I am terrified to exercise
June 8, 2020 4:49 AM   Subscribe

What it says on the tin. I grew up in a sporty family where everyone exercised for fun, except me. Many years later, I learned I had pretty bad asthma, and that's why physical exertion always felt like death. Now I am struggling with my weight and I *need* to exercise, but I am super-embarrassed, and I need to get over that.

My parents and siblings and partner are all marathoners. I am obese, after a long and complicated history of fear of exercise (caused by undiagnosed asthma) and some very serious medical problems, from which I almost died in the operating room. I finally have a doctor that I feel good about, who is not a jerk about my weight, and who is a partner in my treatment and who is dedicated to helping me achieve my goals.

But I'm TERRIFIED to exercise. I can always find an excuse not to. I'm terrified that neighbors who see me out on walks (or, worse, jogs) will make fun of me for being so fat. I'm terrified of going for a long walk - or even a short walk - and having an asthma attack when I'm not at home. I'm terrified of having an asthma attack and not being able to get help or get home, which happened a few times when I was in my 20s and had not yet been diagnosed (because I was still too skinny and too female to be taken seriously).

My family (including my partner) has always been really supportive of my attempts to exercise, but I feel like they're secretly judging me for not being healthy already. I think they're not -- they've been there for my medical struggles and have 100% helped me out and supported me and they know the horrible things I'm dealing with -- but I feel like they are. So when I do manage to do simple things like take walks, I want to lie to my family and my partner about it, so that nobody gets their hopes up. During Covid, this is particularly pernicious, because my partner is home all day, every day, and knows when I go for a walk. (Pre-covid, I worked from home and he worked from an office, so I could sneak out for secret exercise and hide it from him.)

I am 100% up in my head about exercising, but I definitely can not break out of this on my own. Were you afraid to exercise, because of possible problems or because of (imagined) judgment from family? How did you get past it? Please hope me.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (37 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I was very self-conscious when I started going to yoga classes. For me it helped to start with a beginner's class, because it was explicitly for people who were new to it, so I didn't have to be good at it. When I started going to open classes later I would find a spot at the back, but then I realised that being able to see other people made me feel more self-conscious, so I started putting my mat right at the front. When it comes down to it, the opinion of other people literally does not matter, and after a while I started cultivating a fuck-you attitude to anyone I imagined didn't like me being there.

I was also very anxious when I started going to the gym years back, so I went at a quiet time and I sat down on my recumbent bike with my iPad and watched my TV episode while I biked and then I went home.

It might also help to reframe what you're doing. You deserve to be anywhere you want to be and do anything you want to do. Everyone, no matter what their size, deserves to move their bodies in ways that feel good and joyful. You don't need to apologise for your body to your neighbours or anyone else. I think you might find The Unapologetic Fat Girl's Guide to Exercise And Other Incendiary Acts a helpful read.
posted by escapepod at 5:15 AM on June 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

Also, asthma attacks are scary and it is totally legit to be scared of them. Is your asthma under control now? Do you take a preventer, and if your asthma is exercise-induced, can you take something (like Ventolin) before you do the exercise? YMMV but I found that I could fit an inhaler in my sports bra so I never needed to worry about being without it.
posted by escapepod at 5:22 AM on June 8, 2020 [14 favorites]

Have you done any therapy around this issue? This seems like something a therapist could possibly help you overcome.

Also, as a fellow fat person, I find comfort in having an exercise buddy for exactly this reason. If you happen to be in MA, please memail me and we can go on socially-distanced walks.
posted by woodvine at 5:37 AM on June 8, 2020 [7 favorites]

Get a dog! Dog walking is dog walking, not exercising. Also I'm in the same boat and cannot raise my heart rate without, you know, dying but I got a FitBit and aimed for 10,000 steps a day. Mine are 10,000 at a very slow and casual pace but that's the point -- you don't have to be sweating in spandex to exercise and lose weight.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:41 AM on June 8, 2020 [9 favorites]

It sounds like you have some pretty understandable trauma around exercise experiences. Speaking as someone who's also been there - not with asthma but with a different potentially life-threatening experience while exercising - it's terrifying to be out on the sidewalk and suddenly have your body do that to you.

