I'm afraid of people seeing me exercising-while-fat. Please help me get over myself.
January 13, 2012 10:22 PM   Subscribe

I have trouble breaking through my mental block on the path to weight loss. How do I mentally adjust myself towards an exercise regime and stick to it? Special self-loathing snowflake details inside.

Basic info: 21-year-old female college student, diagnosed with depression (but currently off - and feeling significantly more balanced), with a history of body dysmorphia and disordered eating.

I think I may have a bunch of psychological issues wrapped up within my weight gain. Freshman year was a bit traumatic for me: being estranged from my family after years of mental and physical violence; losing all of my school friends after being bosom buddies with a sociopath; learning how to survive on my own on under minimum wage; homelessness; being sexually taken advantage of on my birthday; etc. I went through a fairly deep depression, went on and off medication, gained 80 pounds, and struggled through college some more. I'm currently in the final semester of my undergraduate career; taking a gap year between graduation and law school; went cold-turkey on 75mgs of Citalopram as of 6/7 weeks ago and survived...but I'm still fat. This is a problem.

What's more, I still think thin. In my head, I'm still 157 lbs., only to experience dismay - almost every single time I catch myself in a mirror - that I am roughly 230 lbs. At this point, I no longer cry over it, but I have walked out of clothing stores ridiculously angry at myself for letting this happen. Staring at myself in a mirror, trying my darnedest to appreciate the good bits about me, does not work. Nor do most of the "become happy with/love yourself" paths that some of my friends have suggested. I can only afford free therapy, and the campus psychologists only do enough to ensure that students can go to class.

In my mind, I cannot become successful unless I've garnered enough discipline to work this psychological AND physical burden off. And although the whole "if you want it badly enough you'll do it" thing is true, I can't seem to get with the program, even though lack of sex, dating and clothes that I actually like could otherwise have done the trick.

But I do want to be as close to my old weight as possible, almost more than I want anything else...I'm just afraid of the gym (transitively, I may be afraid of change). The workouts don't bother me; I just don't want to do them in front of other people. Actually, I try to reduce my public presence as much as possible even though *I KNOW* that other people can see that I'm fat. And while I've tweaked my carb-heavy-but-otherwise-vegetarian eating habits to incorporate A LOT more greens and fruit, I know that nothing will change unless I exert a lot of physical effort.

Yes, I know. I need to get over it, "it" being all of this BS stopping me from doing what needs to be done. But I don't know how!

Helllllp. In short, what are some of the ways that I can re-program myself to not be afraid of working out in public, going to exercise classes, and doing what it takes to be happy?

Thank you so much in advance.
posted by Ashen to Human Relations (42 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Get a gym buddy in the same boat. Or even not in the same boat, but someone who likes you and supports what you're doing and needs to develop the same fitness habits you want to develop. Going to the gym with a partner keeps you on track better, and it's nice to know that there's one person in the room who isn't judging you. Also, early in the morning seems to work best for me. NOBODY looks awesome at 7 a.m., so that helps. Also, it's too early in the day to psyche yourself out.

I too hate the idea of being checked out at the gym. I just turn up the volume on my ipod loud to keep me engaged.

It also helps to rememebr that NOBODY at the gym is happy with the way they look--even if they have bodies YOU envy, they don't have the bodies THEY want. When comparison happens, it's not to pass judgment on the others, but rather to check your progress against other bodies. So yes, a skinny person might look at you and think, "OK, I'm doing better than that person." But that's about where it ends. There's no moral judgment concluding the thought. And you know what, there are probably women in that gym who look at you and wish they could get down to your current weight.

So, yeah, basically just steel yourself and go, and I think as time goes on, you'll realize that many of your fears of being judged or gawked at will not be borne out in reality. Just do your thing.
posted by elizeh at 10:57 PM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

First of all, if you are finding willpower to be an issue (as in, you can't seem to get yourself to do what you tell yourself you are going to do, even though you know you should do it), there is an excellent book that came out recently about willpower, and it has a lot of good information to get you going with whatever routine you intend to go with.


Also, if you are looking for something to help jump start your progress and to inspire you, I would suggest watching this film:

Fat Sick and Nearly Dead

It is about a pair of men who go on a juice diet and lose a bunch of weight. Even if you don't want to do the diet, it is inspirational to watch. If you do want to do the diet, but think it would be too expensive, I would suggest you do 2 things. First, instead of buying a juicer for $200 new, buy one from the goodwill or salvation army. The one near my house always has at least 2 or 3 juicers for sale for less than 10 dollars. Second, instead of buying your produce at the local big market, try to find a smaller ethnic market in your area (this may not be possible). The one near us has fruit and vegetables at half the price of the local big market, and sometimes even less than that. The quality isn't as good (the apples will have bruises, or the peppers will be a little shriveled), but that stuff doesn't matter if you are juicing it anyways.

If that doesn't seem like something you want to do, I know many people who have lost a good deal of weight using the South Beach diet.

The best thing I can tell you, though, is something that applies to all aspects of life, but is often overlooked: If you want do do something, just do it. It doesn't have to be perfect, but the act of doing something is more important than the results at first. If you are afraid of working out in front of people, but want to work out, than just do it at home. Don't sit at home thinking you would like to work out but don't have any equipment. Just get up, start doing some jumping jacks, pushups, running in place, situps, etc. At this point it is better for you to exercise regularly, even if it isn't an ideal workout, as long as you just do it. Once you get into the habit of doing it, you can refine what you do.

