Fat Women Feel Uncomfortable Exercising. Film at 11.

This isn’t new, but since I’ve been posting about exercise recently I thought it was relevant. A Temple University study of 278 women who were enrolled in an exercise-encouragement program comes this gem on comfort levels with exercise:

The women completed a questionnaire when the study began and during three- and 12-month follow-up assessments. The questionnaire dealt with mental barriers to exercise, including:

  1. Feeling self-conscious.
  2. Not wanting to fail.
  3. Fearing injury.
  4. Perceived poor health.
  5. Having minor aches and pains.
  6. Feeling too overweight to exercise.

At every assessment, the obese women reported greater barriers to exercise than their normal weight counterparts. The barriers that the obese women identified at the beginning of the study predicted how much they would be exercising at the 12-month follow-up.

Gee.  Really?  Social stigma might affect our willingness to engage in an activity?

The press release starts with a reference to arachnophobes finding it difficult to kill a spider scurring across the floor and that fear of flying keeps people off planes. The lead researcher is quoted by saying these problems “may sound like excuses” before suggesting that “tailoring programs to maneuver around these barriers is the key to curbing some of that aversion”.

The ones that have tended to bother me have been:

#1, feeling self-conscious, which oddly enough I feel self-conscious about admitting. I think it’s partly the “why do I assume other people care what I’m doing?” and partly that admitting embarrassment is embarrassing on some level.

#5, minor aches and pains, which I figure includes the “OMG OW” feeling I get when I go on a 3-mile walk after not exercising for six months.

Lately I’ve also been plagued by #3, fearing injury.  Some ways I’ve dealt with this in the past are to:

  • Work out at home and/or alone, or with supportive friends or family;
  • Starting slowly and increasing gradually;
  • Expect some muscle soreness and be ready to coddle myself a bit;
  • Starting with strength training, because I see faster improvement there than with other forms of exercise, which is a happy thing.

What works for you?

38 thoughts on “Fat Women Feel Uncomfortable Exercising. Film at 11.

  1. I think one of the most important ones for me is #2. I’m slowly coming to terms with the idea that one can’t ‘fail’ at exercise, regardless of how much, or little one can do, or how ‘perfectly’.

    If a certain activity hurts too much or isn’t possible to do fully, it isn’t a failure thing—it’s a compromise thing or maybe just a ‘not yet’ thing.

    If it absolutely isn’t possible or isn’t fun or doesn’t motivate you to keep doing it (for reasons other than a manic gottaloseweightgottabethin obsession), it still isn’t a failure thing or a fault thing. It’s an incompatibility thing.

  2. Number one is literally all that keeps me from exercising. I have crazy social anxiety, and as much as I tell myself that no, you are not so fascinating that everyone is looking at you and judging you, really, it doesn’t help when it comes to imagining people are going “lol lookit that fatty trying to exercise. Gross.

    I keep wanting to try the Couch-to-5K thing, not with actual plans to run a 5K but just because I want to be able to run, and yet just the idea of running down my no-traffic rural street where people might be looking at me and thinking things makes me freak out.

    What I’m saying is, are they next going to release studies showing that bears shit in the woods?

  3. Starting slowly (not least because it in fact makes accidentally hurting yourself less likely).

    Making an internal bargain concerning not bullying myself into doing more than I want or need to in a day. “Must walk 2 miles each day!” sounds good (and I’m well capable of it physically), but there comes a day when I think oh, I can’t stand to walk two whole miles today, I’ll skip it and do four miles tomorrow instead. Then tomorrow I can’t stand to walk four, and you see where this is heading.

    Instead, if I set a goal, it’s more like “Walk every day.” If all I can stand to do is walk around the block, fine, that counts. Doing it the other way – setting an ambitious but reachable goal – just sets me up for failure, I find, the first time I can’t or don’t want to do it. Doing some every day, I generally end up meeting or exceeding that original goal on average anyway.