I had a hard time getting back into running after experiencing just one of those sorts of experiences. Having to unpack a lifetime of that would be a challenge, but it's not one you need to undertake on your own. I second woodvine that it sounds like finding a therapist would be a really solid place to start. It sounds like you trust your current doctor - can you explain some of this to them and ask them if they have any recommendations?
posted by pie ninja at 5:48 AM on June 8, 2020

I'm a fat woman who loves to swim. I'm not terribly good at it - very slow, can't even do a crawl; pretty sure my breastroke isn't entirely up to snuff either. But I can do it for an hour without getting bored or too exhausted, and I love how it tends to empty my mind. Sleep afterwards is great too. And there's just something about plunging in the water, dropping off all the weight of my days and ways.... The great thing about swimming is that there's almost no way to hurt yourself doing it, even if you can't do it very well, as long as can keep your head over water. It's a great sport to start with for people who aren't terribly athletic otherwise. (I'm not sure, for instance, that running would be the best idea at my current weight - knees probably couldn't handle it too well).

I used to spend most of my summer at the pool or at the lake as a kid and then had a period of avoiding pools, beaches, lakes as much as possible as a teenager because of body issues. Those places seemed to me mere meat-markets then, too much like a runway, or in my case, a gauntlet. It's somewhat sad to contemplate in retrospect because it made me sacrifice one of my chief delights for no one's benefit at all.

Then I moved to the city, and having been used to summers in the country with plenty of shade, found that I actually couldn't stand the heat. Turns out I hated the heat more than the idea of people seeing me in a swimsuit. So I went to the public pool again and realized that my teenage view had been a bit too limited. Do people go there to show off their bodies/athletic feats and flirt? Sure. But a lot of people are there for the same reason I am - they just want to escape the heat and splash around a bit. And their bodies aren't always picture-perfect/conventionally attractive either.

I realized that I kinda _liked_ seeing all those different bodies. If you only look at bodies presented to you by the media, your perception can get really distorted. Seeing a much greater variety of shapes at the public pool was actually really good for me. I especially loved the cliques of old ladies who would meet at the pool every day, do a couple of laps, using a somewhat half-assed breaststroke just like me, spending the rest of the day doing crosswords and playing cards and gossiping. They became my great fitness inspiration. I told myself that's how I want to spend my retirement too. So I have to stay at least somewhat in shape, to remain flexible and up on my feet, but I don't need to give a shit about rolls of fat and sagging tits.

As a middle aged woman I find that I've become pretty invisible anway, and I can't say it bothers me too much. Men no longer feel that much of a need to comment on my body, trying to shame me into complying with beauty standards - they probably have accepted that at this point I'm a lost cause. My teenage concerns might not have been that paranoid, but I find they no longer apply. I'm back to enjoying the pool as much as I used to as a kid. And maybe I too can become one of this active retirees and be an inspiration for someone else.
posted by sohalt at 5:57 AM on June 8, 2020 [20 favorites]

Do you have any greenways by you? I enjoy walking on them for the express reason that it is equally ok for everyone on the path to be doing anything from taking a rest on a bench to training for a marathon. No one looks twice if you're wearing a business suit or fully clad in spandex.

About 7 years ago I was training to do a half marathon (which I completed as they shut down the course to give you an idea of my speed). Several times on my weekend runs I passed a large woman on the trail who was barely speed walking and fully decked out in athletic gear. The only thought I ever had was "good job! I know how hard it is for me to run so I'm impressed that she's out here and working even harder than I am."

Is there anyone in your life who you'd be comfortable to ask to do an activity with (not expressly exercise, just "want to take a walk/ go to the pool/ help in the garden.")? That may be a good place to start. I really understand the fear of telling family what you're doing and the fear of failure attached to it.

Best wishes and good luck!
posted by raccoon409 at 6:21 AM on June 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Doing a little every day makes a difference. Over time, the enjoyment goes up and the resistance goes down (as a general trend... i mean there will still be days that it's a drag). Even 10 minutes a day is better than an hour once a week... consistency can help form a new habit. And if you miss a day, no problem... pick it up again the next day.