About 12 years ago I decided I wanted to lose weight. I worked until about midnight, and every night after work, I would go into the back room, put on some headphones, and exercise for exactly 22 minutes (I always used the same music to workout, so it was always the same length of time). I would do pushups until I didn't want to anymore, than situps, then leg raises, then jumping jacks, etc. At some point I would do all of the exercises that I knew, so I would start over and do them all again. I would keep going until the music was over. It certainly wasn't an efficient or well planned out exercise routine, but just doing it regularly for months helped me to lose about 75 pounds over the course of a year and a half or so.

Just remember, whenever you are thinking you would like to work out, ask yourself "why am I not working out right here, right now?" If you have enough space to lay on the floor and don't have anything you need to do for the next 20 minutes, you can get in a solid workout anywhere.

Good luck!
posted by markblasco at 10:57 PM on January 13, 2012 [12 favorites]

Sometimes we have limits not because we're lazy slugs, but because we have limits. Needs. I think you're being awfully hard on yourself for not wanting to work out in public. People are assholes. And I don't know what kind of gym we're talking about here, but skinny work-out people can be oh-so-proud of themselves and throw something like pity or disdain at people who aren't.

I like to go to the YMCA pool when the old people are there. (Some of them are in better shape than I am --but they don't have perfect bodies and they're not smug).

I find it helps me to have a really bad attitude and to complain loudly.it puts me in a better mood. I'm also a very good quitter. I've started and stopped yoga 4 times. I finally realized that I hate yoga. Fuck yoga. I'll join yoga again when I have an instructor who isn't tiny,actually knows what child's pose feels like with a gut and maybe doesn't love yoga herself. People who teach yoga love yoga, and at the end of the day, they EXPECT you to love it too. If you don't, they think there's something wrong with you.

I guess what im trying to say is, exercising has become yet another morality yardstick. And working out in public is a really extremely new, unnatural phenomenon. Working out at all is the width if a fingernail in human history.

So go easy on yourself. Dance at home to loud music. Expect to like something the first couple of times and then dislike it -- it doesn't make you undisciplined. The discipline is to keep looking and keep moving. If you don't like something, it may just be because its not likable.

(Yes yoga advocates, I know its just a bad match of instructor. See? You think I could still like yoga! You're thinking of all the things that could be done differently to bring me into the fold! Okay...sometimes I like yoga.)
posted by vitabellosi at 10:58 PM on January 13, 2012 [15 favorites]

Oh, and I have found that having a partner who holds you accountable is the best way to actually stick with a workout routine at a gym. If you agree to meet with someone at a certain time and place, and you don't show up, you aren't just ruining your plans, you are ruining it for them as well. It's amazing how in these types of situations, we put more weight in not disappointing others than we do in keeping our own self commitments.
posted by markblasco at 11:01 PM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is going to sound a bit bootstrappy and woo-wooey, but, well... you're the one who was talking about reprogramming yourself, so turn down your overactive mental immune system a couple notches and you may find something of use in it.

You come across as fairly angry with yourself, as if you'd failed in some way and now have to suffer the consequences. My interpretation of everything you describe above, though, is that you're an absolute marvel. You went through all that crap life threw at you, and out the other side, you survived, and now you've decided it's time to do away with the collateral damage of the added weight you collected along the way.

Thing is... when your friends are telling you to "love yourself", what they're saying is that you can do things the hard way, by framing it as discipline (sounds perilously close to punishment to me), and likely fail, or you can do it the easy way, by taking care of yourself not because you should, or because it's some sort of moral imperative, but in the same way you'd take care of a sick loved one or a cherished pet: by making sure they eat right, that their needs are met, and that they're as happy as you can make them.

If you take the second route, you get to look at your self, your body as this marvelous bit of biomechanical machinery that, the nicer you are to it, the better it will work (and oh, the things you can teach it to do!) and the better it works, the comfier it will feel for its single occupant, who is, remember, this awesome, resilient, lovable person we discussed a couple paragraphs ago.

Point is, caring for your body the easy way tends to be a lot more successful than doing it through an adversarial relationship. I mean, come on, I like you, and all I know about you is what you put into this askme. Loving yourself seems entirely appropriate and way more just than the unfair, judgmental, discipline-based approach.
posted by tigrrrlily at 11:01 PM on January 13, 2012 [24 favorites]

i get the feeling you're trying to lose 70 lbs. in a day. if your mind is wandering all over the imagined future, contemplating the superhuman expenditure of will power it's *going* to take to lose that weight, you're making it incredibly hard for yourself. it is *impossible* for you to achieve today "enough discipline to work this psychological AND physical burden off", as you say - all you can do today is take care of today.

what can you do *right now* that's good for you? not tomorrow, not when you deserve it...do something good for yourself right this minute.. that's what i would suggest. get your head back in the game.
posted by facetious at 11:01 PM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you don't want to go to the gym, don't go to the gym. Find a quiet park or nature reserve near you and go for walks or runs there. Or shut yourself in your room and do body-weight exercises. Three sets of 10 push ups (on your knees at first until you are strong enough to do some on your toes), three sets of 10 squats with a heavy backpack full of books on your back, and as many pull ups (or jump ups and gradually lowering yourself down) as you can do, if you can get a pull up bar for your doorway. Do those three times a week, and you'll get so much stronger and fitter, you won't believe it.

Studies show that exercise doesn't help much with weight loss, though - but it DOES help people stay thinner once they do lose it. (And my own experience is that strength exercises at least help a tonne with learning to love your body - because of what it can do - and also with reshaping it somewhat, so that it looks more balanced and symmetrical, even if the scale numbers don't change).

