How to Exercise For The Right Reasons—and Feel Better About Your Body

Locker rooms used to freak Trish out—she didn't want other women to judge her. Ever felt that way?

Some of you know Trish from her comments here on HealthyGirl.org—she’s been a regular reader almost since the beginning. I first got to know her when she asked me how on earth someone was supposed to start to change the way they think about their bodies. Well, not only has she actually managed to change the way she thinks about her body, Trish has made some inspiring strides in her recovery overall. She’s here again today, this time in a guest post, to share with all of us. Thanks, Trish!

Of course I know exercise is key to being healthy and feeling better about myself…but I always found myself asking, “But how do I start?” The whole idea of the gym freaked me out—the one I belong to has mirrored walls basically everywhere and rows of cardio machines and weight machines (that look a lot more like medieval torture devices).

But my biggest problem with the gym? The people. I suffered with this complex that everyone at the gym was healthy and fit and thin, and that I would walk in there with my size 16 rear end and everyone would just chuckle to themselves. Here comes another one, they’d say to themselves, she’ll never make it past a week. I was also terrified of the locker room…women double my age with better bodies and perkier boobs and stronger arms would have to suffer watching me change into my too-tight sports bra and wide hips.

These thoughts are what plagued me through college and now in law school, before I started to make a change in the way I looked at myself (thanks a lot in part to HealthyGirl.org and you guys). But as the clothes I already had started getting tighter and I barely went out besides to go to class and get groceries, I knew a change needed to be made.

I’m 23 years old, I told myself one day, I shouldn’t be hiding from the world. I bought a gym membership, and I felt good. But then it was a matter of getting there with these thoughts still running through my head. It took a few times of me putting on my gym clothes, driving to the gym, sitting in my car for about 30 minutes then driving home all because I was too afraid to step inside. Then one day, after about 25 minutes, I told myself to stop being a big baby and get out of the car.

Step by step I walked into the gym, and actually got on a treadmill. And honestly, it wasn’t that bad. Sure, people looked at me, but when I was on the treadmill I realized that I was casually glancing around at people too—not making judgments, or thinking poorly about them or myself, just looking. I walked for about 30 minutes and left, a little embarrassed that I didn’t even go a full mile…but I went back again, and that’s what matters.

What I, and what so many girls fail to realize is that those thoughts are all in our own heads. We must realize that what other people think does not matter. The bottom line is that no matter what size you are, you are getting your ass to the gym to feel healthier for yourself. When you walk a mile on that treadmill, those 45-year-old size 4 women with implants aren’t the ones who are getting the benefits of those endorphins—you are. When you get on the elliptical for the first time and go crazy for 10 or 15 minutes, and your legs feel a little wobbly when you get off, those women are not the ones who will feel a little stronger the next day—you are! So why should it matter what they think about you when you’re in there? They aren’t living your life, so why should they have this kind of influence over it?

By going there and focusing on what I was doing and how well I was doing it, I started to respect myself. I gradually stopped changing in the locker room and mentally apologizing to everyone around me for having to look at me. If they don’t like the way I look, then they don’t have to look at me. I’ve met plenty of people who are happy to look at me and don’t give a damn about my waist-to-hip ratio. I don’t have a stake in these strangers’ bodies or health, so they shouldn’t have a stake in mine.

I’ve been going to the gym pretty consistently for the last 6 months. I haven’t dropped a size, but I can definitely say I walk around with my head held higher. I feel tighter in places I didn’t know I could tighten. I’m confident even when I’m still the biggest girl in the room. And not only did I stop abusing myself and start going out and having fun, but I actually starting dating someone (which is a huge step for me).

Of course going to the gym isn’t a miracle worker—if you go to the gym you will not magically have all your dreams come true, but it’s a step in the right direction. So am I still a size 16? Yes…but I’m a happy 16. —Trish

And being happy and comfortable in our bodies, that’s what matters most, isn’t it? What gym experiences have you guys had lately? Please share wtih me, Trish, and the rest! xo…Sunny

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9 Responses to How to Exercise For The Right Reasons—and Feel Better About Your Body

  1. Kate says:

    Good for you!