Also, would your partner join you for walks? Is there someplace pretty like a park so it's more like exploring and curiosity than exercise?
posted by kokaku at 6:24 AM on June 8, 2020

I don't know if this is helpful and feel free to ignore it if it's not but as a person who does exercise I can tell you that if I see a person out running my thought about that person is that they are like me - a person doing exercise and trying to be healthy. I am not judging them based on what they look like or how fast they are going and most people who exercise are the same.
I know you know this is in your head to a large extent but maybe it helps to hear that a lot of people will see what you're doing as positive and worthwhile and that can help to reframe your internal dialog about what others are thinking when they see you out walking.
posted by crocomancer at 6:50 AM on June 8, 2020 [10 favorites]

Could you exercise at home? The options for home exercise are endless and range from yoga to pilates to cardio - AskMeFi is a great resource for ideas for different forms of home exercise depending on what you need, either something very intense or something aimed at beginners. You could do it from a youtube video or take a class online - scroll down for my own experiences of doing exercise classes online. I realise that your partner working from home makes this difficult if you want to exercise in secret, but it seems to me like the best way of maintaining an exercise routine would be to take out the element that frightens you the most, which appears to be the chance you might have an asthma attack when you're not at home.

Alternately, can you take your inhaler out with you when you exercise? How is your asthma currently managed at the moment and what does your doctor think? I am sure that a conversation with your doctor about how you would like to exercise but are afraid to because of having an asthma attack could be fruitful.

Were you afraid to exercise, because of possible problems or because of (imagined) judgment from family?

I'm significantly overweight and have struggled with extreme mortification while exercise as a result of childhood trauma. In my case it was because the other kids at school would laugh at me during PE. But I also had lots and lots and lots of and lots of other forms of negative feedback and messaging about my weight, and it's really messed with my body image and my emotional health in ways that, in my late 30s, I am only really now getting around to unpicking. These things really get under your skin and stay there. I really feel you.

I was afraid to exercise until 2015 when I set foot in a gym for the first time in my whole life. As I huffed and puffed away on the elliptical, it quickly became clear that nobody gave a shit. No one noticed me at all.

I obviously don't go to the gym anymore, what with covid, but I've been doing a group exercise class for a few years a number of times a week. It's mostly the same people, but we don't look at each other during class - I couldn't tell you anything about any of them and they wouldn't be able to tell you anything about me. Those guys have seen me in all sorts of ridiculous pretzel-like poses, and once or twice have heard me fart, and I assure you no one cares. Nobody is paying attention to anyone but themselves. We now do the class via Zoom, which makes it even harder for anyone to pay attention to anyone else but themselves because we're mostly looking at the teacher and the rest of us are visible just in tiny little boxes at the side of the screen.

My own family went through a bit of a journey with me when I started going to the gym. They love me, but my weight has always been something the family has considered A Problem. Some of them thought I wouldn't stick to my exercise regime; and then when it became clear that I was, some of them were confused as to how I could be exercising consistently and not losing weight (although my other health indicators improved). They've just had to deal with it. I have not engaged too much with their thoughts about my weight and exercise routine because really, I'm the only one affected by those two things. That hasn't been an easy journey, but drawing a clear boundary in my head between what impacts me (my choices about my health) versus what might impact me emotionally but has no impact on my physical reality (what my family may or may not feel) has helped.
posted by unicorn chaser at 6:55 AM on June 8, 2020 [6 favorites]

Definitely take up walking in civilian clothes. Wearing the exercise uniform attracts attention, while looking like you're going down to the corner store does not. Besides, walking is more pleasant because you get to see the neighborhood.

The most important thing is to not get hung up on exercise. It is very easy to get frustrated and give up on weight loss, so remember that exercise is the lesser part of losing weight. It is very good for your health, but for actual weight loss monitoring calories is a lot more important.

So do try to exercise, but don't despair if you're having trouble getting out there.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:56 AM on June 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

I am an unnoticeably average American amount of overweight and being around Marathon People makes me feel like the only good answer is to crawl in a hole and die. They're intense. And you've got them IN YOUR HOUSE.

I am not any kind of poster child for healthy living, but I tend to agree with the commentors who have suggested finding a beginner yoga class. Something outside of your home, away from your intense family, out of the public, in a safe place where you'll have people around if you have asthma issues. You don't have to tell anyone you're doing it. Maybe it's a painting class. They don't need to know where you go.
posted by phunniemee at 7:30 AM on June 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

I'm very self-conscious about working out in public because I get beet red with the slightest hint of cardio and look like I'm dying. I've had more success sticking with at home workouts. You can do a surprising amount of stuff at home with no equipment and limited space (if you can roll out a yoga mat and do a jumping jack on it, that's enough space for most things). I've been trying new youtube workouts each week and my favourite so far are the Body Project low-impact workouts because they're really chill and positive and focused on the process of getting moving rather than hardcore results.