  4. I definitely fear injuries. In my case, the degree of fear is totally weight influenced. I’m usually somewhere in the “overweight” BMI category, but where in that range depends on a lot of factors, like stress and time of year. I would say though that the “heavier” I feel the more I avoid exercise (interesting isn’t it!) I used to love to run, but I find now that I’m afraid to do it. I tend to get lots of pain in my hips when I start running–sometimes I never get beyond that initial pain, because the images of ruined joints dancing in my head just get too powerful!

    Also, the more depressed I feel in general, the less likely I am to get out of the house for any reason, exercise or otherwise. When I changed jobs, moving to a new city where I knew no one, I stopped taking aerobics classes (which I loved) and doing Pilates (which I extra-extra-loved). I also stopped shopping and eating out. I think that society’s judgments on “heavy” people are just one more layer that adds to the mental funk that keeps me in a holding pattern.

  5. For me its definitely #1 and #6.

    The major barrier to me doing actual “productive exercize” is that I feel like I’m being judged when I exercize. Because I’m fat.

    ### warning possibly triggering thoughts below, mods, delete if you feel you need to ###

    “Oh lookee here!” I hear in my head, the voice of the imagined others judging me, “its a fat chick running! Har Har! Look at that fat jiggle! Har Har! She must be trying to lose that fat!”

    Its stupid thinking. Most people just don’t care what you’re doing, and WE shouldn’t care what those douchehounds who have nothing better to do than judge us think.

  6. Maybe one of the reasons #3 is a concern is that it’s hammered into us over and over that if you’re overweight your joints are under constant stress and can’t support you — so there’d be a fear that if you do something strenuous (walking, dance, sports) you’re going to make the inevitably bad knees, hips, whatever blow out even sooner. After all, “think about your knees” is part of the standard death fat lecture doctors treat us to all the time.

    The thing that keeps me from exercising is I spent quite a few years working at very physical jobs so when I had down time, I wanted to kick back and do nothing. I do not think of exercise as something to be done for the fun of it; I view it as tedious and a chore unless there’s a goal other than exercise for exercise’s sake. Example: I like to walk, but there has to be a destination — if it’s just doing loops around the block, I have no interest unless there’s also a dog involved to give those loops around the neighborhood a purpose. Maybe that list needs a #7 — it’s boring.

  7. Funny thing. Somehow reading this article gave me the oomph to get out of my house and go for a short run. Hips are fine. Some dude honked at me, and I hope it was not because I have jiggly tummy fat (eek). It’s weird how just reading about other people’s experiences makes me feel better.

    And Nan, I totally feel you on the tedious exercise thing. Elliptical trainers are about as fun as studying for the driver’s test. I find running pretty good because quite honestly I’m always in less than perfect shape and working so hard at it that my brain actually turns off. I make little games with myself like–just 5 more minutes! I can do 5 minutes of anything! 40 more breaths! etc.

    That, and there’s the runner’s high afterwards, which is not to be missed. It actually is a genuine high.

    However, I can’t run on a treadmill bc quite honestly it psyches me out. There’s too many other (usually thinner) exercisers nearby and I always worry what they think, if they can read the speed on my machine, etc.

    • The physical therapist urged me to walk on a treadmill as part of my routine because it encourages my legs to develop a routine, rhythmic stride. So I do it. I usually have my iPod and often am also watching TV with close captioning ;)

  8. It helped tremendously when I realized that–once you get out of high school–most people are like me. Way too concerned with whatever they’re thinking/doing to give more than a passing thought to what anyone else is doing. I realized I was being tremendously vain in thinking everyone else must be so interested in me.

    The others are still there and it’s always a work in progress. I always fear failure, and that goes back to childhood teasing. I force myself to jump in and try anyway. Sometimes I do far better right off than I thought I would Other times I suck at first, and slowly improve. That’s where frustration/impatience can derail me. I’m a pretty smart person (if I do say so myself) and am used to taking on a lot of things, grasping them quickly and doing them well–without a great deal of effort. I have to keep reminding myself that it takes time to build skill.

