I have become somewhat of an expert at joining the gym. Some people are members of the same one for years. I quit too often for that to be a reality. Anyone who has joined a gym as often as I have, is quite familiar with the obligatory induction session.
For those that aren’t, they usually involve an overly enthusiastic perfectly proportioned woman (or worse still a slightly moody, arrogant overly muscled man) whose job is to show you around. And it’s not like an estate agent who let’s you have a little wander around by yourself before offering to give you a call the following day to discuss.
No, these guys actually make you ‘have a go’ on each of the exercise machines whilst they watch you and try not to judge you.
The gym induction
Why must they do this? To make sure you’ve understood how to operate the equipment? Here’s a clue guys. I know how to press the ‘start’ button. And I’m pretty sure that I could have figured out the rest. I don’t really need you to explain it to me.
But now you’ve got me doing 10 minutes on the Stairmaster, on level 1 no less. Five minutes in and I already feel like my thighs are about to explode. Nothing like a bit of ritual humiliation to get the blood pumping and the muscles working.
Wow, that sounded bitter. Can you tell that I’m not a fan of gym inductions?
Exercise has never really come easy to me. I’m OK when I am able to go at my own pace and I don’t feel pressured to get it right the first time round. But I hate it when I feel like I’m being watched and judged. Because no matter how hard I try, I am always going to be found wanting.
But I keep going. Because I can’t possibly show weakness in front of the all the other people at the gym. I already feel like they are staring at me with thinly veiled contempt. At least I think they are. It’s difficult to tell how much of that is my own insecurities, and how much of it is genuine.
Either way, I cannot allow myself to reinforce every stereotype about fat people being lazy and incapable of exercise. I have something to prove. So I master the stairmaster. In fact, 10 minutes in and I own that thing. Or at least I think I do until my instructor informs me that I probably ought to be able to work at level 3 next time around, and that they only started me on level 1 today to give me an easy workout for ‘demonstration purposes’.
But I just smile and give them a look that I’m hoping suggests I am well aware of that fact, and I’m only huffing and puffing so that I could make the demonstration appear more realistic to any onlookers.
Never give up
So on and on it goes until we’ve got round every single piece of gym equipment in the building and my muscles are screaming at me to just leave them alone and let them die in peace.
But I make sure to hold my head up high and walk calmly towards the front door with the promise to be back again tomorrow to do this all over again.
[Only I’ll be on my own this time now that I am a master of buttons and levers and no longer need any adult supervision.]
And I do. Go back that is. The following day. And the day after that. I go regularly several times a week for months at a time. Because I am desperate to lose weight and get fit (in that order, let’s face it).
Never mind the fact that some evenings I’m so exhausted after a non-stop 10-hour day at work, all I want do is climb into bed and sleep. Or the way my muscles protest the following day because I’m determined to keep pushing myself no matter what.
I walk into the gym over and over again even though I feel so completely judged by my fellow gym enthusiasts. Even though I’m surrounded by mirrors and forced to look at myself when I’m at my worst, further adding to my shame and humiliation.
Because, let’s face it. It’s hard for fat people to watch their flabby bits jiggling around whilst they attempt a slow jog on the treadmill. Especially when they’re surrounded by a bunch of people who appear to have been born to run. Yet gyms insist on covering every wall in the place in floor-to-ceiling length mirrors like we’re at a sleazy club.
The negative cycle
Nevertheless, I keep going to the gym. I keep going because I’m fat and everyone knows that means I need to eat less and exercise more. I keep going to prove to all the haters that I’m not what they say I am. More importantly, I keep going to prove to myself that I’m not what all the haters say I am.
Even when my self-esteem has gotten so low that I can no longer look at myself in the mirror anymore. Even when I’m starting to feel like reaching for that razor blade again to help me to deal with all these negative thoughts that keep me up long into the night.
Because no matter how hard I try, it doesn’t seem to be working. I may have lost a few pounds but that’s a drop in the ocean compared to how much effort I’ve been putting in.
After a while I am forced to face the bitter truth. I failed. I am a complete utter failure. Everyone knows that all a person needs to do in order to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more. And I can’t even seem to be able to do that right.
Quitting the gym
On and on that downward spiral I go until one day I snap. And then I’m back at that reception, making sure I avoid eye contact with the perky person behind the counter whilst I utter those 6 dreaded word.
I’d like to quit the gym.
I leave that place a couple of hundred quid poorer with very little to show for it. And the first thing I do when I get home is grab myself a Kit Kat from the top cabinet, absolutely adamant that I will never join the gym again.
Because I have failed.
I am a failure. A pathetic, disgusting, worthless failure. So I might as well give up and get really, really fat.
[As time goes by I find myself adding more and more reallys to that sentence. I’m currently at four-and-a-half reallys. Don’t ask about the half.]
I’ve had a very unhealthy relationship with exercise throughout my adult life. I hate it but I force myself to do it because it makes me feel less ashamed about my body. Somehow it’s easier for me to accept the way I look if I am able to prove to people that I exercise regularly.
I’m like the celebrity who goes out on an all-night bender, crashes their Lamborghini into a lamp post and then puts out a statement that they are suffering from exhaustion and have checked themselves into a retreat. We all know they’ve got a drug problem and have actually checked themselves into rehab, but we forgive them because they’ve admitted they’ve got a problem and are doing something about it.
So I admit to being fat and I join a gym to become less fat, in the hope that people will forgive me for being fat in the first place. Makes perfect sense, right?
A better way
And then one day not too long ago, someone very wise asked me why I go to the gym in the first place. Hello?! Haven’t you been listening to a word I just said?
And then she asked me something that changed my attitude to exercise forever. Why the gym? Why not do something you actually enjoy?
Get strong and healthy and be happy at the same time? Surely not. You’re telling me that exercise doesn’t always need to be a punishment? It can actually be fun?
Huh. It all seemed rather simple after that. I quickly learned to stop exercising for all the wrong reasons and start exercising for the right ones.
I started walking to get some time out from my kids. I love them but it’s true what they say – absence really does make the heart grow fonder. I’m hoping one day to turn my walking into jogging. Maybe even running. But it doesn’t matter if I don’t. I’m OK either way.
I also started doing yoga again because it helps calm my mind and soothe my soul. Plus it makes me super bendy in the bedroom. I do pilates for my back. I joined my local leisure centre so that I can swim at least once a week with my sister. We go non-stop for an hour each time and chat the whole way. We’re never going to swim the channel, but it’s fun and we keep going back week after week.
I even joined an Aquafit class because nothing boosts your ego quite like spending an hour jumping around in a swimming pool with a bunch of overweight retired ladies.
So there you go. I’ve learned a lot about exercise in the last year or so. I’ve learned that it can and should be fun. That it’s possible to be healthy and happy at the same time. And most importantly I’ve learned that whilst gyms can be scary places, the real battle takes place in the mind.
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