How can a woman-of-a-certain size find a fitness club that will accept and encourage—and not judge? Former Fat Girl Lisa Delaney steers her in the right direction.
Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.
DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: I am sick of being heavy, and want to finally do something about it. I know I need to work out—and for the first time in my life, I actually WANT to–but I am way too embarrassed to exercise at a fitness club in front of other people. What should I do? I don’t have room in my house for a treadmill or to do exercise videos either. Help!—Janice
DEAR JANICE: I know I always say this, but boy, can I relate! When I first started exercising, back in the late (ahem) 1980s, the standard-issue uniform for fitness-club-goers were high-cut leotards, neon tights and leg warmers a la Jane Fonda. Not exactly the most flattering ensemble for dumpy old me. The good thing about now is that the clientele of fitness clubs has really changed—it’s not just hard-bodied, flat-abbed 20 or 30-somethings anymore. In many clubs, people of every age, size and fitness level are vying for the same treadmills and weight machines, shimmying to Zumba and downward-dogging in yoga. (Note: You may not find that to be the case at these fitness clubs for the hippest-of-the-hip.) That said, finding the right fitness club for you, one with the kind of vibe you respond to—and then getting your foot in the door—can take some research, not to mention courage. Here’s a bit of guidance on both.
First things first. Take it from me: No one is as conscious of how you look (whether you’re decked out in fitness garb or not) as YOU are. No one. No one will think “What’s SHE doing here?” when you walk into a room full of other folks—they’re focused on their OWN stuff—most likely, unfortunately, the jiggle in their own thighs or the “bat wings” they’re determined to get rid of. I know it’s hard, but keep reminding yourself, over and over, that NO. ONE. CARES. And even if they do, so what? Don’t let someone else’s pettiness—or your perception of such—keep you from getting the most important thing in your life: healthy. I don’t mean to dismiss your fears and insecurity—it’s completely OK to want to be comfortable and accepted ANYWHERE. But part of the real work we need to do when we’re going through a transformation is to fight those inhibitions, to free ourselves from self-judgment and from the perception that others are judging us. It’s a lifelong process, so start now!
Consider women’s-only gyms. One of the reasons why I think Curves has become so popular (no matter how small a town is, you can find a Curves there—right next to the McDonald’s) is its women’s-only policy. Many cities have independent clubs or smaller chains for women only. Do your research and add them to your list to check out.
Look into size-appropriate places/classes. Some fitness and yoga facilities are introducing classes for women-of-size, specifically to create a welcoming place for anyone of any size to get fit. Look for classes like Curvy Yoga, created by Anna Guest-Jelly, at yoga studios around the country. The Yoga Center of Minneapolis has a series of classes called Big Ass Yoga that “strives to help you to building self-trust and learn to reconnect and enjoy your body again.” Some cities are seeing health clubs specifically targeted to overweight exercisers, like Chicago’s Downsize Fitness.
Go for a non-fitness club atmosphere. But if you’re not into those options, or they’re not available near you, no worries. Consider memberships at community centers, YMCAs or hospital-affiliated fitness centers. There, you’re less likely to be lifting dumbbells toe-to-toe with he-man and she-man types.
“Date” your health club. Whatever option you choose, make sure you try before you buy. One woman I know, who ended up losing over 100 pounds, broke the ice by “visiting” her chosen health club every day for at least two weeks before actually working out there. She’d get up early, put her workout clothes on, walk in—and walk out. She thought of it as sort of a warmup, like a runner would trot a few yards before a big race. Not sure if this idea is for you, but I like the spirit behind it. At the very least, you should take advantage of trial memberships offered free by most fitness clubs. Don’t judge a particular club by one visit—try going at various hours to see if you find a more suitable atmosphere at one time or another. If you’re not ready to, feel free to skip the workout on these “dates,” and simply view them as reconnaissance missions.
Start with “gentle” exercise. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but in general, you’re more likely to encounter six-pack abs and buns of steel in, say, a high energy boot camp class than you are in Zumba, Jazzercise or belly dancing. As much as you might want to hit it hard and burn bazillions of calories at the outset, starting with classes labeled as “beginner,” dance-inspired classes, or mindful exercise regimens like yoga is smart for a couple of reasons. Not only do these types of fitness pursuits attract a wide variety of body shapes, ages and sizes, but they also ease you into exercise, helping you avoid injuries that come with overstressing a not-quite-in-shape-yet body.
RELATED: My First Time: Jazzercise
Think outside the box. Here’s a little secret I discovered in my quest to get and stay fit: There’s a whole lot of movement going on outside the fitness club world. From walking, running and hiking “meetup” groups to enthusiast clubs and organizations for different pursuits like paddling, cycling, camping/hiking, not to mention sports leagues for adults, ballroom dancing classes and clubs … the possibilities are, almost, endless! Do some research, see what’s available where you live, and “size” up the group by checking out websites and Facebook for photos from recent group activities before attending meetings or activities in person. You can get a great feel for the spirit of an organization from how it “behaves” on social media. The upshot: I KNOW there’s a match out there for you—and now’s a great time to do your research so you can NAIL your New Year’s goals.
Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and Spryliving.com. Ask her your question here.