Aside from that, walking is great and doesn't look "exercise-y" to others. Nobody out walking is going to give you a second look or judge you because they're doing the same thing! A short walk is better than no walk and a long walk is better than a short walk. If you have an inhaler you could bring it with you, or walk in loops near your house so you're never too far away.
posted by randomnity at 7:30 AM on June 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

Would your partner go on daily walks with you? Could you treat it as "chat and get out of the house" time as well as exercise time?
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:35 AM on June 8, 2020

This is one of the things my therapist helped me with when I was seeing her. She said it was super common and at the time she had several patients with the same issue. We practiced by going over all the scary health scenarios I was worried that would happen regarding my health and came up with plans on how I'd deal with them if they happened. And we even practiced with her walking with me and she had me lay on the ground pretending I fainted and how I would handle the situation. I still mostly just exercise at home (Leslie Sansone 1 mile videos on YouTube) because it's the easiest thing to do. But I also feel secure enough now to walk laps just on my block when the weather is nice which was something that seemed impossible before. It took a long time and honestly I still get self conscious, but I also feel a lot better when I'm doing even a tiny bit of exercise. You can do it!
posted by ilovewinter at 7:35 AM on June 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

Also this may be a slightly silly suggestion, but if you take up playing Pokemon Go, you can always tell your partner you're going out to play Pokemon instead of going out for an Exercise Walk. Some people I know walk as much as 50 kilometers every week to maximize the in-game rewards!
posted by randomnity at 7:36 AM on June 8, 2020 [11 favorites]

Minecraft Earth is another walking game.

I have found having a hiking watch which tells me my steps, the weather, average heart rate has been useful. I went from about 5000 steps a day to under 2000 average in quarantine and it has helped me start walking/exercise bike to get it back up. A lot of people have spent the last few months inactive and are slowly trying to regain strength/stamina.

Also with covid you can assume any odd looks are the person trying to figure out your path do they can keep distance. I totally cross the street to avoid people right now and it's 100% acceptable behavior at present.
posted by typecloud at 7:57 AM on June 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

Seconding the idea of exercising at home, at least to start - no one would see you, which would get you past the idea of people looking at you, and also you can put your inhaler right next to you within easy reach just in case.

And you don't need to buy super-fancy space-age equipment that takes up a lot of space either. I picked up a set of stretchy exercise bands for only about 15 bucks, and those are surprisingly effective - they're just some long strips of stretchy plastic that you can loop around things like a doorknob or even just hold in each hand, and they come with a printout of different exercises you can do with them (loop over a doorknob and pull either end towards you ten times, loop them around your feet and pull, etc.).

And even if you do want something more "gym equipment-y", they make exercise bikes that fold up into a surprisingly small space and are still surprisingly effective. My roommate and I went in on one, and it folds into a compact enough space to tuck into a closet. It doesn't have all kinds of fancy view screens or pulse measurements or whatever, but it's good enough that I'm huffing a little after ten minutes. For easing back into cardio, it's right on the money. And it was only a couple hundred bucks. Memail me if you want details and I"ll get the brand name.

I'm suggesting this as a first step, as well - but if you find this works best for you, then so be it. A friend of mine used to be a personal trainer and I asked her once what the best exercise program was. She simply said "the one you stick with."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:00 AM on June 8, 2020

This is anxiety as a result of trauma, and it is okay to pursue treatment for that.

And while I think it's okay to have some feelings of privacy around your exercise habits, needing it to be secret is a red flag in a psychological way and also as a safety issue, especially when everybody's best option for exercise right now is outdoors where you're subject to cars and other hazards.

I think, at least with your partner, you should share your fears - about being judged or "getting hopes up" even more so than your health anxiety - because it will take some of the power out of it to say it out loud and be supported, which hopefully you can expect from your partner. And hopefully you can also ask for privacy if you want to work out at home to lower your asthma anxiety - my husband and I both prefer to be unobserved and un-disrupted and frankly don't have a lot of private space for that (there's nowhere big enough to put the treadmill, for example, where you can close a door) and just agree to ignore and it's fine, it's not perfect but the agreement is enough. In your case, you might decide to keep a personal alarm* or similar attached to your clothing so that if you are in trouble you can get his attention and otherwise he can freely ignore you.