Diet is what really changes your weight (generally only in the short term - but maybe in your case if the heavier weight is not your natural set point and has only been around for a couple of years, you may have less trouble going back to your previous weight than most people). It sounds to me like you need to work on body image more than you need to diet, (and it's super hard to do both of those at once!) But if you do decide to go on a diet, I'm sure other people here will give you good advice.
posted by lollusc at 11:09 PM on January 13, 2012 [9 favorites]

When you go exercise, but change your mind because you can't be bothered to, go home, sit on the couch, and watch the Fat Head documentary on Hulu.
(And no, he does not suggest you eat fast food, that's just silly. It was just an experiment. At the end of the movie you see him eating home-made meals)

Diet is the biggest influence in losing weight, not exercise. Exercise seems only necessary if you're already at an healthy weight but want to become super lean.

I posted this same question a year ago (or two?) and I could not exercise at all. I also hated the thought of others seeing me exercise, and even if I exercised at home, I felt like I was being watched. And honestly, I simply could not be bothered. "Just do it" has never worked for me. Actually, I was so unhealthy that exercising was simply out of the question, but I thought if I'd stopped being lazy and exercised, then I would be healthy. But in truth it's the other way around. You should become healthy before trying to exercise.

I've lost 15 pounds without exercising. I'm happy with my weight now, but it looks like the fat keeps melting away. My blood pressure and heart rate are much better now too. And I'm eating more delicious food now than I ever have in my entire life.

Give it a try. Or go do the rat race at the gym. Ugh. The only exercise I recommend for you right now is "meaningful" exercise, things that you'd do anyway: shoveling snow, cleaning the house, walking to the library, sprinting before you miss the bus.

Good luck to you... I really believe it's better to become healthy (which also includes losing weight) before trying to exercise.
posted by midnightmoonlight at 11:30 PM on January 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

My friend said something last year which stuck with me. She told me the reason she started hiking was because she wanted to be healthy and thin, and asked herself "what do thin and healthy people do for fun". She decided to start hiking, and really liked it. I started doing it with her too, and it is certainly a workout, but spread out over a long enough time in a beautiful enough place that it is quite enjoyable, even while covered in sweat.
posted by markblasco at 11:37 PM on January 13, 2012 [9 favorites]

Some of the answers in this recent question may be helpful.

For instance, my own comment emphasized that at least for me, public censure/pity/embarrassment is the exact opposite of what I think if I think anything at all of not-totally-fit people working out. But mostly I'm too busy trying to breathe to think about other exercisers.

Also, when I started out exercising, I did not do the same duration or intensity that I did a month in or two months in or six. I started with less than the bare minimum (5 minutes of cardio and 15 minutes of weights when 20 minutes of cardio is what experts recommend as the bare cardio minimum), really just setting up a routine that involved regularly going to the gym. Now, seven months in I'm up to about 25 minutes of cardio and 35 minutes of weights each time. It's really getting it into your schedule that's the hard part, and that's what you have to stick to. Go whatever frequency you can commit to even if that day you do less of a workout than planned. But do allow for some flexibility so you don't feel upset if you can't do it one day. I like going 3x a week, aiming for every other day but allowing for the extra day in the week to be wiggle room.
posted by vegartanipla at 12:30 AM on January 14, 2012

I don't exercise much these days, mostly because I don't have a car so I walk everywhere. But when I did exercise, I was also very self conscious about it at first, to the point of not wanting to exercise at all.

For me, I knew there was no way I could motivate myself to go to the gym, embarrassment or no, so I took up running. I like running as exercise because it requires very little equipment and is pretty damn efficient, and you can do it pretty much anywhere. At first, I ran on (paved) nature trails, precisely to avoid having to run where lots of people could see me. When I couldn't run there, I would run after dark (with lots of reflective gear). I am really socially anxious and hate being looked at under the best of circumstances. I am really pale, and when I exercise, I turn as red as a lobster and look absolutely horrible, to the point of strangers asking me if I need medical help. But after a few weeks/months, even I started to get used to it and just not care

Eventually I would run in the unforgiving glare of daylight down the very street that I lived on, not giving a single shit what anyone thought. Which is something that I never, ever thought would happen. So maybe start out doing something you can be comfortable with, like just hiking/walking or running where you feel comfortable, and after a while you will very likely get used to the idea of people looking at you while you exercise, and overcome your anxiousness. Exercise is a great confidence builder.
posted by Arethusa at 3:28 AM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had an up-and-down relationship with exercise. In my case, I need to be working toward something in order to feel motivated - a 5K, swimming a half mile at the pool, etc. I find that a couple of things help me stay motivated to work out:

1. I've bought some really nice workout clothes. In fact, my exercise clothes look better on me than my real clothes. There are lots of places for nice workout gear. Target has some nice cheaper stuff.
2. Instead of exercising 30 minutes to an hour a few times a week, I've been building up from running 5, 10, and 15 minutes 6 days a week. It's a rather complicated program, so memail me if you're interested in learning more. But, for someone just getting started, aiming for a 5 minute brisk walk a day might make a difference. I find that if I can get past 3 minutes, then I stop being so self-conscious. I am a super-slow runner and still feel really anxious in exercise classes, mostly because I'm uncoordinated. I find that exercising in the neighborhood or on a trail is more relaxing than being around a bunch of other people.

I've had workout buddies in the past as well and I think that the key is to find someone super-reliable so that you're not using their flakiness as an excuse to not get exercise. I find that having a workout buddy always works better when you say that you'll be somewhere at a certain time and consider it a bonus if they show up. Then again, maybe I've just had a lot of flaky exercise buddies. I'd also recommend Weight Watchers for both a supportive weight loss community/plan and a good place to meet people to exercise with and get workout ideas from.
posted by JuliaKM at 4:04 AM on January 14, 2012

Sit down for a minute amd REALLY get inside your head. What is the terrible outcome you fear? What is the worst thing that could really happen?