    Finally, I don’t fear injury but I push myself far too hard. Again, those old voices saying “lazy” and “slow”. I overcompensate. I have to remind myself that it takes time to build strength and skill and that if I injure myself it will take longer to come back.

    Other than that, I recommend trying many, MANY forms of exercise until you find what you like. If you don’t like it, you won’t stay with it. Period. I like walking and hiking. I hate running/jogging–BORING. Love yoga/pilates, enjoy weight training to a point, but get too bored. Really enjoyed fencing–great workout. Just keep trying.

    • “Finally, I don’t fear injury but I push myself far too hard. Again, those old voices saying “lazy” and “slow”. I overcompensate. I have to remind myself that it takes time to build strength and skill and that if I injure myself it will take longer to come back.”

      Agh. OCGS (Overcompensating Chunky Girl Syndrome).

      Which makes you sore, and then you don’t want to work out the next day. So you skip three days, or a week, and then you have to start all over again.

      Where are you geographically? I could sure use a workout partner.

          • Hahaha! That’s about as far away as you can get! We can try virtual reality, but it’s hard for me to motivate you from that far away.

            • Yeah, I’m really kind of sulked about it, b/c I thought I’d found the ideal workout partner – someone who likes my same workout-ish things (pilates, yoga, resistance bands ) and has the same OCG issues I do. *pouts a lot*

              What are we going to do?

  9. Oddly, #4 perceived poor health, has been a big one for me, despite being relatively young and quite healthy.

    I have mitral valve prolapse and am prone to heart palpitations, so when I first started exercising regularly, I did have some (totally irrational) heart concerns. But, on a deeper level, I think I’d internalized that fat=unhealthy so much that I really did wonder–and this is as a woman in her 20s with a BMI in the high 20s/low 30s–if I was healthy enough to exercise. I certainly assumed, at first, that I was too unhealthy and unfit to do certain things. If you would have told me at 24 that at 31 I’d be able to run a 10-12 minute mile with ease, even though I was about 10 pounds heavier, I would have thought you were joking.

    It’s crazy that we’ve gotten the fat=unhealthy message so often that a young woman whose weight, even by the most conservative medical standards, poses little to no risk to her health would be concerned that she was too unhealthy and unfit to exercise.

  10. #3 is a big one for me; because of my bad leg it’s a very legitimate fear. More than that, though, I still tend to feel exercise is a weight loss activity and as such I do still feel some resentment towards it. I love the way exercise makes me feel but at the same time, emotionally, it makes me feel like I should be losing weight. Weird.

    Of course, it takes me a while to get over triggers sometimes-I went from a 3 book a week reading habit to about one a month (if that) after I quit smoking, because reading triggered me to smoke. I’m getting used to reading again without wanting to smoke after 3 and a half years so I imagine I’ll rediscover the joy of movement before I’m 75.

    • I’m having trouble with the (few types of) exercise I used to enjoy b/c of heel spurs (and I’m way less than 75!) :-O So I ordered this chair dancing video. It had good reviews, and it shouldn’t hurt my heels. If I like it, I’ll reply again and give you the specs. :-)

  11. I have been active all my life, walked daily & sometimes two or three times daily, at least since I was nine years old & we first moved to a small city with sidewalks; I walked to school & my mother was what I now know a borderline agoraphobe, so I ran errands for her to local convenience stores, drugstores, etc. I have almost never been insulted because of my body size when I am out, only because of the fact that I was born with cerebral palsy & have a very noticeable limp & one leg smaller, shorter, & differently shaped than the other one. My balance is poor, I stub my toes a lot, & these issues are getting worse as I turn 60 & things are complicated by aging & arthritis, but I am out on the streets walking every day, in jeans most of the time, in shorts if it is very hot, & I can honestly say that being fat has NEVER kept me from exercising. I have pretty much only ever been hassled about my weight by family members & after hearing the ‘crippled freak’ remarks for well over 50 years, I no longer allow them to hurt me when they happen.