*When my dad was sick, I got my parents a cheap wireless doorbell, which is nice because the chime has volume control, you don't need it on full blare if you've got it on your desk or right next to you but can bump it up if you're getting in the shower or whatever. Mom glued the button onto a lanyard so dad couldn't drop it.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:01 AM on June 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

This time, being stuck at home, is actually a great time to start a daily walk - if for no other reason than getting a break from your partner and family. My husband and I treasure our solo walks as the only time we get to spend alone right now, with both of us working from home full time. I also use the time to listen to audiobooks, which I'm not able to do otherwise since I'm not sitting in a car during rush hour anymore. You can definitely frame this as "wanting to get out of the house" rather than wanting to get exercise.
posted by something something at 8:22 AM on June 8, 2020

Pre-Covid I worked in the fitness industry, with people of all shapes and sizes in our classes. Previously in my life I was overweight and had many of your same hangups, including the asthma (mine was diagnosed in high school but never really managed right.) Therapy did help me.

Just a few thoughts -

For me at one point I did 10 sessions with a personal trainer. She was kind of brutal, like I would say "ugh that is the scary part of the gym" (the free weights part of the gym) and she would go "hmmmm" and then the next session she'd have me go over in that section. She put me in front of the mirror with a small weight doing a bicep curl and she had a member of a Major League Baseball Team (GO JAYS) come and stand next to me with his like massive huge weight doing the same move and she made me look in the mirror and then she said "you are doing the exact same move." And I was like "NO LOOK AT HIS WEIGHT" and she said "no, you're both doing the same move with the appropriate weight."

For me, even though I still had feelings, that changed my mind quite a bit over time because she gave me this...alternate script to high school gym class. And that script is "I am doing exactly the same thing I would be doing if I were one of the "fit people" because...we both have human bodies that we move around."

I don't know if that script will help but wow, I go back to it over and over. Every single person who wants to move their body just...moves their body enough to get a little stronger/fitter/faster/go longer. That's it. If you're moving at all, you're just like every athlete out there. You might need more information, practice, etc. But so do they, or did they.

For the asthma, if you go to the store on your own or to work on your own it's kind of the same thing. I mean, I get where your brain is at. You couldn't breathe or get home! That brain was very smart and is protecting you from a lifet-threatening event it experienced. But hopefully now you have a Ventolin inhaler you can bring with you, and you could bring along information to give to others to help (or wear a medic-alert bracelet), have your phone with you with a signal to your partner, etc.

On a practical level, try walking with an audiobook or a podcast to distract you - make it one you really love, so that you associate the time you spend with that fun thing. Go as slowly as you need to. I mostly hate the feeling of being out of breath because of my asthma, and I do run in races (mostly 10km) and I just go...slow. REALLY slow. I am very friendly to people who pass me and cheer them on. :)

You can also borrow a dog, like become a one-family dogwalker...you don't have to take on a 15-20 year commitment to get one. :)

For other people encouraging/owning your fitness path...I dunno, I wouldn't really talk to them about it. I'd just say I was going out. I doubt they are disappointed in you, but they also don't have to be involved.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:24 AM on June 8, 2020 [17 favorites]

So a couple things; it is very hard to do this on your own, even with a supportive doctor and partner.

Two resources to look into using. Especially if you have insurance, go to physical therapy. PT is typically covered by insurance, you get persona one-on-one training to target specific things you need help on.

Next, pay out for a physical trainer from a local gym or one that does house calls, and does online. In today's environment, they are doing a lot of sessions via zoom/webex/facetime, whatever.. so you can actually do this at home in your own room, with just the trainer on the other end.

This will definitely be a solution for you, both in sticking with a scheduled training regime, as well as helping your anxiety.
posted by rich at 9:49 AM on June 8, 2020

*personal trainer, I meant..
posted by rich at 9:55 AM on June 8, 2020

I think there are two things going on here. The first thing is that fear is a symptom of shortness of breath, so when you start getting anxious about exercising or being seen exercising you should treat yourself as if you were having a minor asthma attack.

