Big Questions: Can a Fat Guy Feel Comfortable at the Gym?

Welcome to Big Questions with Zach Miko, an advice column answering your questions about the things we’re not always comfortable talking about in public. Send your questions to Zach by clicking here. Don’t worry, you can send them anonymously if you’d like.

Randall: OK, so I want to work out at the gym but I am uncomfortable because they don’t seem to cater to the people who need this the most. I am active but low key and I know I should be more intense but I don’t want to feel on display. Having a large body makes me feel undignified when I work out in public. I wish there was a fat person gym. Do you have any advice?

Dear Randall,

My first time going to a gym I was 13 years old. I was always a bigger kid growing up, but I really started gaining weight around 11-12 years old. I didn’t feel like I was eating differently or being any less active than other kids, but I still gained more weight. I couldn’t hide from my weight gain, because as a pre-teen, there was no way the other kids would let me forget it. I started my first diet when I was 12, and at 13 I begged my parents to let me start going to the gym.

My parents, being ever supportive, signed me up to meet twice a week with a personal trainer at the local YMCA. It was over the summer, so I would go during the day around 11 am. No one was ever in the gym but me, my trainer, and the odd octogenarian or two. Until one day, one of the local summer camps came to use the YMCA pool, and a group of campers pointed and laughed at me while I worked out through the hallway window. I stopped going after that.

The Gym Should Be the Judgement Free Zone

The gym has always been a hard place for big people. It’s the place everyone tells us we have to go to, and yet when we do, we are often pointed at, snickered at, and ridiculed. The very places that have the words “judgement free zone” on the wall are the ones we know have the potential to make us the most uncomfortable. It wasn’t that long ago that that model and playmate Dani Mathers took a picture of a curvy 70 year old woman in the shower at an LA Fitness, and posted it to Snapchat with the caption “If I can’t unsee this, then you can’t either”.

Exercise does not have to be about losing weight. It can be about feeling stronger, learning to feel yourself, learning to break down barriers you never knew you could before, and most importantly, to make you feel good.

So what do we do? Never work out again? Of course not. These stories of people ridiculing fat people in the gym are the exception, not the rule. 99 times out of 100, when you go to the gym no one will make fun of you for working out. Sadly, many of us have experienced the 1 time out of 100 that makes working out in public hard. For many people of size, myself included, working out is a way not only to learn to reclaim our bodies, but learn to love our bodies. Exercise does not have to be about losing weight. It can be about feeling stronger, learning to feel yourself, learning to break down barriers you never knew you could before, and most importantly, to make you feel good.

Do not let assholes take that away from you.

I hate that you say you feel “undignified.” I’ve felt that way. Bigger people often think the only way to show value is to lose weight. When we are made fun of in the very places that we are trying to lose weight, it feels like we don’t have an opportunity to become valuable. We cannot let the assholes in the world dictate what we do or don’t do with our bodies.

Group Fitness Could Work for You

You said that you wish there was a gym specifically for fat people. I know you may feel insecure working out in front of “fit” people. But I know as a big person, I hid my body from the world enough, and I don’t think the answer is hiding it any longer. The thing that helped me feel the most comfortable working out is group fitness. Don’t freak out. Group fitness sounds like the exact opposite of what you’d want to do, but I promise you, it is so much better than the traditional gym. In a group fitness class, you don’t get the chance to self-segregate, you are right in there with everyone, and as a result you end up getting a better workout.  

It can be scary to join a group. It goes against everything big people know when it comes to gyms. What I also find is helpful is that a lot of times, group fitness is an actual activity, something you will enjoy, like cycling, yoga, rock climbing, and dance. Way more fun than the traditional treadmill and weight lifting.

Hell hath no fury like a 55 year old mother of 3 who just had her spin class ruined by some snickering juice head idiot.

Maybe you’re saying to yourself “Well, won’t the someone in the class just make fun of me for being big?”. There are assholes everywhere but I’d like to see someone DARE make fun of you in a group fitness class, the group and the instructor would rip them apart. It would amaze you how encouraging and protective your classmates will be. Everyone is there for the same reason. They hate the gym, they want a good workout, and they want to feel respected and safe while doing so. The second someone interrupts that safe space, all hell will break loose. Hell hath no fury like a 55 year old mother of 3 who just had her spin class ruined by some snickering juice head idiot.

No matter what, don’t let the bastards get you down. This is your body. Do what you want with it. Do it because you love yourself, and you like the way exercise feels. Working out is not reserved for those with 2% body fat. Just ask author, body positive champ, and runner, Mirna Valerio. 23 Marathons and counting.

Kick some ass, Randall.

Love,

Zach

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