MELROSE PARK, Ill. - It may be easy to embrace the concept of exercising at a gym but difficult to face the people there. The stares, funny looks, the unwanted advice and the questions are what many overweight individuals associate with attending a fitness center.
Allison Grupski, PhD, psychiatry, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery & Bariatric Care, helps overweight patients establish new behaviors in eating and exercising. “I encourage patients to engage in reality testing,” she said. “Some of the judgment you perceive might not actually be coming from others, but rather is a thought you have to explain to your brain why you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious."
Cliffs Notes to the Gym
Grupski said there are many ways to improve your comfort level while exercising, including:
- Staying in one room of the gym until you become more familiar with the layout
- Exercising with a friend
- Having a trainer introduce you to the machines
- Going to the gym during nonpeak hours
- Staying toward the back of an exercise class until you have a better sense of the routine
“It is important to remind yourself that any new routine takes time to become comfortable with and that over time and with experience, you will notice a difference in how you feel,” she said.
The Overattentive Trainer
Sometimes, overeager gym staff can be annoying. If employees offer unwelcome interactions, Grupski recommends:
- Fight the urge to tell them to back off because if they work at the gym you will likely see them again
- If it’s a trainer, trust your gut. If the trainer’s approach turns you off, he or she probably won’t be the best fit for you, even if you are looking for a trainer.
- If gym staff encourage you to work harder, let them know your current pace is perfect for you today considering your activity level this week and your fitness goals.
- Thank them for their time and let them know you will be happy to review any written materials about their services on your way out of the gym. Consider later, on your own time, if their expertise might be helpful to you.
The Unwanted Wingman
The gym can be a clubhouse of sorts, with regulars who like to get to know new members. If someone strikes up an unwanted conversation, the key is to respond in a way that allows you to continue your routine peacefully and comfortably. Grupski said:
- Politely and directly communicate that you exercise best when you can fully concentrate.
- Let the friendly interrupter know you need to focus on your routine because your time at the gym is very limited.
- If you find the comments offensive, consider that the person might be making a poor attempt at joking around and brush it off.
- If it continues, and someone is truly making fun of you at a gym, this is bullying behavior. Your personality and conflict resolution style will affect how you approach this situation. Some people find it best to avoid the person by exercising in a different room while others might directly address the bully or report the incident to the gym staff.
Working Out Your Workout
Comparing yourself to others is also a common pitfall at exercise clubs. “Your exercise goals should be centered on physical health and well-being rather than a specific appearance type,” she said. “Comparing your appearance to others might initially seem motivating, but it can actually be counterproductive."
The goal, Grupski said, is to be a regular at the gym six months from now. “Getting there takes small but consistent steps that work with your lifestyle,” she said.
For more information about the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery & Bariatric Care, contact 1-800-355-0416 or visit loyolamedicine.org. For more information about Gottlieb Center for Fitness, call (708) 450-5790 or visit GottliebFitness.org. For more information about Loyola Center for Fitness, call (708) 327-2348 or visit LoyolaFitness.org.