The second part of this is trauma. You have experienced social trauma, and life threatening danger from exercise. Listen to your fear. It is an important signal. Perhaps there was no chance you could have died of suffocation when you had those asthma attacks while out exercising, but you were still alone with only strangers nearby and they might have either not helped you, or might even have harmed you. Suffocation is terrifying for a real reason. If you had just told us you had been waterboarded as often as you have had severe asthma attacks while trying to exercise we'd all have our hair standing on end and be moaning in rage and sympathy. Frankly, if you weren't terrified, you'd be in denial about how scary it is.

For whatever reason you are reluctant to get help. Instead of enlisting your partner to walk with you so you have someone with you who will be capable of speaking to get help and assisting you get to the hospital or just to get your puffers out of your pouch, you are hiding your exercise from your partner. That kind of deviousness is a sign of trauma. I'm not saying the people in your life abused you, but somewhere along the line you were severely neglected by people who could have realised that you had asthma, such as your school PT instructors. I mean Hippocrates was the first guy to teach about asthma. We've known a lot about it for a long time.

I want you to accept that you are reacting to things rationally, that your terror is a reasonable response. I'm not saying you shouldn't exercise. Being in the middle of a freeway on foot would also be terrifying but that doesn't mean you should never go out walking because several times you took a wrong turning and found yourself in the middle of swerving and honking cars. You just make sure you don't step into heavy expressway traffic ever again. What it does mean is that you need to take every precaution you can to ensure that you don't end up alone, outside, unable to breath, speak or get your puffers out.

Do you start by using your puffers before you exercise? That's standard for exercise induced asthma, but also for asthmatics who need to do things that frighten them for social reasons, like going into a job interview or public speaking. Some people with asthma overuse their puffers to get a good exercise session in, taking it before and during, using more than the recommended dosing. Calculated properly you end the session with visible Ventolin shakes, but not so bad that the shakes cause you to injure yourself by stumbling. Talk to your doctor about how far in that direction she would be okay with you going.

Look into finding a walking buddy, someone who will exercise at your level of intensity, and give you incentive to walk so you don't let them down by missing sessions. Even if the pair of you are walking ten feet apart you can do the social distancing thing and have a companion. It will only be a risk if you do things like hug during your outdoor sessions. Stores that sell sports equipment often provide networking services like this.

Carry a card that explains that you are asthmatic and provides your nok information, so that if you do every need to ask someone for help you have all the data there where it is easy for them to understand what is going on even if you can't speak. You could also look into one of those mobile alert systems with a gps, so that if you do collapse with shortness of breath an attack your nok can be dispatched in a car to go and get you.

Practice with short walks to get used to noticing at the start of a minor attack and taking care of symptoms to head it off. It's important to get used to rating your own shortness of breath so you can tell the difference between when symptoms are ramping up fast or merely slowly increasing along with the intensity of your exercise, and to know the difference between not having any symptoms and not having any symptoms only while at rest. You may want to do a warm up as you leave the house to see if after two minutes of brisk walking you are well on your way to smothering, or if you feel like you haven't done any exercise at all and your lungs would be the better and more comfortable if you hurried up and headed for the park. That way if it is the former situation you can just go back to the house and save the good sessions for days when it is the latter.

You might also find that your asthma symptoms go up an down according to how much social anxiety you are experiencing while outside. It may be that when there are people outside your asthma is bad, but when it is raining and no one is out your asthma is much better. This is worth knowing and a real possibility.

Look into an at home exercise program that you can do when you want to exercise but not go somewhere without a clear address for the ambulance. Do this exercise at home while your partner is there in order to de-sensitize yourself to exercising when they are around. Start really small so that you aren't stressed by their presence because you are barely exercising and you can stop before they get into the room, as well as before an asthma attack ramps up. Weight lifting at home with dumbbells would be good. If you are overweight you begin at that with an advantage over lower weight people. Practice limited disclosure with them to get used to it and to check if it really is safe.