Someone at the gym will see me.

And then what?

They'll think I'm fat.

Maybe so. Then what?

They'll be disgusted that a fat person is invading their space.

Really? Sounds like a jerk. But then what?

They might say something mean. Or laugh. And then I'll feel bad.

That sounds like extreme behavior, but there certainly are jerks in the world. You gonna let that stop you from changing your life? What next?

They might be so disgusted with me that they actually vomit.

Now you're just being silly. The absolute worst thing that is likely to happen is someone laughs or makes a rude remark. And is that really so terrible that you would let some random jerk stop you from doing what you need to do? Isn't being unhealthy really MUCH worse?

I run. I run with groups and in races. And I often see first timers, obese, wheezing, struggling to finish… and you know what everyone thinks about them?

Good for you! You're not sitting at home on the couch—you're making your life better.

Newbies inspire all of us, because we all add a first day and remember how hard it was to make a change. Training for a marathon is easy—it's just more running. But going from the couch to your first 5k is hard because you're CHANGING YOUR LIFE.

If you're still struggling I heartily endorse the buddy system already suggested—or consider having your first few sessions with a personal trainer who can get you through theninitial awkwardness.

Good luck!
posted by mikewas at 4:29 AM on January 14, 2012 [14 favorites]

Think I've recommended this before, but Walk Away the Pounds is a great workout that you can do at home, in a very small space. You can plug the DVD into a computer if you don't have a DVD/TV set-up.

The video I have has 4 separate workouts: 1, 2, 3 and 4 mile. The 1 mile is super easy. It calls for exercise balls (hand weights) but I just picked up some light weights at a big box store (1 or 2 pounds). The rest uses an exercise band, which comes with the DVD.

When I first started it, I was about 220 lbs. I was barely able to get through the 1 mile walk, which is ridiculously slow and easy (there is a 70 year old guy in the back). The people in the video range in age and body style, so it's not like looking at skinny buff models doing contortions.

Now I do the 4 mile walk, but only 2 miles is my goal. That's about 30 minutes. I like that one better because of the pace. If I'm feeling good, I do more, if not, at least I did my 30 minutes. And I pull the curtains!!!

The woman who runs the program is very peppy and positive, and lots of messages about how you did the right thing. It can be annoying at first, but after a while, I think the messages get into my head. "Yay me! I did it!" Then she claps for you at the end.

Look at it as an extra "pill" to battle depression and anxiety. I personally didn't want to take blood pressure pills, because I get side effects from all of them. It took me a year but I lost 45 pounds (cut out Ramen noodles and watched my carbs too). I've fallen out of the routine lately, lots of stuff going on and the holidays, etc. Feel bad about the holiday pounds. But I know it can be done and have at least done it a few times lately. I have in my head that I want to lose a pound a week before Easter.

The only thing that helps me is routine:

Get up, coffee.
Yogurt, frozen blueberries, flax seed.
Vitamins, water.
Shower, scoop kitty litter.
Rest of day stuff.

If I fall away from that routine, I have to say, well, only 5 minutes. Once I get into that 5 minutes, of course I keep going. But I do have to trick myself sometimes.

Hate pictures of myself in tank tops! Or my face when I weigh too much. Blech, chipmunk! How many nuts have you stored in those cheeks? Good luck, I hope this helps.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:34 AM on January 14, 2012 [9 favorites]

And while I've tweaked my carb-heavy-but-otherwise-vegetarian eating habits to incorporate A LOT more greens and fruit, I know that nothing will change unless I exert a lot of physical effort.

I don't agree with this actually. I am no advocate of low-carb dieting and I am also a vegetarian. But I think it will help you very much if your carb intake isn't "high" as you describe it. Do you know about the glycemic index? I'm not saying cut out carbs or go low-carb, but if you just cut out *simple* carbs (like white bread, white pasta), and make sure all the carbs you eat are relatively low on the glycemic index, and make sure all the *fruits* you eat, especially are low on the glycemic index and don't eat a fuckton of fruit, it'll help more than you might think.
posted by cairdeas at 4:45 AM on January 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't go no carb but do try and watch the types of carbs. Beans over potatoes, brown rice or quinoa over bread and white rice. Turkey meatloaf instead of burger meatloaf.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:51 AM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anyone who looks at you and gets a feeling of superiority is revealing their own ugliness, not yours.

I work out 4-7 times per week at the gym, and discipline doesn't really have a whole lot to do with it. I want to go because of how going to the gym at 8:30 every night gives order to my life, and because exercise feels good after I'm done, because I've noticed that my mood is better overall when working out is a part of my life, and because being healthy is something I personally value.

My goals are more process-based than goal-based. That is, as long as I'm showing up, I'm good.

I guess what I'm saying is, you may be more successful if you can rearrange your mental furniture so the weight loss is not the primary focus of exercise for you.

Other observations:

I'm impressed as hell whenever I see ANYONE showing up at the gym regularly, especially if they're older or if they're overweight, even if they're taking a short walk on the treadmill while I'm in the middle of a long run.

You'll probably find that the stigma associated with being overweight goes away somewhat after you graduate from college and get through some more of your 20s.

You may want to check out some books or blogs about discrimination faced by overweight people.
posted by alphanerd at 5:32 AM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wholeheartedly agree with alphanerd. I'm also in a similar position to you and haven't gone to the gym for about 40 days because I'm so terrified. The reality is that people are not going to stare at you, if they do then this says something about THEIR character. Most people will look over at you quickly and smile because they will have respect for you, but more often than not, most people won't even look at others while at the gym because they are concerned about themselves.

