Exercise and Fear

When I weighed 300 pounds, the words overweight and exercise didn’t seem to go together. First of all, there was the body size issue. If it’s impossible to walk from the front door to your mailbox without having stopping to catch your breath, then the idea of going for a walk for the purpose of exercising can seem overwhelming, at least it was for me. Secondly, for me, there was a bit of a problem with clothing. Exercise clothes are available in plus sizes, but I really didn’t want to be seen in spandex pants at 275 pounds. And lastly, there was the issue of worrying what people would think when they saw me in a gym, or even walking down my neighborhood road.

 I experienced all of these feelings when I was obese. For 10 years I struggled with my obesity, fruitlessly joining weight loss centers and trying random diets I found on the Internet or in a magazine. My eating plans lasted a few weeks at best, and the successes I achieved measured in single digits. Exercise at my weight seemed impossible even though I understood exercise helps in weight loss efforts. The thought of plodding down my road for the world to see scared me, and even if someone had paid me money to join a gym, I wouldn’t have taken them up on their offer. I was that overwhelmed and embarrassed.

I knew I needed to move my body, but how could I when the daily movements of life wore me out? Just being a mom, managing my at home business, and getting out of bed every morning seemed to expend a great deal of energy. There were days where I would sit on a stool at the kitchen island and cook so I didn’t have to stand up any longer. I watched with envy, my friends who seemed to possess boundless enthusiasm for playground dates and trips to the outdoor museum. I’d join them when I could, but after about 1 hour, the smile on my face was pasted on like a beauty queen’s. Grin and bear it would be the motto for the museum trip. I felt like I hid my pain well, but one friend later told me she always felt sorry for me as she could tell walking the museum was hard for me.

I finally got scared about my weight and my future, and I began following a reasonable weight loss plan. I had two of the three components down cold – fat percentage and portion control. The third component – exercise – wasn’t so easy. I knew my fear had to be conquered. Exercise really did loom large in my future. The first morning of my journey I got up before the rest of the family and put on my exercise clothes. Instead of traditional exercise shorts, shirt and walking shoes, I put on an ugly jumper, white men’s t-shirt and tennis shoes. That’s all I had, and I was determined not to purchase any exercise type clothing until I had proven to myself I was serious and committed to starting an exercise program.

Leaving the comfort of the house took some courage. I walked in the early morning, just before daybreak, so my neighbors couldn’t see me. That morning, thighs rubbing together like sandpaper, I walked 10 minutes away from the house turned around and walked 10 minutes home. Slow were my steps but they would prove to be some of the most important first steps I would take for the rest of my life. Day after day I put aside my feelings of insecurity and walked out the front door. Every day I exercised I put a check mark on my calendar and watched as the calendar filled up and my body shrunk. Overcoming the emotional fears of exercise took courage and perseverance, but the results were worth every hard moment.

What got you motivated to exercise? Were you ever worried about what other people would think?  Diane

38 thoughts on “Exercise and Fear

  1. Susan says:

    What got me motivated to finally start exercising was the fear of going over the 200 pound mark at 197 I was staring at it hard knowing if I didn’t get a grip I would soon be over it.I felt like once I was over 200 there would be no turning back..
    I joined a gym for the first time in my life in 1997 and yes I felt embarassed and akward and worried about “what other people would think”. I just made a commitment to take care of me and gradually as I changed and the weight slowly came off it didn’t matter any more to me what other people thought.

