just the same) that I’m inclined to be fairly forgiving of my insecurities surrounding this. For me, a big part of what helped was finding the right environment for me. As it turns out, that’s more likely to be a yoga studio — or a road or a trail for running — than it is a traditional gym. For other people, I think it can be finding the correct gym or the correct trainer that makes them feel comfortable. Or at least as comfortable as they can feel. Because at least as I’ve found, there are environments that minimize my insecurities and environments that reinforce them.

    • Tori,

      I’d have to agree – I think there’s a certain level of support that comes from the environment. Thankfully, I’ve been working with my trainer for 2 years and I trust him as a person (beyond just as a trainer). I’m sorry that people have said hurtful things to you at the gym.

      -Nicole

  5. Thank you for sharing. If I’m looking at other people it’s for checking form (to see how they do it), or in some awe. Usually though I’m far more self absorbed. I’m glad you found a trainer you trust!

  6. Man do I know this feeling. I’ve been both underweight and overweight and in between! (Under active thyroid – joy). I used to go to a gym when I was nearing 80kg, but I’ve always been pretty self conscious anyway. The gym I went to was full of huge meaty guys and very fit girls in clingy clothing who looked like models. Argh. I always felt like everyone was looking at me, red faced and sweating…

    I actually had a personal trainer come up to me once while I was on a treadmill and all I could think was “go away! I look like shit”. It was just a humiliating experience, even when I went to an all women gym. Anyway, I now exercise at home – yoga and heavy weights. I am convinced that doing weights is the best way to get the “toned” look.

    Good luck in your gymventures, I’m staying away from people and sticking to my yoga mat in the lounge room, you’re all braver than me 🙂

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