After what has felt like months, I am going to work up the courage to go back to the gym this week. I'm going to do things that may sound superficial, but I know will give me the confidence that I need. This includes going to purchase new work out clothes so that I can feel more confident and creating the ultimate exercise playlist. I am going to start off small (and I suggest that you do the same), as alphanerd said--view it as process-based rather than goal-based.

Basically, don't measure your success by how many pounds you have gained or lost but how many times you have gone to the gym that week. Start off small by promising yourself to go 1-2 times/for ___ amount of weeks and increase the frequency when you are more comfortable. Go early in the morning to get it over with or pack your bag and go after class/work/anything else that's mandatory. Don't tell yourself that you will go home and then pack your bag because that will just be an excuse to avoid going to the gym.

Do your own thing either solo or with a buddy until you have the confidence to work out alone or with other people. Once you have developed the confidence that you need, then start going to exercise classes or anything else that interests you.

P.S. For what it's worth, you are not alone in this. I have a similar story to you, and the reality is that you can definitely do this or in other words "you got this!" I got this too, thanks for posting this question! Feel free to memail me.
posted by livinglearning at 5:45 AM on January 14, 2012

Hang in there. It's a lifetime change towards a healthy life: mentally, physically, emotionally. Every day, every hour is a new start if you need it to be. Don't condemn yourself too much for past decisions. Find what works for you, repeat.

Concentrate on trying to make decisions in line with what you want right now. Little steps.

Sometimes finding the right support is immensely helpful: Metafilter has a SparkPeople group. Disclosure: I'm currently the team leader there. I find the support and guidance from the site very helpful and encouraging. Even when I'm not doing so well. And when I am doing well, I can see what I'm doing that's working and it encourages me in the right direction. Good luck!
posted by dog food sugar at 6:00 AM on January 14, 2012

At your age I was always lured by promises of rapid weight loss. I was captivated by celebrity stories of weight loss and would try, unsuccessfully, to replicate their plans.

It sounds like you have a very realistic idea of what it takes to lose weight. You must work hard (but not too hard) to make good food choices and move more. A lot of people (including my younger self) don't want to hear the cold hard boring truth about weight loss: Make small changes and move more.

About the gym. Muster up all of your courage and go for it. I promise that the majority of people are not judging you. Many people at my Y have lost tremendous amounts of weight. Most people will be supportive and non-judgmental. If the weather is nice grab your iPod and go for long (or short) walks or bike rides. Do exercise you enjoy. I currently love Zumba and walking/jogging to podcasts and my favorite music. I also do step aerobics, cardio machines, and while I love yoga I have let it slip.

Record what you eat every day. I use MyFitnessPal and it helps so much to write down what you consume on a daily basis.
posted by Fairchild at 6:39 AM on January 14, 2012

I am your weight, and I work out at the YMCA several times a week. When I suspect someone is judging me, I think, "My $60 is as good as yours. If you're bothered by my fat ass, it's your fault for looking at it."

Really though, that hardly ever happens. In fact, last time I was on the track, some random guy (after lapping me about 12 times) cheered me on! In my experience, people who exercise like to see other people get out and move as well.

I recommend the YMCA highly. There's very little hardbody oneupmanship and a lot of regular folks of all shapes and sizes working to whatever their strength and ability level is. If it's available to you, try a BodyPump class - it's a great workout, and everyone else will be too concerned about their own form to care about yours.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:31 AM on January 14, 2012

I'm not sure where to even begin with all you've said. What stands out for me the most is you need to learn to be far more gentle and forgiving towards yourself along with getting some help for the social anxiety you're experiencing since I'm not entirely convinced this is merely about getting up the nerve to go to a gym.
posted by squeak at 7:40 AM on January 14, 2012

The well intentioned "increase your self care" doesn't make sense when someone is depressed or their system is severelly compramised. Self care takes work and when the system is compromised, it's telling you it does not have the energy to do more--- it is at the max. Sometimes if you plow ahead with increasing self care, you can do enough for yourself that the benefits start to make up for the painful increase in work load. But sometimes the system is screaming "what the hell are you doing? I can't perform better, I'm telling you that everything in here is fucked!" Which is why I think we need to support each other socially more, but that's not an option because at least here in America it's all about "Fix yourself! No one else gives a shit"

Those social conditions are not good for human beings, but it's what it is so we have to adapt. Anyways, sometimes expecting yourself to increase self care when everything in your life feels broken is hurtful to yourself. Your body is telling you something, and listening can make all the difference. Maybe what you need, for now, is not to work out but sit with yourself and ask your body what is going on, what issues is it dealing with? Can you have a conversations with yourself, telling yourself how you will exercise in a gently way, you aren't going to push yourself beyond your own limits and you'll build slowly to being comfortable with exercising?

You're already doing an amazing job with school and getting through this, your body has accomplished a magnificent feat. It's managed to keep your brain working and metabolism going enough for you to get through college-- which not everyone does, and certainly not everyone carrying the life experience load you are carrying.

Your body may have needed the extra fat and sugar to make this possible-- to do more than was probably good for your body-- to stuff the issues to the side in order to do well in school. And I gaurantee there is stuffing, issues like the ones you describe can not be neatly fit into a therapy appointment, they are messy and when you take them out to work on them it can compramise your ability to function in the nice neat way modern life dicates we function. which is why people have to stuff like this to survive.

