This story features a few personal, anecdotal experiences and should not substitute medical advice. If you're having health concerns of any kind, we urge you to speak to a healthcare professional.
It isn't a secret that health and fitness are important factors in holistic wellness. Working out and eating a well-balanced diet have always been two ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It seems simple, right? For me, it hasn't always been.
For most of my life, I've had a significantly complicated relationship with food and fitness. Growing up around the influence of diet culture as an already "bigger" child largely shaped my body image and understanding of what health looked like. I became aware that my size was abnormal at a very young age and definitely started to take notice when I met girls much thinner than me. By age 13, I was already hitting the gym several days a week after my mom picked me up from school. While I certainly don't fault her for being concerned about my health (not to mention the fact that she grew up in a time when diet culture was considerably worse), that experience was very formative for me. Safe to say, my body image has always been a little warped.
While I don't have many vivid memories of my first gym experiences, I do remember feeling incredibly self-conscious and unsure of what I was doing. The treadmill and elliptical machines were my safest options, and I had no concept of an efficient workout regimen. All I knew was that I wanted to lose weight. Over time, between internalized diet culture and my misguided attempts at becoming healthier, I developed an eating disorder. While my efforts were "successful" in that I lost weight, I was also successful at convincing myself I needed to limit my diet to 600 calories a day and work out seven days a week.
While I don't have many vivid memories of my first gym experiences, I do remember feeling incredibly self-conscious and unsure of what I was doing.
As an adult, I've largely recovered from my disordered eating experiences through therapy and a lot of inner work. That isn't to say those intrusive thoughts never pop up, or that I never feel uncomfortable in my plus-size body. I definitely do. Rather than give in to those tendencies, I now focus on what will make me feel my best rather than solely on what will make me look my best. At present, that includes hitting the gym five days a week. The gym is my happy place now, and I look forward to every workout, but as a plus-size woman, it hasn't always been this way.
Existing as a person in a bigger body comes with certain challenges others do not have to face. One of these is a keen awareness of when other people are looking at you. While being perceived in public is a part of life, when you're a plus-size person, the feeling that you're being looked at (or, god forbid, stared at) by others usually brings shame and embarrassment. Why are they looking at me? Do they think my body is gross or "wrong?" The gym is no exception to this rule, and I've definitely had these questions run through my mind while I'm working out in the past. The difference now is simple: I don't care. I don't care if people are staring, judging my weight, or how I occasionally have to modify certain things because it works better for my body. At the end of the day, I'm in the gym for myself. I don't work out to look good. I work out to feel good—for me. Once you realize other people usually aren't even paying attention to you but rather their own workouts, you can start to deconstruct those thoughts and insecurities.
One of the more significant challenges I've also faced while working out in the gym as a plus-size person is getting comfortable with what I'm wearing. In the throes of my eating disorder, and even later into adulthood, I wore clothing that hid my body when I worked out. I would have been mortified if any rolls or jiggling parts were visible while I was running or using the elliptical. Now, I pay no mind to what others can see. I opt for form-fitting clothing that covers much less because it keeps me cool and helps me focus on my form. While I like to catch a glimpse of myself in a cute matching gym set, my intention with what I wear is always about how I feel versus how I look. There's a pattern here, you might notice. Releasing the mental grip on how others perceive me and focusing instead on how I feel in my body day-to-day has been instrumental in getting comfortable in the gym.
Releasing the mental grip on how others perceive me and focusing instead on how I feel in my body day-to-day has been instrumental in getting comfortable in the gym.
Falling in love with what I'm doing in the gym has also been revolutionary in my confidence journey. While I can't exactly run miles on the treadmill or deadlift 200 pounds in the current state of my body, I have found certain routines and circuits I enjoy and find major benefits from. Unlike 16-year-old Lexi, I now focus on strength training rather than cardio because I know that will strengthen me and provide long-term benefits for my body. It's been a process figuring out what workouts I enjoy, but now there are times when I daydream about my next workout. Doing what feels good in my body and boosts my endorphins has increased my confidence in the gym.
Learning to love my plus-size body has not been a linear experience. What I've learned, above all, is that other people aren't paying nearly as much attention to us and our bodies as we might think they are. There are so many other things to care about, so more often than not, others don't actually have strong opinions on how we look or what we're doing (especially while working out in the gym). What matters most is how strong, healthy, and happy we feel…and a few cute gym fits don't hurt.