  2. blackhuff says:

    I think that is why I got myself exercise machines to exercise at home. Worrying about what people will think of me in the gym. I, in a way, prefer to exercise at home because it takes time to get from home to the gym, cutting back on family time and because then I don’t have to leave home in the early (still dark) mornings.
    What gets me motivated to exercise? A bikini. A healthier life. A better sex life 🙂

  3. Karen says:

    I really got started in my 30s, when I was diagnosed with familial high cholesterol. I was thin then and it was just walking. But several years later I quit my job and decided I had no more excuses not to join a gym and begin strength training. Yes, I was uncomfortable at first, worried what people would think. I had no idea what I was doing. But eventually I got over that and learned to enjoy it and the gym became a place where I felt at home:)

  4. marsial2010 says:

    I always had exercise in my life, but in varying degrees. In the last few years, I have kept my mother-in-law in mind when thinking about activity. Although she never formally “worked out” she was an extremely active person. At the age of 90, she was still painting her kitchen walls and getting on a ladder to paint the trim on her house. She also continued to mow her lawn and shovel snow. Around that time, she started slowly suffering from dementia and now, at 95, is a permanent nursing home resident. She is a handful for the staff because she is unsteady and has taken a few falls. Nevertheless, she still tries to get up and walk around because she can’t stand sitting down all day. She’s been an activity role model for me.

  5. Amy says:

    I know the feeling! I was always ashamed of exercising where people could see me – I only joined my gym because a friend of mine convinced me to do it with her. It took me a LONG time to feel comfortable there – the feeling kind of evolved gradually as the pounds came off just as gradually! Now, when I see someone who is very heavy at my gym, working out, I have such admiration for them – they are a lot braver than I ever was.

  6. Roxie says:

    I did even start exercise until late in the game. And I still didn’t do it for me – I did it for a friend. A lifelong friend’s husband was dying of cancer and she was an exerciser. So in order to spend some time with her and support her, I started going to her exercise classes with her. Turns out, I didn’t hate exercise. That’s been about six years ago now and I haven’t looked back.

  7. Sagan says:

    Luckily I’ve always been pretty active – I grew up in a house where our family vacations were to go camping and hiking in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter. But it’s amazing how TOUGH exercise is when it’s been neglected, even for a little while!

  8. Jules - Big Girl Bombshell says:

    Such an appropriate question today. I walked my first 6K yesterday. My fears of exercise loomed large. What got me taking it seriously…Bloggers….You, MizFit, EmergeFitness, Jody-Fit at 52, Lori at Dare to Become, and twitter friend FitinmyHeart.. Oh yeah..last but certainly not least…..Dr. J….

    Dr. J referred me over to your site in the beginning. What a SMART Doc!

  9. Jody - Fit at 52 says:

    I have been exercising for a long time but for me, even though I lost weight, I knew this was life long. I was a person that gained weight easily & had to work to keep it off so I joined a women’s gym near my home in my early 20’s. Yes, it was scary at first but the more I did it, the more it was fine. Unfortunately I still always as worried way too much about what other people think BUT it does NOT stop me! 🙂

  10. Desert Agave says:

    This time around, exercise came before eating right for me. My doctor had been encouraging me to start a vigorous exercise routine for some time but I wasn’t having much success in doing so, so she told me to get a personal trainer. I did, and that started everything else. There was a lot of fear and shame related to exercise at first, a lot of it. But, now it has become a major part of my life, and a part that feeds and nurtures other parts of my life.

  11. Carla says:

    What a wonderful story Diane, thanks for sharing it!

    I still worry too much what people think of me, even though I am not overweight anymore! I really have to work on that.

  12. Andrea@WellnessNotes says:

    Yes, starting something new is hard to do. I think doing something every day is very powerful, and it’s much easier for something to become a habit. I love that you put a check mark on your calendar!

    What motivates me to exercise? I’m a much better mother, wife, friend, instructor, etc. when I exercise and feel well.

  13. Tish says:

    Oh yes, I’ve been there. Exercising in the pre-dawn hours, not so much because I needed to be back before my children were up, but because I didn’t want anybody to see me trying to jog. And not wanting to subject myself to scrutiny at the gym. I joined a woman’s gym (curve) first and that was a good step for me. Finally, about 4 years ago my DH finally convinced me to go to his gym to me his trained. She was great and from that time I’ve felt at home at the gym and gone faithfully. Now I try to notice when newbies come to the gym, especially large women. Most people at the gym are pretty intent on their workout & plugged into earbuds but I always to to greet them or give them a smile.