You're doing wonderful. Don't exercise because of some moral agenda you need to get thin. Don't exercise because there are hateful people who think there is something wrong with you for your weight. Don't exercise because when you look at your body you see "unhealthiness". When you look at your body see a beautiful body that has been through unhealthy conditions and has performed miracles for you. Exercise because bodies like to feel themselves move. Talk yourself through it, "Hey I'm scared about going, and I'm especially scared because of all this misplaced self hatred running around in my head and I don't want to face that, but the truth is your a beautiful body and you will feel wonderful getting to move and use your energy"

Then exercise not with the goal of losing weight but of giving your wonderful body a treat, managing to get it to a gym and enjoy moving around--then when you reach your limit STOP, be gentle with yourself-- and then enjoy how great it feels! Remember how much it will help circulation, metabolism, your emotional self. The body will get increased energy to deal with some of those emotional issues it's carrying for you.

Do this as an act of kindness, for a body that has been carrying a terrible load. Not as an act of punishment for a body that you see as failed. It hasn't failed. You see? It kept you alive and functioning through terrible circumstance.
posted by xarnop at 7:52 AM on January 14, 2012 [16 favorites]

If your gym is full of hardbodies try to find one that has more older folk in it. Mine is connected with a hospital and has all bodytypes. But truly, when I run into the gymrats at my gym, they are more about "yay! You are doing something for yourself!" rather than "look at the fat person!"

Failing that, my best recommendation is simply to do a lot of walking. After a few weeks you will start noticing how much better you feel in your body (at least this is how it happened for me) and you might be more motivated to go into the gym after that.

YOU CAN DO THIS. But, one other thought....that extra weight has been serving a (at this point perhaps dysfunctional) purpose of protecting you. You have been through a crapload of pain, and I don't think I need to spell it out for you. Keep working on what is going on between your ears, while being good to yourself by eating right and walking, and I promise you, it will show on your frame.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:39 AM on January 14, 2012

May I add one more script for your use when your mind tells you that people at the gym are soooo much fitter and must be judging you? I have yet to meet anyone perfect in this world. If it's not one stripe of self-loathing, it's another. Please assume that they too are wrestling with their own monkey-mind, chattering away that they have a zit, that they found a gray hair this morning, that they aren't who THEY would wish to be today. That may or may not be occupying their attention. If so, they are likely not going to spend much time thinking about you, and if they do, it may be with this awareness of how they are not alone in this struggle for self-appreciation. If it's NOT on their minds? Awesome. Join them in the strength of SO WHAT, I AM HERE, Y'ALL.

SO WHAT is a skill and attitude that will serve you long after you have lost the weight and moved on to another challenge. So is presumptive empathy. Now go and do, you fucking rock star. For a moment, I stopped to admire your strength and wish you well, and now I have to get moving on my own messes again.
posted by clever sheep at 8:46 AM on January 14, 2012

Freshman year was a bit traumatic for me: being estranged from my family after years of mental and physical violence; losing all of my school friends after being bosom buddies with a sociopath; learning how to survive on my own on under minimum wage; homelessness; being sexually taken advantage of on my birthday.

I'm currently in the final semester of my undergraduate career; taking a gap year between graduation and law school

Holy shit, that is amazing. I have undergraduate students who go to pieces and fail my class because of a broken leg. Or for no reason at all. You survived all that, put yourself through college on minimum wage, and you're about to graduate? Good for you.

Ok, on to your question. It's fine that you want to lose weight. People are right that exercise is not as important to weight loss as you seem to think. But it does help a lot with depression, so it's probably a good idea anyway. You seem to think that the only way you're going to get to the gym is to berate yourself into it.

This, in particular, stands out to me:
In my mind, I cannot become successful unless I've garnered enough discipline to work this psychological AND physical burden off.

I would actually say that you're already pretty successful. But, beyond that, you're thinking of success in a way that is very common in our culture, but that I think is mistaken. There's no mythical point where a person can say, "ok, good, now I'm successful." Instead you can succeed at individual things. So move your goalposts a little bit. Instead of looking at exercise as a vehicle to lose all of your unwanted weight, think of it as a challenge in and of itself. Right now, just going to the gym at all is hard for you. So that's your challenge. Just going is hard, so just going is your first task. Once you do that you can do the next hard thing, and then the next.

But you won't be able to do that until you give yourself a break. You've already accomplished something incredible. So here's your next incredible thing to do: go to the gym tomorrow and walk on a treadmill for 20 mins. If you don't do it tomorrow, that's ok. You didn't fail. You just need to do it the day after that. That's the great thing about this - you have an opportunity to it every day, so no setback is permanent. Once you've gone a couple of times, you'll see that nobody else cares about what you look like at the gym, and then it will be less of a problem.

You'll be fine. You'll be great. You've already kicked so much ass - just keep it up.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:55 AM on January 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I felt really out of place at gyms--like I didn't know what I was doing, like everyone was thinner and fitter than me, and like people were going to be annoyed that I was taking up a machine. I don't think any of that was really the case, but it felt real. Then a friend invited me to a self-defense class held at a local woman-owned martial arts gym. We had so much fun, we started taking karate classes there, and that led to kickboxing.

So now I do kickboxing and karate a few times a week and love it. Most of the students in my classes are stronger/fitter/more athletic than me, but the community at this gym is incredible. The instructors and students are warm, encouraging, and genuinely nice. They never make me feel like I'm wasting their time when I ask them for extra help--and they freely offer help when I'm struggling.

If you were in Madison, WI I'd encourage you to check out my gym, but given that I don't think you are, I'd encourage you to call/ask around (or post another question here) for local recommendations for a similar place, a woman-friendly gym or class that welcomes and encourages people who don't think they're thin/strong/fit/whatever enough to go to a gym. I think that having a particular focus, like martial arts and kickboxing, helps because there are specific new skills to learn. If you're just using basic gym equipment, you can start to think, "I look so stupid and fat doing this," while you're a beginner, but if you're doing something that requires learning new skills, like specific punches, it's more like, "What's the difference between a jab and a hook? Can you show me?"--it's like, of course you don't know it yet, that's why you're in a class. No one expects you to start kickboxing and already know all the moves.