Work on figuring out how much of your fear of criticism is just internalized shame and how much is caused by careless comments and if there is any covert denial. If your sister happily rambles on about doing the 10K on the weekend and that sinks you into self hatred it is very different than if your sister is nice and supportive while encouraging you to do work up to that 10K by pushing yourself harder. In the first case she's just talking about what she's doing. In the second case she's overlooking the fact that she's advocating you do something that is actively harmful for you. (If you think she's completely clueless you might get somewhere by getting to her try exercising while wearing a mask that severely limits her oxygen intake and pointing that you can't push yourself through asthma as that makes it worse.) The point is to get a good idea how much of your shame is internalized and how much is external. If there is a lot of discounting differently abled people going on in your family and the exercise community around you, you don't have a lot of mental work to do to overcome a phobia, you are actively being torn down by that community.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:57 AM on June 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

In my 20s I would regularly go to the gym and was in pretty decent shape, I was also pretty superficial. Even still I was 100% supportive of everyone in the gym and felt that all of the other "regulars" were as well. I don't go to the gym as often now and am not in as good shape but I'm always happy to see people out being active. I'm sure there are jerks out there who will make comments about you, but hey they're jerks. The majority of people aren't going to pay any attention to you at all and if they do it'll be positive.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:02 AM on June 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

This is just my experience and may not hold true for you, but I will say that I have found my exercise anxiety less overwhelming in the age of COVID. The side streets in my neighborhood are relatively empty, so I feel like I have some privacy. Randos can't judge my poor jogging form if they've just crossed the street to avoid me.

Re: taking walks, would it make you feel more confident if you didn't call it exercise? Maybe you've decided to learn tree identification, or are practicing walking meditation, or are taking a "mental health break." Measurable health outcomes are a bonus, but they don't have to be the object of your outdoor activity.
posted by toastedcheese at 10:16 AM on June 8, 2020

There’s a thing called the “spotlight effect” where our brains, consumed as we are with ourselves so much of the time, assume that everyone around us is also paying attention to us and thinking thoughts about us. And occasionally, someone will come out of the blue and note something and due to confirmation bias, we take this as overwhelming evidence that we are being paid attention to! Sadly, mostly, no one pays any attention to us an overwhelming amount of the time. And if they do pay attention to us at all it is likely not about what you think it is and it is nothing more than a fleeting thing.

I swim (or used to, when the pool was open) and I often catch myself imagining that people at the pool, swimmers or lifeguards or people sitting at the edge, are watching my swimming and making judgments about it. Either how slow I am or occasionally how badass I am. It’s ridiculous! And I often remind myself about the spotlight effect and how it’s real. I can even pop my head up and confirm that there is literally nobody giving a shit about me. Especially now! Everyone’s mind is on something else right now. When I meet people’s gazes out on walks, I see fear, exhaustion, worry, bemused confusion on the state of the world, smiles that seem as much about seeing another human out and about as anything else. There’s never been a better time to be invisible.

I have also hated exercising with my partner because the way he motivates himself and the list of things he considers appropriate exercise are counter to how I think of exercise and what I want and need to do. I mostly ask for alone time or when we do exercise, tell him to mind his own goals, eyes on his own mat.
posted by amanda at 10:33 AM on June 8, 2020

I'm no athlete, but I walk a lot. When I see a person who is starting down a long road to fitness, all I think is: what an amazing person.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:40 AM on June 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

I wanted to add, because I kept thinking about this, it's amazing that you've been able to name the issue. That's just a huge amount of personal insight and I think it says great things about where you are in this process which is respecting your history and your feelings and your fears and then recognizing how that internal script (written in the past, to keep you safe) is now sabotaging the change that you want to make in service of yourself. Sending you super strength vibes that you can keep building on this insight and get to a better place. Step by step!
posted by amanda at 11:21 AM on June 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

I am 100% up in my head about exercising, but I definitely can not break out of this on my own.

This sounds like it would benefit from therapy. Your patterns of thinking are disrupting your life and health. You don't have to live like this. A therapist can help you sort out what is your fear talking and how to take baby steps so you don't feel the need to hide exercise from a supportive partner. I'm assuming here that the asthma is under control but that would be the first step, if not. You can change how you think about it. Be kind to yourself and get help.
posted by *s at 11:49 AM on June 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

I am out and about twice a day walking my dog, so I see people all the time. I absolutely, 100% do not ever judge them - honestly, it barely even registers to me what they look like and I could not tell you what anyone I passed this morning looked like even a little bit. So that's just another data point of someone who does not judge their neighbors on their appearances/mobility/whatever.