    So I guess that, in all honesty, I cannot relate to being fat ever preventing me from exercising…playing sports, yes, since I am not able to do so…but not from being active. If anyone doesn’t want to see me moving in my very ungraceful way, he doesn’t have to look.

  12. l400, I just got something horrendous in my mailbox, but I think that’s because I’m subscribed to the post. You’re screening what appears on the face of the blog?

    (Also, if you are replying to such, please tell that unmitigated asshat from a former competitive martial artist and company modern dancer that below 19% bodyfat for a woman is potential amenhorrea territory and he should STFU since his rant indicates that he comprehends no clear definition of what “healthy” means.)

  13. I wouldn’t go to a gym if you held a gun to my head, and i know it’s ridiculous to think that people are judging me, but… I’M judging me and that in itself is ridiculous. Also, i’m so unfit right now, the worst i have ever been, that the thought of tossing myself outdoors even for a walk is just too much- #5– why does my everything hurt?? I love my Wii Fit/Wii Sports, but whether that’s an adequate workout or not… dunno. Gah.

    • Yeah…I expect a certain amount of muscle soreness as a “Hey, I’m working my muscles”.

      One thing I’ve found when I realize “wow, I’m out of shape” is to work on strength training. Just chair squats makes walking so much easier. ;)

      • Well, yes but … your post, though educational and inspiring, offers no remedy for soreness-related whining, and its most direct cause, soreness.

        (Which I really think is … dude, if I could get past that …)

        • Whining is why we have blogs, yes? ;)

          I did include some tips but I realize they aren’t complete: warm bath or shower; stretching the sore muscles; going for a comfortable walk; ibuprofen or another favorite painkiller.

          Really, a biggie for me is to go slower than I think I can do. I still get some sore but not OMG I HATE THIS sore. Does that make sense?

          (Oh, and I’ve also had people suggest ice and heating pads. And, er, booze… ;)

  14. I had to deal with 1-6 in the past, mostly 1 and 2.

    I’m certain that what works for me will probably not work for many other people, though. See, it involved ignoring everyone else, tucking my fears into the back of my brain, and continuing on as if everything was fine until everything actually WAS fine. Not very helpful, eh?

    Finding some activity you truly love doing helps a lot. It’s easy to ignore body-conscious feelings if you’re having too much fun to remember them.

  15. Pingback: How Do You Comfort Sore Muscles? « Living ~400lbs

  16. The last time I rode my bike downtown (Orlando) some turd in a Honda Civic rolls down his window and yells at me, “get off the road, fat ass.” And then drives away. IN HIS CAR.

    When I first came to Orlando and saw all the fat people, I was like, AWESOME! And then I realized how different it is to be fat here than it is to be in TN, where I grew up.

    I don’t feel self-conscious or anything when I go swimming. That, I think, is the only time I don’t feel self-conscious when I exercise.

  17. Pingback: Yelling Out The Car Window | Living ~400lbs

  18. A couple of years ago on a lovely Summer day I decided to take up some exercise and go for a long walk.
    I was around a size 20 at the time I guess.
    I got approximately ten minutes into it, and was on a busy road.
    Two guys riding bikes in head to toe lycra slowly rode past me, one yelled out something derogatory about my being really huge and he didn’t want to have to look at “it”.
    I was instantly ashamed and also angry. The thought briefly crossed my mind that I could have easily stepped up and shoved him off his bike hopefully for him to be crushed under the wheels of a truck. Of course being a sane Woman I didn’t act on it.
    I turned around and went home. Really pissed off and incredibly self conscious about my appearance. I didn’t attempt exercising public for quite sometime after that.
    Now, a couple of years later I wish I had have shoved the little arrogant prick right off his bike and seen him wet his pants in fear.

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