Anyway, this is not to knock just going to the gym and hopping on a treadmill if that's what you're more comfortable with. I just find that the particular community I've found at my gym, and the focus on acquiring new skills really helps me to actually enjoy exercising.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:20 AM on January 14, 2012

I don't like the gym either. You could try going to a pilates studio to get into shape. Lots of people come to pilates after injury or illness, so there is an expectation at pilates studios that not everyone will have a perfect body. Of course, there are always exceptions, so I would check out the studio first. Pilates plus brisk walking/jogging plus calorie counting would definitely slim you down.

Good for you for working on this! It's hard, I know.
posted by dovesandstones at 10:31 AM on January 14, 2012

xarnopthank you.
posted by lokta at 10:47 AM on January 14, 2012

For me, the gym is a creepy place that I would never want to go to. What worked was going to the zoo and powerwalking there. I just bought a year membership and started going a few times a week. There is so much distraction that you don't even feel like you are exercising. There are many options like that, that will be more fulfilling on other levels as well.

Also, when I have a mental block that is stopping me from doing something, I turn on my ipod and tune it to a talk station. I have found that the part of my brain that is busy trying to talk myself out of my goal gets distracted with the elections/disasters/car talk etc., and I can go ahead and do what I need to get done without that part of my brain noticing. It's like a shiny object for the little naysayer that lives in your brain.
posted by Vaike at 11:24 AM on January 14, 2012

When do you work out? I know exactly where you're coming from (yeah, you can tell yourself that you're at the gym so if they're judging they're idiots, but I also know that it doesn't help), and I've found that workout time matters A LOT. The really intimidating people, at least where I live, go to the gym in the morning, so I usually go in the evening after work. Is it avoiding your fears? Yes, but in this case it also involves getting to the gym and exercising, so it really doesn't matter.

The specific kind of gym can help a lot too. People upthread have it right: if you have a YMCA, go there -- it tends to be more families, older people, kids, and people who won't judge. Most places let you do a one-day trial for free, which can help you suss out the vibe.
posted by dekathelon at 11:33 AM on January 14, 2012

Most people (like me) who give up exercising give it up because it's, well, exercise. I walk everywhere now because I don't have a car. That's exercise without "exercising." I like to walk, but I don't like to walk aimlessly in circles at the gym (I have an askme about that here somewhere). I need to have a goal. So, I'd rather walk two miles to the store and back (four miles total) than walk in circles around the track. I'd rather carry my groceries back than lift weights (so boring!). I'd rather dance around the house while sweeping the floor than vacuum or do aerobics at the gym surrounded by people in better shape than I am. I'd rather play catch in the park with a friend of mine than anything else in the world.

The point is, find something you'd rather do than exercise and do that. I figure, as long as you get your body moving, it's better than sitting around thinking, "I should be exercising..." and you'll do it more often.
posted by patheral at 1:25 PM on January 14, 2012

Exercise really did nothing for me (I now only do the parts that I enjoy, which includes yoga but not the hateful treadmill), and dieting took off considerable poundage, and you can diet in private, so there's that. But if you want a space to exercise without feeling out of place, try things that are run by your local government (usually at the county level). It'll be full of people who care more about getting some exercise and then going home, rather than gym bunnies who are looking for somewhere trendy. And yes, there will be a large selection of old people, etc.
posted by anaelith at 1:34 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi everyone,

Thank you so much for all of your replies. I'm really glad for the support.

A small clarification: we have a gym on campus that's free (I go to a school in Virginia). But the campus culture is fairly fatphobic. Roughly 80% of the students here are upper-middle class, between sizes 2 and 8, and hellbent on being thin; this is something that I am acutely aware of, but didn't start bothering me until I stopped being a size 10. It is common for other students to whittle a woman down behind her back based on size - actually, people have made comments to me about others who are much smaller, seeming to forget who they're talking to. I've been mooed at in the dining hall.

So that's part of why I don't like going to the gym. The other half is that no matter what time it is - except between 6am and 7am - the gym is always very crowded. But I can barely afford to pay my own bills, let alone a gym membership or new diet foods (those living on campus must purchase a meal plan). My biggest problem is actually DOING what I envision.

Again, thank you. I wish that I could highlight ALL of your answers.
posted by Ashen at 4:08 PM on January 14, 2012

Hey, I'm not here to discourage fitness by any means, but several recent studies show that exercise does not make you lose weight. Significantly cutting calories, with a collateral fitness regime to improve stamina, muscle tone, strength and overall conditioning is the way to go. I lost 30lbs 15 years ago, exercise moderately and regularly and have kept it off, but I monitor what I eat and drink over the course of each day (not obsessively -- I keep to a calorie limit routine with exceptions for special occasions, but then I cut back to compensate).
posted by thinkpiece at 5:06 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well crap girl-- mooed? F that. Seriously there is nothing wrong with you for not wanting to be around such people-- in fact social abuse like that can affect our health emotionally and physically-- the damage of being around crappy people like that to work out is probably worse for your health than not working out. That said... hmmm...

you know hulu has free work out videos? They even have... yoga and stuff! Plus, can you up your veggie content with the student menu? Vegetables have all these cool nutrients and things that we are finding are... you know.. good for us... and stuff.

Or rather all that epigenetic stuff people have been talking about? There appears to be evidence that vegetables and fruits contain helpful phytochemicals/polyphenals/stuff that is affects those deep rooted changes that happen as a result of stress, hardship, trauma, toxic exposures and other things.