Also, there are GPS watches (e.g. the fairly affordable Garmin Forerunner 45) that have emergency contact alerts. If something happens to you, you just press a button and it'll send an alert to your emergency contact, who can see exactly where you are via GPS. That might give you some sense of security when you're out and about.
posted by thebots at 12:38 PM on June 8, 2020

Please know that you are beautiful no matter how much you weigh! Hopefully you are following your doctor's advice regarding whether exercise is safe for you. The winters are freezing cold where I live, so I exercise all winter indoors (in the comfort and privacy of my own home) to YouTube videos. There are tons of fun ones to choose from for all levels of fitness. But, also, it really is possible to lose weight without exercising.
posted by SageTrail at 7:12 PM on June 8, 2020

Aw darlin. I've totally been there with other habits...the living with housemates/family who are all just somehow Magically Good at the Thing, the fear to even try, the fear of beginning in case I start slipping and they judge me.

You're already taking steps to climb out of your head, keep going! Can you ID a supportive friend (with none of the baggage of your fam/partner) who you feel totally safe with as your "sponsor" of sorts? They don't have to even join you, necessarily. But they should be down to send you a friendly GIF when you're feeling self-doubting and ask you to check in when you've completed your mission so they can celebrate with you.

Start small. So small. 5 minutes. 10 minutes. The slowest, gentlest thing you can find - walk, yoga, stretch, play with someone else's dog at the dog park. The point is to begin. Beginning builds bravery. Think of it as an experiment.

Is there a friend you could meet up with for a walk (totally not exercise obvi, just a social catch-up!) 1-2x/week? Just street clothes + comfy shoes. If financially viable, hiring a physical trainer (via Zoom) could be amazing for this, too. I find that the halo sort of lingers for a day before/after, where you're more inspired to Do the Thing on your own just before/after seeing your friendly support person. Your doc sounds like a great partner.

You might like Joyn!
posted by red_rabbit at 9:02 PM on June 8, 2020

Get a grabber stick and some trash bags and go pick up litter. Now you're not "exercising," you're beautifying your neighborhood. You just happen to be getting a lot of walking in while you do it.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:43 PM on June 8, 2020 [4 favorites]

Pilates is a gentle, non-judgmental exercise intro, and due to the pandemic, you don’t even have to leave your house! Look for local studios that are doing classes via Zoom. The classes should be relatively small (although Zoom classes by their nature tend to be slightly larger than they would be in person), so the teacher can give you individual attention. I actually REALLY miss my in-person classes because they felt like such great self-care - I immediately got the feeling of being in the right place doing the right thing for my body- and also because my onsite classes use the “reformer“ machines (gentle resistance) that are great for stretching. But zoom classes mean all you need is a yoga mat and maybe some resistance bands. Good luck; you can do it! (before the pandemic, I spent a ridiculous amount of time at the gym considering how much I hate it - and I started 20 years ago! so I think I know how you feel❤️)
posted by mollymillions at 9:47 PM on June 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Depends on your asthma, but what has worked for me, and is helped by the current environment, is walking in street clothes while wearing a headset and having a phone conversation for an hour with a distant friend. If you find that that makes it hard to breathe, you slow down - with a convenient excuse to slow down - or even stop and watch the world go by as you talk. But having someone who can't see what you're up to means you have something non threatening to do that also, conveniently, distracts you from other people. (Also, checking my phone, a FaceTime audio conversation for an hour only ate 37MB of my data.)
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 10:08 PM on June 8, 2020

Oh, hello, I also have asthma that went undiagnosed for decades. Also the only unathletic person in my family, and now married to an ultra- and marathon runner.

The common treatment for fears and phobias is exposure. Very tiny at first then gradually increasing.

I recommend picking an upbeat song you like, and going somewhere alone like a bathroom and doing some simple exercises, nothing too strenuous, for the duration of that song. 2 minutes or so. Those exercises can include the upper body part of jumping jacks, lifting one calf then the other, punching the air, doing some butt wiggles, dancing.
Concentrate on how lovely it is to feel the blood circulating.

I know it seems silly to suggest a 2-minute workout. But we all got to start somewhere. And it adds up. Eventually you can do 2 songs per day. Then 3.

Then you can start doing some dancing-like exercises while in the kitchen - did you ever watch The Great British Baking Show? Val doing her Keep Fit while cooking? They weren’t high impact, but it kept her moving. And that’s fabulous.
Plus, who’s going to judge someone humming a song a doing a little dance? Only a complete tool would.
posted by Neekee at 9:02 AM on June 9, 2020

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