  14. Emergefit says:

    Still reeling over the Domino’s Pizza add on the right margin…

    Am I dremaing…?

    As far as motivation goes, the gym can be a pretty intimidating place, regardless of what kind of shape we are in when we walk through the doors. I say this because the very acting of walking into a gym suggests that we believe we should be in better shape….

  15. Rosa says:

    exercise was never my problem. I loved it. I love the idea of being in a gym with all sorts of people. It is the one place I’ve felt most comfortable because I honestly never felt judged. Now, I do know people judge, but I always look at people who are overweight or obese as taking on a very difficult task; and they should be commended with a smile or a nod.

    I never worry about what others think because the purpose is to obtain fitness and maintain it. I lost 75-80 lbs by using all sorts of fitness programs and routines available to me. I also worked at a health club selling memberships after my weight loss. I admire every individual (thin or obese) that walked through those doors. I have no problems doing the same at any size.

  16. Melinda Neely says:

    Very insightful post. It’s easy to criticize the obese for not exercising, but hearing your story is eye-opening – there are lots of obstacles standing in the way for taking those initial steps, both literally and figuratively. Thanks for your candor – I hope others read this and are inspired to act.

  17. RNegade says:

    My closest girlfriend asked me if I wanted to start walking together, daily, not to lose weight but to improve circulation and socialize with each other. She knew I had no intention of losing weight!

    Fast forward nine months. I am 72 lbs lighter than when I started walking. (About 110 lbs lighter than my highest weight.) Walking at sunrise everyday got under my skin. I started feeling better, sleeping better, and caring more about my health. Being out in nature, seeing the beauty all around me, well, it reminded me that this world is a glorious place even though people have many serious problems and as a species we are really struggling to keep up with our changing world.

  18. kwithme says:

    I have exercised on and off my whole life. There have been obstacles but this time it has been easier. It is all how I think about it. I used to feel that I had to spend an hour on cardio and an hour on strength, 3-5 times a week. This is not realistic for me. I do not want to do that for that long. I sat down and thought about my health. I have a sedentary job. I don’t want to hurt (back issues). So, I came up with a promise to myself. 30 mins of moving (walking) and 5-10 mins of body weight strength training 6 days a week. It is not what a trainer would recommend but my new philosophy is the exercise you will do, is better than the exercise you won’t. I have stuck with this routine for 2 years. I am now a runner and swimmer. I am contemplating doing some free weight exercises. This is for the rest of my life and I don’t want to burn out. There are still days that all I do is a 30 min walk.

    Because I don’t want to be in a gym all the time, I look for other activity options. Kayaking with my 5 year old, yes! Walking to the store, yes! Going to a festival or museum, yes!

  19. Dr. J says:

    Good for you to face your fears, Diane! You have set a wonderful example that there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel, and it doesn’t have to be a train!

    Actually I started running on a bet 🙂

  20. fittingbackin says:

    Good for you! I love reading about how you got started, and what kept you going!

    The # on the scale got me motivated to exercise… I knew it was too high for my height and that I needed to MOVE. THen, thankfully, I had friends who worked out who were so pumped when I wanted to and helped me out. I got lucky for SURE.

  21. 'Drea says:

    I was already walking but it was more like strolling really. I saw one of those weight loss success stories in a magazine and the woman said that she walked for a minimum of one hour. When I read that little kernel, I made a commitment to walk for a one hour on my outings and that was really a turning point for me.

  22. Diane says:

    For me the biggest motivation with exercise has been increased mobility- the more I move, the move I can move without pain. It has not helped a great deal with weight loss, but it has helped me to avoid taking any number of medications for arthritis most of the time.When I was younger, walking helped me to lose 110 pounds, so I would say for most people exercise has great benefits in the journey of weight loss.