I found thinkpieces advice true. I always gain weight when I work out more and I even gain size because I get all hungry and eat everything. Here's what worked for me: I focused not on reducing portions but on upping vegetables. I make sure to eat meat and eggs and cheeses and yogurts and things that are filling but wholesome and I eat as many vegetables and fruits as I can on top of that. Also do self meditation and body awareness stuff. I exercise about once every 6 weeks. And I lost 60 pounds in the last two years!

If you like ready dorky sciency stuff this paper is really fun: keep in mind epigenetics is itself a pretty new field and IANYS-- I am not your scientist (I am not even A scientist)- so I can't tell you how accurate any of it is, but it's really fun and you can eat veggies while you read it and it's sort of like reading the box while you eat cereal which is really fun.

posted by xarnop at 5:14 PM on January 14, 2012

I have struggled for years to get into and maintain any kind of exercise routine. What's made it work: audiobooks. I have an Audible account, but I could borrow them from my library or use LibriVox or listen to podcasts for free. I am not allowed to listen to an audiobook unless I'm exercising, which is either a walk or a round on the elliptical. I'll exercise forever if I can just listen to one more chapter...plus, I can't hear anyone say nasty things about me.
posted by linettasky at 5:38 PM on January 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you're at Mason you can come to the gym with me (although it doesn't sound like it, as Mason has a pretty broad demographic).

Depending on how large your university is, they might have other fitness equipment that's not at the crowded gym. For example, Mason has an indoor track which is almost always completely deserted, and a few other pieces of equipment in the same building (which is somewhat distant from the center of campus, one of the reasons why it's so unused).

You might also have free things nearby, like a public park with a fitness trail. As a student, you can probably go during the day when it's even emptier.

Finally, I said it before, but it's worth repeating... Watching what I eat made a much, much more significant difference than exercise. You don't need special diet foods, your university publishes nutritional information for the food in the dining hall. Reading that, paying some attention to portion size, and being careful with the "incidental" foods (drinks, especially) goes a long way. (Really! You can eat the same foods that you already enjoy eating. Portion size is crucial, though.)
posted by anaelith at 5:56 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

nthing the suggestions that going to the gym isn't going to make you lose weight, but exercise will make you feel better overall. nthing the suggestion of walking, biking, or a fun class like kickboxing, yoga etc as a perfectly reasonable alternative to the gym. also, 2nding the possibility of doing home workouts - a simple workout-sized bench and 2 dumbbells is all you need for a full body workout in the privacy of your home. it's quite cheap to get the equipment, and a bench and 2 dumbbells don't really take up a lot of room either. you can google workout routines that only use this equipment. hopefully one of these suggestions will work for you, because getting into an exercise routine makes you feel awesome!

however, like many of us are saying, if you want to lose weight, you need a good diet. it sounds like you're working on that, but i hear you talking about carbs vs. greens and fruit and stuff, and personally i never had much success with those kinds of diets.

i always ALWAYS recommend this book/diet concept when people bring up diets. it is the best diet. actually the entire content of this book can be summed up in a single sentence: "eat whatever you've always eaten, just shrink the portion size so it fits on a 9 inch plate." it's a very easy diet to maintain - you don't need to do special recipes, read packaging, eat stuff you don't like, avoid things you love. it's all about portion control. it's been working for me for 3 years and counting.

good luck!
posted by messiahwannabe at 6:50 PM on January 14, 2012

Mooed at?!?

I don't mean to be flippant--I'm quite serious--have you looked into transferring schools for the sake of your health? Between the ineffective campus counseling service and the horrid student culture, it sounds like a toxic environment.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:09 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, what Meg_Murry said - taking you at your word, this is not a normal campus atmosphere and is in fact quite fucked up. I know transferring's a big deal, but it's also something you might want to consider.

But assuming that's not an option:

* Do any gyms near you have student discounts? My college town did, especially around the start of a new semester. Pros: it filters out assholes just by their having to schlep out there to be assholes; cons: money.

* Do you like biking? There's probably a place nearby that sells them used, and if you're just using it to work out, you don't need bells and whistles. Pros: no gym fee, no proximity to jerks, freedom; cons: storage, money depending.

* This option's a lot less kosher, but it's also free: if you know someone who works at an office with a gym or even just a treadmill, and it's not the sort of office that cares about who uses the facilities, there's always that. Pros: it's free; cons: it's not exactly on the up-and-up.
posted by dekathelon at 6:47 PM on January 15, 2012

One reason that diets tend to fail long-term and that people do all kinds of unhealthy things in the name of being thin is that people become very product focused instead of process focused. If you are committed to becoming healthy, losing weight is a welcomed side effect of that lifestyle, but be careful about using the weight loss as the main metric for your success. Doing so encourages you to take short cuts that aren't sustainable and reinforces the negative self talk that ends up being entirely counter productive. As you've pointed out, it's a lot easier and more fun to go out into the world and workout when you feel good about your appearance and your level of health. So as others have suggested, I think you need a mental shift. Think about it like this:

You are BEING healthy when you are working out, when you are being active, when you are nourishing your body with foods. If you are going to sustain this lifestyle long-term, it's helpful to get the mental positive reinforcement from the actual act of making healthy choices and following through with them. Kind of an existential, "you are what you do" sort of thing. (Also analogous to the cheesy but true, "happiness is a lifestyle not a destination".)

I know this approach may sound trite, but thinking about it like that can help make the 'stage of skinniness' you are at less relevant in your own head, which seems to be what is tripping you (and most of us!) up. Good luck!
posted by sb3 at 12:03 PM on January 29, 2012

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