    It was amazing to me, when I started going to the gym very recently, what a hostile environment it felt like! It seemed as though absolutely everyone there was already completely fit and in shape. There was literally ONE overweight woman in the entire establishment. But also, I felt uncomfortable going into the weight room, just because I’m a woman. It’s always full of posturing, cocky, very muscular guys, who make me feel intensely self-conscious. I’ve learned to ignore them, but it wasn’t easy!

  2. Michelle says:

    Hey, I just came across this website and wanted to tell you what an inspiration it is! Truly truly empowering :)

  3. Ellie Di says:

    Such a great story! Isn’t it amazing how much of a difference just a little bit of working out can make? I’m definitely not a person who enjoys the gym, but once I get there and those endorphins start running, I feel like a million. I can always tell the difference in my confidence level and my overall body-happy when I’m exercising. I’m so glad that you decided to take charge and do something that makes you happy, just for yourself!

  4. Karen says:

    Can I tell you a secret? When I look around, I don’t judge negatively. I wonder how far others have come, what their fitness goals might be, what obstacles they face. I figure most of them are there for positive reasons. I assume most people feel insecure like I did at first and I try to smile to people. I’ve gotten to know some regulars and it makes gym time even more enjoyable to see familiar faces. :)

  5. silverstreams says:

    I hv the same fears as Trish towards going gym…how others see me, the torturous-looing exercise machines…etc. But I realize as I step into the gym each time, all my fears were unfounded. I do look at others too and on occasion, get envious of their slimmer bodies, but I’m more preoccupied with doing my own stuff most of the time. It’s abt getting accustomed the the gym environment. Once used to it, it’s not so bad. I won’t say I’m completely over this gym barrier, that is why I’m with a women’s gym now. I feel more comfortable in it and so long as I’m actively pursuing my fitness goals, why not?

  6. Heather says:

    I tend to have mixed feelings about the gym. It was somewhere I spent time to lose weight, to pay for the food I had eaten and to try to make myself feel less guilty for every mouthful I ate. I was anorexic (though I looked fit, healthy and like those attractive slim and fit people that this article mentioned) and I was miserable. I didn’t enjoy it. I just did it because I felt I had to.

    I am still not 100% in favour of the gym, simply because it seems to imply that it’s the only valid form of exercise for people to do.

    But feeling low and uncomfortable in my skin, I have made an effort to try new forms of exercise this year. I tried ballet, which I enjoyed and had always wanted to do. I found that, as it was at the end of a particularly long day of the week, it was difficult to stick to. I’ve been experimenting with yoga and pilates, and I think I’ve found something special. I do the exercise, and even when it’s not particularly fun, the meditation at the end leaves me on a high. I’ve been going to LBT classes with girls at work, and am appreciating the support and little push they give me in pushing my body – and the stress out of it. Most importantly, I’m walking to work at least a couple times of the week, and the difference it makes to my mood is massive.

    Exercise can be lots of things, but for me the most important thing to recognise is its positive impact on my mood, my mind and my sense of being.

  7. Kate D says:

    I needed this.

    I’ve been doing ok going to the gym–I’ve seen people I know who all react positively to my attendance.

    However I favored one location of my gym over another because the staff was friendly. I feel it is extremely helpful to my attitude if the staff put out a friendly welcoming vibe.

    Recently, the morning desk person at the gym switch to a guy I caught staring at me as I walked from the cardio machines to grab a towel for the shower. Since then I’ve been reluctant to go back because i felt judged.

    But really, what he thinks isn’t important. What is important is the feeling of strength I have after I finish the gym, how much fun I have going to the gym, and the positive changes happening in my body.

    And really, this is probably all in my head, I’m probably paying way too much attention to this guy.

  8. […] said the words: “You’re too fat”? That’s pretty much what happened to HealthyGirl contributor Trish. Here, she […]

  9. Bren says:

    I can’t tell you how much this article helps me. I read Sunny’s book about a month ago and came to the realization that I have BED. Just knowing there’s a name for it has helped me not binge so much.
    But getting to the gym and actually exercising has always been a challenge for me. I read this article and it just…helped. I’m not sure how to explain it. Lately every time I feel unmotivated about going to the gym I read this article to remind myself that I’m not just going to be skinnier and prettier. I’m going to feel better. I’ve been to the gym 4 times in the last week and I genuinely feel better and happier.

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.