How to prevent shame stopping you from going to the gym

Fitness
dumbbells for gym

Recently I got talking to an overweight lady in our gym. She hadn’t been coming for long, so I asked her how she was enjoying it. She told me she found it very hard work.

I told her that if she wanted to make progress, it was always going to be hard work. She then started to talk about “body shaming” and how difficult it had been to start coming to the gym. I told her that most people were so engrossed in what they were doing, they weren’t paying her any intention.

I also said that many people seem to feel they must have a gym body BEFORE they go to the gym. Of course, the way you get a gym body is by going to the gym and working out. But many people have a fear of being ridiculed at the gym. They have a sort of fantasy that they will lose weight and get toned or strong in the secrecy of their own home. Then they will already look amazing when they finally go to the gym. They have never managed to do this, but the fantasy persists.

She nodded and laughed. But she said a bigger problem for her was her own sense of shame in her body.

I remember reading about a woman who wanted to start running. She was very overweight. She felt that people would laugh at her if she started running. To begin with she ran in a coat and with a shopping bag, so that people would just think she was running to the shops. Once she had reached a level of speed and fitness, she ditched the coat and the shopping bag. This made me laugh at the time, but I was also impressed at her ingenuity in finding a solution that allowed her to get fit without feeling overcome by embarrassment.


I learnt to ride a bike when I was in my forties. My partner was keen to encourage me, so he wanted to buy me the latest kit. He thought he was encouraging me. I found it so difficult. I felt that people would laugh at me, because I wasn’t “really” a cyclist. I wasn’t fast enough or confident enough or thin enough. Only real cyclists could or should wear the latest lycra cycling clothes or have an expensive cycling helmet.  Fortunately it didn’t stop me riding my bike and getting faster, more confident and fitter. Eventually I was happy to wear the latest kit. One day I realised I’d prefer a new pair of cycling shorts to a dress. At that point I realised I must be a real cyclist.

The woman I met in the gym recently is going despite her sense of shame. She told me she tells herself repeatedly that she is doing something about it, and that is what counts.That keeps her coming.

Michelle Lewis, a Salt Lake City-based counselor who specializes in helping patients overcome their barriers to weight loss says on the dailyburn.com website:

“We all have our excuses for avoiding workouts, but “gym intimidation” can be one of the most powerful in preventing people from exercising. So many people are worried about being judged and say, ‘I need to get into better shape before I go to the gym. I reply ‘How do you think those people got into such good shape?’”

Do you have the need to look capable at all times? Do you try not to work too hard in front of others (exerting effort, sweating, etc.)? When faced with a setback, do you hide your flaws or avoid the situation entirely? Does it seem pointless to even try?

If you resonated with any of these questions, you might be too embarrassed to exercise in front of others due to a perfectionistic, fixed mindset.

Naomi Teeter describes herself as a “Health coach, weight loss expert, and former plus-sizer.” In a Huffington Post article she writes:

“Do you have the need to look capable at all times? Do you try not to work too hard in front of others (exerting effort, sweating, etc.)? When faced with a setback, do you hide your flaws or avoid the situation entirely? Does it seem pointless to even try? If you resonated with any of these questions, you might be too embarrassed to exercise in front of others due to a perfectionistic, fixed mindset.”

She goes on to write:

“It may not be clear when this mindset originated, but at some point, it became your truth that natural born physical (and mental) ability is far superior to trying (and struggling).”

Naomi recommends developing a growth mindset rather than a perfectionist mindset. This will allow you to go to the gym and do things imperfectly.


Psychologist Cheri Levinson at Washington University in St. Louis who’s studied the link between anxiety and social exercise says:

“People who suffer from social anxiety might be worried [about] appearing awkward or receiving funny looks from others, whether it’s at the gym or even running on the street.”

Counselors often prescribe a combination of exposure and cognitive behavioral therapies that challenge one’s thinking To treat such anxiety disorders. For example, instead of assuming, “These people are staring at me,” a patient might be prompted to ask, “What evidence do I have that these people are staring at me?” The exposure component might include taking small steps to build up to an actual gym visit.

Cheri Levinson says:

“You’d start with the least-feared scenario, such as wearing gym clothes to a therapy session, then going to the gym but not exercising, and then maybe going but trying an easy exercise,”

There are other ways besides sheer determination and working on your mindset. The Bach Flower Remedies are gentle remedies made from flowers. Safe for even small babies. There are 38 different ones for different mental states. Crab Apple is the one to try for shame or self-disgust or a sense of unworthiness.

Another technique is to use Emotional Stress Relief. This is a simple self-help procedure that can help you feel better about many different areas of your life. You can learn how to do it here>>

Don’t let your sense of shame interfere with going to the gym if that’s what you want to do. Working out, getting strong and toned with help you feel better about yourself. Overcoming your sense of shame and going despite how you feel about yourself is a real triumph for your determination and strength of character.