  23. Hope says:

    This post brings back memories! I remember when my old friend and I started to exercise! We would struggle and sweat through our 30 minute DVD and go out to eat a fatty meal afterwards. Lol. Oh me oh my.

    After we got serious, though, what kept me exercising (and to this day what keeps me exercising) is weight maintenence, it’s fun (!!) and it gives me lots of energy, which I definitely need these days!

  24. jeanette says:

    Diane, what got me going 8 months ago is telling myself all I had to do is move 10 minutes a day. Just 10. And that is all I did (and all I about could do on a severe calorie restriction)but months later (and a realistic long term calorie allotment!)my 10 minutes a day has turned into all kinds of muscle building excersizes I do at home and a daily 2 mile walk/jog. The jog part has evolved from the walk and I am so self conscience of it that when a car approaches I stop jogging and start walking.lol. Thank goodness I live way out in the country and most of the time I am by myself.

  25. Tami says:

    I am super self conscious and I am sure that is what has kept me from every joining a gym.

    I walk in my neighborhood and have done so for years. It use to really bother me when the garbage man would be on his route behind me! I just knew he was watching by fanny jiggle all the way up the sidewalk! It didn’t stop me from walking and I figured soon enough he saw that it got smaller!

  26. Siobhan says:

    I was inspired by a friend who was diagnosed with MS. When she told me she walked six miles every single day I felt like a slacker and decided I needed to up my commitment to exercising with intensity.

  27. Biz says:

    Great post Diane – it kind of reminded me about when I moved 10 years ago. I had lost 70 pounds on WW, and was lifetime and went to a new meeting near my new house.

    No one was very friendly with me, and I didn’t understand, until a woman who had been struggling pointed at me and said “its people like her I can’t stand – they don’t have any weight to lose and yet they come to a meeting every week.”

    I hadn’t told anyone I had already lost 70 pounds! The point being you should never judge a book by its cover – glad you got out there to walk – all those steps added up to success!

  28. Sandi says:

    I knew I had to exercise along with changing my diet to have any success at losing weight. I didn’t want anyone to see me either so I started on my treadmill.

  29. Fran says:

    No I never have been worries about what others think. I was exercising for me so didn’t care what they think.

    I’ve always worked out a bit, usually once a week, not enough I know. What really got me moving was when my best friend kind of signed me up March last year for a 5K run in June. Suddenly I had a goal and knew I had to train to reach it. And piece by piece I started moving more. I don’t workout every day, usually 4 to 5 days a week but it’s enough. On the days I don’t I make sure I take at least 1 30 minute walk with Bella.

  30. Leah says:

    This brought tears to my eyes: “Slow were my steps but they would prove to be some of the most important first steps I would take for the rest of my life. ”

    I’ve always tried exercising on and off and years ago I used to worry about what people thought of me when I went to a gym. However, like everything in this journey of mine these last sixteen months, I suddenly don’t worry or care any more.

    I’m well aware of how much more work I have ahead of me. I also know that I’m doing my best, I’m improving, and though I may be the slowest runner out there right now, I’m proud of every step I take because they are only part of my own “important first steps” that will be with me for the rest of my life.

  31. Lisa Eirene says:

    For me it was a matter of necessity. I was no longer going to be 250 pounds. I had to just suck it up and go to the gym. It was even worse for me because I was going to use the pool. I lost my weight through swimming. Imagine getting in a swimsuit at a pool at 250. It was beyond humiliating.

  32. Paramjit says:

    These words really resonated with me. Especially the fact that the 10 minute walk may have been the biggest psychological victory. Its sad that the people who need exercise the most are the one who are most self-conscious about going to the gym. I guess people got to look at home based solutions. You can do very good workouts at home. But there is a need to put on those shoes and work the cardiovascular system. Unless one has a treadmill, this has to be done outdoors. That does require courage.

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